How Does Your Garden Grow? Deliciously!

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The outer edge of the garden is for my herbs, and the inside is full of vegetables! Chewie likes to sniff the herbs, as you can see!

 

Hello, friends! It’s a beautiful summer day here. How is it where you live? I hope it’s as gorgeous as it is here! Because we now have our forever home, I have FINALLY been able to have the vegetable and herb garden of my dreams. We decided to make raised beds so I wouldn’t have to stoop or kneel to weed or pick my veggies and herbs. Now I’m really glad we made that decision. We also decided to make the raised beds out of stone instead of wood, because stone lasts forever, and we knew we would have to replace wooden beds in 3-5 years. I actually had to make the footprint of the garden larger twice while it was being built because I didn’t want to outgrow it too soon. We used organic soil once the stone was in place, and only use organic fertilizers on it as well. We never use pesticides or any chemicals of any sort on it, as there are lots of great natural ways to prevent infestations of bugs.

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This is my tomato section, you can see how tall and luscious they can get with organic fertilizer and soil!

 

Eventually I would like to have a massive garden, and grow veggies and herbs to sell to restaurants who are interested in providing their customers with organic, scrumptious and beautiful vegetables and herbs. For now, though, I am focusing on growing enough for our family. I am writing about this today because I want to encourage you all to grow your own vegetables and herbs. It’s astonishingly easy to do, and requires very little maintenance along the way to deliciousness. I also want to share my recipe for salsa from my home grown tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro.

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The back side of my garden with more herbs on the outside, and the inside has veggies, veggies and more veggies!

 

You don’t have to use stone, or make raised beds. Making a garden is as simple as clearing a spot for it, planting vegetables, adding organic fertilizer, watering every other day, picking weeds (I used to pull weeds every day and because they’re so small and tender they literally pull out in seconds, but now that the plants are so tall and well established they have pushed the weeds out), and enjoying the bounty of your garden. If you live in an apartment or condo (or like us were renting a home), you can grow your vegetables and herbs in pots on your patio.

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Ok, I admit, I already outgrew my raised garden and had to use the edge of the fenced in area to plant my melons, zucchini, and cucumbers.

 

The vegetables I am growing are onions, peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, kale, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, and garlic. The fruit selection is strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes (they are a vegetable!8 different kinds!), blueberries, and watermelon. The herbs are 5 different kinds of basil, 4 different types of oregano, 6 different types of thyme, rosemary, French tarragon, lavender, 3 kinds of mint, curry, and probably a lot more that I can’t recall right now. As you can tell I love herbs!

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Just outside of the fenced in area of our yard, I am growing potatoes and garlic!

 

One of the main advantages to growing your own over buying store bought produce is price. For example, if you buy herbs from the grocery store it can cost anywhere from $3-6, and you can use them for 1-2 meals. Buying potted herbs costs $2.5-4.00, and they can last anywhere from 8 months to indefinitely. I have rosemary and parsley in pots that I brought with me from our old house that are going on 1 1/2 years old now. They wintered inside our house, I took them outside once it got warm enough, and they are flourishing now! That’s a great return on a $4.00 investment!

Another reason for growing your own is that you can control what goes into your food. You can use organic soil, fertilizer and pesticides like I do. For me it is such a relief to know how my food is grown, and what is used in the process. In addition, store bought produce is often picked half-ripe so that it can ripen once it gets to the grocery store, causing it to not grow to its full potential of nutritional value. Home grown produce can be picked at the peak of ripeness, thereby getting the full value of every single vitamin and mineral it contains. It’s also super convenient, instead of driving to the grocery store, you can walk out into your yard, snip off some basil, pick a few tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and you are on your way to a delicious homemade tomato sauce.

So with the bounty I currently have from my garden, I made my yummy salsa the other day. It is so easy to make fresh salsa, but it’s even easier when I can go into my yard to pick the ingredients for it. I will share it with you now!

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Valerie’s Fresh Garden Salsa

  • 4-6 large tomatoes chopped into smallish pieces FullSizeRender (210)
  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped (I used two large green onions) FullSizeRender (212)
  • 2 jalapenos– seeded and insides removed if you don’t like much heat, I put them in intact because we love heat in our salsa! I also used sport peppers (heat index, somewhere between bell pepper and jalapeno) and banana peppers too!FullSizeRender (211)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro FullSizeRender (215)
  • 1/2 cup each extra virgin olive oil and vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

Chop tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro and add to large bowl. FullSizeRender (214)

Add extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the bowl and mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. It tastes really good right away, but it’s even better the longer it sits. So if you make it in advance of the time you want to serve it, and let it sit and chill in the fridge that would taste extra amazing!

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And voila! The finished product! It tastes delicious and it’s so good for you too. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our bodies need to be healthy. It also helps prevent all kinds of diseases like cancer and heart disease. So remember to grow your own herbs and produce, and make yummy things with that home grown produce like my salsa. It will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

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THIS IS 50!

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Hello, my friends! Well, it happened. I turned 50 on Monday. It was strange. As I prepared to turn 50 I started feeling, as my daughter Danielle would say, “Some type of way.” You know, when you feel not quite sad, not quite stressed, but maybe a bit of both? I wasn’t feeling weird about it at all in the days leading up to the big day.

