Everything you need to know…

…Can be learned from Noah’s Ark

I just ran across this when going through some old papers. I thought I’d share it, just for fun.

1. Don’t miss the boat.
2. Remember that we’re all in the same boat.
3. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.
4. Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
5. Don’t listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
6. Build your future on high ground.
7. For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
8. Speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
9. When you’re stressed, float awhile.
10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.
11. No matter the storm, when with you are with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting.

Just a fun little list, but there are certainly some elements of truth are in it.

#4 honestly does occur to me. Not that I expect to be that old, or to be asked by God to build an Ark. It’s just that you never really know what physical challenges you may face. Being fit can be helpful in many situations.

And #8, well what can I say? I run for fun, and I don’t mind being told that speed isn’t everything.

What do you think? What’s your favorite nugget of advice?

Dressed Up Leftovers

Following Easter, we’ve had quite a few leftovers to use up. Rather than eat the same meal again for the next few days, I like to make other dishes that will use the leftovers, so we can enjoy them in a different way. I have two recipes to share that were tasty ways to eat leftover ham and mashed potatoes.

The Best Bean and Ham Soup (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:
10 ounces dry beans soaked overnight – I used a combination of red, black and kidney beans.
1 1/2 cups cubed ham
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes with liquid
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 T Worcestershire sauce
chili powder to taste – I used about 3 T
2 bay leaves
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 1/2 t dried parsley
2 T lemon juice
Additional vegetable broth to cover ingredients
salt to taste

Directions
1. Place the soaked beans into a large pot and fill with enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low for 30 minutes. Drain. Add the ham, onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, and vegetable broth. Season with Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, bay leaves, pepper, parsley and lemon juice. Add enough broth to completely cover the ingredients.
2. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until vegetables and beans are tender. I cooked an additional hour, but I could have simmered longer for more tender beans.

*The original recipe called for simmering for eight hours with the ham bone in the pot. I took a short cut there. It may have been a richer flavor that way, but I didn’t get started early in the day.

Crispy Mashed Potato Pancake (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:
4 cups cold mashed potatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Seasoned salt, to taste
olive oil to cover bottom of pan

Directions:
Combine the ingredients, mix well. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add potato mixture; press with a spatula to flatten evenly. Cover and cook for 8 minutes, or until brown. Original directions then said to invert pan onto serving plate. I carefully flipped the potato patty over to brown the other side before serving. I wanted to be certain the egg was thoroughly cooked, and I wanted the end result to be more crispy by browning both sides.

Both the soup and potato pancakes were good. My daughter and husband both remarked that the potato pancakes tasted like hash browns. They were a big hit.

Post-Cleanse Thoughts

Now that I’ve finished my four-week cleanse from Tony Horton’s Bring It, I’ll share some thoughts about the process. First, I’d like to say that I don’t believe in “going on a diet,” and I didn’t consider this a “diet.” I simply thought, as someone who thrives on to-do lists and goals, that a structured cleanse would be a good tool for me to use to reduce the amount of “junk” I was consuming. I would be eating a wide variety of whole foods, and I didn’t think that sounded questionable or too gimmicky.

Some GOOD things that have resulted:

I have been drinking so much more water! Now that I’m not downing diet sodas all day, I am drinking water all day. I’m really pleased about this.

I haven’t had any soda/caffeine in over four weeks! This is huge for me! If anyone else enjoys their coffee and/or soda, I have no problem with it. I just recognize that it’s not good for me, and I am proud of myself for going without it.

I am sleeping more! I was notoriously sleep-deprived, propping myself up with caffeine. I am so glad to be giving my body the rest it needs.

I went three weeks with no added sugar. I had sugars, of course, as they naturally occur in foods, but no added sugar. This feels amazing to me! I had pretty much resigned myself to the “fact” that added sugar was inevitable in my diet. Think about it. It’s just about everywhere! I actually feel empowered, knowing that I really can control the sugar in my diet.

