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

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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. 

7 Healthy Dining Spots in Lake Placid, New York (And Why You Should Go There on Vacation!)

Since I was a little girl, my family has spent our summer vacation in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York.

My mom’s family is from the area, and she spent summers as a kid in Keene at her parents’ farmhouse, working at The Land of Make Believe as a teenager. My dad fell in love with her and the area over 40 years ago when they started dating. My parents love Upstate New York so much that, after decades of renting other people’s cabins, they bought their own place in Wilmington, just outside the resort village of Lake Placid. It’s been in our family for over 15 years and will remain for years to come.

Each summer, Bill and I return to our grounding place, to small towns where time stands still, and to the breathtaking beauty of the Adirondacks. We go to be near the mountains, lakes, streams, cleansing air, and for peacefulness that being in nature brings.

If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it as a travel destination, especially if you like being outdoors. The days are typically mild, and the summer nights are often so chilly that you need to bundle up and wear a sweatshirt or jacket.

Our favorite thing to do while we are up there is hike one of the hundreds of peaks in the region. If you’re looking for options, I suggest checking out this site, which sorts hikes by distance and difficulty. Bill and I try to climb one of the 46 High Peaks each year, but we also love to do shorter climbs, including Ampersand, Round Mountain, and Hurricane. With all of the lakes in the area, we also love to canoe, paddle board, or make friends with people who have boats 🙂 It’s also a great spot for fishing.

My family of triathletes swims, bikes and runs throughout their time there. I love to go for a run around Mirror Lake or near my parents’ house and take in the mountain views. One of the Ironman triathlons (140.6 miles – 2.4 mile-swim, 112 mile-bike, 26.2 mile run) takes place in Lake Placid each July and draws in thousands of athletes and their friends and family. If you’ve never witnessed an Ironman race, I highly recommend attending one. We volunteer each year at one of the bike aid stations and cheer in the runners at the finish line in the evening. It’s an incredible testament to the power of the human spirit and a feat of the body and mind. My dad has finished the Lake Placid Ironman six times; my sister, Jane, three times; and my husband, Bill, once. To learn more about the race, click here.

When Bill and I are on vacation, one of the things we love to do is find delicious and nourishing places to eat. With my dairy-free, gluten-free limitation, I have to be selective about where to dine out, but I have become particularly skilled at discerning where to go. I don’t think that being away from home means that we have to sacrifice nourishing ourselves. My goal is to find places that serve delicious and nourishing food. It’s totally possible.

Here is my list of seven spots to dine in Lake Placid, New York!

Green Goddess Natural Foods

Locations: 2051 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY; 2419 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-4676, www.GreenGoddessFoods.com
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

This is my #1 spot because it’s a cafe and a grocery store. If you consider yourself to be a healthy foodie, then you have to know about this place. Originally located on Saranac Avenue on the way out of Lake Placid, Green Goddess Natural Foods has expanded and recently opened a second location on Main Street.

At both locations, you can build your own smoothie, smoothie bowl, grain bowl, breakfast bowl, and salad. You can also get homemade, cold-pressed juices there, too. The markets have hundreds of gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, and vegan options including products, soups, baked goods, grab-and-go deli sandwiches and dips, snacks, and even supplements.

I’m a fan of the make-your-own-salad option, and if you get one, I highly recommend including the curried cashews and green goddess tahini dressing (seriously awesome). My husband is a fan of their sandwiches loaded with local ingredients.

For a look at the Green Goddess and Scape Cafe menus, click here, and for updates to daily specials, follow them on Instagram.

The Good Bite Kitchen

Location: 2501 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-637-2860, www.TheGoodBiteKitchen.com
Meals: Lunch, Snack

It’s easy to pass right by this little gem, but we were stoked to discover it a few years ago. The Good Bite Kitchen is an “inventive vegetarian” cafe with lots of  plant-powered, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and paleo options. They change out the selection on their chalkboard menu on a daily basis and have everything from soups, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies to grain bowls, zucchini noodle bowls, and sweet treats.

Seating is extremely limited, so depending on what time of day you’re there, you might want to get your order to go and sit by the water to eat your meal. A few of the my favorite meals that I’ve gotten there are the Mung Bean and Zoodle (zucchini noodle) bowl served with a vegan ranch dressing and topped with pumpkin seeds. I’ve also tried a zoodle bowl made with toasted cashews and chickpeas. They always have some combination of a veggie noodle and/or rice bowl loaded with lots of other veggies and something crunchy.

Bill loves the GBK Tomato, which can be prepared as a sandwich or salad, and includes heirloom tomato, balsamic hummus, basil vinaigrette, pickled onions, feta and greens. Follow them on Instagram to keep track of daily specials.

Note: As of this blog post publication, they are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11a-5p.

Salt of the Earth Bistro

Location: 5956 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-5956, www.SaltoftheEarthBistro.com
Meals: Dinner

Most of the time, Lake Placid seems like the town that time forgot. Very little changes from year to year, so it’s obvious when a new store or restaurant comes to town. As we were searching on yelp (my go to app for finding dining options), we stumbled upon this farm to table spot. After checking out the menu and seeing icons designating gluten-free and vegan options, I knew we’d found a winner! We went with my parents and everyone loved their meal and the appetizers. There aren’t many high quality dinner spots in Lake Placid, but this is definitely one of them.

We started with an appetizer of onion fritters breaded in chickpea and cauliflower flour and served with an addictive tamarind dipping sauce. Everyone at the table raved about them and the goat cheese stuffed piquillo peppers drizzled with honey and chopped hazelnuts, topped with microgreens. I couldn’t eat the cheese but did manage to snag a bite of a pepper with some honey and hazeluts, and it was delicious. I had eyed up their curried chickpea dish served with cauliflower, red peppers, carrots, plump raisins, and chickpeas atop a bed of turmeric rice. It had a bit of a kick to it, but the flavors were on point. My mom had the special, which included perfectly seared sea scallops on a bed of black quinoa and sautéed spinach served with a beet yogurt sauce.

If you’re looking for a spot for nice night out in Lake Placid or for a place to go for a celebration, I highly recommend Salt of the Earth Bistro.

Big Slide Brewery & Public House

Location: 5686 Cascade Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-7844, www.BigSlideBrewery.com
Meals: Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, Drinks

Another newer addition to the Lake Placid dining scene, Big Slide Brewery received about 4.5 out of 5 stars on yelp, which caught my attention. It’s a great spot for a group and you could easily spend an afternoon there. Their farm-to-table menu that sources ingredients locally had plenty of options for gluten-free, dairy-free and anyone without restrictions, too. Bill and I had a great meal there. I’m not much of a drinker, but their mule served with cranberry maple ginger beer was calling my name, so I got that to start, and it was definitely the right call.

To start, I loved the humor they put into their menu titles. With names like The 40 Year Old Vegan (a vegan pizza), The Yawner (a traditional house salad), What a Fun-gi (mushroom pizza), and Trout It Out (my second choice for an entree!), just reading the menu put me in a good mood. I have an appreciation for puns.

For dinner, I opted for the Thai Cobb Salad (another funny play on words, right?), and Bill had the pork chop entree. My salad was made with julienned carrot, cabbage and jicama; spicy micro greens; tomato; avocado; applewood smoked bacon; peanuts; and a 7-minute egg and was topped with a lime and smoked chili vinaigrette. I wasn’t starving, but if I wanted to amp it up a bit more, I could have added grille chicken. It hit the spot, and I would highly recommend it! 

Bill’s entree was a bone-in pork loin chop served with caramelized onion, blueberry and bacon salsa, roasted carrot and spinach lentils and finished with an apple bourbon jus. I don’t think anything else needs to be said other than it was awesome. Like, ridiculously awesome and packed with flavor. We can’t wait to go back to Big Slide Brewery for another mouthwatering meal!

Caffe Rustica

Location: 1936 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-7511, www.CaffeRustica.com
Meals: Dinner, Dessert; Closed on Sundays

This place is easy to miss if you’re not aware of it because it is off the main drag and in a shopping center with a Price Chopper grocery store. We first went to Caffe Rustica (yup, it’s spelled differently) a few years ago with family friends who live in the area, and it has become one of our annual dinner destinations since.

I started with a house salad made of mixed greens, poached pears, charred onions, walnuts, and avocado (they let me sub that for cheese) topped with a maple balsamic dressing. What a perfect way to start a meal. I had the fish special, which was a meaty white fish served with a homemade basil marinara sauce and served on top of sautéed broccolini. It was a light meal, great for the hot summer day we were there. I’ve had the salmon before, too, and it is often served with root vegetables and quinoa, so I’d recommend that, too.

