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Welcome to the Gong Show

I was aimlessly scrolling Instagram stories the other night and came across the most perfectly executed story highlight of an influencer’s Sunday moment with scripture. There was spiritual music softly playing in the background, strategically highlighted sections of a Bible and a grammatically perfect  “random thought” that really struck her that morning. The story was flawless. She softly whispered to her listeners that she was randomly inspired to pause her reading and share it. LIAR. Random my tush. If that’s the kind of perfectly thought-out, plastic, well-constructed person you want to follow, you probably want to stop reading this mess right now. It’s not what you will find here. 

Quick introduction, my name is Lauren. Hi. Welcome to my blog. I’ve learned in my 35 years on this planet, that there comes a point in time that you embrace the dumpster fire moments as much as the Kodak ones and to be totally honest, I seem to find myself in more of those (let’s call them “df” or gong show moments) than perfect ones. That’s the “gong show” portion of the blog title by the way. Ya’ll know what gong show means? Go ahead and look it up. My husband is Canadian and it’s a term he introduced me to years ago. I sort of love it. 

I will say that I love scripture lady’s effort and I’m here to cheer on all women (and men), but I can’t relate to that. Not on any level. It’s too perfect. The word perfect gives me indigestion. So does the word balance. I feel both those words, while initially harmless, have evolved in society. I think they are each a big fat lie we are supposed to buy into and chase after with every last ounce of breath we have until we die—having never attained either. Side note, I don’t have it all figured out and I’m not on a soapbox here—I continue to struggle with this daily. It’s especially hard in a world of above scripture lady, who makes it look so dang easy and (stomach cramp) perfect. 

Harmony is my jam. Harmony is something I can get after. Harmony is arranging the aspects of our lives to make our one big story. The big picture. I like harmony because it’s not perfectly equal—some days one aspect is running better than others. Some days we excel as a parent and epically fail at our jobs. One day dinner is home-cooked and Better Homes worthy and the next thing you know you forgot a kid had swim practice and she’s out the door without trying your Pinterest dinner you nailed. But it’s ok, because it’s the big picture that matters. The big puzzle of our lives and you know what? You need every single piece to finish that puzzle. Whether it’s a beautiful corner piece or one of the funky middle pieces or that piece the dog gnawed on when he was a puppy. We need them all. You will find me writing about those pieces often in this blog and my attempts to find that harmony and embrace it amongst the chaos (gong show) of my life.  

You will also find daily adventures, thoughts, recommendations and more as a woman who is raising three daughters and leading/running an international business. I’m also an oilfield wife of ten years who solo parents for weeks at a time while my hubby is working in a different state(s). I’m a lover of a lot of things, so you will find a hodgepodge of entries. Anyone with me on this—I was never THE BEST at anything, but I’m pretty decent at a lot of things. Same goes for my lifestyle hobbies. I’m pretty decent at fashion, cooking, fitness, crafting, home decor, all that jazz. Not the best. I belly laugh at the thought of making that claim. But I can stand proud behind decent. 

So, if you are interested in some decent thoughts and recommendations on everyday lifestyle and how I work daily to find that harmony between running a biz and raising my babes, then you’ve come to the right place. Might I also add that here you will not find perfection. You won’t find perfectly snapped photos with perfect lighting. I’m sure I will screw up some punctuation. Make a few typos. Take a picture with something in my teeth. Throw a tantrum. Place a pillow in the wrong spot. Pair a wine incorrectly. Make a joke that falls flat—I’m wildly sarcastic so brace yourselves for that. Maybe I’ll even struggle with some things that will make you think…yep, Lauren’s having a “df” gong show day. But that’s ok and that’s why I feel it’s important for me to write this. Even if one single person can relate. If it’s a much needed breath of fresh air for at least one of you—that makes it worth it to me because I know how much I crave connections like that. I promise you honesty, transparency and authenticity. After all these years, I’ve embraced the good, the bad and the ugly of who I am and I’m getting to be pretty ok with that. I think the sooner we all get really ok with ourselves, the better. Welcome to the gong show. I hope you stick around for awhile. 

Open Drawers

Let me paint a scenario…

You’re tired. Like, really tired. You have solo parented for the past two weeks while your husband is working in another state. Your mind is like a chest of drawers and every single drawer is open—did I pay the gas bill, sign homework folders, need to practice math flash cards, eye appointment for one child tomorrow, haven’t seen dentist in over six months and need to book all kids in to see one, laundry sitting in dryer needs to be folded, should really sort closets, door handle isn’t on yet call contractor, did I send money for the kids hot lunch, I want to workout Saturday but have no one to watch the kids, Volleyball practice this weekend do I have that covered, I have to do passport picture for the little one, I haven’t communicated with my team in awhile and my business is hurting because of it, I need to mail five packages of product, voicemail from aunt have to call her back, did we do thank you notes from Christmas, I’d like to try homemade dishwasher pods–and on and on and on.

