Nourish Your Body. Feed Your Soul. Shine Your Light.

Let It Go: Voice Is Released, Not Pushed

Two years ago, I sat across the desk from a speech language specialist at the Johns Hopkins Voice Center at GBMC. I scheduled an appointment to see him because I had lost my voice yet again and couldn’t figure out why my voice became strained so easily and so frequently. This issue has been ongoing for years – since college – but it happened inconsistently, so I couldn’t pinpoint how to fix it. It kept coming back.

Since I speak for a living, not having my full voice and not knowing whether it would hold up and be strong enough to give a presentation concerned me. To add to that, I had been diagnosed about a decade ago with vocal nodules – hard, rough growths on my vocal cords that prevented me from using my full voice. I feared I was heading down that path once again.

I went through a series of exercises to assess my voice, my breathing, and my tone. At the end of the session, the speech pathologist commented that I have a tendency to push my voice out with my breath, which creates strain and taxes my voice.

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places, and what he said next was likely insignificant to him but profound to me:

Voice is released, not pushed.

When we’re speaking and singing like babies do, we’re literally releasing air from inside our diaphragm over our vocal cords. That process creates sound. It’s effortless and easy, something we are born doing instinctively, not something we do consciously.

On the other hand, when we push too much breath pressure and force air through the voice box, we can blow out the vocal cords. Pushing our voice is unnatural. It taxes our vocal cords and causes us to experience strain and even loss of voice.

But I knew there was a deeper meaning to his words and that they extended beyond my voice.

Releasing vs. Pushing

For much of my life, I’ve pushed myself, especially academically and professionally. I had natural talents for certain things like writing and creative thinking, but I never rested on my laurels and always did more than was necessary to ensure I’d ace every assignment. Failure wasn’t an option for me. It wasn’t long before I equated working hard and putting in extra effort with being successful.

If something was easy, I assumed it was incomplete. I thought it had to be hard in order to be worthwhile. I was that kid that typed up my notes in the form of a study guide for every test, starting in middle school and running through college. I took perfectly good notes during class but had decided that not overdoing it would result in the unthinkable – something less than perfection. I’ve done the same in my professional life as well, ovedoing it and overdelivering for fear someone would deem my work (or, even worse, me) to be inadequate in some way.

I pushed myself. I wanted to be in control. I made sure I did everything in my power to guarantee success.

As I sat across from the speech pathologist, his words took on new meaning.

I was called to release what was inside of me, not push or force it out.

I’ve since reflected on some of the most meaningful and memorable moments in my life, particularly the ones that I didn’t orchestrate but simply invited in by being open.

During a semester abroad in Spain my junior year of college, my heart had been broken by a guy I liked. I so badly wanted to date him, but he had other plans. When the spring semester started, I noticed a cute guy who was a freshman but wrote him off for being too young. One year later, as I was graduating, I wrote in my journal, “I’ve started hanging out with this guy, Bill Druckenmiller. He’s kind of immature and will probably go home this summer and start dating Autumn.”

Bill and I have been together nearly 13 years and married for almost eight.

On the final day of the DISH award application for WELCOA’s Top Health Promotion Professionals in the U.S., I applied. I was one of over 200 applicants and did it on a whim, not thinking anything would come of it.

Five months later, I was named the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S.

After giving an acceptance speech at their conference that spring, I wrote on the last page of my journal, “I will speak at WELCOA’s Summit next year.” I stored the journal in my nightstand and didn’t think twice about what I’d written down.

Until four months later, when I received a phone call from WELCOA, asking me to speak at their conference the following year.

In the months that followed, people started reaching out to me to do podcast interviews, and last year, some of my stories and words were quoted in three different books.

I’ve been invited on retreats with other thoughts leaders around the country, not because I asked to be but because I was in my lane, doing my thing authentically and passionately, and other people were drawn to me.

When I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus two years ago, I remember how hopeless I felt leaving the doctor’s office. Now what? How do I get better? I couldn’t force or will my body to recover. I had no answers and no direction.

Within two weeks, I received an email from my nutritionist that was sent out to her entire email list that read, “Still working on my PhD. My very final project is a literature review of Epstein-Barr Virus.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I immediately reached out to her, hopeful and confident that she could help me heal. She did, and she has since published a book called The EBV Solution that includes my story of recovery.

When we are living in alignment with our calling and are on our path, we don’t have to force opportunities to happen. They will find us and be released into our care, sometimes falling right into our laps.

We have to continue doing the work and keep showing up for what we’re called to do, believing that what is meant for us will not pass by us.

It’s so easy to become distracted by what other people are doing, to become jealous of their opportunities or good fortune. When that happens, we can also feel resentful and bitter and get sucked into a vortex of comparison and feelings of inadequacy.

Why do they get to do that? Why not me? When will I get my shot?

That way of thinking steals our joy and perpetuates a scarcity mindset, something that has been a struggle for me. When we focus on forcing and pushing things, we end up feeling overworked, overextended, exhausted and inauthentic. The focus on what others are doing keeps us from doing our work and making our contribution.

I still get caught in the comparison trap, which is why I feel the need to remind myself, once again, that “voice is released, not pushed.”

A life of peace and purpose is one in which we are released and freed to be ourselves, not forced to push our way through to get what we want. What you release comes from the depths of who you are and is uniquely, inherently, authentically you.

If you’re interested in learning more about my speaking and training topics, feel free to send me a message, check out my speaker reel, and connect with me on my blog.

If you liked this article, I invite you to read past articles I’ve written:

This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page here.

When the Student Is Ready, Breakthrough Appears

I didn’t see it coming. 

I didn’t know I needed it.

But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

The Invitation

I met Rosie Ward over a decade before when I was early in my career and intentionally seeking out people who were saying something different than everyone else.

I was drawn to her honesty and authenticity, her willingness to ask challenging questions, and to speak truth into the hard spots. It would be nearly eight years before we’d meet in person after exchanging emails and phone calls, but what really shifted our relationship was an invitation she gave me in the spring of 2017.

Rosie reached out to me because she was getting trained in something called “immunity to change”. Here’s the premise behind it: just like we have a physical immune system that activates to protect us when it is threatened, we also have a psychological immune system that jumps in to protect us when we feel psychologically threatened. We’re often unaware of this mechanism, but it holds us back and prevents us from moving forward in our lives, in our work, and in relationships.

She asked if I wanted to be one of her guinea pigs and enter into a yearlong coaching relationship with her to work through my own immunity to change. That time of my life was one of particular heaviness and sickness, as I had just been diagnosed with an acute form of mono called Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I was more open than ever because I felt like I had completely bottomed out and had nowhere to go but up.

I was ready for change.

The Goal

As Rosie and I began working together, we identified an improvement goal or commitment that was meaningful to me at that time:

To trust in myself and confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world.

I realized that, although I had much to say and felt compelled to share all that I had experienced, I was holding myself back. I wasn’t showing up fully, even though I was telling other people to do that. Trusting myself is and always has been hard because I’m so prone to being externally defined, allowing others’ judgments of me influence me more than what I think about myself. Though I often present myself as confident, I don’t always feel that way inside.

After identifying my goal of putting myself out there more, Rosie and I explored why it mattered to me. I have a strong desire to make a difference, to live a life that influences other people, and to invest myself in people and causes that will have a lasting impact. I’ve always felt that I’m meant to do something special with my life and know I’m meant to make more of an impact than I currently am. I’ve been given a message of hope and healing to share with people and know that my voice is a powerful force for good. I believe God has given me a unique set of gifts to transform others, and I don’t want to waste them.

We dug a bit deeper, and I had to get honest about what I was doing to move toward my goal or what I was not doing that was sabotaging my goal.

I wasn’t writing or blogging or speaking at conferences as much as I needed and wanted to; I wasn’t putting my message out there. When I did speak, I wasn’t charging what I was worth. I wasn’t seeking opportunities to connect with people who were doing things I wanted to do in order to build my relationships and exposure. I wasn’t seeking partnerships with those people because I feared they would steal my ideas and use them as their own or that they’d do what I wanted to do better than me.

I frequently discounted my value, what I was worth and should charge, and what I can contribute. I would think to myself:

“Who are YOU to speak or write about ‘x’? Others are already doing that. You’re being redundant. It’s already been said before in a similar way. You’re not unique enough.”

Ouch.

YUCK.

It made me uncomfortable to say all of those things aloud, to call out what I was doing to sabotage myself. But what came next was even more difficult, exposing, and vulnerable.

The Fears

Rosie eased me into peeling back the next layer of the onion and explore the fears and worries I was wrestling with at the time.

What was I so afraid would happen if I stopped doing the things that were holding me back and started doing what I knew I needed to do? This is what I feared would happen if I trusted myself to confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world:

  • I will look selfish. (Enough “Me! Me! Me!”, Rachel.)
  • I will be disloyal to my employer who’s been really good to me.
  • I will be irrelevant; someone else will outshine me, and I will be yesterday’s news. What if someone else comes along and I become obsolete? Isn’t someone else already talking about this or writing about this in a way that is more interesting or better than me?
  • I will fail. I will put myself out there, and no one will receive it or want what I create. No one will ask me to speak or read what I write.
  • I will be taken advantage of by people. They will steal my ideas and use them as their own or try to pay me less than I’m worth.
  • I will amount to nothing – I will BE nothing if I cannot create what I was called to create, write what I’m meant to write, say what I’m meant to say.

As difficult as it was to admit my fears, especially ones I deemed to be particularly ugly like the one about people “stealing” my ideas, I felt a sense of relief as I released some of their weight onto paper. It felt a bit less scary to know that I wasn’t alone in my fears but that Rosie was there to carry them with me.

Being honest about our deep fears and worries is an incredibly painful process, but it’s necessary if we want to grow and become more of who we are meant to be.

What followed was one of the most eye-opening aspects of the process. I had to take my fears and turn them into “competing commitments”. In other words, I had to identify what I was committing to doing to avoid experiencing those fears. I turned each fear into a commitment statement:

  • I am committed to never appearing selfish or egotistical.
  • I am committed to never appearing disloyal.
  • I am committed to never being seen as incompetent.
  • I am committed to never letting someone else shine.
  • I am committed to always being the best.
  • I am committed to never risking being rejected or failing.
  • I am committed to never having others be the “go-to” person, to never being irrelevant.

As I said each one aloud, I was embarrassed by the ridiculousness of those statements and said to Rosie: “I don’t want to commit to those things! That’s not who I want to be. That’s not what I want to be true of my life.”

I had kept those thoughts and fears and judgments spinning around in my head for years but hadn’t ever thought of them in quite that way before. The new perspective began to unlock something in me. I started to realize that how I was showing up wasn’t aligned with who I saw myself to be inside and who I knew I was meant to become.

I wanted to change, but I had a bit more work to do first.

What came next completely undid me and forced me to face a painful belief I had unconsciously carried with me since childhood. We dug deeper to get to the core of why I was holding myself back.

We identified my Big Assumption.

The “B.A.”