I went three weeks with no processed foods. Well, my husband and I debated what “processed foods” actually means. He rightfully pointed out that freezing food or even cooking foods are ways of processing them. For purposes of this cleanse, I am pretty sure Tony didn’t mean we couldn’t use frozen vegetables or couldn’t cook. I took it to mean prepackaged foods with a lot of ingredients, particularly ingredients that I don’t recognize as foods.

For the cleanse, I avoided certain foods that I do consider processed, but would not ordinarily avoid. For example, I will eat tortilla chips. The ingredients are corn, oil and salt. That’s pretty good, in my opinion. I’d rather not (though I can’t claim never to) eat chips that contain all kinds of unrecognizable ingredients. For the cleanse, I didn’t eat tortilla chips. Or crackers. Or bread. Or canned vegetable broth. Etc. Etc. If someone else had made it and put it in a package, I didn’t eat it (see my one glaring exception).

I would have willingly eaten crackers, chips, bread, or broth that I had made from scratch, but I didn’t make any. I didn’t care to run out and buy alternative flour when I have a few pounds of wheat flour at home. And the vegetable broth? Well, I just didn’t make any.

My one glaring processed food exception: I ate a Larabar during a long run. Since I was avoiding caffeine, I needed to find something other than Gu. Larabars were the most natural option I found for a good, portable form of fuel to take on a run. It contained dates, almonds, and unsweetened cherries. (I suppose I could have simply taken along a baggy of nuts and unsweetened dried fruit. Alas, that didn’t even occur to me. Well, now it has.) Again, this is the type of technically processed food that I don’t feel bad about eating, although it may have broken the cleanse rules. I made an exception for the Larabar.

Some things I feel NEUTRAL about:

I didn’t have gluten for three weeks. I am not convinced that gluten is a toxic food as Tony claims, at least not for someone who does not have a gluten-sensitivity. However, when I wasn’t eating it, I noticed that I grabbed an orange or apple for an evening snack instead of a plate of crackers and cheese. Nothing wrong with cheese and crackers in my book, but I think I’ve gotten more nutritional bang for my caloric intake with the fruits. (I think. I’m not a nutritionist, but I think it’s better for me to eat a piece of fruit than a several hundred calorie plate of cheese and crackers when I’m relaxing in the evening.)

I didn’t have dairy for two weeks. Again, I’m not entirely convinced that dairy ought to be avoided, healthwise. I did notice less upset stomach when I wasn’t eating dairy. I have been wondering if there was any connection between too much (for me) dairy and indigestion, but hadn’t really put it to the test. I think that might actually be the case. Then again, it could have been gluten or one of the other things I was avoiding.

I didn’t have meat for one week. This was not a big deal to me, especially when I was in control of my meals at home, almost the entire time. It may have been an issue had it been a longer period of time.

I didn’t have alcohol for four weeks, with the exception of communion wine (which amounted to about 2 to 3 ounces over the course of the four weeks). I don’t drink much alcohol anyway, and the only time I thought about it was when my husband and I went out for a date. I felt that I would have liked to order a drink. Not a big deal.

The NEGATIVE:

After a few weeks of this, I felt deprived about not going out. It really hit me on the day my husband and I had a babysitter lined up so we could have a date night. We were seeing a movie in a theater that serves real food and alcoholic drinks, but I wasn’t going to have alcohol or sugar, and I didn’t trust the food to be wholesome.

How I responded to these feelings: I arranged to go out to lunch as a family that day at a natural foods restaurant where I could find something to order that fit within the cleanse. Since then, my children and I ate at another little natural foods place that was near a field-trip location. I would like to find more options of places to eat out where I do trust that wholesome, natural ingredients were used. If they are from local sources, so much the better!

The FUTURE:

I do not plan to go back to soda, diet or otherwise.

I will be less rigid about it, but I do plan to avoid added sugar much more than I did before the cleanse. I won’t stress out about foods that someone else has prepared or when I’m eating out, but I intend to very much limit the added sugar in anything that I prepare. I will still bake sometimes and enjoy other desserts, but I will try to avoid sugar in places where it doesn’t logically belong. (I’m telling you, sugar is in almost everything!)

As far as “processed foods” go, I plan to eat some, but to aim for those that have the most natural ingredients when I am the one buying and preparing the foods.

