Kayaking Adventure

North Carolina is a wonderful place to live. (If you don’t live here, you should really consider a visit!) We’re blessed with so much in this state; from the highest peaks to the islands on our coast, there are a lot of places to see and things to do. So much so that I have barely scratched the surface myself, and I am a native Carolinian. I’ve decided, in my quest to visit all 50 states, that I would also make an effort to explore more of my own home state.

One adventure that I recently took was a river tour via kayak with Yadkin Riverkeeper. They’re a fantastic group of avid paddlers and environmentalists who have committed to promoting clean, healthy rivers… particularly the Yadkin River. The Yadkin is one of the longest rivers in NC, and is the northernmost part of the Pee Dee Drainage Basin. Most of their events take place in the summer, and are often relaxing, family-friendly journeys. If you don’t own a kayak/canoe, you can rent them from the organization for a minimal fee. (Roughly $30-40) The registration fee is $20.

[Side note: A coworker recently took up paddling. It sounded like something I would be interested in, since I always enjoyed white water rafting in my younger days. The idea of taking up paddling as a hobby piqued my interest, so I quickly considered purchasing my own kayak. In less than one week from making that decision, my neighbor (whom I didn't even realize had a kayak) was selling his Pelican Vortex 80x for a very reasonable price. It was affordable. It was convenient. And it was blue... my favorite color. So I bought it!]

My coworker and I registered for the next available river tour and started planning our adventure. Two days before we were scheduled to leave, I realized that my kayak had a weight limit, and I was dangerously close to it. I started asking friends who paddle if I should be concerned but everyone seemed to think I would be fine. I even asked one of the outfitters on the day of the river tour, and he seemed to think I would be fine too. He did tell me that he would make sure that I looked safe before I launched though. He was kind enough to offer a rental kayak or even shuttle me back to my car if he felt I couldn’t make it down river in my own kayak.

All seemed a go when I climbed inside my boat, and we decided that he’d give me a push. I headed out into the river… and within three paddles, I immediately felt uneasy. I didn’t feel like I was going to sink, which was my initial fear. The Pelican Vortex was too fast, turned very quickly, and was unsteady for me. My experience on rivers had been in larger boats, longer and wider. I had never maneuvered something this small, and I was all over the river! And that’s when I realized, out of the 60+ paddlers in our group on the Yadkin at that moment, I had the smallest kayak. Even the professionals were in longer kayaks.

I basically had to let the water carry me (the river was low and the current wasn’t very fast for the most part) and I only paddled when I needed to over correct or stay upright. Despite traveling about 1/3 of the way trying to relax, I was overexerting myself. My muscles were tense and I was beyond thirsty… all because I was in a poorly sized kayak.  About that time, a guide – one of several scattered throughout the course to ensure all paddlers are comfortable and safe, came up from behind me. He apparently could tell I was struggling. After a short chat, he asked if I wanted out. I wasn’t sure if he meant ‘out of the river’ (which I didn’t want because the adventure was really cool) I replied, “I would like to be out of this kayak. I’m too big for this boat. I need a bigger one!”

Without hesitation, he made a quick call and within 60 seconds (or less), I was being circled by paddlers and a raft was on the way. As a runner, I have always bragged about how incredibly helpful and motivating that community is, but I have to admit that this community of paddlers were equally, if not MORE, supportive. I was so impressed with their care and concern, as well as their encouragement.

When the raft arrived, several paddlers cornered my kayak against it with theirs. It steadied my boat enough for me to be able to climb into the raft. Since there were no access points on the river for me to unload my kayak or get a bigger one, we ended up having to tie mine to the raft. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed to not get to experience the entire adventure in a kayak… but I still was able to see over 10 miles of the Yadkin from the river itself. (And Justin, who was rowing the giant 150lb raft – with two heavy objects in it, a full Yeti cooler and me! – couldn’t have been more awesome. We chatted, we told jokes, and we may or may not have sang a little too.

Despite the river tour not going completely as planned for me, I still strongly recommend it. You will be safe because you are surrounded by some of the best people I have ever met, and you will have a great time. Just make sure you have the properly sized boat. If you’re unsure of what style/model/size boat that you need, please go see the folks at Great Outdoor Provision Co. They have locations throughout NC. They’re located in Thruway Shopping Center in Winston-Salem, and in Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro. Each location will hold a Demo Day where you can get expert advice on the right boat(s) for you, and then try them out before you buy them. (You can bet that I will be at the next one. Let this be a lesson learned… do not buy your kayak from a yard sale if you have never owned a kayak before, even if it is your neighbor selling it!)

