My First Stitch Fix

I have friends who have used Stitch Fix for years; some who have been subscribers since the launch of the service in 2011. I have enjoyed hearing about their experiences, reading their blogs on their latest fix, and watching their unboxing videos. I never had the desire to participate, though… until recently.

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to finally give it a try. Since my reasons are probably pretty far-fetched in comparison to the majority of Stitch Fix subscribers, I thought I would give you a quick insight before I reveal today’s package.

I like to think that I am fashionable, but the truth is — I struggle with fashion. I blame it partially on this “turning 40″ thing that is happening soon. (I’m starting to blame a lot of things on it, actually. haha) I love fashion, but fashion doesn’t always love me. I see a cute outfit on Pinterest and I attempt to replicate it, only to find that my body type  just isn’t compatible with the clothing style. It reminds me of all the years I took hair photos to my stylist and – every time – she would tell me that the cut was for someone with straight, thick hair… and that the same cut on my thin, curly hair would not produce the same look. Most cute, fashionable outfits simply do not produce the same look on me.

I’m tall (5’10″) and long-waisted. My legs are actually an average length. I am also about 20lbs overweight. I am most annoyed by my belly. It seems to be where most of the extra weight is stored. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the right sizes and cuts. I feel like I often settle for clothes, particularly dress clothes for work, and I get stuck in a certain look that isn’t necessarily the best for me.

I’m not a fan of shopping. I loathe having to try on clothes in a dressing room. When I do shop, I typically have an agenda… I’m looking for one particular piece to pair with something I already own. The thought of shopping just to browse is a bit daunting to me.

And y’all know that I’m a self-proclaimed Budget Queen. I am so frugal. If I buy one article of clothing, I pull a similar piece from my closet to sale or donate. I only allow an extremely small amount into my budget for clothing. I don’t shop often, and when I do… I shop thrift stores and consignment shops first. It has to be on sale, and it has to be a needed item.

All of that said, the four reasons I finally subscribed to Stitch Fix are:

  1. I am hoping their stylists can recommend the appropriate cut/style/look for me.
  2. I want to see if Stitch Fix caters to someone with my body shape/size.
  3. The clothes come straight to my door and I have a few days to try them on at my leisure.
  4. I want to see if the clothing offered is affordable and well-made.

A quick rundown of how Stitch Fix works:
Create an account and fill out a questionnaire.
The subscription is $20/month and that fee is deducted from your total, should you decide to keep any or all items delivered in your monthly fix.
You receive a box with five custom-selected pieces.
Try them on at your leisure (you have three days to make your decision) and send back the ones you don’t want to keep in a postage-paid envelope.

Simple enough, right?

So… on to my first fix! I’m sorry this isn’t as entertaining as other Stitch Fix reveals. I wanted to get this blog posted quickly, so I didn’t have time to edit a video or even slap on some makeup to be presentable in photos. I’ll do better next time.

I purposefully did not give my stylist any suggestions aside from the basic questionnaire at registration. I wanted to see just how in-tuned the stylists are before I even created my Pinterest board with suggestions. I was vague… and Cindy nailed it!

A few days before the fix shipped, I learned that I could download the Stitch Fix app and preview what was on its way to me. A lot of folks wait until their package arrives to see what was selected for them. I, however, don’t like surprises. When I saw the items that were selected for me, I was impressed. Cindy did a great job… and I got even more excited about getting my fix and seeing the clothes in person.

What I was a bit disappointed in was the price. At registration, I selected “The cheaper the better” option, hoping I would get some discounted items. However, the average Stitch Fix items seem to be in the $50 range. That is very high for my general budget. I was leery as to if I would even purchase anything, or even use the service again, but I decided to wait until the package came to make my decision. Especially since I also wasn’t convinced that I would fit into the clothes. [Stitch Fix sizes range from 0-14 and XS –XL. I am on the upper end of that scale, and sometimes 14s aren’t the best fit depending on the cut of the clothing. I’m a generally apprehensive person anyway.]

In my first Stitch Fix box, I found:
Daniel Rainn Ginnie Lace Trim Knit Top $58 XL
Loveappella Liette Embroidery Detail Knit Top $48 XL
Gilli Kimberly Maxi Dress $64 XL
Margaret M Christiana Textured Pencil Skirt $78 XL
Romolo Lea Leaf Collar Necklace $28
The total price of all items minus the discount ($69) and the monthly fee ($20) is $187

My decision:
Lace Trim Top – I love it. The fit. The feel. The pattern. The versatility. LOVE. I’m not a fan of the price, but when I deduct the $20 I’ve already spent (and won’t be refunded) then the top will be $38. That is still way more than I would typically spend on tank top but I really do love it. I can wear it with shorts for a casual look in the summer, or pair it with black dress pants, heels, and a blazer for work. I’m going to keep it.

