Monday, January 29, 2018

XXXV



We are finally at the end of January, and with spring on the horizon, not only am I looking forward to warmer weather, but I'm also anticipating the six-week period before Easter, also known in the Catholic Church as Lent, a time set aside to mimic the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert before His crucifixion and resurrection. Catholics often choose to give one thing up or, in lieu of sacrificing something physical, choose to do charity work. In line with my personal health goals, I've chosen to give up caffeine for those 40 days.

Since finding out caffeine negatively affects my moods and anxiety, I've been paying closer attention to how much I can actually consume in a day before I start feeling the effects. I cut back quite a bit on coffee consumption and was glad to see the results. I was less shaky and jittery, and my emotions weren't nearly as erratic. This isn't the first time I've done a full caffeine detox, but I wanted to do it the right way this time, so I looked at other sources of caffeine in my diet. For months, I've been taking a pre-workout supplement and I've known it contains high caffeine, but I wasn't sure how much until I looked at the label. Per serving, this particular supplement contained 300 milligrams of caffeine. A normal cup of coffee has 90 milligrams, comparatively.

I'm no stranger to this level of caffeine. Before being introduced to the pre-workout, I could easily consume two energy drinks a day or drink up to four cups of coffee a day, but at that time in my life I was content with ignoring what I was doing to my body. I know from past experience that I don't want to just quit caffeine cold turkey because I'd be more inclined to start consuming it again to just feel "normal", so to experiment, I cut my pre-workout in half on Sunday. I'm not going to lie: the day was pretty rough. Tanner and I took Matthew swimming and I could barely keep my eyes open, and by the end of the day, I was so drained that I was ready for bed by 7 PM. However, the mental clarity I felt was unparalleled! My mind wasn't constantly racing and stressing over every single thing, and I was content to just sit instead of anxiously looking for things to do to occupy myself.

If yesterday was any indication, it's definitely going to be a difficult road to travel, but one I need to travel nonetheless. I despise the thought of being addicted to a substance and I think I've definitely developed a caffeine addiction. It's one I intend to break, not only for my physical health, but my mental health as well!

Friday, January 26, 2018

XXXIV

Today Matthew had a wee bit of a stomachache, and from personal experience, I knew he'd rather do something low-key than run around town with me, so after all our chores were done, we (I, mostly) started a fun little project: dairy-free caramel.

I can't tell you how LONG it's been since I've had actual, legitimate caramel. I've made caramel cheesecakes and spent hours cooking condensed milk into creamy, amazing dulce de leche, with the knowledge that I'd be giving it away because my stomach just can't do dairy. I get asked a lot whether I miss milk and grains and everything else I've eliminated. For the most part, I don't miss a lot. I live a primarily sugar-free lifestyle with the occasional weekend treat, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss being able to eat caramel. So, when I stumbled on Rachel's recipe at Bakerita, I just had to try it. After tweaking it just slightly to make it auto-immune-paleo friendly, it was by far the BEST caramel I've ever had.

Ingredients:


  • 1 can of full-fat coconut milk. (Trader Joe's is my go-to brand. I don't buy any other brand!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (I used Trader Joe's Pink Himalayan Sea Salt)
Directions:

  1. Combine coconut milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. 
  2. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat once the mixture starts boiling, maintaining a slow boil for 30-35 minutes, or until sauce thickens. 
  3. Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup, salt, and oil.
  4. Let cool before pouring into airtight containers.
  5. Keep caramel in fridge for up to two weeks.
Next, I wanted to try an almond milk recipe. Not everyone I know is a big fan of coconut milk, and Trader Joe's stores are sometimes inaccessible to people! Unsweetened almond milk is sold in every grocery store, making it highly accessible. In the comment section of the previous recipe, I found a link to exactly what I needed. I adapted this one from Oh, Ladycakes! and made a few swaps of my own.

I eliminated refined sugar from my diet and unfortunately, this one calls for TWO types of refined sugar - plain white and brown sugar. Coconut sugar is VERY versatile and already has a slight caramel essence - you can smell it every time you open the bag. So in place of both types of sugar, I used coconut sugar. 

