My Saint My Story: Jewelry With Purpose

I'm a firm believer in retail therapy but I think I need to define my terms. I don't mean that we should use frivolous shopping to temporarily soothe and cover up the difficulties of life. My definition of retail therapy is different...

Christian retail therapy is... Using our purchases to heal the marketplace, contribute in a substantive way to the needs of real people, and bring authentic value and beauty into our homes.

Can jewelry fall under that category? Yes! Let me introduce you to My Saint My Hero, their mission, and their jewelry. And then let you tell me how deeply a purchase impacts the world.

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My first exposure to the jewelry from My Saint My Hero came when during a really difficult time this Summer. I was in the middle of a health crisis and struck hard by a new diagnosis. My brain was a fog, my body was drained, and my heart was so heavy. My dad and stepmom showed up in the middle of all that with a gift.

That gift was a Hail Mary Morse Code Prayer Rope necklace from My Saint My Hero. (See it on my Instagram.) It was so pretty... but the "therapy" part of that gift went even deeper as their kindness reached into my loneliness and sorry and touched my heart with a gift of faith. Blessed Mother has my back... I know it. 

I cried buckets... and then I went online to find this new-to-me company called My Saint My Hero...

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Retail therapy, indeed! Every category contained physically beautiful outward expressions of faith. Not only that, but the artisans are real women with faces and names and needs. From the website:

The Mission of My Saint My Hero is to transform the world one life at a time through the experience of being blessed and sharing that blessing with others. With your purchases, you are empowering women of Medjugorje through meaningful work – helping them rise above war-torn poverty with the dignity of their beautiful trade.
 

Yeah... I can get behind that. 

And then I spotted the Holy Family Cuff bracelet and my feminine Catholic heart beat a little faster. Stunning! And when My Saint My Hero agreed to send me this beautiful piece to review, I stalked my mailman until it came!

I don't wear a lot of jewelry and perhaps that's one reason why I so thoroughly enjoy wearing pieces that reflect more fully who I am as woman of faith. I love the outward testimony to goodness and beauty. And I love that it is a constant reminder to me that I am made for something more. 

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"Three hearts woven together by the grace of everlasting love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Pure Heart of Joseph represent the eternal love of family. Wear this bracelet as a reminder that your heart is woven together with your family and through this divine union you are called to echo the eternal love of God."

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The Holy Family Cuff bracelet is so unique and beautiful. It is also very sturdy and has withstood the test of many sweet little fingers carrying it, stroking the smooth surface, and yes, dropping it! 

What a perfect gift to yourself or someone else who could use healing and restoration. Being able to purchase extras for ourselves and others is an indication of our abundance. When we make those fun purchases, let it be for the healing of our hearts and the world and have a direct and positive affect on the makers...

That is true retail therapy!

Purchase the Holy Family Cuff HERE and explore all of the fantastic offerings of My Saint My Hero. 


My Saint My Hero was founded on the belief that
God is real, prayer works and love heals. Our pieces are
wearable blessings that remind us we are loved.
We want My Saint My Hero to be more than a
Company, but a community, inspired by God to help transform
lives and make the world a better place. Crafted in love and
prayer, our wearable blessings empower women through
meaningful work.
Our prayer is that these pieces help awaken souls
to live in the presence of God and know:
I AM true, I AM good, I AM beautiful…
I AM BLESSED.


*I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.*

Healing Autoimmune Disease Naturally: Is it Possible?

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Whether or not Lupus (or any autoimmune disease) can be healed naturally has become an important question in my life. After suffering for two decades with chronic illness and actively seeking answers for the majority of that time, I finally have a diagnosis of Lupus. Diagnosis is a complicated thing; it is both a relief and a burden. In my case, it brings the undesirable news that I have an incurable disease in which my body attacks its own major organs and joints.

Bummer.

Until the 1950's, prognosis for someone with Lupus was grim, but medical advancements have greatly extended the lifespan of the average person with the condition. The "medical advancements" of which I speak are primarily medications which suppress the immune system; medications such as chemotherapy and steroids. 

I've spent many hours hanging out in the internet Lupus forums, and discussions are as often about how to deal with the negative side effects of the medications as they are how to deal with the original Lupus symptoms. That is the double edged sword of all pharmaceuticals: They are a tremendous blessing when we need an intervention that a natural resource cannot provide; but they can also become a terrible burden, giving us a new set of sufferings in exchange for the old ones. 

MEDICATIONS CAN'T HEAL THE BODY

The truth is that prescription drugs cannot heal us. Healing can only come from the body itself. The body dies when it can no longer protect and restore cells and body systems with or without assistance from pharmaceutical and natural resources. Prescription drugs cannot heal us if the body cannot, at some point, pick up the burden and continue healing and fighting on it's own.

A great example of a complicated pharmaceutical is antibiotics. We have a false notion that these little pills will kill an infection in its entirety and we can just sit back and let it happen to us and life in our body will go on as usual. The reality is that if our immune system doesn't ever engage the infection alongside the antibiotics, we will die. 

Antibiotics are a great example of the non-specific nature of prescription drugs. While they stop infection, they are not discerning and also kill off the good bacteria which live in the gut and comprise the majority (70%) of the body's immunity. It starts to get complicated. And in our desire to heal, we decrease our body's natural ability to do so. 

Our participation in that healing is often passive and even interfering. We proceed with our unhealthy habits and can't understand why the meds don't "work" the first time around... Or why our chronic cough/sinus infections/etc seem to continuously plague us.

THE NATURAL SOLUTION

The natural solution is not necessarily easy but it is a simple concept. It says: "I will focus on strengthening my body systems according to nature's design in order to protect against and battle disease." Even if we must take medications to survive, it is foolishness to ignore the basic needs of the body.

So... While I don't know that I can "cure" my Lupus, I do believe that I can manage my symptoms to some degree by honoring the fundamental biologic needs of my body. I believe it first because I have done it. I believe it also because science and research confirms that experience.

I have been managing quite well for the last 6 years (pre-diagnosis) with nutritional changes alone until recently when I experienced a lengthy flare which I could not fully control. On some level, I knew it was coming. I had been telling myself for months that I needed to stop my increasingly frequent sugar splurges... and I was conscious of carrying a stress load far too heavy for me. I also had stopped supplementing regularly just out of pure laziness. When the flare hit, I immediately cleaned up my diet, decreased my obligations, increased my sleep, expanded my essential oil use, and started my supplements again. I believe those things (along with other natural wellness resources) kept me out of the hospital. 

MOVING FORWARD

I once believed I was headed for life in a wheelchair and in ONE WEEK of dramatic dietary overhaul was able to change that trajectory. If I was able to do that only by eliminating toxic garbage from my diet, I feel confident that I can make further strides with greater application of a healthy lifestyle. 

By "healthy" lifestyle, I mean one in which I am addressing (naturally) the following factors:

  1. Nutrition 
  2. Stress
  3. Toxic Load
  4. Sleep
  5. Physical Movement

An honest assessment of the last 6 years tells me that I was only partially addressing #1 and #3 and yet still experienced what felt like miraculous healing. I have to ask: What more can I do for myself before I add prescription drugs to my lifestyle? There's so much room for improvement.

By the way, all of the five healthy lifestyle categories above are specifically mentioned on mainstream Lupus sites as Lupus triggers:

  1. Poor Nutrition
  2. Stress
  3. Exposure to Toxins
  4. Poor Sleep Habits
  5. Sedentary Lifestyle

It is quite exciting to me to see that each of these categories has a corresponding natural solution! If I cannot eliminate my Lupus, I can surely make giant strides in managing it. 

BUT CAN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE BE CURED?

I don't know. But I've seen plenty of evidence that people have at least been able to fully control their symptoms (meaning they have zero). I have read many accounts of people overcoming life threatening disease with only the changes that I have made. Cancers killed. Diabetes reversed. Rheumatoid Arthritis eliminated. People leaving wheelchairs behind. Very sick children becoming well again. Once I started paying attention, I realized that there is a large body of evidence suggesting that it is possible.