If you would like to take up paddling but need to learn the basics, you can also find classes and meetups through your local Great Outdoor Provision Co. or contact the awesome folks at Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Paddling the rivers of NC is a unique way to experience this state. It’s a great alternative to a more expensive (and often less adventurous) vacation too. If you have any questions, please comment below or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. I hope I see y’all out on the water soon!

[Click here to see a video, courtesy of and copyrighted by Justin.]

Chicago: My Recap of Chitown

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago with five of my friends. I had never been before, and was unsure of what to expect. A large city in the midwest isn’t exactly my idea of a dreamy vacation. I’m more of a slow, southern riverfront or tropical beach kind-of-girl. But I have realized that the older I get, the more I want to see and do. And I think that includes travel to all fifty states. So when my friends suggested the trip, I was all in. I justified the expense as my 40th birthday present to myself.

To my surprise, I fell in love with Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, richly filled with history and culture. I won’t bore you with every detail of the vacation, but I do want to highlight some things. I should probably remind you that we traveled on Friday and Tuesday, so we only had three full days to explore. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but here is a list of my favorites from my first trip to Chitown.

Landmarks:
Buckingham Fountain – Located in the center of Grant Park, just off of the Magnificent Mile and adjacent to Lake Michigan, this towering fountain operates from April to October. It is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite the show! (Note: if there are any Married… with Children fans reading, this is the fountain shown in the opening title sequence of the show.)

Chicago Theater - This theater was the first large and lavish movie palace in the US. It is located in the Loop, on N. State Street. We didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour inside, but we certainly stopped for a selfie with the iconic sign.

The Bean - Apparently, its official title is Cloud Gate, but it has been nicknamed ‘The Bean’ because of its shape. It weighs roughly 100 tons, and is made of polished stainless steel. The sculpture can be found in Millennium Park within the Loop, just off of Michigan Avenue. My favorite part of visiting? The underneath of the sculpture. Do yourself a favor and don’t just observe the sculpture from the perimeter. Head under the “omphalos” … it’s the concave chamber also known as “the navel”. It produces the most beautiful distortions.


{Look up!! Seriously. The inside is crazy awesome!!}

Navy Pier – There is so much to take in at Navy Pier. There are too many restaurants and gift shops to name. However, one highlight from the pier is the newly renovated Centennial Wheel. It’s the first and only one of its kind in the US. The Ferris wheel stands nearly 200 ft tall and overlooks Lake Michigan.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge - It is said that this jazz club, located in Uptown, was a local hangout during the prohibition era for various gangsters. The most well known, Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, was said to have a secret hatch in the club that led to underground tunnels. You can request to sit in his favorite booth, but don’t ask to tour the tunnels… you will be denied.

Willis Tower – Formerly, and most well-known as, Sears Tower, Willis Tower is the home of the SkyDeck Ledge. The building itself, located on S. Wacker Drive in the Loop, is 108 stories. The Ledge is located on the 103rd floor. Access to the Ledge is via an elevator that travels the distance in a short 60 seconds. Between 1973 and 1998, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world.

Wrigley Field - With its ivy-covered brick outfield and its hand-turned scoreboard, this Major League baseball field (and home of the Chicago Cubs) is beyond charming. It’s the oldest National League ballpark. I love that it’s tucked away between brownstones and local bars, right near the Clark/Addison “L” stops, in the quaint community of Lakeview in North Side. See below (Cubs Game) for additional information!

Restaurants:
Fiesta Mexicana – We rented a brownstone in Uptown just around the corner from this incredibly delicious restaurant. The food was authentic, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

The Parthenon – Oh my goodness! We stumbled upon this little piece of heaven on S. Halsted in Greektown. The restaurant and its staff gave us incredible, authentic food as well as a history lesson, too. As wonderful as the food and atmosphere were, I enjoyed meeting Yanna the most. She owns the restaurant, which her father started in 1968. The coolest part of it all? Her father created Flaming Saganaki. CREATED. IT.

Things to Do:
Memorial Day Parade – Little did we know that Chicago hosts the largest Memorial Day parade in the country. It travels down State Street. We found that the best place to watch was at the intersection of State and Madison, just outside of Target. Center Stage was located here so we could hear all of the announcements that went along with the parade.