This was the hardest part of the process, to uncover the “big assumption” beneath my fears and behaviors. It took months to come to a conclusion that made my eyes well up with tears, my face burn red, and my lip quiver. It was painful to call out the internalized truths that were at the heart of my competing commitments:

“If I trust in myself and put myself out there, then people won’t accept me, I won’t be ‘enough’ by just being me, and I won’t be good enough to be loved.”

And there it was, staring me back in the face, beckoning me to acknowledge its presence.

I won’t be good enough to be loved.

Who I am is not enough.

For my whole life, I had unconsciously believed that my value and whether I’m worthy of being loved comes from what I do and accomplish, not from who I am. I didn’t believe that who I am was enough or that who I am was what people valued most about me.

My grabbiness and possessiveness came from the assumption that there was only room for one successful person who does what I do and that I have to be “the one” or I won’t have value. I had internalized the belief that, if I’m not the expert or the go-to person, then I’m nothing, no one.

And who would love a nobody?

I was overcome with sadness, as I sat with those thoughts and reflected on what those assumptions meant.

No wonder I had always made it such a priority to be a straight-A student, to win awards and ribbons and trophies, to be impressive.

No wonder I had driven myself to exhaustion and had completely burned out.

I believed that love was on the other side of achievement.

What a shallow and fleeting kind of “love” that is, yet it’s what fueled me.

Admiration and popularity are not the same as love. They’re cheap substitutes for the real thing, stand-ins that will give us temporary satisfaction but always leave us thirsting for more.

We must be more than what we do because if we stop doing, then who the heck are we?

The Transformation

Since then, I’ve been on a reflective journey to get to the truth of who I am regardless of what I do. I still struggle with many of the same fears, but I have moved closer to my goal.

Over the past year, in particular, I have put myself and my message out there on this blog, on LinkedIn, on podcasts, and across the country as I’ve been speaking at conferences reaching thousands of people.

I’m taking on a national role as Director of Wellbeing with our parent company in 2019.

I’ve invested in training to hone the craft of professional speaking.

I’ve befriended other people doing similar work as me, and we are now doing some events together, as collaborators, not competitors.

I’ve been putting myself and my message out there.

I’ve also invested in my relationships and spent more time with people who love me for who I am, not for what I do. I’ve put more time and energy into relationships because I’ve come to realize that they are even more important than anything I achieve.

We must be willing to acknowledge the false beliefs we’ve internalized as truth and how they are sabotaging our growth and forward motion. It is a messy, uncomfortable, vulnerable, and ugly process, but it is also incredibly freeing, transformational and healing.

We won’t arrive at a point in time in which we have no fears or worries (I certainly haven’t), but we can begin to be honest with ourselves about what drives us and what underlies why we do what we do.

We have to be aware of what we are doing to get in our own way before we can change it.

We must be willing to let go of what we think is true of ourselves in order to embrace what is actually true and step into the fullness of who we are called to be.

As you begin a new year, I invite you to experience this process yourself instead of making the traditional New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Identify an improvement goal that is important to you.
  2. Dig deeper: How are you getting in your own way? What fears and worries are holding you back from reaching that goal?
  3. What lies have you internalized that are underlying your stuckness?

This work isn’t easy, but the growth and transformation you can experience make it worthwhile. Believe that change is possible.

To learn more about the Immunity to Change process, leave a message below with questions, click here or buy the book on Amazon.

Receiving Love: The Gift of Belonging

Uninvited

For much of my childhood and young adult years, that’s how I felt.

I’ve kept journals since elementary school, and I’ll never forget one entry from sixth grade around Christmastime: “I was pretty upset today in school because I was the only other girl besides Maureen that didn’t get a present from a classmate. I felt pretty low. I was pretty much unwanted.”

As an introverted kid who went through 12 years of Catholic schooling but wasn’t Catholic, I struggled to feel like I fit in with my peer groups. I was a studious kid who unequivocally followed the rules – like the time I raised my hand in fifth grade to remind the teacher about the quiz she had forgotten to give us that day

I could feel my classmates’ eyes boring holes into the back of my head as the words stumbled out of my mouth. Kids who do stuff like that to (unintentionally) screw over their classmates don’t tend to be the most popular. People aren’t lining up to hang out with them.

The rejection continued when, in eighth grade, every kid in our class of 27 was invited to a party…except for me and one other unpopular girl.

It hurt.

I couldn’t help but think something was wrong with me.

As a result of experiences like these, the belief that people didn’t want to be my friend, that I didn’t belong, and that I wasn’t “cool” enough to be liked took root in my heart at a young age.

Instead of expressing myself, I chose to mute my needs, feelings and fears.I never let them see how deeply wounded I felt when they excluded me or rejected me. 

I just went up to my bedroom and cried and journaled about it.

This is not how we are meant to live.

We are hardwired to connect, to belong, and to be in close community with other people, not to be isolated and alone.

We long to feel seen, heard, known and wanted.

If we are going to connect in meaningful, soul-filling ways, we must be willing to take some risks, to put ourselves and our needs out there, to accept that sometimes we will feel like a burden, and to open ourselves up and be vulnerable. But all of that was hard for me to do.

My fears and insecurities overwhelmed me and held me back from sharing my life with people: “What will they think if they know the real me? Will they like me? Will they want me? Will I be too much?”

I knew how to protect myself more than I knew how to connect.

Getting sick with Epstein-Barr Virus two years ago was the wake-up call I needed to shift my mindset around connection, friendship and community. I was in such a state of neediness and depletion that I had no choice but to reach out, to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people into my life. I chose to admit that whatever I was doing wasn’t working and began to reexamine my life, how I was living it, and what really mattered to me. 

Little by little, as I took risks and let people in to my life and invested more in their lives, I began to change. As a result of the transformational gift of friendship I have received over the past two years, particularly in the past 12 months, I have become more whole and happier.

I have been surrounded by community in a way I never had been before. 

I was finally willing to let my guard down and let people in. 

People checked in on me, prayed for me and my health for months, sent me inspirational and encouraging messages and cards, and gave me a few gut-punching doses of radical love. They spoke truth I needed to hear but would have previously rejected or responded to with defensiveness and denial.

I wasn’t doing anything to earn or deserve their attention or affection.

They wanted to love me through a difficult time because that’s what good friends do, and instead of pushing them away, I let them in.

In the book, Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist speaks to this kind of intentional community: 

“We don’t learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you.”

There weren’t many “easy moments” last year or this past year, yet my friends did what true friends do – they kept showing up no matter what.

True community doesn’t just rally behind you in tough times; it comes alongside you to celebrate the joyful times, to share in moments that matter. 

I’ll never forget how a group of over a dozen friends and a few dozen strangers joined me at Movement Lab in Baltimore to celebrate my 33rd birthday. I decided I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself and wait for people to invite me to something that year; instead, I would invite them to join me for a morning of music, dancing and brunch.  

As the celebratory dance class began, my friend, Lola, the instructor, smiled and asked the group, “Does everyone know why we’re here today??”

My friend, Suzie, shouted out, “To celebrate Rachel’s birthday!”

I beamed

And the dance party began.

We danced our way through 90s pop and hip-hop songs, laughing and smiling and sweating and moving our bodies freely and joyfully. 

As the class came to a close, Lola had everyone form a circle and put me in the middle. When the final song played, I drew in friends from the perimeter to join me in the circle. After a few minutes, everyone was dancing around the room; a deep sense of connection, joy and community was palpable.

At the end of class, Lola put me back in the middle and had everyone form a tight circle around me, as they sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

As I stood there looking around the room and into the faces of my friends and strangers who were there to celebrate my life, my eyes welled up with tears of gratitude. 

In that moment, I could feel a transformation taking place within me, as the lie that I wasn’t wanted or didn’t fit in loosened its grip and released my heart to receive the gift of love and friendship.

I felt like I belonged.

Being in community does something to our soul; it helps us heal.

In the months and year that followed that special day, my friendships have continued to deepen and grow stronger. I have intentionally invited friends into my life in ways I never had before. As a result, so much has changed, and I have been transformed as a result.

I have opened my eyes to realize that many of them were there all along, but I was so protected and guarded that I didn’t let them in.

Now, I let them into my mess, my fears, my insecurities, my quirks, and my struggles, baring my soul in ways I never had before.

I sit with their often-piercing words of wisdom and truth.

I wrestle with their tough, soul-searching questions. 

I reach out to them to schedule phone dates, double dates or girls’ nights. 

I ask about their lives. 

I pray for and celebrated them.

I show up more consistently and more fully.

I have experienced the transformational power of friendship. I have begun to believe I am worthy of the love and kindness they pour out on me, instead of rejecting it for fear that I am unworthy.

The ways my friends have shown me love over the past year, in particular, have softened my heart and filled me with immense gratitude for how well they know me. Each of us desires to feel like someone knows us, deeply.

My friends know my likes and dislikes and that I cherish handwritten notes.

They know that Bill and I are somewhat obsessed with Escape Rooms and find one in every new city we visit.

That herbal tea is my drink of choice no matter what time of day it is or where we are. (In other words, I’m a permanent DD!)

That I love to dance and that 90s hip-hop and pop music is my jam.

That I will rarely order directly off the menu due to my dietary restrictions and will likely throw a bit of a wrinkle into most homemade dinner plans.

That butterflies and peacocks are my spirit animals.

That I’m a big dreamer but often hold myself back more than anyone else does.

That I wish my relationships with my siblings were stronger.

That I struggle with having a scarcity mindset and can get grabby and possessive about people and ideas and question my unique value.

That I leave very little room for margin and am not always the most responsive to their text messages.

That my head is often in the future imagining what could be, so I need their reminders to come back to the present and just be.

That I think I have to impress people and accomplish things to be worthy of love.

That I rarely feel like I am enough.

None of this is terribly easy to admit, but when we invest in community and show up consistently, we can more readily drop the shame we feel and be met with grace, compassion and acceptance.

I’ve come to believe I am worthy of being invited, included and known. I realize I have to take initiative, let my guard down and let people in to receive the love people have wanted to give me. I have deeper and more honest friendships now than I ever have before. I’ve gone from feeling lonely and left out to feeling like I belong and that people want me in their lives.

I feel seen, known and like I matter.

The other night, a group of my friends came together to share a meal, laugh about everything from bodily functions to birth stories, and exchange and make Christmas ornaments to commemorate our friendship and all we’ve been through together in the past year.

I felt filled up as I left, and when I got home, I texted them this:

“You ladies have been the best gift of the year for me! I read Shauna Niequist’s book, Bread and Wine, earlier this year. In it, she wrote about a group of friends that she’s known for years and has regular dinners with. She wrote about how much they have been through together and how deeply they know each other. As I read that book, I remember thinking, ‘It would be so neat to have something like that’, and now I feel like I do.”

What a healing gift it is to experience community, to be loved in spite of ourselves, to feel like we belong, and to be challenged to become all that we are meant to be by people who truly know us.

My hope for you is that you believe you, too, are worthy of love, belonging and friendship and that you will experience the joy of community in the year to come.

