Finding Balance ……and Berriesūüćď

ÔłŹSpring is finally here in Middle Tennessee after a long, harsh winter. Proof was at the 12south farmers market yesterday where fresh local strawberries were on display. ¬†There’s no going back now…….imageThat is a theme in my life right now- no going back. ¬†As I have navigated my way the last couple years between career moves and lifestyle changes I’ve found myself wondering about what propels us forward. Sometimes we choose to move, sometimes we are forced, but either way there is movement. Just like the seasons our lives change constantly. And for every ending, there has to be a fresh sweet beginning- like the berries.

My my life now is centered around trying to find BALANCE. Usually that means trying to find more time, but for me it’s more internal. ¬†Balance between past and future, self and others, work and play, physical and spiritual…….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Local strawberries will be around for just a few short weeks. The sweetness and goodness they offer is fleeting so enjoy them to the fullest. The present moment is like that too. I try to not get caught up in the future or dwell on the past, but instead relish the ripe present moment.

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Comforting Spinach Stuffed Shells

Comfort food is traditionally eaten food (which often provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the person eating it),[1] or simply provides the consumer a familiar meal, soft in consistency, and rich in calories, nutrients, or both. (wikipedia)

Hopefully being with family evokes feelings of nostalgia and comfort. When my sister visited this weekend so we could plan my mom’s upcoming birthday party, I definitely must’ve been craving comfort food. I wanted to cook a big Sunday dinner with no regards to counting calories and watching ingredients. I managed to keep it simple, yet still comforting with these savory, stuffed shells.¬†¬†This recipe is not complicated but always impressive! Great for leftovers too.

Boil Jumbo Shell Pasta until soft. Not too soggy, but firm. Drain and let cool.

Jumbo Shell Pasta

Prepare sauce by browning meat (I used ground turkey), onion, garlic, tomato sauce, and spices. I added a little red wine and a tiny bit of agave to the sauce.

red sauce

In a large bowl combine 1 container ricotta cheese, 1/2 container cottage cheese, 1 egg, dash of nutmeg, and 2 cups chopped fresh baby spinach. Mix well. Add 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and mix well.

ricotta cheese stuffingUsing a small spoon, stuff each shell with cheese filling and set in a large rectangular oiled baking dish. ¬†Line shells closely together, “stuffed” side up.

stuffed shells

Spoon meat sauce over shells evenly.

stuffed shells with meat sauce

Top with 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

stuffed shells

Cheese should be melted and edges beginning to crisp

stuffed shells

3 or 4 shells are a good serving size so this is good for a large group. I don’t eat like this often, but I love cooking this when I get the chance. Vary the ingredients by adding other chopped vegetables to the cheese or make vegetarian by skipping the meat.

spinach stuffed shells

Yoga: Religion or Exercise?

It’s a touchy subject isn’t it? Maybe it’s because I live in the South, but the question “Is yoga a religion?” does come up and I want to share my view on how I handle it. Since yoga has become more mainstream and has found it’s way into gyms, schools, and even churches, there is a lot of room for different opinions on the spiritual aspect of yoga and how it fits into western religious beliefs.

There are purists on both sides who would argue strongly that without the spiritual aspect, yoga is simply stretching. There are also christians who believe that yoga is going against their own beliefs and they are skeptical of trying it for this reason.

I say this: Let Yoga be whatever it is YOU are seeking, not what someone tells you it must be. Let it be there for you in any way you need. And let others enjoy it how they need to without judgement.

My friend Heather helping me lead this class

My friend Heather helping me lead this class

If it’s the strong physical practice you desire then so be it. That’s OK. There is no better way to move your body than through the asanas and breath work of yoga. I am so happy more people are trying it and feeling the physical benefits.

If you seek spiritual guidance and direction from Yoga then great- Go deep, study, and absorb everything you can from this ancient practice. Read, learn, and embrace it.  Find a teacher who is knowledgeable about this side of yoga and practice with them.

half moon

But please don’t tell either side who is right and who is wrong. I know students who cannot stand incense, chanting, or meditation. I don’t judge that because I know they need something else from Yoga and who am I to stop them?

I also know teachers who get irritated and defensive if gyms or fitness centers teach yoga without using sanskrit or bringing the spiritual side into the practice. In the big picture, who cares? Let people enjoy what they can from a beautiful and complex form of exercise and practice how you want.

Nice big turn-out for Yoga at their church!

Nice big turn-out for Yoga at their church!

