Be Free: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Yesterday, we celebrated the life of my last biological grandparent, Anne Bryant, who passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 90.

She was a delicate, graceful Southern woman with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh who touched the lives of more people than I will ever know.

She was the closest thing to a matriarch at her church in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was fondly known as “Miss Anne.” She loved to sing, was a member of the choir for nearly a decade and served as an integral part of the children’s ministry. Her former pastor, my relatives, and her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members had such wonderful things to say about her life during her service, which she insisted be a joyful celebration of her life.

My grandmother is in the middle of the picture just above me.

She raised three children, including my dad, and was a schoolteacher. She loved children.

She loved to garden.

She loved to ride her bike.

She loved to sing.

She was incredibly creative and gifted with her hands. She made dresses for me and my dolls, Christmas ornaments and my Christmas stocking. Both of us collected Willow Tree figurines and loved to sing, read, write, and travel.

She had a strong faith that she carried with her until her last day. She wanted to “go home” and be with my grandfather in heaven and was at peace with that transition.

Of all of the grandparents I had, she’s the one who knew me the best. I remember phone calls with her and my grandfather when I was a kid. I was very studious and committed to doing well in the classroom. After winning spelling bees and other academic competitions at school or sharing a report card, they would send me letters, sometimes with a special memento inside like a Bible verse on a wallet card or a bookmark she made at church.

They always told me how excited they were for me and were so supportive of me throughout my life. I can still hear my grandmother saying these words:

“Oh, Rachel, granddaddy and I are so proud of you.”

In the final years of her life, there was some tension in my family that created a bit of distance in our relationship. Looking back, I regret not spending more time with her in her last years; it saddens me, and I feel a sense of loss. I have many happy memories about her, but I know I could have had more.

If you have a family member that you can’t seem to “get right” with, I encourage you to be open. Be open to grace and seek forgiveness. Love them. Be kind. Set aside your pride and try again. It might not look the way you expect, but at least you’ll know you tried the best you could and offered that person all you had.

Bill and I visited my grandmother and spent time with her on a trip to North Carolina last spring. I had a final phone call with her in the week before her passing to tell her how much I appreciate who she was to me and how much her support and love meant to me.

When I think back to the times we spent together, the conversations we had, and the letters we exchanged, I smile. I know she’s proud of me and who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a Christian, a sister, an aunt, and a friend.

As I was sifting through my bins of mementos (I’m a bit of a sentimental packrat), I stumbled upon a book called Grandmother Remembers that she filled out for me as a gift for my high school graduation.

I had given it to her as a gift when I was little, and she took the time to complete every single page with facts about our family, pictures of relatives, and memories and stories about herself, me, and the rest of our family.

It’s such a treasure and a special piece of history for our family.

What makes it even more symbolic for me right now is the image of the butterfly on the front cover. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you’ve read about my connection to butterflies and how prevalent and symbolic they’ve been in my life.

One of the final pages of the Grandmother Remembers book is dedicated to her wish to the future for me. She wrote, “Since Gramdaddy’s death, I have experienced ‘being given wings’ and my prayer is that this will continue.”

And it has.

She has been given wings and is looking down on all of us now. She is happy, at peace, and flying free.

Once someone is gone, they don’t have an opportunity to say what is on their heart and mind to comfort those of us who are left behind. What I’m about to share is what I think grandmother would say to all of us here now. I wrote this poem and read it at my grandmother’s memorial service. I hope it gives you peace, comfort, and hope when you think of someone special that you’ve lost.

Be Free

As I look down on all of you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Each of you holds a special place along my journey.
Thank you for being here to celebrate my life.

I know that you’re missing me.
Maybe you’re feeling sad, mourning, hurting, angry that I’m no longer with you.
I understand.
It’s hard to let go of people we love.

But I want you to know that I’m okay.
I’m finally free.

I prayed to the Lord and He freed me from all my fears.

Free from sadness.
Free from discomfort.
Free from pain.

Full of love.
Full of joy.
Full of light.

As you sit there remembering me, I want each of you to do something to honor me and my life.

Don’t wait for death to free you.

Choose to be free now.

Free from grudges.
Free from judgment.
Free from resentment.
Free from hostility.
Free from anger.

Open up.
Release.
Let go.

Be free. Live fully.

We are called to be free.
Free to dance.
Free to sing.
Free to laugh.
Free to play.
Free to love.

I give you my wings, so you can soar and fly freely, releasing anything that holds you down and embracing that which lifts you up.

Savor the sunny days, and spend time in your garden.
Appreciate the beauty all around you.
Notice the birds chirping, the flowers blooming, the smiles of children.
Pause and notice what a beautiful world we live in.

Be kind to and gentle with one another.
Give each other permission to make mistakes, especially those closest to you.
Be quick to offer forgiveness and grace when that happens.
Even when it’s hard.
Even if you’re angry.
Forgiveness frees you as much as it frees them.

Be free. Live fully.

Speak the truth in love.
Not just to prove a point, but with the intention of loving the other person.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up more instead of staying silent when I felt unheard.
Unmute your voice, and set yourself free from what you’ve kept locked up in your mind or in your heart.
The Lord calls us to love and serve one another, to be bold and courageous with our lives.
Use your voice for good and your words and actions to love.

Never stop learning, and remember to make time for play.
As a schoolteacher, I embraced a love of learning and dedicated my life to sharing that with my students and my family.
Approach the world with childlike curiosity.
Ask questions, look for the good in people, share, play, laugh, dance, sing, read, travel, be silly.
Spend more time playing and less time working.

I once gave my granddaughter a bookmark for her Bible that she has since passed along to another friend who needed the message on it more than she did.
It had this scripture on it from the book of Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

No matter what you’re dealing with right now, the Lord knows about it and can use it.
To grow you, to strengthen you, or to equip you to serve in some way.
Trust His timing.
Trust His plans.