I am going to go back to eggs. Totally. As before, I will look for eggs from free-range chickens that were not given hormones and antibiotics.

I am going to go back to eating meat as I was before the cleanse. That means some days I will eat meat. Some days I won’t. When I buy meat, I will try to find meat from animals that haven’t been given antibiotics and hormones.

I will go back to drinking alcohol occasionally.

I will eat gluten again, but probably not as much. I have expanded my use of other grains, and I don’t intend to ditch them just because I welcome wheat back into my life.

Dairy is a tougher one for me.

I missed my Greek yogurt. I plan to buy some unsweetened Greek yogurt to try, as part of my effort to reduce added sugar on a continuing basis. I’ve never been one to eat plain yogurt before, so we’ll see how this goes.

I also want to go back to eating cheese, but it will probably be less. This is what I suspected of causing indigestion, after all. I found that olive oil and the right herbs satisfied my desire for “savory,” so I know I will rely less on cheese to curb that craving.

I think I could go either way with milk – cow milk or almond milk. I am not sure what I’ll do about milk yet. Realistically, what I choose today may not be a lifelong decision anyway. Am I right? I do believe I am.

So, what did this cleanse mean to me?

Did I truly cleanse my body from toxins? I think I probably did. The caffeine headaches (which thankfully have passed) will vouch for me.

Do I feel so much energy that I’ll never go back? Not exactly. I do feel pretty good, though. Better than before.

Do I think it was a good experience to take control of what I eat? Absolutely!! It feels wonderful to look back and know that I did not eat junk for at least three weeks. That I can avoid added sugar if I choose to. That I can function without caffeine.

Now, if you see me reaching for a soda, I give you full permission to call me on it!!

My Week of Vegan Dinners

As I mentioned last week, my final week of the Tony Horton cleanse had me eating a vegan, gluten-free diet, free of processed foods, added sugar, caffeine and alcohol. In my regular life, outside this cleanse, I do eat meat, eggs and dairy. Even so, it is not unusual for me to prepare vegetarian and even vegan dinners sometimes. Before last week, though, I had never before eaten vegan for every meal and snack for an entire week. I looked at it as a cooking adventure. My breakfasts mainly consisted of a cooked grain served with almond milk/fruit/nuts. My lunches mainly consisted of leftovers. My snacks were fruits or veggies. It was with dinner that I had a little more fun. I give you:

My week of Vegan Dinners

Sunday: Mexican Millet with a mixed vegetable salad. See previous post for details on the millet dish. This is the picture from the last time I made this dish. Obviously, I did not add chicken this time. 😉

Monday: Portabella “Bruschetta”, spinach/strawberry/almond salad, baked potato. I’m calling it “bruschetta,” because that’s what it reminded me of. I brushed the mushroom cap with extra virgin olive oil, then topped with diced tomato, minced sweet onion, rosemary and thyme. I broiled it for about ten minutes.

Tuesday: Brown Rice Asparagus Casserole and Italian Potato Wedges. I got both recipes at VegWeb, which has been a great resource for my vegan week. In retrospect, maybe an odd combo, but both sounded good. I made some changes from the original recipes. Most notably, I omitted the sauce and cheese from my portion of potato wedges (and I used regular cheese, not soy, for my family). First off, I was not eating any processed foods, and I couldn’t quite convince myself that tomato paste and vegetable broth are not processed foods. Secondly, I checked the ingredient list, and my organic vegetable broth contained added sugar. That surprised and disappointed me. In the casserole, I used far more than a dash of curry powder. I like my curry, and I loved this casserole, which also provided me with a few lunches. The crunch of the seeds and nuts made for an interesting texture, and I loved the flavor!

Wednesday: Easy Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad. The rest of my family had this as a side dish with a taco dinner, and I topped a bed of spinach with the salad as my main dish. I found this recipe at Oh She Glows, but I made a few changes. I wanted to cut the total amount of the salad, so I used fewer black beans. However, I still went ahead and used the entire avocado, and the same amount of juice and herbs (in fact I increased the cumin to a full teaspoon). I thought this was absolutely delicious!

