Wednesday, October 22, 2014

'Love, Dad'

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

When I was in high school, my dad gave me a new Thompson Chain Bible. It was large, black, and leather bound and he was proud to present it to me. He scribbled a short, heart-felt letter to me on one of the blank white pages inside the cover and signed it ' Love, Dad'.

I tear up as I type this because I was just a teenaged-punk kid and, although I appreciated my gift and I knew it meant a lot to Dad to give it to me, I was a little bit embarrassed of the note.

I wince as I type out what happened next: I ripped his note out.  'Love, Dad' was thrown in the trash without a second glance. I hardly even gave a thought to the purpose and love that was put into those simple words. My only thoughts were of the possible (and imaginary) embarrassment I could suffer at the mercy of my peers.

How sad and foolish of me.

I attended a private, Christian school and one of the very first lessons of the day was usually a sermon. In order to pass this class you were required to A) Pay attention. B) Pass the exam at the end of each quarter. C) Take notes. D) Always bring a Bible.

Well, one day I couldn't find my Bible. At first, I just shrugged it off and thought I'd misplaced it or forgot it at home. Until I spotted it being used by one of the boys in my class. To get a good grade, this kid has taken my Bible and passed it off as his own.

I'll bet you can guess what my only proof would have been that that Bible had truly belonged to me: 'Love, Dad'.

I had been so blinded by my fear of embarrassment that I got robbed of a precious gift that was rightfully mine. Not only that, but I'm sure this kid couldn't care less of the source of his new Bible and what it meant to it's previous owner.

To add insult to injury, I got a failing mark in class for that day.

The Bible tells us to 'guard our hearts', but how many times have we allowed things like fear and shame to break down the walls?? Think of all the heavenly gifts we have given up or let fall through the cracks because we were afraid of the 'possible embarrassment' of being labeled as a beloved child of God. Things like relationships, life opportunities, and heavenly gifts literally 'stolen' from us because we succumbed to earthly pressures and carnal expectations.

I've never told my father about what happened to 'Love, Dad'. I'm sure he doesn't even remember giving me that Bible, yet I still feel guilty over it: How much more should we cherish the love that comes from our Heavenly Father, who sees and hears and knows all??

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Laundry Day Workout!

Pull-ups and chin-ups look like they should be easy. And for some people, maybe they are. I know my husband can bang out a set of random pull-ups even if he hasn't gripped a bar in months. I have a friend who could climb a tree like a squirrel and I remember her rocking some chin-ups in high school. ME?? Not so much. I can recall many times when the random tree, bar, and even climbing rope left me feeling defeated, or at least slightly embarrassed.

I used to attend a local big name gym and I NEVER attempted any pull-ups or chin-ups when I was there. It was out of the question. We are talking multiple potential violations of Ashley's Rules For Herself While Working Out In A Public Gym: 1) Do NOT attract any attention to yourself. 2) There shall be no grunting, squeaking or other odd noises that can be left up to translation. 3) Avoid all eye contact. 4) Resist the irony of parking your car right next to the gym door. 5) Absolutely no bleeding or drooling on equipment. 6) NO FLASHING. 7) Do your best not to be seen, in fact, it'd be best if you were invisible. 8) Do not hog equipment. 9) Always wipe down equipment and put it back where you found it. 10) Do not put your lips on the water fountain 11) Never take the elevator. 12) Oh, and before I forget: Never, under any circumstances, attract attention to yourself.

All jokes aside, I just didn't want to go that far out of my girly comfort zone.. At the gym I had very limited time, and I knew I could bang out a very effective and efficient workout if I would stick to the script. I did not like the idea of going 'rogue' on myself. It honestly felt like a waste: Trying to pull the weight of my body up over a bar, and barely budging, over and over again. And for the most part, it probably would have been a waste of my time because my strategy at that point would have been all wrong.

But before we talk about a better way to skin this cat, I would need a different setting....

My pull-up/chin-up issue was slowly eating me up inside. The dilemma started to creep into casual conversations and it was apparent that I had a problem. My father-in-law, obviously looking out for the safety and sanity of his son and grandchildren, eventually took it upon himself to hang a pull-up bar from the ceiling in my basement.

