Reflections & 2019 Resolutions

As we close out 2018, I’m forced to reflect on what a year this past one has been.

Most recently, I hosted my family and Mark for Christmas and felt all the good feelings. Having my loved ones gather in my little, cozy home was wonderful. We had a great Christmas together (I think?!) and got to experience the holidays in Raleigh, which made me fall in even more love with my city.

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In the past four months, I’ve had each of my immediate family members visit me individually, and I was able to make a trip to visit them in New York in September. This never happened in Los Angeles, it just wasn’t feasible. Having this kind of access to each other again is something I will never, ever take for granted.

My best friend is a mere 45 minute drive from me now, and once again we find ourselves in a season of life where we can FaceTime each other at 6:30 pm with bribes of pizza and movies if one makes the trek to the other, and by 8 we’ll be together. I saw her 3 times the whole time I lived in L.A.

Oh, I moved! I took matters into my own hands and left Los Angeles in May. I drove cross country with my mama, took a huge leap of faith, and moved to somewhere I had never been before. With the help of friends and family, I moved into two apartments this summer (the first one for only a week, the second was the winner…what an adventure). But then, I proceeded to set up my home alone. I carried packages, set up furniture, arranged online bill pay (yaaas), hung shelves and curtains and pictures alone, and pretty much learned how to function solo. I learned a lot about independence this year. Thankfully, I still never needed to unclog a toilet (it’s my biggest fear). 

By learning how to be more independent, I also learned to be a better partner to Mark. I became more self-reliant, which in turn made me more appreciative. I also became more open to compromise and alternative ways of doing things. Weirdly, the forced long distance over the past few months has made us more aware of how much we want to be together. We’re in a better place than ever before.

Mark and I both dealt with loss. It sucked. It really freakin’ sucked. That’s been the ultimate low of this year.

I also had a really shitty couple of months with major dental issues. Ugh.

I left a great job in L.A and quickly found a great gig as a veterinary technician in Raleigh. I even got hired as a food stylist a couple of times, which was a dream come true. I successfully got top grades in the Animal Nutrition course I took alongside everything else.

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I quickly fell in love with my new city, and that has calmed my soul in ways I can’t even explain. I feel so much less turbulent than I did this time last year. I sometimes miss L.A for very specific things, but I’ve developed a healthier mindset about that, too.

I religiously stuck to budgeting, which allowed me to save over $6,000 this year! Y’all, my retirement is poppin’.

I reconnected with old friends. I made really valuable and meaningful new friendships.

Finally, this little blog had the highest engagement ratings in its history! I think I made big strides in providing good content, better photos, relatable stories, etc.

I’ve had some creative ruts, some health ruts, some personal ruts. But guess what! I’m still here and I’m still working every day to be better. It was a long year, at times an exhausting and disheartening year. But overall, 2018 was pretty kind to me and for that I am grateful.

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As for last year’s resolutions? I think I did pretty good. I saved a lot of money! I started listening to NPR, so I like to think I’m more informed. I took the ceramics class and loooved it. I called my mom more, even though she might argue this fact! I eliminated  more toxins (buh-bye deodorant), and I did go somewhere new on the cross country road trip. Success!

Now, on to this year’s resolutions.

  1. Complete another whole30 and gain back some control over my health habits.
  2. Explore my career aspirations in a tangible way. Make more progress towards whatever goals you develop.
  3. Save even more money! I’m going to do a blog post soon on how I’m succeeding with this.
  4. Finally travel to NOLA (in February, with my sister!)
  5. Start regularly taking vitamins for sleep, stress, and energy support.
  6. Take yoga more consistently. I’m never happier/healthier than when I take a regular vinyasa class.
  7. Read more books. So, so easy with my library card!
  8. Establish a more consistent skin care routine.
  9. Establish a more consistent bedtime routine. Meaning turning off the devices, not falling asleep to the TV being on, and consistently getting 8 hours of sleep. Also, hopefully making strides in improving my overall sleep quality.
  10. Have Mark move in!
  11. Take a food photography course. I’m excited about this one!
  12. Continue to improve viewership and engagement on this blog, which has remained my favorite creative outlet.
  13. Be a better friend in general. I could always be better about reaching out to my long distance buddies.
  14. Floss every night. And never ever skip a 6 month dental cleaning.
  15. Use time more wisely. I go back and forth on being good at this. Instead of binge watching Gilmore Girl episodes, maybe listen to an informative podcast and get some to-do list tasks done. Instead of surfing Instagram, study for the GRE. Ya know?

