Monday, April 2, 2018

Finding Joy Again During My Darkest Hour

In October 2014, I lost a baby. I had a miscarriage.

There, I said it. I've written this post several times in these last couple of years, never knowing quite what to say or having the courage to press publish.

I am 1 in 4.

Before then, I had no idea that miscarriages were that common. That they occurred more often than I could have ever imagined. That more of my friends and acquaintances have had to experience this same pain that I was, than I knew.

We weren't exactly planning for more children, but surprises happen and we were both excited and happy. Everyone knows I've always wanted a little boy. Maddux Allen, the name has been picked out since before our second daughter was born.

For reasons I cannot understand, we lost that baby at just ten weeks along. I was heartbroken. We hadn't told anyone yet of the pregnancy, we were waiting until Halloween and telling our families together. Then planning a fun announcement in November for everyone else.

I remember every moment of those next several days. It was hell, and I didn't think I could possibly cry anymore. I was moving through the motions of life, but not really living I guess. In fact, for the next year I felt that way. I remember watching babies during church services and trying to hold back tears. When friends would announce their own pregnancies, the tears would fall, the anger would overcome me. I even screamed out loud when I was alone because I was so angry.

Deep down I was a very angry and sad person. On the outside, my smile was there, yet fake at times. I loved being with my girls and husband. But something was missing. My husband had no idea until a year later, but I would cry myself to sleep often. After he would fall asleep or trying to just be as silent as I could. The tears would fall on my pillowcase. I felt alone in a very big world.

I lost a lot of weight following the miscarriage. Even though I was grieving and sad inside, I felt great in my clothes. That was probably the only good thing out of the situation. But soon after, between the demands of working two jobs and taking care of my family, I let myself slip. I didn't take care of myself like I should have. Instead of eating healthy, I was grabbing junk at night while working late. I was definitely an emotional eater. The weight slowly crept back on, and even more. That was one more thing to become unhappy about.

I talked about how I developed a word theme for my year, and it started in 2016 after the awful, long year I had experienced. Choose Joy was my theme. I even have a shirt with the message on and I wore it often. I still do sometimes. My mission for that year was to choose joy in all situations. I was tired of being sad and angry. And so I did, I tried my hardest to be truly happy.

I think I did a pretty good job. Of course, there were moments during the months where I was more emotional and would cry. In May of that year when we should have been celebrating the first birthday of our child, that was difficult. And again in October, on the anniversary of the miscarriage, I grieved. My family did their best to understand and support me. These dates are still hard for me.

But through that year in 2016 something clicked, something changed inside of me. I had decided to quit the second job at the end of May. So I was home more in the evenings with my family and that was great. I was still very unhappy with how I had let my weight creep back on. My clothes were feeling pretty tight. Summer was coming and I couldn't just hide in sweatshirts, and I refused to buy a bigger size.

Late June of that year I decided to tackle running. I've always wanted to be a runner. Our oldest runs and my husband was a track athlete in high school. So I promised myself I would actually put the treadmill to use that we purchased several years ago and start the Couch to 5K program. I would run my first race in October with my family, an event that supports our local school district. I was going to commit to exercising, eating healthier than I had been and doing something for myself. I was going to become a little more selfish with my time and not feel bad about it.

And, so I did it. I stuck with it and kept training, and ran my first 5k in October 2016. My husband ran with me and pushed me the entire way. I remember being so nervous that morning, yet excited as ever! Afterwards it was the ultimate high. I felt amazing, I had never accomplished something like that before. As a very non athletic person, to have run over three miles was huge for me. I wanted more, I didn't want to just stop there.

I had already been talking with a friend and asking more questions behind the scenes regarding what she had done to lose 30+ pounds. I decided right before Halloween to purchase my very first at home fitness program package. It was a brand new martial arts/kickboxing program that was being released. It looked like fun and it was the perfect new challenge for me. I would commit to completing the 30 day program and work even harder to clean up my nutrition. I've tried workout videos before, but would become so sore after just a few days that I would give up. This time, I would not do that. I was far too excited and motivated to change for the better.

I was added into a private online accountability group where we would log our workouts each day and my coach would post motivational messages, tips, recipes and such each day. We all quickly became like family, a fit fam I guess you could call it. We were there to hold each other to our word when we didn't want to complete the workout for the day, and yet cheer each other on as we became stronger.

