February Intention: Reduce

Hello again, folks, and welcome to a new month!! Did February sneak up on anyone else, or was it just me? (hence the tardiness of this post...)

If you remember, last month I set 4 small intentions to help me refocus after the crazy-busy holiday season. Those intentions were to improve my diet and decrease my incidents of sickness by cutting out dairy, improve my sleep by setting a bedtime routine and exercising more, and to improve my anxiety by meditating and doing more yoga.

I'm happy to report that I was successful at *most* of this. I'd say 80% successful, which fits perfectly into the 80/20 rule. I cut out dairy completely (I miss my dirty chai lattes). I feel quite a bit better, and I've saved some money....BONUS! I also started drinking herbal tea and reading before bed, and I've noticed some improvement in my sleep. However, I didn't really start meditating more until right at the end of the month, but I did *finally* get my spare bedroom converted to a yoga/meditation studio in January, so at least now everything is more accessible and my excuses are no longer valid. Additionally, work was particularly stressful in January, so my anxiety level actually increased pretty significantly, but that's a story for another time. :)


Now let's talk about a few intentions for this month. I've been reading a book called "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less", and as a result, I want to take some time and look at ways I can reduce a few nonessential things in my life. Now, this goes beyond "stuff". Any of you who know me well know that I've pretty seriously cut back on "stuff". No, what I'm thinking here is more along the lines of nonessentials in terms of my lifestyle.

Let's take a look at the ways I would like to reduce the nonessentials:

Social media: Yup, I said it. The Facebook junkie of all Facebook junkies who is Alexis would like to cut back on social media. Hear me out: I know that when I'm anxious or uncomfortable with the emotions or thoughts I'm having, I pull out my phone and head straight for Facebook to scroll mindlessly, reading quips and watching drool-worthy cooking shorts. I think a lot of us are probably guilty of this behavior. It's a great distraction. But what are we distracting ourselves from? This behavior keeps us from having to be uncomfortable with our own thoughts and emotions. And for me lately, given the current political climate - the arguing, the bickering, the name-calling, the closed-mindedness - Facebook is actually stressing me out more! And I don't want to be stressed, nor do I want to be distracted from my own emotions and thoughts (I support self-awareness). So I'll be logging out of Facebook on my phone and tablet. I will remove the icon from my home screens and replace it instead with an app called Meditation Studio. There...less Facebook, more meditation. Win win!

Waste: I'm already at a point where I produce less than one full trash each week, and I compost everything I can. But I produce a huge bin of recycling...my guess is food packaging...which is odd because I don't eat a lot of processed food. So, this month, I'm going to pay closer attention. I'm going to attempt to shop more from bulk bins (reusing the paper bags for Hyvee bulk bins and taking my own containers to Food Fantasies (which I've already verified both will allow). I will also try to take my own containers to the meat and deli counters at Hyvee, which I have experimented with in the past and had no issues.

Consumption: I kind of already started this after the holidays. I felt like there was so much "stuff" coming into the house that I cut back on purchasing of all types last month. I also realized I was buying a week's worth of groceries every week when I have an upright freezer in the basement and kitchen cabinets that are full of food! So, I'm going to continue to try to make do with what we have...food included (except for fresh produce, of course).

Negativity: Oh the negativity!!! As I mentioned above, work has been particularly stressful lately (though it's easing up this week), but with it has come a fair amount of negativity. My personal life has also been pretty wrought with negativity, partially due to the fact that I set some boundaries and expressed of my feelings. And while I can't control the outside forces or the words or behaviors of others, I can control my reactions to those things. So, the self-doubt will be eliminated first and foremost. Guilt over expressing my feelings (when done respectfully, of course) will be next. And general complaining will also be on the chopping block. I think we find ourselves more relatable to others if we complain and speak or act in a self-deprecating manner. And if you think like I do, the opposite can feel so self-indulgent, but I'm gonna give it a shot! And maybe a gratitude journal...

That's my list, folks! What areas in your life could use some editing in an attempt at reduction?


Sausage Gravy

For years, I've been hunting for a restaurant with absolutely killer biscuits and gravy, and while I've found a few that come close, there's just something missing. I decided to create my own. I had a craving for it today, so I made it and decided I absolutely had to share it with you. Here it is (typed while eating an extra biscuit smothered in butter and honey and drinking coffee!!)

(makes 4-6 servings)

1 lb mild breakfast sausage (or make your own)
1/4 c flour
4 c whole milk
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, brown the breakfast sausage until no longer pink, breaking it into smaller chunks as it cooks.

Without draining the fat, sprinkle the cooked sausage with the flour and cook over medium heat for 4 minutes, or until all the flour has cooked into the meat and the drippings.

Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly while scraping the bottom of the pan to remove all the bits of cooked sausage. Add the pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and crushed red pepper.

Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the gravy thickens enough to coat a spoon...about 2 minutes.

Remove the gravy from the heat and serve. I prefer this served over a biscuit with a few scrambled eggs, but you do you. Put it on an omelet. Eat with a spoon. But please enjoy it nonetheless.

