Stop it already.

me and watsonI do it. I bet you do it too. I run into someone I haven’t seen for a while in the grocery store and we greet each other…”Hi! How are you?” “Great…we are all great…and…well…you know…(and then I give them that obnoxious all-knowing sideways head nod and loudly whisper)…BUSY!! SO. SO. BUSY.” Why do I do that? Why do I (and so many in my parenting generation) glorify the state of being busy? We wear it proudly like a badge of honor. As if it somehow adds to our self-worth.

It’s not like we aren’t telling the truth. We are. We are a busy generation. I have a list to prove it, and so do you! I work full-time, I am enrolled in a doctoral program, I have an 8 year-old who plays ice hockey and an 11 year-old who swims 4 days a week, and my husband works full-time, and we all wear workout and work clothes every day which makes for mountains of laundry, and we eat on dishes that stack up on the counter, and we have a dog that can scale a 7 foot fence in one jump, and it goes on and on and on…I’m sure your list matches mine or probably even tops it. But lately I feel like I am tired of being defined by this list. Tired of feeling like I have to keep getting busier because  everyone else is busier than me. Stop it already. It’s not a competition.

So I am refocusing. I am making an intention to stop glorifying “busy” and start looking instead toward my purpose. It’s not WHAT I am doing that is important it’s WHY. So let’s roll back through my list with focused attention on the “why”… Work and school have been a priority for me for a long time. I am grateful for the opportunity I have to be a positive influence on college students and help them prepare for their futures. Taking classes is mentally stimulating for me, and I am truly enjoying the process. I am proud that we are encouraging our kids to be healthy and active. Hopefully it’s a habit that will stay with them the rest of their lives. Caring for my husband and children is a blessing. How fortunate are we to have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food to eat? Our dogs are completely crazy…but seeing the unconditional love they provide to our family is heart warming. See the difference? It’s all about perspective…

What’s your WHY? Have you ever stepped back from this business of being busy and decided what’s really important? Are there items on your list that aren’t getting you anywhere? Not serving any real purpose for you? What can you do to drop them off your list? Are there items you wish were on the list but you just haven’t done whatever it is to make it happen? Maybe because you have just been too “busy”?henry hockey

One item lacking for me is my desire to help people on their health and fitness journey. I miss teaching group exercise classes, but it just doesn’t fit my life anymore. Neither does spending hours at the gym. But over the past few years I have educated myself on the “ins and outs” of living a heart friendly lifestyle….even on the “busiest” of days and with all the stresses of family life mixed in. Through my business opportunity with Beachbody, I am granted ability to share this information with others. I get to help people change their lives!! If you are looking to make a change to your health, lose weight, become more active, or improve your nutritional habits…I can help! If you are just wishing you had the energy to bike ride with your kids, or knew how to make quick, budget friendly weeknight meals, I can help with that too!

I encourage you to take a few minutes this week to consider your WHY. What is holding you back from being your absolute best?? We only go around once…let’s do what we can to make the most of it. Busy isn’t a lifestyle…it’s just a list.

Please click here if you are looking for help with nutrition, fitness and accountability.

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Leave it on your mat.

henry yoga yoga 2It’s been almost a year since my last post. I wasn’t thrilled with it, so I took a break. Time passes quickly and kids grow up fast, leaving me with little time to change fleeting thoughts into complete sentences. But today the words seem to be flowing freely from my brain to the keyboard.

About six weeks ago I joined a yoga studio. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it took a while to find the right “fit.” I have never been described as “laid back.” I have chronically tight neck muscles and high blood pressure. My idea of de-stressing typically involves a running trail or a cardio kickboxing class. Years ago (at my doctor’s urging) I tried Hatha yoga. It was calm, peaceful, slow, and not at all me. More recently I gave Bikram  yoga a shot, and with the room at a steamy 105 degrees it was…HOT. I have finally found my home at a local studio that is bursting with Toledo pride and offers classes that provide the relaxation (everyone says) I need, with the sweat factor I crave.