Heaven is a beautiful place. We are having the best time up here!
Seeing all of my old friends and loved ones again has been such a joy for me.
I feel alive, renewed, whole, and free.
So, don’t be sad.
Celebrate my life and all that it was. Remember all of the happy times we had. Thank God for giving you another day on this beautiful earth, until we are reunited some day.

Until that day comes, be kind and gentle.
Savor the sunny days.
Spend time in your garden.
Find your voice.
Forgive each other.
Never stop learning.
Dance, play, travel and sing.
Live fully.

I’ve given you wings.
Be free.

The Easiest Kale Salad Ever

I’ve been making this salad recipe for OVER FIVE YEARS and can’t believe I’ve never shared this recipe with all of you before!

It’s the simplest recipe and the first way I ever tried eating kale.

If you’ve ever been turned off to eating kale because it tasted bitter or was difficult to chew, give this recipe a try. I bet it will change your mind!

Most of us don’t crave salads this time of year because the weather has gotten colder for many of us. As a result, we tend to be drawn to more warming, grounding foods like soups, stews and chilis. Because I tend to eat seasonally, I’m more apt to saute or steam green veggies or throw them into soups, stews, or frittatas instead of having cold salads everyday.

When I do want a salad, I opt for heartier greens like kale, Swiss chard, or peppery arugula in my salads instead of lighter, more watery greens like romaine or Bibb lettuce.

Another benefit to eating a salad like this in the winter is that it is packed with immune-boosting ingredients. Since 70% of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system, what we eat really does matter!

  • Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which have antiviral and antibacterial effects. Their pungent, bitter flavors are health-promoting and detoxifying.
  • Lemons have antiviral and antimicrobial activity
  • Garlic may help the immune system function better during times of need such as in cancer
  • Chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber that keep us feeling full and our blood sugar balanced, which helps keep inflammation at bay

Not only is this salad loaded with ingredients to keep your immune system strong, but it will stay fresh in the fridge for at least two days! Check out the recipe below, and feel free to change it up by adding your favorite toppings.

Easiest Kale Salad Ever

Ingredients

1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and leaves torn into pieces
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few pinches of coarse sea salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced

Optional add-ins
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, massage lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic into kale leaves with your hands until they start to turn dark green and shrink by about 1/3 in size. If you’re using nutritional yeast, toss it in with the greens. Store salad in fridge for about 30 minutes to allow lemon juice to break down bitterness in greens.
  2. Add chickpeas and sunflower seeds and enjoy!

Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions {And Do This!}

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions.

The idea that a simple date change could be a powerful motivator just never made much sense to me. It seemed to be an excuse to “let go” from October through December, only to return to taking care of ourselves in January. And it was clear that most people’s resolutions failed by February anyway, which served to demotivate them to make any further changes and then commit to trying it all over again the following year.

If we don’t make resolutions, what do we do instead?

Two years ago, I was in a bookstore in an eclectic neighborhood in Baltimore and was drawn to the cover on one of the books. I started reading the first few pages and was intrigued.

Instead of making an uninspired (and, often overwhelming) “to do” list at the turn of each new year, the author suggested we identify how we want to FEEL. Then, get curious about what we’d have to do to feel that way and do that more often.

The process of doing this is what Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, calls declaring our “core desired feelings.”

How do you want to FEEL?

It seemed simple enough and made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try. My husband joined me along the journey.

Over the past two years, I’ve wanted to feel RADIANT, WORTHY, CONNECTED, FLOWINGCLEAR, ABUNDANT, and FREE.

As a result, I started to think about what would make me feel that way. From the incredible communities I’ve joined, I’ve received connection, reminders of my worthiness, and permission to radiate.

I’ve met and aligned with dozens of incredible professionals in my field, and we are collectively bringing kindness, health and wellbeing to the workforce. I’ve been drawn to new friendships and communities of women that make me feel loved and safe. My husband and I found a new small group to join through our church and have made new friendships through that as well. I’ve become part of an incredible community of women and men committed to finding joy and freedom through movement at Movement Lab in Baltimore.

With some of the awesome people from Movement Lab. I am on a trampoline in the back left!

I’ve pursued and have been given countless opportunities to radiate, get in flow, and connect with people by speaking to organizations, human resources professionals, my church community, and the public through presentations, retreats, and cooking demonstrations. I received recognition from a national organization that identified me at the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. from a pool of over 200 of my peers and was invited to speak at a national conference last spring. I’ve become a recognized expert in my field and in my community and am grateful to be in a position of leadership.

I started to feel how I wanted to feel, and what I was hoping would happen did. I received infinitely more than I had imagined was possible. 

My husband, Bill, declared ENERGIZED, MOTIVATED and ACCOMPLISHED as his core desired feelings. He said he wanted to spend more intentional time with a group of guys from our church, who are honest, supportive, fun, and willing to be open. They meet on a monthly basis and get together in between to play and watch sports, grab a beer, or share a meal.

Bill said that training for and completing a triathlon would help him feel how he wanted to feel, too, so, he committed to doing that as well. In July of 2016, he became an Ironman after completing a grueling 140.6-mile course of swimming, biking and running in Lake Placid, New York.

Yesterday, he and I continued our New Year’s Day tradition of reflecting on the moments and memories of the previous year and identify our core desired feelings.

Throughout the year, we write these memories on little pieces of paper and put them in a glass jar that we empty out on New Year’s Day. We write all of them down in a journal and then add any others that we forgot to record. Finishing graduate school, paying off our student loans, Bill completing the Ironman, having my articles published in mindbodygreen, welcoming the births of our friends’ babies, renovating our kitchen, and reminiscing about the trips we took.

We take time to celebrate all that happened and reflect on the memorable moments that were sad as well. We think about what we are leaving behind in 2016 and not taking into 2017, what we are letting go and releasing.

