Choose Joy

A little over a year ago I wrote a post called Changes. I was in a bad place, overall unhappy, questioning life and wondering what direction was the “right” direction. Was I following the path destined for myself—or was life just dragging me along? And if this was the life that I was supposed to be leading why was I feeling like something was missing?

Well, if I’m honest, I still question whether or not I’m following the correct path and my life still often feels like I’m just along for the ride. But I’ve decided to Choose Joy and make some actual changes to my life along the way. Let me explain what I mean when I say Choose Joy. Back in December, I started noticing that I kept coming across the phrase Choose Joy. I saw it on t-shirts in Facebook ads, on inspirational memes, quotes on journals, and as titles of books. I originally thought, “what a nice message,” given our current society climate. But as God or the universe or whatever you believe in kept throwing this message at me, I thought maybe there was more to it.

Then I began to wonder what is My Joy? Everyone is different so it only makes sense that everyone’s Joy is a little different. I mean I love reading, coffee, running, writing, sunshine, the beach, and puppies to name a few of my favorite things. But you might love tea, television, winter, and the lake. Is my Joy right and your Joy wrong? Absolutely not. But My Joy is what I love, what makes me me. So I made a list of all the things that I love. I brainstormed and wrote whatever came into my mind that brought me happiness. They were in no particular order and some things I must really love because I wrote them down more than once.

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Now let me clarify, just because I wrote all of these things down, doesn’t mean I’m Joyful all the time. I’m actually kind of moody. And I constantly go back to that list and remind myself of all the things that bring me Joy. So back to my changes. Since making that list, I’ve been trying to keep in mind the things that bring me Joy and make choices in my life based on this list. Of course, there are some things that don’t bring me Joy that I still have to do, like dishes and laundry, but having a clean house brings me Joy so I guess I can justify household chores.

Okay, so giving up chores is not my change and I did not go out and hire a full time housekeeper. So here it is, a few months ago, I found out that there was potentially going to be a few classroom teacher openings around my school. One team actually approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in coming back to the classroom to teach with them. Now, I would be lying if I said that going back to the classroom has not been on my radar for the past year, but I thought I worked so hard to get out of the classroom, that I couldn’t just leave my position as a Reading Specialist and go back. Plus teachers work hard to get out of the classroom and was I willing to just walk back into all of those classroom responsibilities that I had moved on from? The answer is yes. Next year I’m heading back into the classroom to teach 2nd grade and I couldn’t be more excited.

The truth is, I don’t know that I was really ready to leave the classroom when I did. I truly only left my position as a kindergarten teacher because the reading specialist at my school was retiring, I had a Master’s with a reading specialist endorsement on my license because I loved reading so much, and let’s face it with one or maybe two (if you’re a Title 1 school) per building, I thought I should jump at the opportunity.

Now, I’m not saying that being a reading specialist is not a Joy, but maybe it’s not My Joy or maybe it’s just not My Joy right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love my students. And not to toot my own horn, but I know so much about reading development and reading instruction. But over the past four years, I’ve realized solving student reading puzzles all day long is exhausting. I’m so exhausted at the end of the day that I have nothing left for my own children. And as I’m constantly reminded as I clean out their dressers and remove all the too small clothes, my kids are growing up at an alarming rate. I don’t want to not be there for them because I’m too tired and too stressed. Also, I don’t have the freedom or time in my day to be as creative as I like to be. One of the things I love to do as a teacher is foster a love of learning and thinking, but being a remediation teacher of 10 small groups only allows time for direct, explicit teaching—all.day.long. Every teacher needs to factor in explicit teaching at times, but I need some variance and more flexibility than I currently have. And boy do I miss reading aloud to students.

Being a classroom teacher is stressful and busy too, and to be truthful I’m not sure how many years I have left in this profession if teachers aren’t more respected and compensated, but for now, I feel like this is where my path is taking me. So, ultimately I’m encouraging you to figure out what makes you happy, what brings you Joy and if you can make a change, go for it.

Essential Oils: What's the Buzz About?

