Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Skinny Carrot Cake

I have to say this is the queen of all reduced-calorie cakes. No one will EVER suspect that there is no oil and less sugar in it, as it is super moist and sweet and amazingly delicious. It also has a good amount of fiber, fruits, and vegetables in it, so it actually has nutritional value. My husband and kids almost always request this for their birthdays (as do I, unless I go for strawberry shortcake). The base recipe is from my husband's grandmother, but I've tweaked it to cut the calories quite a bit.

1 1/2 cups sugar*
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
2 cups flour (whole white wheat flour is best)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 cups grated or shredded carrots

4 oz. regular cream cheese
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 lb. (or so) powdered sugar

Mix sugar, applesauce, and eggs. Then add dry ingredients and mix well. Combine carrots last, and bake in greased and floured 9x13 pan @ 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until a fork in the middle comes out clean. Cool and frost. Keep leftovers in the fridge, since there are so many fruits and veggies that can spoil on the counter.

* I usually use 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup Splenda, or you could use all Splenda or any combination of the two. You could also probably get away with just 1 cup of sugar total. The frosting keeps it plenty sweet.

WARNING: You can no longer consider this cake reduced-calorie if you eat the whole thing in one sitting!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Pancakes

I did not feel like making dinner tonight. That usually means it's pancake night at my house. I had leftover strawberries that needed to be eaten up, so it was time for some experimenting. I wanted to make something delicious with some nutritional value and reasonably low in the calorie department, which is a fine line to walk. Well, thankfully, this time it worked! This was so good and filling, and, contrary to what the picture would lead you to believe, it was delicious plain, without any need for added junk spilled all over it. Also, because it's sweet, you don't leave dinner craving dessert. 

1 lb. strawberries, sliced
1-2 tbsp sugar/sweetener
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup applesauce 
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. chia seeds
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix the sliced strawberries with the sugar and set aside, or use leftovers from strawberry shortcake. Combine the wet ingredients, add the rest, other than the chocolate chips, and mix well. Gently add the strawberry mixture and chocolate chips, and cook like any other pancake, making sure to dig to the bottom when scooping so you don't get all the good stuff in the last few pancakes. Eat a whole stack!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ready, Set, Succeed!

As I was getting ready for bed recently, I walked around closing up the house, checking on the kids, brushing my teeth, doing all the things I do at night. The entire time I was doing this I had a checklist and accompanying judgment going on in my head that I didn't even notice til near the end. I went on a long walk and made fruit smoothies for my family today. Way to go, except that we then went out to eat large amounts of artery clogging unhealthiness. Fail. We spent some good family time together today. That would've been great except that I was not very loving when I barked at my 5 year old repeatedly to do his homework. Fail. I watched an informative news program that made me feel like a more competent citizen. Nice job, but I managed to avoid any spiritual enlightenment today, which means I'll be a great citizen in hell. Fail. I brushed my teeth. Hardly even worth a pat on the back, and then I talked myself out of the 30 seconds it would have taken me to floss out of sheer laziness. Fail. I finally noticed this internal checklist when I felt my breath and pulse slightly quicken as my list of failures got longer and seemed to come at me quicker, and I wanted to scream, "I'm doomed! I'll never, not even one single day, ever do everything I'm supposed to do! I absolutely can not win this!" Luckily, the slightly kinder side of myself, the one that is less prone to negative mental outbursts, made me stop it all because none of it was helping.

It's true that I will probably never live a day when I get up on time, beautiful, and chipper, easily and happily get the kids all fed and to school on time and matching, have a personal best workout, patiently and with not a hint of resentment clean up the banana and oatmeal ground into the floor, table, and wall by my sweet and innocent little angels, find both the time and energy to keep my house constantly crud-free, make perfectly nutritious meals while offering and eating no refined sugars or saturated fat, spiritually connect and better myself, keep my mind and professional skills sharp, be perfectly patient and loving with my husband and kids, and floss at the end if the day before initiating at least one rousing love-making session with my husband. Just writing that was almost more than I could bare. I suspect I might not be the only one that has a detailed imaginary life against which I measure myself, or maybe it's a friend or neighbor with this, assuredly imaginary, life.

I have found that the quickest way to get me to sit on my butt in my filthy house yelling at my kids and eating ice cream out of the carton is to decide that since I always manage to mess up, I shouldn't even try. This happens occasionally. Luckily, because the dichotomous relationship I have with myself requires a constant inner dialogue, one side of which is much wiser than the other, those times don't tend to last very long. The much wiser me knows that it's in striving that strength is gained. She knows that feeling overwhelmed is a cue to stop, take a deep breath, and start again, simply checking one thing off the list at a time. Pick one thing, just one, to work on and grow into at a time. Celebrate every small victory, forgive and learn from every failure, and listen to the empowering wisdom inside you telling you that your strength is found in your striving and joy is in each small success. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Thighs Touch, And It's Okay

Facebook keeps telling me I'm not good enough. It keeps suggesting that I might want to lose 19lbs. in 3 weeks or learn the biggest diet trick plastic surgeons don't want me to know. On top of that, it seems like every woman I know (and I love you all) is talking about losing weight, posting pics of buff models trying to inspire us all to the body they have, and secretly either considering going under the knife, already done so, or feels like she can't compete with the ones who have. This does seem to be a pretty female problem, though not without exceptions. Now before I go any further I want to clarify. It is absolutely not my intention to vilify anyone who has ever been on a diet, posted buff pics, or gone under the knife. I am simply taking a step back from the individual trees to see the forest for what, to me, it seems to be.