That month went quickly. I became stronger, learning new moves each day and feeling fierce. I was working all day in the classroom and then coming home to press play on my videos. And instead of feeling tired, I had more energy. I also began to realize that the pain from my miscarriage was lifting a bit. I didn't find myself crying as often. I was truly becoming a happy person again.

Almost two years later and I'm still doing that home workout thing. It's become my new normal, it's my lifestyle. I am still in the same group, with many of the same individuals whom have become some of my closest friends. Except now, I'm helping to lead them each day. That first program I ever did, I'm now certified to teach.

Beginning this new lifestyle has not only helped me lose weight, become stronger than I've ever been before, helped me heal during the most difficult time in my life so far; but it's also restored a passion in me that I had forgotten about. A love for health and nutrition, and for helping others. It's also helped me find a strong passion for fitness. I love doing it all. Through all of this I finally feel like the old Stephanie, and I love myself. I truly love everything about myself, and I feel confident again.

I wish I would have talked to someone, anyone, throughout that first year, especially those first months. It was painful to go through that feeling alone. Even though my husband and closest family members were there for me, it just wasn't the same. It's not a pain you can understand well, until it happens to you. Fortunately, I did overcome it. I turned to a different outlet to help me heal and create my own happiness again. But, if there's anything I have learned from my own experience, then know this: you did nothing wrong. It's not your fault. You will get through this, the pain never quite goes away completely, but you will be okay. I am here for you if you need a listening ear.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Meal Prep: Buffet Style { $25 Visa Gift Card Giveaway!}

Meal prep has become the new freezer cooking. For years everyone was obsessed with adding meals and meal components to their freezers so they could quickly pull out supper each night to thaw and reheat for their families. When moms would have a new baby, we would arm them with tons of meals so they wouldn't have to worry about cooking for a week or longer. I was very much apart of that movement. In a way, I still do some of those things.

Now, all I read and hear about it meal prep. I see magazine worthy photos of fridges stacked with containers upon containers of prepped food ready to go for the week. Simply grabbing one and going about your day. Is this something you've tried to help in simplifying your own busy schedule?

I think it can be an overwhelming thought for sure when it comes to getting started with meal prep. There's so much information out there, and you probably think you need to have a whole week's worth of meals in the fridge ready to go. While, you can certainly do that and maybe that's what works best for you. It's not the only way.

Buffet style is one that I choose to implement in my own house, and one that I've done for several years now. Some weeks are better than others, but I always try to make sure we have a couple things at least ready to go. What on earth do I mean by buffet style meal prep? I'm talking about having foods like hard boiled eggs, cut up veggies and fruits, roasted root veggies, grilled chicken, prepared quinoa and brown rice all prepared and in separate containers in the refrigerator. When it comes time to eat, you can choose from a variety of foods you have prepared to create your lunches, etc. If you're not one that wants to eat the same exact dish for multiple days, then this would definitely give you the potential for more variety.

So, where do I start?

I think it's important to think about your own personal schedule for the week, your family's needs and what you all like. This will help you to determine which foods will be best to have prepped. You can certainly make up some soups, chili's or casseroles/one dish meals so those are ready to be reheated.

Here are just a few ideas for you to consider as you begin your own meal prep:

Grilled/Roasted Chicken
Browned ground beef/turkey (seasoned taco meat would be great)
Hard, boiled eggs
Turkey bacon
Cottage cheese

Whole Grains/Carbs:
Roasted sweet potatoes or regular potatoes
Brown rice
Black beans

Roasted veggies: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, squash, etc
Spinach/kale, washed and ready to go
Cauliflower rice: prepackaged is just fine!
Fresh made salsa (makes for a great salad dressing)
A variety of cut up fruits and raw veggies

Healthy Fats:
Mini guacamole cups or homemade
String cheese or any cheese portioned out
Almonds, cashews, pistachios portioned into small containers

If you begin with even a couple of items from each of the categories, you'll be able to put together some really healthy meals for your day. It will help to reduce stress, save you some money and save time.

