Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sunshine Spinach and Citrus Salad

The sun is shining, and it's a beautiful February. So while I'm looking out at the beautiful sunshine, pretending it's a warm, spring day...I'll eat this salad to continue the facade in my mind! Citrus is in abundance in winter, making this a perfect, easy salad to throw together right now. 

The bright flavors are sure to perk up a bleak, winter day!

Sunshine spinach salad
Fresh spinach
Shredded carrot
Orange or clementine slices
Yellow or orange sweet bell pepper, diced
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Raw cashews
Sweet miso dressing
Equal parts white miso, apple cider vinegar and agave or coconut nectar. A spoonful of tahini, a dash of cracked pepper and water to thin to your liking. Whisk all ingredients together and pour over your assembled salad. 

No Bake Super Fudgy Brownies

These super rich, fudgy bars have been a favorite dessert of mine for years. If an energy bite and a devil's food cake had a baby, it would be these no bake brownies. I like to use Almonds or Cashews, but feel free to use any nut you prefer.  They also keep well in the freezer, making them the perfect make ahead treat. 

No Bake Super Fudgy Brownies
2 C. Almonds
2 C. Dates
1/3 C. Raw cacao powder (or regular cocoa powder)
1/3 C. Unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ t. salt
1-2 T. Brown rice syrup - You can sub maple syrup, but I like the way the brown rice syrup holds these together
½ C. creamy peanut butter (or any nut butter you like!)
½ C. Coconut butter (I make my own by processing unsweetened coconut shreds in my food processor until it becomes like buttah. Yum.)
1 ¼ C. Non-dairy chocolate chips or good quality dark chocolate bar, chopped
Line an 8x8 pan or 9" pie plate with wax paper or aluminum foil.
Put the almonds, dates, cacao powder, coconut shreds, brown rice syrup and salt in your food processor and process until everything is chopped and mixed and relatively dough-like. Press mixture into the bottom of your pan.
Melt together the peanut butter, coconut butter and chocolate chips until smooth. Pour over the almond mixture and refrigerate until set. Give it a few hours, at least. Slice and enjoy, or freeze for later!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Evelyn's Birth Story

I spent months preparing for a natural, spontaneous birth. With high hopes of going into labor on my own for the first time (I had to be induced with both boys),  I practiced nearly every method I could find to best prepare my body to do its thing. I drank 3-4 cups of raspberry leaf tea every day. I ate six dates a day beginning at 35 weeks. I made squats and lunges a part of my daily exercise routine. Once I decided to stop running at 25 weeks, I made sure to walk 2-3 miles several times a week. At 37 weeks, with the approval of my midwife, I began using evening primrose oil

While I knew that none of these things were a magic pill to make labor prompt and short, it felt good to know I was doing things to prepare my body for what was to come. 

I had also decided that I wanted to deliver my baby without the use of pain medication. I wanted to fully experience my labor, and I wanted to avoid the risks and side effects associated with the epidural

At 10 AM on January 30, one week before my due date, I went to my routine OB appointment. At this appointment, we found out that my amniotic fluid level was dangerously low for baby.

The plan was, go to doctor appointment, pick up groceries, go home and wait for labor to start naturally (hopefully sometime that week).

Instead, I went to my appointment, and was immediately escorted across the parking lot to the hospital and admitted for my induction.

After months of prepping my body for the spontaneous, natural labor I so desperately wanted, the need for an induction was slightly devastating. A cascade of emotions began to pour over me. Excitement at the thought of finally meeting my sweet baby so soon, fear of facing a pitocin-induced labor free of pain meds, and worry over the safety of my precious girl. God came in immediately and calmed my spirit, and I knew that this was exactly His plan for me, and for her, and it was going to be okay. Just another of countless instances where He stepped in and chased away my anxiety and fear throughout this pregnancy.

Upon being admitted in the hospital, hospital policy required I be taken to labor and delivery in a wheelchair. As the chair entered the L&D wing, I was greeted by a friendly face, at the end of the hall, my neighbor, Tammy, who is an L&D nurse. She gingerly asked if she could be my nurse, and I was thrilled! Having the support of a friend during a chaotic time was such a blessing. I had called Dan on my way to my delivery room and he dropped our boys off at another neighbor's house for the night. He arrived at the hospital shortly after and was super excited, obviously. I went over all the details with him, and by 1 PM we had started the pitocin.

