Make Over Your Mornings: Before Bed Ritual

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Photo Credit: sucess.com

Making the most of your mornings starts the night before.  I recently shared this on my facebook page after I had just finalized my morning prep before going to sleep.

First of all, we need to know why it’s important to make the most of our mornings.

In “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”, Laura Vanderkam explains that mornings kick-start the rest of our day. How we spend our mornings usually set us up for great productivity during our day, or a poor use of time and resources. If we roll out of bed after hitting the snooze button ten times, trudge into the kitchen to find it’s a mess from the night before, and then glance at the clock, realizing we only have 30 minutes before we have to be clocked in at the office…. chances are we are starting the day off hurried, frazzled, and without a clear direction.

But, if we make the most of our mornings, we can use that time to do the things that energize us, invigorate us, and help us have a positive attitude before we begin to interact with the rest of the world.

But before we get into how to make the most of our mornings, we need to realize that it starts before we even wake up.

I suppose I always knew this, but I really started putting into practice when I took Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Mornings e-course last summer. I learned a lot of valuable tools from this 14-day course, but this one lesson was a game-changer.

I began using a “before bed ritual” as a way to mentally envision a productive morning, foreseeing little preparations that could set me up for success when my feet hit the floor in the am.

Here is my Before Bed Ritual that helps me have a successful morning:

Turn off phone. Studies have shown that screen time right before bed can keep you up longer, causing you to sleep in longer than intended when that alarm clock goes off the next morning. For me, this is the case. I actually keep my phone in another room entirely and use a traditional alarm clock near my bed so I am not tempted to surf the web while lying in bed.

Tidy the house, do the dishes, and wipe down counters. It stresses me out to wake up to a mess in the kitchen, and it makes it harder for me to prep my coffee and breakfast when the sink is full of dirty dishes. Having a clean kitchen, and even prepping the coffee before bed helps my mornings go smoothly the next day.

Brush teeth, wash face, and wipe down sink in bathroom. Multitasking is great in this area! While I’m in the bathroom getting ready for bed, I can swish some mouthwash and wipe down the sink/toilet/counter so it’s clean for tomorrow. This helps me maintain a semi-clean bathroom for a majority of the time, even when I don’t deep-clean.

Lay out clothes appropriate for the first task of the morning. Depending on the day, I am doing different things during the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes it’s jumping to work right after my quiet time. Other times is going out for a run or heading to the gym. Depending on my task at hand, I’ll set out nice clothes that will help me get into work mode, outdoor gear if I’m braving the weather outside for a jog, or some gym attire if I’m heading there. I prefer this to just getting up and starting the day in my pajamas. I find I am much more productive if I dress for the occasion, and picking out clothes the night before saves me time and helps me avoid making a decision when I’m not yet fully awake. If you find yourself having issues picking out your clothes even the night before, you wardrobe might be too expansive. Here’s some inspiration to practice minimalism in this area of your life!

Look over or make the next day’s to-do list. Most of the time the list is already written in my planner, but going over it before bed helps me anticipate the next day and get excited to accomplish my goals. Also, I can sleep better because I know when everything will get done; I don’t have to fret about when I’ll have time for such and such. I already know.

If I have time, read before hitting the lights. This is usually something enjoyable; it’s not usually the time for a heady informative book. Just some light reading to relax my brain and get ready for sleep. Here’s the book I’m currently reading: a classic minimalist choice!

The times of all of these little rituals change and shift based on when I need to get up in the morning and what time I get home from work or an evening event. But this is the general order I usually do things in so that I can be set up for a successful morning.

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Photo Credit: mintful.com

Now it’s your turn! What things do you need to do in order to have a stress-free and productive morning?  

Here are some points and questions to consider:

1.) This is the most important: Make sure to schedule in enough sleep. You can’t have a successful morning if you are falling asleep in your cereal. Personally, I like to get 8 hours of sleep; this doesn’t always happen, but it’s what I shoot for. If you have a fitbit or another activity monitor, you can track the quality your sleep. But over all, you need to go to bed on time.