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Embroidery Knit Top – It is a pretty top, but the fit was a bit snug for me… and the design was a bit plain. I couldn’t see wearing this to work so I’m going to return it.

Maxi Dress – I love the fit of this dress! It was comfortable and slimming. I considered keeping it, but there was something about the hemline that bothered me. If it didn’t have the asymmetrical bottom, I probably would have kept it. At $64, I decided to return it.

  
Pencil Skirt – I was surprised at how comfortable this skirt was. I liked the color/texture and length… but it was a bit too snug for me. It really accentuated my curves, particularly those in the rear, and I didn’t feel like that would be appropriate for work. I also couldn’t fathom paying $78 for a skirt. I’m going to return it.

Necklace – I thought the necklace was adorable, but between the length (too short) and color (I have a couple gold ones already) I decided to return it.

Since Cindy did such a fantastic job selecting items for me with little direction, I have decided to give Stitch Fix another try. (That’s huge folks… I really thought I would be cancelling my subscription right now!) This time, I have created a Pinterest board at their suggestion, and plan to send back a note with my returns to let my stylist know what I loved about each piece and what I didn’t. Although I’m still not a fan of the pricing, I do love the anticipation and convenience that comes along with this service. So be on the lookout for my next Stitch Fix post. Maybe *just maybe* there will be a video too.

Living Right

Yesterday, I attended a funeral for the father of a friend. He was 95 years old, and lived a wonderfully full life until his health rapidly declined. The memories that were shared about this precious man were incredible to hear. He truly was someone who “lived life right.” That isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes. We all do, including him. But he was described as someone who “believed everyone was as honest as he was.” He worked hard, he loved hard, he put others first, and he never harbored bitterness or negativity. I think a lot of that had to do with his faith, but a lot of it had to do with his character too. He never worried what others thought of him because he was always considerate and confident in his intent. His funeral was short and sweet, because his long life had already told the story of what a kind soul he was.

Shortly before arriving to the funeral, I received a Facebook message from someone with whom I once volunteered. I would consider this person an acquaintance; not really a friend since we had never done anything outside of events together. However, if I ran into this person around town, I would speak. I would ask how he’s doing and genuinely care about his response. His message was questioning why I had unfriended him on Facebook. He was immediately defensive and questioned what he had done wrong to cause my actions. He wanted to know what he could do to “fix our friendship.” After the funeral, I learned that a short 30 minutes after he contacted me, this individual had also posted a rant on his Facebook timeline. It stated something along the lines of “if you’re going to unfriend me… please be an adult and send me a message as to what the problem is.” He continued by stating that if “you’re not adult enough, you did not need to be on my friends list anyway.” It was full of bitterness and negativity, and self-consciousness.

Of course when I confronted my acquaintance, he explained that the rant was about someone else. I started to question if that was an honest statement… but I didn’t. All I could think about was the beautiful celebration of life that I had just witnessed, and how much society today puts more weight in social media friendships than they do about living life right. I can’t begin to imagine what someone sees and experiences in 95 years on earth, but I often wonder what previous generations must think about my generation and those that follow. When did unfriending someone on Facebook become the judgement of our character? When did bullying someone behind a computer screen become so acceptable? When did honesty and putting others before yourself become a thing of the past? Why are people so bitter and negative these days? When did we lose our dedication to do the right thing and be our best?

I haven’t been able to get my friend’s father off of my mind. What an incredible example this man was to his family and friends, and to his community. It really makes me think about my life as I enter into my 40s. If my health rapidly declined, would my funeral be short because my life was full? Or would I be remembered for my Facebook rants and my constant unhappiness? It is really something to consider, isn’t it?

When you work hard, love hard, and put others first… you don’t have to worry what people say about you. You can be confident that your life speaks volumes for your character. In my next 40 years, I want to live a life so full of love, kindness, honesty, and selflessness that the only words that need to be spoken at my funeral are “…until we see you again!”