Okay, that’s it! I probably won’t even make it to the ball drop tonight (grandma status, always). My plans include working on meal prep for tomorrow, wearing a charcoal face mask, and sipping some hot lemon water while I listen to Auld Lang Syne. Happy New Year, friends!

 

 

How To Survive Whole30

I’ve successfully done Whole30 twice now (and in a couple of days I’ll begin my third round for the #JANUARYWHOLE30), which basically makes me an expert on healthy eating…HA! Just kidding.

But with two separate experiences under my belt I’ve got some stuff to say on the topic! Buckle up. It’s a long one.

So first let me start by commenting on how different my two experiences were and how much I learned about my wellness goals because of that. My first Whole30 yielded crazy results. The most exiting to me was that I lost 15 pounds and felt infinitely better about myself. I gained back a lot of confidence in my appearance and in my ability to achieve my health goals. It was awesome and I couldn’t wait to do it again. My second Whole30 felt different from the beginning. It no longer felt like a huge undertaking for me, which I suppose was a good thing. I still felt amazing, but less drastic physical changes were happening, so I felt frustrated. Like I was doing something wrong. So I took a step back and reflected on my ultimate goal of ever starting Whole30 in the first place which was not to lose weight, but simply to rejuvenate my goal of making healthy decisions for my body. The simple change in perspective was important. I realized that it’s possible for me to shop, cook, and eat with intention and not because I’m bored or craving. I can control my sweet tooth. At my best, I actively read ingredient labels (and ignore information like calories) because my focus is fueling my body with natural foods. I say this because I want to put this reminder out into the world: if you’re doing Whole30, no matter what results you’re seeing or why you even started, you are actively changing for the better. It’s a journey. Remembering that makes things a lot easier.

But it’s not easy going against all the bad habits you’ve developed. Sometimes it feels less like succeeding and more just surviving. So I compiled a list of what I believe to be crucial tips and tools to help you survive, and hopefully love, your Whole30.

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The Best Tools:

Let me start by saying this: I sort of assume here that every kitchen is well stocked with pots and pans, skillets, tupperware, assorted cutlery, cutting boards, etc. The basics. So I don’t mention them in detail in this list. If you don’t have any of the above items you should update accordingly because having a fully functional kitchen is important for eating well. Moving on.

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Mini food processor // This thing rocks. From shredding vegetables quickly for dishes to pureeing sauces and dips, it’s my go-to tool. The mini size does all the work I need and is so cute and compact (perfect for a rental with small space!). 

Blender // In most situations you don’t need a blender if you have a food processor. And vice versa. But for big batches of soup it’s easier to fit everything in a blender than a processor. And while smoothies aren’t recommended on Whole 30, I love them and indulge from time to time if I don’t have time to cook breakfast. I also blend collagen peptides with my morning coffee for a frothy, compliant drink. I bet you could accomplish most if not all of this with an immersion blender, but I just use my normal 12-speed. Pick your poison. 

Spiralizer // Zoodles. Duh! For my first two runs I had a little handheld one that did the job but it was kind of a pain and it wasn’t pretty. Now I have the Inspiralizer and it is no joke. It takes about 30 seconds to spiralize anything, and has four settings for different “noodles”. Meal planning is so much easier.

Mandoline // On the topic of making meal planning easier, the mandoline! I use it to quickly slice onions, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, pretty much everything (I can go a little slice happy because it’s so easy). I like it because slicing by hand is kind of a pain. I’m not great at it. Plus, I cry so much whenever I slice onions that I sort of started avoiding them. Which is sad because I love onions (gross fun fact: When I was a kid and eating McDonalds was still ok, I would order a plain burger with extra chopped onions, ketchup, and mustard. Onions would be overflowing into the bags and it wasn’t enough for me. My mouth is kind of watering at the thought right now). 

Cast iron skillet // Good news is most people have this hanging around their kitchen anyway. After doing Whole30 it has become my favorite stove-top tool. Think one pot meals, quick roasted vegetables, you can stick it in the oven to bake stuff, and no nasty non-stick chemicals! Lodge is a great option if you’re looking to add to your collection.

The Whole 30 Book + The Whole 30 Cookbook // Reading it makes all the difference. You’ll have a better understanding of what you’re doing and why, what to expect over the course of the month, clear guidelines of what is compliant, and also great recipes.

Reusable produce bags // You eat a lot of produce during the month. Investing in clean, reusable produce bags is a smart choice because it’s better for the environment and they have been shown to keep your food fresh for longer… so also better for your belly & your wallet!