2.) What stresses you out in the morning? For me, it’s a sink full of dirty dishes or a filthy bathroom mirror. For you it might be your pet’s feeding, or laundry on the bedroom floor. Whatever it is, try to incoorperate getting rid of these stressors before bed so you don’t have to deal with them in the morning.

3.) What can you do before bed so that you can save time in the morning for something more enjoyable? If you hate preparing breakfast, set up the crockpot with apple cinnamon oatmeal the night before, or make a batch of freezable breakfast burritos and take one out to thaw overnight. If things would go smoothly once you knew what you were going to wear, then pick out your clothes ahead of time like I do. You can even do this for the entire week, setting up outfits on hangers in your closet complete with accessories and shoes! I used to do this when I was a teacher and it saved me so much time in the mornings. You can use this time for something more enjoyable, which brings us to out next point of consideration…

4.) Think about what would make you want to get up in the morning.  I start each of my mornings off with a devotional and prayer time with God. I have a chair in my dining room already prepped with my bible, prayer list, and gratitude journal so I can go right to it as soon as I wake up. But what about you? If you love reading, spend some time in the morning reading something you enjoy. If you love running, then hop on the treadmill first thing in the am. If you like to bake, wake up early and bake something yummy for breakfast. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes, at least you will have made time for something you love and started out your day on a positive note.

Make preparations so that it is easy to go right to this activity, and get rid of any distractions that might take it’s place. For instance, if you want to spend time reading God’s word in the morning, but the kitchen is a mess, you might be tempted to start right in on cleaning it rather than beginning your day in prayer and study. This change of order might totally change the course of your day and your attitude. Do something that is live-giving first thing, and guard that time! It will make you get up out of that bed and be ready to give your best to the rest of the day! 

What are some of the things you can do before bed to make sure you have an amazing morning? I’d love to hear your ideas and input!

 

 

 

 

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DIY: Essential Oil Hand Sanitizer

The Need for Sanitation

This time of year is full of sneezing, couching, tummy aches, and germs. Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s the holiday rush that puts us in a no-sleep tizzy, maybe it’s the shopping and baking and eating of other’s people’s cooking, or perhaps it’s that we’re all spending way more time with our germy little nieces and nephews and cousins.

As a former public school teacher, hand sanitizer was almost always sitting atop my desk. However, I had a love-hate relationship with this germ fighting, often offensively scented gel. Commercial hand sanitizers are often so chemically-scented that I don’t always want it on my hands all day, and I also worried about the safety of these commercial formulas for myself and for my students.

I thought I had found the solution when I got a number of those pocketbac from Bath and Body Works. You know, the ones you can hook on to your key chains and advertise alluring scents?

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Yes, these lovely things.

But then I looked on the ingredients list.

Among some harmless and even some natural ingredients were some that raised some alarm, including Propylene Glycol, Coloring ingredients, and a controversial item labeled only as “Fragrance“.

Not only that, but I did not appreciate the overly pungent mell of these things– it was like putting on another perfume just on my hands–(Sorry B&B!) and so I began searching for a way to clean my hands, smell nice, and be as germ-free as possible while on the go.

 Enter Essential Oils

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I’ve been reading about the benefits of Essential Oils on various blogs and websites, and I was very interested in trying it out. It seemed like a natural way to prevent illness, treat skin conditions, aid in mood swings, and promote overall wellness.

Well, I received a starter pack of oils for Christmas, and soon after the hustle and bustle of the holidays was through, I got sick. After the first signs of a cold, I rubbed some DoTerra “breathe” and “on guard” into my skin and headed out for a NYE concert at my church.

In the middle of the alto sax solo, I pulled out some tissue to blow my nose, and naturally reached for my pocketbac of hand sanitizer to clean up with. The “Sugar Plum” scent was nauseatingly sweet after the fresh eucalyptus and cinnamon of the oils.

I knew there had to be a better way.