Photo credit: Olivia Serafini, Whole Cal, So Cal. Used with permission

After dinner, if you’re looking for something to do, play a round of mini golf at Pirate’s Cove. It’s a fun course. The last time we were there, Bill got four holes in one!

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

Location: 813 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523- 3813, www.UbuAle.com
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Drinks

If you want to hit up the beach at Mirror Lake and then walk to lunch or dinner or to grab drinks with friends and family, then the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery is your spot. We went there with a group of almost 20 people last summer after my sister, Jane, did her third Ironman triathlon, so this is a great spot for groups.

Once again, this is another spot that accommodates gluten-free, plant-based diners. All items are prepared in the same kitchen as gluten-containing foods, but they label their menu with a GF symbol to indicate which items are made with gluten-free ingredients. I’ve gotten the hummus starter (lots of crunchy veggies for dipping!) and superfood salad (kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and mixed greens galore) with salmon on top. My mom loved the salmon bowl with maple and brown sugar glazed salmon served with cilantro lime rice, radishes, cucumbers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds. If you’re gluten-free, ask for a gluten-free sauce / glaze option, as it appears that something in that dish is not gluten-free.

If you’re in the mood for a pizza, burger or sandwich, good news! LP Pub & Brewery offers gluten-free pizza crust and burger buns.

Lisa G’s

Location: 6125 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-2093, www.LisaGs.com
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Drinks

This is a popular neighborhood restaurant and bar and tends to get busy around dinner time, especially on weekends. Lisa G’s has something for everyone a menu that labels menu items as “gluten-free” or “vegan,” which is super helpful for someone like me.

Here are a few of the gluten-free options: Lentil Salad with mixed greens, green lentils, carrots, scallions, roasted red peppers, and green olives tossed in a thyme vinaigrette and topped with walnuts and feta. I’d hold the feta and ask for avocado instead, which most restaurants are willing to accommodate. Lisa G’s has a few side dish options that I’d recommend mixing and matching with a protein to build a nourishing, fueling meal, including roasted veggies, sautéed kale, rice pilaf and rice and beans. For entrees, you could try the Sweet Potato Chili and Salmon dishes (ask for a different sauce on the salmon if dairy-free), as both are gluten-free (hold the corn bread for the chili).

If you don’t have any dietary restrictions, you have a broader menu to choose from, including salads, apps, wings, sandwiches, tacos, burritos, and land and see entrees.

And there you have it! Those are my top seven, tried and true dining spots in Lake Placid. Looking for more options? Here are four other spots to check out in town:

  1. The Cottage: 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY. The view from the outdoor patio of The Cottage is beautiful, sitting right on Mirror Lake. I’m a fan of their House Salad served with artisanal greens, heirloom cherry tomatoes, roasted butternut squash, sweet and spicy almonds and served with their maple balsamic dressing.
  2. Base Camp Cafe: 2488 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY. Breakfast the other day was a toss up between this place and The Breakfast Club. We didn’t make the right choice (the food and vibe were not so awesome at the Breakfast Club) and wish we’d gone to Base Camp instead. They serve old fashioned oatmeal and have build-your-own omelette or scramble options served up with home fries. They also have all day breakfast bagels that can be made with gluten-free bread instead. Base Camp also serves hot and cold sandwiches and variety of drink options, including a wide selection of specialty lattes.
  3. Top of the Park: 2407 Main Street, Second Floor, Lake Placid, NY. Tapas / small plates restaurant with creative but limited menu and a few vegan and gluten-free options. We haven’t been yet, but this place comes highly recommended by the staff at Green Goddess Natural Foods for the quality of their food and willingness to accommodate different dining preferences.
  4. Liquids & Solids: 6115 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY. If you consider yourself to be a bit of an adventurous eater, check out this spot. Their menu is heavy on animal products and not an ideal spot for plant-based diners. They’re also known for their extensive and ecclectic drink menu.

It’s OK to Be in the Middle of the Mess

A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation about how to build a thriving culture at work. As a result of how busy I’ve been over the past few months, and the month of May in particular, I was wired the night before the presentation. My brain wouldn’t shut off, and I barely slept. I know how important a good night’s sleep is to performing well, so I was a bit concerned about how the presentation would go.

In the moments before I began, I prayed that whatever strength I was lacking would be poured out on me, so that my words would have power beyond what I was capable of in that moment.

And that’s exactly what happened; the presentation went great.

People were engaged, connecting with each other, and sharing their own experiences with the rest of the group. I was able to offer compelling stories of companies that care, personal stories about my own work journey, and enough data to keep the skeptics happy. I wouldn’t have changed a thing and received positive feedback from clients and coworkers.

At the end of the session, a woman I’ve known for a few years approached me to tell me how wonderful it has been to watch me blossom and how much she has enjoyed following my work. She told me how inspiring it has been and how much she looks forward to hearing me speak. I was grateful for her kind words and thanked her.

But I wasn’t expecting what she said next.

“Are you happy?”

I paused, caught off guard by the directness of her question.

If I’d been 100% unfiltered in that moment, here’s what I would have said:

“No! I’m not. How could you tell? I barely slept at all last night, and I’m running on fumes. I’m exhausted. I really did enjoy giving that presentation, and it did light me up and recharge me but not in a sustainable way. I’m rarely present for my own life. I’m more likely to be six months into the future in my head than wherever I am in a given moment. I feel stuck and overwhelmed and frustrated and don’t know how to turn off the constant wheel of thoughts and worries spinning in my mind. And the irony of it all is that I’ve been giving presentations about the secrets to happiness and thriving cultures for the past few months and have not been thriving myself.”

But I didn’t say that.

I said what was easy.

Because, in that moment, being diplomatic was easier than telling the truth.

“Well, I’m kind of going through a bit of a transition and rebranding what I’m doing, so you know, that’s been challenging. I’m doing okay; I’ve just been really busy lately.”

I knew it was a BS answer, but it’s all I had to offer her. I couldn’t really get into the truth about how I was feeling. But I couldn’t let go of her question that day either, and it’s still floating in my mind weeks later.

You see, I’ve always been really good at appearing like I have it all together.

Even when I don’t.

It’s much easier to share our struggles once we’re on the other side of them than when we’re smack dab in the middle of them. I’ve had a tendency to do just that; to share my stories of victory, so everyone around me could be inspired.

I shared the story of my weight journey after I’d lost the weight and kept it off for a few years.

I shared the story of gaining that weight back after I had another positive spin to tie it to, like restoring my physical health and getting beyond being clinically malnourished.

I shared the story of recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono, after I had been through a grueling seven months of sickness and healing.

I shared the years of mixed emotions I’ve had around having children after my younger sister shared the news that she was expecting a baby last summer.

I never shared my stories when I was in the middle of them, only once I had reached the other side and could tie them up neatly with a bow and hand them over to you to offer the gift of hope.

This time is different.

This time I’m in the middle of the mess.

And that’s exactly why I have to write about it.

So that in those moments when you, too, feel stuck or frustrated in whatever you’re facing, you have a voice telling you it’s okay to be in the middle of the mess, to not know how it will all turn out. That you are still okay, even if everything around you and inside you feels like it’s not.

Remember how last summer I wrote about all of the lessons I learned from getting mono and how I was going to slow down and not overcommit?

Well, that didn’t last long.

I’ve sped up again because it’s the state that’s most familiar to me. I’ve been overcommitting myself because busyness excites me. I get bored easily, so I fill every inch of my schedule to ensure that I will feel valuable and needed and wanted and like I’m “doing” something important. Once again, the vast majority of my current state of exhaustion has been self-inflicted.

And I’ve allowed it to steal my joy.

But I’ve been learning from it, too. I’m learning that the first step toward growth and transformation is recognizing the truth about where we are and where we want to go.

I want to be happy.

I’ve chosen not to be.

Ouch.

That’s a hard truth to acknowledge.

I have no one to blame for my mindset except myself. I haven’t set healthy boundaries in my life and haven’t given my body all that it needs to feel its best, including regular exercise and time to shut off. It’s so easy for me to fall into a state of condemning, shaming and judging myself:

“I thought we weren’t going to do this anymore, Rachel. I thought we’d gotten through this hurdle. Aren’t you ‘enough’ yet? Didn’t you learn your lesson last year? What’s the matter with you?”

Yup, that’s what my self-talk looks like more often than I’d like to admit.