We are insecure, and we are perpetuating a culture of insecurity. I started worrying about dieting and cutting calories by the time I was 12. My mom, who was on a limited budget and had always bought whole milk for our entire family of 8, graciously agreed to get me my own skim milk and low-fat foods, some of which were good food choices, some of which were total gimmicky crap. Even as an athletic teenager, I was self-conscious about my thick waist and thighs and never felt good enough. I realized something not too long ago, though. I spent so much time back then worrying about my imperfect body and apologizing to myself and everyone else for that missed work-out or that extra large bowl of ice cream (that I could have enjoyed, had I not felt so much guilt), and now, three kids and twenty years later, I would die for that body back. That realization made me decide that I would not squander the next decade of my life shaming myself, only to look back and mourn the loss of what I had but couldn't appreciate. Yes, my waist is barely smaller than my hips. I have stretch marks. My thighs touch *gasp*. These things are unlikely to change, no matter what drastic steps I take or how much I hate them, so I've decided not to spend my precious energy worrying about it. I work out regularly and try to make good food choices (most of the time). I think everyone should, but I also think we should stop obsessing about it and competing with each other, and focus our energy on something worthwhile, like malnourished children and awful human rights violations around the world. Our rubbing thighs and cellulite are, after all, first world problems, aren't they?

There is a word and gesture in yoga, Namaste, where the hands are together directly in front of the heart and people bow slightly to each other. Namaste literally means "I bow to you", but it means that you acknowledge your own and another's soul, the spiritual or divine spark within each of us. It reminds us to see past the physical world to acknowledge that the soul and connection of souls is the most important thing. I know that might be a little touchy feely for some, but it's important to see past our limitations sometimes to see the beauty that is inherently present in all of us.

I believe that balance is such an important part of healthy living. If you love weight-lifting, do it. Just don't neglect your family while you're at the gym for hours every single day. If you love warm, gooey homemade chocolate chip cookies, eat them. Just consider sticking with small batches to lessen the temptation and don't make them on a nightly basis. If you want to lose weight or improve the look of your body, do it. Just keep it reasonable and sustainable, and don't compare yourself with others whose genetic make-up, hormones, and daily demands are different than yours. So as you continue on your journey of a healthy, whole, and beautiful life, consider first accepting yourself as you are, imperfections and all. No more shame, no more apologies. Once that burden is lifted from us all, we are in a much better position to choose one thing at a time that is standing in the way of our optimally well selves and choose to improve. As long as we allow the self-loathing and competition to continue, though, no amount of healthy choices will make us well. We can do better. We can feel whole, even without perfection.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Catalina Chicken Salad

This is so simple and especially great on a hot summer day. It's a favorite of mine for days when I have to be running around all afternoon and can have this all ready to just toss on the dinner table. It has such simple ingredients, as well, that I almost always have what I need to throw it together.

1 lb. whole wheat pasta, cooked
1-2 chicken breasts, cubed and cooked (or 1-2 cans chunked chicken)
shredded Parmesan cheese
dark leafy greens, like mixed greens, red or green leaf lettuce, or raw spinach
fat-free Catalina dressing

The whole wheat pasta, full of whole grains and fiber, and lean chicken can be quickly cooked up earlier in the day. A bit of Italian seasoning can be mixed in with the chicken while cooking to add flavor, but the dish stands just fine on its own without. Using canned chicken makes it even easier, as you get to skip the cooking process altogether, but you do get a few additives for the convenience. Toss the pasta and chicken together and put in a covered bowl in the fridge for at least a couple hours. At dinner time, just lay down the pasta mixture on an ample bed of vitamin-rich greens, sprinkle with cheese and drizzle with Catalina. It just doesn't get any easier than that, and you get to feel good that you're offering a balanced meal that even kids will eat! It's great as leftovers or for work lunches, too.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Perfect Papaya Smoothie

I'll admit right up front that I have never been a papaya fan, so if you find yourself in this category don't give up on me yet. Papaya is high in vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber, but I wouldn't eat anything I didn't like, regardless of its nutritional benefits. The trick is to make nutritious things desirable, not choke them down. My island living stint has given me a bit more reason than usual to try more exotic fruits. My family and I tried papaya months ago, and we thought that was going to be chalked up to an island experience not worth repeating. When I inadvertently ended up with more of the strange fruit later on I decided to find a way to make it delicious, and you know what? I managed to really make it happen! As much as I'd like to tell you what a genius I am, It's hard to go wrong with a smoothie. Anything in this recipe can be substituted, though I love this particular combo. The coconut water (which I think is disgusting on its own, but a yummy nutritional boost in the mix) can be skim milk or even water. The pear can become a peeled and cored apple. Add mango, or even replace the papaya with it. The amounts aren't exact either. They're just a guide. It's all about handfuls and eyeballing and playing with texture. This recipe makes an entire blender full, so prepare to share the deliciousness!
1 ripe papaya
1 banana
1 pear with skin
1 clementine mandarin (or small orange)
1/2-1 cup fresh pineapple
1/2-1 cup coconut water
6-12 ice cubes
Combine peeled, cored, and rough chopped fruits in blender. Add enough coconut water for the mixture to blend well. On high, add the desired amount of ice. When the ice is well incorporated, pour and enjoy for breakfast, snack, or to satisfy a sweet tooth. Aloha!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rice Cookers and the Advancement of the Human Race

Recently, my husband saw me eying a programmable rice cooker/steamer/slow cooker while grocery shopping, and, knowing I would find a way to convince myself I didn't really need it, he silently put it in the cart. I love that man. He then sat at home and tried not to mock me while I excitedly explained all the things I could do with it. As I'm sure none of you can relate, I'll quickly explain that I feel like I'm being drawn and quartered in the afternoons, between homework and snacks and playtime and refereeing and a needy toddler underfoot, when I should be preparing fabulously healthy and delicious home-cooked meals for my growing family. The chaos has, more than once (okay, more than 20 times), instead had me reaching for the mac & cheese and hotdogs. Now I'm not selling rice cookers or crock pots, and this isn't really about that. It's about deciding on an end goal and using the available technology to make it happen. My afternoons tend to be crazy, and a programmable rice cooker/steamer/slow cooker, being slightly cheaper than a personal chef, just might help with that. We also have family spread all over the universe, and Facebook, blogs, Facetime, and Skype are great resources for us. My smartphone is my phone, grocery list, GPS, personal trainer, camera, newspaper, music player, book, birthday reminder, bank access, organizer, and recipe book.

