The Myth of Moderation: Learning to Say No in a Culture of Indulgence

Everything in moderation! 

For the past six years, I have heard that maxim more times than I can count from people who do not understand or like my dietary choices. I once politely refused a cookie from an angry woman. She insisted that it "just wasn't healthy" not to eat cookies and believed that I must eat "everything in moderation" in order to live a healthy life. It turned into an uncomfortable standoff and... 

I didn't eat the cookie.

I didn't eat it because the idea that the way to be healthy is "everything in moderation" simply isn't true. 

There are some things which are always harmful to us even in small quantities.
There are some people who are harmed by things that you aren't.
There are some substances which are not harmful in small quantities but are in "moderate" quantities.

And most significantly...

Moderation means different things to different people.

Moderation is a movable line. Let's take ice cream for example. What is a moderate consumption of ice cream?
Here are various definitions....

Me: One scoop every couple years.

My husband: When the mood strikes every couple months.

My friend: One small scoop three times a week.

My neighbor: A giant banana split once a week.

My family member: Whenever the heck I feel like it. YOLO

My kids: "I will eat ice cream at every possible opportunity whether or not I actually want it and even if I am so full that I might vomit upon consuming!"

"Moderation" sounds scientific and authoritative until we look more closely and discover that the term is often a convenient way to justify our excesses and judge the eating habits of others. We know that it is a movable line but continue to wield it as an iron sword of truth.

True moderation is the application of virtue to all areas of our life. But American cultural moderation is pretty much just do whatever you want to do and call it moderate. We have replaced the word "virtue" with moderation and our collective health (mind, body, and soul) has suffered as a result.

"Sweetheart, you need to have a cookie! Everything in moderation!"

Except dirt. And paint chips. And glue. That goes without saying really. But when it comes to food, one person's "moderate" is another's kryptonite. And It's time we call out the lie and speak the truth:

It's okay to say no to things that aren't necessary. Why are we so afraid to lose our little luxuries?

As someone with autoimmune disease, moderation takes on an entirely different meaning for me. Instead of meaning that I can indulge in anything I want as long as it's in small quantities, it means that I can enjoy reasonable quantities of almost any food I like... as long as it's on my approved list. That list is quite a bit smaller than I'd prefer... 

  • I can't drink alcohol because it adds stress to my vital organs.
  • I can't eat gluten because I hate feeling like I'm dying and I like my small intestine.
  • I don't eat sugar because it is an inflammatory food and I'm battling inflammatory disease.
  • I don't drink coffee because caffeine is also a huge inflammatory. 
  • I don't eat food with additives, colorants, or artificial flavors because... see all of the above.

Technically, I could choose to consume those foods and pay the consequences. I know many people who do that in the name of moderation. Or because they feel their quality of life would suffer without their annual Shamrock shake. It's their choice, of course. But I do not choose sickness over health... not for all the moderate enjoyment this world has to offer. My weaknesses lie in many other areas (many many), but it is relatively easy for me to say no to things which prevent me from enjoying life and serving my family.

There are many other things I don't do (and no one should do) in moderation (like eat paint chips). That list is long, self-evident, and destroys the moderation in "everything" myth instantly.

Then there are donuts and coffee and that fuzzy middle ground.

I admit that it's easier for me because those two comfort foods would make me miserable and mess with my body's ability to to heal and to survive. Sickness is HARD for me. Debilitatingly hard. When I put food to my mouth, I am consciously choosing to live. 

On the other hand, I know diabetics who eat donuts and people on anti-depressants who drink caffeine. I understand that our struggles and physical limits vary and I cannot speak to their choices.

But...

If you eat garbage food multiple times a week and have migraines, IBS, thyroid issues, fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and a host of other common plagues, you might want to consider doing something beautiful for yourself and throw "everything in moderation" out the window. You may just be surprised by a miracle; not the least of which might be that you can say no to that extra ice cream splurge and live to tell about it. 

When we discard the moderation myth as a way of life, we learn a beautiful secret about ourselves:

We are capable of self-control.
Our needs are simpler than we previously thought.
We spend less on the unnecessary.
We can be free from our cravings.
We can do heroic things even when no one is watching.

If we are Christians, we also learn a beautiful secret about our faith... 

In any given moment, we might be asked to give up everything for Love. Every time we decline that caramel latte and offer it as a sacrifice of praise, we become a bit more fit for the bigger battles... and more free to be molded for loving service and eternity. 

Thanks be to God!

How Stitch Fix is Healing the Marketplace

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

Stitch Fix is an online styling service that delivers a personalized shopping experience where a personal stylist hand picks pieces to fit your tastes, needs and budget—and mails them directly to your door. 

I first turned to Stitch Fix to help me solve the problem of my outdated blue jeans. I stayed with Stitch Fix because they presented me with a valuable solution, a human touchpoint in the marketplace, and service that money can't buy.

As consumers, we are accustomed to being sold to, not cared for. So when one company breaks that mold, we notice... we soften... we hope a little more and trust a little more. We tell our friends about that one grocery bagger who remembers our name and the dentist who wished us a happy birthday. It is a reminder that it is the soul, not the body, that needs the greatest care and has the deepest void to fill. 

The story I'm going to share here is one of business leadership going the extra mile. You could say that it was strategic and helped them retain a customer... and you would be right. You could also say that only an authentic servant leader understands how to heal and serve someone they've never met... and you would be right. 

Perhaps it is the genius of womanhood that trickles down from the founder and touches everything. Regardless, here is my story...


A LITTLE BACKGROUND

After 15 years of actively seeking a diagnosis for my chronic illness, I finally have an answer. It came as a surprise after a lengthy period of "remission" during which I did everything right to heal my broken body. I dramatically changed my diet, lifestyle, and chemically toxic environment and put the unnamed beast into a cage. Until... it broke free.

I'm not really sure what triggered this flare. Probably stress, a little slipping of the diet, hormonal changes... just a complicated soup of little triggers that pushed my body and immune system in hyperdrive. Regardless, the autoimmune animal was uncaged and I entered into one of the most physically and mentally difficult periods of my life.

Thank God for maturity. (There are a lot of great things about being 40.) I came through okay. But it was intense and surprised me with a measure of grief that was wholly unanticipated. 

Months before this, I had placed my first order with Stitch Fix because I was a little desperate to update my one pair of floppy ill-fitting jeans. Walmart and Salvation Army had failed me and with 8 kids, I'm not inclined to leave the house to shop! I knew I would have to spend a little money to get a good fitting pair and so I decided to let a stylist at Stitch Fix be my muse.

My box came and it was absolutely perfect. I kept everything (and yes, my husband approved the splurge) but knew that I had to be more cautious with future spending. So I set the next shipment date to the furthest possible option and marked it in my planner, intending to cancel before the time came.

Well, the time did come... but it came in the middle of my health crisis during which my planner lay useless and untouched. My face was so swollen that I was unrecognizable. The butterfly rash on my cheeks had scabbed over. My body was on fire and I could barely eat. I spent days just crying, researching, and struggling with the difficulties of the flare, loss, and complications which accompanied the diagnosis. 

I always thought I would be relieved when diagnosis finally came. Instead, I was struck with a heavy grief. I didn't want THAT diagnosis. I wanted one I could wholly control. Where I didn't lose anything else. Something not as painful and as ugly. 

I am feeling well again now and reigning in the triggers in my lifestyle, but being in the middle of that flare was an intense suffering that I was not prepared for. 

STITCH FIX SHOWS UP

In the middle of that struggle, my second Stitch Fix box showed up on my doorstep and I gasped in an "oops!" kind of way. I had forgotten to cancel! Well, I can send it all back easily enough, I thought. But first... I'll just try it all on. And I did.

I took off my old t-shirt from college and my worn athletic shorts, and tried on the bounty that my stylist had picked out just for me. She had looked at my Pinterest boards and read my preferences. She understood. And as the pretty fabrics and prints touched my skin, I started to cry. 

Big fat tears fell down my ugly swollen cheeks as I admired those beautiful clothes. There was a lovely necklace, too... and for the first time in a long time, I felt soft and pretty.

Maybe it won't surprise the reader to know that I kept everything. 

Then I wrote a little note to my stylist. I told her that even though I know it is her job to select nice clothes for customers, that her talent and time mean something greater than just "a job." I told her how her work had touched my life. And that night, I thanked God for women in the workplace... who love others with their intuitive genius of service.

Perhaps you're thinking that I'm a big bowl of melodramatic emotional mush. Perhaps you're right. But in those moments when we are isolated with our suffering and pain, the details of life are large... and have the power to inhibit or expand healing.

After I wrote that note, I put away my new clothes, set my next Stitch Fix date for the farthest possible shipment, marked it on my calendar, and let the moment fall into the abyss of my occupied mind.

Until a couple weeks later...

There was a knock at my front door and a box containing the most beautiful lilies and irises from Benchmark Bouquets was placed on my stoop. I looked for the card to see which of my incredible and loving family members or friends sent this to me...

But it wasn't someone who loves me or even knows me. It was from the team at Stitch Fix.

The wording wasn't intimate but anyone who has suffered understands... someone knew that a broken heart needs flowers and made the decision to send them.

The pic below isn't the best quality since it was snapped quickly with the camera on an aging iPad; and my face is hidden intentionally since I wasn't ready to display the outward expression of autoimmune disease (I will share more at some point) and tears. But it was taken shortly after I pulled those flowers out of their box. They reminded me of the sweet dress that my stylist had chosen for me and I wanted to remember and to share. 