At 11:50 pm on January 31st, 10 minutes before my birthday, I started literally freaking out! I kid you not, my heart started pounding! We had a fabulous day and I wasn’t thinking about it at all, until 11:50 pm. Since my S.O. was already asleep, Jacqueline and Danielle came to my rescue and we texted together as midnight came nearer, and then passed.

And you know what I realized? It was an HONOR to still be alive and raring to go at 50. Sure, I have days where I have some health issues, I still sometimes struggle with my continuing chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, but most days are good and that’s more than many people have. So, I’m counting my blessings today, and I want to share some of my reflections with you.

 

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Church we attended in Mexico!

 

Stay close to your spirit– This is number one for me. I do not feel centered unless I am spending time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, connecting to my higher power. I also need to go to church once a week. I just absolutely have to, and if I don’t I feel terrible about myself. When I do these things, I am peaceful and joyous. Nothing else makes me feel this way.

 

 

Family and Friends– Since I have limited energy because of my ongoing illness, I have to focus my time where it counts the most. For me, that time is joyfully spent with my daughters, my partner, and my dogs. I see the rest of my family when I can, but since I live hours away, that time is unfortunately limited. I see my college roommate when I can for dinner, and other friends too, but my priority is the people who live in my house- especially the ones who no longer live there full time.

 

 

Eat healthily and Exercise– This is key for me to live a life of joy. I so enjoy cooking, using fresh, local, organic foods whenever possible, and going out to eat those kinds of foods as well. I am a definite “foodie” to the core. I try to eat the right kinds of food, as those of you who read my blog well know, and I love to exercise. For me exercise consists of a 30 minute walk with my dogs at least 5 times a week, and a half hour of weights at least 3 times per week. It helps me to feel good inside and out, what’s better than that?!

Do what you love-These days I really enjoy writing my blog, cooking, renovating my forever home, reading, and watching my daughters cheer for my beloved university. This is what I do for fun, and it is so important to have FUN in life. I think fun is what puts a sparkle in my eyes and makes me love my life. What do you love to do? Whatever it is, make sure you’re spending time on a regular basis doing that, no matter what!

 

Get away, whenever you can, wherever you can– My S.O. took me on a Mexican vacation for my 50th birthday and it was so fabulous to escape and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I am a sun and sand girl, and I always have such a sense of peace when I can lay on a beach somewhere. Maybe that’s not your thing, if you like to ski, go and do it. If you like to go to big cities, do that. If money is tight go somewhere local. Even just an overnight at a local hotel can seem like a great getaway and can recharge the batteries.

And there it is, my friends, my way of prioritizing what’s important to me and what brings me joy. We all have our struggles, no matter who we are or how old, but the important thing is to make sure to do the things that bring joy, because it is the QUALITY of life that counts not the quantity. I wanted to share with you what my list is so you can think about your list, and do what brings you joy every day. Joy comes from within us, but is shown on the outside. I like to think my joy shines through. So do what brings you joy no matter what your age because that will help you live a life of vitality- with 50 year old Valerie! 🙂

Adding this to your day could extend your life!

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 Hi friends! Well we’ve had some amazing weather here in the Midwest, it’s been so warm and sunny, great weather for doing more walking. That is the focus of my post today. 

  
Did you know that you can add SEVEN YEARS TO YOUR LIFESPAN BY WALKING FOR 20-25 MINUTES DAILY?!! I had to put that in caps because it is such an incredible fact. 

Now that’s not to say that’s all you need to do, obviously you still need weight training and a healthy diet. If you also add in weight training and interval training to your fitness regime you can add an ADDITIONAL 3-7 YEARS TO YOUR LIFESPAN!

  
 Walking is important for a few different reasons. First, if you’re walking you’re not doing one of the worst things for us and the thing we Americans do far to much of, and that is sitting. Sitting for long periods of time is known to lead to type 2 diabetes, among other diseases. Second, walking helps delay the onset of dementia, serves as an anti-depressant and improves cognitive function. Yep, all that with a simple 20-25 minute walk! 

And if you vary the pace of your walk you can burn 20% more calories than if you walk at a consistent pace. Slowing down and speeding up help to create a varying pace, but stopping and starting are where the most energy is expended in a walk. Another thing that helps is to walk with weights or a backpack to burn more calories. Oh, and walking in a curving route rather than a straight line will also burn more calories. All of these things can be achieved when walking with dogs because if you’ve ever walked a dog you know they slow down, speed up, stop suddenly, and definitely don’t follow a straight line. Also, since I have two dogs and they pull hard despite wearing pronged collars, it takes all of my energy to pull them back so they don’t run into the road and get hit. I’m burning some calories for sure!! Getting a dog has so many advantages, too many to name here, but one of the best ones is that they get me MOVING.

   

So that’s my message for the day for my wonderful readers, get moving and keep moving! If you have a fit bit or a step app on your phone aim for 5,000-7,000 steps per day, but 10,000 is the ultimate goal to reach for. Moving to a new home is a great way to get your steps in because since we moved a week and a half ago I’ve increased my steps to the 10,000 range daily unpacking all the boxes, and it’s great weight training at the same time. Win-win! Keep on walking and you’ll live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 

Do this every day for the BEST health!

