Friday, March 18, 2016

'little greta' - and thoughts on my spirited 'littles'

Sometimes I think about "Little Greta" -- who she was, and who she grew up to be.  I think about this because I have little ones now, and I know how important childhood much it shapes us.

As a little one (in the above photo I am around the age of four) I was emotional in all respects, prone to tantrums - big outbursts seemingly coming out of no where.  I was also a smart aleck,  saying a bunch of stuff to see what kind of reactions I could get.  I loved pushing buttons.

I probably thought I was way smarter than I was.  I defiantly questioned my parents throughout my childhood, insisting they were not disciplining me correctly and that I knew better.  Needless to say, that never went over well.

I was a lot of things that probably drove my parents insane.  But - I was some pretty important (and lovely) things, too.

I was joyful and affectionate!  I loved forcing hugs upon my older sister Heidi (something I see Finola do to Cormac all the time!) and snuggling on the couch with my mom watching musicals.

I was deeply connected to Christ at a young age.  I remember being moved by the spirit often - sneaking into the church sanctuary while my dad (the pastor) was in meetings,  kneeling in front of the alter and praying with all my might!  I would spend a great deal of time in nature, learned from my very outdoorsy father, and felt profoundly connected to God in His creation.  I was also very forthright about expressing my faith.  I remember questioning even adults about things they said about religion.  (PS I don't really think adults appreciate 8-year-olds questioning their moral choices...just sayin'.)  My parents never had to worry about my faith in Christ Jesus - something I'm sure would have been hard for them.
I was tenacious and hard-working.  My parents never had to nag me to get a job or worry about me living in their basement someday.  I worked as soon as I turned sixteen to pay for anything extra I needed, moved out immediately after high school, and supported myself from then on.  I loved my independence and was good at figuring out life "on my own" -- of course, I screwed up a lot and there were many obstacles and rough patches along the way...which was where it was particularly good I had my faith in God.  

Anyway, I get it now. Mom and Dad - I really did have children "just like me" and so now I do understand some of your frustrations! Like in McD's the other day when Finola just randomly decided to sprint out the door of the play area, shrieking with laughter, and run across to the opposite side of the restaurant.  She probably would have ran out the door and into the parking lot had I not been sprinting after her at full speed!  We've had several conversations about not running away from me in public places...yet, it just isn't sinking in. She thinks it's hilarious!  She was cackling the whole time!  Despite loving to frustrate me,  Finola is also super affectionate, very dramatic, and simply loves life!  All beautiful things.  She pushes buttons and questions things, too...which I hope she continues to do.

Then there is Cormac, who will get frustrated because something really (seemingly) minuscule doesn't go right (like his piece of chocolate melts or Netflix won't connect) and will burst into tears and run throughout the house away wailing about how 'life isn't fair!'  (Yes, this really happens...and he's not even a teenager yet!)  Cormac has huge emotions!  Also, like "little Greta" he definitely prone to think he is smarter than he is.  He is constantly informing me how things will be done differently when he is an adult.  He will question us, even in the midst of discipline, and challenge all our parenting decisions.  I see how this can frustrate parents, especially parents who love to feel in control (like me!). However,  I also must mindfully choose to value his tenacity and appreciate that he will never (hopefully) be a doormat for anyone, even me.

I've decided while my kids are not pleasers, definitely not quiet and many times I feel like they are the naughtiest kids in the room...they are also very loving, very smart, and very honest.
finola gives kisses with wild abandon!
they both have a good 'lust for life' - and endless energy!
laughing with her whole heart.
So, lately I've been asking myself, before I discipline or get annoyed with my littles : is what I am saying nurturing their spirits -- or squashing them?  I don't want to ever, even in my frustration due to lack of control, extinguish that beautiful part of who they are.  I want to guard and protect and foster their spirit and enthusiasm.

I want them to know, without a doubt, that I appreciate their unique personality traits, even the frustrating ones.

Because, in the end, God-willing, little Cormac and little Finola grow up to be the adult versions...who hopefully have kept that unmistakable joy and light that I can see in them now.

Friday, March 11, 2016

one food, five ways : bell peppers!

I shared on Instagram earlier this week that I didn't grow up as this kid that loved vegetables.  I realize that children like that do exist.  In fact, I believe my own kids like veggies a hundredfold more than I did! (Which is to say they tolerate them and even like a few!)   My hubby is a huge veggie-lover.  Eating them raw, unseasoned, undipped, as a snack.  I was (and still am) more of a bread and cheese kinda gal!
However, I've been branching out over the past year in an effort to dramatically increase my veggie intake.  I started with green smoothies - putting loads of spinach or kale into my concoctions - and more recently have been challenging myself to find more ways to enjoy them raw or in healthy recipes.

In recent months I have fallen in love with the bell pepper.  Any color!  Some recipes call for specific colors but I've found that I can make pretty much any color work if that what I've got.