But condemnation and shame rarely lead to anything good, and there is no place for condemnation in a full life. Condemnation is loaded with criticism and rejection and blame. Feeling badly about ourselves isn’t how we were meant to live.

So, I’m choosing conviction instead. Feeling convicted is helpful and with conviction, shame disappears. Motivation emerges. A desire to be better, to get beyond where we are follows.

I’ve started making small changes.

I began writing this blog post on a Sunday night and slept on it a bit. Before going to bed, I decided to put what I have learned into practice and jotted down five good things that happened that day in my journal to give myself perspective. I felt better within minutes and fell asleep.

I signed up for the gym for the first time in two years. My motivation is different than it was eight years ago when I first went on a journey to lose weight. This time, I’m not trying to “fix” myself.

I’ve just realized that not consistently exercising negatively impacts me emotionally, physically and mentally. I know I’m called to honor my body and its need to move more than I have been. After getting mono last year, I pretty much bowed out of anything that challenged me physically because I just wanted to have enough energy to function normally. Now, I have my energy back, and I want to use it.

I’m carrying excess weight and don’t feel my best in my body right now, and I’m convicted that something needs to change. I know I need to get out of my head and back into my body. Sometimes holding on to extra physical weight can be a sign we are holding onto something emotional that we need to release or let go of. Once we address the deeper emotional or spiritual need, we may find that our body naturally releases physical weight we’ve been carrying.

It’s really difficult to share thoughts like these with people who admire me and see me as an example of how to live. I value being seen a certain way (i.e., having it together and being on top of it), which is all the more reason for me to share stories like these – stories about being in the middle of our challenges, not on the other side.

I do it to show that none of us is perfect, that each of us is on a journey, and that we rarely “arrive” at a new way of living or being and stay there forever.

That’s why it’s important to stay open, to continue to notice what’s best for us in a given moment, to let go of what has worked in the past because our future may require us to do something differently.

It’s as though life is a series of seasons.

Some seasons are full of sunshine, clear blue skies and balmy breezes. Other seasons are marked by bone-chilling temperatures, snowstorms, and sheets of ice. Still others are full of blooming buds or falling leaves.

We do the best we can to adjust and adapt to whatever season we’re in, recognizing that a new one is coming in a matter of months.

If you’re reading this, you’ve weathered every season thus far, so your track record is pretty good.

If you’re feeling ashamed, condemned or guilty about where you are in your life, job, relationships, or body at this moment, I invite you to release the weight of those thoughts and feelings. They are weighing you down. I encourage you to hold onto hope and follow your conviction. Have the courage to make a change if one is warranted.

Just be a little gentler with yourself. Show yourself some grace and compassion. You’re doing the best you can in any given moment.

You don’t have to be on the other side of your struggle before you can start talking about it or inspiring other people with it. It’s okay to be in the middle of the mess.

Start where you are with what you have.

I’m right here with you.

Brain Food: 7 Ways to Fuel a Healthy Mind

We’re asking a lot of our brain these days.

The brain only weighs about three pounds and its texture is like that of firm jelly (Mmm…), yet it’s our most powerful organ, directing everything we do on a daily basis without our conscious awareness. Most of us are constantly on the go, stimulated by multiple inputs and distractions, demanding our brain to constantly think, learn, process, concentrate, focus, remember, feel, and problem solve, among other things. It’s like our brains are always on, given little to no downtime to relax, recharge, and rest. It’s a struggle for me, too. I know I don’t give my brain the rest it needs, but I do try my best to give it premium fuel to help it operate effectively.

Our brains are nourished by a vast network of blood vessels, and when we are thinking hard and demanding a lot of ourselves cognitively, our brain may use up to about 50% of the oxygen and fuel in those blood vessels. That’s a key reason we want to nourish our brain with the highest quality fuel available to us, so we can continue to function at a high level.

Many of us have personal experience or exposure to different conditions affecting the brain, including everything from anxiety and depression to brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory loss, and dementia. Over 20 years ago, my great-grandmother passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. I remember going to visit her in the hospital as a young girl and wondering what was happening. As someone who has always prided myself on my intellectual abilities and capacity, I felt confused and a bit frightened as I watched her brain power diminish over time. It’s a fear many of us have – that we will one day not know where we are or who our loved ones are or that we will lose the ability to recall a lifetime of memories and experiences.

It’s tempting to hear all of that and assume that it’s inevitable we will succumb to some health condition that will impair our brain, but I’ve got good news!

We can influence our brain health by changing what we eat and upgrading our diets to include brain-boosting foods. By simply switching up your diet and maybe adding a few supplements (you only want to use trans-pterostilbene if you’re interested in taking brain-boosting supplements), you can give yourself a healthier brain later on in life! If you are looking to enhance your memory, improve your focus, get a boost in mental energy, sleep better, concentrate better, and think more clearly, keep reading. Physical activity and mindfulness / meditative practices are both important for optimal brain functioning, but for today, we’re going to focus primarily on the role of food and nutrition in optimizing our brain function. We obviously need places like www.starmed.care to have annual checkups and make sure everything is healthy with ourselves but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to improving your general health through improving the way we treat our brains.

Our brain is connected to the rest of our body by nerves and blood vessels, so anything we do to support brain health will enhance our overall health. You don’t have to remember a different diet for every body system because everything is connected 🙂

The Best Diet for Brain Health

Each year, U.S. News and World Report publishes its ranking of the best diets. I’m generally not a fan of diets because of their tendency to be restrictive and deprivation-oriented, but if you just think of a diet as a way of eating, you can use the information they publish as a helpful guide. I like to think of what I’m about to share as a way to upgrade your eating habits to enhance your brain power.

From a list of 40 different diet, the MIND Diet ranks among the top five. The MIND Diet is a hybrid of the DASH Diet, which is aimed as preventing or reducing the risk of high blood pressure, and the Mediterranean Diet, which draws on the dietary practices of people living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Photo by Michal Sevcik

Research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia suggests that people who follow the MIND Diet have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).

The top 10 foods recommended by the MIND Diet are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables (especially non-starchy ones like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains (think oats, quinoa and brown rice), fish, poultry, olive oil and some red wine (optional – if you’re not already consuming, starting won’t necessarily benefit you, but if you already drink red wine, a 5-ounce glass daily is recommended).

If you’re looking to avoid foods that have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, reduce intake of butter and margarine to about 1 tablespoon daily (especially margarine because of its trans fats) and limit cheese consumption to less than once per week (Hey, I didn’t do the research; I’m just sharing it!) because of its high saturated fat content. Keep red meat at no more than three services a week and limit fried food consumption to less than once a week because of its pro-inflammatory nature and limit processed sweets to no more than four times a week.

The goal isn’t perfection – just add in a few more servings of the brain-boosting foods as often as you can. Fortunately, even moderate adherence to the MIND Diet has been linked to slower rates of cognitive decline. To learn more about the MIND Diet, click here.

Now, let’s take a look at a few others ways to fuel and boost our brain health!

7 Ways to Fuel a Healthy Mind

1) Hydrate

We know that our body needs water to function, and for optimal brain functioning, making sure we are properly hydrated is critical. Even a small amount of dehydration can significantly impact our body.

A 1-2% loss of fluid levels in the brain has been linked to a wide range of mental impairments, including attention deficit, slower processing, and poorer short-term memory retention. Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the international experts and leaders in brain health, advocates for consuming half your body weight in water. If you weigh 140 pounds, that would mean 70 ounces of water each day. It’s not an exact science but more of a guidelines. What you need will vary based on your physical activity level, other foods you’re consuming with high water content, age, caffeine intake (it’s a diuretic and causes you to lose fluid) and medications you are taking that may interfere with hydration.

Water is the recommended drink of choice, and you can infuse it with fruits, vegetables and herbs to keep it exciting, but you can also consume things like herbal teas and throw in something like Spindrift, a sparkling water made without any artificial ingredients or “natural flavors” that is super low in sugar (about 1 gram per can).

2) Eat Probiotic and Prebiotic-Rich Foods

Your gut is one of the most important organs for the health of your brain.

Dr. Daniel Amen

I’ve written on my blog before about the top steps to optimize gut health, but most of us don’t think about how closely connected gut health and brain health are. The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves and is part of our involuntary nervous system that commands unconscious body procedures, like controlling digestion. Not only that, but our “gut” or digestive system is often referred to as our second brain because of how important it is in regulating things like mood and energy.

The foods we eat can either heal our digestive system or harm it, so being intentional about upgrading our diet by adding in gut-supportive foods is important. The bacteria in our gut are responsible for the production of neurotransmitters or brain messengers involved in mood, learning, and memory.