Stasher bags // I gave up ziplocks and now only use these reusable, washable, silicon bags. So good for snacks!

Dog Food Can Lids // Yeah, this is no joke. A brand of pet food gives these to my work for free to hand out to clients, so I snag some for myself regularly. Each lid fits 3 different sized cans and they’re honestly so nifty to have when I don’t use all my coconut milk or broths. No more unnecessary tupperware usage or wasting aluminum foil!

Regulars on my grocery list:
During Whole30 I always load up on veggies, fruits, and proteins of all sorts and I have a lot of fun experimenting with different varieties from week to week. But there are a few key groceries that always make it into my cart.

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Eggs // The book sums it up well: They’re the most versatile and cheapest form of protein during the 30 days. I never got sick of eggs during either experience. I had them fried over potatoes for breakfast, hardboiled on salads for lunch, and sunny-side up with veggies for dinner.

Baby potatoes // I love baby golden potatoes. I cut them in quarters, roast them with olive oil and rosemary, and eat them throughout the week for carbs to fuel my workouts and particularly long work days.

Steak// I feel like I have mentioned no less than 5 times on this blog how obsessed I am with the way Mark grills steak. So I buy “wafer thin boneless NY strip” steak and I have him make it for me weekly.

Coconut aminos// You’ll notice this healthy soy sauce substitute shows up in a lot of recipes I share here. I buy mine from trader joes!

Ghee // For people who don’t know, ghee is butter with the dairy proteins removed. It’s delicious and I love cooking with it. I will only ever get butter again for baking.

Arugula /My green of choice, forever. I love arugula. It’s so good. Sometimes I go to the store and they’re out of it and I feel like the world is ending. I put it on and in everything for a little extra fiber and bitter crunch. Ugh, now I’m craving some.

Avocado verde // The Wholey Guacamole brand of products is compliant, which rocks because if you take a look at most pre-packaged guacamoles they have a lot of bad ingredients. My favorite product is the avocado verde sauce which is thinner and spicier than normal guac. It’s pre-portioned (which is good because I could eat a whole container in one sitting) and it’s a good thing to have on hand for snacks or to just take a meal to the next level.

Coconut milk // The canned kind. This is another way the program changed my life. I had no idea how versatile coconut milk could be. I keep 3 cans in my pantry and one in the fridge so I can add it to recipes and make coconut cream.

Rx Bars // Sometimes I wake up late and I don’t have time to pack lunch for the day. Or I spend all day running errands and realize at 2 pm that I’ve forgotten to eat. Or I go on a hike and want a snack for the top! Rx bars always save the day. They’re made of almonds, egg whites, dates, and things like cacao so they’re approved. They’re delicious and filling. I keep an emergency bar in my car, in my purse, and a few in my pantry.

Almond or cashew butter // I have to be kind of careful with this stuff because I can easily see myself eating way more than I should. I like eating either with apples as a snack and I use cashew butter to make “sunshine sauce” for dipping vegetables into.

Collagen Peptides// You can pick these up at Whole Foods or buy online at Amazon. Great to add to coffee or smoothies, and so beneficial!

Pop & Bottle Milk // I got hooked on this stuff in L.A. It’s totally compliant almond milk that would come in clutch if I wanted a midday latte at work. I would just stop at a nearby coffeeshop and order 2 shots of espresso over ice, then add the vanilla or cacao milk. Most coffeeshops use milk with non-compliant ingredients in it, so you have to be careful! I order this stuff online now since it’s not yet sold in NC 😦

Using Social Media:

Probably my most surprising piece of advice for crushing your Whole30 is to utilize social media. Not in the post-all-of-your-meals kind of way, although if that helps you stay accountable definitely do it. Instead I like to use social media for inspiration, knowledge of compliant brands, recipe ideas, and solidarity!

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Let me explain. During my second Whole30 I noticed some of the L.A based bloggers and Instagrammers I followed were doing Whole30 too so I would regularly check into their accounts. It felt like a little online support group, which is great for motivation and solidarity. I would laugh at their words of exasperation, feel empowered by their stories of success, and more than once I had the thought “Holy cow she just described exactly what is happening to me”. I would also find great new recipe ideas, information for a few compliant restaurants in the area, and even learn about new approved products like the collagen peptides I’m now so obsessed with.