Side note: because I'm avoiding dairy at the moment, I made this with unsweetened almond milk this morning. And while the flavor was still on point, the thickness left a bit to be desired. So if you decide to make this with something other than whole milk, please note that you may need to use more flour or even a cornstarch slurry to achieve your desired thickness.


Chicken and Vegetable Soup

I mentioned in my last post that I'd made a pot of soup to be eaten when I wasn't in the mood to put something together. This soup is delicious, easy, and made with whole food ingredients, and it can be made on the stove, in a Crock Pot, or in an Instant Pot, if you've jumped on that bandwagon (I own two!). If you want to simplify the recipe even more, use a rotisserie chicken.

(makes 8 servings)

1 lb chicken, grilled and shredded
2 tbsp. lard (or other whole, clean cooking fat)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
8 cups chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, melt the cooking fat over a medium heat, and gently cook the onion, garlic, and chicken for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is nice and tender.

Add the rest of the vegetables, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and parsley, and cover it all with the chicken stock.

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Adapted from paleoleap.com.

Everything Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

In a recent post, we talked about some of the changes we've been through in the past few years. Hopefully we've all learned some good lessons in that time. For me, there's one that stands out the most...

Everything doesn't have to be perfect.

Say it with me now: Everything doesn't have to be perfect.

Ahhh...doesn't that feel good? The previous version of myself tried. Yep, I tried...really hard. I tried so hard to make everything PERFECT...the food, the house, the child, the marriage...the perception...all of it. It was exhausting.

And last fall, it broke me. I had to be rescued from my car in the parking lot behind my office where I had become paralyzed by a panic attack unlike any other I'd ever known to that point. This was the beginning of a lot of things:
  • I got serious about being more intentional with my thoughts, my feelings, my words, my actions, and even the things and people I chose to have in my life
  • I learned how to let go of an unrealistic idea of perfection
  • I learned how to let myself be and do "good enough"
  • I stopped competing to be the busiest person I knew
I recently shared this revelation (and this blog post) with my psychologist. As I read it, I cried. And so did she. (Just so you know, she's kind of amazing.) Having this realization and saying it out loud, let alone sharing it with the world as a blog post, is huge for me. YUGE! So, we had our little emotional moment in the tiny therapy room, and afterward I began to think of a few of the many changes I've implemented to allow my life to be a lot less perfect and a lot more simple. Here are a few I'd like to share with you:
  1. Self-care: I do a LOT of this these days. It feels so indulgent...to the point that I often refer to it as "radical self care". 
    • I've actually learned to physically relax. I can sit on the couch now without berating myself for not being more productive with my time. I've learned that allowing my body to relax *is* productive...and healing...and necessary for me. 
    • I started meditating...training my brain to relax a bit, learning to let the (millions of) thoughts roll by without giving them my attention. It's glorious, and it's something I hope to eventually make an integral part of my daily routine. 
    • And finally, because my skin hates winter to the point that it tries to fall off of my body, I've begun implementing an ayurvedic practice called abhyanga. It is a head-to-toe warm oil self-massage. If that doesn't sound indulgent and **radical**, I don't know what does!! :)
  2. Fitness: I'm going to the gym a lot these days since The Boyfriend started working out of state last week, but I'm still trying to keep it pretty simple. 
    • I like to lift heavy things. I considered creating my own lifting schedule, but in the interest of keeping it simple, I decided to sign up for some classes and let the coaches figure out the programming.  Now, I can just show up three days a week, lift some stuff, get really sweaty, and go home. (Think CrossFit.) I love it. And The Munchkin loves the child care that's included in my membership, so I have ZERO "mom guilt" about going to the gym. How many wins is that in one sentence?!
    • I miss running. I used to run 6-7 miles a few times a week. So, I'm using the Couch to 5k app on my phone and trying to get back to that point. Progress is slow, but it's progress nonetheless. And I'm not aiming for perfection. 
    • Yoga...my trusty stand-by. I'm in the process of creating a yoga studio for The Munchkin and myself (complete with a dedicated meditation spot...I'm actually kinda pumped about it).
  3. Food: I'm a habitual menu planner, and while I will likely share that here at some point, with The Boyfriend out of town, I'm really just trying to eat simple whole foods (still no dairy) and pare down the stockpile of food in the freezer and cabinets. I did make a big pot of soup this week to have on hand for those times that I just don't feel like putting something together. I'll share that soon.
  4. The house: I've purged so much "stuff" from my life that I rarely spend time anymore tending to the remaining "stuff", I bought myself a new dishwasher, which I so desperately needed, and I bought a robot vacuum. The vacuum is scheduled to run daily at a scheduled time, and I no longer have to think past emptying its bin every day. Incredible. Now I just need to give The Munchkin a lesson on cleaning the bathroom and maybe I can pay her to do my laundry once she's done with hers...this might just work ;-)
So, there you have it. I'm not perfect, by any means, and neither is my life. I don't meditate every day and sometimes I'm holding down the couch while eating takeout with The Munchkin, watching the robot vacuum clean up the crumbs, and listening to the dishwasher tend to the dishes. Screw it! I enjoy it, and I'm done with perfect.