DIY Hand Sanitizer with Essential Oils

  • 5-10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5-10  drops tea tree or melaleuca  essential oil
  • 5-10 drops DoTerra On Guard essential oil blend (you can also use other germ-fighting oils like lemon or peppermint oil)
  • 2 Tablespoons witch hazel (Here’s where to get it)
  • 8 ounces 100% pure aloe vera gel (Here’s where to get it)
  • ¼ teaspoon Vitamin E Oil– a natural preservative to increase shelf life and help to soften hands (I didn’t use this for my initial mixture, but I plan on using it for next time).

Mix all ingredients together in a glass bowl with a whisk. Use eye dropper or funnel to pour into empty pocketbac containers, or larger pump containers for easy use.

The result is a completely natural and powerful hand sanitizer that keeps you clean and not smelling like a barbie doll. The powerful agents of lavender oil releases a calming effect while the tea tree oil cleanses your hands along with the witch hazel. The Aloe Vera Gel keeps it together and nourishes your hands and the On Guard oil blend helps prevent germs from getting in your way.

And a bonus: it smells amazing, but isn’t so strong that it will take over your perfume.

Note: If you’ve been reading recent reports about how unhealthy the use of hand sanitizers can be, keep in mind that the danger exists in the chemicals used in commercial sanitizers. This hand sanitizer recipe does not use any of those harmful chemicals, and relies on pure essential oils to kill germs. Essential oils do not cause bacterial resistance like antibacterial chemicals do, and are actually effective in killing strains of bacteria that have become resistant to man-made medicines and chemicals. (source)

Sometimes it’s good to allow our bodies to encounter germs and strengthen our immune systems, but sometimes it’s nice to have a hand sanitizer available for emergencies. (Think nasty gas station bathroom or your kid having a sneeze-fest.)  In these cases, this gentle homemade formula is one of the best alternatives to a commercial hand sanitizer.

One Word 2016

My-One-Word-300x180“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

Rock4And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!

The Most Colorful and Texturized Salad You Will Ever Eat

IMG_6567I just made this amazingly tasty and healthy salad and I wanted to share.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Handful of leafy greens- I used Organic Girl’s 50/50 from Mariano’s

1/4 of a cucumber sliced into quarters

6-8 slices of carrots

1/6 of a raw red beet, sliced into thin sticks

2 eggs boiled and sliced- I used some from my cousin Annie’s chickens at Corben Acres!

6 raw green beans cut into smaller pieces

1/4 cup of tabouli salad with tomatoes (here’s the brand I used)

1/8 cup heated coconut oil

A few shakes of himalayan pink salt and a few shakes of black pepper

A dash or two of cayenne pepper

Here’s what you’ll do:

Mix or layer all ingredients save the coconut oil and spices into a large bowl, then shake and dash the salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper on top, and drizzle with the coconut oil.

Wha-la! Enjoy your crunchy and deliciously healthy salad!

 

The Overachiever to the Complete Failure

measure successMeasuring Success isn’s easy, but I’m going to try my best to evaluate month to month by setting goals and evaluating my progress. If you missed out on my November goals, here’s the post. (They are also each listed below).

1.) Complete the 10 Hanger Project by only wearing clothes from a very limited wardrobe for the entire month.

Achieved. I think from my previous posts and one I’ll post this weekend, you can tell I’ve done fairly well with this particular goal. I wore only 10 items of clothing (not counting workout clothes) for the entire month of November. You can read about it here, here, and here.

2.) Be able to do a headstand without a spotter, and a handstand with a spotter by practicing with the #GrowWithTheFloat Yoga Challenge.

Complete Failure. I did not keep up with this challenge at all (on my Instagram account, you can see I only got up to day 6 or something). I didn’t make the time to practice and I think I may have been a little over-ambitious with estimating how quickly it would take me to master inversions. It’s still on my to-do list, but probably not for a monthly goal.

3.) Build upper body strength, hip and spine flexibility, and balance by completing the #BuildYourBird Yoga Challenge.

Complete Failure. I didn’t even do this challenge. Probably because I got discouraged by the first yoga challenge/failure.

4.) Come up with a meal planning system involving freezer cooking, using my crock pot, and strategic budgeting to save time and money in the kitchen.