You are worthy of being known, worthy of being seen, worthy of belonging, and worthy of being loved.

Reflect

Now, I want to offer you the gift of reflection. Think about friendships in your life (either past friends or current ones):

  • What friendships are you grateful for this year? Have you let them know how much they mean to you?
  • How have you shown up for the friends in your life and how they shown up for you?
  • In what ways have you let fears of unworthiness or rejection dictate your behavior and unwillingness to put yourself out there? What can you do to free yourself from those fears and begin to let people in?
  • What is one step you can take to be an even better, more intentional friend in the new year?

If you’re interested in reading more posts on the topic of friendship and the power of community, here you go:

When the Truth Hurts: The Gift of Courageous Friends

For much of my life, I’ve found it easier to be alone and independent than to be in community, rely on people, or be vulnerable about what I need.

I’ve been burned in friendships multiple times, so I’ve put up walls to protect myself, ensuring that I wouldn’t be hurt, excluded or rejected again. Even when I was devastated by social rejection, I kept my pain between myself and the pages of my journals. I didn’t let other people in, and, as a result, I often felt alone.

When you act like you have it all together, you tend to experience distance in relationships and end up in a vicious cycle of rejection and isolation. If people think you’re “fine” all the time, they’re unlikely to check in on you to see how you’re doing, which further isolates you.

That was my reality for years.

Then, I got sick.

Last year, I completely burned out and was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono. My immune system was wiped out, and I didn’t know when I would feel better or get my energy back.

I had to be honest about how I had gotten to that point. I had to own the fact that I had let my ambition and career supersede all other aspects of my life, especially my relationships. Relationships with coworkers were rocky. I missed important events with family and friends. I felt deeply disconnected and like I was in a downward spiral, while trying to maintain the perception that I could handle all of it by myself.

A few friends began to see past my facade and gradually broke through, prompting a transformation in me.

They offered me the gift of truth.

Warning: Unsolicited Observation Coming

One day, about a month after my diagnosis, I received a sweet text message from my friend, Cara:

“Thinking of you, Rachel.”

I replied back thanking her and telling her how it had been a rough year. I told her how the virus kept knocking me out but said I was beginning to learn lessons I was too busy to notice or appreciate before.

With a great deal of courage, she replied to me with this:

“I can imagine that’s been rough, especially because you strive to take very good care of your body. I’m sorry it’s been recurring, but I’m glad to hear God is working through the circumstances. [Warning: unsolicited observation coming!]

Uh oh.

I’ve never been in a situation like that before, but I can’t exactly say I was excited to read what followed.

Her message continued:

“I’ve noticed so many of your posts on your blog and LinkedIn and Facebook talk about slowing down and worrying less about achievement, etc., but I feel like you yourself actually rarely slow down. You definitely live life to every inch and every minute possible, always exploring new places and activities and people, but you rarely seem…content? Fulfilled? Pardon me saying so, but my prayer for you is to really truly believe the amazing and wonderful things you share with the rest of us. I have learned so much from you, Rachel!”

I reread her message.

My gut reaction was to get defensive (“I know, I know! I’m working on it!!”).

I had never had someone expose me quite like that before, and it felt uncomfortable, but I did what I knew I had to do in that moment.

I thanked her.

When you’re already knocked down and are brought to a place of humility, it’s somehow easier to hear and receive tough truths.

What courage it took for her to send me those words. How loving it was for her to offer me that truth, a truth I would not have voluntarily sought out but that I desperately needed to face. 

Sometimes the truth hurts, but we need to be willing to hear it if we are going to grow.

Since then, I’ve been able to be more honest about how I’m really doing and stepping back to consider what really makes me happy. I had focused so much on achieving and getting ahead – two things I still care about – at the expense of experiences that brought me back to the present like spending time with those I love most. I recognized that work was getting the best of me and everyone else was getting what was left, and I wasn’t content or fulfilled as a result of my priorities.

I’m grateful to have people in my life like Cara who care about me enough to be honest and to speak the truth in love. I’m grateful for her friendship and how much we enjoy just being with each other, sharing our stories, going on walks and laughing together. I’m grateful to have had more moments that matter with people who matter most since that conversation.

Think about It: When we hear truth that hurts, can we be humble and gracious enough to receive it instead of reject it? Can we lower our defenses and be open to growth, even if it’s hard? What is a challenging truth someone has shared with you that you rejected but could see as helpful or supportive of your growth?

Removing Blind Spots

Nearly a year after Cara’s message, I had a conversation with another friend, whom I’ve known for five years. What started as a relaxed, evening catch-up, while our husbands played video games, turned into two hours of the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had.

She challenged me to to face lies I’ve been holding onto about not being loved, wanted or desired. She asked me where those beliefs originated and was puzzled as to why I have believed them for so long, considering how many people around me love me and support me.

What came next rocked me to my core:

“I just don’t know where that comes from. It’s almost like your problems and what you’re going through are a big deal, but other people have stuff going on, too. You’re often so focused on what you’re dealing with that you don’t see it. I don’t want you to hear me say you’re a bad friend because you’re not.

People would do anything for you, Rachel, me included, not because we expect anything in return but because we’re your friends and we love you.

But I bet most people don’t feel the same way about you. It’s like there’s this wall up, ‘I’m really busy. I’ve got a lot going on,’ so people don’t ask you or think you’d be able to help them in their time of need. Their time isn’t any less important than yours. Sometimes it seems like you are very focused on yourself and your own life and what you’re doing that other people may be missed. I don’t want you to hear me say that you’re selfish, but it’s very clear to those around you that you can’t be bothered. I don’t think it’s your fault, just that you’ve been blind to it.”

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.

It hurt to hear that…badly.

I was a wreck. 

I had never had anyone speak to me with such radical candor before, and having what I believed to be my darkness and ugliness exposed was excruciatingly painful. Each of us knows there are parts of ourselves that we hope never see the light of day, that no one ever notices, and that we can deny exist.

But how will we ever grow and change if we keep them in the dark?

Instead of rejecting her words or denying what she said, I stayed with her and listened to what she had to say, even though it pained me to do so. I could hear it because I knew she was speaking out of love…

And that she was right.

I had become so self-absorbed and self-focused that I was blind to my own behavior. More than anything, I needed someone who loved me and knew me to speak into that dark place in my life and expose it for what it was. I needed the truth reflected back to me from someone who knew me, so I could begin the process of changing and growing.

That friend had built up years of relational capital with me, and her bank was pretty full. She had earned the privilege of speaking the truth in love to me because she had demonstrated for years that she loved and cared about me as her friend.

At the end of our conversation, my friend offered me some hope:

“When you recognize there’s an area where you have a blind spot, it’s because it was put there. It’s not you. It can be removed. It will be removed. You’ve been barreling down the highway, not noticing what’s on the periphery. Imagine what will happen when you remove the blind spots.”

I had an emotional hangover the week that followed that conversation, but I could feel a shift begin, as a result of my heightened awareness. I started to be more responsive to friends’ text messages, intentionally planned more friend dates, and dropped off dinners to friends going through a challenging time.

Several months later, that same friend wrote me a note, calling out the heart change she’d witnessed in me since our conversation. Other friends have given me similar feedback. I’m still a work in progress, but I have begun to make changes, little by little.

I’m grateful for the power of tough truths to transform us and for the love and bravery of friends willing to convey them.

Now that I’ve begun transforming my friendships, I know the next step for me is to remove the blind spots I’ve had toward my family relationships, especially my siblings and their kids.

I know it will be a tough journey and that I won’t figure it out overnight, but I’m committed to doing the hard work. I’m committed to checking in and reaching out, anticipating needs without being asked, and being present and listening without trying to fix anyone.

Think about It: Has someone who cares about you ever shared a challenging observation with you about a potential blind spot? How did you respond? If you haven’t had such a conversation, who is one person you could reach out to seek that kind of feedback?

Try this as a conversation starter: “I want to grow and continue to become the best version of myself. Do you notice anything I do, think or say that gets in the way of my growth that I may not be aware of? I welcome your honest opinion because I know you care about me and want what’s best.”

The Healing Power of Truth

While people will encourage us, support us, and listen to us, they will also disappoint us, let us down, and hurt us, and we will do the same to them. Relationships are messy, and people are unpredictable, but all of us need them to thrive and live our best lives

Being in community and in relationship with people means being together as who we really are – sad, broken, joyful and excited.

Being in radical, authentic, transformational relationships requires that we be willing to speak the truth in love for the betterment of another person…and that we have the humility to receive truth when it is offered to us.

I love what visionary leader and author, Ray Dalio, has to say about the role of pain in our lives and think it connects with what I’ve shared today:

Pain + Reflection = Progress.

As hard as it is to sit with the pain and to let difficult truths sink in, when we are willing to receive them and take the time to reflect on them, progress, growth and transformation can follow.

I’d much rather jump on the achievement train and “fix” whatever the pain is, but I’m learning that sitting with it and letting myself feel what I feel, even when it hurts, is part of the process of healing.

Think about It: Are you willing to receive the truth? Who are the truth tellers in your life? If someone has been radically candid with you, how have you transformed as a result of their feedback? What steps do you need to take to continue on that path of growth?

Embracing the Unexpected: Finding Joy in the Journey

As someone who’s wired to achieve, I’m usually focused on the outcome or impact of whatever I’m doing. I want it to matter. I want it to be significant.

Because of this, I can find myself wishing the process or journey would just hurry up already, so I could arrive at the goal and be rewarded for my efforts. Yet, even when I get there, I rarely do a good job of celebrating what I’ve accomplished. I up the ante and focus on whatever the next mountain is that I want to climb, quickly moving on. I’m often in a state of forward movement and rarely in a state of grateful reflection.

This tendency was challenged this weekend when my husband and I were hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. To give you some context, Adirondack Park is the largest state park within the contiguous U.S., covering about six million acres of land. It’s larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. My mom spent her summers in Upstate New York as a child, and it has become my family’s slice of heaven on earth.

My husband and I spend at least a week there each year, and part of each trip includes a hike. This year we opted to climb the 13th highest peak, a 13.4-mile round trip. We always check the weather forecast a few days prior to deciding which day we will hike and try to pick the clearest day, so we can guarantee the best views at the summit.

Many of these hikes can be quite grueling, filled with open rock scrambles and relentlessly steep grades. We’ve climbed dozens of mountains in the region and about ten High Peaks, so we know what to expect. We pack plenty of water and snacks, and enjoy being surrounded by the smell of cedar and the beauty of ponds, evergreens, and views of other mountains along the way.

The ultimate prize is reaching the summit, where we typically eat our lunch, remove our boots and let our scrunched toes breathe, and take in the breath-taking views of the Adirondack Park. No matter how long or difficult the hike is, the summit views are always worth it and the promise of their respite motivates us to keep moving.

When you’re with someone for an entire day and disconnected from technology, as is the case during hikes like these, you end up with hours of time for conversation. As we hiked, my husband, Bill, and I brainstormed ideas for a couples’ communication series we want to bring to our community. We talked about our vision, our experiences, and what we want to teach as a result of what we’ve learned.