Now there are times we fight technology, and sometimes rightfully so. Large doses of smartphones, tablets, and Facebook aren't always truly relaxing or conducive to positive human interaction. Trying to control autocorrect or learn how to use a new remote can be mind-bending. One's connection with the outside world might diminish considerably if an interesting show with several cliffhanging seasons appears on Netflix. The Internet, while an almost endless sea of knowledge and connection, is also the proverbial carrot of danger and filth dangling before us and our children constantly.

The catch with technology is much the same as with carbs, sleep, and sex. It's all about moderation and keeping your eye on that end goal. So I say embrace technology, but ask yourself a few questions first. 1) What is my end goal? 2) What can assist me in achieving it? 3) Are there inherent risks that should be considered, such as possible abuse or safety concerns, that limit a tool's benefits or need to be addressed?

Computers, smartphones, tablets, Internet, smart TVs, Bluetooth, and fancy kitchen appliances can all be amazing resources.  Don't let technology use you, though, gobbling up all your time, money, or sanity. Instead, use IT as a tool to help you achieve your goals! Now what's been on your mind- that goal you've been pushing to the back of your head to get to when you have more time, money, or courage? What little piece of the 21st century can help get you there? Do you need to set limits or do a bit of risk management so this tool stays properly in its helpful place? Okay. Now get there!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lean In!

I slept in this morning, if you can call it that after having been woken up twice by my six year old by 6:45am, first asking me if I would help him dig through the couch for the remote and then to tell me he found a crayon and a bug in the couch. I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I woke up, though, it was too late to take advantage of the cool ocean air and indirect sunlight for my morning run. It meant facing the hot sun on my face and sweating profusely, looking somewhat like a speckled zombie on my way. I did it. I say that with a bit of pride, as I've not always had the will to be temporarily uncomfortable in order to get that endorphin rush and feeling of accomplishment that comes with pushing myself. My run was everything I thought it would be- hot, sweaty, and ugly, but I did it and it feels great!

During everything I do that really challenges me, which includes every single run, I invariably hit a point where I realize I'm tired, I hurt, and I want to stop. I no longer naturally move in a forward direction. It occurred to me one day recently when I was forced to run into the wind that at these moments I have two distinct choices before me- lean back or lean in. Every person who has ever experienced anything difficult has felt the pull of these juxtaposing forces. I have taken both paths. I have succumbed to my fatigue and leaned back, letting my lower body carry me along at a much lower intensity. It is a short-term relief, I admit, but it doesn't make me better. Now that I recognize this moment of choice, which sometimes lasts for half my work-out, I can clearly see the temptation to lean back and instead choose to do the opposite- lean in! The feeling of recommitting to the challenge and defiantly pushing forward (leading with the chest, not the shoulders, of course), though admittedly painful, is a rush that stretches the human spirit, as well as the body.

We're all inspired by people who accomplish nearly super-human things- Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oscar Pistorius (murder charge aside), Mother Teresa. The trick is to not see them as superheroes that just aren't limited like the rest of us. That makes it too easy to dismiss our own challenges because we just weren't built as strong as they were, be that strength physical, mental, or emotional. The truth is, they are just like us, but given the challenge and the choice, they lean in! Today, I choose to lean in, and my muscles and my spirit are stronger for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fun, Family, AND Fitness?!


I have a confession. I sat down to write something new and exciting about getting active in fun and creative ways, and found a draft I wrote almost exactly a year ago and never posted. It's quite similar to my current apparently unoriginal idea, though my exercise of choice has changed several times since then. Given the fact that this is a recurring theme in my life, I thought it worth posting now, however outdated the personal details.

Here goes:

I admit it. I gained a bunch of weight over the past several months. Then, miraculously, a good chunk of it just disappeared all in one day. He is cute and cuddly and keeps me up at night. This awesome experience still left me significantly short of my skinny jean size, so I took to the treadmill. Now I'm certainly not anti-treadmill. It's been a great way to get around trudging through snow and sweating through triple digit temperatures, but it can get a little monotonous, even with a TV with which to watch all my old DVDs.

Then, quite by accident, my family created a new evening ritual. With about an hour left of sunlight, my boys and husband get out their bikes and I get out the stroller. They ride up and down and around, since I can't quite keep up with them, and we walk/ride/stroll for several miles almost every evening. Not only am I able to stick to this and put in significantly more mileage than the treadmill, but I really love the time with my family. The boys get to let off some steam, sometimes quite literally, after a hot day mostly stuck inside, but they are so fun to watch. My husband also rides back and forth between me and the boys, and we get to enjoy some time interacting, usually without a crying baby or TV present.