Overachiever. I was able to do this very well. In October I took the Homemaking Ministries E-Conference and got lots of ideas for how to meal plan and prepare time-consuming dinners ahead of time in order to save time and make things last. I also was able to use this awesome planner to help me in menu planning and grocery shopping more efficiently. The reason I say “OVERachiever” is because I still have muffins, an entire meat loaf, half a lasagna, and a loaf of zuchinni bread in the freezer to have for this month!

5.) Stick to our family’s monthly budget by being wise in spending and planning ahead.

Sort of Achieved. I did go over in some areas due to poor planning on my part (I didn’t plan for entertaining and for Thanksgiving at the end of the month and so I wasn’t sucessful at keeping our grocery budget). But I didn’t spend any money on clothes and I only spent $10 at Starbucks– HUGE victories for this wannabe minimalist/ coffee addict.

6.) Perform a self-choreographed praise dance for my church family.

Achieved. I posted it on my facebook page; you can view it here.

7.) Complete the P90X3 program that I started at the beginning of the fall.

Achieved. This was a beast to get through (90 days is a long time!) but I’m very pleased with my results. I’m at my ideal weight, I can see way more definition in my upper body (something I was lacking before the program), my legs are even more defined, and I lost another inch around my waist. I was a little nervous that I’d loose my running endurance from doing just this program, but I ran 4 miles this morning without any trouble at all. I think Tony did a pretty good job of sneaking in cardio in new ways for this runner! P90X3 is a great at-home workout program if you’re interested in more muscular development and improved agility and strength.

8.) Finalize my bedtime and wakeup routine so that I can make the most of my mornings and get enough sleep.

In Progress… Working evenings as a fitness instructor makes me super wound up at night and I’m having a hard time going to bed at a decent hour. This will probably be an ongoing and developing goal until I figure out what this new routine should look like for this season of life.

9.) Complete my Cycle Certification with FitTour.

Overachiever. Not only did I get my Cycle Certification, but I also got my Advanced Yoga Certification. Maybe that makes up for not doing the yoga challenges?

10.) Find a local CSA to order from to save time and money, and also to be more supportive of local farmers and find ways to make seasonal and healthful cooking a priority for our family.

In Progress… I did find a great place to buy organic meat in bulk, but I am still in search of a CSA for other produce. If you have any suggestions that would work for a Chicagoain, I would apprecaite your comments. BTW, the place I found is called Zaycon Fresh (referral link). They have a particularly amazing deal on organic chicken breast that I plan on taking advantage of very soon!

Well folks, that’s how I did this past month on my goals. I’ll be posting my December goals early next week once I finalize them.

Feel free to share your goals in the comments below— we can all keep one another accountable that way!

The 10 Hanger Project Week Two: On Feelings, Re-Decorating, and Post-It Notes

There are only 2 more weeks left of November. Can you believe it? Who’s ready for Christmas? *raises hand*

I start with this fact because that means I am at the halfway point of my 10 Hanger Project. I originally had set out to go an entire month with only 10 hangers in my closet (and 7 workout items in my dresser). You can read about why I chose to do that here.

Last week I shared with you some of the things I have been learning during the first week of the project as well as some tips for whittling down your wardrobe.

Today I want to talk a little bit about how I’m feeling at this halfway point, and I can probably just sum it up in one word:

(You ready for this? Okay here it is…)

free

giveupSeriously y’all, I have never felt so free!

Free from the love of clothes, free from the countless combinations of what to wear, free from the worry of what others think of my clothes, free from the burden of choices in the morning…

To be honest, I am little anxious for December to come because I know I’ll have to take all of my clothes out of storage and…well, deal with them.

But really, this whole process has been really amazing because it simplifies my life so much.

This past weekend I was thinking about what I could do to encourage my future-self to donate a lot of the clothes I still have in storage. I want to hang on to this simplified kind of style, but I still would like to not have to do laundry multiple times a week. So I came up with a plan:

1.) I got 33 nice wooden hangers super cheap on amazon. (See why I chose 33 here).