With these thoughts rolling around your mind, you walk into your daughter’s bathroom and stop short. The spray that’s supposed to be for her hair was used on Barbie and now it’s mixed into some type of slop with that expensive lotion you gave her and it’s spilled all over the counter. Nail polish is out and dripped on the white cabinet. Last night’s wet towels are piled on the floor. The sink is caked with tooth paste. There are plastic horses all over the floor over by the shower and there are LOL doll pieces actually in the shower. There’s no toilet paper on the holder and there, in the middle of it all, your child. Oblivious. Even more oblivious to the fact you had told her to clean up her bathroom yesterday. She’s about to explain how this makes complete sense in her mind but you stop her. You yell. You yell and the entire time you’re yelling you can see her face crinkle up a bit as if bearing a blow and she crouches back a little scared but not really because you’ve never hit her, so it’s just the volume that’s a little shocking. Tears well in her eyes and you, exasperated, almost tear up yourself because you are so mad, annoyed, confused and frustrated. Now another two drawers open in your mind chest—first, that you have to figure out how to get that nail polish off of your newly renovated cabinets and second, you yelled. Again. That one goes into the mom fail drawer. 

I hope that some of you reading this—I mean even one of you reading this can relate. Can you? If not, I’m really sinking fast. Let’s keep the scene going…

Later that night you, crippled with guilt, cry into the phone while you tell your husband you’re a failure as a mom. You explain what happened and how you yelled, again, and how bad you now feel. You’re convinced you’re a terrible mom and that you are ruining your child. He is kind. He tells you that you aren’t and that you’re an amazing mother. You keep crying. You get off the phone still feeling rotten, wipe the snot running down your nose from your ugly crying and creep downstairs to her room. She’s asleep but you wake her up. She is over it, but you aren’t. You go into an explanation about why you yelled and that you’re sorry for yelling. That it doesn’t mean what she did isn’t wrong. That it doesn’t mean you aren’t mad. But that you shouldn’t have yelled so hard. She can’t see you’re still crying in the dark and she’s half asleep and tells you it’s ok (and she means it). You hug her and tell her you love her a million more times, tuck her in and go back upstairs to finish sobbing because that didn’t really help either. 

Anyone still with me?

Confession. I’m a yeller. I yell at my kids. I’d like to explain a few things—clarify if you will—before I continue on with this. I shouldn’t have to and I actually think the more we explain the more we give away our power but I have no power here. I never yell at my children in public. I don’t belittle them or call them names. I’ve never hit my child in any way. I don’t ignore my children. I affirm them daily—literally say affirmations with them every single day. I tell them I love them all the time. I hug them and kiss them and hold them frequently. I don’t make fun of them. But I do yell when I’m upset with them. 

Why? I wasn’t raised by yellers but I never did anything like above scenario either. Perhaps I yell because I can’t put myself in their shoes and that’s frustrating. I never would have done some of the things they do and so it’s really, really hard for me to comprehend why on earth they would do it. Maybe I yell because I don’t understand.

I yell because I’m lazy. It’s much easier to yell down the stairs at them to hustle up or stop banging the piano while Carolyn sleeps than it is to go down and talk. It’s a big house. Yelling is easier.

I yell because not only is my plate full but it’s overflowing with gravy from that extra helping of mashed potatoes I thought I needed. But whose isn’t these days? The cats’ litter box is full and they have no food or water and I’ve reminded them twenty times to stay up on this. Snap. The overfilled paper plate breaks. I yell.

I yell because I don’t know what else to do sometimes. There’s no takeaway from that—kindly chatting, warnings, threats, love even ignoring doesn’t work. I don’t even have my partner here half the time, so I yell. 

Are you sitting there judging me while you read this? I’ll let you know that you can. Judge away. No amount of your comments or judgements will come even close to how much I judge myself or how much I beat myself up and belittle myself over my yelling. This is why I hate (yea, hate) “educate yourself” posts that moms like to share. You know the ones? I usually see them pop up on my feed the same day I’ve yelled—“yelling will ruin your child’s spirit,” or “do you know what you’re doing to your child when you yell?” and “You might as well beat your child with a two by four because that’s how yelling affects your child.” They usually have awesome images too that really make you feel good. Educate yourself they say. I’ll say this. The term “educate yourself” is the most uneducated thing you can say to someone. Someone make me that shirt please…or a wine glass.