January Intention: Refocus

I don't know about you guys, but December has completely drained me. I've struggled multiple times with being sick, I haven't been sleeping well, my diet has been terrible (thanks holidays), and my anxiety level has been through the roof (can I blame the holidays for this too?!). The long and short of it: I simply haven't been taking care of myself.

This happens to me nearly every year, and I find that taking some time to refocus usually helps. I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions, so let's just skip that discussion altogether. I am, however, a huge proponent of stopping for a moment to gather my thoughts and re-center myself. The new year just happens to coincide with the time when I most need this type of attention.

Time for some radical self-care! Let's take a moment to go through the steps I plan to take to set my intention:

Sickness: It's always my sinuses. Always. In December alone, they flared up pretty badly at least twice. As some of you may know from previous posts here, I have a sensitivity to dairy that creates a lot of inflammation in my sinuses and feels like a constant sinus infection. Well, I've been eating my fair share of dairy lately, and I think it's caught up to me! (Cheesecake, anyone?) I think it might be time to take a break from it to see if I can start feeling better. The downside: no more dirty chai lattes. I checked, and the mix they use contains dairy *sad trombones*

Sleep: I'm guessing that this is being affected by everything else that's been out of whack, but I still have some simple ideas to help address the issue. First, my bedtime routine is nearly non-existent these days. I think it's time to return to the days of a nice cup of tea and maybe a few pages of reading or journaling (or blogging). Second, I haven't been going to the gym as much lately. Regular exercise *always* helps me sleep better. So...back to the gym I go.

Diet: Now that the holidays are over, this should be so much easier to accomplish! As I stated above, I'm going to remove dairy from my diet. I think this is enough of a step for now. I don't want to overwhelm myself with the time and energy investment of playing with a completely new way of eating like paleo, ketogenic, or Whole30 (all of which I have considered for various reasons). I'd rather use this time to refocus on what I know will work...not experimenting with new things. Keep it simple, stupid.

Anxiety: While I'm sure all of the steps listed above will have a huge impact on this area of my life, I also realize that I've gradually lost touch with my daily yoga and meditation practices. I don't feel like I need any extravagant rituals. I intend to spend at least 20 minutes each morning on my yoga mat...10 minutes meditating, and 10 minutes moving and stretching my body...with lots of focus on my breathing. I know this works wonders for my anxiety levels, so it's time to return to it.

What intentions do you have for January? And what steps can you take to get you there?


Guess Who's Back?!

Hey all! It's been a while, and during my time away, life has changed quite a bit. There's been a divorce, a move, a job change, a new haircut, a few new tattoos and piercings, lots of lifestyle changes, a ton of self-discovery, an even more ornery child than before, and a new boyfriend and bonus daughter. Whew! It's a lot to think about, isn't it? And while the ride has definitely been bumpy, there have been some amazing high points, and it's all been for the best. Now that I've had some time to refocus, let's get reacquainted.

If you've been here before, you're likely accustomed to reading about my adventures with food. While I still love sharing and discussing food and recipes and will continue to do so, my life these days has refocused on being more intentional. I'd like to invite you to join me as I continue on this journey.

Since moving all of my worldly possessions to a different house two years ago, I've slowly and methodically evaluated each item to determine it's value in my life. I've rid my life of so much physical "stuff", and with it, so much emotional and mental "stuff" as well. I call this my pursuit of minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living...and it's definitely a pursuit. Some may enter my home and see barren walls and sparse furnishings...I see it as a work in progress. I see myself the same way.

You see, in the last two years, I've been struggling with anxiety. It ranges from what most of us know as "nerves" to full-blown fear of leaving my house. The best part: this varies from day to day, so it's...um...exciting, to say the least. I've got a great support team, though, and with their help, I'm learning to cope, manage, and heal.

*exhale* So that's that. Would you care to share what's new with you?


Breakfast Sausage

For some reason we don't eat much pork in this house, but when we do, it's usually in the form of sausage or bacon...well, mostly bacon. But we do enjoy sausage with pancakes and on pizza. The problem: store-bought sausage is loaded with ingredients with which I'm not to thrilled, so I make our sausage myself.

I know, I know...it's another crazy thing I make myself, but to me it's worth it to avoid MSG and other nasties. And it's really quite easy!

When I can get my hands on good, pastured pork, I'll buy a pork butt and run it through the meat grinder (long version), or I'll buy ground pork (short version) and mix in this seasoning. I usually make several pounds at a time and freeze it in portions.

The beauty of this seasoning: you can tailor it to your taste! I urge you to give it a try!

(makes 4 pounds)
4 teaspoons sea salt
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons rubbed sage
3 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients and mix with 4 pounds of ground pork and freeze or cook as desired.