Thursday: Samosa Quinoa Bowl with spinach for me, steak for my family. I got this recipe at VegWeb. I made a couple small changes to the recipe. I used less quinoa, about two-thirds as much as the recipe called for, and I omitted the mustard seed. I really liked this and will be making it again. It’s great as leftovers, too.

Friday: Sweet Potato Shepherds Pie. We had this with spinach and apple slices. This was another recipe from VegWeb. I made a few changes based on what I had on hand. I used almond instead of soy milk. I used an onion in place of a leek, though we should start getting some leeks from the CSA soon! I used water in place of vegetable broth (processed/added sugar in broth). I omitted the turnips, because I don’t have any at this time. I liked the sweet potato topping with the cinnamon and nutmeg, but the filling was a little bland for my taste. I do tend to like things spicy, though, so you might like this more than I did if you’re not into spicy foods. It was okay, but not one of my favorites.

Saturday: Quinoa and Black Bean Vegetable Salad. It was based on this recipe at Oh She Glows, but I made some changes based on what I had on hand. I did not have red quinoa, nor did I have red peppers. I used brown quinoa and green peppers. I liked this salad quite well. I think I will try it again with red peppers to see how the taste differs.

Vegan for a week wasn’t bad at all. I really liked almost everything I made, and let’s face it, sometimes we try recipes we don’t like, vegan or not. I will definitely make some of these again.

And what was for dinner on Sunday night, the first night after the cleanse? Ham, an Easter egg, mashed potatoes (made with almond milk), vegetable salad and fresh pineapple. I went ahead and cooked a ham, which is our traditional Easter dinner. I did not feel like trying to catch up on something I’ve been missing or anything like that, but I was happy to go ahead with our typical holiday. I can confidently say that our meals for the next few days will also involve ham. Even when you purchase the smallest ham you can find, it’s still a lot of ham.

After that, we’ll see what path my cooking takes.

Easter

I know not everyone holds to the same beliefs that I do, but I feel I would be remiss not to share about the past few days. I hope you will accept it in the way it is intended, sharing about something that is very significant to me. In turn, I would be happy to hear about traditions and beliefs that are important to you.

The season of Lent, and especially Holy Week, is incredibly meaningful to me. This season keeps me grounded in my faith. I attend church and read the Bible throughout the year, but there is something so powerful in the telling and retelling of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
~Philippians 2:8

He who had no sin loved us enough to live the perfect life we are incapable of, and to accept the punishment for sins He did not commit. For our sake. How very humbling.

It can be so easy to lose sight of this amazing gift, get caught up in our own concerns, and go on about our business. It isn’t as though I forget what He has done during the remainder of the year, but it is during Lent that the gravity of it always comes to the forefront of my mind. He died so I can live.

Singing in the church choir allows even more opportunity to focus on this amazing act of love, because we practice our Lent and Holy Week songs well in advance. We sing on Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus’ last supper before being arrested, when Jesus introduced communion to His disciples.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
~Matthew 26:26-28

We also sing on Good Friday, a service remembering Jesus’ death on the cross. This is a somber service, as you might imagine, but if we don’t remember His suffering and death, we miss the magnitude of God’s love for us. This service is one of the most significant events of the year for me. I am so humbled and so grateful that my Lord died for me.

On Easter Sunday, we remember that Jesus conquered death and sin. He rose from the dead.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
~Mark 16:5-7

The tone on Sunday is always celebratory. Jesus is alive, and he has taken our sins away. We are no longer separated from God.

I have fun with other aspects of Easter, too. We dye eggs.

My kids get an Easter basket of goodies.

If we are in town, we enjoy the big Easter breakfast at church, put on by the men of the church. Yes, my hubby gets to be involved with the breakfast. Sometimes we go out of town to gather with extended family. Either way, it’s a fun and festive occasion. This year, I got to see my parents over the holiday weekend, as well as participate in our church services. The beautiful weather we had on Sunday was the icing on the cake. What a wonderful holiday!

Do you celebrate Easter? What is a very significant day or event for you?

Good for me… good for the world, Happy Earth Day!

