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The Love Pursuit

23 Jan

I never really checked on my Azerbaijani neighbor, Ruslan, all year.  He is a Shia Muslim, a man of few words, and he lived without his family, in Kansas, for the entire year.  I had excuses like, he probably doesn’t want to talk to women…he wouldn’t want to eat any of my wacked-out paleo concoctions…and I will ask him too many ignorant questions about his country.

In a gesture of generosity, he once left a bag of 5 dying catfish on my doorknob that dripped a pool of blood onto my floor.  I thanked him, assured him we would enjoy them, and chalked it up to a cultural miscommunication.  I should have returned the favor.  With brownies.  We always said hello, but I never really reached out to him, revealed true American hospitality, or made sure he didn’t need anything.  We just said goodbye forever on Monday, and I felt a tremendous amount of shame for not loving him well during his time here.

What a missed opportunity for both of us.

I’ve been mulling the concept of real love.  It’s such an overused and undervalued word loaded with varied meanings!  I continually pursue optimal nutrition, fitness, and even spirituality…but I haven’t given extra thought to the concept of love.  What is it good for?  After all, it’s the second greatest commandment!  It’s more than fondness, or admiration, or saying “I am sending good thoughts your way” (or its Christian cousin “I’ll pray for you”).

Love–the kind that impacts lives–has another name: charity.  Charity is not a word we use very often in our culture.  It seems faceless, institutional, and connotes throwing money at someone else’s problem.  But after a brief word study, I can see that charity is simply LOVE in ACTION, altruism.  That’s what it is good for.

After my disappointing past year, I’ve been stalled in this area.  But I have to be very careful not to let this legitimate hurt turn into the devil’s playground.  This hurt–and lingering disappointment–impaired my vision to extend charity to my neighbors; and  honestly, I hadn’t consciously recognized it.  Until Ruslan left.  It hit me that day like a ton of bricks: we are supposed to love well during our disappointing times.  That is hard to admit publicly.  If the enemy can take our eye off our brother, then he has completely succeeded in snuffing out our positive influence upon our world”  Dr. Larry Crabb, 66 Love Letters.

While I was waiting around to feel whole again, my external influence became stagnant water.  Truth is, I will never be whole in this world–too many disappointments.  I was living with the mindset that once I am whole, then I will be able to love others well.  But iChristcharity can overflow now, because I WILL be whole again one day…and soon. 

The race to achieve self-fulfillment is the religion of our culture, which is like trying hold water in a sieve.  What if our culture instead began to practice systematic charity right outside our front doors?  Our neighborhoods would burst with vibrance and vitality.   And I imagine all of our hearts would be much fuller.  Join me in looking out for opportunities to meet a need.  It just might be the grace someone needs for their moment.  


A few examples of relevant charity:

Encouraging words (Hebrews 3:13, Ephesians 4:29)
Standing in the gap for those who have lost/are separated from loved ones.  (Deuteronomy 10:18)
Keeping your schedule fluid enough to be available for people.  (Psalms 82:3-4)
Taking initiative to meet others’ needs (Galatians 6:2)
Being a reliable neighbor (bloom where planted)
Offering a patient, listening ear to someone hurting
Sharing possessions (Acts 2:45)
Keeping negative comments quiet (Psalm 141:3)
Welcoming people into your home. (Romans 12:13)

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 KJV.  I just love this verse in that translation!

Honestly reflecting,

Getting Back on Track

30 Dec

tracks01 It’s that time of year! It’s so predictable.  Americans have officially established a final holiday tradition–and it seems participation is almost obligatory.  To close out the season, we vow to clean up the diet as soon as that ball drops.  It’s become faddish–especially in the functional fitness community–to regularly schedule a “Whole 30″ or a no-cheats paleo/primal eating challenge.

 The jumping-off point can be a place of dread or anticipation.  Take heart!  Hitting the reset-button will be easier by establishing a new frame of mind.  The rewards of a clean diet are worth the trouble.

Our 10 tips for pulling off a successful paleo or primal eating challenge:

1.  Stay calm.  It’s not that hard.  Don’t focus on restricted foods, and don’t think about weight loss.  This is not about weight loss alone.  Remember the objectives: reset sugar sensitivity, establish true hunger signals, and achieve optimal nourishment for overall wellness.  Do some research, start with the “why”, and solidify personal goals.

2.  Be thankful.  Isn’t it wonderful to have the ability to enjoy so many clean food options?  We live in a time where we have access to any fresh food we desire–there is no lack of variety.  This is a time to get creative, a little adventurous, and have fun with it.

