Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Sets

Time for our July recap! I feel like every time I turn around another month has passed and I am reflecting on all that has happened. In just a few short days, Allie will be back in school starting her sophomore year. Gulp. I just can't even believe it. So here's to our last little bit of summer. It has definitely been a whirlwind!

We spent the July 4th holiday in the mountains of western North Carolina. This is always my family's reunion week and we love being here each year and doing all our traditional things such as driving up to Cataloochee to see the beautiful view and grazing horses from Chattahoochee Ranch.

Lake Junaluska is such a special place for my family. It warms my heart that Zach and Allie love it so much and always want to come here.
One of my favorite things is walking the lake with my camera, always looking for new things and new views of things I have seen hundreds of times. I absolutely adore this lakeside chapel.

Chief Junaluska
Hope. Light at the end of the tunnel. This is a pathway back to our home called Lovely Lane and I do believe it gets lovelier the more overgrown it becomes.

During our holiday at the lake, there was lots of relaxing... lots of this,
and lots of this (Dog Bingo).
Lots of southern food favorites, like bbq from the Haywood Smokehouse
and an Independence Day low country boil!
Reading up. Ha!

One of our favorite things to do on the 4th is attend the cheeseball Lake J 4th of July parade. It is perfectly delightful and ridiculous.
Grandma and Aunt Martha Jane with the premo seats.

My favorite car that is in the parade every year!
Indie girl.
Standard parade vehicle.
Small town class. LOL
More sophistication. I mean, it is the BEST. :)
Happy Birthday America!
On the heels of our family trip, Allie attended Rush, the summer student conference hosted at Perimeter. This conference is really unique in that it is completely student led. From hospitality, to storytelling, worship, tech... if it is something that needs to happen, students are running it. Allie was actually on the Rush Servant Team and spent the week helping with Tech. This was something really outside her comfort zone, but we were so proud of her for sticking with it through all months of training, being willing to learn something new, accept her mistakes and press on to do better the next time. It was a really wonderful experience for her and she can't wait to participate again next year!

After Rush, Al headed back to Alabama for the last two weeks of July while Zach and I hit the ground running. In case you missed the big announcement, we got some really exciting news regarding some of Zach's music. Back in May, we were notified that his song Grow Old was going to be on Florida Georgia Line's new album, Dig Your Roots. Say what now?! We could not believe it! This news came completely out of the blue since Zach had not been working on country songwriting and had not actively pursued a career in this industry in almost 8 years. Back in 2008, he was doing the country songwriting thing in Nashville and co-wrote a handful of songs with various writers. Not long after, life led him in a different direction and the country songwriting thing was put on the back burner. It had always been a dream of his to make a living songwriting while serving the local church through music, but "making it" in Nashville is incredibly difficult. Like, more difficult than you can possibly imagine. Honestly, we pretty much abandoned hope of that ever happening and were really focused on our life in church ministry. I mean, most of his country songs have never even seen the light of day. They aren't demo'd and certainly haven't been presented to publishers/artists so the odds of getting a song cut is like, 1 in a million.

Fast forward 8 years and that back burner dream was barely simmering for us while some of his co-writers had become successful country artists, namely Canaan Smith who is the co-writer of Grow Old. At some point, Canaan introduced Grow Old to FGL and they made the decision to include it on their next project. What's funny about this is that Zach didn't even remember what version of the song Canaan had since he has tweaked lines and phrases over the years. LOL There will definitely be some differences when the final FGL version becomes available August 26th, but nonetheless, we are so humbled and amazed this sweet song is getting shared with the world.

For those that attended out wedding, Grow Old is the song Zach sang at our reception and has always been my absolute favorite from his song catalog. :) This month,  Tyler of Florida Georgia Line posted a short anniversary video and included Grow Old as the soundtrack. It was the first time we heard their version and had hard evidence all this was happening. :)
This song cut has really changed a lot of things for us and opened many new doors for Zach. His passion for writing as been reignited and I am so proud of him for how hard he is working towards this goal, all while balancing family, ministry, and everything else on his plate. He has been writing a ton and spent a week in Nashville meeting with publishers and writing with various songwriters. We don't know exactly where this road will lead, but we are trusting God to open and close doors as He sees fit and use this opportunity for good.

While Zach and Allie were away, I had a solid week to myself. It was weird. Ha! I haven't had 7 days by myself since before Zach and I were married. Besides working, I spent a lot of time cooking (see my previous post) and focusing on my new AIP lifestyle.
I also helped one of my best friends work on her new book proposal and I am so excited for what God has planned for this! It has already ministered so much to me and my own personal journey of faith, freedom, and purpose. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this project!