Am I crazy? Well, if I am, I'm certainly in good company...

  • Dr. Amy Myers is one resource I have been turning to lately. She is one of many functional medicine physicians out there who are successfully treating people with autoimmune disease. She says: 

"In conventional medicine, the belief is that once you have an autoimmune condition, there’s nothing you can do to reverse it, only ways to manage the symptoms. Managing the symptoms typically involves harsh medications that are aimed at suppressing your immune system. While these medications can be effective at reducing some of the symptoms of the disease, since they suppress the entire immune system, they are not without many unwanted side effects such as fatigue, weight gain, depression, increased infection rates and even cancer.

In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole and works on the principle that the health of one system impacts the health and function of the others. Instead of focusing on disease symptom management, we focus on supporting and strengthening the immune system by getting to the root of why the immune system went rogue in the first place. While there is no known cure for autoimmune disease, I believe that there are five key elements that are at the root of all autoimmune conditions. In my functional medicine practice I have been able to successfully help hundreds of patients lower and reverse antibodies, get off their harsh medications, and become symptom free."

THIS IS NOT A FAD

Healthy living is not a fad. It is a response to a culture that has been consistently deviating from a biologically appropriate course of overall health care. I am so glad to see a growing body of professionals who are committed to restoring what has been lost and embracing the best of what is new.

For those of you new to this journey, here are some of my favorite resources. There are more... so many more... but diving in to even one of these will keep you occupied and inspired for a long, long time. 

There are so many more resources I want to share but I've already dropped enough links to send you down the wellness rabbit hole for a year!

I will continue to share my journey with you on these pages and on social media. Blogging has always been an amazing source of support and accountability in other areas of my life... and now I know will continue to be that blessing for my short and long term health. 

I am so glad to have you with me! My dream is to be able to enjoy the sunshine again without triggering sickness. What is your dream?

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Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness (when mom is sick)

I have a secret about my homeschool and it's finally time to tell it. Okay, I have a few secrets...

I don't know much more about how to successfully homeschool today than I did at the beginning almost 20 years ago. I don't really go to homeschool conferences. I don't belong to a co-op. I know a lot about homeschooling and I've read all the books and purchased all the programs... but my days... they've been uncertain and long. And I've spent more than a few of them battling chronic illness.

I guess that's not the most flattering picture to paint of myself but... that's not the secret that I came here to tell anyway.  

This post is really about the secret that I discovered while slogging uphill for this dream and for my family. It's about the real gift beyond the details of these days and what I want to be able to pass on to every homeschool mom I know...

Truly successful homeschooling is never about how much material we can stuff into a kids' brain, it's about lighting a fire in their very souls. And there is no one best way to do that. It is much more about trusting the process than about planning for perfection. Success isn't for the perfect, it's for the persistent.

I clearly remember the time I kicked an American Doll horse in anger and broke my toe. That's often what my version of "persistence" looks like...

Fail, wail, move on, stop kicking toys.

That toe has never healed completely and that's frustrating but it makes for a great story that the kids love to tell. And in a strange rubber-meets-the-road-on-Calvary kind of way that usually only homeschooling moms can understand, I think I can call that a success.

The family is made to nurture body, mind, and soul. We were created to do this. We don't really look like a school. We often look like a first class mess. But that is the gift... 

That God allows us to become nothing so that the flame of His Love might rise and become a blaze in the heart of the family. 

One of the best lessons I ever learned about homeschooling was from a local mom who faced a life-threatening illness and was sick for an extended period of time. She told me that she spent many days resting in a hammock on their enclosed patio while the kids pressed on, more or less, with their homeschooling. Her kids told me how they used to pretend to work or study and they laughed and teased each other about what they really did when they were supposed to be working. She told me (with a smile) that she never doubted their decision to continue homeschooling even when she wasn't able to do a thing. Because it wasn't about her. She knew their decision was right and she trusted that God had a plan for her illness. 

Her kids are all grown now - successful, happy, smart, faithful, and all good friends - and I've never forgotten what she told me. She successfully homeschooled imperfectly from a hammock. And joy grew out of that. 

When I went through my own early years of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, I didn't call her. I didn't really know what was wrong with me and I thought I was just a loser homeschooler. I didn't think that anyone was as lousy at this as I was and I imposed a kind of isolation on myself, determined to figure it out on my own.

But I wish I would have called her. I wish I would have let her see the tears. 

Six years ago, God allowed me to set down my cross of illness for a time. Since then, I have been on a journey of healing; not just my body, but also my battered mind and soul. And while I have never doubted for a moment that homeschooling was a worthwhile journey and blessed by God, I have never stopped doubting my own role in that beautiful dream.

Why did He make these beautiful children and then give them this wildly inadequate mother? 

It's all about the secret:

The mess is part of the gift. It is the stripping down of ego until we can see nothing but the grace of God. 

That is the secret, the gift of chronic illness. That through all the pain and struggle, we are presented with the reality that we, in ourselves, are small.... and that it is God who stands in the gap and enables us to rise. Thanks be to God.

John 12:24–25
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

The Oil Cleansing Method of Washing Your Face

Your skin is your largest organ and the most chemically absorbent part of your body. What are you putting on your face?

I wash my face with oil.. and get a lot of funny looks when I say that! It certainly sounds strange since most people are trying to get the oil off of their faces. But surprisingly enough, it does work, and is a gentle and lovely solution to those with sensitive skin. 

I've been moisturizing my face with plain oil since 2013 after bad experiences with all commercial products I tried; but I still hadn't found a cleanser that I loved. And even though I did like my moisturizer (handmade goodness from Etsy), the price tag was more than I found reasonable over the long term. As I neared the bottom of my final bottle, my stubbornness reared up and I put my foot down:

I need this lotion... BUT... I'm not paying that kind of money again. I'll make it myself.

So I purchased ingredients to make something of my own design and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I ran out of lotion. I needed something to moisturize with because my face would burn and turn red after I washed with soap. I did a quick internet search and discovered that I could just use plain... oil.

I ran to my cabinet and pulled out a bottle of almond oil. This will do, I thought. And it did. I thought I would break out in horrendous acne. But I didn't. Instead, it felt lovely and did the trick. I never did end up making the lotion (although it is still on my to-do list) and I have since discovered the simple art of washing with oil as well.

Washing Your Face With Oil

The how-to of oil cleansing is beautifully simple. You need only two ingredients: castor oil (for cleaning) and a moisturizing oil such as 100% pure olivehazelnutalmond, or grapeseed. A little research and experimentation will help you discover which of these oils is best for your skin.

I made my first batch with equal parts castor and almond oil. It was actually a little drying and I have since decreased the amount of castor oil to 1/3 with happy results. Everyone's skin is different so this really does end up being a bit unique for each person.

The Ingredients

1. Castor Oil - Draws out Dirt (some people with sensitive skin might want to limit this almost entirely if it is too drying)

2. Olive or other moisturizing oil (My preference is almond oil)

3. Experiment with adding your favorite (therapeutic grade) essential oils for scent and skin benefits. My recommendations are frankincense, melaleuca, and lavender. 

It cost me only $5 to make 6 ounces of cleanser, which will probably last me a very long time. It sits on the bathroom counter with a homemade label that reads (in red sharpie):

Mommy's Face Wash... Do Not Touch! 

(Which, of course, made all the children want to touch it asap.)

The Method

1. Pour a small amount of oil (nickel to quarter size) into your palm and using your clean fingertips, massage it into your skin (apply to dry face). Gently rub it in for about a minute. No need to scrub.

2. Wet a washcloth with hot water (please don't burn yourself) and lay it over your face, letting it cool until it is about room temperature. This is where a lot of cleaning action happens. It has been so cold here that my washcloth cools off super fast... so I have been repeating this step with the other side of the cloth.