The next substitution I made was with the brown rice syrup - again, grain-derived, and I don't do well with rice since removing it from my diet, so I attempted to use molasses. The end result wasn't a creamy caramel like the coconut milk, but a harder, chewier caramel that I imagine would make a tasty dip for cookies - but definitely not the saucy consistency the first batch produced. Regardless, if you're looking for a chewy caramel, here is the recipe below!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar (original calls for 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/4 white)
  • 1 tbsp molasses (original calls for 1 tbsp brown rice syrup)
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook without stirring for 25 minutes. 
  2. Stir with a silicone spatula and pour into a glass jar over a sieve.
  3. Cool covered as cooling the mixture uncovered will cause a thick layer of hardened caramel to form.
  4. Caramel will keep in fridge for up to a week.
Personally, I enjoyed the coconut caramel more, but I believe it's personal preference, and I found a couple fun new ways to make an indulgent treat. Enjoy!

Monday, January 15, 2018

XXXIII


Last week, I had every intention of posting yet another new blog post, and then as it often does, life got in the way. I found myself heavily involved in a project that had me staring at a computer screen, entering data in Excel for 4 hours straight: no exaggeration! After narrowly avoiding having to take it home and complete over the weekend, I decided it was probably best to take a vacation from prolonged exposure to digital screens and it wasn't hard. Matthew always keeps me busy and it seemed like every minute this last weekend was full of things to do, so it's quite accurate to say that I'm not ready for Monday - but I can help you finish out the day in style with this easy and healthier dinner recipe.

NOTE: This recipe was adapted from this website. Lisa uses a blend of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and other spices, but I was REALLY curious to see how Old Bay seasoning would work since I've only tried it on seafood. I also omitted the olive oil that is in the original recipe with success, since it's only recommended to grease the pans. I lined my sheet pans with foil, eliminating the need for oil. You can use whatever seasonings you like, but I highly recommend you try Old Bay at least once! It's one of my favorites and really gave the chicken a great flavor!

Ingredients:

4 lbs. chicken drumsticks*
1/2 c. almond flour
2 T. Old Bay Seasoning

Method:

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Combine almond flour and seasonings in large plastic bag.
Insert chicken, close bag and shake to combine.
Line sheet pan with foil and lay the chicken on top of the foil.
Cook in oven for 30 minutes, then turn chicken over and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Notes:

For an easy one-pan dinner, you can toss chopped potatoes, onions, peppers and carrots in a bowl with a little oil, salt and pepper. I usually eat a nice, tossed salad with it, but when I'm craving something starchier, I love a good, whole roasted sweet potato.

Also, the "breading" on this tends to get soft in the microwave, which doesn't bug me, but I wanted everyone to be aware! Enjoy!

    Monday, January 8, 2018

    XXXII



    2017 was a bit of a whirlwind year for me. The first half of the year was spent fine-tuning wedding plans and the rest of the year flew by in a snap. Tanner and I had so much fun honeymooning in Coronado - being married to him has truly been everything I've ever wanted and it's great to finally be all together as a family. As we rung in the new year, I realized I hadn't set any New Year's resolutions for quite some time: most often, because after the first week of the new year, I just returned to comfortable old habits. Re-starting this blog is a bit of a resolution in itself: I haven't done nearly enough writing, mainly because I haven't made time for it. Between work, Matthew, and settling into our townhouse, I've been insanely busy - and stressed.


    Ever since high school, I've struggled with anxiety, high stress and seasonal depression that seemed to get worse with time. In the past I've attempted therapy and counseling but didn't find it effective. I only recently realized that the exacerbation of my symptoms was due to the fact that I'd been concealing it in an effort to try to be brave. This effort only led to an emotional explosion, which in turn caused hurt feelings and damaged relationships. In short, I knew I needed to be honest with myself - and others - that I was only human and this was my cross to bear in life.

    Acceptance has helped me tremendously. It's only within the past couple months that I've just been able to accept the fact that sometimes I suffer with anxious feelings and illogical thoughts. Most often, I'm clear-headed enough to tell myself that it's okay to feel like garbage occasionally, but I don't want to set up camp and live like that. Below, I've listed some other practices that have helped me to continually heal my symptoms.


