Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Year of Better: Recap

Happy 2018! 
Remember when we all flocked to see JFK in the theaters and at the conclusion of the film there was a note that the records relating to Kennedy's assassination would be released in 2020? And remember how that seemed like a lifetime away? Well, it's not. It's just down the block and around the corner. (I'm suddenly alerted to the fact of how much I use emojis in my daily communication as I'm overcome with the urge to insert a wide-eyed face here.)

I began 2017 with a house full of head colds and a commitment to better choices. I had 6 goals and here's how they played out over the year:

1. To eat a more Whole 30-based diet and eliminate fast food.
On the whole (Ha! See what I did there?), I stuck to this plan. We certainly had a couple of meals at Chick Fil A (although it's a solid 30 miles from the house so it was more a meal of convenience since we were in the area anyway), but fast food was reduced to once about every 8-12 weeks and I cooked 5-6 nights per week (although it was only about 60% Whole 30). I wish I had some stand-out meals to post here, but I don't. The meals were all good with only a few burning disappointments that had to be trashed immediately (apparently, you can't use long grain brown rice in one pot meals and expect it to cook all the way through before everything else turns to mush). After some blood work last October came back with indications of inflammation in my body, I will be doubling down on the vegetable intake this year. So, I'll try to be better about sharing some easy and divine vegetable recipes. If Blue inhales it without a single complaint, it will be blogworthy.

2. Buy organic as often as possible.
I'm not gonna lie...local grocery stores make this practically impossible. Either 2 stalks of broccoli cost the same as my new running shoes or they just don't keep it well-stocked. However, in this part of Pennsylvania, we have options.

I discovered several farmer's markets over the summer, including the Lancaster Central Market (if you are in the area and it's open, GO. It's the oldest continuously operating farmer's market in the country and it's one of the few intersections of Amish and English agriculture).

And for the first 6 months, I shopped at Oregon Dairy, which is a working dairy farm with attached grocery store, petting zoo, restaurant, playground and ice cream shop.

Although it's 45 minutes from the house, Blue was still home with me 2 days each week so we made this our day's adventure. Grocery first, then playground, followed up by ice cream. I miss that routine. My muffin top does not. Alas, Blue started full-time school in the fall and I was less tempted to drive 90 minutes for pig petting and ice cream.

Eventually, I found one that's closer to home and is open year-round. They are only open Thursday - Saturday so that requires some flexibility on my end. I now do my menu and grocery shopping on Thursdays and that has to last until the following Thursday. There are some items the farmer's market just doesn't carry, though (and there is an argument to be made that perhaps we don't need it after all, but cats need litter and the males in this house will mutiny if we run out of goldfish crackers). But I would say 80% of our groceries come from the farmer's market, which is mostly organic.

3. Purchase meat from our local Mennonite market.
I've managed to stick to this, even though it means a third stop just for groceries. (And because I'm completely addicted to Bell & Evans chicken, which I can only find at their retail store on the other side of town, sometimes a fourth stop.) But the beef is grass-fed, the chickens are free range, you can ask the meat counter to fresh cut anything you want and they are incredibly helpful when it comes to preparing the meat. That has allowed me to venture into cuts of beef that I wouldn't ordinarily try because I would end up ruining it. Bell & Evans air chills their chicken, which means there's no gross plastic pack of who knows what in the package under the chicken. I didn't know I was so disgusted by that little squishy gel pack and it will be very hard to go back.

4. Eliminate the toxic cleaners from our house.
YES!!!! This was my first task last January and I've slowly eliminated every single toxic cleaner we used and replaced them with safe and, just as importantly, effective household cleaners. I now make my own dishwasher tabs (linked to the recipe), clothing detergent (recipe coming), kitchen and bath cleaners (mainly Young Living's Thieves Cleaner, vinegar, baking soda, Epsom salt and Super Washing Soda).
Thieves (it's concentrated so it needs to be diluted with water and dilution depends on what you're cleaning) + baking soda cleans almost everything. The Thieves cleaner needs to sit on the surface for a minute so it can start working but I haven't found anything that it can't tackle. And if you are unsure about using it on extra germy areas like kitchen counters after cooking chicken or on the toilets, there are several Youtube videos out there where more ambitious moms than me have conducted a cotton swab test in a petri dish and compared it to bleach or other more traditional cleaners. Thieves wins. Every single time. I bought this bottle in February and I'm almost out. That's a testament to how little it takes (unfortunately, it's also a testament to how infrequently I clean my bathrooms, but that's a resolution for a different year). It takes about 30 minutes for me to make a batch of dishwasher tabs and clothing detergent (because somehow I always run out at the same time) and the most time-intensive part of the entire process is pressing the dishwasher mix into the ice cube trays and allowing the clothing detergent to cool completely before mixing it one last time.

We've also substituted our bath soap with Dr. Bronner's (which I hadn't heard of until Blue got the worst case of cradle cap when he was about 3 months old and some crunchy mama blog said to wash it with Dr. Bronner's. It worked like a charm, but I deemed it unworthy of anything else and threw the remainder in the trash. I still weep for my past self over that). In addition to the whimsical and wordy packaging (that is worth the read if you ever find yourself on the toilet without your phone), Dr. Bronner's is a 0 on the Think Dirty app and comes in at least 6 different scents (including one that is scent-less for babies and is actually a 1 on Think Dirty, ironically enough).

