Summertime Squash

Are you ready for this?

I have another recipe to share!  I know.  I’m not sure I know myself anymore, either.  I mean – cooking?  Me?

Well, not really.  Because there’s no cooking with this one.  Nary an oven nor a stove to be found.  Pretty sweet, right?

My supplies

So…once again I wanted to get full use of my CSA vegetables.  Short of zucchini bread and other baked goods that are really just zucchini bread masquerading as muffins and such, I was at a loss as to what to do with all that zucchini.  And squash?  Other than spaghetti, I’d never prepared a squash.  Although I do love the shapes and colors of the various squashes, I’d never cooked one.  So I googled and found a recipe that I ended up modifying anyway.  Here’s my take on a summertime salad.

Ingredients

2 medium zucchini

4 yellow hook neck squash

1/2 white onion

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Juice of 2 limes

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Now here’s what I did:

Cut zucchini and squash into spears.  Finely chop onion and whisk with the lime juice.  Add oil, salt, pepper, and parsley.  Whisk it up some more.  Add this mixture to the zucchini and squash spears.  Toss the spears until covered in the mixture.  Voila.

Seriously – that’s it.  And it’s faboo.  Even 1/3 of the children enjoyed it.  I paired it with my omelet the morning after and it tasted even better.  Good crunch.  Good flavor.  Great recipe. squash4Just for fun, I followed with this fresh dessert:

For my sweet tooth
For my sweet tooth

You know, because I’m crazy like that.  Always living on the edge.

 

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Book of the Month: Wheat Belly

I’ve got a shiny new idea for the SweatItOut Nation: books of the month!  Now, of course I love me some good fiction, but that’s not our focus here.  I would like to gain more knowledge about the topics you’re here for: nutrition, healing, natural approaches, and fitness.  To that end, my first book selection is Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD.

Why Wheat Belly?  Well, a few reasons, actually.

I know that I feel better when I eliminate wheat from my own diet and I see my beneficial effects among my family as well.  I would like to better understand the why’s behind this as well as how I can improve my own autoimmune issues by removing this grain from the menu.

It’s an “easy read.”  What do I mean by this?  It’s well-written, easily understood, and interesting.  The facts are presented in a very readable way and are thus (at least for me) easier to retain.

If you care to join me, email me at queenie3431@hotmail.com with the subject line: “SweatItOut Book Club” by September 30, 2014.  We will begin October 1.  Members of the club will need two things: the book and a Facebook account.  While we read together, we will also share focus recipes, tips, and experiences based on putting the ideas in the book into practice.  A group will be created and the book will change each month.

I look forward to reading with you, FitPeeps!wheatbelly

Invisibility

spoons

I was at my kids’ baseball practice when I got the call: my blood test had returned and the doctor wanted to see me the next day.  The urgency made me nervous, or as nervous as the mind-crippling fatigue would allow me to be.  At my follow-up appointment, I had my first autoimmune diagnosis: “off-the-charts” Epstein-Barr Virus.  And so my journey began.

Since then, I’ve added rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis to my little list.  My medications have ranged from weekly injections of B12 to sulfasalazine to meloxicam to methotrexate.  My emotions have ranged from depression to apathy to anger to determination to gratitude and still do on any given day.

It took six months for my Epstein-Barr to be considered chronic by my naturopath.  My feelings upon hearing this were mixed.  I felt vindicated (I knew there was something wrong and here was proof) and helpless (there was no telling when I’d flare or for how long).  I set out to learn everything I could about natural healing and management of this disease, focusing much of my attention on diet and essential oils.  I turned my training level down a notch and began my B12 injections at the doctor’s office every Friday.  I found my grit and ran my second marathon.  I found my common sense and realized that my second was likely my last, as it sent me into a months-long flare of fatigue and brain fog.

During this time, I began grappling with the true sense of that word, chronic.  It meant forever.  It meant always.  It meant I would never know how much energy or reasoning capabilities I would have from one day to the next.  I knew in some ways, I was incredibly lucky.  I was lucky for having a doctor that tested and treated my disease; for having a naturopath who was a fellow EBV warrior; for having an incredible support system within my home.  Not everyone with an invisible illness is treated with such compassion, because we don’t look sick.

Fast forward about two years.  My joints began to ache.  My breath grew short.  While I was certain these were simply new and expected symptoms of CEBV, I made another appointment with my primary doc just to be certain.  Again he said to me, “Jen, how are you sitting here with results like this?”  Meaning, he couldn’t believe I had managed to get out of bed, let alone to his office.  Rheumatoid arthritis was my new lifelong pal.  Weeks later, my new rheumatologist sent me to a dermatologist to confirm her suspicions: I also had psoriatic arthritis.  So, okay… I did more research.  I ran the gamut of feelings.  I found my acceptance and my determination and I find them on a daily basis.