3.  Get some Tylenol…especially if this is your first time.  Don’t try to do the cold turkey thing without ammunition!  My first 30-day challenge was…well, challenging.  I was shocked to have withdrawal detox headaches for the first week while my body readjusted to a normal, balanced, carb/protein/fat ratio.  I was THAT hooked on sugar–to the point that I experienced physical pain.  Ridiculous.

4.  Minimize the coffee habit.  Grazing on coffee all day (even black) has been shown to keep blood sugar elevated, thereby throwing off true hunger signals.  Allow good food to do its work by energizing and replenishing the body.  Afraid of residual headaches?  See #3.  Can’t give it up? Opt for decaf past noon. The aroma of coffee brewing is energizing in itself.

5.  Be prepared.  This will be extra work.  Real food is not prepared or processed in advance.  Be smart about prepping ahead: chop all your veggies for the week, portion things out ahead of time,  and have portable snacks readily available.  The freezer is the new pantry.  It is possible to grab-and-go, and still eat clean.

6.   Double batch everything.  It is so convenient to have food on-hand for later.  Whenever it’s time to get out the knives and food processors and pots and pans, go ahead and double it up.  Freeze a whole batch for a dinner next week, or portion out servings for breakfasts and lunches.  Don’t be afraid of leftover curry chicken for breakfast!  This will help you out of the “eggs again” rut and keep you from resorting to old cereal habits.

7.  Keep it simple.  Pick a few tried-and-true recipes, and stick to those.  Heck, there is nothing wrong with cycling through a set selection over the course of the month.  I could eat these 7 over and over, and really not feel bored:  Butter ChickenPastelon (over sweet potatoes), Lamb MeatballsKheema,  Fresh Roast ChickenPulled Pork, Paleo Pad Thai.  These are fast, flavorful, and they go far.

8.  Don’t go hungry.  It’s the fastest route to discouragement…and forgetting the point.  No one feels stronger, faster or more motivated after eating a 3 oz steamed chicken breast and a cup of broccoli.  Eat healthy fat at every meal/snack for true satiety:  avocado, nut butters, coconut, plenty of healthy oils…every time.  It’s all about balance.

9.  Sugar doesn’t love you back.  Don’t lament it that much.  Good food works to improve health: to replenish, rebuild, and repair.  Crummy, glucose-spiking food works in the opposite manner, and the body must work hard (on the cellular, hormonal level) to compensate for the toll it takes on us.  Put a stake in the ground and don’t look back.

10.  Relationships are more important than food.  (Romans 14.)

Bonne Santé!  We hope 2014 overflows with refreshing times, laughter, and a renewed resolve to work hard in all areas of life!

Leigh and Heather

this is not a deprivation!

this is not a deprivation!

benefits More favorite clean eating recipes and resources:

Who is Sick of Eggs for Breakfast?

Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Barbecue Sauce

Unwrapped Gyoza

Thai Green Curry


A Few of My Favorite Things

17 Sep

I love stumbling upon new ideas and things to try. Since I have not yet allowed myself to wander into the Pinterest world, I rely on articles from my hubby, suggestions of friends, and a few blogs I follow. I feel like a jack of all trades constantly trying new things, but once in a while something new really sticks. Here are a few of my newest favorite things:

1. The oil cleansing method. I wanted to blog about this immediately after I tried it, but I waited a few months to make sure I was a devoted follower. In an effort to detox, I ditched most of my skin care products after discovering they didn’t score very well on the EWG cosmetics database. I searched for safer alternatives and came to the conclusion that I could either spend WAY too much money on a fancy organic skin care line or I could go back to the basics. I chose the basics. Try this: Pour a large dollop of castor oil and another large dollop of your favorite oil (I like avocado or jojoba) in the palm of your hand. Rub hands together to mix oils and apply to face in circular motions for a minute or so. Take a hot wash cloth, ring it out, and let it set on your face for a bit to let your pores open and oil soften. Repeat, and then gently wipe remaining oil off with washcloth. Go to bed. Wake up to skin that feels amazing. Repeat every night. The pain of washing washcloths and taking a little extra time quickly wore off for me. Now, I look forward to it nightly because it has been so beneficial. I no longer need a separate moisturizer and my face does not look shiny by 10am anymore! For more detailed instructions, read here.