2.) I rearranged my entire house (it’s small–don’t be too impressed) so that I no longer have my own dresser anymore, which significantly limits my drawer space.

3.) Posted-noted Hebrews 13:5-6* and 1 Timothy 2:9-11* all over my house (think War Room), and decided to practice the spiritual discipline of memorizing these verses of scripture to remind me to be content, self-controlled, free from the love of possessions, and acquiring an inward adornment rather than an outward one.

*Note: I used a combination of translations with the phrasing that spoke to me the most. Bible scholars, don’t hate– this is what works for me.

That last step is particularly important. I know all scripture to be God-inspired and profitable, and His word tells me that it will never return to Him void— so I know that His Word WILL have an effect on me. I am counting on it to transform my mind so that I do not fall back into the patterns of this world. These scriptures are also applicable to other areas in my life in which I need encouragement, but we’ll stick to the subject at hand for now.

The first two steps will be very helpful as well because they significantly limit the amount of space I have for clothing.

I won’t be able to just put the clothes back exactly where they hung or were folded up before– I’ll have to be choosey about which ones to keep and which ones to give away.

I plan on documenting all of this process when it happens in December, but I have to tell you, I am not exactly looking forward to it. I think it might overwhelm me to see so many clothes that I literally do not need. These two weeks have proven this fact– I do not need them!

things I actually need

I’m half tempted to just dump the entire lot of them and stick to these 10 hangers forever, but I don’t think these clothes I have now will work for when the seasons change or when someone gets married or if I can’t do laundry one week.

Still, I am hoping and praying that these last few weeks of the 10 Hanger Project will motivate me to maintain this detachment to clothes and simplistic approach to my wardrobe.

That is, after all, what this blog is mainly about— simplicity– minimalism– at least wannabe minimalism right?

Thanks again for walking with me through this journey. It’s pretty amazing what one random idea in the middle of the night will turn into over a month-long process.

On Pouring Into Others: a privileged girl and a dying man

refill

This sign hangs in my little make-shift office that is in reality just a corner of my dining room blocked off by bookcases and a paneled screen.

I often look at this sign as a reminder that I need to take care of myself SO that I can take care of others. “Put on your own oxygen mask first”. But today I am wondering to myself if I use this as a justifier.

How do we know if we are really pouring into others? 

I get up at around 5:45am and have my quiet time with God. I eat some zucchini bread with some coffee while reading and journaling out my prayers. I do my p90X workout at 7am, then clean the kitchen until about 8, then work on some marketing projects for our family business. Around 9:30 I step out of my little oasis, my safe-haven of a home, and rush off to the Kroc Center to teach my weekly PiYo class.

On the way I see people. I see a man sleeping on the sidewalk near a gas station, a tarp covering him. I see women walking with their children all bundled up, trying to catch the bus on this blustery cold day. I see men with cardboard signs making their way to the busy intersections near the highway, trying to gain the sympathy of passer-bys.

I teach the class to about 8 participants and we have a great workout and prayer time after; specific prayer is requested for our neighborhoods that are riddled with gang violence. After that, I drive home, get out of the car, and I see my neighbor. I yell his name and he immediately turns directions to come towards me.

(I’ll call him Leo, but it’s not his real name.) Leo lives in a little house across the street from me– lived there for a long time. Leo is about 45 years old, but he looks over 60. Leo is dying of lung cancer.

He’s completely drunk, as usual, but I stand with him by the curb and listen to him talk for a good half hour, making sure he’s not in the street when cars drive by. I don’t really know what to say or how to help him and it makes me feel helpless.

His mind wanders, and he keeps talking, but I’m not sure about what. The alcohol is making him slurr his words and the man has only a few teeth left, so it’s hard to understand him. I recognize the hurt in his voice. I have no idea what he’s going through right now– to know that he’s dying and to know that he could have prevented it–but I can imagine.

I can imagine and it brings tears to my eyes. He tells me they will take him to the hospital soon, but until then he keeps staying with friends and family because he doesn’t want to stop breathing in his sleep and lay alone in his house until someone finds him. He wants to be found by friends. This is where I start to cry.