Believe it or not, gut bacteria produce about 95% of our body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.

If our digestive system isn’t getting the fuel it needs from bacteria-rich, fermented foods, it doesn’t produce the amounts of serotonin and dopamine that we need to feel and function at our best.

Some of my favorite probiotic-rich foods to consume are sauerkraut (my fave brands are Hex Ferments (#1) Farmhouse Culture, Jacob’s Raw and Wildbrine. I chop up sauerkraut and put it in all of my salads. You do NOT want your sauerkraut to be cooked. The beneficial living bacteria are only present in the raw forms. You can also try pickles (made without sugar – check the label), kimchi (a spicy Korean cabbage), kombucha (watch the sugar and don’t drink if you are prone to candida or other sugar imbalance issues), miso, tempeh, and tofu. Fermented foods may be an acquired taste, but think of them as medicine for your body and brain!

3) Focus on Folate

Folate is a naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9. Its Latin roots mean “leaf”, so it’s no surprise that leafy green vegetables are among the best sources of folate.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of the vitamin, while folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods and in most supplements. B-vitamins like folate help support adrenal function and calm and maintain a healthy nervous system. Folate indirectly facilitates the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, three neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.

Here are some top source of folate, as listed on one of my favorite resources for nutrition information – The World’s Healthiest Foods:

4) Eat from the Rainbow

If we know anything about nutrition, it’s that eating a diet rich in colorful, whole foods, especially plants, is one of the most important features of a nourishing diet.

Flavonoids are plant-based compounds with a wide range of health benefits that are present in varying levels in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. They have strong anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and even anti-viral benefits. I like this handy chart from Dr. Mercola that highlights some of the top sources of flavonoids.

Some of these compounds help repair defective DNA, which is important because defective DNA can lead to cancer, chronic diseases, and aging-related health conditions. They are rich in antioxidants, which helps the body counter the oxidative effects of stress and a processed food diet. Think of oxidation as rusting. When metal is in contact with oxygen and water, it rusts, and too much oxidation inside our cells can cause premature aging and “rusting” from the inside out. In order to repair that damage internally, we want to consume large amounts of ANTI-oxidant-rich foods.

RECIPES: Take a look at some of Rebecca Katz’s top brain-boosting recipes from The Healthy Mind Cookbook. Also, for some of the Brain Warrior Way recipes, check out Tana Amen’s site here.

Veggies at the San Diego Farmer’s Market, including lots of kale!

5) Power Up with Protein

Most Americans are not protein deficient, despite what all of the current food advertising might lead you to believe. However, many of us do not consume the highest quality sources of protein or the amounts that are ideal for optimal brain health. If we are too focused on protein consumption, we will often neglect to fill enough of our plate with the antioxidant-rich foods we just learned about above.

The building blocks of proteins are called amino acids, and they make up our neurotransmitters, enzymes, muscles, tissues, and hormones. We need to consume quality sources of protein in order to give our body the raw materials it needs to function at its best.

Dr. Amen suggests a ratio of 70% plant-based foods and 30% high quality protein as a way to structure our plates. Some of his top recommended protein sources include beans, meat (wild caught fish, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef), eggs, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin and sesame) and high-protein vegetables like broccoli and spinach.

IMPORTANT BRAIN HEALTH NOTE ABOUT VITAMIN B-12: Animal-based proteins are one of the best sources of B-vitamins, which are essential for energy, so if you are vegan, you will most likely need to supplement with B-vitamins, especially B-12. This is important from a brain health perspective because deficiencies in vitamin B-12 have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. If you or someone you know has been on acid blockers for a while, make sure to have your B-12 levels checked. Those medications interfere with your body’s ability to synthesize B-12 and often lead to deficiencies.

6) Focus on Feel Good Fats

Despite what the 1990s ingrained in us about fearing fat, we need fat to be well. The solid mass of our brain is 60% fat, and the fats we eat directly impact the functionality of our brain. Consuming enough healthy fats reduces the risk of depression and helps brain functions like memory, speaking ability, and motor skills. We need a variety of omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA, DHA and EPA as well as some omega-6 fatty acids. However, we want the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats to be less than 4:1 for optimal health. Ratios much higher than that indicate elevated inflammation in the body, which can trigger a cascade of physical, emotional and mental health issues.

Top sources of omega-3 fatty acids include mackeral, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans. Other decent sources of omega-3 fats are pastured eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs, meats from grass-fed animals, grass-fed dairy products, hemp seeds, and some vegetables like spinach and Brussels sprouts.

Sources of omega-6 fats (which are inflammatory in excess) include vegetable oils, many processed salad dressings, mayonnaise, fast foods, fried foods, cookies and cakes, processed pork products, and dairy. These fats are also found in eggs to some extent and in nuts and seeds. While nuts and seeds do contain healthy fats, it’s possible to overdo it. You can ask your doctor to test your omega 6:3 ratio the next time you have blood work done to find out what your levels are.

If you don’t consume seafood or adequate amounts of the other omega-3-rich foods, consider investing in a fish oil supplement. To get the best recommendations, check out this fish oil buyer’s guide by Chris Kresser (one of my favorite nutrition experts!).

7) Herb and Spice It Up!

For many of us, herbs and spices can seem like an afterthought. After all, most people simply use salt and pepper and the occasional sprinkle of garlic or chili powder to flavor food. We are missing out on a world of flavor and antioxidant power when we don’t use herbs and spices regularly.

I love what Dr. Amen has to say about the healing power of herbs and spices:

Herbs and spices contain so many health-promoting substances that it almost makes sense to store them in the medicine cabinet rather than the spice cabinet!

Photo by Pratiksha Mohanty

Believe it or not, herbs and spices like cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, sage, and parsley have some of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values of any foods – even more than blueberries! To give you a sense of just how powerful herbs and spices are, the ORAC value of oregano is 1750,000 compared to 9,000 for blueberries. Think of the ORAC value as the antioxidant power of the food. Remember how important antioxidants are to brain health and fighting inflammation and DNA damage?

The next time you’re at the grocery store, spend a little more time in the herbs and spices aisle (we opt for the self-serve jars of herbs and spices at MOMs Organic Market) and in the produce aisle, where you’ll find fresh herbs. Use dried herbs and spices at the beginning of the cooking process to infuse their flavors and medicinal properties into your meals. Finish off your meal prep by adding in some chopped herbs to enhance the brain-boosting power of a dish.

Another one of my favorite ways to easily add herbs and spices into my diet is to drink herbal tea daily. My favorite brands are Traditional Medicinals, Choice, Pukka, Buddha Teas, Organic India, and Yogi teas. Black tea is also an excellent source of plant-based compounds that support health.

So, there you have it, friends! Everything you could ever want to know about how to use food to nourish and fuel your brain. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

To learn more about how to boost your brain, check out the books below:

I’m Into It! Swapples, Superhero Muffin & the Hidden Brain

Last summer, I started a series called “I’m Into It!” where I share some of my favorite recipes, books, websites, gadgets and brands. The last post from this series covered the reasons why we L-O-V-E our instant pot, so check that out here if you missed it!

Let’s move on to what I’m into today. I have three exciting recs in store for you, friends!

  1. One of our FAVORITE freezer staples.
  2. A killer muffin recipe that is filling enough for a meal.
  3. A podcast that is blowing my mind and will hopefully rock your world, too!

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen me post about this first food, but if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat today!

Swapples

One day at MOMs Organic Market, I was walking through the freezer aisle and saw packaging that caught my eye.

Vegan

Paleo

Gluten-free

Swapples.

“What the heck is a Swapple?” I wondered. I’d never heard of them before.

I grabbed the package and noticed the simplicity of the real food ingredients (healthier “swaps” to traditional ingredients in packaged food). When I brought a bag home,  Bill and I fell in love with them immediately and always have a package in our freezer! Swapples are plant-based waffles made with whole fruits, veggies and spices. All of the waffles are made without gluten, certified vegan, and contain only about six ingredients! You can use them like you would use toast, a bagel, pizza crust or any other medium for stacking tasty toppings!

I’ve had the privilege of meeting the face behind the brand – founder Rebecca Peress. She is a dynamo and is so passionate and enthusiastic about what she does. She invited me to a Swapples tasting before they rolled out their blueberry flavor about a year or so ago and I met another blogger, Crunchy Kat, there, and we’ve since become buddies. If you’re not already a part of the Swapples community on Instagram, start following them! They post drool-worthy photos of some of the most creative Swapples meal ideas.