Do you really think for one second I’m not aware of the consequences of yelling? That I’m not aware of the studies or theories or alternatives to yelling? It’s like Jolene from Georgia doesn’t actually care, she just posts that to reaffirm she’s got things all figured out and doing it better than us scum that yell. Educate yourself Jolene. Do you think people who are overweight don’t understand the risks of being overweight? That they don’t know? Do you think smokers aren’t aware of the negative effects of cigarettes? Of course they know. No amount of you educating or hanging it over their head from your soapbox is going to change that. The only thing it does is encourage me to beat myself up a little more. Thanks, Jolene. I will tell you that the mental narrative I have with myself over this is something that no person should ever hear spoken out loud. We do this to ourselves don’t we mamas (and dads)? I don’t need the posts. I don’t need your judgement. I don’t need your advice. I already have a whole drawer open in my mind—remember that mom fail drawer I mentioned? That’s the one. It’s filled with replayed scenes and fails and negative thoughts about what a rotten, fail of a mother I am. I loathe this drawer and try to keep it closed as much as possible.

Are you waiting for me to go into a Rachel Hollis moment? Here’s my flaw but here’s how I came out of it, beat it, got it all figured out, coached you on it and now have a book and tour and millions to show for it? Unfortunately, not this mama. I’m willing to be raw and vulnerable with you though, which is hard enough. I admit my flaw, am aware of it and I am willing to work on it. That’s it. That’s all I got.

Here’s what I did come up with. Upon some recent prayer and reflection, I decided for Lent this year I’m giving up yelling. I have a rubber band that I’m wearing on my wrist all of Lent to try and condition myself like Pavlov’s dog. Each time I yell or go to yell, SNAP. It may not solve everything. It may solve nothing. I may still yell but I hope to be much more aware of the yelling and hopefully it curbs it or stops it before it happens.

So this lent while others are giving up things or doing new things for their forty days, you’ll find me with a rubber band on my wrist working at fixing a flaw that I’d very much like to go away. I will say this—I still think children need discipline. When they misbehave, I’m not a big fan of sitting down as two adults and talking it out (I’m the adult last time I checked). I’m going to try to replace the yell with quieter stern moments but you bet your bottom dollar there will be quiet stern moments and consequences for misbehavior. I have no desire to let them see me as an equal or to have my sole purpose be their best friend. I’m their parent and hope there’s a little bit of fear, a lot of respect and even more love. God gave these three to me and no one else for a reason—no one else on the planet is better equipped to raise them than I am (and Kurtis). No one. Even with the yelling. But I know God is tugging at my heart as well. Tugging at me to listen to him and to work on this at the very minimum during this Lenten season. Maybe you’re feeling called to do the same. Maybe it’s something different that you struggle with or want to do better or even something you want to start doing. Regardless, let this post be a reminder that none of us are perfect. We all likely have parenting flaws we would love to magically disappear. You have a mom fail drawer too, don’t you? I bet you do. We all unwillingly play the comparison game (even Jolene from Georgia with her stinking posts). We all struggle with feeling like we fail our children (on occasion or daily). All of it. However, let this honest confession from a flawed mama also be a reminder that you aren’t alone. That we really are in this together. The next time you go to compare yourself to someone else, maybe snap a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder that she’s likely struggling too. Maybe she’s even a yeller like me.  

Cracked by The Nutcracker

“One must never be late to the theatre.” I said as we were leaving the house.

Let me back up just a bit. My in-laws were making a trip to come visit us. It’s a big deal when they visit, as we don’t get to see them all that often and my daughters are incredibly close to them. Each year, they are kind enough to come visit around Christmas, so we can do a little Christmas celebration and also a pre-birthday party for Hadley. They live in Canada, so you can understand how special it is for all of us—especially the girls—when they get to see them.

They had planned to do the fifteen hour drive down to us. They would stay for a few days and then leave on a Sunday, as my mother-in-law (Shirley) had an event she needed to attend the following Tuesday. That was a pretty short turnaround to begin with—two days on the road and then a business event an hour and a half away the day after she returned home. 

