Antioxidants, Oxidative Stress, and Why It Matters

Buckle up, friends. This is going to get nerdy, but you need it.

For years I kept hearing about how great foods are with antioxidants without actually knowing what an antioxidant was or why I was supposed to eat them. I just knew they were good for some reason and science said I was supposed to eat them. Then, one day curiosity took over and I started doing some research and was pretty blown away. Consider my life changed and consider me an obsessive consumer of antioxidants!

In order to understand what antioxidants are and why they matter, you need to understand what oxidative stress is and what it’s currently doing to your body.

Oxidative Stress and Free Radicals

If you passed high school chemistry, which I really hope you did, then you know what a molecule is. Certain unstable molecules have atoms whose electrons aren’t paired up properly (they can’t handle being single), sending them on a wild goose chase to pair up with other molecules to form zombie molecules which then turn and attack your body.

A better definition is: “A free radical can be defined as any molecular species capable of independent existence that contains an unpaired electron in an atomic orbital. The presence of an unpaired electron results in certain common properties that are shared by most radicals. Many radicals are unstable and highly reactive. They can either donate an electron to or accept an electron from other molecules, therefore behaving as oxidants or reductants.” Once this zombie-oxygenated molecule takes over, it wreaks havoc on different parts of your body at the cellular level. There are LOTS of different kinds of free radical molecules and they have different specialties: some go into your cells and break up the strands of your DNA, some attack your lipids or proteins, some cause your cells to die too quickly or proliferate too quickly.

If your body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to combat these little devils, you go into what is known as oxidative stress. This leads to accelerated aging and diseases like cancer (cells that proliferate too quickly), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis as well as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and asthma, just to name a few. If free radicals pair up with free metals in your body, then they create a dynamic duo from hell and cause damage to the body to accelerate.

Where do these horrible little molecules come from?

A few are produced from within your body as a natural by-product of certain cellular functions. The bulk of free radicals, however, come from outside the body:

  • Smoking
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Fried foods
  • Processed Meats (deli meat, hot dogs, bacon, etc)
  • Excess Sun Exposure

Some of these sources of free radicals are unavoidable (sadly, the world we live in makes avoiding environmental pollutants and pesticide exposure virtually impossible), but the rest you have some control over.

Antioxidants

Enter our heroes, the antioxidants. These stable little molecules are the fighting force sent out by your body to find and destroy (or at least neutralize) the disease causing free radicals. They stop the chain reactions that free radicals start which result in DNA death and cellular damage that lead to aging and disease. Thankfully, there are as many antioxidants as there are different types of free radicals. Each antioxidant fights a specific kind of free radical, and different antioxidants are absorbed at different levels by your body. So some are better loved by your cells than others. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Beta Carotene are all examples of antioxidants that you’re probably familiar with.

Where do we find antioxidants?

Until around age 27, your body makes its own antioxidants (in decreasing amounts year by year). After that, the body relies totally on the antioxidants provided by the food you eat (which is why aging seems to speed up in your 30s). Which foods? Healthy, plant sourced foods! Natural color (So, not sprinkles or fruit loops. Food dye does not count. I have actually had someone ask me this, sadly) present in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes usually indicate the presence of certain antioxidants and phytonutrients that your body needs to fight off disease and thrive. If you read my post on eating the rainbow, you should remember this fact. If the food on your plate is consistently beige, brown, or white I can guarantee you aren’t getting the proper amount of food-sourced antioxidants (more easily used and absorbed by your body than supplemental antioxidants) that you need to combat oxidative stress (unless you’re eating nothing but mushrooms, burdock and cauliflower, which I HIGHLY doubt!). Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list of some foods very high in antioxidants in no particular order:

  • Goji berries
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Walnuts and pecans
  • Mushrooms
  • Cilantro
  • Blackberries
  • Bell peppers (each color pepper will have a different antioxidant profile based on the colors present)
  • Cacao (in its raw form, boil it down and add butter and sugar and it’s chocolate but not nearly as healthy as its original form)
  • Dragon fruit
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric

carrot-kale-walnuts-tomatoes.jpgThis list could seriously go on forever. The key is variety! Simply noshing on a handful of blueberries every now and again is not going to do it. Remember that there are different kinds of free radicals and different kinds of antioxidants; so relying on one source to combat oxidative stress is not enough.  Also of note, these precious little molecules are pretty sensitive to heat, so boiling them to death, frying them, or putting them in some kind of cobbler is either going to destroy them or reduce their potency.  Eating fresh fruits and veggies in a state closest to their original form will ensure you get the most bang for your buck!