Suddenly, I had a place where I could go and do whatever I could to that pull-up bar without scrutiny or judgement. Since our washer and dryer is in the basement, I made it a rule that on laundry days (twice a week) I would make a point to attack that bar while I was down there and just 'do whatever I could do'.

Since I was now 'actively' working on my pull-ups/chin-ups on a regular basis, I started to pick up and incorporate different tips. One of the first things I did was get a chair. The bar is at a height where I can maybe just touch it with the tips of my fingers when I'm standing underneath it. I started doing 'step-up' pull-ups and chins by using the chair as a little boost to help pull myself up. I started holding myself at the top of a rep for as long as I could before I would slowly lower myself down. My latest thing has been to just hang with my hands still gripping the bar, my understanding being that the 'hanging' weight of my body is good for the ligaments in my arms as well as with my grip strength. 

I started the rough structure of what I would eventually refer to as my 'laundry day workout' a little over one year ago. It was just after I'd gotten the 'nod' to work out again after my second son was born. I've stayed pretty consistent, alternating my focus from chin-ups (palms facing towards you) on one day a week and pull-ups (palms facing away from you) on the other day.

We had dinner guests a couple months back that required an extra chair, so I took the one out of the basement with the intention of putting it back. Since then, the chair has taken a permanent residence at our dining room table because I discovered that I could now hop up to the bar and go right into a strict set without any additional help.

Now that I am sitting here and typing all of this out, the full picture of how far I have truly come is starting to come into focus. Nowadays, as a rule, I usually perform 2-3 sets of pull-ups or chin-ups every time I go down the stairs of my basement to switch the laundry. I almost always hold the last rep of each set at the top for as long as possible, and I slowly lower and allow my body to hang at the end until I feel like my hands are going to involuntarily let go. I don't do a strict number of reps or sets, I just do what I can and move on.

Following this protocol, my personal records to date are:

33 strict pull-ups in 1 day.
50 strict chin ups in 1 day.
5 strict pull-ups in 1 set.
9 strict chin-ups in 1 set.

That's a LOT of laundry!

Now, I have yet to apply these new skills and stats to 'real life' fitness. I'd love to try my hand at rock, tree, or even rope climbing. Sometimes I picture myself hanging on for dear life off of a cliff and that this extra training will give me the edge I need until I can be rescued. I don't know.

If anything, I hope you can walk away from reading this and feel inspired to start chipping away at one of your own life goals. Just a little time investment here and there can add up to one huge chunk of dirty laundry before you know it. And, just between you and me: Folding those clothes at the end of the day now gives such a strong sense of satisfaction, one that goes a whole lot deeper then just socks and underwear.

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

True Story

If you are among the two people who have read this blog recently, then you know that I have kicked caffeinated coffee out of my life for better or for worse. In spite of the past months of successfully tapering and weaning myself, I was blissfully unaware of how powerful my detox actually was. My weaning period had been so drawn out and (for the most part) painless that my respect for coffee as a drug and a stimulant was muted. I perceived it as a house cat instead of a lion.

Well. Caffeinated coffee is not a house cat. It is a fierce, angry, wild she-lion that will devour you the minute you let your guard down!

I'm kidding.


Yes, I'm kidding.


First of all, I just want to say that my experience with kicking my caffeine habit has been a huge eye-opener for me. I can look back at past years and phases in my life with a certain clarity. Sleepless nights. Massive amounts of anxiety. Trouble focusing. Those things for me growing up were the result of the perfect storm of hormones, food sensitivities, poor diet, and stressful events. But never had I thought to add 'excess caffeine consumption' to the list. It's so obvious now that coffee exacerbated, or even, fueled, that stuff I was dealing with. And, to think, I used caffeine as a crutch that entire time! My high school locker used to be full of Starbucks Double-shots and outings with friends almost always centered around coffee dates. Not to mention the coffee I would drink from morning until evening whenever I was home. I can't help but wonder as to what my quality of life might have looked like if I hadn't been so reckless with my caffeine consumption. Caffeine certainly doesn't deserve all of the blame, but it certainly played a role.