Flavors: Savory (Everything, Tomato Pizza, Garlicky Greens) and Sweet (Blueberry, Cinnamon).

Where to Buy: Find where Swapples are sold near you using this store locator.

Superhero Muffin

One of the best parts about my job is meeting hundreds of new people who can teach me new things on a regular basis. Whether I’m speaking at companies or conferences, I love meeting people. I believe that, if we’re open to it, we can learn something from everyone we meet.

Earlier this year, I was at a company facilitating a training about how to beat burnout and become our best selves, given my experience with burnout last year. In one of the sessions, I was asking everyone in the room to share their favorite apps, podcasts, books, and other tools that have helped them improve some area of their lives.

One person wrote down a book I hadn’t heard of – Run Fast Eat Slow – which was written by athletes for athletes. I don’t consider myself an “athlete,” but I checked out their website and align so much with their philosophy around food and love their concept of “indulgent nourishment.” (Isn’t that the coolest phrase??)

They focus on using fat for flavor and performance, don’t obsess over protein, and know that restrictive diets do more harm than good. In my initial scroll through their website, I stumbled upon an AMAZING recipe that I’ve made about three times in the past few months. They’re called Superhero Muffins and are great for a grab-and-go breakfast. I’ve taken them with me for snacks and breakfast when traveling. They’re also gluten-free 🙂

Try the Recipe: Here is the recipe for the Superhero Muffins!

Hidden Brain Podcast

I’m not even sure how I first stumbled upon the Hidden Brain podcast. I think it came up as a recommended podcast, since Bill and I have been listening to another fascinating podcast – Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell.

Hidden Brain is an NPR podcast that uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships. The topics are intriguing, and I’ve listened to multiple episodes in a row when traveling. They are inspiring, informative, and really get you to think differently. I love being intellectually stimulated, and this podcast does that while also keeping me emotionally engaged.

Subscribe: Check out the Hidden Brain podcast and listen to past episodes on the podcast app on your phone or here on their website. Here are a few of my favorite episodes (because of my interest in relationships and thought patterns and how to improve them!):



Reader Feedback

How about you? Have you tried Swapples or Superhero Muffins? Do you have a favorite podcast that you love listening to? Feel free to leave a comment below 🙂

A Letter to My Sister on Motherhood

It was a Monday in September.
“Gym day” at school.
I was in third grade.
Zack and I were dressed in our green sweatsuits that made us look like little lanky string beans.
Mom and dad sent us to the neighbor’s house after school while we waited for the news.
“It’s a girl!”
We jumped up and down and cheered.
We had a little sister!
We drove the hospital and could barely contain our excitement.
We arrived, beaming with joy, and could hardly wait to cradle you in our arms.

Sweet Baby Jane.

I couldn’t get enough of you.
Your tiny fingers and tiny toes.
Your big blue eyes.
You were a special one, a gift, a long-awaited blessing.
About a year before, Zack and I sat dumbfounded at the kitchen table as mom sobbed because she had lost the baby she was carrying.
The little one we’ll never know.
We mourned the loss, not even knowing if the baby was to be a brother or a sister.
And then came you.
A little one whose arrival was an answer to prayer.
I remember singing you to sleep to Colors of the Wind,
Rocking you, holding you, kissing your small round face.
I adored you.
Everyone did.

I look back at gratitude journals from high school.
“I’m grateful for my little sister, Jane” was written on every other page.

You brought so much joy to our lives.
You made us laugh until we cried.
You amazed us with your intellect and maturity.
But you had a secret.
We didn’t know you felt so much pressure to always be funny, always be sweet, always be okay.
We didn’t know you felt so alone, so unknown, and so misunderstood.
We didn’t intend for you to have to hide that pain for so many years.
If only we’d known.
I’m sorry we didn’t know, sweet sister.
I’m sorry you carried that alone.

The Surprise

It’s now 24 years later.
On a Friday night in August.
Bill and I have just finished a game night with you and your boyfriend, Patrick.
We like him. He’s kind. He’s gentle. He’s funny. You suit each other.
We’re sitting on the couch in our basement as you look at us and say,
“Patrick and I have something to share with you guys.”
I pause and glance at your hand.
Engaged?
No ring.

“I’m having a baby in March.”

Time stands still.
I don’t know what to do.
Instead of reacting (my norm), I respond to you with love.
I draw toward you and hug you, holding you tightly, trying to process what you’ve just told us.
You begin to cry.
Both of us do.
“It was a surprise, but we’re excited,” you continue through tears and a smile.
You’ve always been so good with children, so I imagine how you’ll be with one of your own.
You are 10 weeks along but had only known for about three weeks.
Just a few weeks before, you had finished an Ironman triathlon…pregnant.
You are already a fighter, someone who persists in the face of difficulty.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay,” you assure me, as you wipe away tears from your cheeks.

I want to ask you so many questions.
But they would likely have been condemning and shame-inducing.
And I know there is no place for condemnation or shame in this situation.
Because shame and love cannot coexist, and it’s not my role to judge.
Instead, I tell you about grace and love and compassion.
That all life is a gift.
That I’m glad you are keeping the baby.
That we love you, support you, and are here for you.
We hug again.
I don’t want to let you go.
I pray over your belly and the little one inside.
I pray for protection, peace, health, and strength.
For casting off any feelings of shame, guilt or judgment.
For wisdom about how to tell mom and dad.

The Awakening

I wake up the next morning.
I didn’t sleep well.
I reach out to a few friends to begin to process the news.
One is a pastor and a friend of 15 years.
“It’s normal to grieve the unmet expectations of a life…but then you have to let go.”
I lament how you don’t have a strong community of support, a close network of girlfriends who can rally alongside you during this part of your journey.
Tori reassures me.
“She has you.”


Bill and I spend the morning in the car, driving up to Pennsylvania for his alumni soccer game.
I go to the outlets while he relives his glory days.
Maybe some retail therapy will help.
On the way there, something in me breaks open and pours out.
Something painful.
Something raw.
I sob uncontrollably.
I cry the ugliest of cries.
I wail from the depths of my soul.
I cannot remember a time I have felt so intensely.

As I walk from shop to shop, I feel increasingly numb, listless, overcome with sadness.
I try to hold it together and pull myself together, as I always do.
But every few minutes, I start crying again.
I can’t snap out of it.
The sadness won’t lift.
I call Bill through tears.
I’m supposed to meet him and his buddies post-game at a bar.
“I can’t be around anyone right now. I can’t stop crying.”

I meet him at a restaurant for lunch.
He holds my hand.
Just when I think it’s over, another wave of tears and sadness passes over me.
I wipe away my tears and attempt to eat my lunch.
I’m not hungry, but I need a distraction.
As we drive home, I feel sad, broken, emotionally exhausted.

I had just started seeing a therapist a few weeks prior.
I share the news with her at my next appointment.
I don’t spare any details.
I cry some more.
She listens.

At the following appointment, she checks back with me to see how I’m doing.
“When you left last time, I couldn’t help but think, ‘That’s an awfully strong reaction to someone else’s pregnancy.’”
I sat there in stillness,
Feeling the weight of her words.
“Yes, I think you’re right.”

What if I was actually grieving the unmet expectations of my life?

You see, I’ve always been the career-driven woman, climbing the ladder of success.
I’ve defined myself and found my identity and worth at work.
By society’s standards, I’ve been successful.
But I can’t fight the feeling that something is missing.
That all of my efforts to impress and achieve are empty because they are trying to fill a void that no recognition, promotion or word of praise can fill.
For years, I’ve feared what having a kid would do to my future.
How could I handle my career and a baby?
How could I walk away from opportunities to advance, to be known, to build my platform?

I was blind to the possibility that motherhood could be beautiful and wonderful and fulfilling.
Because I was so wrapped up in the fear that it would destroy all that I thought I wanted.
So I suppressed my desire to be a mother.
For my entire adult life.

I recalled mom telling me she never saw herself as a mom before becoming one.
She didn’t see herself as the nurturing type.
“Maybe I’m not meant to be a mom,” I reasoned.
My body gave me plenty of signals that this might be true.
Half a year of missed menstrual cycles and clinical malnourishment a few years ago.
Sacrificing my immune system and being diagnosed with mono last year.
Monthly cramps that were a recurring source of agony,
A reminder that something was wrong with my body.
I braced myself each month, anticipating the debilitating pain they would bring.

But now, in light of your pregnancy, the cramps took on new meaning for me.
Maybe they were a sign that my body was longing for something I refused to give it, that my empty womb was yearning to be filled.
I began to realize I had never truly opened myself up to a desire buried deep down in my soul that was now being stirred and awakened.
The desire to be a mom.