What is love? Is it just an emotion? If so, then Stitch Fix people don't really love me. They don't even know me. But if love is what I believe it is - the action of helping a person to achieve their greatest good - then I don't know... maybe there is love in the marketplace after all.

Father Robert Sirico once said:

"That's what the vocation of business is: to look for opportunities to serve."

To the entire Stitch Fix team... Keep serving well with the best of who you are and you will change the marketplace. You will have set the bar high and have, in this one moment, not only touched my life, but taught me how to be a better businesswoman. Never change.

To my readers who would love to give Stitch Fix a try...  I highly recommend it. It is customizable with the benefit of having a real person working with you. Returns and exchanges are free and easy (I returned one thing for a different size and it was a piece of cake).

And for the healing mother who really doesn't have the time or energy to go looking to splurge for something new and pretty, it is honestly a real pleasure and valuable resource. That's really what this blog is about... Finding healing and joy in the midst of the storm... and providing resources for helping us attain that goal.

Do you know a woman (or man) who could use a Stitch Fix gift card pick-me-up? This would be such a unique and special gift for a pregnant or postpartum mom feeling a bit blah. Or someone who has been feeling unwell. Stitch Fix Gift Card

I'm giving thanks today for Stitch Fix in the online marketplace... where it is still possible to buy something pretty with the personal service of a real human being. 

The Essential Poison Ivy Remedy

We have a teenager who is an expert at finding poison ivy and now we finally have a way to treat it that doesn't involve steroids and antibiotics! If we need them, we will use them, but we are on three rounds of this natural solution and... so far so good. The teen who keeps getting into the poison ivy does not like the smell and says it stings when first going on (courtesy of the cider vinegar) but he also says it's well worth it. 

After his first poison ivy experience, he moved all of his climbing and building materials to the front of the house. Not my favorite place for his collection but he was not eager to get that itchy rash again! Fortunately, a quick and effective handling of the situation had him back in the woods in no time... and all of his wood and rope and energy with him! 

When making this recipe, be sure to use good quality pure essential oils (NO Walmart!!) or else the synthetic fillers are going to irritate and make the whole thing worse. (For beautiful, pure essential oils, scroll to the link at the bottom of this post.)

We did have the benefit of being able to start this application right from the beginning of the rash the first time and I think that contributed to the overall success of the remedy. My boy was pretty unhappy about the whole thing, feeling confident that he wouldn't have trouble handling it without the "stinky stuff." But I insisted and he saw dramatic improvement in just one day.

The result was that he ended up feeling overly confident and refused further applications... which ended up in worsening rash... which resulted in a reapplication... which ended with a resolved poison ivy episode in only three days. Not too shabby.

He had the marks for over a week beyond that but there was no further itching or irritation. Needless to say, the next time he developed poison ivy, he was more than willing to submit to mama's home remedy!

My daughters would be more sensitive to any marks or scarring from the harsh poison ivy rash. In their case, I would use frankincense and lavender to help soothe and heal the skin. 

Here's the recipe. It doesn't make much to get the job done but feel free to double and triple if you've got a large area (or family) to cover...

The Essential Poison Ivy Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp distilled water
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil (for itch)
  • 3 drops tea tree oil (antiseptic)
  • 3 drops peppermint oil (soothing)
  • Mix until dissolved.
  • Store in fridge.
  • Apply repeatedly throughout the day until resolved.

And it should go without saying that if your poison ivy progresses beyond your ability to self-treat, please go see your doctor! 

What other natural poison ivy tips do you have? Please share in the comments!

Looking for quality essential oils? Click below for the oils my family uses with confidence. 

Lularoe Madison Skirt Review (The LulaRose Garden)

It's no secret that I love Lularoe clothing...

I love the versatile and happy pieces. 
I love the  flexible sizing.
I love that I feel like I'm wearing my PJ's all the time in the soft fabrics.
I love that LuLaRoe is direct marketing (because I love direct marketing!) and that I get to support family business while I shop.
I love that each item fits so creatively into my wardrobe. 

And today, I particularly love this Madison skirt that came to me from Susana at the LulaRose Garden. I wanted to try a Madison and she wanted to see how it would fit into my existing wardrobe. Twist my arm!

I'm a casual gal most of the time but I also enjoy feeling pretty. This skirt dresses up or down quickly and easily and comfortably...

First I pulled out a dressier tee and a pair of heels to go with my Madison. Add a simple necklace and I'm ready for church, a business meeting, or a party. The fabric of this skirt is so smooth and soft that I couldn't help a giving it a twirl...

I'm about 5'6" and 115 lbs and this Madison is an XS. It's a perfect fit at my natural waist. For a size chart, check out Susana's Facebook shop page

IMG_0959.jpg

I switched out the dressy tee with a white burnout tee and added a favorite lace headband and  sandals. Casual comfort-loving girl meets Lularoe. When a skirt is more comfy than a pair of jean shorts, we have a sweet outfit for running to the store, for a play date, or to daily Mass. 

Why yes, I do walk on logs just for the fun of it... 

IMG_1006.jpg

And since I live in the Northeast, what was formerly an 80-degree day is now a 60-degree evening, I had to give the Madison a go in my Fall favorites: denim and short boots. 

The versatility of the LuLaRoe pieces is fantastic and I'm not even going to tell you how many I own. My favorites are the Maxi, the Azure, and now... the Madison. These soft skirts are the feminine equivalent to the yoga pant. 

Oh... did I mention the pockets yet? I didn't? There are POCKETS! Two of them. This is truly the perfect sweet and functional mom skirt. And it comes in MANY different colors and sizes. 

Shopping for LuLaRoe is unique and super fun. If you've never shopped on Facebook, it's very simple. Simply join the LuLaRose Garden shop page, be the first to comment "sold" on any item you want to buy, and fill out the linked purchase form. 

Susana Starbuck is the sweetest gal and shopping with her is a joy. You don't have to buy anything if you join her page... just window shop to your heart's content and when that one special piece comes along, you'll be ready to go. 

The LuLaRose Garden with Susana Starbuck

Gluten Free Pantry Basics

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

Unlikely as it sounds to my sweet-loving mind, I made it through my fifth Christmas and Easter seasons without touching a single wheat flour cookie. In fact, I haven't eaten a bona fide wheat cookie since May of 2012. There have been many times when I've felt deprived of all of the food-related pleasures that others were enjoying. Since then, I've discovered the wide and wonderful world of gluten free baking. These are not your mama's gluten-free cookies, people. Eat, celebrate, be happy.

The grain-free world has literally exploded with delicious cookie and dessert recipes in the last couple of years. Many talented food scientists/artists all over the internet have changed my life.

Listen to me... I am no longer deprived. I eat cookies. Delicious cookies. And most of the time, the ingredients are astonishingly good for me. I love my ingredient lists and don't feel guilty when I eat several. No more stomach aches. Just good solid nutrition.

Because I battle autoimmune disease, I do not indulge in gluten free baking frequently. During the easy times when my body is at peace, I can enjoy about once a week. When I am hit with a flare, I abstain completely. My favorite indulgence is The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake which makes a delicious dessert, breakfast, or snack.

I tossed the last bit of my wheat flour long ago and am slowly learning how to bake efficiently with alternatives. One of the obstacles I faced at the beginning of my journey was actually having the ingredients on hand when I needed them. I have recently been inspired by the constant calls for help on social media to provide a list of my basic wheat free whole food pantry to share and to reference. I'm including links (yes, some are affiliate links) to the places where I purchase my own supplies with exceptions noted.

An important note:
Just because something says "GLUTEN FREE" does not mean that it's health food or even remotely nutritious. When I say "Gluten Free Baking," I am NOT referring to the box mixes that are starting to glut the shelves. Those are basically gluten free versions of garbage food. Rice flour, corn flour, tapioca flour, and potato flour are not nutrient dense foods; they are cheap, easy, and nutrient deficient wheat flour substitutes. There's a place for these goodies in our lives... BUT... If you eat a lot of them regularly, you will get sick and gain weight. 

So, when I say "gluten free baking," I am referring to splurge food that actually contributes to my overall health. Nut flours, healthy fats, and real food. Do these ingredients taste different than the Ho Ho's you grew up on? Yes, they do. But over time I have actually come to prefer the rich tastes of real food flavors rather than chemical fillers...


Grain-Free Baking Basics

My pantry no longer showcases giant containers of wheat and sugar but all of the following are regulars. Not as cheap as white flour and sugar but as I know from experience... Good food is cheaper than hospital bills. If you don't know my story, read it here. 

This list doesn't cover everything but it does cover the staples that I try to always have on hand. Your own gluten free pantry will be shaped by your favorite recipes and family need. Here's my basic shopping list... scroll down for more information about each...

Almond flour
Coconut flour
Honey
Coconut milk
Coconut oil
Cocoa powder
Shredded unsweetened coconut
Cacao butter
Vanilla extract
Vanilla beans
Sea salt
Chocolate
Chia seeds
Dates
Coconut sugar
Gelatin
Maple Syrup


1. Almond Flour

Almond flour is a staple at my house. We don't use it daily but we use it regularly in everything from chocolate chip cookies to pancakes to birthday cakes. A delicious, nutritious chocolate chip cookie when you are gluten free is worth it's weight in gold!