Things we don't want to hear...
Things we don’t want to hear…

Life with CEBV was tough.  Life with RA is tougher.  I can expect my symptoms to worsen over time.  If I research too much, it can be overwhelming, as right now, there is no positive outcome for this disease.  It doesn’t end.  It never heals or goes away.  It’s as much a part of me as my skin or my heart or my spirit.

Before we found what works for me, my rheumy (that’s what we RA warriors call our rheumatologists) prescribed sulfasalazine and meloxicam.  My symptoms worsened.  My joints felt like knives and my fatigue took over.  She switched me to methotrexate, a chemotherapy and immune suppressant drug.  It’s working.

So here is what life is like now:  With the methotrexate, I am feeling markedly better.  This means for five days a week, I am now back to my pre-autoimmune self.  I work out.  When my stress fracture heals, I will skate with my roller derby team and hike and run short distances.  I am able to complete mundane tasks that I previously took for granted, like laundry, housework, and opening pickle jars.  I will make my doctor and my phlebotomist shake their heads and smile when I show up with my blue or purple hair (the color is not a random choice) and derby bruises and Spartan tshirts.  ra

On the day I take methotrexate and the day following, I experience what is known as an “MTX hangover.”  It’s pretty much like a regular hangover paired with bone-crushing fatigue.  On these days, I enjoy Netflix marathons and many snuggles with my kids and pups.  I read if I can keep my eyes open and binge watch shows like Pretty Little Liars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Orange Is The New Black.  My daughter brews me tea with tablespoons of beef gelatin.  I apologize to my family and feel weepy and they hug me and tell me to shut up.  And then I get five more days of wondrous moments of feeling almost not sick.

Because the pain is never completely gone, just much better.  If I push too hard on my good days, I can easily bring on an extra bad day.  There are only so many spoons I’m granted.  (Read The Spoon Theory here.)

Why are autoimmune diseases suddenly so prevalent?  Why do women comprise the majority of sufferers?  There are differing ideas, but many of them ultimately agree on some basic points.  Genetics.  Environment.  An overall change in the way we eat and care for ourselves now compared to the way we did fifty years ago.  There are toxins in our food and our hygiene products and the air we breathe.  Read more on that here.  As far as the gender prevalence, they simply don’t have an answer beyond “maybe it’s hormones.”  In the meantime, men are joining our ranks in ever greater numbers.  To understand more about autoimmune diseases, read these FAQs and answers here.

So there you have it, my experience with autoimmune diseases so far.  As you can see, it’s ongoing.  Most of us aren’t looking for pity, just understanding.  If you see a young woman parking in the handicap spot at Wegmans, she could be me on a bad day.  I haven’t done that yet, but there are days I wish I had a cane to help me walk.  There are days the bones in my feet feel more like shards of glass.  But you wouldn’t know it to look at me.  And chances are, unless you’re a close and trusted friend, I’m not going to tell you.

autoimmune

I’m pretty vocal about autoimmune advocacy, so I hear from more and more people suffering from chronic diseases.  Friends that run Spartan Races with me.  Derby girls that skate beside me.  Sorority sisters that never complain.  We are everywhere and we are still doing the things we love when we are capable of doing them.  We look just like you.  Which makes it harder for those on the outside to understand why some days, we just need our pillows and our tea and our mindless tv shows.

This week is Invisible Illness week.  Read more.  Learn more.  Support more.  Understand more.

Review: 3-Day Refresh

Let me provide you with a little bit of backstory.

My oldest friend, the girl who taught me to swear and showed me Porky’s for the first time, asked me to be her bridesmaid.  Of course I said yes (as you can see, I owe her a lot) and texted her my measurements for the dress, as we live nearly three hours apart.  (Yes, I note distance by how long it takes to get somewhere.  Miles only matter if I’m running.)  Lo and behold, a few summer picnics and one Jubilee Day later, I tried on the lovely dress and we could not get the zipper up.  I was horrified.  I vowed that no alterations would be needed.  I could handle this.  And handle it I did.

I went home and promptly ordered the 3-Day Refresh, deciding that I would follow it during the three days preceding our departure to the wedding site.  (Side note: we spent four beautiful days in New York’s wine country.  If you get the chance, go there.)  The kit contains the following:  Shakeology (flavor of your choice), Vanilla Fresh protein shakes, Fiber Sweep drinks, and a program guide with recipes (because, yes, you can actually eat).  Here’s how it went.

DAY ONE

Up and at ’em and excited to begin my plan.  First up, drink a full glass of water upon waking.  Easy peasy and a habit I’ll keep.