He reflects on his children. His wife. He hopes he can kiss her again in heaven. He tells me in one breath that he is so angry at himself for doing this to himself, and then in the next that he has no regrets and that he’s happier than he could hope to be.

He smells like cigarettes and liquor, and I wonder if he will remember this conversation. I hope he will remember the hug, the warm smile in the bitter cold wind, the patience with which I try to listen to him. I hope… I wish he would surrender this habit of cigarettes and booze. I wish he would try to live out the rest of his short life in sober consciousness, with intentionality and dignity. I wish he knew something other than drunkenness and a chemical high.

I wish I could encourage him to change now, to let him know that it’s never too late… but… it is too late, isn’t it? He’s going to die. Soon. What would I do? Would I change? If there no hope for a future improved by my choices? Would I even try?

I suddenly want to leave, and I feel so guilty for it. But it’s cold and my ears are starting to go numb, and I really can’t understand a lot of what Leo is saying. Still, I listen intently. This conversation is making me so sad and I can’t do anything about it. But he seems comforted just talking to me, so I stay and I listen, and I pray…

Lord, please give me the words you would have me speak.

Nothing.

Lord, please show me what I should do.

Nothing.

Lord, work through me so that I can help this man.

Nothing.

What the heck? God, why can’t you use me here? I’m right with him! I can do something, can’t I?

But God didn’t have anything else for me to do. There was nothing of myself that I could pour into Leo. There was nothing I could change in him. There was nothing I could say to make it better. My cup, regardless of whether it was full or not, was seemingly not pouring into any of the people around me who seemed so desperately to need filling.

And even now I ask myself, why? Why couldn’t I have helped? Why couldn’t I have done something?

I think the answer is a little more simpler than I usually like: I am incapable.

I don’t really know if Leo simply needed someone to talk to, or if there was something that he needed to hear in that moment. All I know is that I didn’t do any “pouring into”. All I did was listen to him speak, simultaneously listening to the quiet sound of my heart breaking.

I go inside my warm home with quaint decor and a clean kitchen, with two cats sleeping on the chairs and reminders to “do all things with love” on the walls. I feel utterly guilty for having what I have, living how I live, and owning what I own.

I only hate my own privilege when I can’t seem to use it to help someone who doesn’t have it.

My cup– if we’re going with this whole metaphor thing still– feels completely drained dry after my interaction with Leo. I’m emotionally exhausted, guilt-stricken, and heartbroken for my neighbor, and for this community at large.

“It is not selfish to refill your own cup so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”

But to refill my cup would, in fact, seem selfish–like a luxury. In fact, most of what I did today– the quiet time, breakfast, workout, job, cleaning, and marketing work– it all seems like luxury compared to what I see when I look outside at this dark and hopeless part of the city that I’ve now been calling home for the past 3 years of my life.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first!”

–I’ve been told to do this, but it doesn’t seem right. Not when people are sleeping on sidewalks and sleeping at friend’s houses because they might die in their sleep.

No it doesn’t seem right when there are people in need everywhere and when it’s really hard to know if helping is helping or if helping is hurting… a lot of things seems pointless and stupid when looking at the heartbreak that surrounds me.

This world isn’t fair. I believe that this outrages God more than it could even outrage us.

And I believe that God loves Leo and the homeless man at the gas station and the bundled up mommas and their little sweet babies and the men standing at the intersections with signs. He also loves the drivers who pass them by and the ones who roll down their window to toss them some change. He even loves the helpless white girl who doesn’t know what to say to a dying man.

This world is dark, riddled with guilt, and it’s so sad. But the beautiful thing is that God’s cup never runs dry, and he continues to pour it out in the form of Christ’s blood. It doesn’t always look like I think it should look, at least not on this broken side of eternity.

But it’s like Leo said to me today, “Oh I believe it’s going to be much better after death Miss Claire. I do. I just don’t know what it will hold, and that’s what scares me, but I believe it’s going to be better than this…I do believe that…”

I do too Leo. I believe it will be a time and a place where all of our cups will runneth over.