The Gift

On March 11th, he arrived.
7 pounds, 11 ounces.
With a name that means “strength” in Celtic.
Bryce Allen Wood.

You became a mom.

I went to the hospital to see you and hold this precious little life we’d prayed for months ago.
You courageously made it through a challenging and unexpected turn of events with his delivery.
You were beaming, proud to be a mom, enamored by your sweet baby boy.
It made me happy to see you so happy, so full of life and joy.
You were born to be a mother.
I held his tiny hand, kissed his tiny toes, gazed down at his little round face.

What a gift, what a blessing, what a wonderful surprise.

Nearly two weeks later, it’s a chilly Friday morning, and I awaken from a dream.
I rarely remember my dreams, but this one is unforgettable.
I dream that I am pregnant.
With a little bump under a pale pink shirt.
A symbol of a little girl, perhaps?
“It happened on the first try!” I excitedly tell my friends in the dream.

I place my hand on my lower abdomen right where the bump would be.
I call Bill into the room.
“I had a great dream last night. I was pregnant.”
He hugs me and smiles,
“What a happy dream.”

I’m grateful for you, my sweet, brave sister.
I’m grateful for all the lessons I’m learning from your journey to motherhood.
For the unexpected news you shared with us last summer.
For all that it broke open in me that I have worked so hard to suppress.
For the hope and excitement I now feel as I think about motherhood.
For taking me from fear to the possibility of life and love.
For unlocking my heart and its desire to be a mom.

Love,
Sissy

Sharing Our Stories: Our Vulnerabilities Are Fire

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I had the privilege of being part of a special event hosted by lululemon on Monday night.

Ten women from Baltimore’s health and wellness community, were invited to share our stories of courage, bravery, and vulnerability. Each of us connected our journey with a line or phrase from lululemon’s powerful poem, Enough Already.

The room was full of passionate, powerful women committed to making a difference in their communities and in the world around them. They are business owners, athletes, dancers, yogis, mothers, sisters, friends, and teachers.

I knew one friend was going to be sharing a deeply personal part of her story for the first time publicly, and my heart broke but also cheered for her in her moment of courage.

When we create safe, inviting spaces for each other to open up and be human without shame and judgment, we give each other permission to be brave. And so often we find freedom on the other side of vulnerability.

We spoke our truths and bared our souls.

We shared our stories of abuse, bullying, loss, pride, doubt, fear, worthiness, success, setbacks and shame.

We offered each other grace, forgiveness, love, support, and compassion.

We laughed together, cried together, and danced together.

We were courageous, brave and vulnerable.

We were human.

Shout out to the lululemon team, our awesome MC Nick Ehrlich, and the other women who spoke – Mimi Washington, Dani Yarusso, Michelle Stafford, Lola Manekin, Elyza Dolby, Ardyth Hall, Jennifer Lake, Esther Collinetti, and Jessica Klaitman

Sharing our stories is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other and shed light on the dark places in our lives we hope no one ever sees.

We are more than what we’ve done, more powerful than our past, and by grace we are renewed, redeemed and remade.

The band Tenth Avenue North sums up what I think all of us were feeling on Monday night in these lyrics from their song, “You Are More.”

What a relief, a message of hope that all of us need to hear and be reminded of regularly.

It’s tempting to allow our past to define us, to continue to judge ourselves for regrettable decisions we’ve made, or to keep going on the same guilt trip over and over again to atone for our mistakes and shortcomings.

But that is not how we are called to live.

We are called to live in boldness and to stand in the truth that we are never too far gone because there is no expiration date on grace. There is no limit on love.

The story I shared was rooted in the phrase, “My vulnerabilities are fire” from the Enough Already poem.

Being vulnerable, honest, and open has been key to my growth and healing, especially over the past year. I know some of you wanted to come but weren’t able to make it, so I uploaded the video to YouTube and included it here!

It was a powerful evening, one that required each of us to show up fully and to be present and real with each other.

I was struck by how unique each woman and her story was yet how similar our shared struggles are.

The overarching messages from that night are ones that many of us struggle to believe and embrace – that we are enough, that we are worthy, that there is enough room at the table for all of us.

That each of our unique gifts, contributions, and stories are needed in this world.

That all of us are called to shine.

That we burn brighter together than we do apart.

It’s time for more collaboration and less competition.
It’s time for us to rally around each other, not talk about each other.
It’s time for us to rise up together, not push each other down on our race to the top.
It’s time to believe the truth that we are worth it.
It’s time to believe that we are enough.

 

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Dairy-Free Chocolate Bars

One of the things I love to do on this blog and on social media is give you recommendations for the best products to buy to help you save time (and money!) at the grocery store. I’ve been wanting to write today’s post for years but never took the time to do it, but with Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought now was the perfect time to see what option there are for vegan chocolates, both fancy or novelty chocolate gifts!

I consider myself to be a qualitarian, which is just a fancy term coined by Dr. Mark Hyman that means consuming the highest quality foods and ingredients possible, as often as possible. If you haven’t checked out my food philosophy to learn more about my approach to eating, you can find it here.

When it comes to quality, I’m not just talking about fresh, organic fruits and veggies. Every food counts.

Including chocolate 🙂

That’s why I look for chocolate that has been fairly traded, has a short and simple ingredient list, and is organic (just like the other plant-based foods I consume!). Each of the brands I recommend have dairy-free options and many of their bars are gluten-free. Spoiler alert! Dove, Hershey’s, Lindt, and Ghirardelli aren’t on the list.

It’s time to upgrade your chocolate!

Believe it or not, only 5% of the world’s chocolate is made in a way that respects the humans who grow the beans and environment. Here’s one of my favorite videos from Equal Exchange about why fair trade matters. It’ll open your eyes and give you the nudge you need to upgrade your chocolate the next time you’re at the store.

Supporting a company that exists for a noble purpose, other than just making money, is one of the most important ways you can vote with your dollars. Every decision makes a difference and has the potential to impact the life of someone you may never meet, so buy consciously.

I opt for 70%+ dark chocolate to maximize the health benefits, but start lower if you’re not used to it yet. Your taste buds will adapt! The longer you let the dark chocolate melt in your mouth, the more the enzymes in your mouth activate the sugar in the chocolate to make it taste sweeter and more pleasant.

By the end of today’s post, I bet you’ll have the urge to make a grocery store run and stock up on some chocolate bliss 🙂

Pure Chocolate by Jinji

This is my #1 chocolate choice. Even though it’s mostly truffles and other treats and not mainly bars, I had to include it.

About four years ago, I discovered this gem in the heart of Baltimore and befriended the muse behind the magic, Jinji Fraser. It’s been voted Best Chocolate in Baltimore, so I’m not alone in my love for these raw, vegan chocolates.

I wrote a whole blog post about their chocolate and her story a few years ago, but the good news is that you don’t have to be local to Baltimore to enjoy her bliss-filled treats.

Where to Buy: For a full selection, visit the storefront in Belvedere Square Market. You can also find Jinji chocolate products in stores. Learn more about her Cacao Crossings subscription service to bring them to your home.

Charm School Chocolate

Another Baltimore-based brand that’s making its way around the U.S., this 100% dairy-free, vegan chocolate line includes milk, dark, and while chocolate bars. On their website the meticulous process by which their chocolate is made. It’s clear how much love and intention goes into each batch, from bean to bar. I love how incredibly smooth this chocolate is and how it melts in your mouth and coats your tongue.

Some of their flavors include Vanilla Bean White, Coconut Milk Chocolate, 70% Dark Belize, Vanilla Bean Rice Crisp, and Coconut Milk Chocolate Maple Pecan. Depending on the season, they release limited edition bars like Caramel Malt and Black Sesame.

Where to Buy: Buy them on their website or find where they are sold near you here.

Equal Exchange

A few years ago when I had the opportunity to speak at the WELCOA National Training Summit in Orlando, I did an activity with all of the attendees and invited them to savor a piece of dark chocolate. The company whose chocolate I used was Equal Exchange. This chocolate is some of the smoothest and creamiest out there.

Equal Exchange puts people and the plant before profits and elevates the sourcing of their ingredients. Their organic cacao and sugar are sourced directly from small-scale farmers co-operatives in Latin America.

With flavors like Dark Chocolate Mint, Dark Chocolate Almond, Dark Chocolate Orange, Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper and cacao content ranging from 55% to 88%, there is something for everyone, no matter where you are on the chocolate preference continuum.

Where to Buy: Find them online on their website or in stores. Locally, I’ve found Equal Exchange at MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Giant.