Seriously, that belly!

I spent several hours walking a small loop in labor and delivery, waiting for my contractions to regulate and intensify. Unfortunately, they did not want to cooperate. They would be regular for a while and then stagger, or stop completely. My pitocin dosage was increased several times before we finally decided to let the doctor break my water.

Things escalated pretty quickly from there.  I went from being 2cm dilated to 5cm extremely quickly. In this early stage of labor, I had started using nitrous oxide to cope with the pain. A very low dosage of laughing gas makes you feel a little loopy, while still allowing you to feel each contraction. It carries virtually zero side effects and has no effect on the baby. It worked for a while with the less intense contractions, but by 8 PM, when I had reached 5 cm, the gas wasn't doing me any good. I kept inhaling it, hoping for a teeny high from the hit, but nothing!

I labored for the most part on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth, squeezing Dan's hand while my nurse applied counter pressure on my back. After a while, I switched to using the squat bar on the bed. The contractions had become so intense at this point that they seemed to come right on top of each other, with very little opportunity to regroup in between.

One factor that made this part so hard was I had forgotten to eat breakfast before going to the doctor that morning, and once I was admitted, I was not allowed anything other than ice chips. I was going to have to deliver my baby on Pit, without pain meds, running completely on empty.

Three hours into the contractions, I had started losing steam. I felt how depleted of energy I had become and was getting discouraged. I reluctantly allowed the nurse to check my progress, convinced that I had only gained a half centimeter.

However, the nurse proclaimed that I was, in fact, complete! 10 cm and ready to push! I sang the Hallelujah chorus in my head as the doctor, and what seemed like 20 additional hospital personnel, all piled into my room in preparation for me to push this baby out. The atmosphere changed and excitement filled the room. This was it, the worst was over and she'd be in my arms soon.

The doctor did a quick check of my cervix before giving me the okay to push. Her response nearly broke me. I was in fact, not complete. I had another two centimeters to go. I was crushed as everyone left, and it was once again just me, Dan, and our two nurses. I had more work to do, and I felt as though I had nothing left to give. I told Jesus how much I needed Him, and got ready to gain complete control of the pain and my body.

When I forced myself to feel in control and really focused on owning the pain, those contractions were manageable. It was when I let go of my control and fear crept in that it seemed as though I wasn't going to be able to finish this thing through. 
 When I verbalized that I just couldn't do it, and felt the tears welling up,  my nurse told me I could still get an epidural, that if I truly couldn't do it, I could get pain medication. 

This was the push I needed. I had not come this far on my own to get the drugs. I had resolved to do this, and I was going to do it. Newfound energy came rushing through me and I was more determined than ever. Very soon after, I was complete (for real) and ready to push.

Aftter 15 minutes of pushing, she was out. I had written in my birth plan that I wanted a mirror to be able to watch her come out, and so with that in place, I was able to see her head crown and was that much more motivated to get this done and hold my baby. Once she was out, she was immediately placed on my chest. The relief, elation and love that I felt in that moment is unparalleled. She was perfect in every way, and worth every agonizing second of labor pain.

Evelyn Aurora Verwolf came into this world at 12:36 AM on January 31 weighing 6lbs, 14 oz, 19 inches long .

I'm grateful to have delivered at a hospital that encouraged lots of skin-to-skin immediately following birth. The nurses did not try to whisk her away to weigh her or clean her off. They took her vitals right on me, and we were able to just soak her in for as long as we wanted.

She nursed right away and seemed so calm and content, completely unphased by being forced from the safety and familiarity of her dark, watery world of the last 39 weeks.

We spent Tuesday recovering in the hospital and brought her home Wednesday morning.

So, after all the labor prep I had done, what did I feel actually helped?

1) Prayer
Plain and simple, inviting Jesus to be with me every step of the way. I could not have done it without Him.