I buy almond flour in bulk through Amazon in 25-pound increments because it is a couple dollars cheaper per pound that way and we have a lot of kids to feed! The drawback? The packaging is impractical and you will need to repackage into gallon freezer bags asap (if you have room in the freezer) before storing. I store them flat so they stack like books. It is also available in 3-lb bags which is more money per pound but not as challenging to keep.

Bob's Red Mill almond flour is available locally and on Amazon but I only use it if I can find the Super-Fine and not the meal.  
 

A Favorite Recipe: Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies


2. Coconut Flour

Coconut flour tends to absorb moisture from recipes so a little goes a long way. It cannot be used to replace regular flour 1:1 but is excellent in many bread, muffin, and cookie recipes. I even use it to "bread" my pan fried chicken and none of the kids can taste the coconut.

I buy Betterbody Coconut flour locally at our BJ's Wholesale Club for a good price. It is available on Amazon as well and the price fluctuates. Bob's Red Mill is available locally and online and works fine. 

A Favorite Recipe: Banana Muffins with Chocolate Chip Streussel Topping 


3. Honey

Most of the muffins, cookies, and cakes that I have been making lately do not require sugar but do call for honey. I buy local organic when I can but I can't always fit it into the budget. I just buy big jars at our warehouse club. (I'm not going to let the perfect get in the way of the good here.) If you can afford raw, local honey, do it! You can also buy on Amazon HERE.

A Favorite Recipe: Apple Cinnamon Muffins (I like to add an extra brush of honey a couple minutes before they come out of the oven)


4. Coconut Milk

I use pure coconut milk for much of my gluten free baking as a cow's milk substitute. I'm not talking about coconut drink, I'm talking about pure coconut milk untouched by other ingredients. This goes in our cookies, pancakes, smoothies, homemade ice cream, and cakes. And when I'm really missing ice cream and feeling lazy, I eat it straight with frozen berries. Nice, delicious healthy fats! 

Golden Star is the only local brand I have found that is free from soy or any other ingredients except coconut milk and water. I find it in cans at my local Walmart in the asian food aisle but you can also find it for sale on Walmart.com and off and on through Amazon. If you don't mind soy, there are a number of other shelf brands available. The soy is there as an emulsifier but it changes the texture. With the pure coconut milk, the cream will better separate from the water and rise to the top. You can mix it up again or just use the cream as is. I advise mixing for any recipes which call for coconut milk. 

A Favorite Recipe: Creamy Chocolate Avocado Smoothie (This isn't really bakery but it's dessert-ish. When I am feeling run-down, I love this kind of super boost recipe for increasing my healthy fats and nutrients.)


5. Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil for everything from moisturizer to cooking. I fry in it, bake with it, wash baby's head with it, make lip balm with it. I look for it on sale locally but have also purchased online. There are different ways to buy coconut oil but unrefined is going to provide you with the most nutritive value. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but has a low melting temperature... do not be alarmed if it turns to liquid in a warm house.

Vegetable oil is forbidden in my house. Wherever it used to be in baking, it is now replaced with coconut or olive oil. 

A Favorite Recipe: Fudgy Chocolate Tarts


6. Cocoa Powder

There are many brands of organic cocoa powder out there and I recommend them if you can afford it... but I just use Hershey's because I burn through it. It's yet another example of how I must compromise with the perfect until I am no longer feeding a family of ten. As soon as my grocery bill goes from shocking to reasonable, I would love to make the switch.

A Favorite Recipe: Almond Butter Fudge


Here's a picture of a Gluten Free Easter creation. The cake is made from a cocoa and almond flour/coconut flour base. The frosting is buttercream with grass fed butter... A definite splurge! I rarely eat dairy but this was an enjoyable exception. 


7. Shredded Coconut (Unsweetened)

Unsweetened shredded coconut is difficult to find around here so I order mine online and love the product. My favorite brand is Let's Do Organic and buying it in bulk on Amazon is the best deal for me. I have a lot of trouble finding this locally.

A Favorite Recipe: Peppermint Chocolate Macaroons


8. Cacao Butter

Cacao Butter is a beautiful food that I consider an indulgence. Not cheap. I use it to make my own chocolate energy bar (aka homemade chocolate with chia thrown in for fun and protein) and to add to an occasional recipe. I have purchased from both Rose Mountain Herbs  and Amazon.

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Coconut Energy Bars


9. Vanilla extract & Vanilla Beans

Most commercial brands of vanilla extract have sugar added so I've started making my own. When I have to buy it, I double check the ingredients to make sure that it is just vanilla and alcohol. I also buy vanilla beans to use in very special desserts. 

A Favorite RecipeBlackberry Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


10. Sea Salt

Available pretty much anywhere.

A Favorite Recipe: Paleo Salted Caramel Sauce


11. Chocolate

Because I am sensitive to soy and soy is even in most organic chocolates, I buy Green & Black's organic dark chocolate for my splurges. In addition to the clean ingredients, I also find the taste more pleasant than other leading brands. 

If you are looking for dairy, nut, soy, gluten free chocolate chips, Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips are a great option.

A Favorite Recipe: Dark Chocolate Cake Brownies


12. Chia Seeds

These can be found many places and I've been happy with Bob's Red Mill. I buy them in larger quantities online to get a discount. I add them to smoothies, homemade larabars, and chocolate.

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Chia Pudding


14. Dates

These little fruits are a surprisingly wonderful way to sweeten up many desserts. Get yourself a good food processor (I found a Cuisinart at a garage sale) and a whole new world of healthy dessert will open up to you. You can find them anywhere that sells groceries.

A Favorite Recipe: Paleo Chocolate Energy Bars


15. Coconut Sugar

Sometimes you just need something to replace white sugar 1:1 in a recipe and coconut sugar does that really well without the same affect on your glucose levels as white sugar. The taste is good. Texture is good. And it is finally available locally for a reasonable price. I buy Betterbody at our local BJ's Wholesale and on Amazon when the prices dip.

A Favorite Recipe: Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies


16. Gelatin

This is not your mama's knox gelatin. Gelatin is a wonderful for joint and bone health and even better when you know that the source is all grass fed beef. I buy Great Lakes Unflavored Gelatin.  Gelatin is used in many paleo and gluten free recipes to help desserts set up without eggs or cheese. 

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Gelatin Squares


17. Maple Syrup

Get the real stuff. It seems pricey but very little is needed to sweeten a recipe. 


Recipe Resources

I have to conclude by passing on my current favorite resource (besides Pinterest which is endlessly wonderful) for the most wonderful gluten free recipes. I have not been disappointed with any recipe I have tried from Against All Grain. Danielle Walker is a beautiful person with an inspiring story of how she has managed autoimmune disease with nutrition. In addition to her website, her physical cookbooks are absolutely gorgeous and useful.

I also love  Simply Gluten Free Magazine. I have found some incredible and nutritious recipes in here as well as a heads' up to new brands and tips for eating gluten free. 

Is there anything I should add to my pantry? Let me know in the comments!

Paleo First Birthday Smash Cake

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

My last three babies have received the most benefit from my healthy dietary changes. They were gluten and garbage food free in the womb, through the duration of nursing, and only very slowly did junk food come into their lives after that. It's always a little sad when that happens. And... it usually happens at Grandma's house... as it should be!

For two of the three, their introduction to the world of sweets came at their first birthday party. Who is going to deny that sweet face a piece of birthday cake and ice cream?? 

But I just couldn't do it this time. Soon enough, he will be sneaking sugared orange gummy candies out of Grandma's candy jar. But not yet. 

So I made him a little cake that I knew would nourish him and wouldn't end up making him feel crummy at his own birthday party. It's paleo, gluten free, and obviously delicious.

The rest of my kids were not as excited about a non-sugar birthday party so I broke down and made our favorite junk food box mix cake for them. We were at Grandma's after all. But I shared the baby's cake with him and we were just as happy as the little sugar fiends hopping all around us. 

The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake is not only a healthy treat for the littles but also happens to be MY birthday cake of choice! The frosting recipe is a light and refreshing paleo coconut cream. But if you don't mind some dairy and a sugar splurge, the traditional cream cheese frosting is a great option. 

This is my favorite brand of coconut milk because it doesn't have any ingredients other than pure coconut milk and water. Coconut Milk

This recipe makes two 9-inch rounds or 24 cupcakes. To make a little smash cake, bake your cake as directed and cut a smaller cake out of the center (one or two layers... one layer is pictured above). I used a bowl as a guide and cut around with a sharp knife before frosting. Do what you like with the outside edge scraps. I freeze them for an amazing breakfast treat.

The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake

The Beautiful Thing Project (Random Acts of Kindness)

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

My middle school daughter told me about a secret adventure she recently took. She was going to the store with her dad and anticipated all of the sad and anxious people she would come across. "Hardly anyone smiles," she told me. So she planned in advance to smile at everyone she saw, regardless of whether they smiled back. 

Her mission was successful (with most people anyway) and we talked for a while about her desire to bring comfort to others who are feeling down for one reason or another. She recalled the many words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta about the power of a simple smile. 

My daughter's words reminded me of a special Advent project that my friend, Colleen, does with her children. I shared the Raising Lifelong Learners blog post with my girl and she immediately decided to do something similar for the Summer months. 

And so, The Beautiful Thing project was born, because as Mother Teresa said...