I am often rushing to the studio from work, or squeezing in a class between the activities and engagements that define the typical American family. It’s common during the first 5-10 minutes of class for the instructor to request that we “empty out our brains.” It’s a strange request, really. She describes it so literally; as if we could simply slice open our skulls and allow all of our thoughts and emotions to spill out on to the floor. “Empty out”…she goes on…”as if allowing space for what should really live there.” Ah. Now I get it.

A little insight into what I “empty out” in those few moments:

Kid fears. Every parent has them. Am I a helicopter parent and my children will not grow up to function in the real world? Or am I not involved enough? School ended one week ago and I am already concerned that they are “slipping” away from the common core grade level standards. Does Matthew get enough protein? Are they active enough? Too active? Who will their teachers be next fall? Work stress. I love my job. It’s my passion. It’s equally rewarding and demanding. I have some big goals which will require much of my time and attention over the next few years. Body stress. The inadequacies I see in the mirror. My frustrations with injury and running issues. The elusive “last five pounds.” This is where I get to set all of that free.

Over the course of six weeks I have become quite good at the practice of “emptying out.” In fact, I look forward to it. The beauty of emptying out is that you get to find the gems that are left behind. Buried beneath all the stressors are hidden treasures. When the thoughts and emotions of the day have been stripped away, I am left with my faith and my family and a love of self. In these moments I can visualize them bound to my heart like a tight-fitting sleeve. These things cannot be “emptied out.” They are attached.

It’s amazing what one can do when fear and worry are out of the picture. I feel strong and empowered. Capable and willing to accept the challenges set before me. If you are unfamiliar with yoga, class typically ends in savasana, or “corpse pose.” Flat out on your back, in a state of total relaxation. Last week, after several minutes in savasana, the instructor said….“Before you rise up and go back to the real world, I encourage you to leave anything that doesn’t serve you on your mat.”

What a powerful statement. And why not? Leave it on your mat! Why not stop letting fear and worry keep us from giving life the very best we have to offer? What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Yoga is not for everyone, I get that. I never really thought it was for me. I’m just encouraging you to take a few moments in your busy summer to push away the negative self-talk, worry and doubt. It doesn’t serve you. If anything, it’s making you sick.  Leave it on your mat, or on the park trail, or your back porch, or your bike seat, or whatever place you feel comfortable going to set it free. And then spend some time feeling grateful for the treasures that remain in your heart.

Namaste.

Intentional summer break

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I have always LOVED summer. Hot, sticky, sweat running down your neck, cold swimming pool, up too late by the fire pit, summer. The boys have been going to bed waaaay too late this past week, making morning wake-up calls unpleasant. But I can’t blame them. I’m all wound up with anticipation as well! Smells of fresh cut grass and barbecue fill the air, our bikes are out of storage, flowers are in the ground and we have reacquainted ourselves with the neighbors after a brutal winter indoors. This Friday when school lets out, it will be official. It’s finally here!

This summer will be a different experience for the four of us. I’m fortunate to have a part-time schedule for the months of June and July and Steve is off on Mondays. For the first time ever, the boys will only have day camp twice a week. This is exciting…and a little scary. I am feeing a huge sense of responsibility to not waste this precious time. Eight weeks is going to fly by…I know it will. But I want to be “intentional” with how we spend it. I will be crushed if after the first 4 weeks I realize the boys have spent their days in front of the television while I had my nose in my phone. It can’t happen. We need a game plan!

Unplug!

That is my first goal. SUMMER. BREAK. UNPLUGGED. Not completely. That would be unrealistic. I haven’t figured it out exactly yet, any suggestions? I would love some advice!  We (as a family) have become entirely too dependent on our electronics, whether it be in the form of the television, iPod, Nook, iPad, iPhone…you get it… We all enjoy reading, but we don’t do it near enough. We have all forgotten how the sound of sweet silence can be a blessing from time to time. I have begun to “prep” the boys, along with a promise of weekly library trips for new reading material and plenty of alternate activities to satisfy our technology starved brains.

Move more!