Breakfast on my first day was pretty typical of me: Vegan Chocolate Shakeology with frozen mango and a dash of vanilla extract, although this time my base was water instead of almond milk.  In the following days, I chose to eat my fruit fresh and on the side rather mixed in my ShakeO.  It was my mental trick, a sort of “Look here, Self!  Look at our ginormous breakfast!” sort of thing.  It worked.

Breakfast Day 1
Breakfast Day 1

Next up, my first mid-morning Fiber Sweep.  Look how excited I was:

Oh, innocent me...
Oh, innocent me…

Tip: mix this in a blender and drink it quickly so it doesn’t settle.  The taste is not awful, though definitely not topping the list of my favorite beverages.  On my first attempt, I tried stirring it and it was no bueno.  Go with the blender approach.

Lunch was good.  I chose avocado, strawberries, and seasoned cucumber slices to go with my Vanilla Fresh protein shake.  Still no cravings.

Lunch Day 1
Lunch Day 1

Dinner was tougher, as the family chowed on pizza and I went with a delicious salad that I pretended was pizza.  But, were it not for the pizza being in the same room, the temptation wouldn’t have entered my mind.  I was sated and craving-free all of Day 1.

Dinner Day 1
Dinner Day 1

And that’s the basic plan.  It’s easy, it’s straightforward, and it works.  I fit into that dress like nobody’s business and even zipped it myownself.  Added bonus: I had more energy and felt better overall.  This is something I will add in throughout the year on a quarterly basis to reboot and clean out.  Which reminds me: there was not the expected…um…urge to poo that I expected.  Whether this is because my typical diet is healthy overall, I don’t know.  Clients that used this program reported the same results, so either I (a) have some pretty nutrition-minded clients (and I like to think I do 😉 ) or (b) this is a pretty gentle program for your system (which I also believe is true).

By the end of the third day, I was gettin’ a tad anxious to finish, but I stuck with it.  My sole “cheat” while on the program was a cup of black coffee on the second and third day.

last dinner
The Last Supper

Here are my personal Before and After Photos with 3-Day Refresh:

b&a

Side note: although it’s not visible in these photos, my psoriasis patches showed marked improvement after the three days as well.  Which only leads me to repeat myself: Diet is the foundation of health and healing.  That’s not news to anyone, right?  But sometimes we need the reminder, myself included.

If you’d like to see the entire album of photos from my experience, check them out here.  If you’d like to try this for yourself, you can get your very own kit here.

In the meantime, here is a photo of me in the dress that started it all:

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Baked Veggies ala Me

Okay, so I’m not necessarily sticking that goal of posting five days a week, but I swear it’s for good reasons!  Well, mainly one good reason: my medications are working!  My energy is way up and my pain is way down.  All hail methotrexate!  I’ll gladly trade one day a week and a few minor side effects for six days of being my pre-RA self.  So I’m actually doing stuff when I’m not posting, like for-real cooking for my family with our weekly CSA goodies.

This week, I modified a recipe included with our basket of produce and baked some farm-fresh veggies.  The result was relatively delicious, so long as you’re asking my daughter and myself.  (Boys and veggies are a work in progress in our house, but I’m not giving up just yet.)  Now, you know I prefer my recipes easy and this one is no different.  I think Otis could have managed this one.

IMG_1110
This is Otis. Note, he is not a chef.

Here is the stuff you’re going to need:

1/3 cup EVOO

1 onion, peeled and sliced (I sliced it thick)

3 medium tomatoes, sliced

Sea salt, garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper, thyme

1 small eggplant, sliced crosswise

2 zucchini, sliced crosswise

Shredded parmesan cheese

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Preheat your oven to 400.  Cover the bottom of an 8X8 baking dish with some of your EVOO.  Layer in half of the onion slices and 1/3 of the tomatoes.  Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Add a layer of the eggplant and more salt.  Layer another third of the tomatoes, the zucchini, and the remaining onions.  Add the last bit of tomatoes.  Press down the mixture with your hands.  Pour the remaining EVOO over top.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and thyme.

Bake uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, pressing veggies down with a spatula about halfway through (they should collapse as they cook).  Add shredded parm to cover; bake another five minutes.  (My failed attempt to involve the boys.)  Let cool for at least ten minutes so it can solidify a bit.  Cut into squares and serve.

Notes: The original recipe called for 2 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced, but I didn’t have any, so I subbed the powder.  The same is true of the thyme.  Also, I ran out of time (no pun intended) so I only allowed it to bake for 45 minutes and we didn’t let it cool for very long.  Regardless, it was tasty.  I’d recommend it with a side of quinoa, brown rice, or gluten-free pasta.  I plan on adding leftovers to my omelet tomorrow.