Now, the walk/ride/stroll combo might sound strange, but besides the fact that I don't have a decent bike that doesn't bruise my poor nether-regions, my boys could never ride far enough for me to get the same workout on wheels as I do on foot. Now, maybe this doesn't sound like fun or wouldn't logistically work for you, but don't be afraid to think outside the box and find something that does. Exercise doesn't have to be boring or monotonous or feel like a chore. In fact, the point is to make it joyful! Get out as a family or join a group or sign up for that pole dancing class you've had your eye on. Do it because it feels great, and you're body will thank you for it!
Fast-forward to the present:

Who did I think I was kidding? I've never really had a skinny jean size, but the baby weight is, mercifully, gone with the midnight feedings. We still do occasional family walk/ride/strolls, but my day-to-day exercise has gotten more individual, for the time being. For several months I focused on improving my yoga skills. I've recently started interval training several times a week in hopes of surviving a 5K in a few months. The specific exercise isn't really important, though different exercise will accomplish different goals. The important thing is finding something that keeps you healthy and active that you don't dread with every fiber of your being. Train for a specific goal, learn a new skill, find all the best local hiking trails, or bust a move in a Kangoo class (pictured above; presumably not for the uncoordinated). The possibilities are endless, and it all works. It doesn't have to be about being supermodel skinny or winning a marathon. It's about feeling great and experiencing the best life has to offer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Delicious Whole Wheat Waffles

These whole wheat waffles are a low-fat, nutritious, and delicious start to the day. They cost pennies to make, are quick and easy, and if you want even quicker future breakfasts you can make a huge batch and freeze them for a quick toaster/microwave reheat to grab anytime. My kids even like the leftovers as snacks with peanut butter or jam on them. If you like to mix it up, my oatmeal pancake recipe also makes great oatmeal waffles. This recipe has more of a traditional taste with all the whole grain and nutrients of whole wheat flour.

2 eggs (or 4 egg whites)
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup applesauce (no sugar added)
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Variations are always fun, so add a tbsp. of cinnamon for cinnamon waffles, cinnamon and 1/2-1 tsp. of nutmeg for french toast waffles, or for apple cinnamon waffles replace one or both of the eggs with 1/4 cup more applesauce per egg and add the cinnamon. Serve with syrup, fruit and yogurt, jam, or strawberries/strawberry puree and a bit of whipped cream. So good!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shake Down Summer

I love summer. I love milkshakes. I DON'T love adding 500+ empty calories to my thighs on a regular basis. There is a simple answer to all of this. A delicious and refreshing milkshake does not have to be ice cream based. Hear me out. All it takes is bananas, milk, and ice (with infinite variation possibilities), and I promise it's worth all it's guiltlessness!

Basic Banana Shake: I'm not much of a measurer, and this one doesn't need exact measurements at all. It's a simple concept that can be adjusted however you like it best. Start with 2-3 ripe bananas, depending how banana-y you like it. They need to be good and ripe (but not rotten) in order to have the right sweetness. If you use under-ripe bananas you'll have to add a bit of sugar, and the taste just isn't as good. With the bananas in the blender add 1-2 cups of milk, depending on the size of the blender and the thickness of shake desired, with an optional teaspoon of vanilla. Leave plenty of room to add a bunch of ice to the desired consistency. That's it! One blender full makes several servings.

Variations: If you're not a banana fan, you can experiment with all kinds of fruit. Anything goes. I just find that bananas are a good shake base because of their consistency, and it's a great way to use them up when they're just a bit too ripe to want to eat plain. I like to add to the banana base with other fruit. It's a great use for frozen strawberries or the ones in the fridge that'll be furry by tomorrow. If you crave chocolate, add a couple teaspoons of baking cocoa with a teaspoon or two of sugar, as the cocoa is usually a bit bitter. Use your imagination. There are lots of flavorings to try between the baking isle and the coffee section of the grocery store. I have mint and hazelnut that would be good in the right shake. I've even added a graham cracker, giving it a pie taste. The possibilities are endless, and you won't feel like you're stuck with diet food to enjoy nutrition and a great variety of tastes for the summer!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Keep Strawberries Alive!

It's strawberry season, which I get pretty excited about. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and fiber, as well as containing lots of other vitamins and minerals. They are also delicious! My problem with strawberries has always been that, for most of the year, they are just so expensive, and when they're cheap you can only eat so many before they go bad.

I want cheap strawberries to eat throughout the year, so I've started freezing them. Sure, you can buy frozen strawberries, but those cost even more than out-of-season fresh ones most of the time. It is SO easy to just do it yourself. When the price is right, buy as many as you want to deal with and can fit in your freezer. Just rinse and dry with a kitchen towel, cut the stems off, and place on cookie sheets. Place the cookie sheets flat in the freezer for several hours. My freezer isn't huge, so I just have to do a couple sheets at a time. When the berries are relatively hard, just fill gallon freezer bags and store back in the freezer. If you skip the cookie sheet and just freeze in the bags you might find that you have a gallon-sized strawberry mass. They become a lot harder to deal with that way.

The disclaimer here is that nothing truly replaces fresh strawberries. That's still the best way to eat them and the only good way to eat them whole or freshly cut up in salads or cereal. Frozen strawberries are still very useful and nutritious, though, and are great for strawberry shortcake, pies, milkshakes, homemade ice cream, and puree to put in cakes and muffins or to pour over pancakes or waffles. With instant access to strawberries year-round, it's always spring in my house!

Monday, April 23, 2012

S-E-X, Part 2: Get Your Sexy Back

We established in Part 1 that sex is a great indicator of the condition of our marriages. If we are feeling happy and connected with our spouse, chances are we're having good sex. If we are having good sex, chances are we are feeling connected to our spouse. Notice I didn't just say any sex. I said GOOD sex. You can go through the motions and not have it translate into fulfillment and connectedness. In fact, simply going through the obligatory motions can breed resentment from both directions. A positive and fulfilling sexual experience is an inherent marital privilege we need not feel ashamed of, and we need to be open-minded and open with our spouses in order to create an environment where mutual fulfillment can exist. This being said, sex is even more complicated than that.

