Fresh starts and flower fields

Fresh starts and flower fields

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart thinking of all of the devastation in our world today. We have been praying all weekend for friends in Florida who had to evacuate their homes, not knowing what they might return to after Hurricane Irma swept through this weekend. And Sept. 11 brings with it so much grief as I think back on what was the most devastating day in the United States in my lifetime.

I felt a strange sense of guilt this morning as I headed out to walk our second grader to school, enjoying a gorgeous blue sky, radiant sunshine and a crisp cool morning. It’s always strange on days like this to continue doing what you normally do when you feel like you should be able to just make time stop as a way to commemorate the pain people are enduring.

So, I hope I don’t seem callous or uncaring, but this morning I’m also thinking about fresh starts. In the wake of all that’s happening around us, I guess I should be happy that one of the most exciting things going on in my little world lately has to do with mowing.

What?

One of the things that brings me a ton of joy every morning is that I get to step outside on my back deck and look out at a huge expanse of prairie grass. Our subdivision is built around a 64-acre prairie, and our house backs up to a nature trail that circles the tall grass.

For the past week, the park district, which maintains the area, has been sending out a mowing crew to cut down the grass. This is our fourth fall living here, and this is the first time we’ve seen them attempt to actually mow the entire prairie, which is about 10-feet tall in some areas.

To call it “mowing” really seems like an understatement. These guys have been driving around on vehicles that look more like farm equipment to cut down and then chop up the tall grass.

I absolutely love stuff like this. I’m not very good at keeping up with house work or maintaining day-to-day chores. But I love a big project. Give me a super dirty garage floor or a deck to stain, and I’m all in!

I’ve been amazed to watch them out there, day after day, whacking away at all of those acres of grass.

We’ve never been able to see across the prairie before, so we have taken great joy in walking right across the middle where it used to be completely covered in grass that was so tall and dense you couldn’t possibly create a path. I’ve also been amazed to see what has been growing all of this time right in the middle of the prairie.

Thankfully, the mowers have spared the big sections of wildflowers that were hidden in patches behind all of that tall grass. For the first time, we can walk out to the middle and look over large sections of yellow wildflowers.

Of COURSE, I have been day dreaming about what a nice family photo we could take standing in the middle of all of those yellow flowers. I convinced my family to walk out there with me last night to snap a few quick photos with the tripod and self timer.

I love watching them clear out all of that grass that is dying and turning brown. Most of the time in fall and winter, we stare out at that field of dried up brown grass, feeling like we need to go out there ourselves and chop it down, but knowing we couldn’t even make a dent in such a large project.

I’m happy that the prairie gets a chance to start fresh. The new grass won’t have to fight its way through all of that brown, dead growth. It looks so thick and heavy, it seems like it would suffocate the plants.

It also reminds me of my own life. I always love fall because it feels like a chance to start fresh again. Once we get back into our fall routines, it feels like permission to try something new. To do things differently. I love that no matter how things went during the previous season of life, we always have the hope of new beginnings. We don’t have to always do things the way we’ve always done them. We can start over. Or try something for the first time.

Looking out at the prairie, I’m also reminded that I need to let go of some of the things that are weighing me down. I have dead prairie grass in my life that needs to be mowed and chopped up to give me room to breath and grow.

I’ve been thinking about what’s dead and dried up that I can clear out of my life. Because, who knows? I might just uncover a field of wild flowers.

**

What about you? Is there anything you can clear out of your life to give you a fresh start?

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Ten unexpected results of the Paleo diet

Ten unexpected results of the Paleo diet

I have a photo of myself on my phone that I have been looking at the past few days. I took the photo in early January when I was at a really low place.

My eyes look tired, and my face is red and puffy. I had been sick on and off most of the previous year. When I look at that photo, I can remember so clearly how bad I felt that day. I remember thinking that it had to be my rock bottom. I was determined to start feeling better, so I wanted a “before shot” as a reminder. (I hope that someday I will be brave enough to share it.)

I had been on a gluten free diet for six months at that point. But it was what I like to call the “gluten free junk food diet.” I was still experiencing all of the symptoms of autoimmune disease on a regular basis: digestive problems, severe heartburn, insomnia, skin issues, vertigo, headaches, foggy brain, trouble concentrating, joint pain, and the list goes on. For years, I also had been trying to exercise regularly to lose a few pounds, but nothing seemed to work.