Enter today: I've found a delicious local organic decaf coffee roast that my husband lovingly brews for me every morning before he goes to work. (BTW, my husband is back on the caffeine train full steam, he brews himself a caffeinated coffee before he makes me mine, the stinker.) I certainly don't want to give up my morning coffee ritual and it is so interesting to me how a cup of decaf coffee when I wake up can be strong enough to me now for me to 'feel it'. I am far less anxious these days, especially in the morning, and I don't feel as though I run around in circles so much to accomplish different tasks. I'm much more even-keeled.

It was inevitable, though, that I would test the caffeinated waters again. The time came a few weeks ago when I was at my parents house. They own a Starbucks Verismo machine and it makes excellent espresso. They usually keep some decaf stocked for when I come over, but on this particular day they were out. Normally I would have been fine and would have enjoyed sipping on a seltzer or some tea instead, but I had really been looking forward to an espresso that afternoon after our late lunch and once I get a yummy plan in my head, it can be hard for me to set that plan aside. So, after several 'Are you sure??' comments from my family, I opted to have a regular double-espresso at about 3:30 in the afternoon. A mid-afternoon espresso for me normally would not have been considered a big deal, say, six months ago, but having been literally starved of caffeine, my body snapped to attention and my heart began to flutter after just a couple of sips.

I was then wide awake ALL NIGHT LONG.

Hmm, let's see, let's see: What does one accomplish while the rest of the 'world' sleeps?? Well, you can write a blog post, do the laundry, do some chin-ups, take a bath, scrub the bathroom, sweep the kitchen, do yoga, and take a shower. That's what I did.

I did manage a couple fitful hours of sleep early that morning, but I was a very much awake and functioning human being for the rest of the day. We even entertained dinner guests that night. I could literally feel the caffeine fueling me throughout that following day, otherwise I am certain  I would have been a walking zombie.

It was inevitable, it was inevitable. I would have tested myself sooner or later. But from now on, you can just picture me ordering a drink from a coffee shop: "MAKE SURE THAT'S DECAF!!" Yes, I am now that lady.

How much of that energy that you throw around day-in, day-out is really yours? Are you suppressing your bodies natural signals to slow down with stimulants? Are you aware of how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis?? How well do you sleep at night and do you wake up exhausted??

I'm so glad I asked myself those questions.

Thank you for reading!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Tabata Protocol

Tabata training has recently become very popular. Just Google 'Tabata' and you will get 2,960,000 search results (probably more by the time you read this). As of this moment, Youtube yields 139,000 videos when you type in 'tabata workout', most of which were uploaded within the last two years.

So what is Tabata training and why should you care?? Tabata is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who created and tested the protocol in Tokyo, Japan on Olympic speed skaters. This research study was published back in 1996, which goes to show how long it can take for the mainstream to catch up with breakthrough science. In his study, Dr. Tabata made the point that short, all out bursts of high intensity training were superior compared to longer, moderate intensity training for both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Tabata training is great for people who want to increase their level of fitness, boost their metabolism and don't have a lot of time to do it. The entire workout will set you back about 11 minutes, and it looks almost laughable on paper. However, this protocol is no joke, and should be approached with caution especially if you aren't used to pushing yourself to 100% capacity.

Everyone can do Tabata training, as long as they tailor it to their performance level. An elite athlete's Tabata is going to look much different from my mother's version. It's all about pushing yourself to your own max effort. If you are just starting out, you can even  perform half of the prescribed exercise, or even less, and work your way up from there. For best results, do this workout at least once per week, but don't exceed three times per week:

The Tabata Protocol

1. 5 minute warm-up: This could mean 5 minutes of walking, jogging in place, a light peddling on the stationary bike, or whatever machine you are on.

2. You are going to perform 8 rounds: 20 seconds of max effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. So if you were on a treadmill, you would be sprinting as hard as you could for 20 seconds, jumping off for 10, and then repeat another 7 times. You could apply this 'all out effort' rule to anything. You could do this with jump squats or burpees. Take jump squats: That would mean 20 seconds of all out jump squats as fast as you safely can perform, followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated consecutively 8 times. A good option for beginners or someone who wants/needs to go easy on their joints would be pedaling on a stationary bike or swimming. Just stick to the rule: 8 rounds of maximum intensity, 20 seconds on 10 seconds off. That, my friends, is a grand total of 4 minutes.