Now I'm no Dr. Ruth, but the culture of trying to be "good" sometimes seems to contradict our efforts in the bedroom. It seems to be much more prevalent for women, and we, as well as our husbands, are suffering for it. We generally feel it inappropriate to discuss our sex lives with others (and often don't even talk with our spouses about it), so we are left isolated trying to muddle through a very complicated and sensitive issue with only our own expertise and perspective to rely on. We are often deeply ingrained with the concept of modesty and told that only skanky girls dress provocatively or flaunt their sexuality, but we are told in passing that once we are married we're allowed to enjoy sex and supposed to keep our husbands satisfied. Did most of us even know what that entailed or how to balance the two concepts when we signed up for this? We have so many roles, so many parts to play, and most of them aren't glamorous. Being a caregiver, a chauffeur, a cook, a maid, a slave to a 9-5 job, a student, a Sunday school teacher, or a volunteer doesn't feel sexy, but being a wife should. I spent years not feeling sexy. I was too tired and too distracted to even care, and I felt annoyed at my husband continually acting like I was desirable. I chalked it up to him being blind and desperate. Then one otherwise uneventful day of victimhood and bored-wifedom it came to me like a bolt of lightning. It would be much more fun to play the part of the sexy, seductive wife than to constantly be the pitiful victim of his piggish male advances. Once I decided, it didn't take long to bring my sexy back. We women are powerful. If we act sexy and feel sexy, we ARE sexy. And a secret for you husbands, if you treat us like we're sexy long enough, you just might have us convinced.

Going back to what I said at the very beginning, I had felt like I couldn't offer the sexual relationship my husband wanted because I didn't feel emotionally connected. When I just decided to do it anyway (and actually enjoy it), the emotional connection naturally improved on its own. Yes, husbands can help things along by actively trying to improve emotional intimacy, but we women don't have to wait for that. We can single-handedly change the direction of our marriages. It's empowering.

The acting sexy and feeling sexy are a chicken-or-egg kind of debate. Don't ask which one really comes first. I can't even really decide if they are two separate entities. In a lot of ways, if I act sexy I feel sexy, and if I feel sexy I act sexy, so whatever. I'm not a porn star, and I assume most of my readers aren't either, but that's the whole point. I am not trying to attract the widest range of men possible. I only need to attract one, and given the fact that he already chose me, I'm at least one step ahead of the game. I don't need to fret about my imperfect figure or my gravity-inclined body parts. His parts aren't so perfect either, right? Shhh. Don't tell him I said that. That being said, it's important to take care of our bodies. An active, healthy body is more hormonally and um... athletically suited for satisfying sex, but it's not about pounds and inches. It's about reasonably working on being healthy. Love the bod God gave you, and know your spouse craves that bod.

Get sexified! I know that's a pretty technical term, but stay with me. If you're into the au naturel thing I can't argue with that. You do what makes YOU feel sexy, as well as what appeals to your spouse, but some new way to pamper yourself and boost your confidence is a great way to begin a reconnect with your sexuality. For some, it's as simple as buying some new lingerie that flatters all your best parts. For others, it might mean a shopping spree to replace all the pre-baby 1990's Lee jeans with something a bit more contemporary, as well as the right size. Get a manicure, a pedicure, a new haircut and/or color, try shaving more than once a month just to mix things up, get a bit sun-kissed (not too much), up your activity level, update your make-up, get some pjs that don't make you look like your grandmother or a balloon, or whatever. Just do something to make you feel a bit more on top of your game. We're all friends here, right? You au naturel peeps stop paying attention for just a second. For the love of all that is good in this world, get a trimmer and/or some wax! Wax is not nearly as scary as it sounds, and it hardly hurts at all once you've done it a couple times. You can also save a ton of money by doing it at home with a kit you can buy at Walmart. You'll instantly have a new confidence and will never go back. Less self-consciousness and inhibition means more pleasure. If you're especially brave or experienced with this, go brazilian to mix it up (don't try that at home). This is not just for women, gentlemen. Ladies, we can gently encourage a decrease in body hair if we think it might be nice. Men will do just about anything to boost our libido.

Now that you've gotten back in touch with your sexy, act it! Remember how you used to flirt when you were dating and get back to it. Send a sexy note in his lunch or a mid-day email or text that makes him want to come home early. Prepare a candle-lit dessert and bath for after the kids are in bed. Make-out (or more, if you're brave) in the backyard under the guise of stargazing. Get massage oil and take turns giving full-body massages (I recommend on different nights). Take a belly or pole dancing class. Unexpectedly put on something sexy for a late night slow dance. Give up the pjs you call lingerie and go for something truly shocking. Try a new toy or game to spice things up. Do some research and try a new position or technique. Try initiating, for a change. Just do something! You ARE a sexual being, and you and your spouse deserve to enjoy it. It will help you feel connected as a couple, and it's FUN. Yes, fun is allowed and even encouraged in a marriage. It's part of romance.

Believe me, I know it's not always that easy. It can feel a bit unnatural at first if it's something you haven't done in a while, or ever, or it might feel slightly out of character for you. Start slow if you need to. I also know that sex has a physical component that doesn't always work like we wish it would. This is another area that requires some compassion and openness. The Act of Marriage, by Tim and Beverly LaHaye, is full of great information. Get to know what your spouse enjoys and get good at it. Be open to gently instructing him as to what you like and need. He's trying his best and only knows what you tell him. Don't be afraid to gently mention that the dance in the leopard print bikini briefs is more disturbing than sexy, or that you want more of this or less of that. Re-emphasize fore-play. Though a good lube in the nightstand is a must, it also shouldn't be a crutch. Most women make plenty of their own natural lubricant if given enough time and stimulation to be ready for intercourse.

It can be really helpful, since we women are so prone to carrying our stress around with us all day, to decide to get that sexy on hours before anything's gonna happen. Tease him a bit to get him looking forward to it. Make sure the kids are in bed on time. Take an extra long bath or shower and pamper yourself so you can feel your best. Keep reminding yourself during the day what you're looking forward to. Ask for what you need him to do for you to be relaxed and ready for a great experience. It can make a huge difference in the quality and quantity of lovemaking. If you wait til it just hits you as you climb into bed, you both might be waiting a while.