"Every time you smile at someone it is an act of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

Here's how it works:

1. Print out this PDF page of 6 (or make your own)...


2. Buy some candy or another inexpensive happy item to give with the notes. My daughter chose Smarties just in case people are gluten free and we bought in bulk HERE. She attached the Smarties to the papers with colorful Washi Tape

3. Leave your house. 

4. Ask God to send someone who needs some kindness your way. Pray like St. Ignatius...

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.


5. Smile!

6. Give your little gifts to people who seem to need them most.

7. Always remain anonymous. Do not attach a website address, email, name, or other identification to the note. This act of kindness should not even indirectly place any obligation on the receiver, promote your website/projects/etc., or draw praise your way. Let it be a completely free gift. 

8. Repeat. Keep a stash with you in the car and when God presents a soul to love, respond with spontaneous generosity. 

9. If you are on social media, consider taking a pic of your ready-to-give notes with the hashtag #beautifulthingproject. I would love to show my girl how small acts of love are contagious! 

Finally, here is a note written to me by my daughter when she first presented me with this idea. It inspired me and hope it inspires you...

I think as Mother Teresa did, that a genuine smile is one of the most beautiful gifts a person can give to others. Not only does it give joy to the other person, it makes you feel less grumpy yourself. I like the idea of giving cards and candy to people because when I go places, I notice that not many people are smiling. In fact, many of them look hurried and sad. 

While I know that the expressions on their faces don't necessarily mean that they are suffering, I know that many people are and that sometimes the small things in life can make us sad. Maybe they are just trying to get through each day or have heard some bad news. 
A card and a smile from someone might make their day. I want to be that someone.

I also know that many people don't know Christ and perhaps they are sad and they don't know why. I want to give these cards (and a smile) to everyone who needs them, to make them happy, and to be a witness to Christ Who is the reason I smile. :)

How I Do Mornings Without Coffee

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

I don't drink coffee. I don't even like coffee.

There... I got that out of the way. Can we still be friends? 

Other than the surprising news that I don't share most of the world's love affair with coffee, people are most confounded by how I manage to function without the caffeine. Well, okay, I'm tired... a lot. But I also have 8 kids so expectations of being well rested are reasonably low. 

I suppose the real question is...
How do I function well without that shot of caffeine in my life? 

The overreaching principle of my daily healthcare is that before "self-medicating" (deliberately consuming caffeine to stay awake, etc), I consider if there's a need that can be met by a healthier means. In the case of fatigue, the obvious answer is MORE SLEEP. But since I am a homeschooling-entreprenuerial-mother-of-8... I need a little more help than that. 

I have heard from many people who wish they could kick coffee to the curb or at least limit it to a moderate amount. They are tired of the caffeine crash headaches, insomnia, caffeine-induced anxiety, their financial contribution to the Starbucks empire, caloric excess with specialty coffees, and desire to limit the use of addictive stimulants to keep them going. 

The news is also spreading that caffeine and autoimmune disease to not mix well... and we all know that autoimmune disease is on the rise

Here is my personal plan of action for those of you who are trying to kick (or reduce) a coffee habit...

SLEEP.

Just restating the obvious here. For some of us (moms with babies, toddlers, or teenagers, for example), more sleep is not always an option. God bless you hard working caregivers! Virtual fist bump from a mom who hasn't seen 7 hours in a very, very long time. 

For those of you who have other reasons for not sleeping (overworking, insomnia, stress, evening internet use, pain, etc.), there are other resources for helping with that. But... coffee is not one of them. Coffee does NOT help with sleep.

JUST SAY NO.

Whittle the schedule down to the bare minimum. If your 3-year old is already in ballet and soccer, I promise you that declining another activity will not ruin her life. It's more likely that a tired, cranky mother will mess with her quality of life, to be honest... speaking from experience here.

My unscientific observations tell me that most people use coffee to propel themselves through overbooked schedules of their own design. If you say no to extra obligations, you will not be less busy (something will always fill up your time!) but you will find your activities more manageable. 

I have some very big obligations in my life that keep me busy 100% of the time. That means I have to say no to other opportunities pretty much daily.

NUTRITION

The average American diet is saturated with energy-sapping ingredients. White flour, sugar, chemical additives, empty calories... none of which are going to keep you going beyond an initial burst. In fact, the net effect of a lousy diet is that we force our bodies to run on empty constantly. Calories? Sure... we've got those. Real nutrition at the cellular level?

Epic cultural fail.

Switching to a nutrient dense diet will do more for your body and energy level than a cup a joe ever will. (Read: How to Transform Your Health Through Diet)

WATER

Odds are that you have your fancy water bottle already. Use it. Your body needs water. You already know that water consumption increases energy and body efficiency! Don't make me nag you!

SMOOTHIES

This really should go under "nutrition" but smoothies are my favorite way to get started in the morning so they get their own category. I don't think I ever make the same smoothie twice (who has time to measure?) but I do have some (but not all) favorite ingredients...

ESSENTIAL OILS

Peppermint, lemon, and orange are my happy-wake-up oils. Seriously! I diffuse or apply them in the morning and take them with me when I go. They are particularly helpful on a car ride when my mind is not working quickly and I want to make sure I'm driving safely. More info about these great natural resources HERE.

PRAYER

Stress and anxiety exhaust us. They cause us to lose sleep, they tax the adrenals, they wreak havoc on our mental clarity and relationships. There isn't always a way to eliminate big stressors in our lives but the fact is that those who have a strong faith, have greater interior peace and better health. 

If you don't know how to pray or do pray but aren't sure you're grasping the full benefit, I highly recommend this slim volume called Prayer for Beginners

I read it when I already considered myself a veteran to prayer... and it helped bring a greater simplicity, clarity, and peace to my existing spiritual life. 

EXERCISE

I almost forgot this one (thank you for the kind reader who reminded me!)... probably because I like to sleep a whole lot more than I like to exercise. ha. But studies confirm that exercise increases energy and fights fatigue. People with autoimmune disease or adrenal fatigue have to be a bit more strategic about when, how, and how long they exercise (I'm just going to cite this as my excuse for sleeping in) but physical movement is still a critical part of their energy tool box and long term health.

What else am I missing? Let me know what your tips are!

Start Being Brave About Everything (Pio Prints)

{I received a product in exchange for this honest review. Thank you for supporting my family! My full disclosure Here.}

My daughter is brave. And she is teaching me how to be brave. 

Over 20 years ago, I went through the same surgery she did, wore the same brace she is wearing, and worked my heart out to get back to the activities I enjoyed, just like she is. But I see in her a strength I did not have... because my courage was a superficial show... and hers runs deep.

I endured for the moment while eyes were upon me and then secretly began to give up. I was tired of the hard things. I was tired of the physical and mental stresses of life and didn't want to fight anymore. I was only a kid... but I was already afraid and worn. 

brave3.jpg

When people would tell me "Great job!" and "You inspire me!"... I developed the habit of countering them in my mind...

You're a liar.
I'm worthless.
I can't.
I shouldn't.

I became my own flawed teacher and I daily instructed myself about my failure as a human being. I thought that I was just protecting myself. Hey, if I just admitted the truth from the start, then it wouldn't hurt when other people saw it and said it, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And instead of growing roots strong and true... and vulnerable... I kept them short in fear, and short circuited my ability to experience joy. It took many years to undo those messages of fear.

brave2.jpg

While I know that my daughter has her own fears and insecurities, I also see a depth of passionate courage that I hope to see in all my children; and I thank God that I don't have to pass on the sickness of soul that I carried. That I can raise my children to something better... to the rock and foundation Who is Jesus Christ... and myself find courage and healing through the testimony of their lives.

When I saw this tank top from Pio Prints, my heart shouted a resounding YES! St. Catherine for the win! And I knew my girl had to wear it. 

We all need a St. Catherine to get in our faces and speak the Truth with strong and deep love. Even though I have never met this saint and elder sister in Christ, I cling to her wisdom and let her words ring in my heart:

"Start being brave about everything."

Yes. I will. Thanks be to God.

Pio Prints was founded with "the mission to spread the message of the Saints to encourage, inspire, comfort, and congratulate."

Women need that. Oh, how we need that! And we also love a cute and comfortable tank top to do the courageous things God calls us to, right? Of course, we do! Now go grab one of your own at Pio Prints... for yourself, your daughters, and any beautiful gal in your life who needs a reminder of who she is made to be.  PIO PRINTS

Be sure to also follow them on Facebook and Instagram!

How Motherhood Can Heal the Jaded Woman

New motherhood is a golden moment in a woman's life where the opportunity to be permanently changed is tangible, powerful, and immediate. No, I'm not talking about whether or not YOU feel or see any difference. The change happens regardless; because the child is placed into your arms and instantly, you are loved... by a brand new person who doesn't know anything about your failures. And frankly, doesn't care.

Doesn't care if your hair is all messy from labor.
Doesn't care if you've got dark circles under your eyes.
Doesn't care if you are struggling to find words.
Doesn't care if you aren't sure about this whole motherhood thing. 

His love is yours. Period. 

It is an exquisite moment of renewal. There is no history. No memory of wrongs done. A clean slate. 

Those eyes and tiny fingers... they seek you out as often as possible. To connect with you and to love and be loved. Special talent is not required... simply your presence. 

We tend to think of ourselves as being in a role of power over our little ones, but perhaps the greatest potential power is that of the child over a mother's heart. We think we are the lovers and the healers. But I don't know... seems to me that the greater power lies in the helpless devotion of the child.