3. Rinse the washcloth out (or just use the corners) and wipe off the oil. Again, do not scrub... just wipe it off. You'll have some residual oil but you really do want that.

4. I will occasionally need a little extra moisturizer and will use some coconut oil or almond oil in the morning or after a shower. I keep it in a container and add frankincense, melaleuca, and other oils according to need. 

The Results

This stuff cleans extremely well. A pre-wash is unnecessary because the oil is the perfect makeup and dirt remover. Oil removes oil. I find that this method works much better than scrubbing with soap and water.

I have acne-prone skin. I'm a 40-year old woman with just as many problems as I did when I was a teenager! I assumed oil would make it worse but instead, I have experienced a very rapid improvement. Dry patches and oily patches equalize and breakouts have decreased. My skin is softer. I can't do anything about contact sensitivities but I can do my best to have a healthy baseline.

I also have an autoimmune disease called lupus which is brutal to my poor face. This method is extremely gentle and nourishing for my often delicate and wounded skin. 

The Morning After (A Story About Lupus)

Behind my sleepy eyelids, I can see the glow of the sun coming through my window. It is morning and I have a sinking, grieving feeling that in just a moment, I will bear the full consequence of yesterday's indulgence.

I try to blink the heaviness away from my eyes but can not; they are swollen almost shut. My face feels like a plaster mask is affixed to it and a strong cry of mourning builds up in my throat. I have been here before and the sorrow of recognition hits me like a wave. I manage to hold back the sounds of grief so I won't disturb the tiny blonde kiddo sleeping on my shoulder.

His cheeks are sun-kissed from swimming and playing the day before... a gentle rosy kiss which I know will be a stark contrast to what has happened to my own face. I haven't yet seen a mirror but I already know what I'll find there. I won't even be recognizable beneath the swelling. The sun is my enemy... and she had seduced me with her warmth and beauty... and with a touch of poison.

I have lupus and the sun is my enemy. Actually, my own body is my enemy.  When the sun shines on me, it triggers my body to attack itself... organs, skin, joints... and during a flare, there's really nothing I can do to stop it except stay in my cave and manage it. I have a rough idea of my limits, but yesterday... there was a celebration and a meal outdoors and kids to be monitored and life to be lived...

And so I let the beauty of the sun fool me again. Or rather... I knowingly went beyond what I knew my broken immune system could handle and am paying the price. 

The tears won't come until the swelling goes down and so I gently move my little prince off my arm so that he is not startled by my distorted appearance when he wakes. There are worse things than a funny looking face, but I do not want the small sorrow of even a momentary rejection this morning. 

I get out of bed and feel my ankles jiggle with the swelling. My joints are badly jarred by the slight impact on the wood floor. All 115 pounds of me... feeling like 40 years going on 100 and wishing like mad that I could at least have the sweet relief of a good cry.

But those tear ducts aren't working and so my soul cries instead as I touch my face. In confusion, I promise God (again) that I won't care two figs about what I look like as long as he lets me survive this long enough to mother my kiddos into adulthood. Just twenty years (or more), I ask. Please. 

In the emotion of the moment, I don't know if bargaining with God is okay. And I don't know if it works. I only remember the face of the crucified Christ Who loves me and I think it's okay to reach out even if I'm confused. Someone once told me that we shouldn't wait to talk to God perfectly or else we will never muster the courage to talk at all. And so this morning, He hears a lot of mixed up things from me. 

I marvel at how this swollen mask unmasks me and reminds me of how elementary I am in all things. I am nothing but a tiny girl asking her dad question after question and begging for a bit more ice cream.

"Daddy? Why did God make the moon?"
"But why did He make nasty mosquitos?"
"If God is all-powerful, why does He let people get hurt?"
"What if we pray harder? Can we stop the bad things?"

And therein lies the question that keeps people so far from the heart of Jesus Christ. We don't want the cross. And we can't see His love through our pain... we can't understand why He would let it hurt so much.

My inflamed forehead rests on the cool bathroom mirror and I think of life... how much I want to be alive and well. And I think of death... and how much I want to someday be fully alive through death. Somedays it terrifies me and some days it sounds like the relief that I pray for. That desire piggybacks on my emotion of the moment and swells into a deep longing for the Presence of Jesus Christ. 

I shuffle downstairs to grab my water, supplements, essential oils, and to figure out what kind of breakfast will help facilitate a healing day. I poke at my iPad until I find Laura Story's 'Blessings' and I press play. I listen and breathe...

"What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy"

I thank the Lord over and over again for the gift of illness... and then I put on some praise music and gently dance in a way that doesn't hurt. I can't go out in the sun today because my body doesn't work right and the sun is still  somehow my enemy. But someday, I will bask in sunlight forever...

I will not hurt. 
I will not be afraid. 
I will give thanks and dance forever.

I open my email and see an invitation to come play at the park. The sun is shining and I tell the hostess that I cannot make it today. Maybe next week.

And it'll be okay. It's all going to be okay. 

The Myth of Moderation: Learning to Say No in a Culture of Indulgence

Everything in moderation! 

For the past six years, I have heard that maxim more times than I can count from people who do not understand or like my dietary choices. I once politely refused a cookie from an angry woman. She insisted that it "just wasn't healthy" not to eat cookies and believed that I must eat "everything in moderation" in order to live a healthy life. It turned into an uncomfortable standoff and... 

I didn't eat the cookie.

I didn't eat it because the idea that the way to be healthy is "everything in moderation" simply isn't true. 

There are some things which are always harmful to us even in small quantities.
There are some people who are harmed by things that you aren't.
There are some substances which are not harmful in small quantities but are in "moderate" quantities.

And most significantly...

Moderation means different things to different people.

Moderation is a movable line. Let's take ice cream for example. What is a moderate consumption of ice cream?
Here are various definitions....

Me: One scoop every couple years.

My husband: When the mood strikes every couple months.

My friend: One small scoop three times a week.

My neighbor: A giant banana split once a week.

My family member: Whenever the heck I feel like it. YOLO

My kids: "I will eat ice cream at every possible opportunity whether or not I actually want it and even if I am so full that I might vomit upon consuming!"

"Moderation" sounds scientific and authoritative until we look more closely and discover that the term is often a convenient way to justify our excesses and judge the eating habits of others. We know that it is a movable line but continue to wield it as an iron sword of truth.

True moderation is the application of virtue to all areas of our life. But American cultural moderation is pretty much just do whatever you want to do and call it moderate. We have replaced the word "virtue" with moderation and our collective health (mind, body, and soul) has suffered as a result.

"Sweetheart, you need to have a cookie! Everything in moderation!"

Except dirt. And paint chips. And glue. That goes without saying really. But when it comes to food, one person's "moderate" is another's kryptonite. And It's time we call out the lie and speak the truth:

It's okay to say no to things that aren't necessary. Why are we so afraid to lose our little luxuries?

As someone with autoimmune disease, moderation takes on an entirely different meaning for me. Instead of meaning that I can indulge in anything I want as long as it's in small quantities, it means that I can enjoy reasonable quantities of almost any food I like... as long as it's on my approved list. That list is quite a bit smaller than I'd prefer... 

  • I can't drink alcohol because it adds stress to my vital organs.
  • I can't eat gluten because I hate feeling like I'm dying and I like my small intestine.
  • I don't eat sugar because it is an inflammatory food and I'm battling inflammatory disease.
  • I don't drink coffee because caffeine is also a huge inflammatory. 
  • I don't eat food with additives, colorants, or artificial flavors because... see all of the above.

Technically, I could choose to consume those foods and pay the consequences. I know many people who do that in the name of moderation. Or because they feel their quality of life would suffer without their annual Shamrock shake. It's their choice, of course. But I do not choose sickness over health... not for all the moderate enjoyment this world has to offer. My weaknesses lie in many other areas (many many), but it is relatively easy for me to say no to things which prevent me from enjoying life and serving my family.