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Hello my friends! I hope your fall is going well. I’ve got some good but stressful stuff going on around here. We are moving into our forever home this week and I’m exhausted from all the minutiae of moving. It will all be worth it though when we are safely tucked into our new home but now- whew, it’s crazy!

The old days, awww!

The old days, awww!

So this will be a quick post, but it’s still super important because I’m going to tell you a really easy way to live longer (and happier). Are you ready for this? It’s by giving (and receiving) hugs. This is appropriate for me right now because due to the stress of moving I’ve needed lots of hugs. My mama is on her way to me right now, and I’m sure I will get some good ones once she gets here! My significant other will be relieved that he’s off duty for a while.

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Now, you may say, “Are you serious about this? How can a hug help me live longer?” I’m going to tell you all about it right now. First, when we hug someone for 20 seconds oxytocin, known as the love hormone, is released. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. it is a neuropeptide, which promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding, and lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.

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Also, hormones released in the body after a hug help your physical health by lowering blood pressure among many other things. Hugs reduce worries and fears, including fear of mortality or dying. Even brief physical touch helps people deal with their concerns.

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Your heart benefits from a hug too. In a study done by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, people who didn’t have anyone to hug had an increased heart rate compared to those who had someone to hug.

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Very old days!

As we age, hugs become even more important because loneliness, particularly as we age, can increase stress and have adverse health effects. Hugging decreases feelings of loneliness.

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Hugs are particularly effective stress relievers. When we hug we reduce the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies immediately. Hugs also help release tension and send calming messages to our brains.

My babies hugging each other!

My babies hugging each other!

If you’re feeling stressed, hug a baby. It will be good for you as I communicated above, but it will also benefit the baby. An Emory University study in rats found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life. The researchers concluded the same applies to humans and their development.

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In conclusion, hugging is good for us in many different ways, for our hearts, blood pressure, and stress levels. Hugs are super for seniors and babies, and everyone in between, so all ages can benefit from hugging. It’s free and easy to do too so why not try to give and receive more hugs? Hugging can help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

The BEST thing you can do for your brain!

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My FAVE pastime and it's sooo good for you!

My FAVE pastime and it’s sooo good for you!

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, or any students I taught, that my favorite thing to do is READ. I love to get lost in a good book and have spent many pleasurable hours snuggled up on the couch with a roaring fire, or by a pool or ocean, reading my Kindle. Also, I enjoyed reading to my daughters when they were young, and as a result they have become avid readers too.

My sentiments precisely!

My sentiments precisely!

That’s all well and good, but did you know that reading is one of the best things you can do for your brain?! Yes, it’s true, and when I started to research this topic I found out lots of things even I didn’t know about the benefits your brain receives from reading.

This is your brain, on books!

This is your brain, on books! 🙂

1. Reading requires several different regions of the brain to work together. Interestingly, we don’t use the same neural circuits to read as we grow from infants to adults so our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives. Reading improves the connectivity between the various brain circuits that are essential to understanding the written words. Best yet, reading a novel can keep that enhanced connectivity working for days, and possibly even longer, after we have finished the book.

2. Studies show that regular reading boosts brain power and memory function making you smarter.

3. Reading helps fight Alzheimer’s disease. A study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that those who read or participate in activities such as puzzles or chess may be 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Reading involves 17 regions of the brain, but not all at the same time, according to scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine. As the brain ages some of those regions grow less active which suggests that activity in the brain isn’t constant. However, reading keeps those regions involved which helps to enhance brain activity, especially when you read as a child.

5.Other non-brain related advantages of reading- Reading helps you sleep. Reading at bedtime creates a ritual that signals to your body that it is time to go to sleep. It also reduces stress. A book that engages your mind allows your tensions to drain away and your mind to relax. Along with gaining knowledge, reading increases vocabulary. Most importantly (to me), reading aloud to kids can encourage them to become frequent readers. A Scholastic reading report found that more than 40% of children who love to read were read to by their parents on a regular basis. Encouraging kids to read also leads to gaining a better education. You’re welcome, Jacqueline and Danielle! 🙂

I read some sad facts the other day related to reading that urged me to write this post and share this information with you, my wonderful readers.

  • 33% of high school graduates and 42% of college graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
So true, my friends!

So true, my friends!

Now that I’ve shared the facts of how beneficial reading is to your brain, I would like to challenge you to read at least one book this summer. If you are parents to young children read at least one book to each of them, and if your children are of reading age encourage them to read at least one book this summer while they’re on vacation. Many libraries have summer reading programs for children and adults, and offer awesome incentives for reading and finishing books. When we lived in Hancock County, the library in Greenfield had a wonderful summer reading program which the girls and I participated in for many years. My girls are super competitive and enjoyed reaching their reading goals, and the prizes helped too!

My favorite book!

My favorite book!

I always told my students and my children to read something that interests you. If you’re into sports, dogs, cars, fashion, etc, there are many books out there that cover those topics. And those books you were made to read when in school; they can be enjoyable to reread once you no longer HAVE to read them. My favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I read in my ninth grade English class. I have read it many times since then and love it more with each reading. In my favorite popular fiction novel, Watchers by Dean Koontz, one of the main characters is a Golden Retriever named Einstein. I love all of Dean Koontz’ novels but that one was special to me because of that very unique main character, and because I love dogs.

My favorite popular fiction novel!