2. Dry brushing. I’ll admit I came across this after searching for natural “cellulite” remedies during swim-suit season. While I’m not convinced of that benefit, it is amazingly invigorating and makes me feel just plain good. It is also the cheapest and easiest way to exfoliate, stimulate blood and lymph circulation, tighten and tone skin, stimulate oil and sweat glands, improve nervous system function, aid digestion, and prevent premature aging. My routine includes first thing in the morning to wake up my body, and then again post workout before I hit the shower. Here is a how-to video and further reading.

3. Liquid Castile soap. This has been my go-to soap for many things: face wash in the shower, body wash, and kids shampoo/body wash. I like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Dr. Woods Liquid Castile soap (most grocery stores at least carry Dr. Woods).  It can be used full strength for skin cleansing, and diluted for shampoos, household cleaners, and laundry detergent! A little goes a long way, which is an added bonus for the budget. Plus, combined with dry brushing, the need for lotions and moisturizers afterwards is almost non-existent. Organic soaps and oils aside, I’m certainly far from all-natural elitist–just taking steps towards a less toxic life. I too spent a half an hour sampling all the new pumpkin scents at Bath and Body Works the other day and buy my kids funky character themed soaps, because sometimes things like that bring worthwhile smiles.

4. Protein packed coffee. In a perfect world I have eggs or some type of animal protein for breakfast every morning with a handful of nuts, but busy mornings happen more often than not. Try this: In a to-go coffee mug mix 8oz hot coffee, a splash or two of unsweetened almond or coconut milk, and a serving of your favorite protein powder. I stick my blender bottle insert in my Contigo travel mug, shake it up, and it’s perfect. Yum. It makes a great pre-workout breakfast, plus coffee IS very beneficial!

Here’s to trying something new!


“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” ~F.D.R

Getting Enough Me-Time

14 Aug
picture courtesy

picture courtesy

As the summer comes to a close, I realize how the chaos around me has reached a crescendo.  I need a routine and order to bring some sanctity to my life.   School (or for us, homeschool) provides the structure that brings predictability and measurable progress. I often get a comment that has pricks my curiosity, strikes a nerve, and ultimately inspires a lot of introspection.  It goes something like this, “I could never homeschool my kids.  I need my me-time.”

I feel like answering this common question publicly.

When my children were preschool-aged, I regularly sent them to hourly childcare and part-day pre-school.  I would also call babysitters on days I needed some more help.  Then, whenever my hubby was free, I was happy to leave them with him.  This was my pattern.  If I am being honest, my existence as a mom began to resemble something from a Bravo Housewives episode, revolving mostly around me-time activities: gym, shopping, lunch with friends.

Yet, even after hours of being away, I would come home to the kids, and quickly get irked at how they’d get in my way and distract me from doing the things I really needed (er, um, wanted) to be doing.  I was becoming unhappy–begrudging them and my days.  Where was that peace and refreshment the me-time was supposed to replenish?

Here’s the thing.  No matter how much me-time I rack up during the week….it never feels like enough.  The more I get, the more I crave.

It sounds like I don’t love my kids.  I do.  I just had a warped idea of what my life was supposed to look like.  By the grace of God alone, I’ve recognized my shameful pattern.

Over time, as my outlook on me-time has transformed, I’ve become a lot more relaxed in the day-to-day operations.
The me-time that I DO get to myself, I deeply savor.
It is less frequent, but far more satisfying.  That paradigm shift also helped me have the courage to go ahead and venture into homeschooling.  So, yes.  I am with my children daily.  (So is Heather now!!)  We all have to go to the grocery store together, and I often attend appointments with all of them in tow.  Then there are ideal days where we have the freedom to go to Barnes and Noble for reading and warm drinks, or on a bug hunt to fill their watch-a-bugs.

Have you thought about what is going on in the world all around us?  Togetherness is a privilege.

It has been such a blessing to change my expectation of my me-time needs.  This is all a delicate balance.  Life’s chaos ebbs and flows regularly; embrace the crazy instead of fleeing it.  :)  Hear me out—we do need periods of solitary retreat to recharge our batteries from time to time.  But ultimately, we need to look daily to the One who came, so that we may have life and have it in abundance. (John 10:10)  He spelled it out very clearly:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25.

Enjoy your journey!

Cultivating Choosy Children

26 Jun


Considering the abundance of creature comforts and food choices in our country, it should be an easy no-brainer to just feed our children good food.

What makes it not easy?

We are inundated with tempting and unhealthy foods constantly, and somehow there is guilt associated with saying “no” to the day-after-day junk.  Why is this such a source of guilt?  As parents, we should embrace our responsibility to lead them in every way, not the least of which are nutrition habits.  We simply don’t have the luxury to X it off our list of what we impart to them.