10 Hanger Project Week One: Baggy Clothes, Fear of Failure, Wardrobe Whittling Tips, and #OOTD

Well, I have officially survived the 10-Hanger Project Week One. If you are unfamiliar with this project, check out my blog post and get all the deets.

I will start by saying that I had to make some minor adjustments to the wardrobe… well, given that it’s only 10 hangers, I guess they would be considered major adjustments, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out now.

See, when I started the project, I chose items I thought I could make great combinations with. The only problem was the timing: I decided to do this right when the seasons were changing, so I chose some items I haven’t worn since last fall.

Well, over the summer I completed the Insanity Max 30 Program with my friend Michelle and we kicked the crap out of it! I lost almost 2 inches around my waist, and I wasn’t even trying to! All I wanted to do was tone up a little and work out with my friend– I had no idea I even HAD 2 inches to loose around the middle! I guess a terrible last year of teaching made me stress-eat and gain some extra pounds that I didn’t realize, or maybe I just toned up more than I thought. Anyway, right after that, I started the P90X 3 program, which I am ALMOST done with (check out my November goals— I’m so close to completing that one!). I haven’t taken measurements, but I’m guessing I lost some flab and toned up with this program as well.

That being said, the skirt and the dress I chose for my 10 Hanger Project did not fit me at all. Check it out:

IMG_6076

***Note to self: try on the clothes before you decide to wear them for 30 days straight.

So, I swapped out and put the baggy clothes in the donation pileIMG_6077.

My new items are on the side ————->

You can see that they are vey similar to the previous ones.

Here are some tips I’ve learned through this process:

1.) Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit. Even if they are just a tad too loose or a tad too tight, you’ll feel uncomfortable every time you wear them, and you should feel great in every item you own.

2.) Do an in-depth closet evaluation at the beginning of each season. This will help you get rid of things that may not work with your style anymore, or things that don’t fit right or have stains, holes, or too much wear. Just because you loved it last fall doesn’t mean it’s salvageable this fall; just because you lived in it last summer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you this summer.

3.) If you have clothes that are very similar, get rid of the ones you like least. There is no use having 5 of the same gray tee shirt or 3 black skirts. Choose the one that is the most flattering, makes you feel the best, or is the most versatile. Donate the rest, especially if they no longer fit (like in my case)!

4.) Don’t be afraid of failure. This isn’t so much a wardrobe tip as it is a life tip. If I was going by my own rules, I would have just stuck it out and worn the clothes that don’t fit me. It honestly made me fearful to share this failure with you because I felt like I was cheating– I didn’t get this project absolutely-positively-perfectly-right.

But the point of this entire 10 Hanger Project is to get rid of my attachment to clothes. There may have been a time when I would have noticed that the dress and the skirt didn’t fit right, but still tried to keep them and make them work because I was attached to them. One of two things would happen: 1.) they would have hung in my closet, never getting worn, or 2.) I would have worn them, and felt awkward and uncomfortable the entire time (I probably would have looked pretty awkward too!).

No, no no. This time, these babies are gettin’ tossed! I failed at picking out the very best 10 items for my project. I failed. It’s okay. Fix it. Be flexible. Move on. Breathe.

And finally, I wanted to share with you some of the outfit combos I came up with this past week (#OOTD):

Not bad right?! See, I don’t need new clothes! In fact, I only need a few. But I’m not going to lie, laundry has been a doozy… Now I know what it feels like to have LITERALLY nothing to wear by the end of the week!

Thanks for tuning in with me as I journey on this minimalist mission this November!

What do you think would be the most challenging thing about whittling your wardrobe down?

Veggie Meatloaf: A Florine Family Kitchen Staple

About three years ago I became an un-vegetarian after seven years with no meat, which is a long story that I’ll save for another time. That being said, I am still in love with veggies and still learning to cook meat in new ways that I haven’t done before.

One of those ways is meatloaf. 

lentil loaf-11I think I have been avoiding this particular dish because it just doesn’t sound good to me…. “meatloaf”. I don’t know, the word itself just sounds kinda gross. I still wish it had a different name. But suffice is to say, it is not gross at all, and indeed is pretty darn tasty– at least my recipe is!  