My favorite popular fiction novel!

So please, take my “Read a book this summer challenge”, let me know if you do, and what book you read. It will be great for your brain, and your children will benefit as well (if you have them). Currently I am reading a book entitled, Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple. It’s a super mystery novel, perfect for summer reading by the pool. I have over 100 books on my Kindle just waiting to be read though so I’ll quickly finish this one and be on to the next. I hope you take my challenge because reading will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Are You S.A.D. This Winter?!!

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This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I'm DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I’m DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

Hi All! Well, it’s COLD here in the Midwest, and by cold I mean CCCCCCOOOOLD! Right this minute it’s 1 degree here, and with the wind chill it feels like 11 degrees BELOW ZERO! Oh, and it’s gloomy too, we have moments of sunshine but really it’s been quite cloudy. You get the picture, right? If you don’t, here’s the picture. I mean, a picture of what it looks like here at this moment.

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it's COLD out!!!

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it’s COLD out!!!

It looks like where Nasa faked the moon landing, doesn’t it? Very desolate and grey, and it’s been like this for a long while. So, the point of this post is that because of the lack of sunlight and inability to go outside, some of us (which definitely includes ME!) are susceptible to the “winter blues”.

Yep, that's what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Yep, that’s what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Now here’s an important point that I want to be sure to make from the get go, there is a difference between being sad and a little blue during the winter and real clinical depression. I’m talking about the winter blues here, so if you feel you are clinically depressed (can’t get out of bed, feel suicidal, etc), please talk to a medical professional IMMEDIATELY.

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they're freezing walking around their college campus!

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they’re freezing walking around their college campus!

What I’m talking about is something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s so aptly named because that’s the way I feel lately, a little sad. Here’s the 411 on SAD, it’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness and depression that grows as sunlight grows scarce. It’s differentiated from regular depression because unlike regular depression, it totally goes away in the spring and summer months. It’s been estimated that 20% of Americans are affected by SAD each winter.

The reason this happens is that as the days begin to darken and sunlight is at a minimum our health and mood is intricately tied to exposure to sunlight. SAD has long been associated with Vitamin D deficiency, in addition to more chronic depression. Vitamin D receptors appear in a wide variety of brain tissue, and activated Vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in the brain, so it’s important for brain function and mental health in general. Take Serotonin levels, for example. The hormone typically associated with elevating your mood, Serotonin rises when exposed to bright light.  Also, Melatonin rises and falls inversely with light and darkness. Like, when it’s dark your melatonin levels increase, which is why we feel tired when the sun starts to set. And when it sets so early in the winter, 4 pm?!!, we start to feel tired earlier than usual. Also, our circadian rhythms, or biological clock, is controlled by light and darkness and impacts hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.

See? This is why we are more sad (lack of vitamin D), cranky (lack of Seratonin), tired (too much Melatonin) and hungry (circadian rhythms are off) in the winter. It’s not our fault, it’s darn winter’s fault! I always feel better if I can blame someone or something else!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Believe me, though, when I tell you that this is nothing to make light of. It can really throw you off and make you feel pretty darn bad. However, I want to assure my wonderful readers that this is something we can conquer or at least minimize as much as possible. I’ve got a list for you that I’ve compiled from a number of sources (including the one who resides in my home when I needed additional assistance with this issue!) about ways to help make you feel better during the dark, cold winter months. I KNOW it will help you as it’s helped me a lot!

1. Exercise- Get Moving! That’s the best advice for when I’m feeling gloomy and tired, I ride my bike, kickbox, or take a jog with my dogs. Anything to get the blood flowing makes me feel so warm and happy. As Elle Woods in Legally Blonde said, “Exercise gives you Endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” Wise words from one of my favorite movies! 🙂

2. Go Outside– It seems like the last thing I want to do when it’s cold and gloomy out but I’ll tell you, it is the most effective cure for my SAD, especially when the sun is out. Sunlight is the best way to boost Vitamin D and seratonin so this is super important in the winter. However, even if it isn’t, I find that just getting a bit of fresh air makes me feel better. I’ve taken my dogs for a walk every day of this winter, except when it’s below zero outside or an ice storm, and it helps not only me but my dogs too. I think Chewie has SAD as well because when we can’t take our walk he seems genuinely bummed.

3. Light therapy– If there is no way to get natural sunlight, sun substitutes must be employed to help vitamin D production. I have a full-spectrum light box, and I use it every morning to help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels naturally. A good quality light box is around $150, and for me totally worth it to help give me a natural boost. I also advocate the use of ELECTRONIC BALLAST tanning beds. Most commercial tanning salons utilize magnetic ballast systems which generate potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMF), and the electronic ballast systems do not. I know this is a controversial topic. I know this because in my own family the fact that I have an electronic ballast tanning bed has caused a lot of angst and fighting. All I can say is that it is my belief, no my certainty, that sunlight (and tanning beds) DO NOT CAUSE SKIN CANCER. conversely it is the LACK OF VITAMIN D (or avoidance of sunlight) that causes cancer. Now, I have certain caveats to my beliefs in this regard, first, NEVER EVER BURN YOURSELF IN THE SUN/TANNING BED/OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.I have not ever burned to my knowledge and I never intend to. Second, while it is not my belief that sun/tanning beds cause skin cancer, I know they cause premature aging of the skin so I always cover my head with a hat and my eyes with sunglasses when I’m in the sun. Third, everything in moderation. I only utilize my tanning bed twice a week because I don’t want to be one of those leather skinned old ladies who walk on the beach in Florida, even though I have one in my home. I mean, just because I have bottles of wine in my home I’m not going to drink them all at once, am I?