Architectural Boat Tour – If you have an hour or so to spare, consider boarding the sightseeing barge at Navy Pier and heading up the Chicago River. The tour itself not only highlights the gorgeous architecture of the city’s many skyscrapers but you’ll also learn historical facts about Chicago, as well as some interesting folklore. [Side note: Check Groupon for deals!]

Chicago Cubs Game – Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, the experience of catching a game in Wrigley Field is history in the making. Not only is Wrigley Field the second oldest ballpark in the US, but the Cubs fans are some of the best around. Even if they’re playing your favorite team (like they played my LA Dodgers while I was in town), hope for a Cubs win. There is something extra special about that team winning at home. You’ll see what I mean if you’re lucky enough to witness it first hand.

I cannot wait to head back to Chicago. There are so many places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. There are a lot of places that I want to revisit. I want to catch some shows, and head to the beach on Lake Michigan. And truthfully, I just want to soak in this city. The history of our country fascinates me, and Chicago holds so much. I strongly recommend a Chicago vacation… even for my fellow beach bums.

 

(All photos in this post and on this site are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.)

Stitch Fix #2

I know I promised a video but once you read this post, you will know why I didn’t record one.

I was so excited about my second Fix because I had such a great experience last month when Cindy selected five great items with zero guidance. I just knew that, since I provided feedback with my returns and created a StitchFix pinterest board in an effort to assist my stylist, my June selections would be dreamy. I even left a note for my stylist requesting a particular shirt [Fun 2 Fun Renauld (?) front pocket blouse $44 -- sleeveless, white with navy anchor pattern] and something youthful and fun, yet still somewhat age-appropriate for my birthday. I anxiously awaited the email letting me know that my Fix had shipped. That’s my cue to head over to the app to peek at the selections heading my way. In case you missed it in the last post, I’m not a fan of surprises.

I received the email on June 8 and when I opened the Stitch Fix app, I was thrilled at what I saw. There was one shirt and one dress that I immediately knew that I would keep.

My box arrived on Friday, which happened to be my birthday! Could life get any better? I was planning to celebrate that night at a local winery and began pondering which outfit I would wear; the new shirt with white capri pants or the new dress. While I was ripping into my Fix, I kept thinking, “I can do a video next month. I don’t have time to prep for a reveal today. I have to see these items in person and decide what I’m going to wear tonight!”

And then…

I tried everything on. Just like that, my heart sank and my bubble burst. Details below.

In my second Stitch Fix box, I found:
Brixon Ivy Zedd Lace Overlay Blouse $58 {size S}
Level 99 Sandy Bootcut Jean $98 {size 14}
Market & Spruce Accio Cold Shoulder Top $58 {size XL}
Market & Spruce Aerin Dress $64 {size XL}
Pixley Verleen Knit Burnout Maxi Dress $68 {size XL}

The total price of all items minus the discount ($86.50) and the monthly fee ($20) was $239.50.

My decision:
Lace Overlay Blouse – Y’all, I loved this top when I saw it on the app, and wanted it desperately. However… do you see the problem here?

It’s tagged as XL but clearly is a Small. I was so disappointed. After speaking with some folks in the SF B/T/S Facebook group, I understand that I could choose to keep the top and just request a new size but it sounds like a hassle. I’m too bummed to even deal with the exchange at this point. I will return the top.

Sandy Bootcut Jean – I can say that I love these jeans! Remember in my last Stitch Fix post, I mentioned that one of the key things I wanted to “test” with this service is just how well their products cater to us larger gals. I was convinced that their jeans wouldn’t fit me since my body shape sometimes bounces between a size 14 and size 16 pant. This particular pair of jeans fit beautifully, felt amazing, and were my favorite piece from this month’s box. However, the frugal girl in me absolutely could not justify paying $98 for them as we get ready to head into a very humid NC summer. Maybe they will resend them to me in the fall, when I’m freezing and more likely to blow my budget on some cute and comfy jeans. That said, I will return the jeans.

Accio Cold Shoulder Top – As you can see from the photo, this shirt paired with the jean really makes for a great outfit. I was pleasantly surprised by this shirt, given that it was my least favorite item on the app. (I’m not a fan of the open shoulder tops.) I am glad that it was sent to me. I want pieces that I wouldn’t select in the stores for myself. That’s a major reason why I chose to use this styling service. Ultimately, I will return the top simply because I couldn’t see myself wearing it to work. I like to have blouses that are a bit more versatile.