There are many other things I don't do (and no one should do) in moderation (like eat paint chips). That list is long, self-evident, and destroys the moderation in "everything" myth instantly.

Then there are donuts and coffee and that fuzzy middle ground.

I admit that it's easier for me because those two comfort foods would make me miserable and mess with my body's ability to to heal and to survive. Sickness is HARD for me. Debilitatingly hard. When I put food to my mouth, I am consciously choosing to live. 

On the other hand, I know diabetics who eat donuts and people on anti-depressants who drink caffeine. I understand that our struggles and physical limits vary and I cannot speak to their choices.

But...

If you eat garbage food multiple times a week and have migraines, IBS, thyroid issues, fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and a host of other common plagues, you might want to consider doing something beautiful for yourself and throw "everything in moderation" out the window. You may just be surprised by a miracle; not the least of which might be that you can say no to that extra ice cream splurge and live to tell about it. 

When we discard the moderation myth as a way of life, we learn a beautiful secret about ourselves:

We are capable of self-control.
Our needs are simpler than we previously thought.
We spend less on the unnecessary.
We can be free from our cravings.
We can do heroic things even when no one is watching.

If we are Christians, we also learn a beautiful secret about our faith... 

In any given moment, we might be asked to give up everything for Love. Every time we decline that caramel latte and offer it as a sacrifice of praise, we become a bit more fit for the bigger battles... and more free to be molded for loving service and eternity. 

Thanks be to God!

How Stitch Fix is Healing the Marketplace

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

Stitch Fix is an online styling service that delivers a personalized shopping experience where a personal stylist hand picks pieces to fit your tastes, needs and budget—and mails them directly to your door. 

I first turned to Stitch Fix to help me solve the problem of my outdated blue jeans. I stayed with Stitch Fix because they presented me with a valuable solution, a human touchpoint in the marketplace, and service that money can't buy.

As consumers, we are accustomed to being sold to, not cared for. So when one company breaks that mold, we notice... we soften... we hope a little more and trust a little more. We tell our friends about that one grocery bagger who remembers our name and the dentist who wished us a happy birthday. It is a reminder that it is the soul, not the body, that needs the greatest care and has the deepest void to fill. 

The story I'm going to share here is one of business leadership going the extra mile. You could say that it was strategic and helped them retain a customer... and you would be right. You could also say that only an authentic servant leader understands how to heal and serve someone they've never met... and you would be right. 

Perhaps it is the genius of womanhood that trickles down from the founder and touches everything. Regardless, here is my story...


A LITTLE BACKGROUND

After 15 years of actively seeking a diagnosis for my chronic illness, I finally have an answer. It came as a surprise after a lengthy period of "remission" during which I did everything right to heal my broken body. I dramatically changed my diet, lifestyle, and chemically toxic environment and put the unnamed beast into a cage. Until... it broke free.

I'm not really sure what triggered this flare. Probably stress, a little slipping of the diet, hormonal changes... just a complicated soup of little triggers that pushed my body and immune system in hyperdrive. Regardless, the autoimmune animal was uncaged and I entered into one of the most physically and mentally difficult periods of my life.

Thank God for maturity. (There are a lot of great things about being 40.) I came through okay. But it was intense and surprised me with a measure of grief that was wholly unanticipated. 

Months before this, I had placed my first order with Stitch Fix because I was a little desperate to update my one pair of floppy ill-fitting jeans. Walmart and Salvation Army had failed me and with 8 kids, I'm not inclined to leave the house to shop! I knew I would have to spend a little money to get a good fitting pair and so I decided to let a stylist at Stitch Fix be my muse.

My box came and it was absolutely perfect. I kept everything (and yes, my husband approved the splurge) but knew that I had to be more cautious with future spending. So I set the next shipment date to the furthest possible option and marked it in my planner, intending to cancel before the time came.

Well, the time did come... but it came in the middle of my health crisis during which my planner lay useless and untouched. My face was so swollen that I was unrecognizable. The butterfly rash on my cheeks had scabbed over. My body was on fire and I could barely eat. I spent days just crying, researching, and struggling with the difficulties of the flare, loss, and complications which accompanied the diagnosis. 

I always thought I would be relieved when diagnosis finally came. Instead, I was struck with a heavy grief. I didn't want THAT diagnosis. I wanted one I could wholly control. Where I didn't lose anything else. Something not as painful and as ugly. 

I am feeling well again now and reigning in the triggers in my lifestyle, but being in the middle of that flare was an intense suffering that I was not prepared for. 

STITCH FIX SHOWS UP

In the middle of that struggle, my second Stitch Fix box showed up on my doorstep and I gasped in an "oops!" kind of way. I had forgotten to cancel! Well, I can send it all back easily enough, I thought. But first... I'll just try it all on. And I did.

I took off my old t-shirt from college and my worn athletic shorts, and tried on the bounty that my stylist had picked out just for me. She had looked at my Pinterest boards and read my preferences. She understood. And as the pretty fabrics and prints touched my skin, I started to cry. 

Big fat tears fell down my ugly swollen cheeks as I admired those beautiful clothes. There was a lovely necklace, too... and for the first time in a long time, I felt soft and pretty.

Maybe it won't surprise the reader to know that I kept everything. 

Then I wrote a little note to my stylist. I told her that even though I know it is her job to select nice clothes for customers, that her talent and time mean something greater than just "a job." I told her how her work had touched my life. And that night, I thanked God for women in the workplace... who love others with their intuitive genius of service.

Perhaps you're thinking that I'm a big bowl of melodramatic emotional mush. Perhaps you're right. But in those moments when we are isolated with our suffering and pain, the details of life are large... and have the power to inhibit or expand healing.

After I wrote that note, I put away my new clothes, set my next Stitch Fix date for the farthest possible shipment, marked it on my calendar, and let the moment fall into the abyss of my occupied mind.

Until a couple weeks later...

There was a knock at my front door and a box containing the most beautiful lilies and irises from Benchmark Bouquets was placed on my stoop. I looked for the card to see which of my incredible and loving family members or friends sent this to me...

But it wasn't someone who loves me or even knows me. It was from the team at Stitch Fix.

The wording wasn't intimate but anyone who has suffered understands... someone knew that a broken heart needs flowers and made the decision to send them.

The pic below isn't the best quality since it was snapped quickly with the camera on an aging iPad; and my face is hidden intentionally since I wasn't ready to display the outward expression of autoimmune disease (I will share more at some point) and tears. But it was taken shortly after I pulled those flowers out of their box. They reminded me of the sweet dress that my stylist had chosen for me and I wanted to remember and to share. 

What is love? Is it just an emotion? If so, then Stitch Fix people don't really love me. They don't even know me. But if love is what I believe it is - the action of helping a person to achieve their greatest good - then I don't know... maybe there is love in the marketplace after all.

Father Robert Sirico once said:

"That's what the vocation of business is: to look for opportunities to serve."

To the entire Stitch Fix team... Keep serving well with the best of who you are and you will change the marketplace. You will have set the bar high and have, in this one moment, not only touched my life, but taught me how to be a better businesswoman. Never change.

To my readers who would love to give Stitch Fix a try...  I highly recommend it. It is customizable with the benefit of having a real person working with you. Returns and exchanges are free and easy (I returned one thing for a different size and it was a piece of cake).

And for the healing mother who really doesn't have the time or energy to go looking to splurge for something new and pretty, it is honestly a real pleasure and valuable resource. That's really what this blog is about... Finding healing and joy in the midst of the storm... and providing resources for helping us attain that goal.