4. Supplementation– I highly recommend everyone to go and get their vitamin D levels tested. Any doctor can write a prescription for the test. Then, you’ll see how low it probably is. I say that because the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50% of children aged 1-5 years, 70% of kids 6-11, 50% of people under 60 years old, and 95% of all senior citizens are deficient or have insufficient vitamin D. So basically, many of us have low vitamin D. I had mine tested in the summer when I was getting plenty of sun and IT WAS STILL LOW. So I take a daily vitamin D3 (there are different D’s but D3 is the best one for absorption) supplement of 5,000 IU (international units). The ideal amount of vitamin D you’re looking for is 50-70 ng/ml and you want to maintain this year round. Vitamin D is key for so many other of our bodily functions, and low vitamin D has been tied to all kinds of cancers so this is one of the major things you can do for your health in general. I also take a SAMe supplement which helps increase serotonin levels. Remember, always buy pharmaceutical grade supplements and don’t buy them at the grocery store or a big box store. That way you know you’re getting a quality supplement that will actually do what it’s supposed to do. And always check with your physician before taking any supplements.

5. Cuddling– Cuddling up with your husband/wife/significant other/children/pets is one of the good things about this cold, miserable weather, and it benefits your body as well. Hugs increase your endorphins which are your “feel good” hormones, and when you’re chilly it feels so good to snuggle up with a warm body, so by all means, increase those endorphins and get warm and cozy too. You’ll all benefit from that! 🙂

6. Keep it bright– have a roaring fire in your fireplace, turn on the lights, and keep the shades/curtains open to let in as much light as possible. It will help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels.

7. Get enough sleep and the right kind of it- It’s important to stick to a pattern of going to sleep fairly early and getting up that way too. If we stray too far from our biological patterns of going to sleep when it’s dark and awaking when the sun rises it can disrupt the hormonal cycles of our bodies which can affect both mood and health. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, and try to get them at a reasonable time. I usually go to bed around 10:30-11 and awaken around 7. Insomnia is one of the biggest links between depression and health, with half the people who are diagnosed with depression also struggling with insomnia. Try to keep it dim in the bedroom and DON’T FALL ASLEEP WITH THE TV ON. Besides the noise the tv creates which can disrupt sleep, it also emanates blue light which is a stimulant and can keep you from falling into a deep sleep. In fact, eliminate all electronic devices in the bedroom. There are no laptops, ipads or computers in our bedroom, although we do have our phones next to our beds which serve as our alarm clocks. We have a tv too, however we don’t usually watch tv in our bedroom preferring to watch in the family room.

8. Proper Nutrition– The link between food and overall health cannot be overstated (especially by me).  Avoid processed foods which have a detrimental impact on brain function and mental health in general because of the SUGAR PROCESSED FOODS CONTAIN. Because your gut actually produces more serotonin than your brain does, optimizing gut health by eating fermented vegetables and taking probiotics every day really helps with SADAlso, increasing animal based Omega 3 fats is essential for mood, especially because your brain consists of about 60% fat and you need a constant input of them for your brain to work properly. A 2009 study showed that people with low levels of Omega 3’s were more likely to have symptoms of depression than those with higher levels.

There you go! That’s what I’ve learned about SAD and the ways to prevent it. Now if spring could FINALLY get here I know I’ll feel better. I’m also looking forward to our upcoming (3 weeks!) trip to a warmer state than Indiana which will really help as well. Until then, I will try to stay warm and utilize the strategies I’ve outlined above to help me cope. Let me know if you try any of them, and if it helps you too! Overcoming SAD will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

My Perfect, Healthy Valentine’s Day!

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Dark chocolate is the key to a healthy Valentine's Day!

Dark chocolate is the key to a healthy Valentine’s Day!

Hi friends! Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day to celebrate your love of husband/wife/significant other/children/dogs etc etc etc. I personally think it’s kind of over hyped in the media (but what isn’t these days?!), however any excuse to show your loved ones how much you love them can’t be a bad thing, can it? But it’s a lot of pressure too, and from my perspective it’s difficult to stay on your healthy path of life when derailed by holidays, even a made up Hallmark holiday like this one. So, with that in mind I’ve got some ideas to keep your Valentine’s Day healthy AND happy. You know I’ve always got a list, right? Here’s my list of the top healthy things to do and eat!

 

Dark chocolate covered strawberries are my favorite HEALTHY indulgence!

Dark chocolate covered strawberries are my favorite HEALTHY indulgence!

1. Instead of the BIG box of chocolates, buy DARK chocolate covered strawberries, or any kind of fruit. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and lower in sugar than milk chocolate. The fruit gives you vitamins and fiber. AND the kicker is that you can eat FOUR OF THESE FOR 150 CALORIES! Wow! Healthy and delish!

 

Healthy Valentine dinner!

Healthy Valentine’s dinner!