Back in November, I ran a 10K with my sister. She rocked it! I PR’d but would definitely not have done so without her motivation and a little sisterly competition. I would have gladly been at home in my jammies sipping on my coffee instead of enjoying a 6.2 mile run on an absolutely beautiful Fall morning. Afterwards I felt so happy and motivated. I wanted to bottle that feeling for all those days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed to get to the gym, to remind myself about how awesome if feels to be healthy and use your body for exercise.

Now, with that being said, being healthy is compromised of more than just exercising and eating well. It also involves what you put on your body as well as what chemicals you allow into your home. And there are some scary chemicals out there, that we don’t even think about, coming into our homes. Chemicals that affect our endocrine systems, reproductive systems and that can be carcinogens. Many of these products are disguised under the name fragrance found on the ingredient label on your products. Fragrance can stand for over 100 different chemicals and companies do not have to disclose the contents because they are part of the products “recipe”. Divulging “recipes” could lead to your competition getting your secret product information. And if you’re a business you certainly want to keep your trade secrets private so other companies don’t steal them, even if it means not disclosing potentially harmful ingredients. And maybe these companies don’t even want to disclose their ingredients because who would knowingly purchase a product that could cause cancer over time? I know what you’re thinking, why would companies be allowed to sell products with chemicals that are potentially harmful? You would be shocked at what the United States allows in their products that other countries ban. Don’t take my word for it, do the research, and if you don’t have time for research, maybe check out Jon Whelan’s documentary Stink! on Netflix. It’s eye-opening and just a tiny bit alarming!

Did you know that the average woman applies over 300 chemicals a day to her body through soaps, makeup, shampoos and hair care products? However, chemicals can also enter our body through what we clean with and what we are breathing in inside our homes. According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), the inside of your home can be 5 to 10 times more polluted than outside air. Eek! Also, you may be surprised to find out that the biggest culprits are those air fresheners and candles that make our homes smell so good. The second biggest culprits are cleaning products. These are products we use every day, right? Now before you go saying Amy said, my products are bad for me. I’m not saying that, I have no idea what you use in your home. All I’m saying is buyer-be-ware and read your labels so you know what your family is coming into contact with, inside your home.

With this growing movement of health and wellness along with gate-keeping what comes into your home, has come the rise of essential oils and natural wellness. Most of you reading this post have no doubt heard of essential oils, I mean walk through any store or scroll through your Facebook news feed and I bet you see something about essential oils. So what are they? What do they do? How do you use them? And why in the world do I need them?

What are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils are the concentrated part of the plant, (the juicy bits) extracted through steam distillation, cold pressing, resin tapping, or absolute oil extraction. The concentrates, are natural aromatic liquids containing the natural smell and characteristics of the plant. The method of drawing out these concentrates depends on the type of plant you are trying to extract the oil from. For example, the most beneficial part of most citrus fruits are found in the rind, so cold pressing is used on these fruits to extract the essential oils in them. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years and are known for their healing properties of the body and mind. If you’re a Bible person, essential oils are mentioned in the Bible 188 times. Essential oils use has also been documented in Ancient civilizations evidenced by Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese manuscripts. Also, if you’ve read (or watched) Outlander, Claire uses plants for their healing benefits when she goes back in time to Scotland in the 1700s. Now, I’m not sure if they were in oil form, something tells me she may not have had a distillery available to her then, but my point is, essential oils and plant based products are not new.

Distillation in process in St. Maries, Idaho.

Distillation in process in St. Maries, Idaho.


What do Essential Oils do?

Because of their concentrated nature, essential oils can effect every system inside your body. Now with that being said, I am not a doctor or medical professional. Also, certain oils will effect different people in different ways. They can be used for aromatherapy, personal care, or as household solutions to naturally replace many of the chemicals you are using in your home. Personally we use essential oils in our home for aromatherapy, as supplements to our diets, in our daily self-care products, and for cleaning. The truth is there are many uses for essential oils and they are plant based products so instead of worrying that you are exposing yourself to a bunch of synthetic chemicals that could potentially be harmful, you can feel confident knowing you are using products from nature.

How do I use them?