For mopping, I use a capful of Thieves, about a gallon of hot water and the juice of one lemon. To clean my furniture, I use a mix of olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. I've been doing both of these things for a year and the non-toxic cleaners actually work better than the toxic ones. To clean my microwave, I have an Angry Mama, which is completely unnecessary but so fun to watch that sometimes I clean my already-clean microwave just to watch her little bobbing, steaming head go round and round.

I will say that this is the biggest change I've made this year that has made the biggest difference for me. My house is clean and without the use of toxic chemicals. I continue to find new recipes and ideas for expanding on this goal. I will still post my clothing detergent recipe, but I wanted to use it for a year before sharing it with you. And I will share other finds after I test them for myself.

5. Spend at least 30 minutes outside everyday.
Apparently, I only like to be outside if there is some task to be completed. I only stuck to this when the weeds threatened to return the playground to its naturally forested state and I spent 6 weeks weeding by hand (because Round Up doesn't comply with goal #4) while Blue played. This is one goal where I fell woefully short and I need to re-focus on for 2018. I have a neighbor who is outside almost any time I drive by and she's my inspiration. She and her kids can be found tossing the football, drawing with chalk on the driveway, playing basketball and swinging on their playground. And her kids never complain about how hard it is to ride a bike, catch a ball or swing themselves...unlike Blue who can't be bothered to do any of these things. Clearly some shiz needs to change around here. 

6. Incorporate essential oils into our daily routines. 
At the end of January I received my Premium Starter Kit and a diffuser from Young Living Essential Oils. I had an oily friend (who I now lovingly refer to as my oil guru) on speed text and a hope that the oils would prove to be worth it. I started by diffusing Lavender and Cedarwood to help us sleep. That worked. I used Panaway on my cramps. That worked. I used Peppermint and Lemon and Lavender on my headaches. That worked.

One morning last March, I fell to the ground, doubled over in pain from an ovarian cyst. After a series of exams, ultrasounds and a frightening phone call from my doctor that it might be cancer, it was determined that it was just an unusually large cyst that would resolve on its own. I texted my oil guru. I went off the birth control that wasn't doing its job anyway (because it was intended to control my cysts, not control birth). I started on Progessence Plus and Endoflex and Clary Sage. I'm religious about my use and I haven't had a painful cyst since. I also don't have the extreme mood swings that I had on birth control or the debilitating cramps during my period and I lost about 5 pounds right off the bat. Maybe it's all in my head, but maybe it's not.

On the last Monday of July, Blue took a nose dive out of the RV window and onto the pavement below. He was diagnosed with an orbital skull fracture, which left him with a ping pong ball-sized lump on his forehead and took about 10 years off my life. I called my oil guru. I went into August armed with a rollerball of Helichrysum, Frankincense and Cypress, and a tub of rose ointment. By the beginning of September, the team of physicians concluded that he had healed beyond what they expected. Part of that is the oils. Part of it is God - that he didn't land in a different way that would have resulted in a worse injury. It was bad, but it didn't turn out to be life-threatening. And I was ready with oils that would support his muscular and nervous systems so his body could heal faster.

There is a lot of debate about Young Living vs. DoTerra vs. Plant Therapy vs. whatever you buy at Whole Foods or on Amazon. And maybe I'll write a separate post about that someday and maybe I won't. What I can say now is that you have to do your own research, as in-depth as you deem necessary. Read, ask questions, talk to people. There are concerns that Young Living's price point has more to do with its direct sales structure than with the quality of oils. There are people who are morally opposed to DoTerra because it was created by a couple of guys who started at Young Living and then used all they learned to create a competing company. And there are people who quit the others because the oils were topped with fillers that reduced the effectiveness, making them essentially useless. There are pros and cons to all corporations, especially in the essential oil industry, and as informed consumers, the best we can do is research it and then decide what we can accept and what's a deal-breaker.

I have decided to be more open this year about ways we are using essential oils to not only prevent illness but actually promote health. When I read through my post from last January, I clearly detect a tone of exhaustion that stems from being sick of being sick. Although I ended 2017 with a stomach bug, it was mild and quick-to-pass. I attribute that to consistent use of high-quality oils that promote health.

The Year of Better was like a wheel turning, with so many spokes pointing inward toward one common goal: to be a better version of myself (and to bring my family along for the ride). Although I accomplished most of the tasks I set forth last year (and even completed some I hadn't originally included like checking my metabolic blood work and starting Weight Watchers), I spent a lot of money doing it. And some of it was necessary but much of it was simply convenient.

That leads me to 2018's project: The Year of Living More With Less. Less shopping, less food, less money, less unjustified worry, less meat, less social media, less preoccupation with my phone, less TV, less stuff, less mindless distractions, less excuses, less procrastination. I don't have my goals set yet, but I'm working on them. It's going to be a hectic year with another move imminent. A new house, new city, new school, new doctors and dentists, new friends, new, new, new. And that's when I tend to accumulate more, more, more. So, this is certainly a timely challenge. 3 down, 362 to go...


  1. Amen, Great Job, and Thank you!!! :-)

  2. I hope that "less" does not include wine, 'cause someday ... when we've both had enough wine ... i'll tell you our Dr. Bonner's story. Am also going to send you a book... as soon as i finish reading it.

    Really do love the picture of the three of you. THanks so much for sending it.


That's it, let it all out....