2. Chose fish as your Valentine’s dinner meat instead of a big steak. If you have to have steak, order the filet which is a leaner cut of beef for sure. However, salmon and vegetables gives you vitamins, antioxidants, and tons of healthy fats. Plus it won’t overly stuff you so you have to unbutton the top button of your pants- not a good look!

 

Drink wine (Champagne!) with your Valentine's dinner!

Drink wine (Champagne!) with your Valentine’s dinner!

3. Drinking wine instead of beer or mixed cocktails with dinner is definitely a healthier choice for your Valentine’s dinner- and it’s more festive too! See my previous post “A Healthy Way to drink in the New Year!” for further info on healthy alcoholic beverages. And remember, moderation is ALWAYS the healthiest way to go, any day, any time. If you do overindulge, see my post, “Holiday Overeating/Overdrinking? Healthy remedies for indigestion!” for information about ways to feel better quickly, though I hope you won’t need that tomorrow night!

 

Do something ACTIVE together!

Do something ACTIVE together!

4. Chose an activity that allows you to MOVE! We are going to make a blown glass piece of art together. It’s something we’ve never done and I think it will be fun and active too. Look at that woman’s arms- that’s incentive enough for me! And we will take home our mutually created piece of art and display it proudly in our home no matter what it looks like! 🙂

 

Sky Zone is active family fun!

Sky Zone is active family fun!

5. If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with your children, consider an activity like going to Sky Zone and jumping around TOGETHER. Don’t just drop the kids off and leave. They have special family times during holidays and it would definitely be an active thing to do. 30 minutes of moderate jumping BURNS 256 CALORIES! That’s healthy family fun!

These are my suggestions for a healthy Valentine’s Day that won’t derail you from your fitness goals. I will definitely be following my own suggestions this weekend, and I’ll have fun too! Having a healthy Valentine’s Day will help you to live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Baby it’s Cold Outside! Comfort in the CCCCCCCCOLD!!

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Brutally cold but I'm still smiling!

Brutally cold but I’m still smiling!

Yikes it’s cold here in the Midwest! By cold, I mean 8 degrees below zero cold- and that’s not wind chill, that’s actual temperature, my friends. That was the temperature when I awakened this morning, and had to take my dogs out on leash because my little dog runs through the invisible fence. His wee paws froze after about 2 minutes and I had to bring him in to thaw before trying to take him out again so he could do his duty. That kind of cold is beyond description, you just have to experience it to know what I mean.

My backyard right now! Yikes!

My backyard right now! Yikes!

It’s worse because my daughters, sister and niece are currently in Florida experiencing their version of cold- 60 degrees, as I’m shivering here in Indiana. My house is pretty warm and cozy on a regular basis, but in this kind of cold even my house seems drafty and chilly. When it’s so disgustingly frigid out, I need peace more than ever, and I turn to my tried and true, sure fire ways to feel cozy and happy no matter what the temperature. In past posts, I mentioned ways I feel comforted when experiencing stress of any kind, reading my Kindle, listening to music, taking a bath, spending time spiritually, and a good meal/glass of wine. I thought today I’d share ways in which I help myself feel especially contented when it’s warm.

Jac and a light saber!

Jac and a light saber!

1. Watching a good movie– I love to watch movies when it’s cold out, or when I’m sad/stressed. My favorite movies to watch are the Star Wars series, and I admit I’m sort of a Star Wars freak. I have watched the series probably 50 times or more, and I never get tired of watching the movies. Something about the whole good versus evil thing, with good winning out just gets me every time.

Love me some Yoda!

Love me some Yoda!

The good thing is that I’ve infected my family with my Star Wars mania and they love Star Wars too. Jacqueline has a Han Solo frozen in carbonite phone case (watch the series for explanation), and the girls gifted me with a visit to the traveling Star Wars exhibition last year at the Indiana State Museum for Mother’s Day, and they enjoyed it almost as much as I did. My Honey gave me the light saber you see in the picture of Jac for Christmas this year, it is glass, and he chose the colors and sounds for it. What a guy! Anyway, watching any of the six Star Wars movies never fails to make me feel cozy and comforted, so whatever your favorite movies are- watch them with your family and you’ll feel all warm inside!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

2. Dogs (or cats if that’s your preference)- My dogs have always comforted me in times of sadness. They’re also excellent at warming up my toes and lap by laying on me when I’m cold. Whenever my little guy, Chewie, sees a blanket come out on any member of our family, he comes running to share in the cuddle time. I can’t remember a time when they’ve failed to give me warmth and love. They give me so much more than I give them, and I love them so much!

A soft blanket made even better by my children's faces on it!

A soft blanket made even better by my children’s faces on it!