Nine months later, I’m amazed at how much better I feel in so many ways. I’ve made it almost three months without a “flare” from gluten contamination, which is a small miracle by itself. But I really didn’t expect to experience so many other health improvements from my radical change in eating.

Just to review, I’ve been on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol Diet since February. (I did a month of Whole 30 in January.) What that means is I don’t eat any inflammatory foods, which include gluten, grains, refined sugar, dairy, soy, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, coffee, chocolate, nightshade vegetables and spices, such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, Paprika, chili powder and red pepper.

Since about June, I have been slowly re-introducing foods so my diet is somewhere between Paleo and Paleo AIP. I now eat chocolate!! I also sometimes eat tomatoes, eggs, chili powder, almond butter and a few nuts. Once in a while, I eat corn tortillas or rice (which aren’t Paleo). However, for the majority of the time, I eat Paleo AIP because I feel my best when I stick more closely to that diet.

Since I’ve gone on this diet, I’ve seen an impressive drop in the antibodies in my system caused by autoimmune disease. So, you could say that the changes I’ve experienced are from a reduction in antibodies. That improvement goes back to my diet, so in a way, all of these changes started with the diet. Anyway, regardless of whether you want to look at the chicken or the egg, I’m just happy for the experience! 🙂

Ten unexpected results of the Paleo diet

Here are some of the changes I’ve noticed:

WEIGHT LOSS

I’ve lost 11 pounds since January. That might not sound like a lot, but on my small frame, it feels great! I’ve gone down one clothing size, and I’m at the weight that makes me feel my best. When you switch to a Paleo diet, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose weight (unless you go crazy eating a container of nuts and dried fruit everyday). I LOVE this lifestyle because I can eat as much  as I want, as long as I stick to the foods allowed on the program. I eat tons of veggies, protein and healthy fat.

CRAVINGS

In the past, I pretty much got through every day on a steady stream of caffeine and sugar. Now that I fuel my body with highly nutritious foods, I don’t have the extreme highs and lows or cravings for junk food. I still struggle with being hypoglycemic, so I try to eat every couple of hours to keep my blood sugar at a good level. But I’m not on a constant craving roller coaster anymore.

INFLAMMATION

Before I started this diet, I woke up every morning looking pretty awful. My face would be so puffy in the morning that I would try to get up an hour early if I had to be somewhere, just to give myself time to look somewhat “normal.” By eliminating inflammatory foods, I can finally get up in the morning and look like ME!

SINUS INFLAMMATION

A big part of this was the inflammation in my sinuses that I think a lot of people experience from eating dairy, gluten and sugar. Inflamed sinuses lead to sinus headaches, which in my case led to…

VERTIGO

I’ve had chronic vertigo for about seven years. Sometimes, I would experience at least mild dizziness for a month at a time. I’ve had a few very brief instances of vertigo this year, but it doesn’t even compare to what it was like before.

KNOTS IN MY NECK

Another thing that contributed to headaches and vertigo were all of the knots in my neck and back. I was a minefield of knotted-up muscles. I’m so thankful that this has changed significantly!

SLEEP

And without all of those issues, I can sleep like a baby. I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Unless I’m under a lot of stress, I don’t wake up until morning. In the past, it was common to be awake half the night with insomnia. Sleep is a beautiful thing!

FOGGY BRAIN

It’s remarkable how much clearer my brain is. I had struggled with my memory, concentration and focus when I was at my worst. When I stick to my diet, my brain feels so much clearer. I feel (halfway) intelligent again! 🙂

HEARTBURN

At my worst, I had extreme heartburn that even turned into an ulcer in my stomach. This is the symptom that has taken the longest to get under control. In the last few months, I have had a nice break from constant heartburn.

DIGESTIVE ISSUES

And, of course, it goes without saying, that my digestive system is a million times better. This was the reason I decided to try the diet to begin with. The reality is that it took about six months even on a very strict diet to get my digestive system to a “normal” place. My digestive system took a beating from the destruction of Celiac Disease, so it doesn’t take much to knock me down. I know if I stray too far, with even common foods like tomatoes, spices or eggs that I won’t feel great for a few days. It doesn’t take much to mess up my digestive system, but at least now I can easily identify the trigger and get things back on track much more quickly.

 

Today, when I pulled up that photo on my phone, it made me feel so thankful for how far I’ve come. I know that a lot of people have been praying for me and God has done an amazing work in getting me to this place. I’m also a huge believer in this way of eating, so I just wanted to share my experience in case it might help someone else who struggles with similar issues.