Alter Eco

These are some of my favorite bars and other chocolate treats. Not only do they have a wide variety of chocolate bars, but they also make decadent truffles and chocolatey clusters.

If the description below doesn’t make you want to try one of their treats, I don’t know what will 🙂

Plucked from organic trees in the Peruvian Amazon and Ecuadorian Coast, our cacao beans journey to the base of the Andes Mountains, where they are transformed into some of the world’s finest cocoa products. The final destination is Switzerland, where expert chocolatiers craft our unique and habit-forming bars and truffles.

Their cacao beans from Ecuador and Peru, and their products are always fair trade, organic, non-GMO and never made with soy lecithin (a common ingredient in chocolate bars that acts as an emulsifier).

Some of their dairy-free options include Dark Salted Almonds, Deep Dark Sea Salt, Super Blackout (90% cacao!), Dark Quinoa, Dark Cacao, Dark Almond, and Dark Mint. All of their chocolate bars (except Dark Salt & Malt), truffles, quinoa pouches, and rice pouches are Gluten-Free Certified.

Where to Buy: Buy them online or use their store locator to find where they are sold near you.

Goodio

I first found out about this company at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore and fell in LOVE with their Chai flavor. The company was started in Helsinki, Finland by Jukka, who used to work for the gaming company that created Angry Birds. On a quest to optimize his own health, he ditched dairy products and started adding raw cacao and noticed significant changes in how he felt.

Goodio’s cacao is sourced from South American and African farms. What I love is the company’s commitment to sustainability and integrity. As their founder said, “There has to be greater transparency in where our food comes from, how it’s sourced, and how it’s treated.”

I couldn’t agree more!

All of their chocolate bars are vegan and made from raw cacao that is stone ground in Helsinki for three days. Here’s a quick look at their story.

Goodio brings unique flavor combinations through their bars, including Chai (my #1), Ginger and Lemongrass, Wild Blueberry, and Cranmary. They also have some familiar staples like Mint, Coffee, Sea Salt, and 80% dark Peruvian (Nacional), among others.

Where to Buy: Use their store locator to find where they are sold near you. I buy them at MOMs Organic Market in Maryland.

Hu Chocolate

Last summer, Bill and I went to NYC for a long weekend and hit up Hu Kitchen, a paleo restaurant, about three times. We had to grab one of their paleo, vegan chocolate bars while we were there, and I’m glad that we can find them closer to where I live, too.

Their dark chocolate is stone ground organic and fair trade, and it contains NO dairy, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), emulsifiers, soy lecithin, gluten, refined sugar, cane sugar or sugar alcohols.

They have fun flavors (some with punny names), including Why the Fig Nut?, Almond Butter and Puffed Quinoa, Cashew Butter and Vanilla Bean, Salty, Vanilla Quinoa Qrispy, Hazelnut Butter, Crunchy Mint, Crunchy Banana and Simple Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in health food stores near you. We buy them locally at MOMs Organic Market.

Eating Evolved

All of their products are certified organic, dairy free, gluten-free, paleo, and vegan, and they don’t contain any additives. They use coconut sugar as their sweetener of choice, which has a lower glycemic effect than other sugars. In addition to selling yummy chocolate products, they also have dozens of free recipes on their site that use them.

They sell dark chocolate bars and coconut butter cups (Caramel Sea Salt, Banana Cream, Mint Cream and Strawberries and Cream) as well as chocolate bars with flavors like 72% Signature Dark, Almond Sea Salt, Crunchy Caramel, Midnight Coconut, Cashew Milk, and Cashew Milk and Almonds. Their recently released Keto Cups (high fat) are likely to be popular, too, considering the popularity of that trend.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in stores like MOMs Organic Market and Whole Foods Market, or use their store locator to find them where you live.

Salazon Chocolate Co.

With Jinji, Charm School and Salazon Chocolates all originating within a half hour of where I live, I feel like one lucky woman 🙂 Fortunately, you don’t have to live in Baltimore to buy their products!

Salazon’s 100% USDA organic, Fair Trade certified, Hispaniola cacao beans sourced from CONACADO, a democratically run cooperative of small-scale producers in the Dominican Republic. These farmers grow their cacao using sustainable practices and put great care into their work.

These bars are gluten-free but are made in a facility that also handles peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and milk, so if you are super sensitive, be aware of that. All of the bars are vegan except for the Sea Salt & Caramel Bar. Here’s a peek at some of their flavors: 57% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt; with Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar; with Sea Salt and Black Pepper; with Sea Salt and Coffee. 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds, with Sea Salt and Coconut; with Sea Salt and Cayenne; with Sea Salt; with Sea Salt & Orange Zest.

They recently rebranded, so be on the lookout for their new packaging the next time you need a chocolate fix.

Where to Buy: Buy them online or find them near you using their store locator.

Theo

Theo’s model is based on a core idea – chocolate can be made in a way that allows everyone in the bean to bar process to thrive.

Now that’s the kind of company I want to support. Theo was the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America, and they remain committed to pushing the industry forward today. To learn more about what makes Theo different, click here.

A few of their gluten-free, dairy-free options include: Black Rice Quinoa Crunch 85% Dark, Coconut 70% Dark, Raspberry 70% Dark, Salted Almond 70% Dark, and Ginger 70% Dark. I also love their Salted Dark Chocolate Almond Butter and Peanut Butter Cups, which are vegan as well.

Where to Buy: Online on the Theo website and in stores like MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Giant, and other natural food stores.

Divine

Divine Chocolate is co-owned by the 85,000 farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa for each bar of Divine. As owners, they get a share in the profits, a say in the company, and a voice in the global marketplace.

Flavors include 85% Dark Chocolate, 70% Dark Chocolate and Mint Dark Chocolate; Dark Chocolate with Pink Himalayan Salt; Dark Chocolate with Toffee and Sea Salt; 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries; Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Truffle; 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange; Dark Chocolate with Almonds; Dark Chocolate with Mango and Coconut; Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Raisins; Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Cranberries.

Where to Buy: On their website, Whole Foods Market, Amazon, Walgreens, Giant, and some Target stores.

Endangered Species

If you care deeply about the environment, especially about wild life, you may want to switch your chocolate to this company.

10% of our net profits are donated annually to current 10% GiveBack Partners; each is guaranteed a minimum annual donation of $10,000 and is free to use the funds on projects they deem most important. With over $1.3 million generated in the past three years alone, each chocolate purchase adds up to big support that helps wildlife thrive.

They are the first American-made chocolate using fully traceable fair trade beans from West Africa.

Here are a few of their dark chocolate flavors: Sea Salt and Almonds; Forest Mint; Peppermint Crunch, Lemon Poppy Seed; Cinnamon, Cayenne and Cherries; Cacao Nibs; and 72% Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Buy them at one of these online retailers or at MOMs Organic Market, Giant, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and other natural food stores.

Green & Black

“Green symbolizes our commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa. Black stands for our high quality and the delicious intensity of our chocolate.”

This company’s new signature Pure Dark Chocolates are sourced through Cocoa Life, a holistic, third-party verified cocoa sustainability program, that will invest over $400 million by 2022 to empower over 200,000 cacao farmers.

Their organic flavors include Mint Dark Chocolate, Hazelnut and Currant Dark Chocolate, Ginger Dark Chocolate, Maya Gold Dark Chocolate, and 70-85% Cacao Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in stores like MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Giant.

And this last one doesn’t align with the fair trade model (as far as I know), so it’s not one of my personal top pics, but it is an option for diabetics because it has zero impact on blood sugar 🙂

Lakanto Chocolate

If you or someone you know struggles with blood sugar control or are consuming no added sugar in your diet, the monk fruit and erythritol-sweetened chocolate from Lakanto could be an option for you. It’s diabetic-friendly because it scores zero on the glycemic index due to its combination of sugar-free sweeteners. This chocolate is also vegan, gluten-free, keto, and paleo-friendly! This will please many of the Keto fans out there, as would reading these Ketogenic Supplement Reviews!

I’m confirming the sourcing of their beans (whether they meet the same standards as the bars above!), but for someone who wants chocolate without the impact of sugar, give these bars a try. The three varieties are 55% chocolate plain, with almonds and with cacao nibs.

Where to Buy: Find them online.

Aaaand that’s a wrap, my friends! This post was a labor of love, so I hope it helps you and those you love upgrade your chocolate to the best you can buy. Feel free to leave a comment below about your favorites and about any that I may be missing and should consider.

Chocolate Bliss Aphrodisiac Smoothie

I love chocolate.