The processed “food” industry creates inventory that is specially formulated to hook us, and ultimately our wallets.  It’s sad.  I am straight-up offended at what they are trying to sell me.  How stupid do they think we are?  Here is a telling clue:

This company is laughing all the way to the bank.

This company is laughing all the way to the bank.

Is this what it’s come to?  This is audacious.  We should all be offended.  And afraid.  Anyone seen Wall-E?

We have to teach our kids how to decipher truth from fiction.  Kids CAN reason.   Tell them why.  “Because I said so” only goes so far.  That statement will control their behavior for a while.  But if you want to instill into their hearts a reverence for their health, then you’ll have the “why” conversation with them.  Often.

quick reminder

quick reminder


–Show them the labels with the unreadable ingredient paragraphs and discuss the implications.
–Remind them that there are plenty of occasions in the outside world to eat an array of junk food; however, their home is an oasis for delicious real food that God designed for our best health.
–Use a lot of positive reinforcement: “I LOVE the way you picked that delicious snack, it’s going to make you feel wonderful!”
–And, you can pepper-in some occasional negative mantras as well: “Cookies make you fat and slow.”*  :) Just kidding.  But no really.

Kids appreciate the opportunity to make their own choices!  Everyone wants to have some sort of control over their circumstances–allow them to exercise freedom of choice when it comes to good food.  I have had much success telling my children something like this:  “You know, we had cake at the birthday party yesterday.  So, your choice of dessert is either fresh cherries, or ants-on-a-log, or some dried mangoes.”  Et cetera.   The simple opportunity to make their own selection goes a long way.  (It worked well this week on our recent vacation-tour of America’s finest gas stations, fast food restaurants and the world-class American feeding-trough we call Golden Corral.   I mean moving cross-country.)

The goal is to instruct our littles how to identify the unhealthy, and to be on the lookout for the ideal.  Avoid spotlighting what’s being withheld.  Strive to highlight all the delectable foods God has provided.

We have to move past the idea that eating healthy is somehow a deprivation!!  This is such a lie from the media and from the haters all around us.  It is a privilege to have access to healthful food and the means to provide it for our families.

In the immortal words of Melissa Hartwig: It’s not that effing hard.**  Do right by them, and point them in the right direction.  Yes, you may have some pushback, but with the right amount of reason and flexibility, it will come together.  What is more–they will anticipate getting to make a choice, and begin to initiate the conversation.

Stay with it.


*Words of wisdom spoken by C. VanWey
**I am preaching to myself.
Read more on getting your kids on board to a clean diet.
This is a brief explanation of what balance means.

Let’s Get Real Here

30 Apr


I love being creative in the kitchen. In fact, the inspiration for this post came from an experimentation half gone wrong making fake noodles out of chicken. Yes. Noodles out of chicken. Leigh told me about this recipe she saw on TV a while back for “no carb noodles” and I had to give it a go. I was secretly hoping to share some awesome news about how easy and fun it was to make protein packed chicken noodles, but I ended up with a big mess and an hour (or two!) of my life I’ll never get back.

Eating clean does not require crazy creativity, hours of preparation, or recipes two pages long. I cook every night for my family, but every night is certainly not show-stopping or photography worthy. For me, cooking is an outlet so I do experiment quite a bit. This is because I want to and not because I have to in order to eat clean. I love all the recipes on our blog, many of which are rotational staples for us. I also love the simplicity of being able to choose whatever protein I have on hand, steam up a huge bag of frozen veggies and call it dinner. One of the best parts about going primal is forgetting about the fifty million ways to dress up rice and noodles, and making protein the centerpiece.

Here are what typical week night dinners look like for us when I’m winging it:

  1. Spaghetti squash or broccoli slaw with sautéed ground beef or sausage and a jar of gluten-free/no sugar added marinara.
  2. Easy tuna or salmon burgers with a big spinach salad (my personal salad always starts with 4 cups spinach or raw greens).
  3. Taco seasoned ground beef with big spinach salad and salsa. Kids usually eat their meat in a bowl chili style with some fixings on top.
  4. Chicken stir fry with a ton of whatever fresh veggies I have on hand. Usually not following a recipe–throwing in gluten-free soy sauce, ginger, etc until it tastes good enough to serve.
  5. Sample tray platter of: rolled up nitrate free deli meat, cut up raw veggies, cut up cheese, and sliced fruit with ranch or mustard for dipping and frilly toothpicks, of course.
  6. Some form of meatballs (sometimes just ground beef, salt and pepper if I’m in a big hurry) with sautéed cabbage or broccoli slaw.
  7. Scrambled eggs and nitrate free sausage or bacon.
  8. Straight from the freezer: oven baked chicken, steamed veggies and a bag of sweet potato fries.