I can't express enough how much this can bless your life and your marriage. Sex offers much needed stress relief and positive hormonal contributions for increased health, as well as physical and emotional bonds that are imperative to a healthy marriage. Men, don't wait til your wife becomes your fantasy lover to offer her unconditional acceptance and romance. Women, don't wait til your husband comes galloping in on his white steed to become his sexy seductress. This gift is meant to be freely given and received within marriage, and yes, it's supposed to be fun!

Friday, April 20, 2012

S-E-X, Part 1: The Great Indicator

Let's just point out the elephant in the room right now. We are all sexual beings. We can pretend, deny, and repress all we want, but the truth remains. We, men AND women, were created to physiologically and emotionally desire and enjoy sex. It actually is good for our health and enhances our feelings of well-being. Those that believe in God and, at the same time, feel guilt or shame for this fact might want to ponder the whole created-in-His-image thing. If procreation were His only plan for sex, He might very well have left certain organs out and planned it entirely differently, since pleasure would be unnecessary. In fact, eliminating pleasure altogether might have made His job easier, since it would eliminate all kinds of societal ills and personal weaknesses, but I digress.

In a marriage relationship, the health of our sex life is a great indicator of the overall health of our relationship. I wouldn't have always said this. It's something that I really had to step back and humbly acknowledge after some real struggle. As much as I struggled to disprove it, though, my marriage has made more sense to me and my emotional well-being has improved since accepting and embracing this truth as a powerful ally. There are certainly a lot of resources out there on the subject, but there is also a lot of silence. The silence is deafening, and marriages are suffering because "good" people just don't talk about it and often don't know how to make "goodness" and sexuality co-exist.

It's probably no surprise that this issue is extremely complicated, maybe the most complicated aspect of an intimate relationship, as men and women tend to view it so completely differently. Entire books are written on the subject. Simply and generally put, men tend to have sex to feel close, and women tend to need to feel close in order to want sex. This naturally creates quite a bit of tension at times. In the ideal relationship, both spouses have a deep and constant emotional bond which naturally draws them into a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship. Those of you with this ideal relationship may stop reading right now (at least until Part 2), as I have nothing to add. I congratulate you on your marital perfection and ask you to pray for the rest of us. For those of us remaining, I tell you emphatically from experience that there is hope, and with some work and willingness to be vulnerable, your marital intimacy, both physical and emotional, can improve dramatically.

The first step is truly believing that sex is an inherent marital right and privilege and that shame has no place in it. Women especially need to embrace their sexuality, in the proper context, as beautiful and a blessing to them. And They Were Not Ashamed, by Laura Brotherson, CFLE, is a great resource if you struggle with this, and is a great overall resource on the entire subject. 

The second step is really excepting the truth that men and women have differing views and needs related to sex, and that neither is inherently right or wrong. Sex Begins In The Kitchen, by Dr. Kevin Leman, is a good read for this. Men, it's so important for you to understand that a woman resistant to your sexual needs is not just trying to make you suffer, and she is not frigid or sexless. You must be sensitive to, and patient with, her insecurities and desire to feel emotionally cared for in order to feel open to a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship. Women, your husband is not a demonic pig for desiring you on a regular basis. His desire can actually be a blessing to you and your relationship if you allow it. This doesn't mean you are obligated to comply with his every whim, but it does mean a sensitivity on your end and an effort to lovingly fulfill his needs when possible, which, believe it or not, will leave you feeling fulfilled as well.

This second step is not a quickie. It is extended fore-play, and it probably has to be adjusted many times over the years. It requires being open to and open with each other. It's not always easy to talk about sex, but it's so important to be on the same page here. It's dangerous to do this entirely individually, having to assume your spouse's needs, desires, and thoughts on the subject. You will inevitably be misguided in at least some of your assumptions, which is not only unfair to your spouse but counterproductive to your efforts. If it's hard to sit and talk about this, write letters or include this in your series of questions for each other. It's valuable information that can deepen your emotional intimacy and increase your understanding of and appreciation for your spouse if you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest in your answers and non-judgmental of your spouse's.

So if the health of our sex life is an indicator of the overall health of our relationship, how do we feel about our sex life? Is our mutual fulfillment a product and expression of our love and respect for each other, or is the dissonance we feel a product and expression of resentment, distance, and misguided priorities? We find the sensual aspects of sex exploited and replayed over and over in society and in the media. They may be titillating, but they are a lie. They deny the true beauty,complexity, and potential of married love. There is a deep love, acceptance, and powerful force within sex that can not be accessed by a one night stand. This power can only exist between two totally committed and monogamous partners that constantly work on reflecting the ideal of spiritual, emotional, and physical oneness.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Are You Worth?

Anyone that knows me very well knows that I'm somewhat of a finance buff. I worked in the banking field for 7 years, and even now it's a bit of a hobby for me. Yes, I have professional backgrounds in both finance and health. Though a strange mix, they are not entirely incompatible. When was the last time you felt completely whole, your best emotional and physical self, when you had pressing financial matters or unpaid bills? How does it affect your feelings of well-being to pay off a debt or take a positive financial step?

Whether you're struggling to get by paycheck to paycheck, debt-free with money in the bank, or anywhere in between, there are simple things you can do to improve your fiscal health. The first thing that can be helpful in framing financial goals and taking the proper steps in order to accomplish those goals is to know your starting point. What is your net worth? What does a current snapshot of your financial life look like? I recommend figuring this annually to help you keep perspective of where you really are and what your short and long-term goals should be.

A simple spreadsheet can do the trick. If you're really not computer literate, a piece of paper and a calculator would work, but it's important to keep it over the years to compare with future figures. I'm sure there are multiple ways you can do this, but this is one simple way. The first column lists Wealth-Building Assets like cash, bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts, and current market values of assets you own that tend to increase in value over time (like real estate). The second column lists any Other Assets like the current market value (if you sold them all today) of all your personal property, furniture, and vehicles (you'll have to estimate much of it). The third column lists all your Liabilities, or debt, including mortgages, vehicle loans, credit card and other unsecured debt, student loans, and anything else you owe. Simply add the items so you have a total for each column. Then list Total Assets (column 1 and 2), Total Liabilities (column 3), and Net Worth (Total Assets minus Total Liabilities).