Here is what I do : 

1) Buy a whole bunch of bell peppers at once, all colors!  (Or those fun little bags of mini sweet peppers will work, too!)

2) Slice a bunch up and keep the slices in a container in your fridge to use during the week.  The best tip for healthy eating is to have healthy options ready to eat immediately!  Pick one day (I do Sundays right after grocery shopping) when you set aside time to wash, cut, portion out and prep anything you might be eating during the week.

3) Slice the rest of the bell peppers (or chop for specific recipes!) and stock up your freezer!  I will have one bag of peppers sliced for general use, and smaller bags portioned for specific recipes, with the recipe/amount written on the outside of the bag.

These three steps will set you up for an easy transition to making the following five healthy and delicious recipes below (and whatever others you can come up with!)

Here are my five go-to recipes for using those colorful peppers...

#1 Egg White Burrito 
image source : team beachbody
We use a lot of eggs and egg whites for our breakfasts, to pack in the protein without a ton of calories.  I like to mix it up when it comes to the recipes, so as not to get burned out on a particular one, and this is one I found I found a while ago and really like!  I omit the turkey bacon, as I don't really like breakfast meats - but I promise, it is still super yummy sans bacon.  I will finely chop the peppers and onion and put it in a freezer bag portioned out to make two burritos - one for me and one for Hubby!  I also find it is really good to have a bunch of whole wheat tortillas in your freezer.  They thaw quickly and can be used for all kinds of wraps, as well as the flatbread pizzas in the recipe below!  Get the recipe here!
#2 Mediterranean Pepper Sandwich
You will need:
  • one whole wheat sandwich thin (or bagel thin - again, have a bunch of these in your freezer to use when needed!)
  • 2 TB hummus (any flavor will do)
  • 3 slices of pepper
  • 1 TB of reduced fat feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup of spinach
To make: 
Simply spread the hummus on one half of the sandwich thin, top with feta, peppers and spinach.  This is such an easy lunch!  

#3 Philly Cheesesteak Bake
(get full recipe at Skinny Mom here)
When I participated in the Skinny Mom 21-Day Shred a few months ago (and then again almost immediately after) this amazing recipe really stuck out to me as one of my favorites!  It is colorful and yummy!  I make it as a bake, but the original recipe has it as stuffed peppers.  Either way tastes AMAZING!  To make it as a bake, simple chop up all the peppers (including the green) and saute together, separately from your flank steak.  Another tip : to save money look for packages of thinly sliced flank steak in your meat department.  This is usually cheaper and in smaller amounts.  I have made the recipe with only 3/4 lb of thinly sliced steak and it was still great - and I saved cash!

#4 Bell Pepper and Pesto Flatbreads
This is a recipe I throw together whenever I am craving pizza but not wanting to totally blow my healthy eating plan.  Hubby loves them, too!  It makes a good "fast food" when you've had a couple glasses of wine at a happy hour, but don't want to get crazy and order an entire pizza or beg your hubby to go get you takeout! (Not that that happens in our house. Ever.)

You will need :
  • 1 whole wheat tortilla 
  • 2 TB basil pesto (or any kind of green pesto -- I like the skinny version found here!)
  • sliced peppers (of course!)
  • any other veggies you have lying around - I've used broccoli, tomatoes,  and even pineapple!
  • 1/4 cup of finely shredded mozzarella cheese
To make :
Preheat oven to 400F.  Simply put your tortilla(s) on a cookie sheet, spread with the pesto, arrange toppings, and bake for 8-10 minutes

#5 Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas 
(get the full recipe here)
image source : Skinny Mom
This is another Skinny Mom recipe and will just make your life easier during the week!  I will have the peppers for this already sliced, frozen and ready to throw in the crockpot.  The other ingredients are ones you hopefully already have on hand as well.  Healthy staples like cans of Ro-Tel or simply diced tomatoes, frozen chicken breasts, lime juice, onions, and low sodium taco seasoning (homemade or the packets) are all things I typically buy in bulk to have on-hand because they fit in with so many healthy recipes.

There it is!  Five yummy and healthful ideas for a bunch of bell peppers.  Buy em, slice em, freeze em and you always have some healthy options!

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What veggies do you love that can do double or triple duty throughout the week? 
 I love to hear about healthy eats that can be used in a wide variety of ways!

I hope everyone has a beautiful weekend!  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

running - for my life.

I ran my first marathon at the age of thirty-three.  
It was honestly one of the most challenging and enriching experiences of my life.  The long hours of training on frigid winter Saturday mornings.  The amazing barrage of emotions and physical highs and lows your body goes through during the race.   

I laughed, I cried, I nearly danced at different points during those twenty-six miles.   

After running the marathon last May I decided I needed a break from running.  I’ve pushed my body pretty hard and it needs rest from running, I thought.  This is probably a normal response for a runner after completing such a huge run for the first time.