I recently had the opportunity with some friends to teach yoga at a very large Baptist church group fitness symposium. It was amazing to witness all of the congregation in prayer pose and moving in unison. There was no barrier or judgement to what anyone believed or who they worshipped- we were just all there together breathing and moving and being present. They were connected to themselves and we were connected to each other for that brief period of time.

Me and Emily leading the class through vinyasa

Me and Emily leading the class through vinyasa

Isn’t that what Yoga is all about; Connection?

Don’t Stop Believin’ (or Eating)

We set goals. We meet goals. We mess up. We start over. We get inspired. We get lost.

It’s all good. It’s OK. Trust the Process.

Progress takes time and can be very frustrating. It often seems so easy to give up. Sometimes just when we are ready to give up, a new ray of light shines down and we see something we hadn’t seen before. Or someone calls, or we read something inspiring, or synchronicity steps in some other way.

Whether your goals are centered around physical fitness, your career, personal life, or financial- you will hit walls. You will get so sick of doing what you think is the “right” thing over and over and not seeing the results that you want fast enough.

If you are starting a new way of eating or working-out this probably sounds very familiar. When things get tough we want to return to our old patterns that feel comfortable or to that “tried and true” diet that allowed you to lose 20 lbs five years ago. It doesn’t matter that you gained it all back, you liked the diet because it seemed to work. Fast.

But there’s another choice now; Trust the Process.

Don’t give up. Don’t give in to those thoughts that tell you it’s foolish to keep going. It might take weeks for you to see any differences, or it might takes months. In fact, if you’re doing it correctly by eating enough calories of real, whole foods then the results will most likely take much longer than you expect. Trust the Process.

Your friends and co-workers may be limiting their food intake and showing excitement over changes on the scale but what happens when their diet is done? How does someone re-learn to eat without sabotaging themselves?

Answer: Don’t stop eating. Don’t stop believing that you are an incredible machine that needs clean fuel. You are a work of art that deserves the Best, not the quickest. Don’t fall for the marketing this time of year for the many products that claim miracles. Just eat. And believe. And Trust the Process.

Here is my 3 month progress selfie after starting my clean eating meal plan. Although it’s no longer a plan, it’s a way of life.¬† After lowering my body-fat by 10% I am now starting to fill out and see some much anticipated muscle growth. Weight is still the same but my clothes are fitting much differently.

clean eating month 3

For more information check out www.createwholehealth.com

~Much Love~

5 Healthy Things I Did Last Year

Last year I explored and discovered a lot of new things. As I was building my practice and yoga teaching, I experimented with many different ways of eating and moving to see what felt best to me and what I most wanted to share with people. I realize that everyone is different, and what works for one, may not work for another. As I tried different things I found the ones that worked for me and I found amazing things that can help others too. Some of these I keep in my life, others I recommend to those in need. Here are some things you can try:

1. I varied my work-outs. I tried new things like High Intensity Interval Training, running, bootcamps, restorative yoga. All kinds of things I thought I would never do. It’s good to switch things up so your body doesn’t get accustomed to the same thing.

Jacobs ladder

2. I added more meat into my diet. I started the year basically a vegetarian, eating meat only occasionally. I was eating mostly plants and a lot of fiber but I wasn’t feeling lean or fitting into my clothes like I wanted. I began eating more meat on a daily basis and upping my protein intake. My energy levels went through the roof and I reduced my body fat by 10%

I paid homage to my midwestern roots with a squirt of ketchup on top

I paid homage to my midwestern roots with a squirt of ketchup on top

3. I got more sleep. I stopped falling asleep on the couch and instead I took myself to bed early. Sometimes so early I felt ridiculous if anyone found out I was in my pajamas at 7:30pm. But my body responded amazingly and I began waking naturally with the sun and not needing caffeine. I enjoyed my nightly ritual of reading and meditating in bed, falling naturally into a restful 8 hour sleep. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I do pinterest in bed and it totally relaxes me. It’s my digital vision board– ¬†Don’t hate.¬†sleep well

4. I gave up mindless snacking. Just because I cook and bake healthy things with healthy ingredients doesn’t give me a green light to nosh all day. I stopped keeping sweets around my house because I found myself grazing all day and not being hungry enough for real food. This changed the way I fed my body and in turn changed the way my body feels and looks. I have more muscle mass, more energy, and less fat. ¬†Now I enjoy sweets as an occasional treat, not a daily staple.

oatmeal cookies

5. I surrendered to what is. This is a big one and didn’t really happen til the end of the year. I am an ambitious capricorn who loves to push and pursue my goals. I found myself getting very frustrated when things didn’t move as quickly as I’d like them to, or when things just didn’t go the way I thought they should. I finally resolved to let go of control and let things unfold. I became very grateful for what I have, not what I want. I became engrossed in the present circumstances and gave them my full attention. I LET GO when things felt wrong. It feels so much better than holding on.

love stones

What are you going to try this year to get healthier? For more info please visit me at www.CreateWholeHealth.com

Holiday Baking Love

This year I decided to bake some homemade Christmas gifts for friends. As usual, most everyone expects something super healthy from me: “Is it gluten free?” “Is it vegan?” “Are these whole wheat?” And the answer to all of those was “Nope”. I wanted to go old school and make holiday classics with simple, real ingredients like sweet cream butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and spices. I wanted to bake everything with love and intention and hand deliver them. To me, those things are just as healthy as omitting certain ingredients from our diets.

I believe that how we FEEL about the food we eat and how we FEEL while we are eating it is an important component in how we digest and react to certain ingredients. I’m not saying some people don’t have allergies or sensitivities to different foods, but something causes those reactions and our state of mind and attitude contribute greatly to our overall health on all levels, including digestion.

sweet cream butter

The first 2 of these recipes is from theKitchen, an awesome blog I subscribe to that always has tons of interesting recipes and cute interior design stuff too.

Snickerdoodles were my first batch. I love the simple sugar and cinnamon flavor of these and I know it’s an all-time favorite of a lot of people. Plus the name is fun!

snickerdoodles

Then I made Irish Shortbread Toffee Bars which I chose because the recipe was found in an old (1950’s?) cookbook from my town. I felt like a true junior league-er as I pressed out the crust and stirred away at the warm caramel filling. Spreading the warm chocolatey topping on was sort of meditative too.

shortbread toffee bars

These hardened up just enough to stay together and be firm. Half candy, half cookie.

shortbread toffee bar

My next recipe was Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Minimalist Baker which features really healthy recipes. This recipe was gluten free so I went to the original source which was none other than Martha Stewart.

Mmmmmmm these are exactly what I envisioned- warm, chewy, soft, and buttery.

chocolate chip cookies

What made these extra good was the vanilla I used that I got in Mexico in the spring. It was SO strong and sweet that it gave them a different flavor. And I used dark chocolate chips rather than milk chocolate.

christmas baked goods

Packed and ready to be delivered with love to the lucky recipients! Please check out both of these wonderful blogs- they are definitely worth subscribing to if you love to cook.

PS Yes, of course I sampled. But now I am ready to get these out of my house they are SO good!

10 Things to Love about the Season

1. The Winter Solstice is a time of returning light. This means after Dec 22nd the days will once again start getting longer and daylight will begin to increase.

winter solstice

2. Things slow down….or they should this time of year. We have extra time off work to celebrate the season and rest. Use this time to slow it down and draw inward as nature does, rather than inviting more chaos into your precious time. Read here on how to not self-sabotage during the holidays.

snowy meditation

3. Hearty, Warming Foods. Slow roasted root vegetables, thick stews, hot soups, and savory meats are all winter foods that give us grounding energy and stability. Enjoy the warmth of these.

homemade chicken noodle soup

4. Reconnecting with old friends. Christmas gatherings, parties, or cards allow us to catch up with friends and family we may not see other times of the year. Welcome these connections into your life.

5.  Contemplation. This is when we reflect over the last year and note the areas of our life that were gratifying, fulfilling, and productive. It is also when we can resolve to leave behind that which no longer serves us as we move into the new year.

peaceful wish

6.  A New Fresh Start. Everyone feels recharged and ready to make positive changes January 1st. Setting goals and creating vision boards is exciting this time of year when the future is truly a blank page. Be creative!

new year7. The Christmas Spirit. Whatever Christmas means to you, there is no doubt that a lot people are happy and joyful right now and that can be contagious. Absorb that good energy while it’s here!

8. Curling up and staying warm. What’s more comforting that thick socks, a warm blanket, hot tea, and a fire? This time of the year just begs for us to feel cozy, soft, warm, and nurtured.

sleepy kitty

9. Hot tea. OK, I drink hot tea all year long but it’s especially good this time of year. Warming from the inside out and enjoying spicy flavors like chai and cinnamon is just better in the winter.

hot tea

10. Dark, leafy, winter greens! Full of phytonutrients and calcium, dark leafy greens grow best in colder weather.

kale

*11. Bonus reason: My birthday is right around the corner! And that means cake.

*12. Extra bonus reason: The pretty falling snow that WordPress provides!

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