2) Being at peace with the inevitability of the pain
Fear compounds pain. I now fully understand why every labor and delivery nurse I know has told me that the women who come in with the idea that they want a natural labor but would be okay with an epidural, get the epidural. You have to be completely committed to enduring the pain, and able to clear your head of fear. I had to have control. I could tell when I had lost myself to fear during a contraction because that's when the pain became unbearable.

3) The right support
I squeezed the life out of Dan's hand for hours. I found comfort and strength in locking eyes with him as he reminded me how strong and capable I am. He was my rock. You need to have a rock.

4) Exercise throughout pregnancy
Even though I hadn't eaten in 36 hours by the time I delivered her, I was able to keep up my strength, and I attribute that, at least in part, to the fact that I had kept up with walking, lunges and squats until the day before my delivery, and moderate strength training until around 30 weeks.

5) Natural uterus prep 
I may not have gone into spontaneous labor, but the fact that I was able to push her out in a mere 15 minutes is a testament, I believe, to the potential validity of raspberry leaf tea, dates and squats. My body knew how to work efficiently!

5) Peppermint essential oil
I brought an arsenal of different oil blends for labor support. Under more natural circumstances (not an induction) I think a lot of these would have been really nice. But, considering how intense most of my labor was, they weren't much help. Except peppermint. I found inhaling it gave me a little boost of energy and it also helped with the nausea during transition. I definitely recommend having a variety of oils at your disposal as you never know which ones you'll find beneficial.

This labor was the most incredible, difficult, empowering thing I've ever done. Everything went so well, and in the end we had a beautiful, healthy baby. Thank you, Lord, for the amazing gift of Evelyn, and adding a new life to our family! And huge thanks to all of you who lifted us up in prayer throughout my pregnancy.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How God Broke In

   We had the immense blessing since 2011 of being a part of an amazing ministry in Kentwood, Michigan - Encounter Church.  Since making the move out of state, we've begun regularly attending a new church, but I am so grateful that Encounter consistently posts Dirk vanEyk's messages online, so I'm still able to soak up the word as he delivers it.

At Encounter, Dirk recently wrapped up a series entitled "Interrupted: When God Breaks In."  I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head in agreement....a lot.  I can't help but feel like the last year of my life has been a series of divine interruptions.  In September of 2015, if you had shown me what my life now looks like, my reaction would be that of utter shock.  There's been a lot of heart conditioning happening to get me to a place of acceptance for everything going on here. 

I would not have pictured myself in North Carolina.  Starting over completely in every way.  Pregnant.  With a girl.  These changes are exciting, and ultimately I see the positive impact it all will have on myself individually, as well as my family unit.  But, the challenges have been real, and have knocked me down to my knees more times that I can count. 

A year ago, my main priority was my own fitness.  Exercise and nutrition were literally everything to me. What started out as a way to spend some quiet time alone and with God each morning became an obsession that bled into every thought and action.  Then God broke in.  He knew the end game, but was interrupting my day-to-day to let me know that the way I was living was not meshing with His plan and He was going to do something about it.  He also made it clear that I wasn't going to like it.  

My addiction to exercise and restrictive eating habits had robbed me of my fertility.  This hadn't really mattered to me, as we were not planning on any additional children. I got to send my boys off to school each morning and spend my day working out, meal prepping, working out some more, and planning my workouts.

*I'm thinking about posting this for my next #transformationtuesday. Haha!*

  Why would I have any interest in giving all that up to sacrifice my body to another pregnancy?  I didn't.  But God had a plan and suddenly, I knew it.  And, it terrified me.  I fought this plan for a while, and quickly watched my health deteriorate.  I couldn't focus, my stomach was always mad at me, I had no energy, and I stressed about food and exercise constantly.  Finally, I waved the white flag.  
"You win, Lord!  This isn't working!"  I couldn't believe I was saying it, but I did, and I resolved to trust His plan and started a journey toward gaining weight in an effort to regain my fertility.  At this point, I was still in denial over the part of God's plan that involved another baby.  I was willing to accept that I needed to shift my priorities in order to be a better wife, mother and child of God, but no way I was going to do the whole pregnancy and baby thing again.  (If you've passed the baby stage with your kids and reached that 'sweet spot', ya'll feel me!) 