The Last Thirty Days of My 30s

Tomorrow begins the last thirty days of my 30s. I always love celebrating my birthday. I joke that it’s a national holiday and should be commemorated around the world. Haha! I remember anticipating my 16th, 18th, and 21st birthdays. I recall thinking 22 sounded weird, as did 27, but for the most part… every June 10 was just an excuse to overindulge in whatever I wanted. So, of course, I threw a huge party at a friend’s house for my 30th birthday. And then life changed drastically. Not really for the worst, but not really for the best. Things were just different. I thought differently. I acted differently. I reacted differently. It was truly like an old chapter had closed, and a new chapter had begun. That said, I have to admit that I’m a bit emotional as my 40th birthday nears. I know that life will likely make another drastic change. I’m excited to gain more wisdom and more confidence with the decade ahead. But I’m certainly more aware of reality now too; and coming to terms with things like aging parents, my own aging body, certain responsibilities, and certain goals that may need to be adapted, or even let go.

Despite the handful of apprehensions, I still love to celebrate and I plan to start ASAP! I have a lot of fun things coming up on my schedule. I thought it would be fun to use social media as a way to document the end of another decade. Over the next four weeks, I will post a blog every Thursday to highlight some of those fun things, as well as some of my favorite memories. I will also use the hashtag #jennslast30 for a photo-a-day on Instagram. (The hashtag will appear on Facebook and Twitter, too!). Be on the lookout, and please feel free to participate. Share some of your memories or an old photo, share advice, offer encouragement, or just say hello. Not every post will be birthday related… so if you see me in your town, attending an event that you’re at, or trying something new that you’ve tried too… I would love to hear from you! Please remember to use #jennslast30 :)

Hello, NCBN friends!

Y’all… I am so excited to be a part of the NC Blogger Network. I wanted to send a quick hello to any new friends who may stop by and check out my [somewhat recently neglected] site. I am looking forward to getting to know you all, and meet my fellow Triad bloggers. I would love for you to leave a comment to let me know that you’ve stopped by! Thanks :)

NCBN

Spring Clean Your Life in Three (Mildly Sarcastic) Steps

If you are anything like me the thought of Spring Cleaning is something that finds its way into your mind and then exits promptly.  Honestly, when God was passing out talents I got lost on the way to the Loves To Clean line, you’re either one of those people or you are not.  I am NOT.  When faced with certain tasks I usually find other things to prioritize and then maybe six months later will tackle something that usually wasn’t that painful to begin with and would have been a lot easier to address had I done so in a timely fashion… The time is now.  So they say anyways…

Step One to Spring Cleaning Your Life: Organize Your Home

I love to hold on to things. No it’s not an episode of Hoarder’s up in here.  Not yet anyways.  But it’s a possibility that a cartoon girl is under a pile somewhere screaming “Let it Go” and I’m not listening, or maybe there is a sock in her mouth. Who’s to say?  Actually it’s not the cartoon at all. I was told yesterday that I should take advantage of the upcoming church yard sale to make some extra money and I immediately said. “I don’t have a thing to sell”.  Really? I don’t have a thing to sell… Really??  Someone needs to get a grip on what is really worth holding onto and what can be a part of the purge.

I think the key is to pick small task areas and not try to sort the whole house out at once.  Once overwhelmed distraction and procrastination can slip in and derail me, and I think we’ve all been there before.

Me thinks a list would suit this situation!

  1. Donate (You don’t need 8000 books now do you)
  2. Clean out the Expired: Pantry, Freezer, Fridge (that 2010 cream of chicken needs to GO!)
  3. Yard Sale it and Make Some $$
  4. Windex It (All of IT) Even if the dogs stick their faces on it 37 seconds later… DO IT!
  5. Vacuum all those places you never vacuum
  6. Put on the HAZMAT Suit and Defunk the shower. (You know your mother raised you better!)
  7. Make a plan for your yard/garden. (What do you plan on planting this year, are you going to change up any yard décor, add additional seating, or finish that fire pit area you’ve been planning for 3 years?)
  8. Pull weeds, pick up sticks, and mow the grass already…
  9. Assign Bigger Chores Deadlines (Power Washing, Deck Sealing, Mulching, etc.)
  10. Do a Post Winter Walk Around (nail down loose boards; fix the siding that’s blown off, etc.)

Realize that Spring Cleaning your home is more than just about the physicality of something being clean or orderly.  Having projects that stack up can lead to stress and anxiety.  So even if you baby step your way through whatever list you set for yourself try to check off a few when you can.  In the long run coming home to a less chaotic/cluttered environment can be good for your mental health as well.