Let's go over a few meal pairings for you:

Grilled chicken, brown rice, roasted broccoli
Hard boiled egg, oatmeal, fresh fruit
Mini guacamole cup, raw bell pepper strips, apple slices
taco seasoned ground turkey, salad w/salsa, black beans, strawberries

I hope that gives you a better understanding of how buffet style meal prep works. Let me know how it goes for you, especially if this is a whole new concept for you. I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

And now for that Visa gift card giveaway I mentioned in the title. For the past eight weeks I've been participating in the Live Healthy Iowa's ten-week wellness challenge. We're getting down to the end and it's been a great experience.

My team sponsor, Iowa Food and Family Project has sponsored this post and is giving one of my readers a $25 Visa gift card. How great is that?! To enter, head over to the Facebook page to enter. I will have a pinned post at the top, you will answer the question there and be entered.  I will draw one winner on Wednesday, March 21st.  Good luck!

A big thank you again to the Iowa Food and Family Project for another great experience with the Live Healthy Iowa Challenge. I always love being apart of this team!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

5 Ways to Improve Your Health This Week

Can we just sit down for a moment and talk about how quickly the beginning of the new year is going? Holy cow. Time needs to slow down for this mama, I'm not ready for graduation to be upon us so soon.

I mentioned a few weeks ago about my teaming up with a handful of other Iowa bloggers for the Live Healthy Iowa wellness challenge. It's my third year participating, representing the Iowa Food and Family Project's team and it's something I always enjoy. If you live here in Iowa, I'm sure you might have heard of this ten week challenge. It's really a fun way to kick off the new year and have a friendly competition while getting a little bit healthier.

Are you one that made some goals or resolutions in the new year? If you're like most Americans, then maybe you've already long forgotten about those and fell off the wagon a bit. Or maybe you're still cruising along, crushing them each week. I hope so!

It's easy to get overwhelmed when trying to create a healthier lifestyle. Everyone wants to overhaul their life in one day. And then they wonder why they get frustrated and quit. Begin by taking small steps, little changes at a time and then build upon those each week. Today I want to share with you five simple things you can be doing to really drastically improve your own health. No, you don't need to implement all of them right away. Maybe you already do most of these and then, I applaud you. Keep going!

1. Move your body most days of the week: Exercise, it's that simple. Maybe that means attending a group fitness class or joining a gym. At home fitness might work best for you. Walks in the evening with the family. Doing a few squats and push-ups when you have five spare minutes. Whatever you can fit into your schedule, just do it. You'll feel better and have more energy when you do.

2. Add at least one serving of vegetables and fruits to your meal plan each day: No, it's really not a lot in comparison to what you should be eating each day. But, it's a start. And it might be the only fresh produce that some get. Start slow and then build upon that each week. There's bound to be at least one veggie and fruit that you like.

3. Drink your water! You should be aiming to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, then you should be drinking at least 70 ounces of water every day. And I'm going to say that's water only. I'm not counting coffee, tea or other beverages in that amount. Water is really the cheapest way for you to improve your health and even lose weight. It helps to keep you hydrated of course, flushes out toxins in your body, regulates your digestion and improves the quality of your skin.

4. Practice a little self-care: This will look different for everyone. Think about what you love to do, and simply do more of it. Give yourself some time to read before bedtime. Take an afternoon nap. Relax in the bathtub with some Epsom salts. Little things like that. Take care of yourself so you can be at your very best for your family and those around you.

5. Get enough sleep each night: I realize everyone is in different seasons in their lives. But it's so important to your health to be getting a good amount of sleep. Have you ever paid attention to your eating habits when you're really tired? You end up craving more junk and not making very good food choices. If you're exercising, sleep is important so that your muscles can rest and recover. Plus we are able to function better in our day when we've had an adequate amount of rest.

These are really not rocket science or anything new. I know you've heard them all. Hopefully they are things you are practicing on most days, but I also know there's always room for improvement. We should strive to be a little bit better each day!

Being apart of the 10-week challenge, these are really things that we're all working on right now. As team members we are all working together to cheer each other on as we document our daily activity minutes, weight loss and just overall physical wellness. My team sponsor, Iowa Food and Family Project has so graciously offered to give three of my readers each a $10 gift certificate towards any fresh beef or pork purchase of their choice!

I'm going to make this super simple for you to enter: simply leave me a comment below and let me know which healthy task you are going to work on executing in your own life? I can't wait to read all of your responses! I will leave the giveaway open until Sunday, March 4th. At that time I will draw three winners at random and notify them of their winnings.

