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!

Message Board

Items used:
Old picture frame (16×20 – purchased for approx $10 already painted)
Screw eye hooks – 3/4 in.
Jute twine
Scissors
Stapler
Tape measure
Pencil
Small craft clothes pins


The first thing that you’ll want to do is paint your frame, if you want it painted and it isn’t already. There are several paint options that I recommend. One is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. This paint does not require primer and covers really well. It is also a great paint if you’re planning to distress the frame. It can be a little difficult to find in some cities, however, and it is a bit pricey. Another paint option that is easy to locate, easy to use, and fits almost any budget is spray paint. I love that spray paint comes in all shades and finishes. You can get a high-gloss black lacquer to a glittery bright pink, and even a metallic gold. Your choices are endless. Latex crafts paints are perfect for this project as well.

After your paint has completely dried, place the frame backside up. You will want to measure your frame (For this project, I would recommend a frame that is at least 11×17, if not larger.) Use a tape measure or a ruler to measure the opening of the frame. Consider how you plan to hang the frame when completed. For me, I needed the frame to hang vertically, so I measured the long side. Once I determined that the opening was 20″ tall, I did simple math – yes, even for someone who struggles with math like me – and decided that if I wanted four rows, they would be 5″ apart. You probably do not want your rows less than 3″ apart because you will want enough space between them as to not overlap the notes, memos, or photos that you eventually clip on the message board.

Use your pencil to mark the measurements. Note: I started the first row 1″ down from the top so that there would be enough room to attach the clothes pin to the twine. If you make your first mark at 0″, you will be unable to utilize the first row. Once you have made those marks, screw the eye hooks into the picture frame at each mark. This may take a little pressure, but should not require any tools.

Next, cut strips of twine that are approximately 1/2″ over the outside edges of the picture frame. Tie one end of the twine to one eye hook using a double knot. Then you will want to stretch the twine straight across and secure the other end in the eye hook with another double knot. I tried to keep the twine free from any slack, but I wasn’t concerned about making it taut at this point.

When you finish tying the twine to the eye hooks, used the ends to adjust the tightness of each row. You can do this by pulling the ends and stapling them to the frame. This makes the twine more taut while additionally securing it.

I picked up some small clothes pins at my local craft store (similar to these: http://bit.ly/1Pz58Gp) and added a few to each strand of twine. Now the message board is ready to hang!

This is great for a bedroom, college dorm, office, kitchen, or I put mine by the front door. It’s so easy to use! Just clip your favorite photos, Christmas cards, grocery lists, or any lightweight keepsake to the message board for a quick reminder or fun decoration. You can even change photos often without the worry of removing picture frame backings or having to cut the photo to fit a particular sized frame.

This project can easily be completed in a couple of hours, takes little effort (and supplies), and is very budget-friendly!

 

Veggie Spaghetti

My brother and sister-in-law recently gave me this Joie Veggie Spaghetti. I have been debating on purchasing a zucchini noodle maker for quite some time, but couldn’t decide which option to buy. There are so many! I’m glad that I waited because I love the option that they chose for me.

At first glance, it seems too simple. Will this small kitchen utensil really do the trick? To my surprise, it really is a great little tool. I love that it is compact, and I can toss it into a drawer with my other kitchen gadgets. I also love that it is safe; the blade is encased so it’s virtually impossible to cut yourself. The Veggie Spaghetti also requires little cleanup. And it’s so easy to use!

Although I’ve been out of college longer than I care to admit, the single-girl-cooking-for-one in me often reverts back to quick and easy meals for dinner most nights. I love to cook, but it is hard for me to justify the time and effort involved in preparing a large meal on a regular basis when I’m the only one eating it. And let’s not even talk about cleanup. Washing dishes has to be my least favorite chore!

It isn’t quite as easy to eat like a college kid these days. I have dietary restrictions now that prevent me from opening up the discounted, processed, canned pasta and meat concoctions that I practically lived on back then. I watch sodium intake, avoid gluten and dairy, and aim to eat as organic as possible. Plus, my taste has changed.

The Veggie Spaghetti made dinner prep extremely easy. I was able to make this delicious and satisfying meal in a matter of minutes. I wanted to share this simple recipe with you, so that you can see just how effortless it is to make healthier choices when it comes to eating!

I started with my Veggie Spaghetti and three small zucchini. I washed the zucchini, cut the stalk off of each, and inserted them – one at a time – into the gadget and twisted. It took less force to turn the zucchini than it does to open a twist-top bottle, so if you can do that… you can use the Veggie Spaghetti!

There were two small downfalls with this product. The first? If you do not trim the noodles as you go, the end will create a spiral cap that will eventually prevent the zucchini from turning any further. TIP: After a couple of turns, take a knife and trim the noodles from the Veggie Spaghetti. This will prevent the build up, and will give you the perfect noodle length.