Step Two to Spring Cleaning Your Life: Dust Off Your Body

For me there is more to Spring Cleaning than just doing windows.  I have taken this season of rest we call winter and exploited it.  I have hibernated like a big ol bear watching cheesy holiday movies and have become a sedentary lump.   But now the lump is excited that the weather is getting a little warmer and that spring is almost here so now it’s time to shake off the dust.

Where to Begin?  My problem seems to be that in my mind I’m an adventurous outdoorsy girl when in reality I’m more of a couch potato.  Couch Potatoes of the World UNITE!  Rise Up and Get Busy- there is a whole beautiful world out there ready for the taking, the key is to take it in a way that is appropriate for YOU!

See last year when I got the New Year’s idea to get busy getting healthy I joined a new exercise class.  I knew going into it this class was going to be doing a lot of activities that were over my skill level.  It was a phenomenal class full of wonderful people who were all about lifting each other up and sharing their faith, all the while getting one heck of a work out.  The instructor preached every class don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with, make all of the adaptations that you need to etc.  At some point I guess I got over confident in my abilities and decided to undertake a 30 day Burpee Challenge.  I don’t know if you know what a Burpee is, but essentially it’s a demonic ritual that has you jumping to the sky then back to the floor in a hand plank pose over and over again.  It’s a pure NIGHTMARE.  Well long story short I didn’t survive the 30 day challenge, and really did a number on my body.  It wasn’t appropriate for my skill level- I knew it, but I wanted to push myself.  What I ended up with was an orthopedic doctor looking at me going you did what? All the while applauding my efforts, but basically telling me what I already knew. Make appropriate choices for your body in the shape it’s in now, so you can continue to work on getting it into the shape you want it to be in the future.

So moral of that story if you want to be active and STAY active don’t derail your efforts by putting your body into situations you are not ready for.  So now that I’m finally ready to get the train back on the tracks I know I have to go about things differently this time.

Coach Potato’s UNITE, Spring Get It Done Right This Time List:

  1. Just Say No To Burpee’s (unless that’s something you feel comfortable doing)
  2. Walk, even if it’s just to the mailbox DO IT! (Unless your mailbox is 50 feet away, in that case walk to the neighbor’s mailbox.)
  3. Make small obtainable goals.
  4. Don’t be afraid to try new things – just be smart about it.
  5. Find friends to be active with.
  6. Get outside and explore
  7. Find the challenge that is right for you- if you want to do a 30 day yoga challenge and it takes you 90 days to do it because you need days off, then that’s okay, 90 days of something is better than 90 days of nothing!
  8. Find what’s economical for you.  Gym life became something I cut out of my budget years ago.  There are lots of free opportunities in your community, you just have to look, and if you don’t have DVD’s for indoor days check out YouTube.  There are tons of videos posted that can work you out on any skill level.

God wants us to be present in our lives, to make use of the bodies he’s blessed us with.  To be able to do for others we must make taking care of ourselves a priority.  I should probably remind myself of this more often.

Step Three To Spring Cleaning Your Life: Feed Your Soul

Of Course Spring Cleaning isn’t complete if we don’t address the inside as well as the outside.  To face any season we have to be well with our souls.

Sometimes the gray gloominess of winter and all the roller coasters that come with the holidays can give us a run for our money, but the best thing about spring is new life.  New life that springs from the Earth and new life that comes from a Risen Saviour.

The Season of Lent is upon us and for me The Easter Season is the most important time of the year.  The purposeful reflection practiced during Lent helps me to be grounded and to reprioritize.  Unlike a New Year’s resolution which I may make it to a week of success, there is something about a Lenten promise that I hold fast too.  The daily sacrifice of small things keeps constant in my mind the monumental gift of Jesus’ grace.

Making a priority the upkeep of my soul has been a lifelong transitional process and on-going struggle.  The road map that I constantly pray for is often too blurry to read but when I go in search of something God has a way of making the path known.  We must acknowledge that to have spring time growth we must foster the seed.  The seed of our faith has taken root but waits for us to build up a foundation with Christ before it can begin to grow or even dream of one day blossoming.

There is purpose in this season.  40 Days we reflect, we don’t get from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday without going through the process.  We must use this time as an opportunity each day to find a new way to Spring Clean our lives.

I feel another list coming on… aww heck maybe even two!

Prepare Yourself for Holy Week By:

  1. Communing with your fellow Christian.
  2. Spending Time reading a Lenten Devotional
  3. Deciding if you will be fasting or committing to other things to give up as a part of your time of sacrifice and reflection.
  4. Deciding if you are going to add something to your life such as a daily purpose goal.
  5. Committing to Sunday and Holy Week service attendance
  6. Reflecting on the Stations of the Cross.
  7. Spending time in prayer

Feed Your Souls Throughout the Spring and the Rest of The Year By:

  1. Setting some seasonal goals.  Is there anything you want to accomplish during the spring or summer that you need to plan for?
  2. Making time for rest and relaxation: are there any travel destinations that you have in mind?  Do you have a happy place that gives you peace? Find a way to get there!
  3. Make time for Serving Others.  Service can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things we can do in our lives.  I’m a firm believer that Faith without works is dead.  Don’t miss an opportunity to share the blessings God has given you!
  4. Surround yourself with the people you love, be those friends, family, or even your favorite animals.
  5. Just do something that makes you happy, smile, or laugh.

Go now in peace knowing that each season God gives us more blessings than we can ever imagine.  I hope they fill you up each and every day!

Go Red, for the Love of Your Heart!

Today is the Friday before the biggest game in professional [American] football. Typically, I would be decked out in my favorite team’s colors… not just because they’ve been in the Super Bowl the last two years, but because every Friday is Blue Friday to a 12. (Go Hawks!) This year, though, I’m wearing a different color and it has absolutely nothing to do with football.

While my Facebook feed has been inundated with turquoise and black or orange and blue today, a group of my friends and I decided to wear red. February 5, 2016 is National Wear Red Day – a campaign started by the American Heart Association to raise awareness for heart disease; particularly heart disease in women.

I spent the morning at the Go Red for Women breakfast, hosted by American Heart Association – Triad. I was invited by someone special, my friend Amy, who was named a 2016 Go Red Ambassador for Forsyth County after being nominated by Coach Stacie at Fleet Feet.

Those of you who are familiar with me know that I joined my local Fleet Feet in 2013 as a participant, and now am a Certified Mentor with them. I applied to become a mentor after I had the best experience with my own mentor during my first training program. The experience changed my life, and I promised myself that one day… I would pay it forward.

Amy’s story is pretty incredible. She is a spunky soul with an infectious smile. It is hard to believe that she was once so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed. I met Amy during Fleet Feet’s Fall 2015 No Boundaries training program. I couldn’t help but to see a little bit of me in her. She doubted herself because, like me, she had zero experience running when she joined No Boundaries. I wasn’t sure what my body was capable of when I began running – I was 40lbs overweight with bad knees – and I knew she didn’t know what her body could do either. (She actually told me that she had never exercised before; she had not even played sports!) I remember struggling in the beginning, and I remember the turning point for me… the day that I accepted the title of “runner” …and I knew this was my opportunity to share my story with Amy in hopes of her having a similar a-ha moment. She would say at the beginning of practice, “I think I will walk today.” and I would reply, “No! Run with me.” What I didn’t realize during our months of training together was that it would all lead to today.

Heart disease has taken a toll on my family most of my life. My maternal grandfather died of a massive heart attack in his 50s, before I was born. My dad had two open heart surgeries only six months apart. My brother is an aortic dissection and stroke survivor. Many other family members suffer with cardiovascular problems like CHF or hypertension. And heart disease scares the daylights out of me. I worry for my family, and I worry for my own health.

Between family history, my turning 40 this year, and hearing the statistics this morning that 1 in 3 women die from heart disease, today has hit me pretty hard. Yes, today is a day of celebrating. I love that Amy has drastically reduced her risks of heart disease and can encourage others to do the same. I am beyond grateful that God allowed my father and brother to overcome their heart surgeries so that they can have opportunities to be advocates for heart health. But today is also a day of awakening. Ladies, we need to fight this together. Heart disease is 80% curable with proper diet, exercise, and screenings.

I am not here to body shame. I have been overweight my entire life and know all about the struggles with self-esteem. What I can’t reiterate enough, though, is that we have to get past our appearance! Let me explain. I get what people mean when they say to be confident no matter your shape. I understand that many factors play into obesity. But this isn’t about our outer image. This isn’t about looking good in your skinny jeans. This is about health! I don’t care what body type you are, you can still be at risk of heart disease. You can be a size 2 and appear healthy, but suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol. So please, no matter how confident you are in how you look, don’t neglect your heart health.

A woman’s heart is such an important organ. Think about it; not only is it the engine that runs our body but it’s the place that stores our dreams, often the director of our decisions, and the generator for all of the love that we give and receive. We have to treasure it! We need to treat it well so that we can change these alarming statistics.

Diet and exercise can seem overwhelming and time consuming, but heart health is quite simple. Follow these basic steps to help reduce your risk of heart disease:

1. Move. The goal is 4-5 times a week for 30 minutes. Can’t afford a gym membership or devote time to a Zumba class? No worries! All you have to do is take a brisk walk. If your schedule doesn’t allow 30 minutes, break it into two 15 minute walks. Take the stairs. Park at the back of the lot when you’re shopping. Just start moving more!

2. Make better choices with food. Don’t consider it a diet, just be conscious of what you’re putting in your body. Healthy food actually does taste good! You’ve seen some of my recipes here on my blog. They’re quick and easy. Eat more veggies. They’re a great substitution for chips. Want something sweet? Try fruit instead of cookies. Select food options with as little ingredients as possible. Watch your sodium intake. Drink plenty of water. Small changes make a big difference, so don’t feel like you have to take drastic measures.

3. Monitor your health. Seeing your doctor regularly allows them to monitor your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, etc. and assist you with keeping everything in check.

4. No smoking! If you smoke and need help stopping, there are many avenues available. You won’t have to attempt to stop alone.

Easy enough, right? Let’s promise to take heart disease seriously. Together we can encourage one another to take steps toward a healthier lifestyle. To learn more about heart health, check out the American Heart Association website here. To learn more about Amy, click here. If you need encouragement, want to congratulate Amy on her journey, or just want to chat, please comment below. We would love to hear from you.

Congratulations, Amy!

Motivation Monday: The Comfort Zone

This is a pretty significant year for me. I turn 40 in June. I eased my way into my thirties and have, for the most part, enjoyed the time there. Sure, I experienced some pretty scary times over the last decade, but I somehow managed to maintain a confidence that I never had in my twenties.

For some reason though, I don’t seem to be as comfortable preparing for this birthday. I can’t pinpoint why. Two of my nieces are pregnant, each with their first child. A new generation will soon be entering our family. I have always felt youthful, but maybe now I’m finally starting to feel old? Or at least, feel my age. I am also coming to terms with my health. I’m seeing my body struggle. I can’t eat like I used to. I don’t heal as fast as I once did. And it certainly isn’t easy to stay get in shape. Ultimately, I think I’ve gotten a little too cozy over the past 10 years. The upcoming milestone birthday is acting like a giant neon sign for reality. I’m not getting any younger or healthier just sitting here.

A friend of mine recently shared this quote with me:

Boy, did that hit home! Instead of sitting around worrying about what this year (and/or the next decade) will hold… maybe it is time to stop being so complacent. Although I can’t physically get younger, I can still reverse the uneasiness of growing  ”old and unhealthy” by pushing myself beyond my normal limits.

I made the first step out of my comfort zone this past weekend. I became a member of my local YWCA/YMCA network. I did it with anticipation of marking something off of my 2016 Bucket List: my first triathlon! I have to admit… this is scary! I’m extremely nervous about it. I’m afraid I will fail. I’m afraid I will give up. I’m afraid of knowing how uncomfortable I will be over the next six months. This journey will not be easy. I’m a mediocre runner. I love the water but it has been years since I’ve done any lap swimming. And I’m really not certain if my aging knees will even allow me to cycle. This could be the biggest disaster ever. Or, this could be just what I need to jump-start a healthier, 40-year old Jenn.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” is a great motivational quote that can apply to so many things. For me and my mission to be healthy, youthful, and confident in my 40s, I’m going to have to work hard for it. I’m going to have to acknowledge my comfort zone and push past it daily.

What is your mission for 2016? Is it health related? Or have you always wanted to learn to play the guitar? Maybe you have goals of traveling? How about starting your own business? Whatever it is that you have been wanting to do, let this quote motivate you to do it. The wait is over. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone. Let life begin today!

Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing

I spent the better part of 2015 without one of my favorite condiments: Ranch dressing. When I found out that I had a dairy allergy, I panicked. Would I seriously never taste wonderful buttermilk Ranch again? The thought was a shock to my system! After all, I used Ranch as a dressing, a dip, a sauce, and anything else that I could get away with.

Ten months after I walked away from Ranch, I saw a friend post a photo on Instagram of another non-dairy food made with canned coconut milk. It (and my recent craving for fish tacos) piqued my interest enough that I went into the kitchen and started digging through my pantry. Could it be? Could I really use coconut milk as the base of my homemade Ranch dressing? There’s no way this would work. The distinct taste of coconut would ruin the flavor, right?

Who knows? I didn’t have any canned coconut milk in my house. None! {I usually always have some on hand.} What I did have was a small can of coconut cream. I was so desperate to attempt a Ranch for my tacos that I opened the can and dumped it in a bowl.

I had never worked with coconut cream before but I knew it wasn’t creamy enough to achieve the perfect Ranch texture, even though it was thick. Although rarely, I do eat mayonnaise on occasion. (NOTE: This obviously is NOT a vegan recipe.) I added 1/2 cup of mayo to the coconut cream, along with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to give it more of a buttermilk tang.

After that was mixed well, I reached for spices. The only things that I had on hand were parsley, garlic powder, and a minced onion/onion powder mixture. I added one heaping teaspoon of each to the mixture and stirred until it was all blended well. I transferred the mixture from the bowl to a storage container, and placed it in the refrigerator for an hour to chill.

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That seemed like the longest hour of my life… but it was well worth the wait! The end result was a creamy, dreamy non-dairy Ranch substitute that tasted just like the real thing. Okay, maybe not JUST like it. Remember, I haven’t tasted “real” Ranch in almost a year, but from what I remember… this recipe is incredibly close. And there was absolutely no hint of coconut flavor!

As a reminder, I am not endorsed by any product or company… so the ingredients that I use for my recipes can be substituted with a similar ingredient of your choice. These items truly were things I had previously purchased and were already in my kitchen.

This recipe only yields approximately one cup of Ranch, with 2 tablespoons being the recommended serving size. I do plan to make a larger quantity next time since I now know how great it tastes! When I do, I will update this post with any recipe changes or ingredient adjustments. I highly recommend this smaller recipe to start. It’s the perfect amount for a taste test.

Trail Mix Bites: A Healthy Sweet & Salty Snack

If you’re like me, you’re on a mission to keep your New Year’s Resolution(s). But the later into January we get, it seems to become more of a struggle to stay on track. Am I right? One of my goals for this year is to make healthy eating choices. This goes above monitoring calories, fats, and carbohydrates. I want to choose organic, whole foods as my options for both meals and snacks. What I am finding is that there aren’t many ready-made selections available that are also gluten- and dairy-free. I have to confess… that makes it harder for me to stick to my resolution because I am guilty of wanting convenient options. Listen, I get it. Life is busy. And the longer it takes to prepare healthy meals and snacks, the less likely we are to eat them.

Fortunately, there are some natural choices that are ready-to-eat with no preparation. I keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits in my kitchen at all times. (It’s time to restock… some of my canisters are dangerously low! haha)

I keep them in a resealable bag, too, and carry those with me in case I need nourishment while on-the-go. I love adding sprinkles of walnuts and sunflower seeds to my salads. They’re great in yogurt. Nuts make a tasty addition to stir-fry veggies. Dried fruit is a perfect compliment to a hot bowl of oatmeal. Cashews, soaked in water and then blended in a food processor, create a fantastic non-dairy cream for things like casseroles. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are versatile, healthy, and delicious.

Today, I want to introduce you to a great snack that combines all three with one of my favorite things… chocolate! Dark chocolate, in moderation, is healthy too! It is a powerful antioxidant, can improve brain function, and may lower risks of heart disease. Let’s face it; sometimes we just want chocolate. This quick and easy recipe will satisfy your sweet tooth and salty cravings while providing nutrition. Healthy and guilt-free — that’s my kind of snack!

Begin with chocolate. I use a gluten-free, dairy-free, nonGMO chip that I find at my local grocery store. If your local store does not stock these types of chips, they can be found at specialty grocery stores or online. For this recipe, I used all of the 10 oz bag. You do not have to use a gluten-free, dairy-free option but do look for dark chocolate that is a higher percentage of cacao, with as few additional ingredients as possible.

Next, select a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. I have chosen to use dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almond slivers. Be careful when selecting these items in grocery stores and supermarkets. Often times, the selections will contain additives or high volumes of sodium.  A great source for purchasing nuts, seeds, and dried fruit is Nuts.com. Ordering from them is easy, and the items are shipped to your door. Remember how I said that I like convenience because it keeps me on track? Nuts.com makes purchasing organic items a breeze. (They even have dark chocolate chips and pre-made snacks too, among other things! Please click here to check them out!)

The last step in preparation is lining your cookie sheets with parchment paper. This recipe will yield approximately 30 snacks, so I use two cookie sheets.

To assemble the snacks, start by heating the chocolate in the microwave. I suggest 30-second increments, stirring after each. This helps to ensure that the chocolate does not burn. You want the chocolate to be smooth but not too thin. I achieved these results after approximately 2 minutes.

Spoon small amounts of chocolate onto the parchment paper. I would say use no more than 2 teaspoons per snack; then spread the chocolate to 1″ – 1.5″ diameter. You will want each snack to be able to hold the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit… but you want the chocolate to be thin.

Add a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to the chocolate, pressing lightly to ensure they stick to one another. When you finish, slide the cookie sheets into the refrigerator for two hours. Once the chocolate has set, the snacks are ready to eat!

These snacks store well and are great on-the-go. Just keep them in a dry, relatively-cool location. I like to put a couple in a resealable bag and keep them in my purse. They’re also great in lunch boxes, and are a tasty contribution to an office potluck. (Just be cautious of anyone with nut allergies! You may want to make them with just seeds and dried fruit if that is the case.)

There you have it! A quick, healthy snack to enjoy on-the-go. This snack has it all… protein, fiber, nutrients, and flavor! It will only take one or two to curb your sweet and salty cravings, and to keep you satisfied between meals.

Motivation Monday: New Year Edition

I’m staring a new series on my blog called #MotivationMonday. On the first Monday of each month, I’ll share some words of encouragement or a helpful hint that will hopefully help us (myself included) prepare for the next 30-ish days ahead. This Motivation Monday is extra-special. Not only is today the first Monday of the month… but it’s our first Monday of 2016.

New Year’s Resolutions often go hand-in-hand with health and fitness. The start of a new year seems like the perfect time to commit to losing weight, to staying fit, or to stop smoking. If you’ve declared a health resolution, your goals may already seem overwhelming today. Maybe you’ve set the bar too high, or just simply don’t know where to start. I understand. Let me share my juicing experience with you…

I have been curious about juicing for two years. A friend of mine introduced me to the idea while we were training for a 5K in December 2013. I often made comments about how sluggish I would feel during the run based on what I had eaten throughout the day. She told me to watch Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. (It’s a documentary about a 310lb man and his 60-day juicing journey.) I have to admit, it took me a while to watch it. Then it took me a while to process the thought of a 60-day all-juice lifestyle. I didn’t care how fat, sick, and nearly dead that I felt… 60 days seemed like a long time to commit to the change in my diet. Nearly a year later, in anticipation of my New Year’s Resolution for 2015, I started researching “how to juice”and learning about all that goes into it. Did you know that juicers can range upward to $500 depending on the model and brand? Yikes! If it was going to take 60-days, $500, and a lot of time to juice, I’d pass!

It wasn’t until I stumbled on an article on Women’s Health magazine online that I realized juicing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing condition. There are ways to ease into juicing. The article suggested having a breakfast juice with a handful of almonds a couple of times a week instead of the usual cereal or yogurt. This helps juicing become a part of a normal routine, which in turn would hopefully prevent falling off the juicing wagon.

Organic raw juice bars are becoming more common. We recently had one open here in my little corner of NC. If you’re interested in juicing, I highly recommend searching your town for one. It’s a perfect way to try out juicing without investing a lot of time and money into it. Local juice bars also specialize in the right combinations of fruits and vegetable to ensure a great flavor of juice every time. Fresh juice is very alkalizing and detoxifying, and is beneficial without having to go on an extreme cleanse. The best part? Juicing is an easy way to focus on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. The more you good food that you add, the less room there is for the bad.

So how does my rambling about juices motivate you? I’m hoping it will remind you to:

  1. …not be intimidated by other people’s journey. Allow their story to encourage you, but adapt your journey to your own goals. Be on a mission to live your life, not theirs!
  2. …not procrastinate. The worst thing you can do when you’re overwhelmed is delay your journey for more than a day. Don’t wait a year to seek opportunities. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
  3. …ask for assistance. If you want to try something but aren’t sure where to start, research to see if someone is already doing what you’re interested in doing. For those of you who have always wanted to try a 5K but aren’t sure how to start training, there are running groups in many towns. Consider support groups to help with smoking cessation. Reach out to the community for help!
  4. …ease into change. Don’t feel like you have to jump in feet first with no reservation. If you’re new to exercising, commit to walking twice a week. Want to stop drinking soda? Try adding one extra glass of water to your day until that becomes normal, then add more!

New Year’s Resolutions often fail because expectations are unrealistic. Don’t be a statistic this year. No matter what your goals are for 2016, even if they’re not health-related, know that they are attainable. Stay focused on your journey. Keep a steady pace toward your goals. Don’t try to get from A to Z without adding in the other letters. And lean on your community to help. This is just the beginning. You’ve got this!