Do you know a woman (or man) who could use a Stitch Fix gift card pick-me-up? This would be such a unique and special gift for a pregnant or postpartum mom feeling a bit blah. Or someone who has been feeling unwell. Stitch Fix Gift Card

I'm giving thanks today for Stitch Fix in the online marketplace... where it is still possible to buy something pretty with the personal service of a real human being. 

The Essential Poison Ivy Remedy

We have a teenager who is an expert at finding poison ivy and now we finally have a way to treat it that doesn't involve steroids and antibiotics! If we need them, we will use them, but we are on three rounds of this natural solution and... so far so good. The teen who keeps getting into the poison ivy does not like the smell and says it stings when first going on (courtesy of the cider vinegar) but he also says it's well worth it. 

After his first poison ivy experience, he moved all of his climbing and building materials to the front of the house. Not my favorite place for his collection but he was not eager to get that itchy rash again! Fortunately, a quick and effective handling of the situation had him back in the woods in no time... and all of his wood and rope and energy with him! 

When making this recipe, be sure to use good quality pure essential oils (NO Walmart!!) or else the synthetic fillers are going to irritate and make the whole thing worse. (For beautiful, pure essential oils, scroll to the link at the bottom of this post.)

We did have the benefit of being able to start this application right from the beginning of the rash the first time and I think that contributed to the overall success of the remedy. My boy was pretty unhappy about the whole thing, feeling confident that he wouldn't have trouble handling it without the "stinky stuff." But I insisted and he saw dramatic improvement in just one day.

The result was that he ended up feeling overly confident and refused further applications... which ended up in worsening rash... which resulted in a reapplication... which ended with a resolved poison ivy episode in only three days. Not too shabby.

He had the marks for over a week beyond that but there was no further itching or irritation. Needless to say, the next time he developed poison ivy, he was more than willing to submit to mama's home remedy!

My daughters would be more sensitive to any marks or scarring from the harsh poison ivy rash. In their case, I would use frankincense and lavender to help soothe and heal the skin. 

Here's the recipe. It doesn't make much to get the job done but feel free to double and triple if you've got a large area (or family) to cover...

The Essential Poison Ivy Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp distilled water
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil (for itch)
  • 3 drops tea tree oil (antiseptic)
  • 3 drops peppermint oil (soothing)
  • Mix until dissolved.
  • Store in fridge.
  • Apply repeatedly throughout the day until resolved.

And it should go without saying that if your poison ivy progresses beyond your ability to self-treat, please go see your doctor! 

What other natural poison ivy tips do you have? Please share in the comments!

Looking for quality essential oils? Click below for the oils my family uses with confidence. 

Lularoe Madison Skirt Review (The LulaRose Garden)

It's no secret that I love Lularoe clothing...

I love the versatile and happy pieces. 
I love the  flexible sizing.
I love that I feel like I'm wearing my PJ's all the time in the soft fabrics.
I love that LuLaRoe is direct marketing (because I love direct marketing!) and that I get to support family business while I shop.
I love that each item fits so creatively into my wardrobe. 

And today, I particularly love this Madison skirt that came to me from Susana at the LulaRose Garden. I wanted to try a Madison and she wanted to see how it would fit into my existing wardrobe. Twist my arm!

I'm a casual gal most of the time but I also enjoy feeling pretty. This skirt dresses up or down quickly and easily and comfortably...

First I pulled out a dressier tee and a pair of heels to go with my Madison. Add a simple necklace and I'm ready for church, a business meeting, or a party. The fabric of this skirt is so smooth and soft that I couldn't help a giving it a twirl...

I'm about 5'6" and 115 lbs and this Madison is an XS. It's a perfect fit at my natural waist. For a size chart, check out Susana's Facebook shop page

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I switched out the dressy tee with a white burnout tee and added a favorite lace headband and  sandals. Casual comfort-loving girl meets Lularoe. When a skirt is more comfy than a pair of jean shorts, we have a sweet outfit for running to the store, for a play date, or to daily Mass. 

Why yes, I do walk on logs just for the fun of it... 

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And since I live in the Northeast, what was formerly an 80-degree day is now a 60-degree evening, I had to give the Madison a go in my Fall favorites: denim and short boots. 

The versatility of the LuLaRoe pieces is fantastic and I'm not even going to tell you how many I own. My favorites are the Maxi, the Azure, and now... the Madison. These soft skirts are the feminine equivalent to the yoga pant. 

Oh... did I mention the pockets yet? I didn't? There are POCKETS! Two of them. This is truly the perfect sweet and functional mom skirt. And it comes in MANY different colors and sizes. 

Shopping for LuLaRoe is unique and super fun. If you've never shopped on Facebook, it's very simple. Simply join the LuLaRose Garden shop page, be the first to comment "sold" on any item you want to buy, and fill out the linked purchase form. 

Susana Starbuck is the sweetest gal and shopping with her is a joy. You don't have to buy anything if you join her page... just window shop to your heart's content and when that one special piece comes along, you'll be ready to go. 

The LuLaRose Garden with Susana Starbuck

Gluten Free Pantry Basics

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

Unlikely as it sounds to my sweet-loving mind, I made it through my fifth Christmas and Easter seasons without touching a single wheat flour cookie. In fact, I haven't eaten a bona fide wheat cookie since May of 2012. There have been many times when I've felt deprived of all of the food-related pleasures that others were enjoying. Since then, I've discovered the wide and wonderful world of gluten free baking. These are not your mama's gluten-free cookies, people. Eat, celebrate, be happy.

The grain-free world has literally exploded with delicious cookie and dessert recipes in the last couple of years. Many talented food scientists/artists all over the internet have changed my life.

Listen to me... I am no longer deprived. I eat cookies. Delicious cookies. And most of the time, the ingredients are astonishingly good for me. I love my ingredient lists and don't feel guilty when I eat several. No more stomach aches. Just good solid nutrition.

Because I battle autoimmune disease, I do not indulge in gluten free baking frequently. During the easy times when my body is at peace, I can enjoy about once a week. When I am hit with a flare, I abstain completely. My favorite indulgence is The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake which makes a delicious dessert, breakfast, or snack.

I tossed the last bit of my wheat flour long ago and am slowly learning how to bake efficiently with alternatives. One of the obstacles I faced at the beginning of my journey was actually having the ingredients on hand when I needed them. I have recently been inspired by the constant calls for help on social media to provide a list of my basic wheat free whole food pantry to share and to reference. I'm including links (yes, some are affiliate links) to the places where I purchase my own supplies with exceptions noted.

An important note:
Just because something says "GLUTEN FREE" does not mean that it's health food or even remotely nutritious. When I say "Gluten Free Baking," I am NOT referring to the box mixes that are starting to glut the shelves. Those are basically gluten free versions of garbage food. Rice flour, corn flour, tapioca flour, and potato flour are not nutrient dense foods; they are cheap, easy, and nutrient deficient wheat flour substitutes. There's a place for these goodies in our lives... BUT... If you eat a lot of them regularly, you will get sick and gain weight. 

So, when I say "gluten free baking," I am referring to splurge food that actually contributes to my overall health. Nut flours, healthy fats, and real food. Do these ingredients taste different than the Ho Ho's you grew up on? Yes, they do. But over time I have actually come to prefer the rich tastes of real food flavors rather than chemical fillers...


Grain-Free Baking Basics

My pantry no longer showcases giant containers of wheat and sugar but all of the following are regulars. Not as cheap as white flour and sugar but as I know from experience... Good food is cheaper than hospital bills. If you don't know my story, read it here. 

This list doesn't cover everything but it does cover the staples that I try to always have on hand. Your own gluten free pantry will be shaped by your favorite recipes and family need. Here's my basic shopping list... scroll down for more information about each...