Goal number two is getting us moving, even more than we already do! I’ll have fewer excuses to get my workouts in, so I’m challenging myself to six solid workouts a week. I’m going to be “adventurous” and try some new things to spice up my old routine. Yesterday Steve and I visited a yoga studio for the first time. I feel great today! The boys will be moving every day as well. Morning bike rides, swimming, walking the pooches, jogging on the trails at the park….unlimited opportunities to break a sweat!

Eat local!

Goal three is my personal favorite…ooooohhh….the summer fruits and veggies! Our local farmers markets will be spilling over with gorgeous produce very soon. We are going to try our best to support the local farms and plan our meals around what’s available. I have found area orchards that have pick-your-own peaches, strawberries, blueberries and apples! We can pick in the morning and bake in the afternoon!

Bloom where we are planted!

I want the boys to feel a sense of pride for the town in which they live. Toledo is a great place to raise a family. In fact, the only real disappointment I have with living here? The constant negativity I hear from fellow residents! Museums, parks, an amazing zoo, farmer’s markets, a beautiful ball park downtown, great local shops and restaurants. We have it good here. We are going to try our best this summer to support local businesses whenever we can – and help the boys explore what’s great about their town.

“Intentional summer break.” That’s my plan. Will there be an occasional rainy day on the couch with some movies, popcorn and M&M’s? Occasional Facebook check-ins?  I hope so!  We need that too. I just know the day is coming all too soon when “hanging out with mom and dad” won’t be cool anymore. I  want to be able to look back and know that I savored every last second when I had the chance.

Questions from Matthew

Hello, Matthew here (Kate’s oldest son). Today we went to Meijer.  I had some questions based off of seeing lobsters in the tank. It made me sad it also made me curious.  So here are the questions:

  1. Why do people eat animals? Mom’s answer: That’s actually one of the main reasons that 1975275_10202583308857657_777024902_npeople are vegan, but that’s not the reason we chose to become vegan that was for our health. But we’ve gotten happier with our choice because of learning about how animals are being raised for meat and dairy. My thoughts: I thought that was a good reason and that when I get older I will eat meat but only meat from farms that are kind to their animals. I think it is important that all animals are raised kindly for our health and their happiness.
  2. What is the best way to decide which food is better for you by just looking at the ingredients, in your opinion? Mom’s answer: To look out for how long the list is (she already blogged that) and if you can read and define (without your phone) words like BHT=lighter fluid (I did look that up on the phone), high fructose corn syrup= cheap fake sugar with a whole lot of chemicals (mom won’t buy it). My thoughts: That every once in a while you can have a treat like my mom, my grandma, and me. My mom and grandma like to have M&M’s and I like to have Jolly Ranchers (that’s solid cheap fake sugar with a whole lot of chemicals). I’m never eating fruit loops again, because they have blue 2, blue 2 is extracted from sea snails.

That’s all for now!

You-won’t-miss-the-meat chili

chiliWhile we are (finally) seeing some signs of spring, Toledo weather is still a bit brisk. This week I made a meat-free chili that was hearty and filling, and thought I would pass along the recipe. We also made the cashew cream sauce to put on top (and it was delicious), though the standard sour cream and cheese would be great too if you are not avoiding dairy.

You can find the original recipe here:

http://ohsheglows.com/2014/02/05/my-favourite-vegan-chili-with-homemade-sour-cream/

I followed the recipe pretty closely on this one, except for the spices and canned tomatoes. For my version I replaced the dry spices suggested with a couple tablespoons of “Chili 9000” from www.penzeys.com (thanks Mom!), some cumin (2 teaspoons-ish) and a small amount of chipotle powder (I prefer it over cayenne). I also used 2 (15 oz.) cans of fire roasted tomatoes instead of the large can of diced tomatoes (because I really like the smoky flavor).

That’s what’s fun about chili…you just keep tasting it and changing it until you love it! I did use 4 cloves of garlic and I seeded and removed the membranes from the jalapeños to keep the heat down a little. I didn’t have any hot sauce, so I skipped it. You could easily change up the seasoning or the beans to suit your preferences.