3. A cozy blanket– When my daughters went away to college, I had a blanket made for each of them with different pictures of family and friends on it, hoping that it would comfort them by laying under all of the loving people in their lives. I wanted them to feel like we were all holding them in a warm embrace, even when they were far away from home. They both have told me that it is one of the best things they have at college, and it reminds them they are loved by lots of people. I had them made on Walmart.com and they are relatively inexpensive, $60ish. It’s pretty easy to download the pictures and create the collage of photos. I paid a little extra for the larger blanket with the thicker fleece and felt it was well worth it. Imagine my surprise when my girls had a blanket made for me last year with pictures of the three of us on it, so that I would feel comforted when they both went away to college for the first time last fall! I love my blanket and use it almost every day. When they left to go on their trip to Florida, the first thing I did after coming home from dropping them off at the airport was lay on the couch under my blanket of our faces. It’s soooo cozy and makes me happy to use it. I highly recommend having one made for your loved ones too! And have them make one for you!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

4. Looking forward to a warm trip (or looking back fondly on a past one)- Another way I make myself feel better when it’s cold out or when I’m sad, is to either look forward to an upcoming warm trip or reminisce about a past one. I love to look at pictures from past trips we have taken, I can almost feel the sunshine jump out of the pictures and into my body!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

I also love to plan future family trips to warm places. We are going to Florida over spring break, and it is such fun to spend time working out the details of our sunny trip to a warm location when it is so bleak and cold outside. It makes me feel like I’m there, at least for a short while.

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

5. Watching my favorite team (and my favorite cheerleaders)- Even before my daughters were cheerleaders I loved to watch my Boilers. We had season tickets to Purdue football for years when the girls were little, and went to many basketball games. We also liked watching the games on television when we couldn’t attend them. Now, it’s so much better when I can not only watch my Boilers, but I can watch my beloved daughters cheer for them too. It’s a definite win-win for me! I particularly love watching the NCAA basketball tournament in March. March Madness is so infectious, and jumping up and down to cheer on my team warms me up too! Go team go!

Well, that’s all I have time for today, Folks, but there are so many other things I love and that bring me comfort. They are dark chocolate, cooking, exercise, popcorn, cookbooks, coffee, spicy food, and writing my blog! I couldn’t live without these, along with all the others I mentioned above. They get me through bleak and cold times in my life, both outside and inside as well. I hope my list of favorites helps you and inspires you to surround yourself with love and serenity. You deserve it, my wonderful readers. It will help you lead a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Being Thankful is GOOD for your Health! And Turkey Leftovers Part 2!

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I'm so thankful for these two!! xoxo

I’m so thankful for these two!! xoxo

Since the holiday centered around thankfulness is tomorrow I started thinking about being thankful. I did some research and did you know that being thankful is actually good for your health? Yes, it’s true! People who have social connections- through family, friends or even companion animals- have longevity, survive serious diseases, and have better health than those who have no social connections. Also, the act of “being grateful” is associated with better physical and emotional health, which makes sense, doesn’t it?! People who have social support are found to have more of the immune system natural killer cell activity, and even people who care for companion animals get sick less and recover faster than those who don’t have animals. It makes me doubly thankful for my family, friends and animals this Thanksgiving! I’m also thankful for my love of cooking which comes in handy during this food centered holiday! Tomorrow I’ll be cooking turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts, cranberries and asparagus for my family and though it’s exhausting I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

A long ago Thanksgiving- I'm so thankful for my family!

A long ago Thanksgiving- I’m so thankful for my family!

So you’re done with all the cooking and you’re left with a mountain of turkey meat, what do you do with it all? My family will eat turkey in the traditional Thanksgiving way for maybe one more meal after that before they are sick of it and I’m forced to be creative. In my last post “Leftovers you’ll love, what to do with all that turkey part 1”, I shared a recipe for leftover turkey (or any kind of meat) enchiladas which I hope you enjoyed reading about. Today, I’m going to share with you a recipe for turkey hash that is delicious, easy, and will get rid of more of that turkey in a different way.

Ingredients gathered and ready to go!

Ingredients gathered and ready to go!

Leftover Turkey Hash– ingredients, 2 cups of leftover turkey (or any) meat, 6 small potatoes, minced garlic, one small onion, 5 small red, orange and yellow peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Nuke the potatoes first!

Nuke the potatoes first!

1. Microwave 6 small potatoes for 5 minutes or until slightly soft. I like to microwave my potatoes first so that they will mostly cook before I put them in the pot. It saves a little time for me, which is always a good thing.

Chop your veg next!

Chop your veg next!

2. Prep your veggies next by chopping them so they’re ready to go in the pan.

LO4

3. Heat your pan, add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, and toss your veggies in until they’re softened. Then, add a teaspoon of minced garlic.

Chop potatoes when they come out of the microwave!

Chop potatoes when they come out of the microwave!

4. After the potatoes come out of the microwave, cut them in half to let them cool for a minute or two, then chop them into small pieces and add them to the pot with the other vegetables. Also, at this time add a teaspoon each of chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste at this time as well.

Everything happily cooking in the pot!

Everything happily cooking in the pot!

5. Add two cups of turkey meat next. In this case I was using a ham I had made the previous night for my hash. I’ll be using turkey after tomorrow!

Time for the eggs!

Time for the eggs!

6. Now is the time to make your fried eggs because hash is best when it’s covered with a delicious egg. All that gooey yolk runs over the hash to add a level of unctuousness to it! I just add a bit of butter to a fry pan, crack my eggs in, and cook them until the white is solid. The secret to delicious fried eggs is to cook them low and slow- slowly over a low heat- in order to keep them tender.

Yummmmm!!

Yummmmm!!