We are a family of four.  I am a boy mom.  We drive a sedan.  Someday when we take our kids to Disney World, we'll be perfectly paired on rides.  Our household has slept through the night for six years. This is it. 

Then, God broke in.

I didn't just regain my fertility; within four months of easing my workouts and lifting my food restrictions, I gained fifteen pounds, and found out we were pregnant. 

I would love to be able to tell you that saying yes to God, and surrendering to His will has made everything easy.  I wish I could say that being given this purpose of becoming a mother again, and the amazing blessing of a daughter was enough to magically erase the mourning I experience for my former life, but I can't.  It's a daily struggle to accept my new body, my physical limitations, my need to focus on keeping my baby healthy instead of pushing myself and reaching new goals to being a better, faster, stronger me. That all has to fall away, at least for now. Because God interrupted my plan.  Because He had a better one.

This all may not be easy, but He has dropped gifts along the way to encourage me and help me remember that I am on His path, and it's all working out the way it's meant to.  I get to do and experience things I never thought I would again, like feeling sweet little baby kicks.  We get to watch our boys become big brothers.  I went through a period of mourning the fact that I would never have a daughter to experience that oh-so-special bond with, and A girl. Words truly escape me on that one.  

The greatest gift of all has been feeling and knowing God's presence in my life in such a real way, unlike I've ever experienced before.  He saved me from myself.  He asked me to relinquish so many of the things I held so near and dear, and has shown me that all I really need is Him.  My initial fear, anger and frustration toward His interruptions did not cause Him to turn away from me. That is the overwhelming, faithful, reckless love of our Father. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Big Life Changes

I've always considered myself easily adaptable to change. 

Growing up the daughter of a career military dad, I learned early on from multiple moves that change is inevitable, but not to be feared. I didn't love every move we made, and I didn't always go quietly - but I learned from those experiences that growth and new blessings can come from change. 

Moving, getting married, having babies, changing churches, making new friends....none of these things have ever made me queezy or nervous or worried. 

Until this year.

Six weeks ago my family moved from our long time home in Grand Rapids, Michigan to North Carolina. We sold our house, I quit my job that I had just started and really loved, said goodbye to all our family and friends and set off on our greatest adventure. 

Four days before leaving on this adventure, we got some pretty exciting news. 
Baby number three was on the way. (more on this wild surprise in an upcoming blog post)

The variety of emotions I have felt since all of this took place is completely ridiculous. I have felt levels of excitement, worry, sadness, joy and gratitude that I have never felt before. Oh, and also nausea with intermittent bouts of insatiable hunger. But I'm pretty sure that's just the pregnancy talking.

We've all heard people say they hate change,or fear change, and maybe you're one of those people - but I could never relate. 

I get it now. 

I'm glad we're here. We felt, and still feel like this was the best move for our family. But that doesn't make it easier right now, when I want to share our new baby with family, and friends we've known for years. We need to find a dentist. And a dog groomer. And our new favorite burger joint. And don't even get me started on the search for a new church. There is so much. 

What I'm beginning to see is that the blessing is in the challenge. The hard work in starting over is an opportunity for us to grow together as a family, for Dan and I to grow as a couple. I can also feel my gratitude growing each day for what we have, and the people that God has already placed in our lives here. 

Our day to day here looks entirely different than it did six weeks ago. The boys go to a year round school that starts an hour later each morning, and they now ride a bus to and from school. We hibernate through July, and most likely August, because you step foot outside and melt into a puddle from the humidity. We have neighbors down our whole street and beyond with kids the boys' ages and have been loving this new kind of friendship and daily social interaction with our community. Between the State Recreational area near our house, the beach and the mountains and downtown Raleigh, there is so much here to explore and we've only just begun!

North Carolina is hot, and far away from Lake Michigan, and my kids' grandparents, and everything that's been familiar to me for the past 16 years. But it's also beautiful, and new, and exciting, and our new home. And I'm grateful. 

If you are reading this from Grand Rapids, know that you are missed and prayed for daily. 

If you are reading this from North Carolina, thank you for welcoming us so warmly (no pun intended ;)). 