My boys tried this one. Matthew was not impressed, but Henry gave it two thumbs up. Let me know if you try it out – I’d love to know if it was a winner with your family! Continue reading

Embracing the 11 minute mile

1908327_10202315966734271_301732864_nSteve and I both had Monday off, and we took a spur of the moment “day date.” We watched the boys get on the school bus, grabbed a soy latte and headed up to Ann Arbor. Sometimes we forget how important it is to get away now and then and spend a day together. On our drive we reflected a bit on the craziness of the past year and shared in the excitement of Steve starting a new job this week . (Go Steve!) It was as if we said one last goodbye to everything that has gone on over the past year….and prepared ourselves to (finally) settle in to a new normal.

Since our outing, I have been thinking about all of the lessons we have learned…and how different our lives will be moving forward. Here are a few of my thoughts:

Lesson 1 – We would be shocked if we knew what other people are going through.

For about 4 months last year, I wanted a tattoo on my forehead that said “My husband just had a quadruple bypass and a heart attack in February. We are all exhausted. Please give us a break.” I have no doubt that at times I acted a little crazy. I will be forever grateful for the friends and family that did not judge, but instead just let it go and offered me comfort and support. Guess what? When you start listening and being attentive to what’s going on in the lives of those around you…ALL of us could use a tattoo from time to time. “My mom has the late stages of Alzheimer’s and my dad is also sick. I am doing the best I can.” “My wife is dying of cancer and we have two young kids at home.” “My grandson in suffering from a rare incurable disease. He is always on my mind.” “I lost my job last week and I have a family to provide for.”  “I am a full-time college student and working nights to keep my lights on and gas in my car.” These days when I have a not-so-friendly interaction at work, or in a store, or on the road, I try hard to take a deep breath and not take it personally. I wonder what the person wished I knew about them. It’s none of my business. They shouldn’t need a tattoo. Life is hard. We need to be kind to everybody. All the time.

Lesson 2 – We need to be not-so-hard on ourselves.

Did you catch Matthew McConaughey’s speech when he won the Oscar last Sunday? That’s me. I am incredibly competitive…but only with myself. I set goals and the minute I attain them I set new ones. On our car ride this week I was venting to Steve about how frustrated I was with my fitness goals this year. I injured my leg in September and it is taking it’s sweet time to heal. It has slowed down my running, and limited some of the things I am used to doing with ease. Steve’s advice (after listening to me whine for way too long): “You know, I think you need to be patient. Your body is responding well to the workouts you are able to do. I think you need to just embrace the 11 minute mile for now, and focus on what you can do.” First words out of my mouth after that? “I can actually still do a couple 9:30 or 9:45 minute miles if I want to, it just hurts.” Stop. The. Madness. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Yes, it’s important to have something to shoot for…but perfectionism can be crippling. I have watched my sweet Henry start a project on his rainbow loom, and then viscously tear it apart when he makes one wrong step. He quit cross country because he won his first meet, and was fearful he wouldn’t come in first place at the next one. I don’t want that for him. I don’t want it for myself either. I want my kids to know that hard work and doing your very best is important. Perfection does not matter. It just doesn’t.

Lesson 3 – Healthy habits are contagious.

Many of you know that Steve and I made major dietary changes based on some research on heart health, inflammation and cholesterol. Since May, we have virtually eliminated meat, dairy and eggs. We have decided it’s no longer an experiment, it’s a lifestyle.  I prefer the term “plant based diet” over “vegan” because it make me feel less guilty when I wear leather shoes or enjoy some honey in my tea.  These changes have improved our overall health in ways we never would have imagined. Aside from contributing to lower cholesterol for Steve and lower blood pressure for me, we made other observations. My skin and hair are crazy healthy.  We feel “tight” the day after a particularly challenging workout, but we no longer get deep muscle soreness. I no longer have extreme salt and sugar cravings. We eat foods on a weekly basis now that I had never purchased a year ago. Kale, sweet potatoes, cashews and almond milk are staples. Our kids are curious and have become more open to trying new things. We generally feel lighter, healthier and happier.