Almond flour
Coconut flour
Honey
Coconut milk
Coconut oil
Cocoa powder
Shredded unsweetened coconut
Cacao butter
Vanilla extract
Vanilla beans
Sea salt
Chocolate
Chia seeds
Dates
Coconut sugar
Gelatin
Maple Syrup


1. Almond Flour

Almond flour is a staple at my house. We don't use it daily but we use it regularly in everything from chocolate chip cookies to pancakes to birthday cakes. A delicious, nutritious chocolate chip cookie when you are gluten free is worth it's weight in gold!

I buy almond flour in bulk through Amazon in 25-pound increments because it is a couple dollars cheaper per pound that way and we have a lot of kids to feed! The drawback? The packaging is impractical and you will need to repackage into gallon freezer bags asap (if you have room in the freezer) before storing. I store them flat so they stack like books. It is also available in 3-lb bags which is more money per pound but not as challenging to keep.

Bob's Red Mill almond flour is available locally and on Amazon but I only use it if I can find the Super-Fine and not the meal.  
 

A Favorite Recipe: Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies


2. Coconut Flour

Coconut flour tends to absorb moisture from recipes so a little goes a long way. It cannot be used to replace regular flour 1:1 but is excellent in many bread, muffin, and cookie recipes. I even use it to "bread" my pan fried chicken and none of the kids can taste the coconut.

I buy Betterbody Coconut flour locally at our BJ's Wholesale Club for a good price. It is available on Amazon as well and the price fluctuates. Bob's Red Mill is available locally and online and works fine. 

A Favorite Recipe: Banana Muffins with Chocolate Chip Streussel Topping 


3. Honey

Most of the muffins, cookies, and cakes that I have been making lately do not require sugar but do call for honey. I buy local organic when I can but I can't always fit it into the budget. I just buy big jars at our warehouse club. (I'm not going to let the perfect get in the way of the good here.) If you can afford raw, local honey, do it! You can also buy on Amazon HERE.

A Favorite Recipe: Apple Cinnamon Muffins (I like to add an extra brush of honey a couple minutes before they come out of the oven)


4. Coconut Milk

I use pure coconut milk for much of my gluten free baking as a cow's milk substitute. I'm not talking about coconut drink, I'm talking about pure coconut milk untouched by other ingredients. This goes in our cookies, pancakes, smoothies, homemade ice cream, and cakes. And when I'm really missing ice cream and feeling lazy, I eat it straight with frozen berries. Nice, delicious healthy fats! 

Golden Star is the only local brand I have found that is free from soy or any other ingredients except coconut milk and water. I find it in cans at my local Walmart in the asian food aisle but you can also find it for sale on Walmart.com and off and on through Amazon. If you don't mind soy, there are a number of other shelf brands available. The soy is there as an emulsifier but it changes the texture. With the pure coconut milk, the cream will better separate from the water and rise to the top. You can mix it up again or just use the cream as is. I advise mixing for any recipes which call for coconut milk. 

A Favorite Recipe: Creamy Chocolate Avocado Smoothie (This isn't really bakery but it's dessert-ish. When I am feeling run-down, I love this kind of super boost recipe for increasing my healthy fats and nutrients.)


5. Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil for everything from moisturizer to cooking. I fry in it, bake with it, wash baby's head with it, make lip balm with it. I look for it on sale locally but have also purchased online. There are different ways to buy coconut oil but unrefined is going to provide you with the most nutritive value. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but has a low melting temperature... do not be alarmed if it turns to liquid in a warm house.

Vegetable oil is forbidden in my house. Wherever it used to be in baking, it is now replaced with coconut or olive oil. 

A Favorite Recipe: Fudgy Chocolate Tarts


6. Cocoa Powder

There are many brands of organic cocoa powder out there and I recommend them if you can afford it... but I just use Hershey's because I burn through it. It's yet another example of how I must compromise with the perfect until I am no longer feeding a family of ten. As soon as my grocery bill goes from shocking to reasonable, I would love to make the switch.

A Favorite Recipe: Almond Butter Fudge


Here's a picture of a Gluten Free Easter creation. The cake is made from a cocoa and almond flour/coconut flour base. The frosting is buttercream with grass fed butter... A definite splurge! I rarely eat dairy but this was an enjoyable exception. 


7. Shredded Coconut (Unsweetened)

Unsweetened shredded coconut is difficult to find around here so I order mine online and love the product. My favorite brand is Let's Do Organic and buying it in bulk on Amazon is the best deal for me. I have a lot of trouble finding this locally.

A Favorite Recipe: Peppermint Chocolate Macaroons


8. Cacao Butter

Cacao Butter is a beautiful food that I consider an indulgence. Not cheap. I use it to make my own chocolate energy bar (aka homemade chocolate with chia thrown in for fun and protein) and to add to an occasional recipe. I have purchased from both Rose Mountain Herbs  and Amazon.

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Coconut Energy Bars


9. Vanilla extract & Vanilla Beans

Most commercial brands of vanilla extract have sugar added so I've started making my own. When I have to buy it, I double check the ingredients to make sure that it is just vanilla and alcohol. I also buy vanilla beans to use in very special desserts. 

A Favorite RecipeBlackberry Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


10. Sea Salt

Available pretty much anywhere.

A Favorite Recipe: Paleo Salted Caramel Sauce


11. Chocolate

Because I am sensitive to soy and soy is even in most organic chocolates, I buy Green & Black's organic dark chocolate for my splurges. In addition to the clean ingredients, I also find the taste more pleasant than other leading brands. 

If you are looking for dairy, nut, soy, gluten free chocolate chips, Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips are a great option.

A Favorite Recipe: Dark Chocolate Cake Brownies


12. Chia Seeds

These can be found many places and I've been happy with Bob's Red Mill. I buy them in larger quantities online to get a discount. I add them to smoothies, homemade larabars, and chocolate.

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Chia Pudding


14. Dates

These little fruits are a surprisingly wonderful way to sweeten up many desserts. Get yourself a good food processor (I found a Cuisinart at a garage sale) and a whole new world of healthy dessert will open up to you. You can find them anywhere that sells groceries.

A Favorite Recipe: Paleo Chocolate Energy Bars


15. Coconut Sugar

Sometimes you just need something to replace white sugar 1:1 in a recipe and coconut sugar does that really well without the same affect on your glucose levels as white sugar. The taste is good. Texture is good. And it is finally available locally for a reasonable price. I buy Betterbody at our local BJ's Wholesale and on Amazon when the prices dip.

A Favorite Recipe: Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies


16. Gelatin

This is not your mama's knox gelatin. Gelatin is a wonderful for joint and bone health and even better when you know that the source is all grass fed beef. I buy Great Lakes Unflavored Gelatin.  Gelatin is used in many paleo and gluten free recipes to help desserts set up without eggs or cheese. 

A Favorite Recipe: Chocolate Gelatin Squares


17. Maple Syrup

Get the real stuff. It seems pricey but very little is needed to sweeten a recipe. 


Recipe Resources

I have to conclude by passing on my current favorite resource (besides Pinterest which is endlessly wonderful) for the most wonderful gluten free recipes. I have not been disappointed with any recipe I have tried from Against All Grain. Danielle Walker is a beautiful person with an inspiring story of how she has managed autoimmune disease with nutrition. In addition to her website, her physical cookbooks are absolutely gorgeous and useful.

I also love  Simply Gluten Free Magazine. I have found some incredible and nutritious recipes in here as well as a heads' up to new brands and tips for eating gluten free. 

Is there anything I should add to my pantry? Let me know in the comments!

Paleo First Birthday Smash Cake

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

My last three babies have received the most benefit from my healthy dietary changes. They were gluten and garbage food free in the womb, through the duration of nursing, and only very slowly did junk food come into their lives after that. It's always a little sad when that happens. And... it usually happens at Grandma's house... as it should be!

For two of the three, their introduction to the world of sweets came at their first birthday party. Who is going to deny that sweet face a piece of birthday cake and ice cream?? 

But I just couldn't do it this time. Soon enough, he will be sneaking sugared orange gummy candies out of Grandma's candy jar. But not yet. 