Essential oils can be used in 3 ways:

  1. Aromatically: Essential oils can be diffused or inhaled. I diffuse oils in my home daily and have replaced all of our candles and air fresheners with home-made room sprays or diffuser use.

  2. Topically: Many essential oils can be placed directly on your skin. (Always use a carrier oil when you are first introducing an oil to your skin to check for irritation.)

  3. Internally: Essential oils can be added to your food or drink, added to a gelatin capsule, or placed directly on your tongue. Not all essential oils are created equal so please know your source before you go ingesting oils.

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Why are essential oils for everyone?

When I first became a Young Living member I joined because I wanted a natural way to deal with anxiety. I had previously heard of essential oils for making home-made hand creams, shampoos, and cleaners which is something I’m very interested in—My secret retirement plan is to move out to the country and grow and make all of my own foods and products. I’m not sure that will ever happen, but I’ll settle for making simple home products in the meantime.

When I first purchased my kit, I made a couple of rollers and diffused oils in the house, but rarely went beyond that. It wasn’t until about a year later when I attended a Saavy Minerals make-up event and used some other essential oil infused products that I realized that essential oils can really be used in every aspect of my life from make-up to cleaning. We all use products and we all clean our houses right? I’m not sure about you, but I want to make sure my children grow up as healthy as they can. I can’t control what they are exposed to when they go outside or to school, but I can ensure that I’m providing a toxin free environment for them at home.

Why use Young Living essential oils?

Yes, here it comes. I think Young Living essential oils are the best. I did a lot of research on essential oils when I first found out about them and I actually went to a class on them and didn’t purchase a kit for over a year because I thought they wouldn’t fit into my budget. Yes, essential oils can seem pricey. However, they are very concentrated and as long as you are using a therapeutic grade oil (not all essential oils are created equal and some may contain synthetic materials—which to me defeats the purpose of going natural) then the cost is truly pennies for drops.

There are many essential oil companies out there and ultimately I urge you to choose the best company for your needs. However, I choose to use Young Living essential oils and products because of their Seed to Seal guarantee. They are a transparent company, you can actually visit their farms and distilleries. They list all ingredients on their labels so there are no surprises. You know what your getting. I’m a busy person and feel confident knowing that each essential oil at YL goes through the Seed to Seal process. With that being said, yes, their products and oils are more pricey than some competitors and you can literally walk into Wal-Mart (I have nothing against Wal-Mart) and purchase essential oils. I mean you’re going to pay more for an organic grass-fed burger than you are for a McDonald’s burger right? But if you’re trying to rid your home of toxins, be weary of bringing those same toxins back into your home under a “healthy” guise.

Ultimately I urge you to do your research, figure out what’s best for you and your family. The purpose of this post is not to “sell you” some essential oils—although, if you are interested in becoming a Young Living member, I’d love to help you on your oily journey to a toxin free lifestyle—it’s to inform. Be educated, know what you’re bringing into your home. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there and just because it’s on a store shelf, doesn’t mean it’s safe.



Research

Environmental Working Group Web-site- https://www.ewg.org/

Stink! Review- https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/stink

Information on Fragrance- http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/fragrance/




Join Young Living today!

Join Young Living today!



Not Granola

I love food. I mean L-O-V-E food. You know, the I think of what I’m eating for lunch as I’m eating breakfast kind of love. I love all kinds of food—foods from different regions of the world (that’s probably my favorite part of traveling—finding different cuisines and trying them authentically) healthy foods, fattening foods, sweet foods, salty foods, all foods. I’m actually trying to think of a food I don’t like right now and I’m drawing a big, fat blank.

Loving food can sometimes be problematic. For example, cookies and nacho cheese (two of my favorites) are not exactly helping my waistline as I creep towards 40. It used to be I could eat any amount of any food I wanted and I remained slim, however, now I gain 5 lbs by looking at some of my favorite foods. And let me tell you on my quest for Oola, no-one feels happy or awesome when their jeans are too tight. One more little tidbit, working out is awesome for weight-loss, but working out alone will not change your body or the amount of tired—I can feel a huge difference in my mood and my waistline depending on what I fuel my body with regardless of how much I work out.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not really good at restricting myself to one certain kind of food or pulling too many things I’m used to eating out of my diet right away. My goal for now is to eat fewer grains, fewer treats, and add in more fruits and vegetables. I’m also trying to watch out for the evil ingredient: sugar, which is added to almost every food that you can buy in a box or can. Seriously, it’s crazy how many things contain added sugar and it’s not all cookies and cereals—ketchup, Triscuits, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, salsa etc. Check the labels on the products in your pantry and next time you go to the store. It’s insane. Now, I will preface with a few things so you don’t think I’m all talk and no action:

1) I’m still eating foods with natural sugar already in them such as fruits, veggies, etc.