Every year you can just plug in new columns for your already existing lists and have new totals to work with (without erasing previous amounts). Don't let these numbers distress you. It's not uncommon to even have a negative number for net worth to begin with. The important part is actually knowing where you stand financially so you can improve your situation bit by bit each year. Any amount of saving/investing for the future, paying down debt, or increasing equity will reward you with increased net worth each year, and you'll be well on your way to financial freedom and peace of mind.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Small Victories

This morning I didn't get any blogging done. I didn't get a lot of things done. I mowed the backyard instead, and given the oddly shaped hilly nature of my yard and my ever-expanding awkward belly, this was an exhausting feat. Yes, I'm proud, but I also found that almost immediately my mind cut off my feelings of triumph to bombard me with all the things on my list that haven't been done.

My plan was to get some great research done and put together something fabulous to post today, since I've been somewhat distracted recently. It didn't happen, and just as I started to feel the shame that inevitably comes on the rare occasions when I'm not perfect, it occurred to me that an important part of wellness is learning to just be okay with our limitations. No, my plans aren't all working out just as I'd like them to, but every time my mind takes me to that awful place where I can never win, I have a little something I like to say. "Small victories." Then I let myself revel in what I HAVE done, however small and seemingly insignificant. I conquered that ridiculous backyard. I fed my little urchins a special and nutritious breakfast. I made sure all the bills would get paid this month. I even made some progress with making my house a little less embarrassing, in case the dreaded unexpected visitor arrives. So forget that the list never actually gets finished. Celebrate the feelings of accomplishment that naturally come every time you get to check something off. Small victories may be all we ever get, so enjoy every second!

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Am Me

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." -Albert Einstein

I love this. It reminds me to be me and no one else. If I spend my life comparing my figure to airbrushed movie stars or 18 year olds who have never known the joys of childbirth, I will certainly always feel undesirable. If I compare my professional accomplishments to those without children and with advanced degrees and 30 years of experience, I will certainly always feel like an underachiever. If I compare all of my faults to others' strengths, I'll never have a sliver of hope to measure up.

I am me. I'm not any of the people I admire. I do not have their particular skill sets or personalities. I have mine, and though, in my own eyes it isn't much, it's enough to be successful. There are times I find myself focusing on the fact that I am a very analytical person that can come across as slightly abrasive, as I'm passionate about too many things, have too many opinions, and can't seem to hide them or keep my mouth shut. This disqualifies me from politics, sales, and professional butt-kissing, but it also makes me good at effective problem-solving, increasing efficiency, motivational speaking, and writing (don't laugh).

Writing is an effective tool. You don't have to be eloquent or particularly articulate for it to work. You just need a pen and paper or a computer, if you're like me and type faster (and more legibly) than you can write. Find some quiet time and just write who you are. Don't write who you aren't. Write what you're good at, what your strengths are. Leave your weaknesses out. This is a personal resume of sorts. Write what makes you a good husband or wife, parent, child, or sibling. Write what makes you good at your job or school, or the ever-daunting household responsibilities. Write what personality traits work for you and what hobbies you excel at. Write what makes you good at being you. Don't limit yourself, but keep each point concise and easy to scan back through regularly.

I have my personal resume, and whenever I get caught up in all the trees I can't climb, I look it over again. You know what? I'm a damn good fish!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sports Drinks: Fab or Fable?

There is a huge market for sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. Every NFL and collegiate football team has giant coolers, bottles, and towels advertising them. I've often wondered if those coolers actually even contain the stuff. My teams have often filled them with good ol' fashioned ice water. Regardless, we have, as a society, been convinced that we will be healthier, faster, and stronger if we drink as much as possible of these highly marketed concoctions.

Assuming marketing doesn't equal reality (which is usually a safe bet), what IS the truth regarding the need for, and usefulness of, sports drinks? Generally, sports drinks are a combination of water for hydration, carbohydrates for quick energy, and sodium and potassium for electrolyte replacement. Some specialty drinks include protein for muscle recovery after exercise. A meal usually suffices.

The water and carbs seem pretty self-explanatory, but let's consider the electrolytes for a minute. Without getting boringly technical, electrolytes are chemicals needed in the body for proper cell function. You need them in your blood and body tissues to survive. On the minor end, electrolyte shortages can cause muscle cramping. This is no fun, especially in the middle of a soccer or football game. On the severe end, have you ever heard of water intoxication? If you drink too much water without electrolyte balance you develop what's called hyponatremia. Your cells and tissues swell, you get very sick, and if not treated quickly, you die. Bananas are a great source of electrolytes. The BYU football team swears by pickle juice.

Now that you've had your little physiology lesson for the day, back to sports drinks. Yes, they serve a purpose. They are very helpful for high intensity, long duration exercise like football two-a-days in 90 degree weather or marathon running/training. They taste better than plain water, so athletes are more likely to drink enough to keep properly hydrated, and they add a few carbs to keep energy up and electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat. The nutrient balance is also such that the drink is absorbed from the stomach quicker than plain water, so they can also be very useful in the case of severe vomiting and/or diarrhea, when proper hydration is very difficult but extremely important.

No, it's not important to have sports drinks for every practice, run, or when sitting around the house watching TV. They become just another drink option, at that point, and a rather expensive one at that. They are certainly a healthier choice than soda or most other sugary drinks, since they have significantly less sugar, but they are not necessary.