Here are my favorite go-to recipes that appear on a rotation when I actually manage to plan a bit:

  1. Quick Ground Lamb Kheema
  2. Honey Nut Salmon
  3. Paleo Pad Thai
  4. Quick Shrimp Curry
  5. Marinated Flank Steak from Marks Daily Apple #2
  6. Stuffed Peppers
  7. Chicken Masala
  8. Coconut Flour Pizza
  9. Unwrapped Gyoza
  10. Sausage Spinach Meatballs with Zucchini noodles

As for side dishes, veggies don’t need to be dressed up. Steamed, oven roasted, or raw, they’re the only sides you’ll ever need. Also, double the recipe when you can. Leftovers from yummy clean dinners make breakfasts and lunches easy, and keep you from making bad choices when you’re low on time or energy.

In the end, remember that no one is perfect and you have to pick your battles. I don’t care for splitting hairs over a bit of added sugar in my breakfast sausage or canola oil in my frozen sweet potato fries that we enjoy from time to time. All you can do is aim to make the best choices for your family, your body and your budget– and don’t forget to enjoy life!

Happy Tuesday,


Lessons Learned from a Trench of Loss.

24 Apr

Some of you may know that I experienced another miscarriage in March. I was 17 weeks.

Here is a photo of our little baby at our 15 week ultrasound, apparently healthy and kicking :) Sadly, two weeks later, I learned she had passed away.


The private side of me wants to keep all this experience to myself. However, I have a strong conviction to share the story. It’s really been a bad-news/good-news situation.

Bad news: no baby, and all the second & third order effects from that loss. Good news: rich life-messages that cut straight to my heart. So here you have peek into my diary…a few of the thoughts. Just the good ones. (Nice and cleaned up. My actual journal is unreadable chicken-scratched thought-fragments, coffee and tear-stained.)

1. My former trials are my resources to deal with today’s trials. Heartaches from years ago have clearly become redeemed, because they prepared me to shoulder this. Those hardships laid today’s foundation of perspective and strength, and if nothing else, isn’t that evidence that the Romans 8:28 promise is true?

2. Some people chose to say nothing, presumably because they thought it was nicer. One thing I quickly learned about myself: I felt most consoled when people expressed their sympathies. Acknowledgement gives dignity to the grief, and it honors the life that was lost. I took it pretty hard when friends and family chose silence; I had to choose forgiveness with Proverbs 14:10 in mind. Has anyone preferred for people to say nothing? I am asking with honest sincerity. If ever I have been, I won’t be a nothing-sayer again. Proverbs 12:25 says “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. “ How. True.

3. Memorized scripture passages were invaluable. Often I am not near my Bible (and using my Bible app makes the kids think I am looking my phone constantly). Calling on memorized passages drowns out the confusion, the lies of fear, the “what ifs,” and the inner voices of discouragement and defeat. You can’t think two thoughts at the same time.

4. God is LOVE. Love is the beginning of the story of humanity. Love is why we were created. Love is also why we all cower at the pain (evil) around us–we are not wired to simply shrug it off. Here in the land of the living, Love ALWAYS costs grief. But take heart, Love has the last word, and one day everything sad will come untrue. John 16:33.

5. Among the many strong women surrounding me, there has been tremendous suffering. I am humbled.

6. The social media do not give me a soul-fix. It usually brought me a few steps back in my progress. Great tools, horrible therapy.

7. Caving to fear will keep me from experiencing life to the fullest.

8. The name Gabrielle means “God will strengthen.” Raphael means “God Heals.” When this came to me, I knew our baby was named. It was my confirmation that the Lord does know the unborn, that Psalm 139:14-16 is true. He knows.

9. The gift of fertility is not something to fear, take for granted, or dismiss. See it as an honor and an opportunity, don’t necessarily turn it down. After almost 8 years, my husband and I can already see the evidence that each of our children are prestigious Godsends. Granted, having (more) children requires a step of faith, because it feels safer to maintain the status quo. But you only live once, and though it’s a tireless adventure, we’re after the richest experience–which entails taking the good with the bad.

Thanks for letting me share these thoughts.
Warmest Regards,


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