In the 12 years we’ve been together, we’ve learned a lot about how to create a psychologically safe space in our relationship for the other person to feel seen, heard, supported and validated. We’ve been taught skills and given tools to help us communicate and connect deeply, authentically and meaningfully. Each of us has been open to growing and becoming more fully ourselves in the process. We’ve chosen to invest in our marriage because we believe it is the bedrock of all good things to come in each of our lives. We believe we have more to offer the world as a unit than either of us ever could individually.

Distracted by our conversation, a couple of miles into the hike we noticed clouds rolling in, as a fog settled in around us on our ascent.

Uh oh.

The forecast said partly cloudy and promised to be a pleasant day. What was happening?

As we continued to climb, we stopped at lookout points and glanced behind us, only to be met with more fog and clouds. When we were about a mile or so from the summit, we saw other hikers descending.

“I’m guessing the views at the top are everything I’m hoping they will be?!” I jokingly asked a fellow hiker.

He laughed and smiled, “Oh yeah, you can’t see a thing up there!”

Fantastic.

We’d come all that way and were about six miles into the hike, only to find out that we’d been working toward nothing, no views at the top. No prize at the end of the race.

Each time we saw another group of hikers descending, they said the same thing: “No views today. You’re basically in a cloud at the summit.”

There was no turning back at this point. We had no choice but to keep going. Finally, we reached the top, where we had hoped to see beautiful views of the Great Range and find respite from nearly seven miles of hiking.

We found no such thing.

It was windy, chilly, and visibility was zero.

You literally couldn’t see beyond the trees at the top of the mountain down to the side below, much less the vast mountain range we were expecting. It seemed we were floating in the clouds, standing on the precipice of nothingness. We’d never experienced anything like it.

We met a couple from New Jersey at the summit, and all we could do was laugh about the situation. “Well, that was worth it!” we mused. Water droplets clung to our husbands’ facial hair. A faint, grocery-store-type mist filled the air, creating a dampness that none of us could escape. We couldn’t believe our luck in choosing a mountain that was supposed to have such a beautiful view on a day when it was literally sitting in a cloud. We hurried through eating our lunches, eager to descend before any rain came and to escape the windy mist.

Bill and I looked at each other and laughed as we began the four-hour descent down what were now slippery rocks. We were bummed we didn’t get to see the view we were expecting, but we will never forget that hike! We didn’t get the reward we were hoping for at the summit, but we left with a story and a feeling of connection with our fellow hikers, each of whom couldn’t help but laugh about the situation.

The last couple hours of our hike were pretty quiet. By that point, you’re covered in mud, your knees hurt, and your feet are pushed so far to the front of your boots that all you want to do is take them off and sit down.

I took this quiet time as an opportunity to reflect on the day and what we had experienced. I thought to myself:

“What’s the lesson in this?”

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything we do is connected and that we can assign meaning to any situation in our lives. Living life this way is more rewarding than staying in a state of frustration when things don’t go as I planned.

When we finally reached flat ground and emerged from the woods, I could see a glimmer of sunshine breaking through the trees, as the fog began to lift.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

In that moment, I could have chosen to view the entire day as a disappointment. After all, it was the only hike we had planned for the long weekend, and we couldn’t see anything by the time we reached the summit. It was chilly, wet, damp, and we were covered in mud as we finished out the hike.

Because of my focus on outcomes and achievement, I was inclined to see the whole day as a wash.

But it wasn’t.

If I was only focusing on the goal of having views at the summit as a reason for hiking that day, I would have missed out on everything else. I would have overlooked the joy in the journey – one-on-one time with my husband, brainstorming about our vision for the future, laughing and connecting with all of the other hikers, the surreal feeling of sitting in the clouds, our bodies’ ability to hike for nearly eight hours and almost 14 miles, the fact that we climbed the 13th highest mountain in the Adirondack Park, the feeling of accomplishment and relief that awaited us when we finally got back to our car and removed our boots and socks.

The day was full of joy and special time with the person I love most.

If we’re honest, only small slivers of our lives are characterized by mountaintops and spectacular summit views. When we experience these magical moments, we feel alive and accomplished and proud. I’m grateful for all of the mountaintops and summits in my life.

But I’m also grateful for the muddy boots, switchbacks, and all that comes with the hike to the top. The reality is, we spend most of our days putting in the miles, dealing with unpredictable circumstances, connecting with other people over shared experiences, dreaming about what could be, laughing at the unexpected, persisting when we don’t feel motivated, and getting a bit muddy along the way. Life is the climb, full of twists and turns, steep ascents and slippery descents.

Life is made up of millions of moments, many that are seemingly insignificant.

If we only appreciate the summits, then we’ll miss out on the joy of the journey to get there.

Bill and I have hiked dozens of mountains together, but I know this one will stand out as one of the most memorable. We’ll look back on this and think, “Remember that day when we were standing in the clouds?”

Although we didn’t experience the views at the summit that we were hoping for, we were given this beautiful gift as the clouds lifted and we emerged from the trail.

As hard as it is to pause and appreciate the journey en route to our destination, I encourage you to try it. It’s still hard for me to do, because I’m so future-focused, but I know this weekend was a lesson in finding joy in the process and being okay with an unexpected outcome.

Reflect on the progress you’ve made in any area of your life or work. What would happen if you focused more on the journey and less on the outcome? Think back to five years ago:

  • Where were you then (in your career, your relationships, your health)?
  • What has the journey from then until now taught you? How have you grown? What have you learned?
  • Who has been on the journey with you, encouraging you, laughing with you, supporting you?
  • What summits have you celebrated along the way?
  • How have difficult circumstances or unexpected bumps in the road ultimately led to at least one good thing in your life?

If we’re willing to ask ourselves what the lesson is in whatever we’re going through, life will be a lot less frustrating and a lot more rewarding.

Try to shift your mindset from focusing exclusively on outcomes and accomplishments. Instead, intentionally look for meaning in the mundane and joy in the journey.

For more stories like this one about taking a refreshing perspective on life and work, check out some of my previous stories:

Top 10 Highlights of Natural Products Expo East 2018

Imagine if Whole Foods and just about every natural food store you know of had a trade show and you got to sample something from every vendor.

That’s pretty much what happens at the Natural Products Expo each year, and it’s like trick-or-treating for food nerds like me. Thousands of health practitioners, retailers, wholesalers, press, and bloggers come from all over North America and even beyond to get the scoop on the latest trends in the natural products industry. The show just so happens to be held in Baltimore, my hometown, so I have a 25 minute drive to get from my driveway to the expo.

It’s awesome.

As a blogger who writes about these products, I have the opportunity to attend each year, and it’s always one of the highlights of my fall. I share what I find with all of you and often sample and feature these products in the workshops and cooking demonstrations I teach at companies. As many of you know, I have a gluten-free, dairy-free focus in my food choices because of what I’ve found makes my body feel its best. Expo is a great place to go to find out what’s coming soon, so I can fill you in ASAP. I had fun hanging out with Elyza Dolby and Colleen Howell. Expo is even better when you go with friends!

Each year, I notice a few trends that tend to characterize the expo, and I bring them back to you to make your life easier, better and more delicious. I focus on dairy-free and gluten-free options as well as upgrades to on the go meal and snack foods and some supplements and herbal remedies worth considering!

*Friends, I want to offer this one caveat before I share my updates and trends with you. Regardless of what the trends are, I still focus my eating around my whole foods – mostly plant-based, full of colors, packed with nourishing fats, protein and fiber. To learn more about what matters most to me and what my personal food philosophy is, I’ve got you covered here.*

**If you want to know where these products are sold near you, go to the product’s website and look for the “Store Locator” or “Find Me Near You” page on their site and search by zip code.

RNK’s Top Expo East Trends & Finds

On-the-go nourishment is getting easier and more delicious.

I’ve written before about my top tips for eating healthy on the go, and I’m excited to see so many companies finding ways to prioritize both food quality and convenience. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go, it’s easier than ever to eat well, even when you’re busy.

Some of my favorite newbies to the scene are Purely Elizabeth oatmeal cups (less than 5 grams of sugar per container, which is wayyyy less than most on the go oats), Sprout Living drinkable oats (try the spice or mocha flavors!), Wildscape frozen meals (which are made with totally real food ingredients – they have one gluten-free and one vegan option), Grainful meals, and Path of Life frozen sides.

I was also excited to see the team from Swapples, one of our on-the-go breakfast staples, at Expo for the first time! We love their grain-free frozen waffles. They also won Best of Show at Expo East by Veg World Magazine! Congrats, Rebecca and team! 🙂

New snack bars are aiming for lower sugar.

I aim for a single digit sugar content in the bars that I buy, and the new ones coming to market fit the bill (or are like 1 gram off!). I’ve written previously about my top real food snack bars in this post, including what I look for in a bar (protein + fiber + low sugar), but I’ll need to update it with some new options from this year. Because I travel so much, I don’t always have the opportunity for a full sit-down meal, so sometimes snacking on a bar is my best option. (Hummus and veggies and trail mixes definitely work, too!)

This year’s bar standouts included Purely Elizabeth‘s granola bars (if you like her granola, you’ll love the bars!), Primal Kitchen‘s collagen bars, This Bar Saves Lives (eat for a cause!), evohemp cookie and brownie bars, and Enjoy Life’s allergen-free breakfast bars. For meat eaters, my hubby’s favorites for protein-rich bars that are also low in sugar are Country Archer Jerky Co. (Herb Citrus Turkey bar and Sweet BBQ Pork are his top two) and EPIC bars.

Mushrooms are cool and are being reinvented.

Whether it was in a zesty thai mushroom jerky or immune-boosting tinctures, teas, and hot chocolate mixes, mushrooms are in, and for good reason. I’ve written about the anti-cancer, immune-supportive properties of mushrooms in this GBOMBS post.

A few of my favorite mushroom-centric products are featured below. A few brands I love are Host Defense teas and immune-boosting sprays and drops (expect to see these in upcoming immunity workshops!), Four Sigmatic chocolate milk and latte mixes, Purely Elizabeth’s new grain-free granola bars, and Pan’s mushroom jerky, to name a few.

Beans, beans, good for your heart!

Whether it was a chickpea patty, hummus, chocolate-covered roasted chickpea or crunchy sriracha fava beans, beans showed up in droves this year. Beans have always been popular in the natural food community because of their high fiber and protein content, but it’s been fun to watch how the food industry has made them cool.

Here are some of my favorite bean-based products from Cedar’s Za’atar hummus, Enlightened roasted fava beans (soon to be rebranded as “Bada Bean”), Hempe chickpea tempeh patties, and Hodo ready-to-eat Moroccan-spiced tofu bites (good enough to convert any tofu hater).

Dairy-free cheeses have come a loooong way.