2) I’m not throwing things out, so if I have dried fruit with sugar added in my pantry, I’m going to eat it and then try to find a better replacement option next time. I’m on a budget and I don’t believe in wasting things I’ve already spent money on. Maybe that’s why Marie Kondo’s tidying up methods are so hard for me? But that’s a post for another day.

For me it’s all about baby steps and making lifestyle changes that I can keep. If I cut out everything all at one time I’m going to get frustrated and cave. I want to develop a healthy lifestyle that I can follow, not one that makes me feel cheated all the time, which leads me to the Not Granola.

Granola is thought to be a healthy food, but it’s typically a high-calorie food loaded with sugar and sweeteners. If you don’t believe me, read your labels. Granola bars are big culprits too, but that’s a post for another day too. Granola typically consists of rolled oats, brown sugar or honey, dried fruit and nuts. Making it at home ensures that you can add what you want and what you don’t want. The recipe I’m going to share with you today contains nuts and dried fruit but no added sugar. Yes, we are used to the taste of sweet things, but I promise it’s tasty.

Let me start with a little backstory, last winter, my husband, best friend and I went on a 21 day no sugar diet outlined by crossfit star Christmas Abbott in her book The Badass Body Diet: The Breakthrough Diet and Workout for a Tight Booty, Sexy Abs, and Lean Legs.

She is badass, excuse my language. Since my job is not fitness related and I enjoy my nightly glass of wine, I cannot adhere to this diet on a long-term basis. I was actually quite grumpy with the amount of food prep and restrictiveness. Plus it was a little too much meat protein for me. However, I did glean some great recipes and workout tips from it, Not Granola being one of them. She actually calls this recipe Grain-Free Granola (p 196), but I wanted to call it something that was a little more intriguing.

In the book, the recipe is written for 1 single serving, however, being a full-time working mom, I do not have time to food prep every night. Okay, so maybe I have time. Let me rephrase, I do not want to food prep every night. Food prepping every night leads to grumpy Amy. I prefer to food prep every couple of nights and just organize the food for the next day each night—you know put the lunches in containers and that sort of thing. I’ll provide you with the recipes for both, maybe you like to food prep nightly or maybe you prefer not to eat the same thing day after day. Regardless it’s the same ingredients, different quantities.

Here is the starting line-up: almonds, unsweetened shredded coconut, chia seeds, dried cranberries, ground cinnamon.

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Yes, those are sweetened, dried cranberries, your eyes are not deceiving you. Remember, I’m using what I have first.

Single Serving Not Granola

  • 1 tbsp sliced almonds (about 6 almonds if you’re slicing your own)

  • 2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut

  • 1 tsp chia seeds

  • 1 tbsp dried cranberries

  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

This recipe yields about 1/4 of a cup of crunchy yumminess.

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So I used my knowledge of proportions, multiplication, and measurements—see you do use that stuff in the real world—and created a recipe for a batch of Not Granola that you can keep in a sealed container for a few weeks. (If my math is wrong, I apologize, remember I’m a reading teacher). I don’t eat this every day, but one batch is about 9 servings so it’ll last me about 2 weeks, give or take a few days depending on how granola I’m feeling and if my husband decides he’s feeling granola too. My kids are not huge granola fans—I’ve tried.

Not Granola for Days (Yields about 9-1/4 cup servings)

  • 1 cup sliced almonds (How many almonds is that? I buy them pre-sliced to save time)

  • 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

  • 3 tablespoons of chia seeds

  • 1 cup of dried cranberries

  • 2 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon

I don’t think I said this before, but add all the ingredients to a bowl and give them a good stir. I also like to give my granola a good stir before I add it to a bowl to kind of mix it up so I’m not getting a 1/4 scoop of dried cranberries.