And we identify how we want to feel in the coming year.

Bill wants to feel FREE, SECURE and COURAGEOUS. His desires are getting stronger and more specific. I’m excited to see what the year will bring him and to witness the growth he will experience as a result of shaping the year around generating those feelings.

My feelings have changed a bit this year, but some have remained the same.

I was seeing a therapist earlier this year, and one of the questions she asked me was to think about what I would want to tell my 10-year-old self, if I had the chance to go back and talk to her.

I paused. My lip quivered, as tears began rolling down my cheeks.

“Play,” I answered. “I would tell her to play more.”

For much of my life, I’ve taken things too seriously, been embarrassed by and uncomfortable with silliness, focused too much on striving and doing and not enough on just living and being. I haven’t made playfulness a priority.

But we are not called to take ourselves so seriously or treat ourselves so harshly. We are called to be childlike, to be humble, curious, and dependent on others and on God, a higher power than us. In today’s society, it’s easy to ignore that, to let pride rule, to think we know it all, and to convince ourselves that we can do everything on our own and be self-sufficient. But that is not how we were meant to live.

I feel PLAYFUL when I’m dancing, doing Nia and AntiGravity, playing games, spending time with little kids, being silly with Bill, getting surprise gifts for people, going on travel and food adventures to new places, blowing bubbles, jumping on a trampoline, skipping, walking on the beach, splashing in the water, hanging out with playful people, and laughing until it hurts.

I feel FREE and OPEN when I’m speaking my truth, as I’m doing here. I feel free and open when I dance, speak, present, teach, leave cushion in my schedule, spend time with friends who love and celebrate me, dream about the future, offer grace, forgive, overcome fears, go for a run on a beautiful day, spend time in nature, hike, give of our finances, and declutter my physical space.

I feel RADIANT when I present about a topic that I’m passionate about, write and speak from my soul, dance and twirl like a joyful little girl, wear a brightly colored outfit, serve others, and share my story and invite others to share theirs.

I feel DEEPLY CONNECTED when I spend undistracted (i.e., iPhoneless), quality time with people I love, have phone calls or meet-ups with close friends, go away on retreats and have time to reflect, go on getaways to new places with my husband, grab a meal with a friend, or have a soul-baring conversation with someone who trusts me and feels safe enough to share with me.

That’s how I want to feel this year. PLAYFUL, OPEN, FREE, RADIANT, and DEEPLY CONNECTED.

Now, it’s your turn. Ditch your New Year’s Resolutions, and do this instead.

  1. Ask yourself how you want to feel in 2017. If you need help with ideas, click here.
  2. Decide what you’ll do to generate those feelings. What do you do or can you do to make yourself feel that way? Refer to my lists above for some ideas.
  3. If you want to create one of the cool word picture images like the one you see above, download the free Word Swag app here. If you do, post it in my Facebook page and/or tag @RachelsNourishingKitchen on Instagram! I’d love to see what you create.

I wish you joy, peace, happiness, and love in 2017! Thank you for being a part of this community and for allowing me to be so open. I’m grateful for you!

Want a video summary of our New Year’s tradition? Check out my video below.

Letting Go of the Lies and Finding Freedom

For most of my life, I’ve resisted anything that made me feel free.

Riding a bike.
Swinging on a swing.
Singing in public.
Physical intimacy.
Roller coasters.
Skiing.
Dancing.

Being free meant not having control. It meant releasing and receiving rather than holding on and restraining. Freedom was unpredictable and unsafe. It couldn’t be trusted. It might hurt me, embarrass me, reject me.

I didn’t know how to be free.

I learned at a young age how important it was to be the good girl, to follow the rules, to do as I was told, and to not rock the boat. I grew up in a somewhat tense environment, as my parents were going through what ended up being a brief separation when I was in kindergarten. My brother responded to the tension by becoming the diffusing bomb, trying to distract my parents from their own dysfunction and turning their focus onto him. I found protection in controlling things, so I became The Golden Child. I was good at being good.

But in the process, I found myself being bound by lies about who I was and what I could and couldn’t do throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

It’s easier for us to hold onto the lies we’ve believed for so long rather than embracing the truth about who we are. But the lies are relentless, and they come from everywhere.

Family.
Friends.
Classmates.
Teachers.
Coworkers.
Bosses.
Society.
Ourselves.

Lies that we are not smart, talented, popular, artistic, creative, musical, athletic, sophisticated, funny, coordinated, attractive, or good enough.

Lies that we can’t do something, won’t amount to anything, or will end up a failure.

Lies that no one will love us or want us. Lies that we will be too much.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

These lies limit us, hold us back, keep us small.

“Who do you think you are?” they ask, mocking us and our attempts to do whatever great thing we are meant to do in this world.

For most of my life, I’ve believed these lies. I’ve let them define me, limit me, hold me back, and keep me small. It pains me to admit it, but I know we find healing in sharing our truths, so here are just a few of the lies that have followed me throughout my life. Perhaps you can relate.

“They don’t want to be your friend. That’s why you don’t get invited to parties everyone else gets invited to, Rachel. That’s why they didn’t ask you to go to the movies with them. That’s why they didn’t invite you to lunch on your birthday. They don’t really like you.”

“Be careful, Rachel. You’ll hurt yourself. Don’t you know you can’t trust your body? It’s betrayed you before. It’ll betray you again. It can’t be trusted.”

“What if your voice cracks or doesn’t sound good? Oh, that would be so embarrassing. Don’t even bother singing. It’s not worth the risk.”

“You like him? Forget it. He’s too cool for you. You’re not popular or fun enough. You’ll scare him off or intimidate him. He won’t be interested.”

“Seriously? Purple shoes? Peacock print yoga pants? Magenta, yellow and orange blazers? You can’t pull that off. Stick to your pastels and khakis. Play it safe.”