So I made him a little cake that I knew would nourish him and wouldn't end up making him feel crummy at his own birthday party. It's paleo, gluten free, and obviously delicious.

The rest of my kids were not as excited about a non-sugar birthday party so I broke down and made our favorite junk food box mix cake for them. We were at Grandma's after all. But I shared the baby's cake with him and we were just as happy as the little sugar fiends hopping all around us. 

The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake is not only a healthy treat for the littles but also happens to be MY birthday cake of choice! The frosting recipe is a light and refreshing paleo coconut cream. But if you don't mind some dairy and a sugar splurge, the traditional cream cheese frosting is a great option. 

This is my favorite brand of coconut milk because it doesn't have any ingredients other than pure coconut milk and water. Coconut Milk

This recipe makes two 9-inch rounds or 24 cupcakes. To make a little smash cake, bake your cake as directed and cut a smaller cake out of the center (one or two layers... one layer is pictured above). I used a bowl as a guide and cut around with a sharp knife before frosting. Do what you like with the outside edge scraps. I freeze them for an amazing breakfast treat.

The Essential Paleo Carrot Cake

The Beautiful Thing Project (Random Acts of Kindness)

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

My middle school daughter told me about a secret adventure she recently took. She was going to the store with her dad and anticipated all of the sad and anxious people she would come across. "Hardly anyone smiles," she told me. So she planned in advance to smile at everyone she saw, regardless of whether they smiled back. 

Her mission was successful (with most people anyway) and we talked for a while about her desire to bring comfort to others who are feeling down for one reason or another. She recalled the many words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta about the power of a simple smile. 

My daughter's words reminded me of a special Advent project that my friend, Colleen, does with her children. I shared the Raising Lifelong Learners blog post with my girl and she immediately decided to do something similar for the Summer months. 

And so, The Beautiful Thing project was born, because as Mother Teresa said...

"Every time you smile at someone it is an act of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

Here's how it works:

1. Print out this PDF page of 6 (or make your own)...


2. Buy some candy or another inexpensive happy item to give with the notes. My daughter chose Smarties just in case people are gluten free and we bought in bulk HERE. She attached the Smarties to the papers with colorful Washi Tape

3. Leave your house. 

4. Ask God to send someone who needs some kindness your way. Pray like St. Ignatius...

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.


5. Smile!

6. Give your little gifts to people who seem to need them most.

7. Always remain anonymous. Do not attach a website address, email, name, or other identification to the note. This act of kindness should not even indirectly place any obligation on the receiver, promote your website/projects/etc., or draw praise your way. Let it be a completely free gift. 

8. Repeat. Keep a stash with you in the car and when God presents a soul to love, respond with spontaneous generosity. 

9. If you are on social media, consider taking a pic of your ready-to-give notes with the hashtag #beautifulthingproject. I would love to show my girl how small acts of love are contagious! 

Finally, here is a note written to me by my daughter when she first presented me with this idea. It inspired me and hope it inspires you...

I think as Mother Teresa did, that a genuine smile is one of the most beautiful gifts a person can give to others. Not only does it give joy to the other person, it makes you feel less grumpy yourself. I like the idea of giving cards and candy to people because when I go places, I notice that not many people are smiling. In fact, many of them look hurried and sad. 

While I know that the expressions on their faces don't necessarily mean that they are suffering, I know that many people are and that sometimes the small things in life can make us sad. Maybe they are just trying to get through each day or have heard some bad news. 
A card and a smile from someone might make their day. I want to be that someone.

I also know that many people don't know Christ and perhaps they are sad and they don't know why. I want to give these cards (and a smile) to everyone who needs them, to make them happy, and to be a witness to Christ Who is the reason I smile. :)

How I Do Mornings Without Coffee

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

I don't drink coffee. I don't even like coffee.

There... I got that out of the way. Can we still be friends? 

Other than the surprising news that I don't share most of the world's love affair with coffee, people are most confounded by how I manage to function without the caffeine. Well, okay, I'm tired... a lot. But I also have 8 kids so expectations of being well rested are reasonably low. 

I suppose the real question is...
How do I function well without that shot of caffeine in my life? 

The overreaching principle of my daily healthcare is that before "self-medicating" (deliberately consuming caffeine to stay awake, etc), I consider if there's a need that can be met by a healthier means. In the case of fatigue, the obvious answer is MORE SLEEP. But since I am a homeschooling-entreprenuerial-mother-of-8... I need a little more help than that. 

I have heard from many people who wish they could kick coffee to the curb or at least limit it to a moderate amount. They are tired of the caffeine crash headaches, insomnia, caffeine-induced anxiety, their financial contribution to the Starbucks empire, caloric excess with specialty coffees, and desire to limit the use of addictive stimulants to keep them going. 

The news is also spreading that caffeine and autoimmune disease to not mix well... and we all know that autoimmune disease is on the rise

Here is my personal plan of action for those of you who are trying to kick (or reduce) a coffee habit...

SLEEP.

Just restating the obvious here. For some of us (moms with babies, toddlers, or teenagers, for example), more sleep is not always an option. God bless you hard working caregivers! Virtual fist bump from a mom who hasn't seen 7 hours in a very, very long time. 

For those of you who have other reasons for not sleeping (overworking, insomnia, stress, evening internet use, pain, etc.), there are other resources for helping with that. But... coffee is not one of them. Coffee does NOT help with sleep.

JUST SAY NO.

Whittle the schedule down to the bare minimum. If your 3-year old is already in ballet and soccer, I promise you that declining another activity will not ruin her life. It's more likely that a tired, cranky mother will mess with her quality of life, to be honest... speaking from experience here.

My unscientific observations tell me that most people use coffee to propel themselves through overbooked schedules of their own design. If you say no to extra obligations, you will not be less busy (something will always fill up your time!) but you will find your activities more manageable. 

I have some very big obligations in my life that keep me busy 100% of the time. That means I have to say no to other opportunities pretty much daily.

NUTRITION

The average American diet is saturated with energy-sapping ingredients. White flour, sugar, chemical additives, empty calories... none of which are going to keep you going beyond an initial burst. In fact, the net effect of a lousy diet is that we force our bodies to run on empty constantly. Calories? Sure... we've got those. Real nutrition at the cellular level?

Epic cultural fail.

Switching to a nutrient dense diet will do more for your body and energy level than a cup a joe ever will. (Read: How to Transform Your Health Through Diet)

WATER

Odds are that you have your fancy water bottle already. Use it. Your body needs water. You already know that water consumption increases energy and body efficiency! Don't make me nag you!

SMOOTHIES

This really should go under "nutrition" but smoothies are my favorite way to get started in the morning so they get their own category. I don't think I ever make the same smoothie twice (who has time to measure?) but I do have some (but not all) favorite ingredients...

ESSENTIAL OILS

Peppermint, lemon, and orange are my happy-wake-up oils. Seriously! I diffuse or apply them in the morning and take them with me when I go. They are particularly helpful on a car ride when my mind is not working quickly and I want to make sure I'm driving safely. More info about these great natural resources HERE.

PRAYER

Stress and anxiety exhaust us. They cause us to lose sleep, they tax the adrenals, they wreak havoc on our mental clarity and relationships. There isn't always a way to eliminate big stressors in our lives but the fact is that those who have a strong faith, have greater interior peace and better health. 

If you don't know how to pray or do pray but aren't sure you're grasping the full benefit, I highly recommend this slim volume called Prayer for Beginners

I read it when I already considered myself a veteran to prayer... and it helped bring a greater simplicity, clarity, and peace to my existing spiritual life. 

EXERCISE

I almost forgot this one (thank you for the kind reader who reminded me!)... probably because I like to sleep a whole lot more than I like to exercise. ha. But studies confirm that exercise increases energy and fights fatigue. People with autoimmune disease or adrenal fatigue have to be a bit more strategic about when, how, and how long they exercise (I'm just going to cite this as my excuse for sleeping in) but physical movement is still a critical part of their energy tool box and long term health.