I was just 21 years old when I held my firstborn; and those initial moments were not ones in which I felt dominant or in control, but ones in which I felt smaller and more humbled than I ever had in my life.

My arrogance fell away.
My selfishness fell away.
My knowledge fell away.
My self-importance fell away.

I held a tiny human in my arms and felt as though I held the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in my soft baby. Aware of my complete insignificance, I let the awe and fear wash over me in giant waves as the nurses showed me how to care for my son. Those waves crashed upon me again and again as he cried in hunger and turned toward me for nourishment and comfort. And again as I changed him for the first time. Imperfectly.

And still he loved me. 

As those waves of emotion rolled over me, I felt the sharp edges of my womanhood softening, smoothed by the tiny majestic moments. My memories now forever included this child and were filled by him. And no pain or bitterness that I had felt in my life would ever again be felt as sharply simply because he was there. No wound that I had received could hurt as much as the love of this child could heal. 

When I tell people that I've had 8 children, they often stare in astonishment. You must be crazy! Life must be very hard! But I have a secret that they don't know...

The births and the love and the precious lives of my children have continuously washed over me for the last twenty years... and my bitterness doesn't stand a chance. My heart hardens and then it softens; washed over time and again by the smiles and tears of the most precious people on earth.

I am sometimes envious of the beautiful professional women I see around town with their pretty shoes and manicures. I wonder if I will ever be without a little one on my hip or a baby nursing at my breast. And then I remember...

I am happy. I am softened. I am loved. 

As the children have grown, that hard edge sometimes threatens to creep back into my soul again alongside the sufferings and sorrows of life. Shut the door! It cries. You can't be hurt if you keep it closed. And I shout back...

It is a lie.

Let your love wash over me, Jesus... let your love wash me soft. That even when the bitterness rises in my memory, it can never stand against the rolling power of your merciful love. 

Gifts to Keep Kids Active and Outside

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

We used to be that sports family. The one that lived and breathed sports until we were financially, mentally, and physically tapped out. We are an athletic and competitive family but the club youth sport culture is insane and produces insanity in otherwise normal healthy people. *raising hand to testify and give a great big Amen* We step in and out of the youth sport scene from time to time, but let it never be said again that we sold the heart of our family for the hope of a championship trophy or college scholarship.

Anyway... *climbing off my soapbox*... where was I? 

Without a regular practice and game schedule, our kids absolutely need physical outlets to stay healthy in mind and body. The following items are fun and inexpensive solutions to lure them outside where they can burn off some steam and stay strong. 


Slackline

Tightrope walking gets athletic. Slacklining is fantastic for balance and strength. There are many YouTube videos to help you get started. Since we only have one line (Gibbon Classic), the kids can get a bit impatient for their turn so it helps to set it up with the Ninjaline and Olympic rings (listed below) to keep everyone busy. 

*Photo of us slacklining at the top of this post*

Olympic rings

Olympic rings are great indoors or outdoors. Find a sturdy branch or structure and simply attach the easy to assemble webbing. Take them down in a snap. Combine these with the slackline and Ninjaline for a great obstacle course!

Camping Hammock

Okay, hammocks don't generally bring to mind images of vigorous activity but they are amazing at doing one thing: They WILL get your kids outdoors. And that is a great good in itself. 

These camping hammocks are a snap to set up, especially if you buy them with straps. They are a favorite spot to do schoolwork, put the baby down for a nap, read, chat with a buddy, find some alone time, or cheer on the backyard athletes. 

Slackers Ninjaline

My kids love American Ninja Warrior and the older ones even recently went to see some of their favorites compete locally. It's definitely one television program that motivates them to get off the couch more than stay on it. This Ninjaline is harder than it looks and is an ingenious introduction to Ninja training for kids of all ages. It's essentially a overhead slackline with obstacles. Easy to set up and take down. I recommend a chalk bag to keep little hands from getting roughed up. 

Speedminton

Think badminton on steroids and you've got the idea. Speedminton looks at first like badminton but has a heavier, faster birdie called a Speeder... with racquets that remind me of racquet ball racquets. Fast, fun, and can be played anywhere you have a little space. There are various set options. We have a set that includes portable court lines that can be set up wherever you decide to play. Addictive. Super fun. Check out the video below. 

That should keep you busy for a while! Do you have any other favorite outdoor tools to share? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Why You Should Be a Quitter to Regain Your Health

The number one reason that women give me for not taking better care of themselves is:
I DON'T HAVE TIME.

The number two reason that women give me for not taking better care of themselves is:
I DON'T HAVE MONEY.

Now, I'm giving you fair warning that I'm going to knock down your excuses; but first, I will give a slight concession. Ready?

Sometimes we really don't have the time, money, or motivation to take care of ourselves in the way we prefer. There. That's your gimme. And now, I'm going to tell you why most of you DO have the time, money, and courage... but it comes at a price. Let's find out if it's worth it to you...

EXCUSE #1: I DON'T HAVE TIME

I believe you. I don't have time either. Homeschooling, 8 kids, home business... nope. No time. I get it. But...

When you open your eyes in the morning, you have a full 24 hours before you and as you start to step forward, you make decisions about how to use those hours.

The truth is...

You do have the time. You simply choose to give it away to something else. Some of those things need you desperately (hungry children come to mind). But what if I were to tell you that you're neglect of your body over a ONE year period could result in a long term debilitating illness that will make it difficult to care for your kids... would you make time to prioritize your health today? Even if it meant saying no to another priority?

Maybe you don't know your answer to that but I know mine. If you don't know my story, I'll give you the short version...

The poor dietary habits of my early life led to debilitating chronic illness in the prime years of my motherhood. I would absolutely have made changes long, long ago if I had known. It would have saved so much money, many tears, and daily pain over the years.

So... how does the average American women find time in her overstuffed schedule?

Answer: QUIT STUFF.

Stop driving yourself crazy by overfilling your life with busy activities. Start to carve out time where you have absolutely nothing to do so that you can rest and learn to meet your wellness needs.. Quit even if it's hard. Even if it's confusing. Even if it costs you money.

If you serve on three church committees, quit two.
If your kids are in multiple outside activities, quit some of them and let them learn to rest, too.
Get off the crazy train and start to invest in a healthy mind and body.  
Quit Facebook.
Quit Instagram.
Quit watching reruns of Downton Abbey. 

Time is precious. Quit stuff in order to restore your health.
Not for good... not for good... just until you have your healthy mind, body, and soul back.

Excuse #2: I DON'T HAVE MONEY

Let me ask you something...  If you had a life threatening disease, would you turn away medical care because you didn't have enough money? If you are worried about a child's health, do you say "Sorry kid... not in the budget"? 

Health is a priority and we put it right at the top even if it costs us a bunch of cash or puts us in debt... and doesn't it always? Last time I walked into a doctor's office, it cost me $200 just for the privilege of saying hello. 

But if you knew that affordable preventative care could stop disease and poor health in your family (and the need to pay expensive medical bills)... Wouldn't you find the money? If not, you either don't believe that healthy living can prevent poor long term health, or you would rather pay a doctor more later than invest in your health now. 

Believe me... I know very well how much good preventative health care costs and I think it's a shame. (I also know how much good medical care costs and it is substantially more.)

But where do you find the money to pay for good food and healthy living?

Answer: QUIT STUFF.

If you can't afford fresh foods, quality supplements, and time for healthy movement, then you should quit spending money on extras you don't need. 

Quit going on a Disney-sized vacation every single year.
Quit paying thousands of dollars annually for travel sports for the kids when it is robbing your family of time and health.
Quit overspending at Target.
Quit draining your bank account on things that have lesser value than good health.

I know I'm being a little hard core here but it's easy on the internet... I don't have to squirm uncomfortably while you tell me how you are suffering every day but running yourself ragged on too many expensive activities. I am in the excellent position of being able to hide behind a screen while I give your conscience a good prick!

But I feel it with you. I promise. I look back with regret on many activities, habits, and things I purchased that had no real value. I overspend. I breach the budget fences and regret it. I end up selling stuff I want in order to buy something that I need... for a good deal less than I purchased it for. Ever done that to pay a bill? 

Tell you what... don't quit all that stuff for good (unless you should). Just quit for a year. And when you find the extra time, fill it up with wholesome living, real food, good rest, and family. After that year, reassess... you may be surprised to find that restored vitality and good health is a great deal more enjoyable than your former lifestyle. 

Environment {The Forgotten Pillar of Good Health}

It has become so commonplace to hear about the toxins in our food, air, water, shampoos, etc. that most of us either ignore the warnings for the most part.

We are desensitized, tired and busy.

We all get it. We want to do better. We wince when we recognize known (or probable carcinogens) in our personal care or cleaning products . So we buy a "natural" product, don't love it or can't afford it, and decide the greater of two evils is the present difficulty and not the remote possibility of fatal disease. We care but…

We're surrounded by toxic chemicals anyway. Really... how much control can we have?

I'm going to tell you my story as a way of answering that question. And then I'm going to tell you how I take my healthcare plan another easy step forward...

MY BODY SAID "ENOUGH"

I have already written about the decades of chronic pain and illness that drove me to undertake a dramatic dietary overhaul. It changed my life. Brought me back to life. But in addition to the major systemic symptoms that I experienced for most of my life, I also have sensitivities to other environmental factors as well.

Among those challenges are migraines, asthma, allergies, and contact reactions. Annoying and disruptive! Even before I ever thought about changing my diet, I was already changing my environment just to survive my reactive days.