“Don’t be too successful, Rachel. If you are, people will resent you. They’ll envy you. They’ll be nice to your face but secretly judge you and talk about you behind your back. They’ll be waiting for you to fail.”

I’ve given these lies space in my mind and in my soul and have let them overwhelm and debilitate me under the guise of protection.

“I’m just looking out for you,” they say. “I know what’s best. I just don’t want you to get hurt or make a fool of yourself. Listen to me, and you’ll be safe.”

In keeping us “safe,” these lies also keep us from living fully, speaking our truth, and authentically showing up to be who we are called to be. Yet, we continue to give these lies power and authority over our lives when all we really want is to be free.

Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been challenging my fears, questioning the lies I’ve believed for so long.

What if they’re not true?

What if “they” do want to be my friend? What if they’ve been my friend for years, but I’ve missed it because I keep retelling myself lies from childhood, something that is no longer my reality?

What if I gave myself permission to trust my body and gave it the chance to experience judgment-free, joyful movement?

What if putting my voice out there moves someone and touches a deep part of their soul? What if it is worth the risk?

What if he is interested? What if he loves the very things I don’t love or accept about myself?

What if I can confidently rock the purple peacock pants and hot pink blazers?

What if people want to see me succeed and would be there to lift me up if I failed?

What if those are the truth?

When we challenge the lies, they lose power. But we have to decide to do that. We have two choices.

Letting go means being free and releasing that which is not serving us, even if it scares us to do that.

By “letting go” I don’t mean “giving up” or being reckless and not caring about our decisions. I’m talking about releasing everything you’re trying so desperately to control for fear that something awful will happen if you’re not controlling it.

It’s exhausting to hold on to so much all the time.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but I find that when God wants me to hear a message, anything and anyone can be used to convey that message to me. Throughout 2016, this message has been, “Let go. Release. Be free. Fly.”

About a week or so ago, I was at Marshall’s doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and came across this mug.

I knew I was meant to see it. I bought one for myself and my mom, so we have a constant reminder about the truth that we are meant to be free.

Since the spring, I’ve been bombarded by another symbol of freedom everywhere I go – butterflies.

I was having a rough week at work and found this mug on my desk, unwrapped, with the words in plain sight.

I asked a dozen coworkers if they’d given it to me, but no one owned up to it. I still have no idea who gave it to me. Maybe I never will.

A few months later, while I was walking on a beach in Oregon with my husband, I asked for a sign and waited for a response.

Minutes later, I saw this.

Earlier this year, I was preparing for a presentation about goal setting with my dad, and we were talking about transformation. He explained to me what happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

As the lowly caterpillar or larva goes through a process of metamorphosis, something remarkable happens. Most of the tissues and cells that make up the larva are broken down, and that material is rebuilt into the adult version – the butterfly.

As the butterfly approaches its moment of release and freedom, when it will finally be able to fly, its wings are pushing, pushing, pushing against the inside of the pupa. It’s that pushing motion that strengthens the butterfly’s wings, so that when it is ready to emerge, it is able to fly. If we were to take a pair of scissors or a knife and slit open that cocoon prematurely, before the butterfly was ready, it wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.

It is strengthened by its struggle, and then it is free to fly.

And so are we.

Butterflies invite us to be free. To open up. To spread our wings.

“Be free, Rachel,” they beckon. “Let go. Release what is not serving you, especially the lies. They are holding you back, limiting you, and keeping you from the fullness of what is intended for your life.”

Just three days ago, I came across this plaque at a gift shop in Rehoboth Beach and knew in an instant I was meant to see it.

Choosing to be free is an act of courage. 

This is particularly true when it comes to our bodies. One of the lingering lies I’ve been challenging and attempting to overcome is around what my body is capable of doing physically. I’ve never been a risk taker, unlike my husband, who did flips off couches as a four-year-old, has been skydiving, and recreated his own version of Jackass as a teenager. He struggled to find freedom expressing his thoughts and feelings, so he sought it in movement. He let go and found release physically.

The opposite has been true for me. But, over the past year, I’ve been finding more freedom in my body than ever before through Nia, and, most recently, AntiGravity fitness at Movement Lab in Baltimore. Nia calls us to find what feels good in our body and to move freely, playfully and without judgment.

AntiGravity invites us to trust our body and the hammock enough, so we can let go. I took a class in the springtime but had been too scared to take another since. Turning upside down and hanging from the ceiling felt too free to me, and I resisted anything that made me feel free. After talking to the instructor, Heather, who has become a friend, I decided I’d give it another try.

As we were warming up for class, Heather reminded us of the words of AntiGravity founder, Christopher Harrison:

When you open up space in the body, you open up space in the mind.

Open up. Be free

So many times during class today we had to physically let go – hang from the ceiling, fly into the air, flip ourselves out of a seated position.

My hands would get sweaty.
Fear would creep in.
Would I lose my grip?

The lies would rear their ugly little heads.

“See, I told you you can’t do it. It’s too scary, isn’t it? You’re not going to be able to get out of this inversion. You’re going to fall right out of the hammock and hurt yourself. You should’ve stayed home.”

But, in those moments, we can stop fear in its tracks by responding with truth. “NO. You’re a liar. You have no authority over me. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. I trust.

And with that, I released.
Exhaled.
Let go.

Fear only has power if we give it power. And freedom is on the other side of our fears. We are not called to live our lives ruled by fear.

We are called to live in freedom, to experience joy and love and grace.

As we enter into a new year, I invite you on this journey with me, a journey of facing our fears, challenging them, and letting them go. A journey to seek the truth about who we are.

To remind ourselves that we are loved.
Enough.
Free.