The only thing left to do at this point is to plate the hash, add the egg to the top of it, and eat! Add a few drops of hot sauce if you want a little extra kick, like I do. This meal can be eaten any time of the day or night because in my opinion eggs and hash are not just for breakfast. The picture at the beginning of this post shows my daughters digging in to this meal yesterday afternoon and they thought it was really great! So that’s it for today, and I hope you will try this recipe because it really is easy and delicious. I just want to say that I soooooo appreciate all of my readers, and know that when I count my blessings, you are one of them! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading and sharing my blog, it has been a life changing experience for me in every way! As I said earlier, being thankful is good for your health so take some time in the next few days to count your blessings as I will be. Being thankful will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

Tasty, terrific turkey day part 1! How to eat healthy on Thanksgiving.

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Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Most of my clan at Thanksgiving last year!

Wow that time is already here, isn’t it? Now I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve had a difficult time sticking to my healthy eating plan on Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to eat a lot and all the wrong things too. It’s like carb fest day! I’ll tell ya what I’m going to do! The goal of this post is to give you my healthy eating tips and recipes so that you can eat and enjoy, but not gain 5 pounds in the process. Stick with me, and I’ll get you through it!

1. Be miserly with the unhealthy stuff- That includes stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroley type dishes, creamy dishes, desserts, etc. Make sure you eat these types of dishes very sparingly, but do have a taste of the ones you like because I don’t believe in deprivation.

2. Eat lots of vegetables- Unless the vegetables are covered in cream, make your plate mostly veggies and you’ll be full and satisfied, because they have lots of fiber. I have a great recipe for Brussels sprouts that even a veggie hater will love. I will include that in part 2 coming later this week.

3. Watch the salt- I’m a big believer in salt so some of you who know me may be shocked to hear me say this, but here’s why. Salt helps to retain water and makes you feel bloated. Some of the dishes you’re eating may already have a lot of salt added, so skip the salt shaker at Thanksgiving and you won’t bloat up that night or the next day.

4. Bring your own dessert- If you’re going somewhere for Thanksgiving bring a fruit based dessert like a cobbler or a crisp because they’re lower calorie than something like pecan pie. I will show you a healthy way to make berry cobbler in part 2 of my post.

5. Take a walk or do something exerting after your meal- Even a ten minute walk will help you work off some of your meal and aid in digesting your food faster. Take your dog with you because dogs tend to get overwhelmed with all the guests, and said guests might have slipped them a bit of turkey too!

Ok, but what if you’re the one hosting the meal? That’s kind of awesome because you can control what you serve and which ingredients you use, thus ensuring you’ll be eating healthy food. I’m going to show you how to make my really easy, delicious and healthy turkey and gravy today. Later in the week I will share my easy, delicious and healthy side dishes and cobbler so you can host the perfect Thanksgiving. And even if you’re not hosting I’ll give you recipes so you can take a healthy dish, thus ensuring you’ll at least eat one healthy thing on the big day!

Love me some turkey!

Love me some turkey!

Easy and Delicious Turkey and Gravy

  • 1 organic, fresh 15 lb turkey (feeds 8-10)
  • 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 onion cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, rosemary and sage chopped (In a pinch you can use dried herbs de Provence)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper each
  • 6 cups organic, low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup gluten free rice flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position the rack to the lowest position in the oven. Rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and place it in the baking pan after removing the giblets from inside the turkey (funny story about that between my sister and I, remind me and I’ll tell you about it later). Take the oranges, lemons and onion and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of the fresh herbs, EVOO, salt and pepper, stir them a bit, and then stuff them into the main turkey cavity. Cover the entire turkey with EVOO, the rest of the fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Cover the turkey breast with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Pour 3 cups of broth into the pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits. Roast the turkey for 40 more minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, remove the foil from the breast, add another cup of broth to the pan,, and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserting in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165-175 degrees, or about 1 1/2 hours longer. Transfer the turkey to a platter, tent with foil and let stand for 30 minutes while making the gravy.

Glorious gravy!

Glorious gravy!

For those of you who’ve read my past blog on roasted chicken, “The Easiest Roasted Chicken, I Promise!”, I shared my gravy recipe and if you haven’t read it, you should! But, I’ll share it again for you now because it’s essentially the same for turkey as it is for chicken. Take the 5 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a large pan, then add the 1/3 cup of gluten free rice flour and stir until combined. the reason I use rice flour is partly because Danielle can’t eat gluten, but what I’ve discovered is that I prefer using it over regular flour because it’s very fine and doesn’t clump up so makes for a nicely textured gravy. And it tastes better too! Stir for another minute to cook the flour.

Next, strain the pan drippings through a sieve to get rid of the chunks and pour it into a large measuring cup or something with a spout so the drippings won’t spill all over your stove. Add 1/3 of the drippings, stir, stir, stir until combined, and continue until all the pan drippings have been incorporated into the gravy. If you run out of pan drippings and the gravy still has a thick consistency you can add chicken broth, if it’s not thick enough, add more flour but don’t add it straight into the gravy or it will clump. In that case, combine 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/4 cup chicken broth in a lidded Tupperware container, shake the heck out of it until combined, then add it to the gravy. Finish the gravy with a little salt and pepper to taste, and continue to let it cook on the stove until thickened and bubbly. Pour it into a gravy boat and it’s good to go!

In my next post I will share my favorite side dishes and my go to dessert. I hope you enjoy my turkey and gravy if you try it, and let me know if you do! Let me know if you have any healthy go-to Thanksgiving dishes. A healthy Thanksgiving will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!