One of my November goals is to be more aware of healthful choices in the kitchen, and also with saving time and money. So I found this recipe to be helpful because it uses organic products and is packed with veggies (a former Vegetarian’s dream!), and also because I can make it in larger batches and freeze it. When we have like, 17 kids, this will be even more useful, but even with just me and the hubby this method is working great so far! 

Anyway, enough chit-chat! Here is the recipe:

Side note: You can make these into 7 mini loaves, forming the single-serving loaves with your hands, or you can spoon the mixture into a bread loaf pan and make a larger one. I have little mini-loaf pans and I made 3 mini-loafs with this recipe. 1 mini-loaf served 2 people with a fist-sized serving of meat per person (the recommended amount), but it did not leave room for second helpings. I hope this information helps with portions.

You will need:

  • 1 small zucchini (chopped finely)
  • 1of a yellow onion (chopped finely)
  • 1of a red bell pepper (chopped finely)
  • 3 garlic cloves (chopped finely)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • dried thyme to taste
  • dried oregano to taste
  • dried basil to taste
  • coconut oil
  • 1lb organic grass-fed ground beef (you could probably use ground turkey or another kind of meat too)
  • 1egg
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1 (8 ounce) can of organic seasoned tomato or pasta sauce

Steps to Make:

  1. Combine the vegetables and seasonings to taste in a pan and sauté in coconut oil for 10 minutes on medium heat. Allow to cool to room temperature (I put in the fridge to speed things up).
  2. In a large bowl mix ground beef, egg, salt, pepper, 1/2 of the tomato sauce (4oz), and then finally add the room-temperature vegetable mixture.
  3. Pat into 7 small meatloaves on a foil lined backing sheet, or spoon the mixture into a larger bread loaf pan, coating the inside of the pan with foil. Make sure to spray the foil with cooking spray (I have a pump sprayer that I fill with coconut coconut oil for this).
  4. Top each loaf with the remaining tomato sauce.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

And that’s all folks! If you made multiple loaves that you won’t eat yet, or if you doubled the recipe, you can let them cool, then wrap them in foil and places them in freezer bags to save for later. Just make sure you mark and date the bags so you don’t forget about them! This method saves me a lot of time because then all I have to do when preparing dinner is make sure to pull out the meatloaf to defrost. 

I served this meatloaf with baked potatoes and a bitter mixed green salad with kale, red cabbage, spinach, and swiss chard; I sweetened it up with some homemade raspberry vinaigrette, pecans, and some dried cranberries. This salad actually brought out the sweetness of the red pepper in the meatloaf but the bitter greens worked with the buttery baked potato– in short; dinner was on fleek

How I Prepped Dinner:

Sunday night I made the 3 mini-meatloaves. I froze 2 and put the 3rd in the fridge. I like to prep for the week on Sunday night because the weeks get really busy (especially the evenings) and I don’t usually have time to cook a real meal. This is the only way we have good and healthy food for the week!

Monday morning, I placed a few small potatoes in the crockpot lined with foil and set it on low to cook. This takes literally 2 minuets, and I do it while making coffee.

Monday late afternoon/early evening I mixed the green salad (I had already made the vinaigrette last week) in a large bowl and set in the fridge until dinner time. Since I didn’t have to chop anything for the salad, it only took about 3 minutes to do.

When we were about ready to eat, I re-heated the meatloaf, sliced it in two, added the potatoes from the crock pot, sliced and topped with butter, then forked some of the greens on the side of the plate. Wha-La! Bam! Shazam! Donezo. Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 12.51.16 PM

After the initial making of the meatloaf on Sunday night, the Monday night meal itself only took about 10 minutes to prepare. Next week it should be even faster since all I’ll have to do on Sunday is defrost the previously made meatloaf!

And that’s one way I’m working towards my goal to simplify time and money in the kitchen. And since the meatloaf was so healthy and tasty, I think it’ll be a Florine Family Kitchen Staple.

Try it out and see what you think! Let me know how you liked it.