I’ve been eating more of it than usual lately, so it’s been on my mind. No holiday in our house is complete without a box of Jinji chocolates, which are raw, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

They are the best chocolates on the planet.

I’ve also been whipping up some chocolate-based treats in my kitchen to share with friends and coworkers, including these no-bake mint chocolate bliss balls and these cherry chocolate brownie bites. We use raw cacao powder – chocolate in its purest form – as the base of those recipes. It’s packed with health and mood benefits like these outlined by Dr. Mercola:

Raw cacao powder contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate – more than 20 times than that of blueberries

Cacao can improve heart health, cholesterol, stress levels, and inflammation, to list just a few physical advantages. Fringe benefits cacao releases into the brain include anandamide, endorphins, phenylethylamine, and serotonin, all sparking descriptives like “blissful” and “euphoric.”

Chocolate is known to increase neurotransmitters like phenylethylamine (PEA), serotonin, and anandamide (the “bliss chemical”) in the brain. That’s just one of the reasons we crave it and feel so good when we eat it.

I opt for raw cacao (not Hershey’s cocoa powder) as my chocolate of choice because in its raw, unheated form, its antioxidant properties and phytochemicals are most potent.

Today’s recipe pairs the blissful phytochemicals in chocolate with the libido-enhancing properties of maca powder.

Maca root is a cruciferous vegetable indigenous to Peru that has dozens of health benefits and is known for its energy-boosting, hormone-balancing, libido-enhancing powers, like the products from sites like https://www.vigrx.com/ are able to aid you in. So maybe after eating one of these you’ll want to take your partner to the bedroom and stick on an adult movie from the likes of https://www.tubev.sex/?hl=bg and other sites.

It is an adaptogen, which is a “natural substance that works with a person’s body and helps them adapt; most notably, to stress. Adaptogens are a natural ally in dealing with persistent stress and fatigue because they work with regulating important hormones.”

Maca has a mild, malted taste and is a great smoothie add-in, which is how we’re using it today. Make sure you buy gelatinized maca root (it will say it on the bag) because it is easier to digest. I buy mine at MOM’s Organic Market, but you can also find it online or at your local health food store.

This smoothie is thick and creamy thanks for the chia seeds, flaxseed and frozen banana. It’s more like a decadent desert, but I enjoyed it for breakfast!

Nothing like a little chocolate and maca love to get the day started right and put you in the mood for whatever is to come 🙂

Chocolate Bliss Aphrodisiac Smoothie

This smoothie combines bliss-inducing chocolate and libido-enhancing maca powder for a delicious, rich and creamy treat.

Course Breakfast
Cuisine Smoothie
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 1 person
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1.5 tablespoons raw cacao powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 Medjool date pit removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 frozen banana

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except banana in a blender for about 30 seconds.

  2. Add banana and blend until smoothie and creamy. Pour into a glass and top with raw cacao nibs for some crunch and an extra chocolate boost!

Recipe Notes

Option add-in: 1 scoop collagen protein powder

An Unexpected Gift: It Pays to Be Kind

Be kind. 
Whenever possible. 
(It’s always possible).

I’m intentional about being kind to people.

The more days I spend on this earth, the more I realize that everyone is struggling with something or hurting in some way. Each of us is doing the best we can with the skills, tools, and support available to us in the moment. Being kind to others is the least I can do to add goodness into the world and to make someone’s day a little brighter.

Recently, I was at a store in the mall buying a few Christmas gifts.  As I went to check out, I did what I always do and asked the cashier, “How is your day going?”

She paused, looked at me with a bit of surprise and responded, “Oh, uh, wow, thanks for asking. It’s going pretty well.”

I couldn’t help but think of how many people had purchased something that day without making eye contact with her or trying to engage with her in some way. I’ve heard stories of how brutal retail can be during the holidays, as stressed out and hurried customers make last-minute purchases. The least we can do is acknowledge another person’s humanity rather than looking at our cell phones as we check out. Make eye contact. Ask how he or she is doing. Be intentional about engaging with them.

Be kind.

You may find that sometimes, in the most unexpected ways, kindness pays you back.

An Unexpected Gift

Each winter, my husband Bill and I spend a few days in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a mini-vacation. We love to walk around the shops, go out to eat and wake up without an alarm. Sometimes we even walk on the beach in our sweats. I look forward to our time there each year.

This year, on our first night there, we decided to check out a new restaurant, Henlopen City Oyster House. I’ve had good experiences using yelp! and this place got 4.5 out of 5 stars from nearly 500 reviews, so I entered into the night optimistically. We were seated at a small, cozy table backing up to the front windows.

Within about ten minutes, an older couple sat down at the table next to us. Bill had ordered a winter mule, and I got my usual hot water and herbal tea. As Bill and I were waiting for our meals to come and enjoying a beet salad, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the couple next to us were both on their phones and not saying much to each other. I was being a bit judgmental, as if I’ve never been in that situation myself…

Our meal arrived, and I could see the couple checking out our plates, so I turned to them, smiled, and said, “He got the scallops, and I got the rockfish.” They appeared a bit flustered, as though I’d caught them in the act of cheating off a neighbor’s paper, but I love engaging with people in conversations about food. I’ve asked my neighbors countless times what they’ve ordered, if it looks good to me. It was my way of connecting to them and being friendly.

We told them it was our first time dining there and asked if they’d been before. It seemed they were regulars, as they knew several people in the restaurant, including the staff. They live in Philadelphia but have a place in Rehoboth. The man told us that they’d just spent a week with family, including a two-year-old and nine-month-old grandchildren, and commented how fun but tiring it can be when kids are that little. We said the same about out our two nieces and nephew. I have no idea how my sister-in-law does it! She’s like superwoman.

The man asked Bill what he did for work, and Bill told him he is an elementary school teacher. “I was, too,” the woman chimed in. “I taught middle school.” She interrupted herself and told us to enjoy our dinner, so we got back to our conversation.

The bulk of our dinner conversation centered on reflections from the year ending and planning for the year to come. I was feeling frustrated with myself for not giving more of my time to other people. I spent so much of this year focusing on myself and recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus that I’ve been feeling selfish and self-centered. I asked several questions over dinner:

  • How do I want to spend my time in service to other people in ways that require me to sacrifice in some way?
  • What do I so deeply care about that I want to devote my time and energy to it?
  • What really stirs my heart?

Bill reminded me that the couples connection and communication workshops we are going to facilitate is one way we’ll serve the people around us in 2018. We talked about being more intentional with our giving and reconsidering some of the causes we donate to financially, so we can feel more connected to what or whom we are supporting.

As we finished up dinner and were waiting for the waiter to bring us our check, he came back to our table empty-handed. He was standing behind Bill, facing me, as he bent down and quietly said, “Your check has been paid for.” 

“What?” I asked incredulously, looking at Bill, who was equally shocked.

Our waiter averted his eyes to the couple sitting next to us, smiled, and walked away. I turned to the couple.

“Seriously?! Thank you so much. That was so kind of you!”

They smiled humbly and said, “Merry Christmas. Pass it along to someone else. Enjoy your time in Rehoboth.”

My eyes welled up with tears, and I asked if I could give the woman a hug. Her eyes were a bit glassy, too, and she hugged me back. Her name was Jean, and her partner, Mike.

In all of our years of dining out together, something like this had never happened to us, especially not for a $100 tab.

We walked out to the car giggling like five-year-olds, still stunned by the generosity of two strangers. I was struggling to rationalize why they would have done what they did because we didn’t need it. We could have paid for our dinner. In his loving and gentle way, Bill reframed the situation for me, “We just spent our whole conversation talking about different ways we can give to other people. That was a reminder that it’s okay to receive sometimes, too.”

Receiving is a gift, too. It gives others the opportunity to bless us and bring us joy. It can be so hard to receive sometimes though, can’t it? Instead of trying to rationalize why someone is being kind or generous to us, what if we were to just receive their kindness as an act of love and simply say, “Thank you”?

Starting Your Day Intentionally

As we close out this year, I encourage you to look for ways in which you can be a blessing to someone else today and every day. It is in giving that we receive. Ask this question as you start your day, so you can begin to be more intentional with your time and resources, no matter how abundant or scarce they are:

How can I be a contribution today? 

And if prayer is part of your life, as it is mine, pray this prayer to start your day:

God, show me who you want me to bless today.
Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear the things you want me to see and hear. Help me to notice people.
Help me to give from what I have.
Help me to be kind.

For more on kindness and paying it forward, check out these past posts:

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to message me!

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