How do I avoid aging and disease from free radicals?

In order to keep the free radicals in your body from creating disease and in order to slow down the aging process you first need to eliminate the sources of free radicals that may be present in your life.

Do you smoke? By all that you hold dear, please I beg you: stop. Find whatever way you possibly can to quit. It’s the worst thing you can do for your health on so many levels. You’re literally killing yourself slowly.

If you eat processed meats like hot dogs or bacon, these need to be eliminated from your diet completely. They are listed as a Class 1 Carcinogen and are just as likely to cause cancer (remember what happens when you have too many free radicals running around?) as smoking.

Limit your alcohol consumption to just a few drinks per week or less. Try and purchase organic rather than conventionally farmed produce to reduce your exposure to pesticides. Limit your time in the sun to 30 minutes per day depending on your ethinicity (some sun exposure is crucial for your body to process Vitamin D correctly, so don’t avoid completely). Avoid fried or fatty processed foods.

Add antioxidant rich foods into your diet! Drop fad diets from your life. They do your body more harm than good in the end. Choose instead to change the way you eat completely. Adding in the foods that are going to greatly benefit your body on a number of levels is going to lead to you feeling young, clean, and energetic!  It’s a slow and steady process, but with mindful decisions and patience with yourself, you will find yourself making the changes you need to stay young and healthy!

Here’s to eating more color, friends!

People Who Live By Excuses Die By Them: A Word for New Years Resolutions

Ah, the last week of the year. The week where people are ready to shake off the previous year and say “hello” to the new one, even though deep down inside they know it will only be more of the same (or in the case of 2017, even worse). Christmas is over and the glimmer of hope that New Year’s provides sparkles like champagne bubbles. People start saving workout plans and healthy recipes on Pinterest. Photos on Instagram of colorful acai smoothie bowls and living rooms that look like a minimalist IKEA catalogue get liked more than ever, in hopes that any of it will translate into real life.

This is when people swear that they will lose ten pounds, they will be nicer to their kids, they really will clean out and organize the garage, and – by golly – that gym membership they’ve been paying for years will not go to waste. Then by March, they have resorted back to all the same habits and absolutely nothing has changed. July rolls around, and the garage remains frozen in time. By September, those 10 unwanted pounds have turned into 15.

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Why does this keep happening to people? Because they live by excuses.

Let’s come up with some examples of the excuses I’m talking about:

“I’m too tired to work out.”

“Eating healthy means eating salads, and I don’t like salad.”

“But ice cream is sooooo good….”

“I can’t get rid of X item in my garage, I might need it someday.”

“Kale is nasty.”

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Sound familiar?

The truth is, people rarely count the cost of living the way they want to. This requires facing some personal demons and it requires actually getting off your bum. The change people hope for at the beginning of the year is far scarier than they realize. The moment they think, “I have to change in order to make this happen,” they back off. The creativity required to learn what you need to make the necessary changes work takes too much energy.

By the time they are facing the twilight of their lives, they are popping pills they can’t pronounce for diseases they don’t know how they got and getting surgeries they can’t really afford. Their houses are full of junk their children will have to sort through if they don’t.

Ever since I was I kid, I wanted to live with the end of my life in mind. What kind of an old lady do I want to be? Broken, weak, fearful, and afraid of change? Or vibrant, healthy, wise, and content? Definitely the latter. What is it going to take for me now as a thirty-something to be a healthy, vibrant, happy eighty-something? It’s going to require intentionality on my part. It’s going to require letting go of excuses.