If you want to go deeper in this experience with your own life, spend a few minutes thinking about and jotting down the answers to these reflection questions. Allow whatever comes up to come out. Be okay with not knowing the answers, but commit to being open to them when they do come to you.

  1. What lies have you believed about who you are or what you are or aren’t capable of doing?
  2. In what ways have these lies held you back in your life?
  3. How would your life be different if you didn’t believe these lies? What would it look like? What would you feel like? How would this impact the people around you?
  4. What are five to ten things that are TRUE about you? (Try finishing statements like, “I am…” “I can…”)
  5. What is one thing you could do physically to open yourself up emotionally in the next 30 days?

Thank you for giving me this space. A space to be vulnerable. A space to be real. A space to speak my truth. My hope is that it invites you to do the same for yourself and those around you.

Let’s make 2017 the year of finding freedom, letting go, and living fully.

This post is dedicated to my friend Tori, who has always believed in and loved me for who I really am. It was her comment to me several months ago, as I was doubting myself, that prompted me to write this post: “I hope one day you’ll see yourself as the beautiful, bold, courageous woman everyone else knows you to be.”

An Accidental Gift: Lessons from a Body Shop

It had been a good day.

Everything had gone according to my plan.

Meeting in the morning, lunchtime Nia class at Movement Lab, work remotely for a few hours, and have a late lunch at my new favorite spot in Baltimore, R. House.

I was in the car getting ready to head back to the office to pick up a few things. I was backing out of the parking spot, checking my rearview mirror to make sure all was clear.

And then I heard it…and felt it.

Scraaaaaape.

No, no, no, no, no!

I remember pulling into the spot when I arrived and thinking how close the pole was to my car, as I carefully navigated around it to park. Unfortunately, I forgot it was there as I was leaving. It was too late before I realized what I had done, so I pulled back into the spot, got out of my car and braced myself for the damage.

At first, it looked like just a few gashes of white paint from the pole. But then I saw it. The gaping hole in the driver’s side door.

Seriously?

WHY?!

I’ve had this car for over 10 years and have never had to have body work done on it. Not once. It was 5:00 p.m. Where could I go? I knew my friend and our pastor, Ryan, would have a body shop recommendation from a buddy of his who works in the industry, so I called him first. The place he suggested was –like most other shops at that hour – closed.

I searched for body shops on Yelp! and saw that Ed’s Body & Paint Shop was a quarter-mile away.

In the first review, I saw the word “honest” and a closing time of 5:30, so off I went. I called the shop to give them a heads up, and when I arrived, Ed, who turned out to be the owner of the shop, came out to assess the damage. I was still shaken up at this point and in a reactive crying mode, so I rambled a bit and told him what had happened.

And then I paused for a second.

I’m okay though,” I said. At least I was okay. It could have been worse.

Ed walked me into his office to get my information and sat me down. Trying to calm my frazzled state, he told me how common this situation was. So often he has people come to him in a state of stress, frustration, fear, and worry. They go on and on about how awful it is that their cars are damaged. He said his kids did the same thing when they were growing up. “Oh dad, I can’t believe what happened. The car…”

He’d respond with, “How about you? Are you okay? We’ll fix the car. It’s just a car.”

He told me the story of a young girl came to his shop the other day in hysterics. She had damaged her car badly in an accident, and, then, while she was backing into the driveway, she popped a tire. “This is the worst day. What did I do to deserve this??” she lamented to Ed.

Ed paused and replied with compassion but a different perspective, “I have an idea. You know all those good days when the sun was shining and life was good? I bet you took them for granted.” It was a risky comment to make to an already agitated person.

The risk was worth it. He said it was as though he’d flipped a switch. Her entire demeanor changed.

He continued. “You wake up and expect every day to be perfect, and when it’s not, it’s the worst day.”

“You know, you’re right,” she said. “I don’t stop to smell the roses. I do expect the day to go perfectly. I don’t appreciate the good days.” With a lifted mood, she gave Ed a hug before she left, and walked out with a new perspective on life.

He brought the conversation back to my situation, seeing that I was still upset about what had happened to my car. “If you think you’re having a bad day, I’ve got something to show you.” Ed pulled up a message on his phone about his uncle’s wife Janet. And then he told me this story.

She came home from the hospital at 4:00 a.m. and asked her husband to lie down with her. ‘Hon, would you rub my back?’ So he did. ‘Oh that feels so good,’ she said.”

By 5:00 a.m., Janet had passed away.

“This will be his first Christmas without her in 53 years. He saw the same face and held the same hands for 53 years, and now she’s gone. That’s a bad day.”

Yes, yes it is. It made my situation at the time seem trivial. Talk about perspective.

Ed apologized for being preachy, but I told him it was fine. I appreciate when people speak their truth, and I knew his intention was nothing but pure. I wanted him to say what he had to say. I just had to stay open to hearing the message. He went on to tell me why he has the perspective he does.

“Each day when I wake up, I thank God for another day. When I go to bed at night, I ask Him to look out for my family and the people I love. You know, I just try to live each day like it’s my last. And if the people you love have their health, you’re good. That’s what matters.”

He talked about wanting his four granddaughters (“my grandbabies”) to grow up in a world like he did, a world where people looked out for each other. “When you saw a kid with a scraped up knee on the sidewalk, you stopped to help him. You didn’t ignore him, stop to take pictures, or put it up on YouTube.”

Neighbors were neighbors and people took care of each other.

Ed told me several stories about how he takes care of the people who come to see him at the shop.

He told me about the single mom with two kids whose husband had just left her. She came to him in a panic because she’d gotten an estimate for $800 to replace her brakes. He looked at her car and the estimate, realized she was being scammed, and discovered all she needed were new brake pads. About 40 minutes and $56 later, she left with her car and her kids, feeling immensely grateful.

“I’m not in it for the money,” he said. “People seem to do everything for the money these days. Sure, I’ve got to charge enough to pay the people here, but I want to be able to go to bed at night knowing that I did right by people.”