Lastly, a big thank you to Iowa Food and Family for sponsoring our team again this year and also for the pork and beef certificates. I truly appreciate the opportunity to gift these to my readers!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2018: A Year for Celebrating

Have you started to make plans for the new year yet? Writing down your goals and ambitions? One thing I love about this time of year is taking the time to really map out how I want the following year to go for myself and my family. In addition to writing down all of our goals, I have recently started to choose a theme word for the year. One simple word that I can focus on and remind myself of often.

It started a couple years ago, when for 2016 I wanted to focus on finding joy in each and every moment. "Choose Joy" was my mantra for the whole year, no matter what was happening. After living through some very painful and emotionally hard months the year before, it was just what I needed. And so I did, I sought out to have a joyful spirit as much as possible.

This year for 2017 my word was "Focus". I suppose I was being a little selfish of myself when I first chose this year's theme; but I wanted to focus on a lot of different areas in my life. Mainly focusing on myself, improving my health and continuing this fitness journey. It has brought me happiness and so it was important that I continued to focus on that feeling and moving forward. That focus has helped me to build a part time business this year helping other busy women improve their health and to also have the courage to become a certified group fitness instructor.

And so, for the upcoming year, I am choosing "Celebrate" as my word and theme. It is going to be a wonderful year of celebrating so many great things in our life! Our oldest daughter is graduating high school. Josh and I will be celebrating twenty years together. We have some wonderful family trips planned. I have some important milestones in my business that I am aiming to reach, including teaching fitness classes twice a week. Plus many more goals we anticipate on crushing! 2018 is most definitely going to be a year of celebrating in our family.

Rather than making a long list of new year's resolutions that you might not work on past January, I encourage you to take some time to think and consider coming up with one word or a short phrase for your 2018. Keep it close to you and live it out each and every day. It just might make a difference in how you live and how successful you become in reaching those personal goals.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What a Difference a Year Makes

I'm going to get a little sappy with you today. Since I'm a writer at heart, this is my favorite way to talk to you.

Where do I begin?

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I love to cook. And baking is like my second language. It's really the whole reason I started this little blog six years ago. I wanted a space to share my favorite recipes with friends, family and my new readers.

And if you've recently started following me in the last year; then you know I have since found a new passion in this life. But in all reality, I have rediscovered something that has been buried deep inside my soul. I've always had a deep interest in health and nutrition. It's probably why I love cooking with veggies and visiting our farmers' markets so much. I love talking to others about healthy eating and helping others with their menu plans. And back when I was in high school I had my heart set on becoming a dietitian. Plans had to change though in the spring of my senior year, when the school I was already accepted to dropped their dietetics program. It just wasn't feasible for me to go to another college at that time. I guess I just sort of forgot about that dream and decided on another path at that time.

One year ago today I decided I needed to challenge myself. I had recently started running and instantly fell in love. I had just ran my first 5k and that's when I wanted more. That's when I reached out to an old friend. In fact, funny story; we were driver's ed partners and her brother is actually married to my husband's sister. So we're like family. I joined her online fitness group and committed to a brand new 30-day program that had just been released. I had never completed any sort of workout program before in my life. I was the type of person that would get through a week and could barely walk, and quit.

Not this time, I made it my mission to complete those 30 days no matter what. No excuses this time! And I did it. It felt amazing to start and finish something. That's when I became hooked. I ran with it and haven't looked back yet. Since then I have completed four 5k's and plan to run two more before the year is over, and I've also finished 4 different fitness programs with some of those being more than one round.

It hasn't been sunshine and rainbows this entire past year. There have been rough days, weeks and even months. I've lost motivation and had to pick myself back up. During this process I had lost my grandmother and our daughter suffered a compound fracture to her arm one week before dance competition season kicked off. It's never going to be easy, I have learned this is something you have to constantly work at. It's taking it day by day.

But, it honestly brings tears to my eyes to see how far I have come. This journey has really just begun. In less than two weeks I will be obtaining certification to teach that very first fitness program I started with. I've made it my mission to help empower other women so they can feel as happy as I do. To show them that they can do this. That it's alright to take care of themselves so they can be a better wife, mom and woman for their loved ones. And it's scary, believe me, oh how I know. But the joy you feel makes it all worthwhile!

Thank you for the constant support, love, encouragement and loyalty as I continue on this path, this journey. xoxo

Monday, September 25, 2017

Layered Mason Jar Salads

I'm a big salad girl, I would be alright eating them most days of the week. As long as I can change up the ingredients a bit, I'm game. Josh and I had this particular salad during the first week of our 21 day program we completed in August. Mason jar salads have been around for a little while, but it wasn't until recently that I actually gave them a try. They've made my lunch prep a lot easier and have saved me from using up many of my glass Pyrex bowls at once.

You can change up the ingredients a bit with this one. Before, we used hard boiled eggs as our protein source and avocado for our healthy fat. This time though, I took advantage of a rotisserie chicken from the store and cheese. The object is to layer the ingredients, putting the "wet" foods at the bottom so they will not make your greens a soggy mess. Since I am not sure what salad dressing everyone wants, I left that out. Otherwise you'd want that at the very bottom.

I made a total of 5 salads to start the week off. These will be plenty for me to eat, there's really quite a bit of food in that jar. Plus I'll add a fruit to my lunch. Josh will need a little something else I'm sure. But really, these are so cost effective. So much cheaper than any lunch I could go out for. It's definitely an estimate, but I figured each salad only cost me $1.96 to make. Obviously, depending on the current sales, where you shop and the season can all affect the price. You get my point though. Packing your own lunch will always be cheaper and generally more healthy.

Layered Mason Jar Salads

Pint size mason jars

For each salad you will need:
1/3 cup black beans
3/4 cup shredded, cooked chicken
1/8 cup cheese (I used grated pepper jack)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup lettuce or salad greens
choice of dressing to serve with

Layer each mason jar starting with the black beans, chicken, cheese, carrots and top with salad greens. Put lid on and store in fridge until ready to serve. Then you can dump everything on to a plate or in a bowl to eat, top with your salad dressing or salsa. These will keep for 3-4 days.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Marinated Summer Veggies

This is definitely my favorite time of year. I love how for our family; our schedules slow down a bit now that school is out and our evenings don't feel quite so rushed. I also love all of the fresh produce available during these months. Every Saturday morning my family knows to expect making a trip to our local farmers' markets, whether they decide to join me or I happen to get a few moments to myself. It's a favorite part of my weekly routine.

I haven't always loved vegetables as much as I do though. It was about seven years ago when I really started to become interested in sourcing local foods, learning more about farmers' markets and gardening. Sure, I've always liked a good veggie tray and corn on the cob is a must here in Iowa. But vegetables like asparagus, eggplant, kohlrabi and zucchini. I just had never tried them before.

Growing up, mom made plenty of meat and potato type meals. Lots of pot roasts, mashed potatoes and maybe even some steamed green beans on the side. I don't ever recall trying some of the grilled veggies we now like to make. It honestly took me a long time before I came to like cooked vegetables. You could give me any of them to eat raw, but the mushy texture of anything cooked made me turn my nose away.

It wasn't until the last several years that I've started to change my mind. Now we eat so many different varieties of vegetables each week, plenty of them grilled, roasted and even raw. I think it just takes time, trying new methods and new recipes. The kids aren't always the greatest at eating them cooked. I tend to have them try a bite and if they don't want anymore then that's fine. They'll come around some day, just like I have. The hubby has come full circle too. In the past few years he's gotten so much better at eating healthier foods, as long as I let him drizzle hot sauce over those veggies. Hey, anything to sneak in extra nutrients.

Most of the time during the summer we'll just slice up the veggies, toss them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder and then throw them into a grill pan. They don't need much else as far as seasoning. But I did try a new little marinade this past week. It was a nice change up from our typical side dish yet still let the natural flavors from the vegetables shine through. It was also nice to assemble ahead of time, I always appreciate having dinner ready to go. Gives us more time to spend with each other in the evenings.

You'll want to pop on out to your local market and gather some of your favorite veggies for this marinade. It's very versatile, use what's in season and those that your family enjoys most.

Marinated Summer Veggies

2 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium zucchini,sliced
1 medium summer squash, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into small pieces

In a small bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic. Set aside.

Add all chopped veggies into a large gallon ziploc bag or into a medium sized pan with a lid. Pour marinade over veggies and toss all together. Cover and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes before preparing.

When ready, add veggies to a prepared grill pan lined with foil, season with salt and pepper, and cook over heat for about 15 minutes or until veggies start to soften. You can also cook them over the stove top in a large skillet.
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