Excuses when it comes to eating right:

“I don’t know how to cook a meal that doesn’t require processed foods.”

This is a big deal for a lot of people, and frankly nothing to sneeze at. This, I admit, is a scary one to tackle for most moms. What if their husband hates it? What if their kids hate it? The key for this one is starting slow. You don’t have to turn into Julia Child overnight. Cooking healthy meals requires little culinary expertise; you just need some hints and shortcuts. Slowly introduce new foods onto the family plate that don’t come out of a package or can: steamed broccoli, summer squash, sweet potatoes, etc. You can up your game to swiss chard once everyone is feeling more on board. Also, slowly start removing processed foods from the plate. Eat out less. Stay committed to the process (no pun intended).

“But healthy food tastes bad.”

This is an assumption that people make who have never had healthy food. They are afraid to try something new and assume that it must taste awful. It’s also important to note that people who are accustomed to lots of unhealthy, processed, fatty, sugary foods have completely wired their brains and their taste buds to crave those foods. They are literally addicted to them. If this is you, consider that there may not be anything wrong with the healthy food, there may be something wrong with your brain.  Detox, water, and staying focused are key to getting rid of these addictions.

“Healthy food is too expensive.”

False.* You do not have to shop at Whole Foods to eat whole foods. It is actually cheaper to cook simple meals made from whole, fresh foods from scratch than it is to be constantly buying processed foods. Meal for meal, pound for pound, healthy is cheaper. Your grocery bill really eases up when you stop buying soda and ice cream. Also, you will pay for your health at some point. You can pay what might feel like more now and stay healthy, or pay a whole lot more later when you get diabetes and heart disease. Your choice.

*There are plenty of ways to spend a lot of money on health foods. Plenty. But it is absolutely possible to save money on your grocery bill by sticking to the real stuff.

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Excuses when it comes to exercise:

“I’m too tired to work out.”

My husband and I were just talking about this one the other night. Exercise gives you energy. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into the gym feeling exhausted and wondering why I was there, and then left the gym feeling amazing. Also, people have this idea that working out must mean doing 45 minutes of plyometrics. What a horrible idea. No. Combine simple cardio and weight training instead. It doesn’t require running around like a chicken with your head cut off or dancing to the beat of some skinny DVD instructor when you have no coordination.

“I don’t have time to work out.”

Do you have time to watch Game of Thrones? Do you have time to play Candy Crush Saga? Do you have time to spend for ages on Facebook or Instagram? Guess what. You have time to work out.

“I have kids and I can’t get to the gym.”

The more legitimate excuse for not exercising in my book, but still not good enough. (“Wait until she has her kid…” I hear you whispering maniacally.) There are a lot of great avenues for working out at home that include your kids in really cute and fun ways, and it doesn’t always require a terrifying video of Jillian Michaels screaming at you from your TV. Who wants to be yelled at by a stranger in your own home? Ew. The truth is, a lot of the workouts I do at the gym I could easily do at home. Grab your kid(s), your yoga mat, and a kettle bell and have fun (don’t hit your kid with the kettle bell). My sister and I worked out with my mom to her amazingly 80’s Stormie Omartian workout video when I was little and we had so much fun. Got healthy and made some awesome memories.

“My (body part of your choosing) hurts too much.”

This one is for real, and I get it. I lived with chronic knee pain for over a year between my injury and my surgery and a good bit after that. You’re scared you’re going to hurt yourself or to make whatever it is worse. Totally get it. This is where I would say to go online and look up safe exercises to do for that painful body part and some that don’t involve it at all. Like I said, working out doesn’t have look like running a marathon or dancing to Zumba. Getting your body moving can be more gentle than you think. But not exercising at all is worse for your body (even the parts that hurt all the time) than babying it.

Excuses for getting rid of all the stuff you hold onto:

“I don’t know where to start.”

I do. Your clothes. Always start with clothes. It’s the easiest place to start. “Do I wear this or not?” and “Does this fit or not?” or “Has this been in style in the last 15 years?” are good questions to ask yourself as you proceed. Move on from there.

“But I was hoping to use/read/fix that someday.”

I have bad news. That day is absolutely never coming. You aren’t going to read that book ever. That weird piece of whatever you were hoping to use for a craft someday. Yep. Not happening. Swallow the pill of reality, and get rid of it.

“But that item is sentimental and makes me think of memory/deceased relative.”

My mom will be the first person to tell you that there are plenty of sentimental items I will hold onto with a firm death grip. Again, I get it. But let me ask you: is the item in question an actual time machine? No. Can it raise the dead? Nope. Will your memory be erased forever the moment you part with it? I hope the human mind doesn’t work like that (thankfully it doesn’t). If a sentimental item is also useful (hello, grandma’s super cute clutch purse from the ‘40s!) then by all means keep it. But if it seems like you’re drowning in a sea of sentimentality, it’s time to let go of the past and say hello to the present.

Real change, the change you want at the beginning of the year, is scary. It requires a lot of effort and a lot of transformation within yourself. It’s not really something you can resolve to do at the beginning of the year without really putting in the commitment to do it.

But I promise you that if you do, you will never be the same person, you will never want to go back and you will never regret it.

What are the excuses you live by? What would your life be like if you let those excuses go?

Travel Nursing Update: Pregnancy, Housing, and Living in a Retirement Community

We have now lived in Ft Myers, FL for seven weeks and as of today I am exactly 32 weeks (eight months) pregnant.

How my pregnancy is going:

Pretty uneventful, to be honest, minus a few ribs that like to pop out of joint and hips that don’t like staying in their sockets.  My mother and baby chiropractor in Cape Coral is an absolute lifesaver!  At the beginning of my pregnancy, my chiropractor in South Carolina told me she was pretty sure (but couldn’t diagnose since that requires an x-ray) that I have an inherited connective tissue disorder that results in extreme ligament laxity (which was so NOT a surprise since I’ve had so many ligament-related injuries over the years).  When you mix already lax ligaments and the relaxin my pregnant body is pumping out on the regular, it means that this mamma-to-be has the structural soundness of a pile of jello.  Other than my ribcage collapsing in on itself and not being totally sure if my hips are in their sockets or not, I’m doing really well!

Since we are moving next week (update on housing below), I’m trying to make sure we clear out our fridge, which means an unending amount of smoothies!  I’m not really prone to cravings anymore (except for a regular craving for pho, which is fine since there’s a great pho place up the road), which means sticking to a pretty strict diet is doable.  It’s really important for babies to have a healthy gut flora, and a lot of newborn issues like colic and acid reflux can be due to a lack of healthy gut bacteria.  This means I’m trying to keep my gut bacteria in a really healthy place (yes, mother’s gut bacteria gets passed to babies through the placenta as well as during birth).  That means limited processed sugars, refined carbohydrates, and dairy, and adding loads of probiotics and gut healthy foods like bone broth (incidentally it also means that the usual stereotype of pregnant women having constipation does NOT apply to me!).

Ironically, the Southern tradition of a meat and two vegetables has kind of been my go-to for setting up dinner (though you won’t find any chicken fried steak or fried okra in our house and macaroni and cheese does not count as a vegetable).  Dinner usually consists of a modest sized piece of meat (usually organic chicken or salmon), and two hearty portions of vegetables of varying kinds and colors (purple potatoes, swiss chard, sweet potato, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc).  The only bread we eat is Ezekiel bread (or whatever arrives at our table when we do eat out) which is usually at breakfast.

My exercise regimen now consists of walking most days, stretching A LOT, and doing weight training a few times a week.  Since my body is getting more and more loose (and prone to injury), I’m taking it easier and easier with the weights.  It’s really important that I keep my muscles in tact for the marathon (birth) that I’m training for, so I won’t toss out weight training until I just can’t anymore.

What about your housing?

Glad you asked.  Remember the lady from the last post?  Yep, we love her.  We will be moving in with her on Wednesday.  She’s even driving us to the airport on Thursday for our flight to SC for Christmas.

The tiny house is another issue, though.  There is one bank who is deciding as we speak whether or not they’re cool with lending for a tiny house, so if you’re the praying kind, prayers would be appreciated that they will look favorably on us.

Thoughts on Living in a Retirement Community

I would say the majority of people living in Ft Myers are 55+ retirees (or at least that’s how it feels).  Especially where we live now, it seems like there are 10 silver haired folks/baby boomers for every Millennial.  These folks in particular have made it: they have retired to Florida, near the beach (or at least they have from November to April).  This means, for many of them, that they are in constant mental vacation mode.  I’m not saying that every snowbird has mentally checked out, or that everyone who retires to Florida is in vacation mode (my uncle and aunt would definitely be an exception, for example).

But you want to know something funny?  I’ve never overheard more complaining in my life than I have living here.  I’m not really sure how to account for it, either.  Maybe having a “grass is greener” mentality for 40 years just waiting for the day when life will be easier has led to permanent discontent, or maybe it’s a generational/cultural gap between me (an older Millennial) and the q-tips in the booth behind me at the restaurant.  Maybe life is just so much harder when you’re in your 60s and 70s than I ever realized.  I don’t know.  But I will say it surprised me.

I think the antidote to perpetual complaining/discontent is to avoid “someday” thinking: someday when x happens I’ll be happier, someday when I lose x pounds I’ll be happier, someday when I get x object that will make me happy, someday when I’ve saved x dollars my life will be easier.  The problem is “someday” may never come, or if it does “someday” looks nothing like you imagined and you’re left facing the bitter reality of “now.”  Focus on gratitude and contentment in your present.  Make life meaningful now.  Try to stay mindful of the times you complain.  Catch yourself complaining and ask, “How many times a day do I complain?”  It might be a lot, and you may realize that you’ve been a total Debbie Downer to the people around you for years and never known it.  Just a thought.

BUT the other thing I’ve noticed is the obvious lack of smartphones in the hands of said silver hairs.  And you know what?  It’s so refreshing.  It makes me catch myself a little when I realize I’m the only one in the room staring at a glowing screen.  Life is slipping by and I’m checking email (and I don’t even have a real job, what is wrong with me?).  Put the phone down every once in a while, friends.  Or better yet, turn it off and enjoy your surroundings.pexels-photo-386148

Parenting Lessons and Christmas Insights from Traveling Tiny

On Thursday, I closed my laptop and started sobbing.

I had spent the day before visiting bank after bank after bank all day long with my husband asking for a loan for our tiny house, and we got ‘no’ after ‘no’ after ‘no.’  Well, really the responses were, “Oh my gosh how exciting!  I’ve seen tiny houses on TV, I really hope we can help you,” only to be followed by, “I’m sorry, we just can’t finance a tiny house.”  More on that later.

On Thursday, I had spent hours and hours on the computer and the phone trying to find a place for us to live after Christmas.  We are staying in an AirBnb apartment that will not be available after Christmas.  We had originally thought, “We’ll easily find a place to live after, and then hopefully move into the tiny house before the baby is born.”  But after a whole lot of searching I had zero success.  There were no AirBnb’s in our area that were available for the time we needed within our budget, no apartment complex in town would do a two-month lease (trust me, I called every last one), and there was nothing to be found on Craigslist or anywhere else online that I could find or afford.  Finding a place to live was starting to feel utterly impossible.

Cue the sobbing.  After two full days of slammed doors, I was completely overwhelmed.  I felt like I was already a horrible mother for not providing a place for my baby when she’s born.  Would we have to sleep in the car?  What are we going to do?  How can I bring a child into the world in a life like this?  I felt like a mama bird with no nest for her little chick.

Let me say for starters that I’m not a Catholic, but the Virgin Mary has never meant more to me than she has the last few days.  If anyone in human history would know how I feel, she would and then some.  This Christmas will mean a lot more to me from that regard than ever.  I’m not sure I could look at a manger scene right now without tearing up.

The day after this intense sob-fest, I decided to go to the Friday night Eucharist service at a local church we had visited a few Sundays previous.  I needed some soul care.  After the service was over, the priest was excited to meet a new face and ask about me and my husband.  I was a young face in a church of mostly elderly faces. I told him my husband was a travel nurse and that we would be staying in town until February, just after the baby is born.

“If there’s anything you guys need while you’re here, anything at all, just let me know.”

I pounced.  I told him our living situation and that if he happened to know someone with a guest house or finished basement or something (not that anyone in southwest Florida has a basement, but you never know) to please let me know.

“I’ll see what I can do.”  He handed me his card and told me to call him next week.  And with that, I had a glimmer of hope.

My husband and I decided to visit the church again this morning.  It’s definitely a “high church” Anglican type service, complete with bells and incense (or “smells and bells” if you like).  Before the Eucharist, a layperson in a white robe walks to every part of the church swinging the censer filled with the perfumed smoke of frankincense in front of the people, signifying our prayers going up before the Lord as we come to His table together.  As he walked to the corner of the church, the little clouds puffed up blue, purple, pink, and yellow as it caught the colors of the light in the stained glass windows behind him.

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And with this sight filling my eyes, I could feel God say, “I am writing your daughter’s story.  You cannot write her story for her.  You are part of her story, but I am the One writing it.”  And with that, I knew we would be okay.  God allowed His own Son to be born in a cave in totally unpredictable and less than ideal circumstances.  That doesn’t make Him a terrible Father.  I knew He would bring one of His people to provide hospitality to us and to open their home.

But I was also filled with dual comfort and terror that I have no real control at all over my child’s life: God does.  He is knitting her body together.  I can fill my body with nutrients, rest, exercise, and do everything I can to make a healthy baby, but her growth and her birth are up to the one building her up neuron by neuron.  Her little personality is not up to me.  Her will is not up to me.  Her sins are not up to me.  I can teach her, love her, feed her, and provide for her, but how she turns out in life as an adult is not up to me.  She could reject her upbringing entirely and go her own way, or she could use what we teach her and choose a path we’re happy with.  She could come down with a disease when she’s ten, or she could live to be 95.  Either way, I have no real control over my child’s life: God does.

I’ll give you a parable: I had six tomato plants in my back yard in South Carolina before we moved.  I cared for these plants so well because I really wanted a good crop of tomatoes.  I raised these plants from seedlings, giving them little light baths during the day until they were hardy enough to stay outside.  I fed them, watered them, sheltered them during storms, pruned them, weeded them, and gave them mulch.  They grew and grew until they were each six feet tall.  But after a whole spring and a whole summer, not one of those plants produced one single tomato.  NOT.  ONE.  On our side yard however, a sweet potato plant grew completely on its own from out of the compost pile.  I did nothing at all to make the sweet potato grow, but it grew.  I bent over backwards to make the tomato plants produce fruit, but I got no fruit.

I plan on smothering my child in love because I don’t think I’ll be able to help it.  I plan on teaching her how to live a healthy, Godly life.  I plan on giving her structure and discipline in love.  But I know full well now that my child is not a robot and that I cannot write her story.  God is writing her story.

As we left the church the priests shook the hands of those leaving.

“Hey!  Don’t go away, I may have already found someone for you.”  Long story short, a widow in the church who is a retired trauma nurse heard that this travel nurse with a pregnant wife needed a place to stay for a few months, and she didn’t hesitate.  “You may get other offers that suit you better, but if all else fails, she will take you in.”  There is room in this total stranger’s inn.  We haven’t spoke to her yet, but I’m hoping and praying that this works out, if nothing else does.christmas holly decoration

Minimalism: Why Sparking Joy Doesn’t Really Work

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never read Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy.  I have, however, been to a minimalist seminar that was based on her concept of decluttering.  And I saw that one episode of Gilmore Girls where Mrs. Gilmore removes all of her furniture after reading Kondo’s book because none it sparked any joy.  Some of the ideas were useful. The basic premise, I have to say, is not.

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Here’s the basic premise: As you seek to declutter your belongings, look at every item you possess.  If it doesn’t “spark joy”, get rid of it.  If it does, keep and organize it.  Obviously, she unpacks that in her book.  However, as I’ve gone through my personal items over the last two years (yes, it’s taken over two years) I will tell you there were PLENTY of items that “sparked joy” that I needed to get rid of anyway.

The concept of an item “sparking joy” is pretty squishy to me.  What might have sparked joy yesterday might not today, but that doesn’t negate the usefulness of an item.  There are also plenty of items in my possession that absolutely DO NOT spark any ounce of joy in me, but have I kept them?  YES: because I need them and they are useful (Marie Kondo might advocate that because I need them that is a form of sparking joy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.  Hence why sparking joy feels way too hard to pin down, especially for someone starting out their decluttering journey).

My husband and I are staying with my parents before we move to Florida.  Like many Millennials, I have been using my old closet in my parent’s house as a hiding place for old sentimental items that I haven’t been able to face getting rid of: until today.  There is a chest that has been in my possession since early childhood that has been filled with nik naks that at some point in my life I decided to keep because they sparked joy.  At some point in my life these were sentimental items I couldn’t bear to part with (I was a very sentimental child with severe hoarding tendencies).

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We often keep sentimental items because we fear parting with the person or memory associated with them.  As if we are being disloyal to them by parting with the item or we are being disrespectful or ungrateful.  Today, as I sat crouched down picking through things, I wondered “WHY in the world did I keep ANY of this?!”  At some point in my past, these items sparked joy.  Today they were a burden.  At some point these items reminded me of a memory of a time in my life when I was little and happy.  Today, I had no idea where these items even came from or what memory they were supposed to remind me of.  They, through of fog of time, had lost meaning.  They, as all things will eventually, had become junk.

On the flip side to this, I have kept several things in my life that in no way spark joy.  My important paper file folder does not spark joy, but if I decide that these joyless things were worthless because they are joyless then my husband and I will find ourselves in a world of hurt come tax time. I once heard a blogger say her breast pump in no way sparks joy in her, but she keeps it to help her feed her infant.

If you are embarking on the path of minimalism, you have to be willing to embrace a certain level of utilitarianism.

This might sound dreary to some of you.  But it will keep you from getting rid of things you actually need, and will keep you from holding onto things that are dragging you down.

The following concept, if we are going with short ditties to guide how we declutter, is one I find to be far more useful.

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

The reason I like this so much more than simply “does it spark joy?” is that it leaves room for the acceptance of the ordinary and mundane to be just that: ordinary and mundane.  There are things in my life that become utterly ridiculous if I try to add emotional tinsel to them, but there are also things in my life that are simply beautiful, and I own them because they are such.  They DO spark joy.

Either way, whether you keep an item because it “sparks joy” or because you “know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful”, minimalism forces you to be intentional about what you own and why you own it.  Take the haphazard out of life, and replace chaos with calm!

Travel Nursing Stage 2: Actually Traveling!

Well, it’s finally happening.

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We are finally getting ready to pack our bags and leave South Carolina forever.  This is where the real adventure begins.

Thus far we’ve been keeping it local.  I stayed at my job, my husband has been commuting to a travel contract about an hour away while also working his jobs in the Columbia area (yes, that’s three jobs.  My husband is the hardest working man I know).  We moved in with my parents for a few months while we rented our house out.

But now, it gets real.  Last week my husband got a call saying a hospital in Ft. Myers, Fla.  wanted to hire him!  Through some strange communication error, we were told initially that that they offered the post to someone else.  We were discouraged but determined to find the right place for us, especially as his contract locally is set to finish one week from today.  It’s been a faith stretching experience, let me tell you!

On Thursday, his phone rang.  It was his travel nursing agency letting him know that the job was his!  We are so relieved to have another contract in a state we were hoping to travel.  God quickly opened the door to the right place for us to stay in the area before our tiny house is built.  There’s a hospital in my insurance network where I can have our little girl the way I want to (includes hydrotherapy, not hooked up to a million bells and whistles, no epidural, natural and real) and our contract extends (just) past baby’s due date.  We are five minutes from the gym, 10 minutes from the beach, 25 from Jeremy’s work, and five minutes from several great looking health food stores!

There is A LOT for us to do before we leave town.  I have to find a new home for my little electric car (not selling it per se, just need someone to drive it and pay insurance), I need to get my medical records transferred to my new OB/GYN office, work on getting financing for our tiny house, find some way for my family and friends to throw me a baby shower, figure out how to take everything we need for weeks in just my husband’s Prius (talk about traveling tiny!), and say goodbye to family and friends (the truly hard part).

I’ll probably do an update post on our tiny house in a few weeks.  Another area of life that is getting really exciting!

 

 

Comfort Food You Can Feel Good About: Autumn Vegan Pumpkin Apple Soup

pumpkin pileThere are so many things I love about autumn (even though I live in a region that never really feels like fall).  One of them is having pumpkins, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squashes all in season.  They’re cheap, easy to find organic, and can easily be a meal all on their own.  Today I picked up a couple of organic pumpkins from my favorite local health food store as they were on sale for 99 cents a pound.

When I lived in Germany I discovered the wonder that is kürbis suppe (pumpkin soup) and I’ve loved versions of it ever since.

I’ve been seriously craving it the last few days and decided today was the day for some comforting pumpkin soup.

Being both pregnant and highly intuitive, this recipe popped into my head like one of my story characters.  It didn’t quite turn out as I imagined:  it was better!  It can easily be tweaked to your personal preferences.  If you want it more pumpkin like, you can roast two pumpkins instead of one.  If you want it more gingery, you can add powdered ginger as well as fresh.  If you want more rosemary, you can add more.  The hardest part is honestly cleaning out the pumpkin.  After that, it’s crazy simple, as life should be!

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Roasted Pumpkin Coconut Apple Rosemary Ginger Autumn Soup

1 medium-large pumpkin (2 pumpkins if you want it thicker and more pumpkin tasting)
1 half small white onion
2 apples (I used honey crisp since they’re so flavorful.  Use one apple if you want a less appley flavor)
two large thumbs of fresh ginger, skinned
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary plus some for garnish (add more if desired, make sure to take the stems off)
1 cup vegetable broth or stock
2 small cans of coconut milk, save a drizzle for on top (I use Thai Kitchen organic since it has less yucky stuff in it)
2 small cartons of plain coconut milk yogurt (SoGood is the brand I use)
3 t Pink Himalayan Salt (or to taste)
1/2 t Fresh Ground Pepper
1/2 t ground turmeric
2 T coconut oil
pumpkin seeds for garnish if desired

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut pumpkin in half and clean out seeds and strings. Cut again into quarters and place on roasting pan.  Rub pumpkin meat with coconut oil and sprinkle with salt.  Chop onion into large pieces and sprinkle around  pumpkin pieces.  Roast for 20 minutes, then turn pumpkin pieces over and roast for another 20 minutes (take onion out if it starts to burn).

Once the pumpkin is done, scrape the pumpkin flesh off the skin and place on a plate to cool off a bit.

 

Cut the apples into quarters, removing the seeds and cores.  Place half the apples, one can of coconut milk, one of the cartons of yogurt, half of the ginger, and half the pumpkin and onion into a blender (if you have a glass blender, make sure the pumpkin is cooled.  I have a plastic blender so it’s less of an issue).  Blend until the mixture is just blended and pour into a medium soup pot.

Add everything else (veg stock, rosemary, remaining pumpkin, apple, ginger) except the salt and spices into the blender.  Again, blend until just blended and pour into pot.

Add pot to stove and cook on medium heat, adding salt, pepper, and turmeric.  Heat until steamy.  The longer you wait, the better the flavors have a chance to say ‘hi.’  Once heated through, add to your favorite bowl and garnish with a drizzle of coconut milk, fresh rosemary and some pumpkin seeds if you like making your food pretty.

That’s it!  Enjoy!