When I found out that dairy was a trigger for a range of health issues for me – from bloating and reflux to bronchitis and ear infections – I removed it from my diet and felt better within weeks. Since then, I’ve tried a variety of options for dairy-free yogurts, cheeses, chocolate, milks, ice cream, and other dairy-based products and have found some options that I really enjoy. For now, I’m just going to focus on the cheeses because, let’s be honest, they’re the hardest thing to change when going dairy-free.

A few cheese brands and products I love are Parmela Creamery (their nacho nutcheese is amaaaazing), Miyokos‘ Cheers to Cheddah (Wispride spreadable cheese fans, anyone?), and Treeline Cheese’s new Maple Walnut flavor coming out this fall.

Dairy-free milks and creamers are leveling up.

Next to cheese, I find that milk and coffee creamers are one of the things people really struggle to go without when eliminating dairy. Fortunately, there are so many options that will not make you feel the least bit deprived!

A few of my favorites are Oatly oat-based milk, Milkadamia macadamia nut-based milks and creamers, nutpods dairy-free coffee and tea creamers and Know Brainer‘s ketogenic (to learn more about keto, read this) creamers. Forager Project is rebranding their products with a green label, so be on the lookout for their yogurts and nut milks. Their full fat yogurts are also delicious!

Gut-friendly foods are everywhere.

From sauerkrauts and kombucha to apple cider vinegar drinks, gut-friendly foods continue to surge, which has been a trend for the past few years. More and more people are focusing on improving digestive health, and with good reason. I’ve written previously about my top ten tips for optimizing gut health in this blog post.

From Buchi’s Kombucha‘s new Kefir Soda (less sugar than kombucha and a pleasant fizz!) and Cleveland Kraut‘s single-serve kraut packets, to Good Belly probiotic shots, and Bonafide Provision and Brodo‘s restorative broths.

My favorite local purveyor of fermented foods is still Hex Ferments in Baltimore, but if you’re outside of this area, try one of the brands above.

Purity of ingredients is paramount.

When it comes to packaged foods, it’s often easier to sacrifice purity of ingredients in order to optimize flavor or preservation. That’s why I’m excited to see so many companies committed to ingredient quality and simplicity. The shorter the ingredient list and the more easily I’m able to pronounce the ingredients, the more likely I am to buy it.

A few of my favorite finds in this category were Primal Kitchen’s ketchup, Jilz gluten-free crackers (holy cow, these were amazing and would be delicious with the hummus or cheeses mentioned above), Cappello’s gluten-free sweet potato gnocchi (omg), and Wildscape and Grainful frozen meals.

Chocolate is getting even better.

You know that shellac that you usually see on chocolate-coated candies? You won’t find it on Hu Kitchen’s new chocolate-dipped cashews and goji berry bites. These were two of my favorite new products at the expo this year. The tartness of the goldenberries combined with the richness and bite of dark chocolate were a killer combo. They should be in stores by Q1 2019.

Some of my favorite chocolate treats were Eating Evolved chocolates, Theo turmeric spice chocolate bar, Hu chocolate-covered hunks, and Better Bites chocolate covered cookie dough bites (these are definitely a special treat!). For a full round-up of my favorite dairy-free chocolate bars, check out this post.

Monk fruit is the new stevia.

Artificial sweeteners often get a lot of flack because of their negative side effects. One of the benefits of the evolving natural products industry is that we are finding better options to things like equal and sweet and low. Monk fruit as a natural, zero-calorie sweetener with a glycemic index of 0, so it’s suitable for diabetics. It’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar. To learn more about monk fruit and other natural sweeteners that I recommend, read this post.

You can find monk fruit in evohemp and Primal Kitchen’s bars, Lakanto’s chocolate and a variety of other products. There were too many to name, but you will start noticing this sweetener shift in 2019!

Okay….and ONE MORE bonus one because I can’t help myself…

Supplements can be fun and not feel like a chore.

With gummies, sprays, and lozenge-style options, taking supplements doesn’t have to mean pill boxes full of tough-to-swallow horse pills. When I discovered I was clinically malnourished, I had to start supplementing to replenish what was lost. My body wasn’t able to properly break down nutrients because I’d been taking stomach acid blockers for a decade, so I turned to easy to digest supplements from the brand Nutrametrix.

While that may not be everyone’s situation, there are still some great options if you are looking for ways to make taking supplements more palatable. For those of you who are vegan, there is a high likelihood you will need to supplement with B-vitamins, especially B-12, so talk to your doctor about that. Many people are supplementing with turmeric these days because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Both B-12 and turmeric are now available in a fun and tasty gummy from Mega Food. Make sure your turmeric is combined with black pepper on the supplement label to optimize absorption.

If you are looking to boost your immune system, Beekeeper’s Naturals propolis throat spray is one of the top sellers on Amazon and a product I have used myself. They just introduced a NEW version for kids, so check them out on Amazon.

Here are a few other trends I spotted that I haven’t found to be relevant to me but were really popular at expo, so I wanted to share them with you:

  • CBD oil is in everything. From water and honey to gummies and supplements. So, What is CBD Oil? Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant that is known to calm the nervous system, among other things. It showed up at every turn at this year’s expo and is legal to consume in Maryland and in other states. There are loads of ways that people take CBD and there are loads of reasons to why people take it. For example, you could check out something like these cbd sleep drops, which are obviously there to help you sleep. It can be used to calm you down, soothe pain and has many other benefits to some people. If you would rather not take sleep drops then there are many other alternatives that you could take a look at, as the most important thing is finding the thing that works best for you. So this might mean that you buy cbd gummies or something completely different. It’s just up to you though.
    Which is why it is becoming increasingly popular for people. To learn more about CBD oil’s benefits and uses, click here.
  • Natural sleep aids are on the rise. It’s no secret that many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep, which is why natural sleep aids are popping up everywhere from Som Sleep drinks to supplements.

If you’re not already hanging out with me over on Instagram, check out my page here. I share all of the latest and greatest food finds, recipes, blog posts and inspiration on that platform, and I’d love to connect with you!

15 Nourishing Pumpkin Recipes for Fall

They’re baaaack…

PUMPKINS!

From pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin bread to those cute little pumpkin-shaped mellocreme candies from Brachs, pumpkins seem to be popping up everywhere as we approach fall.

I love pumpkin because of how versatile it is. You can sweeten it in smoothies, breads, muffins, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, and even pancakes. You can also make it savory and roast it with fresh herbs or blend it into soul satisfying soups.

Aside from being able to morph into just about any kind of recipe you can imagine, pumpkin is also loaded with nutrients that support our immunity, digestion and beauty. Pumpkin is awesome because, it’s…

  • Loaded with vitamin C, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that supports our immune health.
  • High in fill-you-up fiber, which keeps us “regular” (this is a good thing!) and keeps us feeling satisfied for hours. A one-cup serving of winter squash like pumpkin has about 1/4 of your daily recommended fiber intake. Considering fewer than 5% of Americans eat enough fiber, this is a big advantage!
  • Excellent source of beta-carotene – a potent antioxidant and cancer-fighter that also happens to be good for our eyes and skin health
  • Packed with lycopene and carotenoids that are known to help diminish cancer cells, inhibit diabetes, hypertension, the degenerative signs of aging, and prevent macular degeneration
  • Full of potassium, which helps restore our body’s electrolyte balance
  • Has a low or medium glycemic index (GI) value, which means it supports a balanced blood sugar (and balanced mood and weight – they all go hand-in-hand!)

If you want to learn even more about why pumpkin rocks, check out this site.

Now, onto the recipes! Here are my top pumpkin-lover recipes from my blog and a few other places 🙂

pumpkinrecipes banner

Here are a few ideas for savory pumpkin recipes:

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make your own pumpkin puree from a real pumpkin, check out this post about How to Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree.

What are your favorite pumpkin recipes? Feel free to share below! 🙂

Strangers on a Plane: Be Willing to Be Bothered

To be seen.

To be heard.

To be valued.

These are three things all human beings desire.

Yet, we can get so caught up in our own lives that we miss opportunities to connect with other human beings in a meaningful, authentic way. All of us have things to do and hate to think we’ve wasted any of our precious time.

After speaking at a conference in Vegas earlier this year, I prepared for a long day of travel back to the East Coast. The first leg of my trip brought me to Denver for a brief layover before the final three hours back to Baltimore. On the full flight to Denver, I sat at a window seat, and a middle-aged man in glasses sat between me and the aisle passenger who was en route to Albany, New York, my mother’s hometown.

I noticed he didn’t have much regard for personal space and was a bit more in my bubble than I would’ve preferred, but I didn’t let it get to me. After he ordered two screwdrivers on an empty stomach for a 90-minute flight, I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up having a lovely conversation.

He told me about his concerns about his daughter going away to college next year to play soccer and shared his fears around her safety and wellbeing. She grew up in a protected and guarded environment and hasn’t learned how to cook or do her laundry, even though he and his wife love to cook and his wife used to own a cleaning company. But she’s a smart girl, a talented athlete, he assured me; she has a good head on her shoulders and strong values.

He talked about his wife and how he doesn’t deserve her. He told me how fantastic she is and how she takes care of their grandson, cleans and landscapes her son’s home, and shares his joy of food and cooking. He said he doesn’t know how his kids turned out as well as they did, despite how much he messed up as a dad. He said they are who they are in spite of him. He shared that his wife owned her own cleaning business and recently retired. He talked about his kids and his grandchildren. His 2-year-old grandson, Albert, that he couldn’t wait to see upon his arrival in Denver.

I could sense his discomfort with seriousness and authentic emotion, as he frequently made side remarks that seemed to be a cover for his discomfort with talking about deeper, personal topics.

I told him about my work, my family, nieces and nephews, journey with overdoing it. He asked me where my overachieving comes from. I told him I’m afraid of being worthless or being nothing and knew how ridiculous it sounded. “You are smart and communicate well. You’ll be fine.” He said I should have three kids and make it my mission to have a significant impact on their lives as my legacy. We’ll see about the three kiddos part, though the idea of having my legacy run through my family was one that resonated.

We landed in Denver and deplaned. I waited for him at the gate to shake his hand and say goodbye. He insisted on giving me a hug, and with that, we went our separate ways.

I had other things I could have been doing on that flight. I had emails to respond to, books I could have been reading, and conference summaries I could have been writing.

But the stranger next to me wanted to engage, to connect, and to be seen, and fortunately, for that 90-minute flight, I was willing to connect.

What would have happened if I hadn’t let myself be “bothered”?

Very likely, nothing significant would have changed in either of our lives as a result of not connecting, but why not take a moment to have a shared experience with another human being if it’s possible to do so?

I was grateful for my time with the stranger on the plane, and I’m glad I was able to get over some of my initial judgments of him and connect over conversation.

As I boarded my connecting flight to my final destination of Baltimore, I saw two empty seats near the front of the plane next to grey-haired woman with glasses wearing a red fleece jacket. I scooted by her to sit at the window seat, and we started talking almost immediately, hoping it would deter someone from sitting between us.