So I stopped running.  I kept working out, almost every day, but shifted my focus to group fitness classes and the elliptical.  Runs became few and far between.  

During this hiatus I easily lost the five pounds I gained during marathon know, from eating everything in sight.  (Marathon training makes you very, very hungry - and makes you believe you deserve to eat anything you want!) I did a clean eating cleanse and kept up my healthy habits.  

Yet, despite losing those pounds, eating much more healthfully, and continuing to work out regularly...I became significantly depressed.

I’ve suffered chronic depression, on and off, my entire life.  I have accepted that it is a part of my unique psyche and something I can control, to a certain degree.  There are many things about my depression that I am actually thankful for.  However, that self-realization has taken many years, and is always a work-in-progress.  

When I was in my early teen years I had definitely hit a low point.  I had very low self-worth at that time in my life, and wasn't coping really well.  I know the teen years are angsty and hard for everyone to some degree, but this was definitely to an unhealthy level.

Then, out of nowhere, at age sixteen I discovered running! Up to that point I was a non-athlete.  Team sports involving balls and coordination made me anxious and I was pretty terrible at all the ones I attempted.  So besides the long walks I took everyday around our woods, musing over life and daydreaming about the future,  I didn’t get much exercise.  I never thought of joining track since I'd never excelled at track and field in elementary school, and my small high school did not have a cross-country team at that point.

Running was just not on my radar.  I'd barely gotten through the mile we were required to run in ninth grade gym class.  (Gym class...shudder.) 

Then, the summer before my Senior year of high school, I decided that while I might never be an "athlete," at least I could look like one.  So I started changing those walks around our property into runs.  I would run my heart out.  No one was there to watch so I pushed it hard and when I became too tired to run, I walked until I had energy to run again.   Or I would throw off my t-shirt, lay it on the grass and do crunches in my sports bra -- then I would sprint some more. It felt awesome.

I immediately saw the changes in my body.  That was not surprising.  I went from very average to lean and muscular pretty quickly.  

But much more satisfying than the ab muscles that formed or the newfound physical strength I felt...was the mental change I underwent.  I finally had a positive outlet for negative mental energy.   I ran out my aggression and angst to a large degree.  I discovered something that gave me self-esteem and a sense of identity.  I was a runner!  

God definitely showed me running.  He led me to it.  Out of love - to save my life.

So, recently, after years of consistent running,  I made a mistake : I stopped running.

I had forgotten how important this simple ritual of running was to my mind - to my entire life. 

And that absence took its toll.  

I thought my depression was worsening just because I didn’t have a big goal anymore.  Or maybe it was the age range that my two toddlers had reached -- both loud and kinda challenging in temperament.  Or perhaps I just wasn’t reaching my potential as a mother/woman?  Self-doubt started taking over my thoughts.  I contemplated the idea that I should start working again outside the home, or develop a side gig, as many of my mom friends had done recently.  

It was like I was fifteen again.  Who was I?  

Although I was functioning, I was not functioning the way I knew I should be.  I’m feisty in general, an analyzer and definitely an over-thinker...but suddenly I could not shake the negative feeling that I was spiraling downward in the dissatisfaction with myself.  My former delight in motherhood was waning, I felt constantly tired, and often hopeless.  I prayed night and day.  I called out to God.  I felt Him near me, but quiet.  I felt Satan attacking me with negative thoughts and whispers (sometimes shouts) of "You're not doing enough, Greta!" 

I even saw a psychiatrist for the first time ever.  I tried medication...and then something deep inside told me that wasn’t the answer for me.

One evening my husband and I were out at a restaurant having dinner with his boss, a co-worker and their wives.  I found myself chatting with the wife next to me.  She is a mother of four grown children, so I asked her how she got through those years, mentally, with so many little ones. I mean, I thought it was difficult with only two!

“It was hard.  My doctor told me either I needed to start running or I needed to go on anti-depressants.  So I started training for a marathon!”  She laughed casually at the memory, but her comment struck me.

In my head I was thinking - wow.  I know running isn’t the answer for every person suffering from depression, but her statement reverberated through my soul.  Running. Obviously.  I haven’t been running.  Why did I stop running?

Suddenly it was pretty clear.

I don’t just need to work out.  I need to run.  For my happiness.  

For my life. 

I recently began training again - this time for a half marathon in May.  As the mileage has crept up to five and six mile runs, my the cloud of depression has quickly faded.  Other things have helped as well -- reading God's word in the morning before checking any social media, seeing a therapist regularly to vent to and get new insights from, turning away from negative relationships and focusing on positive ones, joining (or starting) groups involving things I am passionate about...'s all a process, of course.  

But, for me, running has to be part of that process.

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As you look back on your life -- what have been your "lifesavers"?