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So, how do you eat it so it remains healthy? If you add it to a sugary fruit-already-added yogurt you’re not really helping yourself out. I usually just add unsweetened vanilla almond milk and blueberries and eat this like cereal. You can use any milk-or-milk-like product depending on your diet, but be sure to check your labels. I’ve tried several milk substitutes and many of them have—you guessed it—added sugar. I’m really not making this up. You think you’re eating/drinking healthy and you’re still consuming loads of sugar. I am certainly no expert, but companies do this to make it taste better, I think. If I’m eating this like cereal, then I usually will eat something else with it—unless it’s just a snack, a couple links of turkey sausage or an egg or both if I just worked out and I’m really hungry. If this is my only breakfast, which is currently my favorite way to eat it, I’ll put a couple of dollops of plain greek yogurt into a bowl with some fresh berries and 1/4 cup of not granola.

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I like to add real fruit to add sweetness with natural sugars, but I know some people try to avoid fruit sugar too. Also, feel free to substitute any of the ingredients for similar ingredients that work with your diet. For example, walnuts for almonds or dried cherries for cranberries. I’d love to hear your recipes and substitutions. Happy eating!

Resolutions

Happy New Year! Okay, so we’re almost one month into the new year, but you know that old adage, “better late than never.” Well, that should be my life motto. I mean, it’s true, I usually always get around to things, that is, unless they’ve been on my “to do” list so long, it’s better to just start a new list.

I have good intentions, I really do, but I seem to lack in the actual follow through. For example, the thank you notes I always want to write, and then I blink and two months have passed since the actual gift was given. What do you do? Do you acknowledge that it’s been way to long to thank appropriately and potentially look ungrateful or take the adage “better late than never” and look like you are too busy to make it a priority. It sounds like the story of my life.

Now, I’m not trying to be melodramatic or “whoa is me”. I know that I need to make some changes and prioritize things differently. I recently came across an Oola quote, “Don’t fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.” And let me tell you, I’ve been in the exact same place for the last two years. I’m not kidding. In January 2017, two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Happy New Year” and upon rereading recently, I continue to have the exact same “New Year's Resolution”. I’m pretty sure I mentioned in this blog post that I had the same resolution the year before, so that’s 3 years in the exact-same-place. I didn’t even write it down this year. I know what I want, I just need to actually start moving in that direction.

So, if I know what I want, why am I not going for it? Simple, fear. But in the words of Zach Williams, “Fear is a Liar.” This is the year I’m finished with that. I’m going to write. I’m going to set goals. I’m also going to forgive myself if my goals get off track and not be afraid to try again.

Back to Oola. What the heck is Oola? Is that what you’re thinking? Or are you thinking, yep, she’s officially lost it? Oola is “the state of awesomeness.” When you are in Oola, your life is balanced in seven key areas of life (fitness, finance, family, field, faith, friends and fun). It’s all about balance. Don’t we all strive for balance? Especially in this crazy, busy world we live in now? I mean think about it, we are asked to perform so many duties and jobs, I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a mentor, a maid, a chef, a chauffer a community member and a friend, all the while trying to balance work, home-life, staying fit, remembering appointments, etc. It sounds like a lot and I know there are many other people out there with even more going on than that.

So for 2019, I strive for Oola. I started by taking the free life balance test on www.oolalife.com. Here are my results.

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One way I am hoping to add more balance in my life is through blogging. This is the year I make writing a priority. I am committing to writing at least one blog post each week, hopefully more, but I’m setting small goals for now. So, that means that by next Tuesday morning, you will be reading another post. Also, after 9 months of thinking, jotting down ideas and lots of composing in my head, I think I’ve finally decided on a direction for my blog. AmyWhichWay will become a writing space for ideas/suggestions on finding balance in your own life. Mostly I’ll tell you what’s working (or not working) for me. I know there are plenty of other people like me, hoping to find balance in their life for 2019. So let’s do this together!