For the past 20 years, I have been unable to use most commercial lotions, moisturizers, or perfumes. I avoid places like Bath and Body Works like the Bubonic Plague and I admit to having a mini panic attack when I have to sit next to a highly synthetically scented person in a public waiting area. My frequent plea: Please God, get me through this without wheezing , hives, or unsightly grimaces.

I never thought this made me a health freak. It was pure survival. When your face breaks out into painful hives after applying a commercial "natural" product, you learn pretty quickly what ingredients to avoid. For me, it was pretty much everything synthetic. But I never thought about it as a "health" issue... only vanity and annoyance.

When I changed my nutrition habits and became a food label reader, the connection between environment and systemic health began to make sense to me for the first time. Here I was scouring labels like the food detective that I needed to be... just like I had been a product label reader for a decade. And the toxic chemical connection began to click…

My body hates this stuff. All of it.

Beyond that, much of it is known to harm the body... so what I am I doing? Why am I using toxic products that are known to cause cancer AND cross the placenta? During my last pregnancy, I read that tests done on newborn cord blood revealed the presence of over 200 chemicals.

Okay then...

I began to make changes.

MAKING CHANGES

Who doesn't want to be toxin free? No one wants cancer or endocrine disease. Most of us do care but…

1) We don't realize the cumulative negative effect toxic chemicals have on our body's ability to thrive. And...

2) We can't afford it.

I know that some of you are going to say: "Look. We live in a toxic world. We can't escape it. I've got things to do... priorities. I don't have the time or money to be a control freak about this stuff."

I hear you. I hear you. In a culture where corporate marketing drives our consumer habits, living simply with healthy ingredients has become a privilege for the wealthy. Bizarre, isn’t it?

We also live in a culture that is plagued with disease because of our dietary choices, sedentary lifestyle, and fixation on pleasure, convenience, and gluttony. Sometimes, we need to just say... I don't want to buy in. God made me for more.


SOLUTIONS

So what now??

I can't pretend that this topic and it's solution don't involve STUFF... because they do. This is about what we use on a daily basis through choice or necessity. But it is pretty much about stuff. We wear makeup, wash our hair, clean our floors, lotion our legs, apply deodorant, wear perfume, burn candles, spray air freshener.... we shop and consume. A lot.

The sad truth is that just because a bottle in the store says "natural" or "green" and has a leaf on it, doesn't mean that it isn't toxic. FDA regulations only cover so much. We have to be smart consumers.

So what I'm going to do here is share my absolute favorite resources for those of you who are ready to prioritize spending (or who, like me, are forced to prioritize spending for health reasons). There are other resources but these are ones that I spend money on and use daily so I have zero hesitation about recommending.


MY FAVORITE 'CLEAN AND HEALTHY' RECOMMENDATIONS


1. ESSENTIAL OILS

I know... It's a fad. But when undertaken with care, it's a pretty amazing fad that I hope never goes away. Give me your ear for an hour or two and I'll tell you how these little brown bottles have improved my days, weeks, and life. Magic? No. But REALLY good.

There are two primary ways that I use essential oils to improve my environment...

1) I diffuse to improve air quality and to derive essential benefits aromatically, and

2) I use them topically and in my homemade products (bath and body, cleaning, immune support) for real benefits and a gorgeous scent (that doesn't set off my asthma).

Read more here: Getting Started With Essential Oils

2. BUY FROM GOOD COMPANIES 

I love to DIY but sometimes I don't have the time or inclination to play chemist. At those times, trustworthy companies are invaluable. Here are some of my favorites...

DR. BRONNER'S

I use Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap for pretty much everything. It's basic, it's versatile, it's safe. I like to buy the larger sizes and use small amounts to fill scrubbing buckets, all-purpose sprayers, and various other needs like laundry or hand soap. My favorites to use are the almond scent and the unscented soap. The unscented allows me to add essential oils for any extra benefits or scents that I like.

I use their cleaning soap (Sals Suds) when a little more safe cleaning power is needed. I like to add Lemongrass, lemon, melaleuca, or orange essential oils to this soap for household cleaning. Use diluted as a laundry pretreatment or add a teaspoon to a quart of water for most surfaces. Available in 16 oz, 32 ounce or Gallon sizes. A little goes a long way!

3. DO IT YOURSELF {It's not that hard}

Laundry detergent
Make-up
Moisturizer
Cleansers
Air fresheners
Toothpaste
Shampoo
Insect repellent
Sunscreen
You name it... there's a recipe for it! 

If nothing else, everyone (at least once in their lives) should make their own lip balm. It's almost fool proof and so lovely. Use your favorite essential oils (mine are orange, grapefruit, and peppermint) and have the satisfaction of just knowing you did it.

Pinterest is a treasure trove of DIY ideas. You can visit my boards to get started.
The Essential Mother on Pinterest

Surviving the Teen Years (Confessions of a Tired Mom)

I was that mom who was going to have the best teens ever; the ones who were obedient and cheerful and faithful. I was convinced that I would be able to mold them into happy, good people by the sheer power of my love and that there would be no arguing in my house ever. There were only two problems:

1) Me
2) Them

My plan was rolling along marvelously before they were teenagers. Those years between 10 and 12 are really deceiving... They have a mom convinced that she has successfully managed to navigate the uncertain transitional period between childhood and big-kidness. Thirteen was actually a pretty great year, too, and then 14 started to make me nervous. I sensed a little bit of stretching and pushing and expanding. And my world started to change. 

It was right and good of course. It's supposed to happen that way. And yet... it wasn't the way I planned it. My primary mistake was that while they were transitioning into autonomous human beings, I forgot to make the transition as well. I still saw them as an extension of myself, and that natural stretching of mind, body, and soul felt more like a painful tearing that I was not prepared for.

Moms of littles, don't let anyone tell you that teenagers are horrible. They certainly don't have to be that! But I've seen enough now in my own and other families to know that teenagers are often stressful on a mom... in new and wild ways that can hurt and startle. You only have a moment for a sharp intake of breath before you begin to frantically search that young-old teen face for a remnant of the 12-year old you think maybe got left behind on the last vacation.

Because seriously, that is not my kid.

I once asked a good friend why there are so many Catholic mom bloggers of young children and so few with teens. She said: Because they are fully engaged in their vocation. They do not have time for blogging. Seriously. Not only do teenagers have a way of sucking your brain and lifeblood from you but you can't post cute stories about their potty training adventures anymore either. And you can't really post their struggles and drama. They're not you anymore. They have a reputation. They are growing, growing, growing... gone.

How do you do it with all these kids? Oh, how many times I gave myself a mental pat on the back and straightened up tall and answered: Oh, well the big kids help a lot. It makes it so much easier. Now, in humility, I must admit that it's harder than it ever was... because a teenager tying a sibling's shoe before Mass in no way offsets the drama of the growing up and out years. Give me a choice and I'll take untied shoes at Mass every time. But there is no choice...

Can't go around it... gotta go through it.

No toddler is capable of doing what a fully aware stretching teen can do on a bad day... None. Give me your hairy screaming fit of a toddler at lunch time and I'll raise you the intense life or death teen drama at 2am. 

My kids are good kids. I love them. I like them. But they are kicking off the old self and trying to fly and it gets a little messy sometimes. You can't write that stuff on a blog. Not really. 

If you don't have teens yet, the best pieces of advice I have to give you are these:

1. Jealously guard and nurture your relationship with your husband.

Because one day, you're going to get kicked around a bit by those kids you poured yourself into... and you're going to turn to your husband and feel a twinge of regret that you didn't give him more. 

Those kids are made to fly. You two are together for keeps. 

There will come a day when you'll call him on the phone (especially if you have multiple teens) and you'll tell him "Honey, these kids don't like me at all and there's nothing I can do about it. I have to be the mom because I love them. But I really need someone to LIKE me today." And you'll see with new eyes how God designed your people to grow... and how he designed your marriage to blossom. 

If I could do it over again, I would still pour the same amount of energy and devotion into my kids. But I would give my husband the same... and more.

2. Remember that your kids are not you. And take care of yourself.

All of that energy and effort of mind, body, and soul that you've poured into your little kids... it's all good and worth it. But you've got a long way to go, mama... and you need to make sure you're prepared for the long haul. Take care of yourself. Not in a selfish way. But in a way that honors the God-given gift of who you are. Twenty years from now, God's going to ask you to keep serving your people, so make sure you've been a good steward of mind, body, and soul.

Make sure you know who you are apart from your children. 

3. Pray without ceasing. 

This is your lifeline. Pray, work, and trust. Lord, have mercy.

I could write for days about those three points but there are a couple more things I want you to know before I close...

I would rather clean a blowout poopy diaper than argue with a teen. I would rather deal with hairy toddler fits than teen meltdowns. I would rather break up arguments over who used whose red crayon than engage in teenage drama. Because on one end of the spectrum, the primary concern is the care of little bodies and emotions. On the other, is the hardcore care of souls. I've got three teens now. Stuff just got real. 

I'll say it again just to be sure you didn't miss it. Teenagers are incredible people. I just don't want you to be surprised or distressed when they start to act a little like you did when you were a teen. You'll see "the look" for the first time and it'll freak you out. AH! I did this to my parents! But it's okay if you remember that because it will help you have empathy when you want to kick them out...

With only the clothes on their backs.
And no dinner.
With a sign that says: "I know everything so it probably won't take me too long to get a job, a house, a car and my next meal."