*Like I said before, if you are a true beginner and/or you have a a health concern, please approach the Tabata workout with the appropriate amount of caution. Instead of being intimidated, allow yourself to ease into it. Maybe start with one 20 second all out sprint the first week, and add another the following week, until you eventually get to 8 total. All that matters is what you can do TODAY, so do what you can! 

3. 2 minute cool-down. Walk, jog, whatever light movement feels good.


I know it sounds so silly, but if you do it right, those 4 minutes are terrible! The good news is that when you start performing this workout, you are already almost done. If you are doubled over and wheezing for air in the end, it means you did it right.

The Tabata protocol is an excellent tool for increasing your level of fitness, stoking up your metabolism for hours, and is perfect for anyone in a time crunch.

For inspiration or a better understanding on what a Tabata looks like, you can find plenty of videos on Youtube. I hope you will all grow to love and to fear the Tabata like I do!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Switch

I think it's official. I'm very excited to share with you all something that has been a few months in the making. Many of you who know me know that I love coffee. It's safe to say that my mornings have started with some form of caffeinated brew (some healthier then others) almost every day for close to 15 years. Well folks, I've laid that trend to rest. Oh, I still love my morning coffee (Bulletproof Coffee, to be exact) but I've gone completely decaf.

Wait. WHAT?!?

I've always been a champion of caffeinated coffee. I am also a tweaker when it comes to my health habits. I love to tighten things up where I can, experiment, and see what works for my body. Coffee and caffeine both have their fair share of limelight in the health world. Sometimes it gets some bad press, but those articles are quickly buried and beaten down by ever growing studies and arguments that give us all permission to cling to our cup (or 2 or 3 or 4 cups) of Joe.

Health claims aside, the reality that I would roll myself out of bed and drag myself almost immediately to the coffeepot every morning really began to bother me. I mean, I'm doing my best to eat, sleep and live healthy and I can't even pop out of bed in the morning ready to take on the day?? Sure, I've made it a habit to stick to one cup in the morning (one GIANT cup, that is) but if I am constantly relying on a stimulant to give me energy everyday, can I honestly say I'm satisfied with my health?? Is this daily large dose of caffeine masking symptomatic low energy patterns that I'm slowly making worse by charging my batteries artificially?? I'm I digging myself a hole for my hormones and my adrenals?? (I've been there and it's NOT fun.)

I had to take a step back and be honest with myself and my body. I find that I am quick to hit the 'easy' button when my body is sending me signals to slow down. It's just too convenient to reach for a stimulant (whether it'd be coffee, carbs, sugar, or even exercise) to help you power through your day rather then honor the fact that, for example, you got to bed way to late. In a world filled with 'easy' buttons, it takes a lot of character to be willing to pay the price rather then jump on the roller coaster of 'tired', 'stimulant', 'tired', 'stimulant' until you find yourself 'wired' at 10 o'clock at night, cortisol pumping and out of whack because you've been pushing yourself all day. That surge of cortisol (unnaturally high for that hour of night) will keep you up way to late, so then you are all set up to have this same roller coaster ride begin all over again on the next day. 

For me, it wasn't getting to that extreme (THIS time), but, let's be honest, the moment we absolutely have to have something at a given time every single day is not a good sign. Caffeine is a beautiful tool. But I swear most caffeinated coffee (and even tea) drinkers are abusing it to one degree or another. 

I was tired (haha) of masking things like possible lack of sleep, malnutrition, stress, and over training with a daily caffeine hit. It was also starting to bother me that my dear husband was beginning to drink more and more coffee throughout the entire day, staying up way too late, having trouble sleeping, and was displaying low energy levels. So, a few months ago, I got sneaky:

I started adding decaf coffee beans to our daily roast without telling anyone. I think I started out at about half caffeinated and half decaf. Believe me, that was enough to feel the hit. My husband would come home after work complaining of headaches. I did get a couple, but my biggest complaint was the sleepy fog that seemed to wrap me up in a big hug for weeks.