What else am I missing? Let me know what your tips are!

Start Being Brave About Everything (Pio Prints)

{I received a product in exchange for this honest review. Thank you for supporting my family! My full disclosure Here.}

My daughter is brave. And she is teaching me how to be brave. 

Over 20 years ago, I went through the same surgery she did, wore the same brace she is wearing, and worked my heart out to get back to the activities I enjoyed, just like she is. But I see in her a strength I did not have... because my courage was a superficial show... and hers runs deep.

I endured for the moment while eyes were upon me and then secretly began to give up. I was tired of the hard things. I was tired of the physical and mental stresses of life and didn't want to fight anymore. I was only a kid... but I was already afraid and worn. 

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When people would tell me "Great job!" and "You inspire me!"... I developed the habit of countering them in my mind...

You're a liar.
I'm worthless.
I can't.
I shouldn't.

I became my own flawed teacher and I daily instructed myself about my failure as a human being. I thought that I was just protecting myself. Hey, if I just admitted the truth from the start, then it wouldn't hurt when other people saw it and said it, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And instead of growing roots strong and true... and vulnerable... I kept them short in fear, and short circuited my ability to experience joy. It took many years to undo those messages of fear.

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While I know that my daughter has her own fears and insecurities, I also see a depth of passionate courage that I hope to see in all my children; and I thank God that I don't have to pass on the sickness of soul that I carried. That I can raise my children to something better... to the rock and foundation Who is Jesus Christ... and myself find courage and healing through the testimony of their lives.

When I saw this tank top from Pio Prints, my heart shouted a resounding YES! St. Catherine for the win! And I knew my girl had to wear it. 

We all need a St. Catherine to get in our faces and speak the Truth with strong and deep love. Even though I have never met this saint and elder sister in Christ, I cling to her wisdom and let her words ring in my heart:

"Start being brave about everything."

Yes. I will. Thanks be to God.

Pio Prints was founded with "the mission to spread the message of the Saints to encourage, inspire, comfort, and congratulate."

Women need that. Oh, how we need that! And we also love a cute and comfortable tank top to do the courageous things God calls us to, right? Of course, we do! Now go grab one of your own at Pio Prints... for yourself, your daughters, and any beautiful gal in your life who needs a reminder of who she is made to be.  PIO PRINTS

Be sure to also follow them on Facebook and Instagram!

How Motherhood Can Heal the Jaded Woman

New motherhood is a golden moment in a woman's life where the opportunity to be permanently changed is tangible, powerful, and immediate. No, I'm not talking about whether or not YOU feel or see any difference. The change happens regardless; because the child is placed into your arms and instantly, you are loved... by a brand new person who doesn't know anything about your failures. And frankly, doesn't care.

Doesn't care if your hair is all messy from labor.
Doesn't care if you've got dark circles under your eyes.
Doesn't care if you are struggling to find words.
Doesn't care if you aren't sure about this whole motherhood thing. 

His love is yours. Period. 

It is an exquisite moment of renewal. There is no history. No memory of wrongs done. A clean slate. 

Those eyes and tiny fingers... they seek you out as often as possible. To connect with you and to love and be loved. Special talent is not required... simply your presence. 

We tend to think of ourselves as being in a role of power over our little ones, but perhaps the greatest potential power is that of the child over a mother's heart. We think we are the lovers and the healers. But I don't know... seems to me that the greater power lies in the helpless devotion of the child.

I was just 21 years old when I held my firstborn; and those initial moments were not ones in which I felt dominant or in control, but ones in which I felt smaller and more humbled than I ever had in my life.

My arrogance fell away.
My selfishness fell away.
My knowledge fell away.
My self-importance fell away.

I held a tiny human in my arms and felt as though I held the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in my soft baby. Aware of my complete insignificance, I let the awe and fear wash over me in giant waves as the nurses showed me how to care for my son. Those waves crashed upon me again and again as he cried in hunger and turned toward me for nourishment and comfort. And again as I changed him for the first time. Imperfectly.

And still he loved me. 

As those waves of emotion rolled over me, I felt the sharp edges of my womanhood softening, smoothed by the tiny majestic moments. My memories now forever included this child and were filled by him. And no pain or bitterness that I had felt in my life would ever again be felt as sharply simply because he was there. No wound that I had received could hurt as much as the love of this child could heal. 

When I tell people that I've had 8 children, they often stare in astonishment. You must be crazy! Life must be very hard! But I have a secret that they don't know...

The births and the love and the precious lives of my children have continuously washed over me for the last twenty years... and my bitterness doesn't stand a chance. My heart hardens and then it softens; washed over time and again by the smiles and tears of the most precious people on earth.

I am sometimes envious of the beautiful professional women I see around town with their pretty shoes and manicures. I wonder if I will ever be without a little one on my hip or a baby nursing at my breast. And then I remember...

I am happy. I am softened. I am loved. 

As the children have grown, that hard edge sometimes threatens to creep back into my soul again alongside the sufferings and sorrows of life. Shut the door! It cries. You can't be hurt if you keep it closed. And I shout back...

It is a lie.

Let your love wash over me, Jesus... let your love wash me soft. That even when the bitterness rises in my memory, it can never stand against the rolling power of your merciful love. 

Gifts to Keep Kids Active and Outside

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

We used to be that sports family. The one that lived and breathed sports until we were financially, mentally, and physically tapped out. We are an athletic and competitive family but the club youth sport culture is insane and produces insanity in otherwise normal healthy people. *raising hand to testify and give a great big Amen* We step in and out of the youth sport scene from time to time, but let it never be said again that we sold the heart of our family for the hope of a championship trophy or college scholarship.

Anyway... *climbing off my soapbox*... where was I? 

Without a regular practice and game schedule, our kids absolutely need physical outlets to stay healthy in mind and body. The following items are fun and inexpensive solutions to lure them outside where they can burn off some steam and stay strong. 


Slackline

Tightrope walking gets athletic. Slacklining is fantastic for balance and strength. There are many YouTube videos to help you get started. Since we only have one line (Gibbon Classic), the kids can get a bit impatient for their turn so it helps to set it up with the Ninjaline and Olympic rings (listed below) to keep everyone busy. 

*Photo of us slacklining at the top of this post*

Olympic rings

Olympic rings are great indoors or outdoors. Find a sturdy branch or structure and simply attach the easy to assemble webbing. Take them down in a snap. Combine these with the slackline and Ninjaline for a great obstacle course!

Camping Hammock

Okay, hammocks don't generally bring to mind images of vigorous activity but they are amazing at doing one thing: They WILL get your kids outdoors. And that is a great good in itself. 

These camping hammocks are a snap to set up, especially if you buy them with straps. They are a favorite spot to do schoolwork, put the baby down for a nap, read, chat with a buddy, find some alone time, or cheer on the backyard athletes. 

Slackers Ninjaline

My kids love American Ninja Warrior and the older ones even recently went to see some of their favorites compete locally. It's definitely one television program that motivates them to get off the couch more than stay on it. This Ninjaline is harder than it looks and is an ingenious introduction to Ninja training for kids of all ages. It's essentially a overhead slackline with obstacles. Easy to set up and take down. I recommend a chalk bag to keep little hands from getting roughed up. 

Speedminton

Think badminton on steroids and you've got the idea. Speedminton looks at first like badminton but has a heavier, faster birdie called a Speeder... with racquets that remind me of racquet ball racquets. Fast, fun, and can be played anywhere you have a little space. There are various set options. We have a set that includes portable court lines that can be set up wherever you decide to play. Addictive. Super fun. Check out the video below. 

That should keep you busy for a while! Do you have any other favorite outdoor tools to share? Leave your suggestions in the comments!