I also follow the official Whole30 accounts. There’s a few, but I really like @whole30recipes for when I need some meal prep inspiration and @whole30approved to find out about even more approved groceries. I also recommend checking the #whole30compliant hashtag from time to time because people post really cool and inspiring stuff all the time. And don’t forget, I also share whole30 recipes here! 😉

And finally, if it’s your thing, I think it’s great to post about what you’re doing! It’s fun to share. And you never know who you reach or inspire. I felt so humbled when someone I hadn’t spoken to since high school directly messaged me on Instagram to let me know my “healthy eating” stories were inspiring her to make better choices. Real life friends who were also completing Whole30 were able to check in and root me on. Co-workers were asking for recipes. Obviously just don’t overwhelm your feed with Whole30 posts or everyone will get sick of you and think you suck.

Eating Out:

It’s more stressful than it’s worth. Do it minimally because the chance of eating something non-compliant is 100% higher and will give you so much anxiety. Mark and I went to a seafood bar for our anniversary which was pretty safe because we got oysters, shrimp, and boiled lobster sans any sauces. If you do decide to eat out, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and ask for substitutions. You’ll feel like an asshole, and you’re kind of being one, but oh-frickin-well.

Use Amazon:

Los Angeles was so clean-eating and fitness obsessed. Whole Foods markets were everywhere and I swear there’s a juice shop on every single block. Every new, flashy, compliant product could be found somewhere nearby. I’m lucky that Raleigh can still offer a lot of similar options for me! But I know for many this isn’t the case and if that’s your reality I would use Amazon. I got my vital proteins, compliant coffee creamer, and even a huge bargain variety pack of RX Bars from Amazon!

Other Tips:

Motivational rewards // I did this during my first Whole 30. Every week I scheduled a special reward for getting a little closer to the finish line. Week 1 was a hair appointment, then a massage for week 2. Week 3 I purchased a brand new workout outfit, and at the end of the month I celebrated with a glass of wine. Setting up mini rewards kept me motivated and made the month seem less long. It also made it more fun!

Journaling // I wrote down how I felt each day of my month. Even if it was just a short sentence-long summary. This came in especially handy during my second Whole 30 because I was able to compare experiences.

Before & afters // You aren’t supposed to weigh or measure yourself during the 30 days. And this is good because non-scale victories are just as important as scale-related ones. But you will want to see how you changed! Take pictures, take measurements, do a pre and post weigh-in. The pictures are the most important in my opinion because without them you might not notice all the little improvements since you see yourself daily.

Whew. That’s it! If you’re still with me… congratulations, I cannot believe you made it this far. Get your grocery lists, stock up your fridge/pantry, and come January 1st let’s DO THIS, PEOPLE!

 

DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments

I sometimes get a bad rap in my family as the one with expensive taste. Sorry for knowing what I like, amiright?! I often get comments like “when your father and I were your age, we got our furniture from the trash on the street!” Cool, enjoy your bedbugs, peasants! (jk)

But also I like to set the record straight every now and then and showcase how I use creativity to get the look I want while still being frugal.

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Since I was hosting Christmas this year, with my own real tree and everything, I knew I needed to decorate it accordingly. Luckily I had all the lights I needed, I was able to use gift cards to buy the stand and the star on top, and instead of buying a tree skirt that I didn’t love I just used a white blanket. When it came to ornaments, I decided that rush buying a bunch of ornaments that I didn’t love would just be a waste of money. I choose to accumulate them slowly, with each ornament having meaning to my life and being something I truly love.

But because I couldn’t just have an ornament-less tree, I decided to make some! It was so easy, a lot like baking sugar cookies (just less tedious) and SO cost effective. The whole project probably cost me…$2?! I went to Hobby Lobby and picked up a pack of white acorns and clear spherical ornaments for future projects that I also added to the tree, but since those were 70% off, they cost under $5. So, you guys, I decorated my tree for $7.

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Here’s what you do!

DIY Cornstarch Clay Ornaments

ingredients/materials:

1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup water

ornament hooks

optional: acrylic paint, tree branches, lace, other materials for imprinting

directions:

combine all ingredients in a saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. stir constantly until a thick paste forms, so that it almost forms a ball by itself.

scrape the paste out onto a piece of parchment paper and form a ball (be careful, it will be hot!) let it rest and cool until luke-warm & comfortable enough to touch.

roll the dough out with a rolling pin, use cookie cutters to cut out your shapes, and set them on a cookie sheet with a fresh piece of parchment paper.

use a straw (preferably paper/cardboard so you can just trash it when you’re done) to punch out the ornament hook holes.

*if you want to imprint some branches/patterns on the ornaments, now is the time!

preheat oven to 175 F, and bake the ornaments for 1 hour, flipping them halfway through!

*once baked and cooled, you can paint on them if you choose!

add ornament hooks and hang on your tree!

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I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!