Friday, February 5, 2016

4 Things I did in the name of "health" {that I no longer do}

  There is a laundry list of things that I decided to start doing two or more years ago because I just *knew* that if I did, I'd be the healthiest, happiest version of myself. Or at least be able to go to sleep at night knowing I was working my hardest toward that goal. 

Unfortunately, while many of the changes I made in my life ended up being very positive long term, most of them turned against me quickly. They turned against me far more quickly than I caught on, in fact.

This has caused me a lot of problems; physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today I wanted to share a list of 4 things I no longer do, which I used to do, all for the sake of making myself healthier. In reality, abiding by these rules, or engaging in these certain habits for an extended period of time, drove my health into the ground and helped my self loathing grow astronomically.

Maybe you have a list, or would have one if you sat down to think about it. Maybe your list would look very similar to mine, or perhaps it would be completely different. I would love for us all to give ourselves (and each other) the grace to re-evaluate. 

I had to begin asking myself why I was doing certain things, and if the answer was to "keep off that last three pounds I lost", or "because it's 'healthy'"; if it wasn't simply because it gave me joy, those things had to go.

1. Food and Exercise Journaling 

 Writing down every meal began as an experiment to see how well I did with creating variety in my diet, to affirm that I was taking in the appropriate amount of food in a day, and to monitor if certain foods made me feel a certain way. A few short weeks in, however, it became an obsessive habit. I have three journals filled with the gritty details of each and every item of food I put in my mouth over the course of two years. Food journaling can be a powerful tool for some people, on a short term basis, but for me it opened up the opportunity for guilt and food shaming. 

The same applies to my workouts. I wrote down every cardio and strength training workout I did, and took pride in the string of pages filled with miles and weights and no rest days to be seen.

Giving up the journaling was incredibly difficult at first, but ultimately, it's what made it possible for me to start loving myself and focusing on things other than what I was eating or how much I was working out.

 I can now say with confidence that there is a lot more to life, and it all brings so much joy.

Like going to the beach with my kids. Way, way more fun than food journaling or obsessing over miles run for the day.

2. Placing sole blame, or credit, for my health status on food  

  On the journey to optimal health, it is tempting to say that if you eliminate this food, or that, or this entire group of foods, then I'll feel better! While there is some validity to certain foods causing issues for some people (ie, I don't tolerate gluten or dairy), consistently blaming a new food each week for a pimple or feeling bloaty one morning can make you feel real crazy, real quick.

I've learned that diet alone isn't always the answer for everyone! I'm not failing at life if I eat healthfully and still deal with autoimmune flare ups. That doesn't mean I'm planning to throw up my hands and start eating three square meals a day from Chez McDonald's, but it does allow me to slow down and love my body, in spite of it not being healed on kale alone.

On the flip side, if I'm having a particularly good week, it probably is not just because of my diet! Maybe I was more relaxed, enjoyed some extra "me" time, was lifted up by friends and family, or simply did a better job of seeking joy in the seemingly mundane, everyday happenings in my life. 

Practically, for me, this means having that piece of chocolate when it sounds good. It means enjoying a glass of wine with some friends on a weeknight and not feeling one twinge of worry about what it's going to "do to me". It isn't the actual wine or chocolate so much as the freedom of "allowing" myself to enjoy these things. The relief from stress of how I'm going to manage a social situation with "bad foods" present has given me the ability to freely enjoy life, in all aspects. 

Nutrition is important, but so is being at peace with what you put in your body, and not giving it more power than it actually has.

Chocolate cake is delicious, and made to be enjoyed, moderately, without guilt. The end. 

3. Only being satisfied with a workout if it beat me up 

  As I've mentioned before, I've had to come to terms with my physical limitations with regard to exercise due to my Autoimmune condition, Hashimoto's. What followed was the realization of my addiction to hard exercise. If I didn't sweat for at least a half hour every day, and feel some level of soreness afterward, I wasn't doing enough. Pushing myself to the extreme on a daily basis, with a handful of rest days scattered throughout a two year time span, became the norm. I couldn't live without starting my day hitting it hard. 
It took too long for me to start listening to my body, but I finally did and it has made a huge difference in how I feel, both physically and mentally. 