    • Exercise:
    I'm lucky to have a very active family. My mom has always been involved in exercise, whether it was running races or P.E. programs at elementary schools. She's taught me a lot of what I know now. My dad swims several days a week and it's a habit he's kept up since childhood. He encouraged my interest in high school swimming, and while I'm spending less time in the pool these days, I hope to join the Masters' swim team at our local recreation center. Exercise has always been a part of my life, but I find it gets much harder to do during the winter.

    Tanner bought me a rower for Christmas. Best. Gift. EVER. I've used it everyday since Christmas, and I've noticed significant differences in how I feel now versus when I was working out in a cold garage. Burpees, kettlebell swings and mountain climbers only go so far, and when you're accident-prone like me, running outside on slick cement is a recipe for disaster. The rower has been a godsend and has helped immensely with my mood.

    • Diet:
    This portion of my post is going to be rather lengthy since I am convinced that the way you eat affects not only your physical health, but mental health as well. I want to post a caveat before going on: I refer to diets and "cutting out foods", but what I'm implying is that these are lifestyle changes. I firmly believe in committing to a healthier lifestyle than pursuing a quick fix. So many people fail because they want the latter, but taking care of your body takes not only time, but dedication. The next few posts I'll go in depth on my experiences with the way I eat and why it works for me.

    I've always been able to eat fairly healthy, and following in my mom's footsteps, I naturally gravitated towards a Paleo-style diet but allowed myself dairy and grains about once a week. As I refined my diet more and more, I was noticing that while I loved the taste of breads, cheese and desserts, I didn't love what was happening to my body. I would wake up Monday morning (or even start feeling effects late Sunday night!) with horrible, awful stomach cramps that went through my stomach to my lower back. This went on week after week until finally I swore off dairy and grains permanently. The bloating went away and after a couple weeks I knew cutting out those foods made a marked difference in my health, to the point where I can even notice cross-contamination if I eat out on occasion. 


    I also cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a strong anxiety trigger and too much can make anyone feel irritable, jittery, nauseous and shaky: I had all these symptoms in addition to anxiety. At work, I have access to both caffeinated and decaf, so while I still love my morning cup of coffee, I prefer to take it decaf now so I can still function normally throughout the day, and if I need a pick-me-up later in the day, then I have the option of drinking caffeinated coffee.

    Although I've never been a huge sugar addict, I do watch my sugar intake a lot more closely than before, since sugar has been known to contribute to anxiety and depression disorders. What I do watch out for, however, are processed foods. My first attempt at fixing my diet failed because about once or twice a week, I "treated" myself with "healthy" frozen food. Don't get me wrong: you can get decent frozen or pre-packaged food if you're in a pinch, but don't make my mistake and fall for the pretty labels! Processed food is especially a big no-no for those with depression and anxiety, but everyone should make an effort to avoid it. Whole foods are always best, but if you can't, my number one suggestion would be to read labels and choose brands with the least amount of ingredients - if it contains a lot of chemicals, preservatives, food dyes and unpronounceable names, do you really want to put that in your body?

    • Self-care:
    Matthew started a new online program in conjunction with his preschool. It's called Upstart and it's the greatest thing in the world for him right now. His writing and math skills have greatly improved as well as his ability to communicate. What's great about it for me, too, is the fact that he will stay involved with it for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I usually turn it on right when I get home to give me time to make lunch, clean the house, but almost always, I have extra time while he's engrossed in learning. I make the most of this extra time by relaxing or playing piano. I love the beauty of a good classical piece and working through the challenges of playing new pieces always puts me at ease. Having that extra time for myself to unwind, especially when I've had a bad day, can make a world of difference.

    About once a month, Tanner and I will also schedule a date night. While we can get a babysitter most nights, sometimes it doesn't happen and we take Matthew with us. He's barely 5 and putting a toddler in a place with so much stimuli causes them to get pretty hyper and distracted. This last date, however, was the perfect marriage of Matthew's good mood and an opportunity to get a little dressed up for an evening.