Aerin Dress – I fell in love with this dress the second that I saw it on the app. The color, the pattern, and the style all appealed to me. I was convinced that I would wear it to the winery for my birthday celebration. However, when I tried it on, the belt tied right at my problem area (belly) and the length made me a little nervous. I’m 5’10″ and generally go for dresses that fall at least at the knee, not above it. I couldn’t believe that both pieces – that I had already decided in my head that I would keep – let me down. On Sunday, as I was packaging up my items to send back, I tried this dress on again. I stood in front of the mirror, trying to make it work. I glanced in my closet and realized that I had a blue jacket that was close in color to the blue accent in the dress’s pattern. I threw it on, along with some nude wedges, and finally saw the potential of the dress. The jacket helped to mask my belly. I still struggled with the length. So I did what anybody would do… I took this photo and tossed it up on Instagram for opinions. :) Most folks liked it. Some even loved it. One practical friend reminded me that if I wasn’t completely comfortable in the dress, there was a chance that I would never wear it. Part of me knows that I should send it back. The other part of me thinks I should step outside of the box and go for it. After all, this is my birthday Fix! I requested something youthful, yet age-appropriate. I feel like this is it. Yes, I just turned 40. But that doesn’t mean that I should dress like Dorothy from The Golden Girls, right? After much deliberation, I’m trusting the Instagram masses. I plan to keep this dress.

 

Verleen Knit Burnout Maxi Dress – This is a beautiful dress. I loved the color, I was okay with the fit, and the fabric was soft and comfortable. But what I am learning quickly is that I’m not much into maxi dresses. I am not completely against them, but I am extremely picky when it comes to them. This particular one just didn’t blow me away. I will return it.

So there you have it; my second Stitch Fix review. I should note that, this month, my stylist was Jessica. I feel like I should give this service another month, so I will request a July box when I checkout. If you’re interested in trying Stitch Fix for yourself, please click here and use my referral code: 7952845

 

Here’s 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.

Lucky Casserole

I sometimes struggle with cooking because, well, it’s just me… and most recipes yield so much food that it takes me all week to consume it. Because of that, I’ve fallen into a funk and cook very little these days. However, when the mood strikes me, I don’t always have time to research recipes and swing by the store for ingredients. I’m known for opening up the fridge and using whatever is in there to create a meal. Most often, it’s a miss. Occasionally I get lucky and create a hit. I definitely got lucky with this casserole concoction and wanted to share this quick, easy recipe with you. I’m showing you a gluten-free, dairy-free option but the ingredient list is generic so that you can adjust the recipe to your liking. (Note: This is not a sponsored blog.)

Ingredients:
Chicken breasts
Italian dressing
3 medium-sized squash (any variety)
1 small onion
Breadcrumbs
Cheese
Butter
Nutritional yeast (optional)

Preparation:
Place two small chicken breasts into a crockpot.
Cover with Italian dressing. (I used the entire bottle.)
Cook on LOW for approximately 6 hours or HIGH for approx. 3 hours.
30 minutes before the chicken has finished cooking, remove and shred, then return to dressing in crockpot to finish cooking.

Dice squash and onion.
Place in refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8×8 casserole with butter.
Begin with a layer of diced squash & onions, add layer of chicken, and sprinkle with yeast.
Repeat another layer of each; veggies (add a couple pats of butter to the second layer of veggies), chicken, and yeast.
Top with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Add layer of shredded cheese and place back in for 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Serve hot.

This makes approximately three servings.


This is just before I placed the casserole in the oven.


And this is the delicious outcome!

Again, this is not a sponsored post… but I did want to mention a few of my favorite gluten-free, dairy-free ingredients if you’re looking for those alternatives.

Daiya cheese, in my opinion, is the best cheese alternative. It melts well, and is very creamy and flavorful. I also love that it is soy-free too!
Glutino makes wonderful gluten-free products. Their breadcrumbs are a terrific alternative to wheat-based breading.
Earth’s Balance buttery spread is a plant-based product that tastes just like the real thing! Organic, non-GMO, and Vegan… it is the perfect substitution to butter.

Go ahead and give this recipe a try, then let me know if you get lucky! ;) Happy eating.

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.

img_8497.jpg

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!