We ended up chatting for an hour and a half. I left feeling about as peaceful as I had before the incident happened.

Even though it wasn’t part of my plan.

Even though it’s not how I anticipated my day would go.

Even though I have no idea how much money it’s going to cost to repair it.

But it’s just a car. It can be fixed. And I’m okay.

I feel like the whole thing was meant to be, like it had to happen.

I needed to hear that perspective and those stories. I needed to take a moment to pause and be grateful for all of the good days I have. And I have a lot of good days. So often, I stress about things that don’t really matter. I get worked up about things that will likely never happen five to ten years into the future. I focus on everything I didn’t start or finish or make time for and leave myself in a state of feeling guilty and inadequate more than I’d like to admit.

But, at the end of the day, I get to go home to my husband, spend time with my family, do work that I love, be surrounded by amazing community and friends, and have my health.

Sometimes we need moments like these to interrupt our lives and our plans, to shake us up a bit, and to remind us of the privilege it is to be alive and to be given another day on this beautiful earth.

Chocolate Hazelnut “Ferrero Rocher” Truffles {Gluten-Free}

Last weekend I went to a Christmas party with a group of friends and shared these tasty sweet treats for the first time. They went over REALLY well!

I actually made a version of this recipe two years ago but wanted to come up with a new and improved version that was more authentic and closer to the real thing.

If you’ve ever had one of those fancy, gold-wrapped hazelnut chocolates by the brand Ferrero Rocher, you’ll see where the inspiration for today’s treats comes from. I’ve always been unsure how to pronounce the brand, and apparently I’m not alone. Over 20,000 people have watched the YouTube video for how to pronounce “Ferrero Rocher.”

This recipe takes a few more steps than a typical recipe I make, but I can assure you it will be worth every minute! Try these at home, and bring them to an upcoming holiday party or event.

I hope you enjoy them as much as we did 🙂

Yield: 21-24 truffles

Ingredients

24 hazelnuts, lightly toasted
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
1 cup Medjool dates, pits removed
1 tablespoon 100% pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown rice crisps
3/4 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips
1 tsp coconut oil

Directions

  1. Set the toasted hazelnuts aside in a bowl. Then, grind 1 cup hazelnuts, cacao powder and salt in a food processor until it reaches the texture of a fine meal.
  2. Add dates, maple syrup, and vanilla and process until a dough starts to form. Pour brown rice crisps into the food processor feed tube or hole while the processor is still running, just until crisps are incorporated (you still want pieces of the crisps to be visible).
  3. Turn off food processor, remove dough and shape it into a large ball. Remove 1-inch pieces of dough and shape into smaller balls. Wrap each ball around one of the toasted hazelnuts and press with your fingers to seal. Set balls aside on parchment-lined baking sheet or small cutting board.
  4. In a double boiler (glass pyrex bowl positioned over a small saucepan filled with 1-2 inches of water over medium heat), melt chocolate chips and coconut oil, stirring until smooth and silky. Turn off heat and allow steam to continue warming the chocolate. Roll balls, one at a time, in the chocolate and remove using a toothpick. Place chocolate-coated balls on parchment paper.
  5. Once all balls have been coated in chocolate, put them in the freezer to set, about 30 minutes. Store in your fridge or freezer.

5-Minute Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream {Paleo}

It finally feels like winter, and I’m pretty sure I saw my first snowflake yesterday…but that didn’t stop me from making ice cream!

This recipe is a variation of the 2-minute banana ice cream recipe I shared a few years ago. This is a GREAT way to use up bananas that have seen better days instead of throwing them away 🙂 Just peel and then freeze them, so you’re always prepared to make banana ice cream.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, and the texture is just like soft serve ice cream. I have no idea how frozen bananas turn into such a smooth and creamy consistency, but they do. It’s pretty amazing, and if you haven’t tried it before, all you need is a food processor to make it happen!

I put a seasonal spin on the original recipe by adding pumpkin puree and some festive, warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. I topped mine with some chopped pecans, but you could also use pumpkin seeds or even some dark chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

pumpkin-ice-cream-title pumpkin-ice-cream-closeup

Ingredients

2 cups peeled, frozen bananas cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch cloves
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch fine grain sea salt
Chopped pecans (optional)

Directions

  1. Put the frozen bananas in the food processor. Grind the bananas until they resemble this gravel-like consistency. Keep processing until the bananas resemble a smooth consistency. See this post for pictures of the process.
  2. Add in pumpkin puree, spices and maple syrup. Pulse until evenly combined. Add toppings and serve immediately (my preference) or follow step #3 below.
  3. Pour ice cream into parchment-lined glass baking dish with lid and freeze to firm up consistency. Once hardened, lift ice cream block out of dish using corners of parchment paper and cut the block of ice cream into cubes. Return cubes to food processor and follow step 1 above until it becomes creamy again.

No-Bake Gingerbread Cookie Bites

I’d been wanting to come up with a new holiday recipe (and I absolutely love dessert!), so when my friend, Brenda, suggested that I try the Gingerbread Larabar, I was inspired to make this recipe.

The first time I tried ginger, I wasn’t a fan, but over the years, I’ve grown to love it! It’s one of my favorite ingredients because it’s versatile, flavorful and full of some serious health-promoting benefits, including digestive support.

Gingerbread recipes take things one step further with the addition of the blackstrap molasses. Of all of the sweeteners out there, blackstrap molasses is one of the few that has some serious nutritional value.

organic-molassesEven though blackstrap molasses is a form of sugar, it has a better nutrient profile than its counterparts. Check out a few of the reasons why blackstrap molasses is an upgrade when you’re looking for something sweet:

It has a very distinct flavor, but in this recipe, I only use a little bit, and it brings everything together and adds a hint of the signature molasses flavor you’ve come to expect from gingerbread.