In honor of Earth Day, I thought it would be fun to consider things we can do that are beneficial, both to ourselves and this wonderful world we live in.

* Buy locally produced foods when possible. (You benefit from the boost to your local economy, the often superior service you get from a local business, and your product has traveled fewer miles to reach you.)

* Buy organic when possible. (Great for you and kind to the earth.)

* Cook. (If you cook at home, you will reap the health benefits of controlling what goes on your plate and where/how it was produced.)

* Make thoughtful restaurant choices. (Likewise, when you do eat out, you may want to consider whether or not the restaurant uses local organic food sources or not.)

* Garden. (There’s no food source more local than that!)

* Compost. (This will help you create richer soil for your garden, reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers used and reduce waste in the landfills.)

* Get a rain barrel. (You will use less water when you make use of collected rain water for watering your garden or lawn.)

* Join a CSA. (You will support a local farmer and have the benefit of wonderful fresh produce!)

* Get active! (You will enjoy health benefits that have a ripple effect. It benefits society on the whole when individuals strive to be strong and healthy.)

* Walk or bike it. (Don’t always feel like you have to take the car, especially when you’re not going too far, the route is safe for walking/biking, and the weather isn’t severe. The exercise is good for you!)

* Set your thermostat a little higher in summer or lower in winter. (You will save energy, which in turn saves you a little money.)

There are so many things we can do, but I won’t go into all of them. These are a few particular things that we either do, or are interested in trying. As usual, you can see my thoughts don’t wander too far from my stomach, as most of my list involves food practices.

I must admit, I’m not a fan of suffering in the name of energy conservation (I’ll turn my heat down to 67 or 68, NOT 60), nor am I a fan of forcing others to make changes that they simply don’t want to make. On the other hand, I wanted to share that some of the things that I want to do for myself and my family can be a benefit, too.

What are some of your earth-friendly tips?

Operation Beautiful

I first heard of Operation Beautiful about a year ago. For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, Operation Beautiful, originated by Caitlin Boyle*, is about people leaving positive notes for someone else to find. Something to brighten someone else’s day, give them a boost, and help them remember they are beautiful and worthy, just as they are. In addition to the notes, it is also about keeping the focus positive when regarding ourselves and others.

I think it’s a very nice idea. Sometimes a small gesture can make a big difference to someone. A smile. A friendly word. We should use our words and actions to encourage and build each other up, but all too often people tear each other down instead. Operation Beautiful is all about encouraging and building up, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, indeed.

I have a daughter and a son. From the time my daughter (my first child) was born, people would comment on how pretty or cute she was. I agree, she was (and is) a pretty/cute child. AND she is smart. AND she is strong. AND she is kind. You see where I’m going with this? I have tried to emphasize to both my children all along that what a person looks like is not as important as how a person behaves, whether a person is kind to others, and so on. (Likewise, the foods we eat and activities we participate in help us care for our bodies, help us to be healthy and strong. The focus is not on weight or looks.)

A few months ago, I saw this creative eye chart from Operation Beautiful.

I thought it was clever and positive, and I thought maybe my children would enjoy something like that. I printed and put up two copies of the eye chart: one on my daughter’s bedroom mirror, and one in the bathroom they share. I put them up when no one was looking.

A little while later, my daughter came up to me. She was all lit up like a Christmas tree, and she asked me if I put that sign up in her room. I told her that I did, and I asked her if she could tell what it said. She could, and she loved it!

My son, on the other hand, told me that he’s not beautiful; he’s handsome. I guess I have to make a different note for him sometime that uses a different word to convey the same kind of message.

After posting the eye chart, I decided that I’d like to read the Operation Beautiful book. Well, I always have a book in progress, so I put it on my to-read list. I did pick it up and read it about a week ago, and I enjoyed it. I liked hearing the stories of how it impacted people both to leave a note and to find a note.

If you’d like to join a movement of spreading positivity, check out www.operationbeautiful.com.

Have you ever left a note? Found a note?

*Caitlin blogs at http://www.healthytippingpoint.com in addition to editing http://www.operationbeautiful.com.

Check out my book list here and more on the benefits of reading here.