And speaking of friends, since I was a free bird and could do what I wished :), I drove to Charlotte for the weekend to see some of those nearest and dearest to me. Our community in Charlotte is still so sweet and such a treasure to me any time I am there. I packed out my schedule with coffees and lunches with various friends and even got to visit our old church on Sunday. I took like, ZERO photos while I was there (I don't know what I was thinking), but here's a kinda terrible one LOL of me with my sweet friend Lindsay.
This girl is like a sister to me and it warms my heart her name is even Lindsay. :)

With Zach and Allie FINALLY back home and August on the horizon, we are ramping up for Allie's oral surgery, school starting, and much to come music-wise in the next month. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The D Word

This summer has been one for the books. Like, literally. My book stack has never ever been so tall!
There's a lot going on in our life and in order for me to keep up, I must learn. A lot. Learn about the music industry (more on that later), on the college scholarship process (since we need to start applying for them like... yesterday), and also just about myself. I've posted about health stuff in the past, but my journey towards physical healing has been a long process. Here's my story:

Feeling rather dreadful I went to the doc and was diagnosed with a "thyroid problem". She mumbled something about it being related to elevated antibodies, but the solution was clear - lifelong medication. Sigh. I knew I didn't want to be taking meds for the rest of my life so I started seeing a naturopathic doctor. I tried lots of things - gobs of supplements, diet changes, colonics (TMI), fasting and cleanses.... but I never really saw much progress or felt any better. It was VERY frustrating given the time and $ I had put into it. After what felt like a total failure, I just went back to taking meds and living what most would consider a "normal life"- eating what at the time I considered healthy, exercising, etc...

Fast forward 5 years. In the spring I got a bad cold. I rarely get sick, but for some reason I could not shake this sickness. At the time we were living in Charlotte and Zach had seen a holistic doctor that worked wonders for him as well as a number of other friends. I went to see him for the cold (and he did cure my sickness almost immediately), but he also told me I had a lot of other problems that needed immediate attention. This is when I found out that what I really had was an auto-immune disease affecting my thyroid called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. It's where your body builds up antibodies that attack your thyroid. This disease comes with a slew of other issues and is sustained by GI irritation and inflammation. I found out I had "leaky gut" which resulted in over 100 food allergies and explained my chronic tummy problems.

At this point I stopped medication, started supplements to treat my condition and rebuild my intestines, and did an elimination diet of all 100+ foods. This diet consisted of a Renewal Greens shake for breakfast, same shake for lunch, and a super simple dinner of grilled chicken, steamed rice, and steamed broccoli. I did this for roughly 10 weeks without any cheating. That year I had a birthday steak (doc approved) instead of a birthday cake. Ha! Although I ended up feeling/ looking better than I had in a long time (or maybe ever), eating that way was SO DEPRESSING. If you know me at all you know I love cooking and creating beautiful things in the kitchen. All of that - plus enjoying the foodie restaurant scene we loved, was gone. I knew doing that diet was not sustainable long-term, but my goal was to try to stick close to it and have one cheat day a week.

After this elimination diet, I began reintroducing food into my diet and slowly... crept back to eating almost the same way I had prior. I still avoided gluten and dairy most the time, but became rather lax about everything else.

My sister passed away from brain cancer and 3 months later we moved from Charlotte to Atlanta. Talk about trauma! Naturally, I was a bit overwhelmed and quickly my health fell to the back burner. Other priorities came first and now that my holistic doc was over 3 hours away, my built-in accountability from seeing him regularly also vanished. I still tried to avoid gluten and dairy, but even those things started creeping back into my diet occasionally.

Over the past 3 years I really backslid health-wise, feeling/looking worse than ever (and by looking worse I don't just mean weight fluctuation. I mean that + appearance of skin, hair, nails, tongue (yes, your tongue reveals a lot about your health!), swelling, frequency of headaches/backaches, etc.) and really just, not taking my auto-immune disease seriously. I didn't like the word "disease". In fact, I wouldn't even use the word "disease" and would often just kinda, nonchalantly say, "oh yeah.. I have this auto-immune condition thingy that is affected by gluten...yada yada..." and go on with my life like normal and act like it wasn't a big deal. But it was.

After our custody change and Allie moved in with us full-time, focusing on myself fell even further to the wayside and I knew this could not continue. In January of this year, I refocused on taking care of myself and not neglecting my own needs. One of the hardest parts about getting back on the health bandwagon was the elimination diet. The diet I had done before and seen success with was SO LIMITED and miserable. I just... couldn't find the drive within me to pull that off again. When I would try, I ended up just not eating and that wasn't helping anything either.