The lesson here is not that everyone should give up burgers and ice cream. That is not feasible, nor is it necessary. We are only two people…and I do not believe this is a “cure all” for everyone. We are all made so differently, and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. I do, however, believe that all of us should become more aware of what we are putting in our (and our children’s) bodies 3, 4, 5 times a day. We really are what we eat. Food is not grown, processed and prepared the way it used to be even 10 years ago. Grocery store shelves in the US are filled with ingredients that are banned in many other countries. We are a culture of convenience and it is making us sick.

Since Steve and I started this little “journey,” I get texts, private Facebook messages and emails weekly. All are interested in the resources we have found and the tactics we are using to “healthy up” our kitchen. This makes me so happy! We need to help each other figure this all out. In the coming months I’m hoping to shift the focus of my blog to fit this mission. Creating a space for me to share what we are learning and suggest family-friendly recipes that offer up a healthy serving of veggies. All the while, remembering that we all need to “embrace the 11 minute mile,” be understanding of each other’s struggles…and to never expect perfection. Oh…and for the record, I can run pain-free at 5.5 mph…which technically equates to a 10:54 mile, but who’s counting??

Fix the front door.

front doorHappy New Year! I absolutely adore new beginnings! My husband knows I get giddy when the first day of any month lands on a Monday. I have forever been a planner, a list maker and a goal setter. Yes, this is my favorite day of the year. Steve and I stayed up waaaaay too late last night ushering in 2014, but I was still up early cranking out some yoga and organizing my kitchen for the week. (In my head I was of course organizing it for the entire year, but let’s be honest here…)

As excited as I get about the arrival of the new year, I am not much of a “resolution” girl. I do enjoy spending some time reflecting on the past year…and oh what a year it was! In fact, this year has changed me more than probably any other. Of course I want to better myself. I want to be skinnier, drink less caffeine, read more with my kids, pay less attention to my stupid smart phone, become more involved at church….I could go on and on and on….but I won’t.  I’m not going to spend time making a list I can’t keep. I have only one resolution this year. I’m going to fix the front door.

Originally, I heard this phrase as it applies to the church. A young pastor was speaking about how to change peoples’ hearts…you must first prepare your own heart, cast a vision….and fix the front door. He was encouraging the church to “extend a welcome mat” that brings people to our door, and then love them regardless of their age, social class, beliefs or past. I believe that is the most important job God has given us. Love people. All of them. Regardless.

In the days following, the phrase “fix the front door” stuck with me. I was left thinking not about how it applies to the church, but how it applies to me. Actions speak so much louder than words. Common phrases of mine like “I’ll pray for you,” “we should get together sometime,” and “let me know if you need anything” are useless if they are not followed by actions like actually praying with someone, extending an invitation or taking a meal to a family in need. I need to fix the front door, open it wide, and let people inside.

I started last month by literally “fixing my front door.” I bought a gorgeous shade of teal paint, and gave it a fresh coat. For the holidays, it’s even adorned with a glittery wreath. Step one – a tangible reminder of my personal mission. Enough worrying about the piles of laundry you might see on my couch. I’m letting that go. If you knock on my (now trendy and stylish) front door, I’ll ask you to come in for a visit. If the boys want to have a friend over, I will make a better effort to make it happen. If a student needs to talk, I’ll eliminate distractions and give them my full attention.

This year I hope to slow down and be more intentional in my relationships with family, friends, co-workers and students. In 2013 I was surrounded by a different kind of love than I had ever experienced before. Meals in our fridge, bills paid, personal visits and phone calls, donated work time off from coworkers, child care at a moment’s notice, prayer circles that extended for miles…actions. So many people opened their doors and sacrificed some of their own time and resources for us. I look forward to finding ways to return the favor.

Wishing a very Happy New Year to each of you from the Cook family! We are excited to see what 2014 has in store for all of us!photo