I’ve taste-tested these treats with coworkers, friends, and family, and everyone is on board, so I know you will love them! If you want to get fancy, you can roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and use little gingerbread cookie cutters to make shapes!gingerbread-person-bites-trio-bannergingerbread-bites-trio gingerbread-bites-closeup

No-Bake Gingerbread Cookie Bites

Ingredients

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup almonds
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch cloves
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

Directions

  1. Combine nuts, spices and salt in food processor until finely ground.
  2. Add dates, vanilla and molasses and process until everything starts sticking together.
  3. Form hunks of dough into 1-inch balls and roll or flatten to make cookies. Store in glass container in the fridge or freezer.

8 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Thanksgiving {+ Dozens of Recipes!}

I have so many positive memories of Thanksgiving from growing up – the giant glazed donuts from Woodlea Bakery we got every year for breakfast, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and helping my mom peel apples for her signature three-apple pie.

We never did anything too extravagant, and it was usually just the five of us – my parents, me, and my brother and sister – but Thanksgiving was a special day in our house. Now that I’ve grown to love cooking so much, it’s become my second favorite holiday after Christmas. This year, I’ll be making this gluten-free stuffing, pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole, roasted garlic cauliflower mash, and these pumpkin cheesecake.

I wanted to offer up some helpful tips and tricks to support you on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the websites that give tips for Thanksgiving just tell you to use healthier versions of your favorite staples, avoid going back for seconds, and watch your alcohol consumption. While I agree that all of those recommendations are useful to some extent, I’m here to offer something different, something more inviting and life-giving.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! 🙂

thanksgiving-cover

1) Be Present & Enjoy It

Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to come together with friends and family to celebrate the abundance and blessings in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy pace most of us keep throughout the year. For at least this one day, we can choose to pause, reflect, and be present. Enjoy the day. Savor the meal.

Part of being present means being aware of our body. If you’re going to eat something, OWN IT. Notice how it smells, tastes, and feels. Notice the signals your body sends you. Are you really hungry or do you just want something to do? Your body will let you know when it is no longer hungry. Pay attention to it. Take a break. Save the leftovers.

2) Eat Breakfast

When we know we’re going to be eating a lot later in the day, many of us will skip breakfast or eat too little early in the day to “save up” for the afternoon. Instead of skipping breakfast, which will lead to overeating later, have a nourishing breakfast to start your day. Try one of these 25 breakfast recipes, like this pumpkin spice oatmeal or this quick and easy black bean scramble.

3) Upgrade Your Recipes

All of us have family favorites that aren’t likely to be replaced anytime soon, but I invite you to give a new side dish recipe a try. I put together a collection of nearly 30 nourishing, delicious, and upgraded Thanksgiving recipes in this blog post. You won’t want to miss the maple-roasted Brussels sprouts, shredded Brussels sprouts salad, pumpkin spice dip, pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole, or pumpkin cheesecake.

brussels-salad-angle

Shredded Brussels sprouts salad with walnuts

4) Taste the Rainbow

Most Thanksgiving plates look pretty one-note with lots of browns and whites and a little bit of green or orange. Focus on filling your plate with as many colors as possible. This sweet potato casseroleshredded Brussels sprouts salad, and butternut squash and quinoa harvest salad will all add color to your plate!

The more colors you have, the more fiber is on your plate, the fuller you will feel, and the more nourished you will be. If you have kids, encourage them to count the colors on their plate and celebrate who gets the most.

5) Reallocate Your Plate to 50 / 25 / 25

That’s the ratio I recommend to “up” the nutrition of your plate. Half of the plate filled with vegetables (i.e., greens, salad, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) with some room for fruit, 25% protein (i.e., poultry, meat, seafood), and 25%  fiber-rich starch (i.e., sweet potatoes, squash, corn, grains). I’m a big advocate of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate below, which is a visual representation of the 50/25/25 ratio.

harvard-healthy-plate

6) Slow Down

I hear a lot of people (me being one of them!) say things like, “But you don’t understand, it’s just that I LOVE food.” It’s given as a reason why we eat so much. Here’s something to consider from author, Geneen Roth, one of my favorite writers and truth tellers:

When you love something, you spend time with it.

Boom.

Man, she is always so spot on.

If you really, truly love food, spend time with it; take time to connect with your food. Pause before you eat and offer gratitude for the farmers who grew it or raised it, the money you have to purchase it, and the hands that prepared it. So often we forget about the process our food goes through to get from the farm to our fork. If you want to cut down on discomfort later that day, slow down and chew your food thoroughly before taking the next bite. 

7) Take a Digestive Enzyme

If all else fails and you realize you’re not going to follow any of the steps above, give your digestive system some support and take a digestive enzyme. This is kind of like the last-ditch effort. I almost feel like I’m advocating for overeating by putting this one in here, but I also think it could help a lot of people. When we overeat, we put a lot of extra work on our digestive system and don’t have enough enzymes to break down the massive amounts of food we’re eating. Some of my favorite digestive enzyme brands are Rainbow Light, DigestGold, and Garden of Life. You can find them on Vitacost.com.

8) Move Your Body

Moving your body helps stimulate digestion and regulate your blood sugar – something that is usually out of whack due to the amount of food most of us eat on Thanksgiving. 

Start a new family tradition focused on movement. Take a walk Thanksgiving morning for at least 30 minutes and try to do the same after dinner. Find a Turkey Trot 5k in your area on Active.com. Or, if you’re in Baltimore, JOIN ME at Movement Lab for a 90-minute dance jam on Thursday morning at 10:00!

Some of Baltimore's Nia community with a few amazing Movement Lab instructors

Dancing with some of Baltimore’s Nia community with a few amazing Movement Lab instructors

Do you have any helpful tips to share to make Thanksgiving more nourishing for your body, mind and soul? Feel free to comment below!