I often stand in awe of these beautiful maturing people. But I also stand in authority over the not yet flown. And I have never been more grateful for the gift of my spouse. Maybe it's just that I feel so often like punting the kids through the door. Or perhaps it's simply that I have finally learned that my children have an identity. And that it's not me.  

Come, Holy Spirit. 

*Permission received from all of my teens to post this publicly. They understand that it was not written about any one of them specifically and we had a healthy laugh over some memories. :)

Transform Your Health Through Diet (8 Steps)

Whether I'm talking to someone who is in need of healing or examining my own life, I always put nutrition first because it must be first. Nutrition is the fuel that runs our bodies, our brains, our hormones... everything. Our bodies are incredible.... AMAZING... beautiful... and we were designed to function optimally with nutritious food, but the typical American diet does not take those needs seriously. Consequently…

We live in a first world country that is plagued with disease... much of which is self-inflicted.

It is common knowledge that much disease (and symptoms of unavoidable disease) can be eliminated or reduced by eating a nutrient-dense, garbage-free diet and living a healthy lifestyle. Modern medicine is marvelous... but no doctor or surgery or medication can replace God's plan for normal, healing nutrition.

(Pause for a second and read my disclaimer HERE. I'm not a substitute for your doctor. Consider me an accountability partner in a life of joy and health.)

If you exercise every day but stuff your body full of garbage, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you exercise daily, eliminate garbage, but do not meet your body's fundamental nutritional needs, you are still setting yourself up for future problems.

The following information contains the skeleton of my personal nutrition plan. When someone asks me how I eat (or ideally eat), this is what I tell them...


TRANSFORMING MY HEALTH THROUGH NUTRITION (8 Steps)

  1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

  2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

  3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

  4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

  5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

  6. EMBRACE THE FAT

  7. CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

  8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM}


1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

The human body is incredible! The balance of hormones and systems is finely tuned and designed to function with seasonal, real food. It is extremely resilient and can survive and thrive for a long time on inferior nutrition or periods of fasting, through days, seasons, and even decades. But if we use garbage "food" to fuel the body on a regular basis, we will eventually damage the beautiful machine.

The good news is that the body also has a remarkable ability to heal. If you're like me and have abused your own body nutritionally for most of your life, then it might take a longer period of hard work... but every small step is worth it! I'm on my fifth year of gluten-free, clean eating and I'm not tempted to go back. I cannot overstate the positive effect that those changes have made on my life.

Once upon a time, I told my husband I thought that I would die if I had another baby and I truly believed it. But in between that pregnancy and the next, I changed my diet and consequently, my life. And I didn't die. Not even close.

When I was 35, I told him that I would surely be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40. I am now 39... and thriving.

LET'S BE HONEST... The trial of going without chemically enhanced lattes and Oreo cookies is a first world problem. You don't have to have them. And the obligations of your vocation may be calling you to let them go. If you eat junk regularly and also complain about IBS, fatigue, diabetes, joint pain, headaches, etc... then it may be time to start thinking about the stress you've been putting on your body all these years and the investment you want to make for the future.

The good news is that now is a GREAT time to begin to make changes regardless of the challenges you face in life. There is always a small change you can make toward health.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ELIMINATING IMMEDIATELY:

  • CORN SYRUP. This should not even be used in moderation. It has no nutritional value and wreaks havoc on a body. It's also in almost everything modern Americans eat.
  • WHEAT/GLUTEN. Wheat is not inherently evil... but the way that the majority of flour is produced in the last 50 years renders it a nutritionally empty source of calories, and increasing numbers of people are developing sensitivities. If you do not have an intolerance, you will still benefit nutritionally from replacing most or all of your bread and pasta with vegetables and nutritionally dense carbs. You will eliminate an inflammatory food and you will also eliminate a huge source of extra pounds! The elimination of gluten changed my life.

  • PACKAGED FOODS. There are exceptions to the this but in general, if a food is packaged, it needs non-food chemicals to keep it from rotting, breaking, separating, or to enhance its denatured flavor. Added up over the course of a day (and a life), the cumulative impact can be significant. 

  • PACKAGED FOODS LABELED 'GLUTEN FREE'. Make no mistake... The majority of packaged gluten free food is junk food. Completely nutritionally empty. Just eat real food instead or find companies that produce nutritionally, garbage free products. Have you ever heard anyone say "I gained weight on a gluten-free diet"? Yep, me too... all the time! Well, that outcome makes sense if they are simply replacing their empty carbs with more empty carbs.

  • ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. Most simply are not healthy to consume. Use natural sweeteners instead.

  • SUGAR. I know... I know... All things in moderation, right? But the American idea of "moderation" and the body's idea of moderation seem to be at odds. Modern science recognizes that sugar is a source of inflammation in the body, and that inflammation is a common cause of preventable disease. So... consider less damaging alternatives (honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar) and also making even those splurges rare since they tend to increase more sweet cravings. read more here.

  • ALL SODA . This is a no-brainer. We know this. Regular is terrible for you. Diet may be worse.


2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

After cutting out garbage, it can initially seem difficult to find nutritious replacements. We are used to eating from boxes and bags and have been desensitized to the long list of ingredients on labels. The following tips will help you navigate...


3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

Most real foods will be found in the produce and refrigerated sections of a grocery store. Avoiding processed, nutrient-deficient foods generally means eliminating many of the middle aisles. Shop fresh.


4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

One-ingredient foods are the best option. If you're buying chicken, you want chicken... not chicken with a list of hard to spell chemicals listed on the label. If you're buying broccoli, you want broccoli... not broccoli, colorants, and preservatives. When buying from a can or a box, go for the one that has the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. For example, a simple can of kidney beans usually contains some form of sugar. Put back the ones that list corn syrup and chemicals... and keep looking until you find the healthiest, fewest ingredients added to your beans.


5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

Long term health does not count calories but weighs nutrition. The best path to weight loss is a body that has the proper fuel when it needs it. If you overeat regularly, calories will add up, but I've got to tell you... it's a lot harder to gain extra weight when you're doubling up on asparagus than if you're doubling up on the pasta. Make the calories count and your appetite will more likely regulate itself. You will remember what it's like to be truly hungry. There won't be bloating to confuse or guilt you. You can just eat.

Also, not all whole foods are created equal. If you are short on nutrients (almost all of us are), then you might want to make your pile of dark leafy greens significantly larger than your pile of rice.


6. EMBRACE THE FAT

It is time to leave the diet fads and pseudo-science of the 1980's behind. Dump the margarine... Embrace the full-fat grass-fed butter. Why? Because margarine is chemically-laden garbage food and your brain and body NEED healthy fats to stay healthy. Every cell in your body is made up of fats... you have a fundamental biologic need for fat.

I have noticed in my own diet that when I eat more healthy fats, my cravings are reduced, I have more energy, less brain fog, and have no trouble with weight gain. When I skimp on the fats, I end up eating more of everything else and struggling with energy.

WHAT FATTY OILS TO GET RID OF COMPLETELY....

vegetable oil
canola oil
cottonseed oil
Trans fats
soybean oil
hydrogenated oil

MY FAVORITE WAYS TO GET MORE HEALTHY FAT IN MY DIET...

avocados
coconut oil
nuts
full fat coconut milk
organic full fat butter
organic bacon... because... bacon.


7. CONSIDER CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

Before saying another word about supplements, I must reiterate:

A NOURISHING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY SUPPLEMENT.  PILLS WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM BAD FOOD CHOICES. Supplements only become a need when our diet is inadequate. Having said that…

I am a supplement convert. I never "believed" in the idea and thought that I could just get what I needed through food. I was wrong. Countless years of nutrient deprivation from poor eating, malabsorption, and ignorance left me seriously depleted of nutrients. And unfortunately (due to chronic issues and perhaps age), it isn't just correcting itself by eating a steak and a hearty salad periodically. My age and body abuse have left me struggling, and for the first time, I'm leaning on good supplements to get through my days.

It is VERY important to note that the vitamin and supplement industry is unregulated. That means that your Walmart multi-vitamins could very well contain Chinese sawdust... and mold. When testing has been done on OTC supplements, they have regularly been found to falsely advertise content and quantities and harbor such horrid ingredients as I’ve listed above. Additionally, most supplements provide synthetic nutrients and science is still uncertain about if that even benefits our bodies. What to do?

Do your research. Pay more money for supplements that you can source. Don't pop a pill just because it's cheap. You'll pay out the nose for medications to treat disease... why would you skimp on your preventative care? (And because someone always asks, I buy my supplements from doTERRA.)


8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND GOOD SUPPORT}

I receive many questions from this post since so many details simply won't fit! I will do my best to get to those as I am able and integrate answers in other posts. In the meantime, I will leave you will some of my favorite resources for recipes and wellness. Wondering how to cook a meal with real food? These recipe resources are a great place to start and have helped me out more times than I can count.

And don't forget...

Listen to your body. This is a journey of wellness NOT perfection. Every good choice is a victory. Remember your purpose... Thanks be to God!

The Slight Edge and The Secret to Healthy Living

What is holding you back from a healthy lifestyle?

The answer is so simple that it surprises me every time I stumble upon it again. It recently jumped out at me from the pages of a great book that I think everyone should read. A good book will take a basic truth and extract it from the superficial complexity of life and just NAIL it to my forehead...