I have learned that a long, relaxed walk while listening to an audiobook gives me the cardiovascular workout I need, without the damage done by a hard-hitting four mile run or hour long HIIT workout. 

I also managed to gain muscle mass after giving up daily intense strength training and doing short, moderate body weight exercises a few times a week. I'm talking super short, like 10-15 minutes! 

I'm stronger and even more fit by default after easing up and listening to my body with regard to my workouts. 

4. Expecting myself to have control over all the things

Yeah, this is the big one. That act that seems to come and go, even though I always know in my heart what needs to be done; relinquishing control to God. 

I can only change my circumstances so much. God has asked me to go through certain trials or bear a particular affliction because He wants me to lean on Him, and He knows the exact thing most likely to cause me to do so. I have the will to choose whether I rest in His arms and let Him carry me, or try to muddle through on my own. 

In hindsight, it only ever makes sense to lean on Him, but in the vale, I continuously convince myself of a false need to bear the burden myself. 

I'm not saying that when I'm walking with the Lord, everything is perfect and all my troubles melt away. Rather, the troubles hold less weight in my life and I'm given better focus, and I can find joy where I would otherwise feel only stress, sorrow and self-loathing. He loves me enough to carry me, which makes me feel worthy, which makes me determined and hopeful. 

There are more, so many more, ways in which I've changed daily habits, but these are the basic foundations from which they all grew. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the ability to learn and evolve! I was the only one that could give me permission to question my own motives, my actions, and change accordingly. And man, am I glad I did.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Leaving the Conversation

For five years, I was publically engaged in conversation about my diet.

This past fall, I left the conversation. Let me explain why.

"You are not more or less of a person based on the foods you choose to eat. (No correlation between what you eat and your self worth or morality!)" 

I am on this crazy self love journey right now. There is no other way to describe what is happening to me but that God is breaking. me. down. My very roots are being torn from dry and crusty soil and are on their way to fertile ground.

While tears may be shed as HE brings me to my knees, this is honestly the easiest thing I have ever done....because for the first time, I can feel myself letting go and truly trusting HIM.

I started gaining interest in health as it relates to nutrition when my energy levels tanked and my skin started doing crazy things back in 2009. I was pregnant with my second son and doing the whole mommy guilt 'I just want to do everything right for my family' thing.

I soaked up every word from every book on nutrition I could get my hands on, and usually cherry picked the things that lined up with what seemed logical to me at the time. Long story short, this path resulted in a lot of dietary restrictions, and eventually full on veganism.

I am not in any way interested in hating on vegetarians or vegans. Living out our conviction for several years was not easy, and I empathize with anyone making a difficult lifestyle choice based on personal conviction. The one mistake I believe we made during that time was never questioning our choice. We were vegans, that was our life, and that was that.

Until it didn't work for me anymore. You can read more about that here.

My point today is that food is just food.

My husband likes to point out that I tend to have an obsessive personality. While I prefer the term "passionate", he's right. I hear a concept I like, I become a complete sponge and absorb everything I can about it, and then live it out as firmly and robustly as possible.

With the limitations of an autoimmune disease, and the desire to truly love myself, and my body, I'm trying to ease up a bit.

Leaving the conversation about food has been a requirement for this. I love food. Cooking is therapeutic for me, and I see good, nourishing foods as one of the greatest blessings God gave us on this earth to enjoy. 
However, attaching morality, self worth, guilt, shame or too much pleasure to food is unhealthy for the body, and dangerous for the heart.

I stopped posting my kids' lunches on Instagram daily. I very rarely post food on my own Instagram account. I want my conversation to be about love, service, joy found outside the kitchen, and my relationship with others and Jesus.

I did happen to post this awesome breakfast just today on my Instagram, and the rarity of this type of post sparked the fire to finally write this blog post; which had been swimming in my head for weeks.

If there is anything in your life that is causing you to feel less than awesome about yourself, or is impeding your self love or your relationship with Jesus, I can tell you that for me, the only thing that helps is to leave the conversation. Remove it from your life, and replace it with something uplifting.

Give yourself grace and remember, food is just food.