    I've also returned to church. Taking care of my body to a large extent also meant I needed to start focusing more on spirituality and less on material things, and it's amazing how much just an hour of church on Sundays really helped!


    These are just a few methods that I've employed to stay healthy in both mind and body. It's felt great to find something that finally works: my moods have evened out and I'm in better shape now than I was in high school. Stay tuned for my next posts - I plan on laying out a few of my favorite recipes along with workouts that you can do without ever leaving your living room!

    Wednesday, September 14, 2016

    XXXI


    Every now and then I take a break from blogging. Sometimes all I need to do is take a few weeks, other times the blog remains inactive for months, as it has been. The reason for doing this is that as I've healed and matured, there's less of a need to talk about my past and while it still definitely empowers me to speak about how far I've progressed, taking a break from blogging helps me keep a check on whether I'm unburdening myself in a healthy, therapeutic way or just obsessing over my mistakes. The latter, obviously, is something I want to avoid as I move on with my life. I initially started this blog as a way to remember and recount all that happened to me. I haven't checked on it in quite some time because I've been busy with other things and I've been thinking of ways to transition it into my life now: with less talk about the past and more talk about the present. With the five year anniversary of the beginning of my past experiences approaching next week, I thought I'd write about just how far away it seems.

    At the end of January, I did something I've wanted to do for a long time and got my learners' permit! I failed my driving test when I was 16 and never got around to re-taking the test, so at 24 years old, I'm on track to get my license within a couple months. With Matthew, driving became a priority once again: in the summer, I'm fairly active and walk pretty much everywhere I go, but during winter, I have to rely on my parents or Tanner to drive me anywhere I need to go. It's really hindered my independence and finally, this year, I decided enough was enough and took Matthew with me to get my permit. Tanner has been helping me learn how to drive, and for those of you that don't know, he drives a lifted Nissan Titan. This truck is enormous and being behind the wheel at first was pretty intimidating, but I finally got the hang of it. Driving the Titan has been so much fun!

    Tanner and I get married later this year. I can't imagine life without him: he's really stepped up to take care of not only me, but Matthew. We had originally planned for June, but opted for August instead since our venue will be a picturesque golf course in Park City. At the higher elevation, it was still likely we would see spring rain in June and didn't want to take chances with the weather. I couldn't be happier with the way things unfolded, and with most of the planning done at the end of last year/beginning of this year, planning the wedding has been relatively low stress.

    It's amazing how much Matthew has grown. He went from barely speaking at all to almost nonstop talking. I love coming home from work and seeing his smiling face: he always makes sure to let me know that he missed me at work and fills me in on his day with Grandma. I have the luxury of working only part-time: since my mom watches Matthew, I don't have to pay for daycare and I spend my afternoons and nights with him. While I'd obviously rather stay home with him, it's been nice to be able to bring in money for us and still be able to spend time with him. In April I will have worked as a legal assistant for a year. It's been amazing to finally put all my hard work in college to good use and see it pay off.

    Moving on from my experiences in Washington has always been my end goal. Even though I still have anxiety and emotional issues that have stemmed from what happened, these episodes occur less and less frequently and it no longer affects me as deeply as it did before. I finally feel happy with life again and I'm glad I can focus on building a family instead of dwelling in negativity.

    Friday, April 1, 2016

    XXX

    March marked the four-year anniversary of when I left home with Theo. In past years, the first week of March has been an extraordinarily painful one in which I've reflected on what a horrible mistake I made by going to Bellingham with that miserable excuse of a man. In fact, my whole life before Theo, I admit, I was a coward. I was a spineless, weak, spoiled brat. I ran from everything that I considered "too hard" or "too stressful". Even when I returned home, pregnant, I was still looking for an escape.

    I don't indulge in fantasies of running away or leaving any more. I took inspiration from my boyfriend, Tanner. I've dated this man almost four years and every single day he gets up, he makes a choice to battle his own, very real demons. It's made him stronger, and I feel very lucky to have witnessed how much he's changed for the better. The most important lesson I take from his struggles is that I should not be afraid. He's there for me when I fall and tell myself I can't go on any further. He pushes me to be stronger through example. It's the kind of relationship I've always desired.