She was quite chatty and so full of life that I couldn’t help but engage with her. Her name was Valerie, and she was flying to Baltimore to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Fredericksburg. She told me she had always been “a religious person” but had a one-night stand that ended up in pregnancy. Not knowing what else to do, she married the father and ended up in an abusive relationship that she ultimately left. Out of it came a blessing – three children that she clearly adores.

She lost her fortune in the 2008 economic recession and has been living modestly ever since. She suffers from a great deal of pain due to numerous injuries and accidents throughout her life and spends 90 minutes moving each morning so she can feel good enough to engage in the day. She said her mind is still very active, but her body is a bit limited because of the amount of pain she experiences on a daily basis. Nevertheless, she has maintained an optimistic attitude:

“I can either sit around and wallow in my pain and do nothing, or I can go out and do things and hopefully forget about the pain!”

A retired graphic designer and associate professor, Valerie is nearly 70 years old. “I got my second Master’s degree when I was 50,” she told me proudly. As a young girl, she always loved coloring, but there was a boy in one of her classes who was so artistically talented that she didn’t feel like she measured up, so she dropped art and didn’t pick it up again until her mid-50s.

With a passion for learning, she took up painting – acrylic and digital – about 15 years ago. Painting is now a source of great joy for her. She paints scenery inspired by the vegetation, landscape, cafes, wine and coffee, and people of her hometown in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

I asked her if she had any pictures of her artwork, and she excitedly pulled out her phone to show me. One, in particular, was of a scene from her favorite cafe, Bakery by the Lake at Parkside.

She showed me pictures of digital artwork she created of horses and dogs and friends. One was a painting she created of her friend, who is nearly blind, that was a rendering of a photograph from a trip he took to Italy. She included his wife and seeing eye dog in the picture and when he saw the picture through whatever limited vision remains, he wept. She touches people with her paintings, bringing them to life on the canvas and giving them a sense of belonging.

Her blue eyes sparkled, as she continued sharing more of her story and life with me.

She told me about her best friend, Andy, who is nearly two decades her junior but whom she delights in and vice versa. He told her he thinks one of the reasons they met was for her to show him what it was like to be young.

She loves spending time with her friends at coffee shops where they are regular patrons, and being with her sweet little granddaughter, Alexandra.

“’Simplify and laugh every day,’ that’s my motto,” she told me as she smiled playfully.

Valerie asked me what I do and I told her I help rehumanize the workplace with compassion, gratitude, caring, and kindness. Her face lit up. “What a wonderful thing to do! Your work is so needed in our country right now. People are so unkind to each other.”

As our plane made its final descent, she thanked me for listening and for taking so much time to look at the pictures of her family, hometown and paintings. She apologized for being a bother and keeping me from other things I could be doing.

As I write this, it saddens me that we feel like we have to apologize for “wasting” people’s time when all we are trying to do is connect with another human being, to be seen, to be heard, to feel like we matter.

It’s like each of us is still five years old, hoping mom or dad will notice what we’ve created, built, drawn, or painted and tell us it’s beautiful and that we are important. We are hardwired to connect and we long to be seen.

So many people feel alone and like no one really cares about what they think or feel or have to say. So they don’t “bother” people to have conversations and instead keep their earbuds in, their heads down, and watch yet another movie on their phone.

Sometimes, our fear of rejection overrides our deep longing for connection.

Perhaps all of us could be a bit more selfless and not be so quick to try to protect ourselves from conversations with strangers. It has become entirely too common to outright ignore people in our increasingly digital age.

Even if the person seems to be a bit of a jerk, why not give them a chance? I’ve found that the most disgruntled and unkind people are the ones who need love and attention the most but are too stubborn or hurt to ask for it.

You might be the only person who makes them feel heard all day.

You might be the only person who truly sees them.

You might be the only person who makes them feel like they matter.

The next time you’re on a plane, on the train, in line at the store or standing in an elevator and you have an opportunity to interact with another human being, let it happen.

Take your ear buds out and put your phone down. Notice the people around you. Initiate connection.

All of us deeply long to be seen, heard and valued. We want to feel like we belong, like we matter, like we are worth talking to and interacting with, like we have something worthwhile to say.

Think about what you can do to be more intentional in your interactions.

Be willing to be bothered.

Who knows, you might make a new friend.

Me and Valerie Scott!

For another powerful experience I had after meeting a stranger on a plane, check out this story about how to Be Somebody’s Mary.

A Healthy Foodie’s Ultimate Guide to Chicago

My husband, Bill, and I were recently in Chicago for a week, celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary. We had an amazing time. Think of all of the offerings of New York City but in a friendlier, cleaner, more laid back environment.

That’s Chicago.

We believe in really celebrating each year of our marriage and travel to a new city each year to eat, explore, rest, and spend most of each day outdoors. We splurge in just about every way because we believe our relationship is worth it.

Our trip to Chicago was no exception.

We had beautiful weather (apparently, August is the time to go…not so much in February or one of the winter months). Most of the time when we travel, we go for less time or have other commitments like weddings to break up the trip. This time was the most like our honeymoon – seven days with just the two of us!

One of the things that surprised me most was that Chicago is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to and one of the most beautiful.

There were flowers and parks at every turn! I felt like I was in a cute European city at times.

Dozens of people shared recommendations with us and we followed quite a few of them. I thought I’d put together a post with all of the places we ate, things we did, and where we stayed. If you are ever planning a trip to Chicago or know someone who is, you’ll have it all in one place!

Because of my dietary restrictions (no gluten or milk products), I could have been limited in Chicago – the city of deep dish pizza – but I’m happy to say we had lots of incredible meals that both of us enjoyed. Everywhere we went was accommodating and many places had gluten-free menus, so I didn’t feel the least bit deprived. Here’s the scoop on places to eat and fun things to do! Click on the red hyperlinked titles to go to each place’s website to learn more.

Where We Ate

Beatrix

The Scoop: With multiple locations throughout the city, this place is a solid pick for any meal, and it was our very first stop once we arrived. According to their website, Beatrix is a neighborhood coffeehouse, restaurant and meeting place in Chicago’s River North, Streeterville, and Fulton Market neighborhoods. The menu features healthy meets delicious options, and also includes an iconic coffee and pastry counter, including signature cookies and in-house bakery favorites. That was enough to sell us, so we went for lunch.

What We Ate: Bill had the Kennebec fries with crispy lemons and chilis and Dr. Bob’s turkey burger served with poached egg mayo and a quinoa & almond kale side salad. I wanted something simple, so I opted for the grilled chicken kebab served on top of English pea hummus with lemon vinaigrette and a cucumber salad. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the hummus. The flavors were on point. Visit their website here for menus and a list of their locations.

The Purple Pig

The Scoop: When one of my coworkers found out I was going on a trip to Chicago, without hesitating, she said: “You HAVE to go to The Purple Pig.” She had recently been and said the trip wouldn’t complete without a meal there. Another Facebook friend also recommended it, and even our Uber driver was jealous as he dropped us off because he hadn’t been in some time. Since opening in 2009, The Purple Pig has been named one of the “10 Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit magazine, showcasing the flavors of Italy, Greece and Spain. They don’t take reservations, so it’s best to go as early as possible because they’re pretty much always busy.

What We Ate: Despite its name, there are a bunch of vegetarian and seafood options available in addition to their signature trio of “cheese, swine and wine”. I had my eye on the octopus appetizer because it was so highly recommended, but we arrived so early that the chef hadn’t fully prepared all of that day’s octopus.

Womp womp. Bummer.

We started with an appetizer of shaved carrots with kumquats (a small citrus fruit) and spinach served on top of a tahini-based spread and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and peanuts. The flavors and textures were out of this world amazing. We had another seasonal appetizer of mussels served with cauliflower, mushrooms, and rice, and Bill had the milk-braised pork shoulder (the best he’s had, he said).

Just as we were closing out our check, our waitress came up to us with a smile, “The octopus is ready!” We knew we had to try it, and OH MY GOODNESS are we glad we did! It was Bill’s first time eating octopus, and he devoured it along with me.

The grilled octopus was served with fingerling potatoes, green beans, and the best salsa verde I have ever had in my life. It was one of our top three dishes of the entire trip! Check out The Purple Pig’s menu and learn more here.

Hi-Vibe Superfood Juicery

The Scoop: After getting pretty stuffed the night before at The Purple Pig, we wanted something light to get the day started on the day of our anniversary, so we jogged to Hi-Vibe Juicery, which was about a mile from our hotel. I had stalked their website and knew they had a variety of elixirs, smoothies, juices, and broths that would nourish my body (and they’re all paleo and 100% organic, too!).

What We Drank: We started the day with a Kill Shot (camu camu berry, oil of oregano, echinacea, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, lemon, green apple) to get our immune system and digestion going. We also had one of the coconut and apple cider vinegar drinks (the name is escaping me!) to rehydrate.

I ordered a serving of their activated bone broth made with these nourishing and immune-boosting ingredients: 100% grass-raised beef + pastured chicken bone broth spiked with a signature blend of ginger, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, coconut cream, and sea salt, brain octane, MCT, oil of oregano, black pepper extract, cayenne, grass-fed butter, and dulse (seaweed). It was so full of flavor, and introducing a warm, healing liquid like that to your stomach first thing in the morning can really help rev up your digestive system to take on the day. I also stopped by their second location a few days later and grabbed the Mood Mylk, but I’d love to try their Shaman Shake and Golden Mylk. This place is one of the best juice and smoothie bars in Chicago. For more info and the full menu, click here.

Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe

The Scoop: Bill and I love breakfast food, so we wanted to go to a top-rated spot for brunch on our anniversary. What drew me to this place was the variety in the menu and the fact that they have gluten-free breakfast options. Apparently, the waits can run nearly 90 minutes on weekends, so get there early!

What We Ate: We had a delicious meal, and I was even able to have gluten-free pancakes (you wouldn’t even know they’re gluten-free!) as a side to my meal. I got the vegan breakfast hash served with hash browns, spinach, wild mushrooms, avocado and their homemade gluten-free veggie burger. I topped off the burger with an overeasy egg.

Bill had the Fresca omelet made with sundried tomatoes, provolone, basil and avocado. I had a bite, and it was delicious! He also got a side of their cinnamon roll pancakes, and both of our bellies were happy when we left. Here’s their full menu and website with locations.

Maple & Ash

The Scoop: We wavered between several options when deciding where to spend our anniversary dinner but ended up picking Maple & Ash because of their high reviews online. What an experience! From the photo booth (which included a GIF-maker!) on the first floor to the buzz and vibe of the main restaurant, we knew we’d made the right choice.

What We Ate: Everything! At least that’s what it felt like when we left 🙂 We were welcomed with a dish of blistered shishito peppers and radishes served with sea salt and chilled butter along with a welcome cocktail made with vodka, blood orange bitters, lemon juice, elderflower, and vermouth. I’m a bit of a teetotaler and usually get mocktails when we go out to eat, but this drink was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was so light and smooth that I ended up having two.