In May, my doc posted a link to an online summit on Healing Hashimoto's, sponsored by Hashimoto's Awareness. (I don't know why I never thought to look for online groups/support for my disease, but I hadn't.) During the summit I watched a lot of the speakers and for the first time educated myself on my disease. In the past, I had always just... taken my doctor's word for it without really digging in and understanding it for myself. These sessions taught me to take "the d word" seriously and realize that even when I don't see a ton of outward symptoms, this disease, the environment I am in, and the foods I eat are affecting me and my future - everyday, all day. I realized this wasn't something I could continue to take so lightheartedly if I really wanted to live a long, healthy life with my family.

Through this online event I discovered two people who have become invaluable resources to me - Sarah Ballantyne and Mickey Trescott. They talked about nutrition and the auto-immune protocol diet (AIP) that helps people find healing from auto-immune disease. I immediately bought both of their cookbooks (The Healing Kitchen and The Auto-immune Paleo Protocol Cookbook) and started experimenting.
To take on this lifestyle you really have to embrace food as fuel/medicine for your body. Although some would consider the diet very limiting, for me it isn't. There are many incredibly flavorful and beautiful dishes I can have and so far, Zach and I both have really enjoyed everything. All the recipes have been quite satisfying. This is first time I have gone completely grain-free as well as eliminating dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes, and nightshades. Eating this way is also teaching me about batch cooking so I'm making things in advance and trying not spending all my free time in the kitchen.

Although I am just a few weeks into it, I am feeling good about it and the possibility of this being sustainable for me longterm. Will I never have another H&F cheeseburger or bowl of Tonight Dough ice cream? Of course I will. There is a balance you have to establish between being healthy/pursuing health and being able to just enjoy life with those you love. For me, I just need to limit the indulging to very significant occasions and not make excuses for a cookie here or a piece of pizza there- even if they are gluten free!

Besides some initial detoxing symptoms in the first week, I have physically felt pretty good and have not experienced any intense cravings or even felt pressure to cheat. I feel less tired, am rarely hungry, never hangry, no bloating/upset stomach, and generally feel very satisfied in my gut.  I will say that one of the biggest challenges with this plan is the preparation. It is so time consuming! Every meal is homemade so there's no swinging through Chick-fil-a or picking up Chipotle, the latter of which is pretty devastating to me. Ha! Eating out is challenging and I don't often attempt it, but it has worked out fine the two times I needed to. Cooking this way- especially for a family, takes a lot of strategy, organization, and prep work, but I think it's worth it. Although Zach and Allie are not expected to abide by this meal plan 100%, I am glad they have access to healthier choices and will be benefiting from the healthy meals I make.

In addition to changing the way I eat I have also changed the way I cook. I finally took the plunge and replaced all my pots and pans with safer options such as cast iron and ceramic. You know you are a total freak when getting a new Lodge cast iron scrub brush in the mail makes your day. Ha!
I also threw out all my plastic food storage containers (because they are unsafe and also the bane of my existence!) and replaced them with glass. Really, the only additional kitchen item I needed to make some of these recipes work was a new blender and thanks to my BFF Amazon Prime, I got one in no time. :)

As for availability of recipe ingredients, a few items have been rather hard to come by, the most difficult being white sweet potatoes (Japanese sweet potatoes) and plantains in very specific phases of development - green, yellow with no spots, etc. I have found that Asian groceries usually have these ingredients.  Most of the pantry items - coconut flour, arrowroot starch, coconut aminos, cooking fats, etc. can be found at either Trader Joes, Sprouts, or WholeFoods. When it comes to AIP baking, there are very few ingredients, but they are all somewhat pricey. I also grow my own herbs and that definitely helps off-set some cost as well.
I have tried about 25 new recipes, 95% I ended up liking. Here's a glimpse into some of my favorite dishes so far!

Bacon + date + rosemary crusted salmon. This is SO GOOD. I think it's the best salmon entree I've ever made.
 Nectarine + Prosciutto + basil

 Shrimp + Green Bean Stir-fry (probably my favorite that I could eat all day, everyday)
 Emerald Kale Salad
 Roast Beef Skillet
 Honey Lime Chicken with Strawberry Salad
A bit crumbly, but getting any cookie is an awfully nice treat!
In addition to changing how I eat, I have also incorporated some healthier/cleaner personal care products such as natural deodorant (After half a dozen trys, I FINALLY found one that works!), natural toothpaste, natural skin care/sunscreen/makeup (BeautyCounter brand to compliment my existing Arbonne regime),
and non-toxic nail polish.
My next task is transitioning all my cleaning products to safe, natural ingredients. I just bought this book and nerd alert: I am so excited to get to work cleaning!
If you have questions about the AIP protocol, Hashimoto's or anything noted above, please feel free to reach out. I will do my best to help you and share what I know!