When you’re finished, you’ll end up with a pile of zucchini like this! When you pick the zucchini up, it will begin to fall apart into individual noodles. You may have to peel a few of the noodles into individual strands, but it does not take long to separate them. I was very impressed with the precession of the cuts made by the Veggie Spaghetti.

Downfall number two, for me… I couldn’t twist the zucchini past this point. Perhaps that is a safety feature? It certainly prevents your fingers from getting close to the blades. I have seen other kitchen gadgets that come with an attachment that would stick into the zucchini and allow for a few more twists. There may be a way to alter this one (I guess I could have tried a fork?) but I’m not sure that anything will actually work. This small snafu results in some unused veggies. For some, this may not be a problem at all. For others, like myself, I don’t want to waste anything!

Once your zucchini noodles are cut and separated (even if you use something other than the Veggie Spaghetti), did you know that cooking the noodles is as simple as steaming them? That can be done on the stovetop or in the microwave!

This is a yummy-looking bowl of zucchini noodles, isn’t it?

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How do you steam your veggies? I have this Pampered Chef Small Micro-Cooker that I use for steaming anything from frozen broccoli to these zucchini noodles. I just popped them in the microwave for two minutes and they came out completely cooked. I do want to mention that it is not necessary to add water to the zucchini when steaming in the microwave. There is enough water in the veggie itself to handle the two minute steam. What I also want to recommend is that after you remove the zucchini noodles from the steamer, place them in a colander and allow them to drain while you prep the rest of your meal. If you skip this step, you may end up with some watery pasta sauce in the end.

Since I am always looking for the quick and convenient route in cooking, I do not make my own pasta sauce. Many of my friends do, but I stick to a jar of organic pasta sauce from my local grocery store. I always check the label to make sure there are less than seven ingredients, that it is low in sodium, and that it is gluten and dairy free. If you do not have dietary restrictions and are just looking for a quick meal… use any pasta sauce that you’d like. You could even grab an alfredo sauce if you prefer! [I heated a small amount of my pre-made sauce in the microwave, and then poured it on top of my steamed and drained zucchini noodles.]

Since I have a dairy allergy, I use Daiya brand cheese. I have found that this cheddar block-style cheese is great for shredding.

I grabbed a slice of my favorite gluten free bread and toasted it. While it was toasting, I softened a tablespoon of nondairy butter and added minced garlic to it. When the toast was finished, I spread the garlic butter on top to complete my meal. From start to finish, this took less than 30 minutes to make. I believe now that I know how to use my Veggie Spaghetti tool, this could easily be a 15-minute meal.

If you have a little more time on your hands, you can do so much with this meal. Need more subsistence? Brown ground turkey or extra-lean beef and add it to your pasta sauce. Want chicken fettuccine? Add grilled chicken breast (or strips of rotisserie chicken) to alfredo sauce. Be creative! Healthy doesn’t have to be boring.

Infamous Pumpkin Pie

Since learning about my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance earlier in the year, I worried how I would handle the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas often produce some of the best food-centered celebrations, but most of my favorite recipes contained wheat, butter, or cheese.

On a whim, I decided to do a little research to see if I could make a quick and easy pumpkin pie for a work luncheon. I found several items that met my requirements, and it produced a pie that took under 15 minutes to make! The best part? It was devoured by my coworkers! To my surprise, no one cared that it was gluten free and dairy free. (Some folks are apprehensive to try gluten free/dairy free foods because they’re afraid the taste is compromised.) In this case, apparently the subtleness of the ingredients enhanced the flavor and the pie was a hit!

So I’m sure you’re asking, “Jenn… just what is in this pie?” Well, I’m getting ready to tell you, but I first wanted to disclose that I was not paid to endorse any of the following brands. These just happen to be the brands that are found in my local grocery store.

Ingredients:
Mi-Del Gluten Free Graham Style Pie Crust
Organic Pumpkin (15oz can)
Jell-o Pumpkin Spice Instant Pudding & Pie Filling (3.4 oz)
So Delicious Dairy Free CoCo Whip Coconut Whipped Topping (8-9oz container)
*Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free S’moreables
*Pumpkin Pie Spice

Note – You will want to thaw the frozen whipped topping in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before preparing this pie.

Instructions:
Open the pie crust and set it aside.
Open the can of pumpkin and pour it into a mixing bowl.
Open the packet of pudding and add it to the pumpkin. Stir together well.
Open the whipped topping and add to the pumpkin mixture. Fold together until everything is fully incorporated.
Add the mixture to the pie crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve.
*Garnish with S’moreables (I grated some over the top of the pie) and spice.

That is it!! It seems too simple, doesn’t it? But it is completely fool proof! There is just enough spice in the pudding to compliment the pumpkin flavor, but the hint of coconut from the whipped topping gives the pie a little something extra.

I have had many requests to make this pie again, that I have now deemed it “infamous”! haha Since the Pumpkin Spice pudding is a seasonal product, I made a few of the pies with Sugar Free Fat Free Vanilla pudding as a substitution. I then added in approximately 2 teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie Spice to the mixture. The results were the same as if I had used the Pumpkin Spice pudding.