Be Somebody’s Mary: The Kindness of a Stranger

We’re in a time of tension, emotions, and division in our country in a way that I’ve not yet experienced in my lifetime. In the midst of this time of uncertainty, it can be easy to fall into the mode of complaining and noticing what isn’t working, what we don’t like, why we’re angry.

All of this negativity makes it easy for us to lose sight of all the goodness in our lives. Yet, kindness continues to abound.

We just have to notice it.

What we focus on expands. If we want to be happier, we have to reflect on the things that bring us joy. If we want to be more selfless, we have to practice gratitude and appreciation regularly.

If we want there to be more kindness in the world, we should be the first ones looking for ways to put it there.

Videos like this one and this one, showing incredible acts of kindness are going viral on social media, a clear indication that we are hungry for hope that the world is still good and that people are still kind.

An act of kindness from a stranger prompted Daniel Lubetsky, the founder of KIND Snacks, to give his company its name. I’ll never forget hearing the story of how their name came to be. If you’re not familiar with it, check out this video. It’ll make you think differently every time you see a KIND bar. It’ll make you want to be kind.

(Oh, and if you’re not already following me on instagram, head on over and “like” my page because I’ll be doing a giveaway there from 11/21 through 11/23.)

The story I want to share today is about something that happened in my life that showed me just how kind and gracious people can be. I hope it uplifts you today.

I was en route to Madison, Wisconsin to go on a retreat with my nutritionist, who has been instrumental in my healing journey. We were on separate flights but due to arrive in Madison within minutes of each other.

The weather in Baltimore was stormy that night, and as I was boarding my connecting flight in Atlanta, she called me to tell me she missed her connection flight and wouldn’t make it to Madison until the following morning. I’d be on my own with transportation and the hotel room. When all was said and done, it was going to cost me upwards of $300 for the drive to and stay in the hotel for what would ultimately be less than eight hours. I couldn’t justify the expense, so I told her to cancel the reservation. “I’ll figure something out,” I assured her.

As I sat on the plane, racing against the clock and the “Please turn off your cell phones” announcement, I frantically searched for a reservation on AirBNB. But my cell phone battery was dying, and my charger was in my luggage overhead with nowhere to charge it. The AirBNB search wouldn’t go through due to a weak signal, so as my flight took off out of Atlanta, I headed to Madison unsure of where I would stay that night.

Once we landed at around 9:30 p.m. and were waiting to deplane, I turned my cell phone back on and saw that the battery was a 1%.  Oh, no. Not now. Please, not now.

I looked toward the back of the plane, searching for a friend I’d made in line in Baltimore. She was a fellow healthy foodie and had just returned from several months of backpacking in Europe. “Maybe I could find a way to stay with her,” I thought. But she was nowhere to be found. I was talking through my concerns with the guy sitting next to me on the plane, but he couldn’t be bothered and didn’t seem to care, so I was left feeling a bit alone and helpless.

“What am I going to do?” I thought.

As everyone was getting out of their seats and pulling down their luggage, a gentleman from a row back who had heard me talking about my situation asked if I’d figured out my lodging.

I couldn’t hold it back at that point and despite my best efforts, tears started slowly streaming down my face. “My phone is dead. I don’t know anyone in Madison. I don’t have a place to stay.”

He reached down to a woman sitting nearby and asked her for a tissue.

As she reached into her purse to hand me a tissue, she gently put her hand on my arm and said, “I have a spare bedroom, if you’d like to stay at my house tonight.”

madison-bedroom

“Are you sure?” I asked, as I turned to face her, wiping the tears from my eyes. I tried to give her an out, not feeling confident that a complete stranger would want to help me: “But I have to be in downtown Madison early tomorrow morning.”

“It’s not a problem,” she assured me. “I’ll just drop you off before work.”

So, off I went to stay with a total stranger for the night, still feeling guilty for burdening her with my request.

We chatted the entire drive home. She told me about her husband, how they met and her love of traveling. As we pulled into her garage, I thanked her again for being so kind to me, and apologized for the inconvenience. She reassured me I wasn’t a burden and said she has a daughter close to my age and hoped that if she were in a similar situation, someone would do the same for her.

Mary’s cute little dog, Rosie, and her husband, John, came out to greet us. She informed her husband that they were going to have a visitor that night and then greeted him with a hug and kiss, “Happy Anniversary,” she said.

Oh geez, Rachel. Really? On their anniversary?

They assured me my presence was not a problem, and John greeted me warmly and invited me into their home. They offered me a drink, set me up in their guest bedroom, and had hot tea waiting for me in the morning.

Mary drove me to the retreat, as she mentally prepared herself for the conversation she was going to have at work that morning. It would be her first time telling an employee that he was being let go. She could have used more time and head space to focus on that, but instead, she went out of her way to take me to where I needed to go.

She dropped me off at the hotel, and in the midst of what was an incredibly windy day, stepped out of the car to take a picture with me. “Thank you for everything. I don’t know what I would have done without your help,” I told her.

mary-me

Me and my new friend, Mary

We’ve since stayed in touch via social media, and I will be forever grateful to her for her generosity and thoughtfulness that night and for her willingness to help a total stranger in need and show kindness to a fellow human being.

So, as we approach this week of thanksgiving, I invite you to pay attention.

Pay attention to kindness.

Share those posts. Share those videos. Share those stories.

And pay attention to people. Listen to what they’re saying and what they’re not saying. Notice what they might need. Where are you being pulled? What is your gut telling you?

Do they need a smile, a laugh, some money, food, a blanket, a kind word or maybe a hug? Be open to how you might be called to be a light to someone else, someone you might never expect.

In this season of thanksgiving and kindness, be somebody’s Mary.

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