I didn't stop there. I gradually swapped out more and more regular coffee beans for decaf ones until, as of a week or two ago, we went cold turkey.

To be honest, I am still getting used to it. I am currently a little bit slower in the morning and throughout the entire day, but those are my only big complaints. I do love that I still get to have my 'ritual' every morning and I still get the nutrition that goes into a daily cup of Bulletproof Coffee. I am extremely positive about this whole experiment, having had the veil stripped away from my eyes I can focus more on my my sleep and my stress patterns and making sure I giving myself enough TLC instead of just drowning my symptoms in a cup or two of brew. One almost immediate benefit I have discovered for myself when I started tapering off was how much calmer I have been, especially in the morning. Getting out of the house with my kids these days has somehow seemed much less of a stressful and 'whirlwind' task as it used to be when I was fidgeting and jittery from my latest 'hit'.

As for my husband, well, he just goes to work and drinks more coffee. So my little experiment hasn't done him much good except making him more creative in seeking caffeine sources outside of the home. To his credit, he didn't try to murder me when I confessed that that 'second cup' of morning coffee at our house wasn't going to do him any bit of good. He's also become a little bit more conscious about the amount of coffee he drinks daily, and it's no longer convenient for him to just pour himself a cup of caffeinated coffee when he gets home from work in the evenings, either. So, in the end, we've both gained some ground.

This is still an ongoing experiment for me. I'm not quite sure where I'm going to go with it just yet. If anything, I hope I've gotten you to consider you're own relationship with coffee and caffeine or any other relationship, for that matter, that has gone from being innocent and enjoyable to something that better resembles a crutch. Be honest.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The More You Do...

A friend of mine once said 'The more you do, the more you can do.' That sentence resonated with me and has since remained rooted in my brain. It has literally blossomed into an almost daily mantra in my life and is constantly floating around in inside my head, doubtlessly fueling my day-to-day productivity.

I've recently become fascinated with the concept of productivity. Not to the point that I'm willing to burn myself out-But more to the tune of 'How can I get it all done, and in less time?? How can I prioritize those things that are important to me and my family, and still squeeze in some extra things that I"m passionate about?'

If you are like me, your life is comprised of a whole lot of moving pieces, many of them overlapping each other. Your job. Your kids. The house. Hobbies. Passions. Relationships. I know my husband can agree that there 'isn't enough hours in the day'. We both can agree, however, that we are thankful to be married to a spouse with multiple interests and a good work ethic. Being busy is a nice problem to have. Boredom gets people in trouble. The last time I was bored was also a time in my life when I was severely depressed.

But, enough about how busy life can be because we are all aware of that. The real question is how good are you at prioritizing. Are you maximizing your time?? What have you been putting off?? What have you been telling yourself is going to get done but you just haven't mustered up the courage, the energy, the time?? What is that ONE thing you can do today that will make you feel like a rock star?? That thing that will make you feel satisfied with yourself at the end of the day?? Is it that light you could finally get around to fixing?? Is it a phone call to a friend that you really should make?? Is it that workout you've been avoiding?? Is it that blog post that you should be writing????

Do that thing. TODAY. It's amazing how good you will feel. And then, perhaps, that will lead to you to do ANOTHER thing tomorrow. Just one small thing, and then another small thing, and then another....

Enough excuses. We all can find time for the things that are important to us. People spend an easy 20 minutes sitting in the drive-thru of their local fast food chain for their morning carb and sugar fixes EVERYDAY. Things like that add up.

Take a look at your daily life. Where are you losing those precious minutes? I'm not talking about rest or down time-those things are very important. I'm talking about real time and energy suckers: Spending too much time on social media. Excessive television. Poor sleep quality. Where is your time going?? Are you sabotaging your own productivity?? Are you allowing yourself to get swept up into something like surfing the web, when you know in the back of your head you could be getting something done?? Our brains are really good at doing that. We're afraid of progress. We rationalize. We're afraid of growth-Because growth=change. It's natural.

Face down that fear.