 

 

Essential Oil of the Week: Lavender

Question: What can lavender essential oil be used for?

Answer:  Just about anything.

Lavender

It’s true.  This is like the Queen Mother of all essential oils.  It certainly tops this FitGal’s list.  I diffuse it every night and rub it into the soles of my feet and my children’s feet for a deeper, more restorative sleep.  I add drops to my Epsom salt baths to ease muscle tension and relax my mind.  I add drops to the rinse cycle when I wash sheets and blankets.

And that’s just the beginning.  It’s the ultimate summertime/outdoor time healer.  This summer, we used it on my toddler’s sunburn and gaped in amazement when the redness was simply gone the next morning.  As a family prone to horrid mosquito bites (we are quite sweet), we were pleased to discover it relieves itchiness as well.  Which, of course, leads to me using it on my psoriasis and various rashes.  More skin uses include treatment of acne and reduction of wrinkles.

Lo and behold, as I’m researching for this post, I discover lavender is also a pain relieving oil!  Bless the oil gods and hallelujah! I can rub it into my sore knees and elbows for some delicious-smelling relief.

Another new tidbit I already knew but had forgotten: it’s a natural flavor enhancer.  Check out the recipe for lavender lemonade below.

Now, I’m not just going to drop all this knowledge and leave ya hanging without some DIY recipes you can actually use right now.  I love you too much for that, FitPeeps!

Lavender Wrinkle Reducer

Combine 3 drops of lavender/4 drops of geranium/5 drops of sandalwood/6 drops of frankincense with 3 tablespoons of your favorite base oil (mine is coconut).  OR…Combine 1 drop each of lavender, frankincense, and lemon essential oils and skip the base.  Apply around your eye area or anywhere else you’re feeling the need to iron.

Lavender Body Scrub

Combine 1/2 cup coconut oil, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sea salt, and lavender oil to desired scent.  Store in glass jar (small Ball jars are my personal favorite because I can easily reach the bottom to scoop out every last bit).  Tip: rub this scrub all over from the neck down before stepping into your shower so the coconut oil doesn’t harden and clog in your pipes.

Lovin’ Lavender Lemonade

*7 lemons, juiced

*2 limes, juiced

*14 cups water

*1 1/2 cups raw honey (or to taste)

*1 drop lavender essential oil (start small and work up if you want to increase the flavor)

Mix ingredients together and chill, daddy-o.

 

 

Excuse Me…

Yes…I’ve been absent.  I have neglected to regale my readers with details of my sweaty journey.  You want excuses?  ‘Cause I’ve got ’em.

Excuse #1: The Big Block.  As in Writer’s Block.  Just didn’t have the juice.  Brain fog due to flares of my various autoimmune diseases made the thoughts foggier than an English moor.  Not that I’ve ever been to an English moor, but I did read Wuthering Heights and watch An American Werewolf in London.

Excuse #2:  Sore fingers.  Fo’ rizzle!  This RA business takes a little getting used to.  I certainly never expected to be sidelined from typing.  But now I’ve got my Tiger Balm and my Relieve It oil to loosen my old lady joints enough for some tapping.

Excuse #3:  I was slacking.  Severely in the nutrition department and minorly in the fitness department.  Although, to be fair, I am somewhat limited in the fitness department for the time being as I have a stress fracture on my right knee.  (Note: when a guest coach inspires you to push through your fear and try new derby moves, try them in gradual steps vs. going all out right away.)

See? Valid reasons.  Kind of.  But I’m ready to dump them in my metaphoric dumpster.  Today I – along with several other members of the GrokItOut Challenge Group – are recommitting to clean eating.  Aside from shrinking an expanding waistline, I need this focus and support to counteract the inflammation throughout my body.  Food is the number one resource to reclaiming my health and strength (no matter how loudly that chocolate chip cookie is screaming my name).

Today I am also beginning a hybrid schedule of PiYo and Body Beast.  Over the last few weeks, I attempted a double schedule, the result of which left me overwhelmed and overly tired and prone to skipping entire days.  A step back is required to forge some steps forward.

My Hybrid

 

In addition to this refocusing on my nutrition and exercise, I have some great ideas for this ol’ blog o’ mine.  What can you expect?  Weekly posts about the following: workouts, essential oils, recipes (with photos!), business spotlights/reviews (including local farms, fitness gear, other blogs, etc), and one random post per week.  That’s right: five days a week.  That’s my plan.  I am giving you my word.  I am also giving you my word that I will tag these posts better so you can refer to them at your leisure (although pinning is always an option!).

So prepare for the revamp, faithful readers!  Let’s move forward together!