Dinner was over the top delicious and fun. Bobby was the best waiter and really made the meal special. We started with the roasted beet and shaved greens salad served with rosemary roasted almonds and ordered their signature fire-roasted seafood tour (YOU HAVE TO DO THIS), and it was divine. I had the halibut for my main course, and Bill had the Skuna Bay salmon. Despite how majorly stuffed we were, we had to say “yes” to the make your own sundae dessert bar. I opted for blueberry sorbet, and Bill had ice cream.

Girl and the Goat

The Scoop: Bill and I have been fans of the Bravo show, Top Chef, for years, so when a friend recommended this restaurant and we saw that Top Chef’s first female winner was in charge, we knew we had to go. Reservations are tough to get at this place, so I would suggest booking at least a month out or do what we did and stop by at the start of dinner service at around 5pm on a weekday. We were seated immediately and just had to be out by 6:30, which wasn’t hard.

What We Ate: Girl and the Goat is a small plates restaurant (think tapas-style), so we ordered a few different dishes to share before heading to see Hamilton in downtown Chicago. We started with the kohlrabi salad, which was served with fennel, evalon (on the side – this is cheese), toasted almonds, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and blueberries. It was a neat combination of flavors and textures but was a bit salty for me. We tried the roasted cauliflower served with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint and enjoyed that.

Our favorite dish was pan-roasted halibut served with marcona almond butter, white asparagus, blueberry nuoc cham (a Vietnamese dipping sauce), and beech mushrooms. The marcona almond butter was out of this world. We wanted to lick the bowl when we were finished. We also ordered the sautéed green beans topped with a fish sauce vinaigrette and crunchy cashews and the seared scallop & sausage summery succotash served with green harissa. This place is a must-stop dining spot on a trip to Chicago, so check it out!

Real Good Juice Co.

The Scoop: I love food puns, and this place was full of them (how about the Kal E. Kapowski Smoothie…Saved by the Bell, anyone?). For more punny names, check out their full menu here. According to their site, this is what they do: “We are a company that makes juices that are real good. Cold pressed juices, locally sourced and organic smoothies, salads, granola and other stuff.” I’m in.

What We Ate: We stopped by for a late lunch after our day at the spa (info below!) on our anniversary. We shared an order of their avocado toast served on gluten-free bread, and I had one of their elixirs. What really brought us there was the promise of dairy-free frozen yogurt (chocolate!). We shared a serving of that topped with chocolate avocado mousse (like this recipe on my blog) and cacao nibs, which I’ve written about here. We swung by again on another morning midway through a run to have a juice to start the day. I always look for less than 10 grams of sugar in juices and make sure they are cold-pressed. Check the label because a lot of “healthy” juices can be super high in sugar.

Wheat’s End Cafe

The Scoop: If you are gluten-free and miss things like biscuits, donuts, bread, muffins, and even bagels, Wheat’s End Cafe has you covered! The cafe is located in the Lakeview area of Chicago and is 100% gluten-free. In 2007, a friend of Wheat’s End co-owners Susan McMillan and Amelia Fonti was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Soon after, Amelia learned that she, too, was gluten intolerant. They became aware of the growing unmet need for gluten-free food that did not compromise taste and texture.

What We Ate: We started with a warm cinnamon roll because who doesn’t love cinnamon rolls?? Bill ordered avocado toast with an overeasy egg on top and gobbled his up. I ordered the shakshuka pizza, which is basically eggs on a pizza (all dairy-free, too!), served with a vegan pesto sauce. I wanted to love it, but the crust was a little tough to cut through, and the cheese slid off pretty easily. The flavors were great, but I’d definitely order a biscuit, avocado toast, or a pumpkin donut next time since those were all highly rated…and more breakfast-like. The menu was so extensive, I’d definitely want to go back to try more!

Left Coast Food & Juice

The Scoop: This place was recommended by my boss’s daughter, Ann, who recently moved to Chicago. After checking out their website and learning a bit more about their story, I was sold. Here’s what they have to say: Left Coast was created from the idea that eating healthy should be quick and easy and still taste delicious […] Our philosophy is to change the perception that eating healthy is dull and flavorless.

YES. YES. YES to all of that.

What We Ate: I wanted something light and refreshing, so I ordered the Jimmy Ching salad made with napa cabbage, romaine hearts, snow peas, crunchy quinoa, cashews, green onion, mint, sesame seeds, and a Chinese mustard vinaigrette. I added some tofu to my dish for a bit of protein. It was the perfect summer salad. Bill ordered the morning buzz smoothie: espresso, cacao, peanut butter, maca powder, banana, and dates. I had a few sips, even though I don’t love the taste of coffee and really liked it. This is a great place to check out for a salad, bowl, juice or smoothie!

Ēma

The Scoop: My friend Sara, who is a fellow gluten-free foodie, enthusiastically recommended this tapas restaurant after a recent trip to Chicago. I’m so glad she did! Everything was delicious. When we arrived at the hostess stand, I saw a business card with the name “Aaron Covert, Executive Chef” on it and instantly recognized the name. We graduated from college together, and he has clearly made a name for himself, so we were that much more excited to eat there.

What We Ate: It was so hard to choose from their menu, but we were happy with everything. To simplify things for you a bit, we had the following dishes:

  • Basmati and Beluga Lentil Salad served with crispy shallots, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, pistachios, and an orange vinaigrette. It was a light, refreshing summer salad and a great start to the meal.
  • Green Falafel with garlic tahini (I asked for a side of their garlic hummus, too – AMAZING!
  • Brussels Sprouts with crispy shallots, pumpkin seeds and sherry glaze
  • Black Lime Shrimp served with tomatoes and aleppo pepper.
  • Sea Bass special served with thinly sliced summer squash

We could have easily ordered five other dishes because everything sounded so amazing. We will definitely be back! Make sure you get a reservation, as this place gets quite busy.

The Chicago Diner

The Scoop: Because of its gluten-free options and focus on plant-based eating, The Chicago Diner was recommended by several friends. It’s in a cool artsy area of Chicago that we hadn’t been to and was within walking distance of Wrigley Field, so it was a great stop before the game. The diner is 100% vegetarian and full of vegan and gluten-free options.

What We Ate: I went with the potato tempeh hash, which consisted of crumbled tempeh, sliced potato, roasted red peppers, and onions seasoned with crushed red pepper and fennel seed. I ordered it with scrambled tofu that looked like and actually had the texture of scrambled eggs. Even Bill was surprised and approved of it, and he doesn’t even like tofu. You have to try it. It was so full of flavor and well seasoned. If we weren’t feeling so pleasantly full (but not stuffed) from brunch, we might have gone for one of their signature vegan milkshakes or their vegan and gluten-free cheesecake. Maybe next time!

Summer House Santa Monica

The Scoop: Our host at the Thompson Hotel recommended this place and we were so glad he did! What a beautiful spot. You feel like you’ve been transported to California and are hanging out in a Santa Monica summer house! It was about a mile and a half from Wrigley Field and served as our post-Cubs game meal. We had a fantastic experience and can’t say enough about how the generous and hospitable staff there treated us as we celebrated our anniversary.

What We Ate: We love guacamole but hadn’t had any yet on our trip, so we started with the guac appetizer (freebie as a result of using the Yelp! app!). We shared a few small plates including caramelized Brussels sprouts served with pancetta, whole grain mustard, and balsamic vinegar and the Emerald Kale Salad made with shredded brussels sprouts, local apples, toasted cashews, and mustard-citrus dressing. We also shared the wood-grilled fish taco platter served with black beans and rice, cilantro, salsa, and guacamole. Everything was on point, and even though we were full by the end, we each snagged a cookie from their pastry bar on our way out. They have a talented pastry chef onsite, who also happens to make gluten-free and dairy-free cookies as well, so I got the chocolate walnut cookie, which tasted just like a brownie. It was decadent and no one would possibly know it was gluten and dairy-free. 

The Little Beet Table

The Scoop: We checked out one of these on a recent trip to NYC, and after scoping out the menu, we decided to go there for our final brunch. We got there just as they were opening, so we were served quickly and had a wonderful experience. It helps that the restaurant is 100% gluten-free, which meant my options for ordering were endless!

What We Ate: We started with their banana bread served with housemade hazelnut butter. Oh my goodness. We ate the whole thing. If you can’t tell that I have a deep affinity for Brussels sprouts, you’ll know that now because we ordered them for the third time in one week – roasted Brussels sprouts served with salsa verde and sea salt. For our main entree, Bill had the avocado toast with bacon (some of the best he said he has ever had – perfectly cooked bacon), and I opted for something out of the ordinary – crispy spirulina rice. It was a round of jasmine rice served with shishito peppers, garlic, soy, ginger and topped with a farm egg. It was one of my top three favorite meals of the entire week. Perfectly seasoned, packed with flavor and fun textures, and covered with a sauce that put it over the top, this meal was a winner.

Brightwok Kitchen

The Scoop: This was our final food stop in Chicago and definitely the right choice. Brightwok Kitchen is a veggie-focused, Asian-inspired restaurant. Think of Chipotle for Asian food or sweetgreen for salads and add some on-the-spot wok preparation, and you’ve got Brightwok Kitchen.

What We Ate: It was hard to decide what to get, but I went with the Earth, Curry and Fire bowl served with chili coconut curry (I asked for mild), brown rice, tofu, kale, onions, carrots, bell peppers, and a crispy egg on top. Bill ordered the Everyday Eat Right Bowl with thai basil dressing – holy flavorville! That thing was the best. With so many options, many of which are gluten-free, you can’t go wrong!

What We Did

So, it might seem like all we do on vacation is eat, but we also love to explore new places. I’ve listed below some of the places we went to and things we did. Feel free to click each title to be linked to the website, so you can learn more.

For more recommendations in and around Chicago, visit Time Out Chicago Magazine.

  • Allyu Spa: Bill took me here for our anniversary for their couples retreat package complete with a 90-minute couple’s massage and sauna treatment. It was incredibly relaxing and one of the highlights of my week.
  • Wrigley Field: If you’re in Chicago, go see a Cubs game. It was the first time in years that I’d been in a full stadium (the Orioles are pretty terrible!), and the fans there are passionate and die hard. The chant they sing at the end when they win and the real organ that plays at each game are worth the price of admission!
  • Wendella Architectural Boat Tour: You absolutely have to go on one of these if you are in Chicago. Our tour guide was entertaining and incredibly knowledgable as he taught us about the history and architecture of the city. There are other boat tour companies that you can get deals to on Groupon.
  • Millennium Park and Cloud Gate: This is where you’ll find the famous reflective bean, tons of green space and outdoor events happening throughout the summer. 
  • The Escape Game Chicago: This was one of the coolest escape rooms we’ve ever been to. We did Gold Rush by ourselves and got out with 13 minutes to spare and teamed up with another group to escape Mission Mars. I highly recommend this place for an hour of fun!
  • The Great Escape Room Chicago: Can you tell we are a bit addicted to escape rooms? This one was one of the most unique experiences we’ve had. We did the Sherlock Library and escaped with under two minutes to spare!
  • CIBC Theater: We had to see the broadway show, Hamilton. It was amazing. The music is stuck in our heads days later. Go if you can!
  • io Improv: The improvised Shakespeare shows are phenomenal. A member of the audience gives the cast the title of a play and in 60 minutes, the actors come up with a completely improvised play. It was so fun and full of laughs.
  • Navy Pier: This is the most visited spot in Chicago and for good reason. It was one of the first places we walked to when we arrived in the city and offered a beautiful view of the city. From the new ferris wheel to the botanical garden and award-winning theater, it’s a spot you won’t want to pass by on a trip to Chicago.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo: We stopped by the zoo for about an hour or so before heading out on the boat tour, so we didn’t see much, but going to the monkey house was enough for me! I could watch the monkeys and gorillas for hours. The best part about the zoo? Admission is FREE!
  • Division Street Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from May-October. From the gluten-free crepes to the dozens of produce and flower vendors, this is worth a stop on a Saturday!