Here is a simple exercise you can do on a daily basis. This actually helps your brain a lot when it comes to buckling down and getting things done:

Take a nice shower. Feel the nice warm water run all over your body. Relax. Feel that stress just melt way.
Flip your water setting to COLD. Completely cold. As cold as it gets. Your body is going to want to react. It's going to want you to flail your arms, scream, and get the heck out of there. Hold on. Stand your ground and embrace the icy cold for 15 seconds, allowing that water to run all over you.
Now you can turn off the water. You're done.

Do that every time you shower. It's such a small thing, but it's going to train your brain to realize that it CAN face uncomfortable situations and get through them. And the next time you get a moment to pick up that paint brush and your brain wants to start making 'deal's with you to stay on Facebook just another '5 minutes' it will be easier to turn off. And it will get easier and easier.

Thank you for reading! Enjoy your 'productive' day!

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Beef with Beans

Beans (legumes) have been a hot topic for discussion lately in 'Paleo Land'. Chris Kresser just released his new book Your Personal Paleo Code and came under fire from plenty of Paleo extremists because he actually goes on record (even as far as to discuss it on Dr. Oz) that eating beans once in a while is not a terrible thing as long as you tolerate them.

I tend to agree. My main argument against them is simply that beans just aren't that great. They DO contain anti nutrients like Phytic acid, rendering certain vitamins and minerals you are eating (whether in the beans themselves or in other food you're consuming) useless as they get bound, gagged and passed directly through your body without the ability to be absorbed: Bad deal! Yes, I agree that a serving here or there will not cause any sever mineral deficiencies, but eating beans certainly isn't helping! You also need to understand that they are a terrible source of protein compared to meat, fish, and eggs, calorie for calorie and you are also taking a massive carbohydrate hit for the puny amount of protein you'd be getting. I'd also much rather chow down on a big leafy salad for fiber then be weighed down and gassy from a carb-rich bean salad.

Beans are awful cheap. We've had bags of dried lentils that were given to us in our pantry for ages. Money has been tight. I decided to just go ahead and have a lentil soup fest. How bad could it be?? My family is healthy and active.

I soaked the lentils overnight and rinsed them thoroughly before cooking. (Soaking legumes, and then cooking them thoroughly does take care of a lot of the lectins, neutralizing the otherwise disastrous effects it could have on the human body.)

Lentil soup: Not the most nutrient-dense meal on the planet, but I made the most of it: Adding lots of veggies and spices to the pot. I even threw in some leftover soup bones and broth to 'cancel out' any of the anti-nutrients that would still be swimming around in there. That sounds silly, I know, but it did make me feel better, and I'm sure the bones boosted the flavor tremendously.

The soup was delicious. It could have used some ground beef, but it was cheap and fit our budget this week. However, it did not fill us up like a typical meal of protein and veggies. Period. My husband and I consumed bowls of this stuff, and yes, it was filling, but not filling like a whack of grass-fed beef or a salmon filet would be. I had to 'top off' my meal with a couple of fried eggs, or I surely would have ladled myself a third bowl. (That would have just been too many lentils.)

Shortly after dinner, my feet began to itch. They became red and inflamed. Those darn lentils. The acute response of my body was undeniable.

Beans are inexpensive. But for me, they are obviously not worth it. My feet (I'm assuming it was an eczema flare up) are doing much better this morning, thank you, but my reflection is yielding a face that is flushed and fresh with acne. My belly is bloated and angry at me. I'm sorry belly, I'm sorry.

I am just one person. Properly soaked and cooked legumes might be just fine for you and your family on occasion. I will once again emphasize, though, that beans have absolutely nothing special to offer that you can't find more abundantly and readily from other sources of food.

To be sensitive, it is worth mentioning that many people throughout the world are in a place where they need or depend on beans. When making my case as to why beans are not optimal, eating them is obviously better for you then starvation. In the same breath I must also say that the ethical argument for eating beans is a different beast entirely and vegetarian crop production isn't as innocent as one might think.

Beans. Meh. No love lost with me there. Next time I'll just skip right to the fried eggs.

Enjoy your weekend and thank you for reading!