I hope that you will give this gluten free/dairy free pumpkin pie alternative a try. If you do, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you. Enjoy!

[Photos to come.]

The Struggle

I have been struggling lately – I can’t seem to focus – and that bothers me.

focus
(Photo credit)

There are too many distractions. I can’t even sit and read a book anymore without my mind wandering to 1,000 places. I fight through prayer because I start thinking of other things that I need to do when I’m done. I have even stopped my Bible study homework to write this blog. Why? Why have I become the person who constantly has to be connected? I’m sure technology, social media, and the way society has adapted to it plays a big part in it. But I am curious if there is an underlying factor that I am refusing to address? Perhaps I’ve spent so many years being so involved in things that I’ve lost all ability to just sit and think? Is there a reason I’ve been so busy? What are my intentions… with anything that I am doing?

I am becoming frustrated with all of the projects that I start, and never seem to finish. I am annoyed that I can’t balance things in my life anymore. I am bothered by my lack of motivation because I’m overwhelmed with… well, everything. I can’t even be productive when I am home now because I have become too accustomed to being on the go.

I need a vacation. I need silence from the every-day chaos. I want to find the old, pre-Facebook, multitasking, creative, carefree me. I want to give 100% to my life again, instead of giving 1% to 100 things and 0% to me. I want a schedule that allows flexibility. I don’t want to pencil in “a workout if I feel like it.” I want a run to be part of my daily activity. I want things like my hobbies to be who I am again, without me blocking off a measly hour on my calendar to do things I enjoy. (Before anyone reads the previous as selfish, let me reiterate that volunteering and helping others are hobbies of mine… but I need to regain control over them being a hobby and not an expectation.)

And I want need my primary focus to be on God. I want to be able to stop what I am doing and immediately find Him. I need my brain to chill out and allow me to sync up spiritually at any second. I crave this more than anything. I have turned into Martha, distracted with much serving, now anxious and troubled, and it is keeping me from just being still before the LORD.

I wish I had an easy solution. My first thought is to kill all of  my social media accounts. I no longer use Google + (like I ever really did) and I have backed off of Twitter considerably. Facebook and Instagram seem to be the two thorns in my side right now. I’m seriously considering removing the Facebook app from my phone. I should probably consider removing Instagram and Amazon too. I need to actually turn this computer off from time to time. And I certainly need to stop being so physically involved in so much.

I can’t help but wonder… if I am feeling these things, how many of you reading this are overwhelmed too? Maybe I was lead to stop my Bible study and post this blog because one of you is struggling too. Are you having trouble focusing? Do you feel like your life is consumed with urgent things, but not necessarily important things? Let’s seek the LORD while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6) and pray for one another to be still (Psalm 46:10) and focus on Him. Let’s re-evaluate our priorities to make sure that we are living the life God intended for us; a life of peace and patience… not busyness and frustration.

I read a blog that said, “Our natural tendencies are pedal to the medal, full speed ahead. But in His Word, God is instructing us to put on brakes and be still. Being still before God is not inactivity, it is wisdom.When we sit still and trust God, it will silence the enemy as he knows God is our rescue.” It’s time to stop struggling.

Heavenly Father,
I ask that you help those of us who are struggling with focus to direct our attention to You. Please give us discernment in our daily lives so that things like television, internet, work, sports, volunteering, etc. will no longer consume our time from You. Let us be still, LORD, so that You may reveal Yourself to us and we will know You more.
Amen

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

 

Finally!

In May 2011, my friends ask me to join them in creating a nonprofit organization. Over the past three years; we developed a business plan, came up with a name, designed a logo, built a website, promoted the mission, founded our Board of Directors, and more. We are a young group, eager to help break the cycle of poverty in Haiti.

So you can probably understand that frustration we encountered after applying for our 501c3 tax exempt status. It took Ginny and myself a month (literally) to draw up bylaws and fill out all of the application forms to submit to the IRS. We mailed our packet to the US government in October 2012, and anxiously awaited our fate.

and waited.

and waited..

and waited…

The IRS website showed little movement in approvals because of sequesters, changes in procedures, and an over-abundance of applications. As a matter of fact, in October 2013, the government’s website showed April 2012 as the date they were currently reviewing. One year later, and we were still six months away from being reviewed. We anticipated our results, but knew that we had to be patient.

To our surprise, we received a package in the mail late last month. It was our 501c3 paperwork. We were approved! As of January 30, 2014, Invest Hope is a tax-exempt nonprofit. We were not expecting results for at least Fall of this year. I almost cried… because I’m a sap like that. Haha.

To learn more about our mission, I invite you to head over to our website, www.investhope.com
We strive to offer Haitians a hand up, not a hand out, which empowers them to promote change among themselves.

I plan to use this Haiti page on my personal website to showcase things like programs, fundraisers, and photos that I have taken in Haiti.