If you want to know more about my journey, you can read about it here or listen to me talk about it on this podcast.

**

So, what about you? Have you ever made a radical change to your diet that has made a big difference?

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The truth behind the beautiful moments…

The truth behind the beautiful moments…

If you’ve read my blog for long or if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that I’m obsessed with taking photos of the full moon.

I have an app on my phone that tells me the stages of the moon and the time it will rise and set each day. “That’s just WEIRD, Mom,” our 7-year-old daughter recently informed me.

On the one day of each month when the moon is perfectly full, it makes its way onto the horizon just as the sun is setting directly on the other side of the world. The sun shines a spotlight on the moon, making it look bright red or orange as it climbs over the horizon. The moon also looks exceptionally large if you can catch a glimpse of it right as it’s making its debut.

No matter how many photos I’ve taken of the full moon, I still want to go see it that one evening of the month when it’s at its fullest. For several days beforehand, I start thinking about where I might go to photograph it. I like to pick different settings to give it perspective.

 

But sometimes, like last night, things don’t work out as planned. 

A few weeks ago, I took a photo of the crescent moon as it was setting behind our house. Our 14-year-old son has taken an interest in photography so he was out shooting some photos, too. I saw him standing there and realized it would be the perfect time to shoot a funny perspective photo of him “holding” the moon.

 

This photo inspired with some other fun ideas I wanted to use last night with my daughters holding the full moon.

But, alas. The sky was super overcast. You can only see the moon at its fullest when the sky is clear, so I knew it wasn’t worth dragging them outside for a photo shoot. Instead, I headed to the grocery store.

Of course, I made sure all of my camera equipment was packed in the van, just in case. As I was coming home, the moon was glowing brightly through the clouds. I couldn’t believe how radiant it was. Even though the cloud cover was significant, the moon was shining like a beacon.

I drove to one of my favorite photography spots and pulled over. Right in front of me, I could hear a loud, “Whoo-hoooo. Whoo-hooooo.”

No way.

Perched right on the light post in front of me, sat an owl. What could be better than a photo of the full moon with an owl in front of it?

I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the van. It was pitch dark at this point, and I didn’t want to use my flash because I might scare the owl. I kept moving my ISO higher and higher to try to get my camera to be able to “see” the owl.

I fired off several shots, then ran back to my van to adjust the settings. By about my third attempt, the owl flew away, leaving me with only this super noisy, dark, grainy, unrecognizable photo.

Oh, well.

I turned to take my photo of the moon, and it was gone, too.

The clouds had completely shrouded it.

I got back in the van, and kept driving.

I was almost home when I saw the moon peeking through the clouds again. I stopped and jumped out.

I knew I didn’t have long, so I tried to grab a shot without my tripod. My ISO was too high, so I missed all of the detail on the moon. I ran back to the van so I could use the interior lights to adjust my camera settings.

Now, my ISO was lower, which meant my shutter speed also needed to be slower. I couldn’t hold my camera steady enough to get a clear shot.

I ran back to the van to get my tripod. The top piece can twist all of the way off, and this had happened last time I used it. I was scrambling to get it back together. By the time it was all set, I looked up at the moon, and it was gone.

Dang.

So, this morning, I got up and walked downstairs to see two of my kids staring out the window. 

“Look at the moon!” my daughter exclaimed.

There it was. Huge and red as it was setting behind the houses on the other side of the prairie.

I ran to the van to grab my camera. I was back in about one minute. But by then, this was all that was left. Just a tiny fragment of that beautiful moon.

What’s the point of all of this?

It made me realize that this experience is really closer to real life than many of the photos I like to post. Behind every beautiful moment, you will find a dozen frustrating, blurry, sad or anger-filled moments that no one sees.

This is true in photography and life.

I decided that maybe it was good to post some of my photography bloopers for a change. Sometimes it can be refreshing just to know the true story. Life is so much more than the edited, filtered, cropped and manipulated moments that we see on social media.

And that’s OK. I still loved hearing that owl. I loved seeing the moon shining through the clouds. And the red moon setting this morning was an awesome sight.

I can only share my failed photos with the world this morning. But maybe those are the images that you needed to see. I hope they are reminders for today that every moment doesn’t have to perfect. And every image doesn’t have to be beautiful. Just enjoy what you are given.

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