With all that said, if you are a hard-core athlete or just simply like to drink sports drinks, there is a way to get the benefits without having to fork out all that cash. The nutritional make-up can be relatively closely mimicked with some easy-to-make recipes. There are a million of them. They are all slight variations of the same idea. I've included a couple here that are simple and stick closely to the proper nutrient balance. Also, if you're really interested in more detail about fluid and nutritional replacement during exercise, the Gatorade website can actually be very informative. Just don't get sucked into all the advertising!

Juice Drink
1/2 cup orange juice or 2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 liters water

Kool-Aid Drink
1 pkg. unsweetened drink mix
10 tbsp sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lite salt
2 liters water

In either case, just combine and stir the ingredients until dissolved. Refill empty Gatorade or Powerade bottles, or buy a reusable bottle and get sweating!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Black Bean Quinoa

I just tried quinoa for the first time. I was a little nervous, I admit, but it was really good! Quinoa is usually considered a whole grain, but it's actually a seed. It can be sprouted, ground, or boiled to make slightly crunchy grain-like balls that usually take the place of pasta or rice in a meal or salad. Like other whole grains, quinoa is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It's best known, though, for it's high protein content and gluten-free status, making it a great choice for vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free meals, like this one. You can find quinoa in the health food or gluten-free section of your grocery store or at your local health food store. Buying in bulk will probably save money.

This recipe is a variation/combination of several Mexican quinoa recipes I found online. It's simple, made from start to finish in under 30 min. It's also super heart-healthy, as it's low in fat, cholesterol-free, and very high fiber.

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups broth (Veggie or Chicken)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt/pepper to taste
1 cup corn
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cans black beans
5-6 green onions, chopped
1 med. tomato, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Rinse the uncooked quinoa well, as it naturally has a bitter-tasting chemical, called saponin, on its surface. The grains are very small, so use a sprouter with grates on the bottom, if you have one. If not, set paper towels or a light kitchen towel in a strainer. Transfer the rinsed grains to a medium saucepan and add the broth, garlic, and spices. Simmer, covered, for 20 min. Add the remaining ingredients and simply cook through. It makes a great Mexican side dish but has everything it needs to be the main course!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Write A Better Love Story

You might wonder why emotional intimacy would be a health and wellness topic. There are numerous academic studies and statistics linking marriage, especially happy marriage, to a longer and more fulfilling life, but if you've ever had an intimate relationship, you don't need those. You, like I, have undoubtedly experienced the realities of how the condition of your relationship affects your energy levels, eating habits, stress and anxiety levels, your sleep, and the basic desire to get out of bed in the morning.

I have been married for 7 years and 2 1/2 children, which makes me a wise old sage to some and a novice to others. My marriage has taken me on the typical roller coaster from "This is the best day of my life!" to "What the hell was I thinking?!" and everywhere in between. I have never been one to be content with just getting by, and I've been blessed with a husband willing to struggle with me through the nearly hopeless times to a place of love, peace, and intimacy. I'm a reader and a writer even more than I am a talker, and maybe that's helped, since men aren't generally known for their verbal expressiveness or enjoyment of a good heart-to-heart. Pardon my obvious generalization. My experience certainly isn't all-inclusive for the options of developing emotional intimacy in marriage, but maybe we can find an idea for everyone if we all share.

I've discovered that it doesn't work for my marriage to sit my husband down and ask him for emotional intimacy. I've done that. It got me nowhere but disappointed. For years, I blamed him as uncaring and selfish for not granting my request until I finally realized it wasn't that he didn't care. He had no idea what I was asking for or how to achieve it. I'm not even sure I knew what I was asking for. I had to define it and break it down into meaningful pieces, and since I think in bullet points, my brain jumped at the chance for this little project.

I started by thinking, which turned into writing, which turned into letters that, at the time, I wasn't sure I was even going to share. I wrote about how I was experiencing our marriage. I wrote about the ways I felt hurt and the ways I hated myself for my weaknesses. I wrote about what got me to the alter and what's kept me from running since. I wrote about how and why I loved him. I wrote about my occasional hopelessness and my dream for what I wanted our marriage to become. It all gave me a chance to dig down into my deepest, most personal emotional places and feel and process things I hadn't been accessing very well for a long time. For me, my numbness began to give way, first to pain but then to hope and love. The stress and anxiety of feeling distant from my husband started to melt. After deciding to share them with my husband, I even got some responses to my letters that I never would've gotten had I sat down throwing that all at him in person. I suspect I would've gotten more wide-eyed silence than anything that way. My letters gave him time to process, feel, and respond honestly. It was beautiful, really, to experience that opening up. Hope is a real healer.

When I felt sufficiently processed for the time being, I decided to introduce a series of questions to our written liaisons. They are relatively simple questions, though I'm not sure he agrees with that, meant to help us decide and articulate what we want and envision in and for our relationship. They give us straight-forward views of what we can do to understand and serve each other better. I suggest keeping answers mostly to lists instead of paragraphs. It makes them concise and easier to remember and review. You can research relevant questions, write them yourself, or you could take turns. An interesting date night might be deciding on relevant questions together. There are a couple ground rules, of course. 1) No negativity. It's meant to be direction, not venting or nagging. It's a chance to say what you DO want, instead of what you DON'T want. 2) The questions should be unbiased and open to both spouses, not loaded or unidirectional. I suggest not trying to sit down together to answer an entire page of questions in one evening. I like offering one question at a time, giving each spouse a day or several days to think about their responses. Then talk about them or exchange them. Keep a record of the responses so you each can look back when things get a little foggy. Maybe even re-answer the questions periodically to keep them fresh and accurate.

I've felt both of these simple activities do wonders to take the scariness out of connecting emotionally. They certainly don't replace face-to-face interaction and bonding, but they have been a meaningful supplement for us. In a couple months' time, I've gone from long-term anxiety about the direction of my marriage and the distance between us to a peace, understanding, and newly rekindled love for the man I'm more anxious now to spend the rest of my life with.