    I feel no shame in admitting how weak I was. I could look back and hate the na├»ve girl I was, with my delusions of fame and my obsessive, desperate need for acceptance. Spring has always been a hard time for me because it reminds me of the girl I was. I placed so much faith in people and merely expected them to be good, but that isn't the way of the world. Bellingham took away that childlike innocence and ignorance and made me a stronger woman for it. I want to be a strong as possible. I know there are a lot of women out there who have faced trauma like I have, even worse, and I want to set an example, just like Tanner did with me, that you shouldn't be afraid.

    I have come to the conclusion that I may never see him behind bars for what he did to me. Does that change the fact that I still struggle? Some people would answer yes, but while it's certainly less intense, the trauma is still there. Once I made the decision to stop running from what happened I felt more at peace. My main goal now is to focus on what's in front of me: not simply recovery but the will to strengthen myself both mentally and physically. I'll always battle demons, but I know the stronger I get, the easier it will be to face them.

    Saturday, October 3, 2015

    XXIX

    I recently read through several of my older posts and realized how long it's been since I went through that horribly abusive relationship. For the most part, I think I'm slowly healing. Although I can recall things that happened years ago like they happened yesterday, I'm mystified sometimes at how I made it through: how I kept fighting and continue to keep fighting. Every time it rains, it calls to mind the Washington climate, adding another layer of gray to the already cloudy skies above. It's definitely harder the days it rains, but I can tell that it's not nearly as bad as when I first came home. My vulnerability is not something of which I'm proud. It's been hard to admit when I can't handle it, because I feel stronger when I can handle the anxiety attacks and stress on my own. I feel like I'm constantly learning how to approach different triggers and how to tell my current boyfriend, Tanner, about them, even when I don't want to do so. My son is growing up, his physical attributes more and more similar to mine than Theo Keyes. With Tanner as his father and my parents as my support system and his role models, I know he has a stable life and will continue to have one as I approach a time when I move out with him. I love him more than anything, and I can't imagine life without him. He will always be the single greatest blessing that came out of the tragedy.

    People often ask me how I met Tanner, and I'm not sure if I've ever told the story. We've dated since June of 2012. He is the subject of many conversations I have with family, friends and coworkers, and it amazes people that he was willing to "take on" such a relationship. We met at school before I left, and despite his and my parents' protests, I left with Theo for Washington. I did think of him when I left. He had long, bleach blonde hair that almost reached his shoulders. The first time I saw him, in a public speaking class at college, he was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt and talked about his favorite band, Tool. We became fast friends after he heard my speech on Nine Inch Nails, but I think back then both of us weren't sure what we wanted. We tossed around the idea of starting a band, but after I left with Theo, I was sure he'd forget about me.

    For whatever reason, the week I got back, I messaged him on Facebook almost immediately after I got back from Washington. We had pretty much an instant connection, but I was still so nervous and broken from Theo that I was scared to date anyone else. I remember one night, we sat in my backyard under the stars, and he leaned over and kissed me. I don't remember if it was a long kiss or a short one, but I remember telling him that I'd never had the guy make the first move. He replied and said something to the effect of "maybe you should start dating real men". Whatever it was, I fell in love and never stopped. Both new to the kind of depth this relationship held, it was hard at first. Communication was, ironically, one of our biggest problems (even though we'd met in a public speaking class), but we both wanted it to work so badly that we kept trying, and trying, and trying. I can't adequately explain the type of love and devotion I feel for Tanner, and the type of love and devotion he feels for me.

    On Valentine's Day of this year, we had a romantic date-night-in, as is the case for most parents with a two-year-old, but after Matthew had been put to bed, I was sitting on the couch and he came to me with a little white box. It held a promise ring, the most delicate and beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and he told me that he wanted to marry me. Now, at the beginning of October, we face a new chapter in our life together. Tanner is my best friend, my soul mate, and I can't imagine how I ever deserved someone so amazing to come into my life, but he did. The greatest victory I've ever held over Theo is the establishment of my own family with a man who loves not only me but our son, Matthew. It's something sacred, untouchable, incorruptible and eternal.