Where We Stayed

I have to admit. We did it up with hotels this trip. We usually stay in Airbnbs for the bulk of our trips and use Hotels.com or HotelTonight to book one night. I had a connection in Chicago who was kind enough to help me coordinate our stay at two of Chicago’s best hotels in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Both were in the best absolute best locations.

  • Thompson Hotel: Nicholas, who was at the front desk, gave us great recommendations for where to eat, including Summer House Santa Monica. We also had a treat in our room on our anniversary sent by a colleague, so that was a special touch!
  • The Talbott Hotel: We were warmly greeted by Perry when we arrived at The Talbott, which is run by the same group as the Thompson. Perry made us feel so welcomed and special, and he is one of the kindest people I’ve met and always had a smile on his face. We received two free drink coupons and food vouchers upon arrival and had a lovely stay for our final three nights of the trip.

I highly recommend both of these hotels! If you’re looking for regions to stay, try for east of Route 90 and North of Roosevelt Road. There’s a lot going on in North Chicago as well, like in the Lakeview area, but it’ll be a little more of a drive to the heart of downtown.

Reader Feedback

That’s a wrap, my friends! A labor of love to share with you all of the greatness and deliciousness we found on our trip to Chicago. Feel free to chime in with anything we’re missing below!

Picture Not So Perfect: Real Life Behind the Highlight Reel

We take pictures to preserve memories, so we can look back on them in the future and reminisce about those moments. I have dozens of photo albums full of pictures from childhood through today. I still print off digital pictures and put them in frames and albums because there’s something special about holding a picture in your hand and not just looking at it on your phone.

Before the digital age, taking pictures was marked by surprise and spontaneity. We had to wait until the entire roll was full before turning it in to get all of our images developed. We’d pick up the envelope and eagerly flip through and see which ones were worth keeping. We didn’t have the option of editing them or curating a collection of only the best images.

I still love pictures today, but in recent years, I’ve let how I look in them impact me and how I think of myself more than I’d like to admit.

Around this time last year, Bill and I were on a trip to Colorado to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary and his cousin’s wedding. I was feeling more energized than I had felt in months after spending the better part of last year recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus. I was ready for the hours of dancing that was sure to follow the outdoor ceremony because Bill and I love to dance.

It was a beautiful day, and we were taking pictures with a backdrop of the Colorado mountains behind us. The scenery was picturesque and looked like something out of a magazine.

As we prepared to snap some pictures, I remember feeling pretty good about myself. The lack of humidity meant a great hair day, and I was wearing a dress I’d bought the year before at Marshall’s that was comfy (and had pockets). We smiled as someone took a few photos, photos I hoped would be picture perfect, capturing the essence of that moment and the beauty of the day.

I waited until just Bill and I remained.

Then, I looked at the photo.

“YIKES!” I remember thinking, as a feeling of disgust crept up inside of me.

“My arms and legs look so BIG! That dress is TOO short. Rachel, what happened??”

I thought back to three years prior when I was about 20 pounds lighter and satisfied with nearly every picture I took. This picture was not the same person.

I proceeded to crop the photo from the waste down, so no one could see my thunder thighs (yes, we are each our own harshest critic). That way, no one else could judge or critique my not-so-toned body. I posted an image I was sort of okay with on social media.

I remembered not too long ago – only about four years or so – when just about every picture taken of me was worthy of sharing.

No filters or cropping needed.

I was thrilled with how I looked.

What most people didn’t know about those pictures was that I was coming out of a defining part of my health journey, restoring my health after being clinically malnourished. As I’ve shared before, I was concerned about my body and my ability to have kids because I had lost my menstrual cycle for seven months in the midst of my weight loss. That’s the truth about what was behind my smile and that sassy blue dress.

I hadn’t had my big career breakthrough yet. I had barely dipped my toe into the personal and relational growth that I’ve experienced since then.

But, man, did I like how I looked in pictures.

Fast forward to 2017 to the Colorado photo. In all honesty, I hadn’t exercised consistently for over a year, primarily because I was recovering from an acute form of mono and had completely burned out. I was just trying to rebuild enough energy to go about my daily activities, so looking toned and fit wasn’t at the top of my priority list. It wasn’t even on my radar.

Having all of my insecurities shoved into my face as a result of looking at one picture made me feel like I’d been blindsided.

As women, we can feel so insecure when we look at certain pictures of ourselves. We berate ourselves when our face or legs or arms or butt or tummy doesn’t look slim enough. Body shaming is a universal struggle for many of us, yet our perceptions are rarely based in reality.

I’m sure some of you looked at the picture above and did not see anything remotely like what I saw. Maybe you thought, “What is she talking about? She looks fine. She’s just being really hard on herself.”

And you’d be right.

Because our perception is not reality.

I’ve heard women who weigh 125 pounds and women who weigh 185 pounds look at pictures of themselves and say the exact same thing, “Ew, I look fat.”

Instead of living our lives, we spend more time than we’d like to admit cropping, curating, editing and perfecting an image of ourselves and our lives to share on social media.

Do you know what this body shaming does?

It causes us to miss the moment, the joy, the love, the happiness, the people, the experience itself.

I was talking to my husband, Bill, about this over lunch, and he commented that we used to wait and see pictures because it took time for them to develop. Now we can see them immediately, and we can edit them to look more attractive in seconds.

That’s not real life. 

Bill is a teacher and commented that his young teacher friends are especially image conscious. When they take group photos, everyone looks at and comments on themselves and how they look in the picture. With all of the pressure from social media and online dating, our images are more carefully curated than ever before. We only want to put forth images of ourselves and our families that look flattering.

Granted, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look good in a picture. It’s totally normal to want physically flattering pictures of ourselves, but our degree of obsession around it is unprecedented.

We let our perspective ruin our pictures and special moments in our lives. We let how we think we look interfere with how we want to live.

Around this time last year, I was talking to a friend who was going through a divorce and had gained a noticeable amount of weight. She doesn’t like to be in pictures with her kids, knowing that other people might see her and judge her.

Do you think her kids cared what their mom looked like, or do you think it mattered more that they were in the pictures with her? When it’s her time to go, do you think her kids will wish they had a more attractive mom or more photos of their mom?

I don’t say this to shame and judge anyone in a similar situation, but I know firsthand what this kind of body shame does to us and to our lives.

When we constantly live out of a place of insecurity, we rob ourselves of living. We shine a little less brightly, love a little less deeply and live a little less fully. The pain of living less fully will eventually surpass the pain of being insecure in our bodies.

Here’s the truth.

The body you have in this moment is yours.

It is a gift from God.

Maybe you’ve neglected it, “let it go”, or forgotten about the importance of loving and honoring it by nourishing it and taking care of it. Maybe you just had a kid or have three kids or lost a loved one or went through a bad breakup or hate your job. Maybe your body is taking the brunt of all of your emotional pain. Maybe you are as harsh as or even harsher than I’ve been in this post when you judge yourself in pictures.

Whatever you are dealing with, you are worthy of living fully and being loved – regardless of how you look.

Regardless of whether we see an extra wrinkle, skin fold, double chin, cellulite, or varicose vein, can we be a little kinder to ourselves and not allow our pictures to define our worth?

The reality is, we can still experience so much love and joy in our bodies, even if they don’t resemble the ideal standard we have in our minds. God can use us and our bodies regardless of what we perceive to be limitations – physical or otherwise.

I want to leave you with one more story about the power of perception and the truth about our bodies.

At the end of last summer, I was seeing a massage therapist who practices “visceral massage.” In other words, she uses her hands to move and release fascial restrictions in my abdomen and pelvis to encourage the normal movement and function of my internal organs. She helped me release some physical stuckness and shared insightful nuggets of wisdom every time we met.

During one session, I had to lay on my side, so she could do work on my back. I noticed my shirt come up a bit and could see my belly generously taking up its space on the massage table. For most of my life, my stomach had always been flat, but now it wasn’t. I felt sad, ashamed and embarrassed.

I shared how I was feeling with her and, at the end of our time together, I showed her a picture of me from an event four years prior, when I was about 25 pounds lighter. I told her how I liked that face more than how my face is now. It was thinner and more attractive, I thought.

She said she liked the “now” me better, and when I made the comment about my face being fuller, she responded in her kind and gentle way with a beaming smile and these words:

“Isn’t that radiant?”

Radiant.

Did she know that “radiant” is one of my words and that it perfectly captured how I want to show up in this world?

She said I was radiant.

I had never thought about it that way, that I may have looked better and more alive, with a fuller face.

I was moved to tears as I let her words lift my broken spirit.

Yes, I am radiant.

I have a fire flowing through my veins and a light burning bright in my soul. It’s who I was made to be. I wasn’t meant to hide it.

What would happen if we stopped critiquing our (and other’s) worth by our pictures?

What if we chose to see the whole person behind the image in the photo instead of just what society has brainwashed us to notice?

What if we could offer ourselves a little more grace and compassion and a little less shame and judgment?

As much as I loved the way I looked in that electric blue dress, I love who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, and a friend more in the less physically flattering photo.

One year later, as I look back at that same photograph, I don’t have the same emotional reaction to it. I have more grace for the woman in that photo, knowing how far she has come in the past year and in this lifetime.

Instead of pasty thighs and not-so-toned arms, I see a women who has come a long way, a woman who has grown and transformed, a woman who has been strengthened and anointed, a woman who loves and who is loved more deeply than ever before. I see a beautiful, beaming woman who is becoming more comfortable with and less apologetic about who she is.

I hope that reading this invites you to shift your mindset.

I hope it gives you a new, more life-giving perspective to consider about your body.

I hope it gives you the courage to see the whole person, not just the perfectly edited, cropped and curated version of yourself that shows up in photos.

Writing posts like this takes a lot out of me because, in them, I am exposed. I’m not hiding behind success, accomplishments or a pretty smile.

I’m sharing anything but the highlight reel because it matters more to me to be real.

If this resonated with you, I’d love to hear from you below or by email. Send me a photo from your journey that has a story behind it even if you don’t love the picture itself (connect (at) rachelsnourishingkitchen.com). I’m honored to walk alongside you on this journey of discovery, acceptance and grace. 

Page 1 of 38

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: