Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Only Way Out

In 2007, Josh and I were engaged and planning our future. We both lived in apartments, but wanted to buy a house to start our life together, if possible. In those days, lenders would pretty much make anything possible, and we bought our first house. It was a 3 bedroom townhouse on a quiet street just slightly outside the bigger, more expensive city we really wanted to live in {literally across the street the zip code changes}. We were so excited. It was exactly what we were looking for and would get us by until we had kids who needed play space.

I probably don't even need to tell you that by the end of that year we were upside down in our mortgage. Seven years and two little girls later, we still live there and could not sell the house for the amount we owe on the mortgage. That wouldn't be a big deal except that we now have a 4 year old and a 15 month old. The house that that was great for us as newlyweds just isn't working for our family of four.

This year as the weather warmed up we really started feeling the pinch of our lack of outdoor space. I tried taking the girls out front to play {there is a sidewalk between our front steps and the parking lot} but Reagan is too young to understand not to run out in the road and she loves to climb up our concrete front steps- accidents waiting to happen. Keeping an eye on her means that I have no attention to share with Carsen who quickly gets bored amusing herself with just some sidewalk chalk or bubbles and asks to go back inside. With the help of Pinterest, I've gathered some creative ideas for things to do with them outside this summer {that can be done on our front sidewalk}, but that's a band-aid on the bigger issue. Yes, we could make-do. We could get by here. We could totally drive 15 minutes each way to the nice park after breakfast and morning #2s, then have exactly 20 minutes to play before needing to head back home for nap time. But that sucks. And it's not what we want for our girls' childhood. We want them to have a yard of their own where they can run around barefoot and catch fireflies, or have a camp-out with their cousins. We want a driveway where they can learn to ride bikes and a neighborhood where they can take off on them. And if that's something we can give them, we're going to. It's time to move. Past time.

But... we can't sell our house right now. After talking to our realtors, the best {and really only} solution for us is going to be to rent it. I don't love the idea of being landlords, but our realtors have owned a property management company in the past and are very willing to help us out. Even more importantly,  we get to move on to {literally} greener pastures without having to suffer through until the value of this house recovers.  That gets us out of this house, but since this mortgage will still be in our names, our realtor suggested "crashing" somewhere for a few months if we could until our rental income gets established. Thankfully, Josh's parents were willing to let us do that. They have a spare bedroom and full bathroom in their basement, so the plan is to stay there for about 6 months and then  rent a house of our own. We'll rent for about another year and then start looking to buy hopefully our forever home.

It's going to be a little chaotic, but it's very exciting. We've wanted to move for several years now and are so happy that we're finally on our way. It'll be a lot of work, and stressful at times I'm sure {living with another family, and then in a rental, while being landlords... eeek!}, but the payoff is beyond worth it. In fact, when we think about where we could be in 2 years, we feel like we'd be crazy not to do this. So stay tuned for all the crazy details. Our first move {of the 3} is planned to take place in 8 short weeks!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Amazing Gracie

More than a few times over the past two weeks my contacts have been rendered totally useless by mid-afternoon from excess buildup of salt. More than a few times over the past two weeks my 4-year old has looked at me and said, "Mommy, it looks like you're a little bit sad." Over the past two weeks I've mowed down more than a few trees worth of tissues. You see, the past two weeks have been exceptionally difficult for our family as we had to say goodbye to our sweet baby niece, Grace Adalyn.

Just a short month ago my younger brother, Ben and his wife, Jenna {twenty-somethings and parents to an adorable 2-year old} went for a routine 20-week anatomy sonogram to check on the baby they were expecting in October. That day changed all of our lives forever. The sonogram showed that they were having a baby girl, but also that she had some very serious health problems and physical abnormalities. Further testing would lead to her diagnosis of a condition called triploidy- Gracie had 3 sets of each chromosome instead of two. This meant that she would not be able to survive outside her Mommy's womb. 

The future became uncertain. There was no way to predict how the rest of the pregnancy would go or how long it would last. Many factors were at play including an increased risk for preeclampsia, a condition that can only be remedied by delivery. Ben and Jenna were determined to leave things in God's hands and let Him do the decision making. In the meantime, they would do everything they could think of to cherish their time with their sweet girl and preserve memories of her to hold onto after she went to Heaven. 

Almost two weeks ago the time finally came. Jenna had developed preeclampsia and needed to deliver for her own health and safety. Labor was induced and Grace Adalyn was peacefully born into Heaven in the early morning hours of June 18. Our family gathered at the hospital to meet her, hold her, pray over her, and to support her parents and big brother. She was absolutely beautiful. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

We had done our best to explain the situation to Carsen at the tender age of 4. It wasn't that long ago that she welcomed her own baby sister into the world, and we knew she would be wondering why Gracie wasn't around. We told her that Gracie was a very special girl, and that she was going to live in Heaven with God when she was born. We might as well have said that Gracie won the lottery and a unicorn. Carsen was just thrilled for her baby cousin. All she knew was that Heaven is an amazing place where the likes of God, Jesus, and "don't forget Mary" hang out. To her, this was nothing but wonderful news. So on the morning of June 18 we let her know that it was Gracie's big day and she was going up to Heaven. 

Thursday and Friday were spent making sure every detail of the ceremony, planned for Saturday morning, would be exactly what Ben and Jenna wanted it to be for their baby girl. It was an honor to help in any way. My job was to bring balloons, tags and pens so everyone could write a message to Gracie and send it up to her attached to a balloon. Friday night as Josh was saying prayers with Carsen before bed and talking about what we'd be doing in the morning, she said the most precious thing. She told him that next time it's Christmas, she's going to ask Santa for wings so she can go up and visit Gracie. It ripped my heart out, but I'm so grateful for her innocent little 4-year old perspective. She could only see the beauty and wonder in this situation and absolutely admired her very special baby cousin who gets to live with God.

That Saturday morning we gathered at the cemetery. Ben, Jenna and Eli were surrounded by friends and family. A light rain fell from the gray sky, like millions of tears from Heaven to remind us that God hurts when we hurt. Carefully chosen music played as friends and family gathered, hugged, and cried. Their pastor led a beautiful ceremony. And then it was time to give Gracie her beautiful send-off. Everyone wrote messages on little tags printed with Gracie's name and birth date, tied them to a balloon, and all at once we let them go into the sky. It felt like letting go of my own beating heart and watching it float away. It was the saddest and most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I walked over to Ben and Jenna and my sister as the balloons floated away and we just hugged each other and sobbed. It's just something that no one should ever have to do, and that's all you can say. Ben and Jenna certainly made it as lovely and heartfelt as such a day could possibly be. In a few minutes the balloons were out of sight. Ben was allowed to personally place Gracie down in her grave so he could be the last person to handle her. Everything went beautifully.

Sending all our love up to our precious Gracie

And now we try to put the pieces of our shattered hearts back together. We'll continue to talk about Gracie and honor her memory. We'll go on with our lives forever changed because of loving this amazing baby girl who we haven't even officially met. And we'll comfort ourselves knowing that she is whole and healthy and perfect, and we'll get to see her again when we get to Heaven.

Until that day I'll always marvel at how such a tiny girl, in such a short time, touched so many lives and had such a profound impact on our family. We'll never be the same. We're stronger, closer to each other, and closer to God. And if possible, I think we might even love a little deeper. She'll forever be our little angel who we'll spend our lifetimes dreaming of meeting.

You can read the entirety of Gracie's story beginning with her diagnosis on May 16th herePlease feel free to share this story. We would love for the world to know her and for her story to impact even one other person. 

If you would like to reach out to Ben and Jenna and support them through this extremely difficult journey, you can do so here and here.

The song that played during the balloon release...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phase 1 Reset: Complete!

Success! I completed my 30-day diet reset last week and I'm here to tell about it!  I began this whole journey to better health as a result of my Hashimoto's thyroiditis (hypothyroid). While my symptoms were fairly mild, I had been experiencing very cold hands & feet, dry skin, hair falling out, and low energy. After doing lots of research on healing Hashimoto's naturally, I came across Chris Kresser's book, Your Personal Paleo Code, and decided to give his plan a try. Lots of people wanted to know if I noticed changes, so now that I've completed the first 30 days, I thought I'd give an update on how it went and how I'm feeling.

First, like I mentioned, my symptoms were mild. I still have them to a degree but I feel like some of them are improving. I've definitely noticed an improvement in my sleep. I used to wake up periodically all night and now I'm sleeping soundly until morning {unless the kids wake me up, of course, ha!}. When I wake up in the morning I've also noticed that I feel rested and ready to get up. I used to always need like 15 minutes of "wake up time" before I felt ready to get out of the bed. That has been a really nice change and I'm sure a side-effect of better sleep in general. Another great positive change I've noticed is that I no longer crave sweets throughout the day, or really snacks at all. I used to keep chocolate in my fridge at all times because at some point during the day I'd have a serious craving and if there was no chocolate I'd end up eating a bunch of other crappy stuff. Now I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Occasionally I munch on a few bites of something in between meals, but it's usually something like a banana or some almonds. I am never in need of a "sugar fix."

So, now that the 30 day reset is complete, I had the option to add some foods back to my diet. I knew I wanted to try dairy since I missed it the most and was quite confident it didn't cause me any problems. After a few careful trials, I've added it back completely with no negative effects! I don't eat it the way I used to {half a gallon of milk per week over cereal}, but I enjoy it within the context of my new eating habits. Mostly, I add some cheddar cheese to things like scrambled eggs or a salad. And I made "meatza" which was much better than I had anticipated! The other things I've added back on a very minimal basis are honey and maple syrup. If I do need a little something sweet, I use those instead of regular sugar. I even baked some cookies for father's day that were sweetened only with maple syrup. Beyond dairy and the occasional use of honey or maple syrup, I've had no desire at  all to reintroduce grains, beans, soy, processed sugar, or any other processed foods. That is possibly the most amazing part of this. In the beginning it seems like you're giving up all these foods you love, and by the end you can't even remember why you ever ate them. My personal theory is that it's a function of the sugar controlling your brain. Break free from the sugar and you truly can be happy on just whole, real, healthy food.

For anyone who's interested, here are some of the things I ate during the 30-day reset:
**Side note: I basically wing it when it comes to recipes. I make up my own stuff and change most of the recipes I find to suit our tastes/needs, so I apologize that there aren't more links to these.

Breakfasts: {I usually chose 1 breakfast and ate that for the week}
-Ground turkey, sweet potatoes & apples
-Smoothies {bananas + berries + peaches + any fruit/veg + coconut milk + chia seeds}
-Turkey meatloaf w/fried eggs

Lunches: {Same as breakfast, usually 1 lunch for the week intermixed with leftovers}
-Hardboiled eggs w/salad
-Pulled chicken w/salad

-Pulled pork on a sweet potato half
-Asian turkey lettuce wraps {just ground turkey seasoned with coconut aminos, garlic, ginger, salt & pepper. Add some vegetables like carrots, red peppers, green onions and serve in lettuce wraps}
-Old Bay chicken w/sauteed summer squash
-Lemon/pepper chicken {literally just grilled chicken seasoned with lemon juice and pepper}
-Steak & green beans
-BLT's {bacon, tomatoes and any other veggies served in a lettuce wrap}
-Burgers, burgers, burgers {any kind, just serve in a lettuce wrap or over salad!}
-Salmon & sweet potato cakes {mix some salmon, sweet potato, Old Bay seasoning, and an egg. I dusted mine with a little coconut flour before pan-frying in coconut oil just for a little crust on the outside}
-Spaghetti squash & meat sauce {easy and surprisingly good}

There were more, of course, but I was bad about writing them down/remembering them. Sorry! I'd love to remember to do a post each week of the dinners we eat with the goal being to show everyone that this is not a deprived way of eating. We've enjoyed every meal and have tried a lot of new stuff we never would have before. I'll do my best to keep up with that!

In the mean time, we've made a HUGE decision around here {yes, bigger than going Paleo}. It's going to take a lot of our time and energy in the upcoming months, but I'm excited to blog about it. Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How To Celebrate Your Birthday, Paleo-Style

Usually when people hear that you're eating a paleo diet, they ask what the heck you DO eat, since so many foods in the standard American diet are excluded. So imagine the questions when it comes to parties and celebrations. How DO you celebrate something without sugar and flour?! 

I'll tell you.

Over the weekend, I celebrated my birthday. If there's one occasion that you'd like to let yourself enjoy, it's your own dang birthday. But this year, I'm eating better and I wanted to be able to celebrate my birthday without going totally off track. So I did some Pinterest searching and believe it or not, there are TONS of desserts out there that are Paleo-compliant {i.e. made without wheat flour or sugar}. In fact, I'd venture to say that almost any food you love can be made Paleo-compliant. I easily found something that sounded birthday-worthy and within the limits of my cooking skills. The recipe was meant to replicate the taste of a Twix bar. Happily, it did not disappoint! The ingredients were simple. The process was multi-stage, but not complicated. And the final product was really, really good. You would never know that it contains no grains, no refined sugar, no refined oils and best of all- no guilt.

The full recipe can be found here, but this will give you the idea....
You start with a simple crust {the "cookie" layer} made of almond flour, coconut flour, honey, butter, and a pinch of salt. Combine those ingredients {I used a fork} and press the dough into the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 and then let it cool completely.

For the caramel layer, melt a stick of butter in a sauce pan, add a cup of maple syrup and bring that to a boil. Then slowly add a cup and a half of heavy cream while whisking and bring that to a boil. Whisk for about ten minutes or until it thickens a bit. Then pour the mixture over the cookie layer and place it in the refrigerator to harden.
Side note: if this step seems like too much of a pain, I'd bet your favorite nut-butter would be an awesome substitute and would only require spreading!

For the chocolate layer, simply melt some semi-sweet chocolate with a tablespoon of coconut oil. You can use a double boiler, a heat-safe bowl set over a pot of boiling water, or a microwave. Once it's melted and smooth, pour it over the caramel layer and return it to the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

That's it! Real food. Nothing refined. Plenty sweet and delicious. Zero deprivation. If you don't believe me, here's my 4-year-old eating a piece...

Of course you can't eat the whole pan. I actually had leftovers so I cut them up and froze them on a cookie sheet, then transferred them into freezer bags for later. I thought they'd be a perfect take-along option for parties and occasions when I want to enjoy dessert without wrecking my system.

So if anyone thinks a paleo diet wouldn't work because you just can't give up your sweets, or it would be impossible to enjoy a party... that excuse is now gone. You can have your health and celebrate, too!