"Here you go," it says. "You've forgotten this." And then it slips quietly back on to the shelf while I sit stunned.

The Slight Edge is one of those books and that is precisely why I recommend it to all who work with me; because it lays out simple steps to a successful life. Not just successful, but happy. Most people are probably prompted to read it in the context of a business endeavor, but the author's approach applies so well to a journey to physical fitness, good health, and even the spiritual life that the applications are almost limitless.

A good Christian friend of mine said that the principles in the book were to her like a secular adaptation of St. Therese of Lesieux's Little Way. Do small things with great love and do them well... trusting that the steady faithfulness will bear great fruit. 

Do you want to be healthy in mind, body, and soul? The Slight Edge makes it clear...

Healthy living is not about amazing and quick transformations, but about one small choice at a time. 

The author puts it bluntly...

"It's easy to eat well. But it's also easy not to, and to go on eating the food that will eventually kill us, because it won't kill us today. It's not the one junk food meal; it's the thousands, over time. Eating the burger is just a simple error in judgment. Not eating it, a simple positive action.

The thing is, eating it won't kill you... today. Compounded over time, it can and will - but not at first. And not eating it won't transform your health and save your life, at least not today. Compounded over time, it can and it will."

He makes a simple but powerful point about why so many in our fast food, click-bait culture don't reach their goals: Because they aren't willing to do the one mundane easy thing, in the moment, without seeing immediate results.

He says...

"Here's how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work's already done."

One day at a time, one choice at a time... step by step.

I know the path to healing intimately and I know how slow progress can seem at times. But then suddenly, you have turned a corner... and you're standing in the middle of Walmart bawling like a baby and thanking God because there was once a time when you were too sick to go on a short Walmart trip with your husband.

Yes, that happened to me... that day in Walmart when it all made sense. The day I knew that every little choice toward the positive had been worth it. Slowly, steadily, faithfully. That's how lives are transformed.

I know you can do this! I am living proof that you don't have to be a high energy "health nut" to make a change. Be a steady little plodder and you will achieve great things!

And read the book... it's well worth your time. The Slight Edge

Mateo's Story: The Day I Met Jesus (Guest Post)

This story was first shared on Facebook by my friend, Jen. I asked permission to share it here and the words written below are hers. I thank God for the gift of Mateo and his amazing parents. May the testimony of his life and death bring courage, hope, and healing to those reading.


Mateo's Story

by Jennifer Calabretta

I'll be honest, I am hesitant to share this story this morning. It starts out as a real downer, ha... But it has been TEN years today since we said our goodbyes to this sweet baby and began really walking down this crazy road that we never saw coming. And while many think it sounds like entirely too much, I cannot imagine our life any other way (especially without Mateo & later our daughter Sofia, and the 2 other sweet babies we have miscarried).

But I decided it is important to share for 2 reasons.

ONE, so many people go through the pain of a hard diagnosis, or losing a loved one, or just LIFE, and it remains only their cross. It is lonely. But life is never something you should go through alone. Grief and Anger require people to talk and share and reach out and cry; just to get through it still standing up! So many people reached out to us, and it made every difference.

TWO... It serves as a reminder to me that God is good. All the time. He walks through every single storm with us, and continues to do so. I do not know how Andre and I (& our family) would have survived all of this without Him. He sent us answered prayers, beautiful kids, homemade meals, loving friends, concerned family, well time scripture verses and moving song lyrics... all reminders that even the HARDEST situations can be gotten through.

So again, I apologize for the toughness of this. You don't need to read our story throughout the album if you don't want to. But I just felt compelled to share this today; and to share that God is always present, especially in our hardest moments. And with Him ALL things are possible. So keep on working through whatever life has handed you; you're destined to win:)

Mateo was born at 12:00pm on April 21, 2007. I finally figured out that I was in labor around 6 am that morning. I think I actually started earlier than that, but because I was only 35 weeks along, I didn't really think that it would be labor!! But when Andre came out to our Living Room at 6am and saw me taking giant breaths and squatting in the "Fat-Man" chair, he sort of figured it out right away.... 

So there we were, at 8 o'clock in the morning in the Labor & Delivery ER. No nurse really seemed to believe that I was in labor, despite the fact that I was swearing unholy words under my breath between contractions and shared with anyone who would listen that I had no problem giving birth in the wheelchair I was being escorted in if no one wanted to put me in a bed:)

So obviously - it was quickly concluded that I was in labor. 8cm the whole 30 minute ride on the slow and bumpy highway!!! Then my water broke, and we were sure Mateo would just come shooting out (sorry for the graphic imagery:))... but the weird part was that my labor actually stopped then and there. He just decided to slow it down. It would be another 4 hours before Mateo would come; it was really our calm before the storm.

At 12:00pm, the urge to push came and we went for it. 3 good pushed and Mateo was OUT! This whole labor, all we kept saying was, "How is he coming 6 weeks early? My entire pregnancy has been perfect, what's going on?" 

Nothing seemed to make sense. And then Mateo was born... and we realized we were in for so many more questions. Mateo was 5lbs 6oz when he was born, with a full head of black hair (as you can see in the photos!!). He had all 10 fingers, all 10 toes, and he was beautiful. Yes, I know I am partial because I'm his Mom... but he was perfect:)

But there were so many problems as well. When Mateo was first born, we had the NICU staff nearby as a precaution because he was early. Little did we know that they would be angels in our midst. Mateo wasn't breathing when he came out, and it actually took the NICU doctors and nurses 10 minutes to get a tube in to help him breathe. His fingers and toes were stiff and misshapen. And his arms and legs were not straight. 

We would later learn that the medical term for this is arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. It is a congenital condition that forms in the womb. When muscles aren't exercised during development (as Mateo's apparently were not), they become stiff and contracted. So when Mateo was born, all of his major joints were stuck in this manner. Needless to say, he was flown to the Cleveland Clinic NICU within an hour of his birth... and there we were, left with a whole lot of questions... and NO answers. 

But we love(d) him... and that was really all that mattered.

26224_388364857079_984857_n.jpg

Over the course of the next 2 weeks, we learned a lot of things about Mateo. We learned that whatever he was "suffering" from was probably a completely random occurrence. However, this randomness left him with very weak and brittle bones (that would fracture very easily), misshappen and underdeveloped external body parts, and no responsiveness to us. At least not externally.

I knew, in my heart, that every song we sang him and every book we read him was heard. I know that he appreciated the Lullaby CD that we played for him all day every day. I know that he hated the girly socks I put on him every time we came to visit. And I knew that he loved us - even at 3 days old - I just knew.

And on the inside...he was perfect. 

His heart, his organs, his blood... Christlike, right? Broken on the outside, but perfect on the inside.

It was amazing that every day we would keep getting these terrible diagnoses from doctors, and our glimmer of hope for a recovery kept moving farther and farther off ... but somehow, Andre and I knew Mateo was bigger than all of this. 

We knew that no matter what happened; that our lives were better having spent it, even a short amount of time, with him.

And a short amount of time it would be.

On a side note - most of my adult Catholic life I have struggled with this image of Mary. Understanding what it is like to be a mother to such a great son; understanding how you just stand by them watching such a great sadness and pain happen to one you love so much... It was always so beyond me... But I will tell you what, my greatest solace - in not only those 2 weeks, but NOW as well - was in Mary. Because it was in those moments that I felt so alone, thinking "who the heck does this stuff happen to?", I knew that there was at least one other person who had... I had a companion. And what greater Mother to learn from...

But May 4, 2007, is not a day we will quickly forget. It is the day we decided to take Mateo off of life support. To some, it might seem impossible to imagine ever making a decision to say good bye to your child. But there was a point, when we realized that the life HE was living was not the one he was meant to live. 

We had spent two weeks with NO answers. No reasons. It seemed that Mateo should have been this perfect baby with this perfect life. But life happened differently.

The evening before, on May 3, Mateo's doctors told us that they had done a biopsy to test his muscle for possible answers, but they, in fact, were not able to find any muscle; ANYWHERE in his body. In essence, while his organs grew, his body stopped growing very early on in the womb. And unfortunately, what you don't grow in the womb, you cannot grow outside of the womb. So we were left with no other choice.

It was such a sad day; the day we made that decision. But we knew that Mateo had a greater Life waiting for him in Heaven.

We made sure that we got our whole family together at least once. Dante, our oldest, got to meet his little brother. We thought it was important, even if it only lasted for a few moments.

Mateo mustered all of his strength to stay with us for a whole 15 minutes on his own. They took Mateo off of all of his machines, they brought him and put him in my arms. It was 12noon on Friday. And I breathed in every bit of him that I could.

This picture here is one of the last we took before taking him off of the machines and saying goodbye - and while it is one of the hardest to relive, it reminds me of the Miracle of Life. It reminds me that God is so much greater than the circumstances He meets us in. 

It reminds me that on THAT DAY - I MET JESUS ...

And I held Him in my arms, and I kissed Him when He died... and I loved Him, the best way I knew how; and I knew that he held together the pieces of my broken heart so that I could remember every piece of love I had for him.

And I will take that memory with me, every day, for the rest of my life.

And that same love, that I had for my son and my God at that moment, is unequivocally the same love that I have today for my husband, for Dante, for Cabrini... and for our other angels, Jeremiah, Sofia & Gabriel. And it is a love that binds and renews and purifies...

He really is our "Gift of God" (Which, in fact, is what Mateo means in Latin... awesome, huh:).

Amen.