About a week before they arrived, I heard on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) that The Nutcracker ballet was being preformed in town. The Nutcracker. It’s a tradition in my life since as long as I can remember. I would dress up and attend with either my parents or my aunties. I loved going and I affiliate it with Christmas and happy memories. Once I had my girls, I vowed when they were old enough I would carry that tradition on with them. We started it in Texas. It was the first year Tia and Hadley were really old enough to attend and I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me to take them. This was our first season with it back in Iowa and I knew I wanted to take the girls—Carolyn was still too little. I actually thought about taking her for a second before my mom reality check mechanism quickly kicked in. Check yourself before you wreck yourself Lauren. I looked at the dates and realized we had missed the first weekend and the only weekend left was when Shirley was in town. This was perfect. She loved theatre and arts and traditions like these and I quickly called her to see if she wanted to attend. It took a little pleading on my end and it certainly wasn’t the perfect option because that meant they had to stay an extra day. It also meant that they had to do the 1,000 mile road trip back to Canada in one day. Yes, in one day. Then she would have to turn around and drive an hour and a half the next day for her event. I told her I understood if they couldn’t—and trust me, I did understand. But she said they would talk it over. She called back the next day and said it was a lovely idea and to snag the tickets. 

So there we were the day of the ballet, ready for the Sunday matinee. I couldn’t wait to take everyone. My tickets were purchased (we were a little late to the game but I still had grabbed great seats). We were all dressed in our Sunday best and ready to go. I was a little anxious because getting my girls ready and out the door to attend an event on time takes some effort. I double checked the time and date about a million times to make sure I had it right. I was so happy. These were the types of moments I lived for—taking my girls to experience a time-honored classic while also hosting my mother-in-law. I was feeling quite grown up. 

As a child, my theatre major mother and my theatre loving aunties had always, always instilled in me that one must NEVER be late to the theatre—ballet, opera, orchestra, you name it. They emphasized it was rude, tacky and totally unacceptable. I’m telling you, they might as well have beaten it into me (they didn’t, but still). So as we were loading up into the Yukon, I said the same thing to Tia and Hadley, so that they understood why I was acting slightly psychotic about getting to the show in a timely manner and not dilly-dallying. “One must never be late to the theatre!” I said as we loaded into the vehicle.

We pulled up to the downtown theatre– the old Orpheum in Dubuque now better known as the Five Flags. Memories of attending the ballet as a child came flooding back. We arrived about a half hour early—but doors were to open promptly fifteen minutes before the show. It also clearly stated in an email I received that if you were late, you were locked out until intermission. I couldn’t believe our luck as we parked nearly right at the front of the theatre. Usually it was crowded and hard to find spots on the one-way streets downtown. We walked in and I was shocked to see only a handful of people there. We checked our coats and I asked a lady at the ticket booth, “This is where the show’s at correct?” She smiled and said, “It sure is.” I showed her my tickets and she told me to hang on to them for now and show them to the usher when the doors opened. The girls picked out a few snacks from the concession and we got in line by the doors. Shirley and I were catching up on things and chatting while people began filing in. When you’re a writer, you learn to observe things—all things. As people were walking in, I couldn’t help but notice that most of them were over the age of sixty. My heart sank. This is what was happening to our youth I thought to myself. Gone are the days of taking your children to the ballet on a Sunday. They’ve instead been replaced with sitting at home on video games with a complete disregard or care for the arts. I mentioned this to Shirley. She too, said she was surprised there weren’t more children. 

In front of us, a mom (let’s call her Kelly) with her friend had about five kids and they were as dressed up and ready for the ballet as we were. We chatted a bit and talked about how excited we were to be sharing this experience with our kids and how much we loved The Nutcracker and how important it was for them to know about theatre and composers and operas and all the things. As we were chatting, I kept glancing back at the people as they arrived and now, aside from the fact there were no children, I was surprised at the number of work jeans, fleeces, John Deer hats and tennis shoes. Back up on my soapbox I went —well not only were gone the days people took their kids to theatre, but apparently gone were the days where you dressed up for the theatre as well. These people looked like they were ready to attend a ball game. They were casual as all get out. Again, I mentioned this to Shirley who also was a little shocked by the ball caps. 

It felt like we had been waiting quite a while and when I checked my phone I saw it was ten minutes to two. Two o’clock was showtime and they were supposed to have opened the doors five minutes ago. Now I was really getting antsy. We needed to get seated and settled. Kelly in front of us with her children and friend was getting a bit nervous as well. She kept looking at her ticket and checking her watch. The kids had even started trying to peek in to see if anyone was there by the door. Ten to two turned into two o’clock, which turned into ten after two. Now I was getting cranky. If you haven’t realized it yet in my posts or by following me on any of my social media, I’m a bit (ha, that’s an understatement) of a Type A personality. I am slightly rigid and a stickler for following rules and being on time. Tardiness is one of my pet peeves. The ballet was supposed to start at two o’clock and it was now ten after. The crowd in the building was getting congested and I was over-peopled. I have a small personal bubble and Rhonda behind me kept bumping into my back and bumping into my back and bumping into my back. The girls were bored and I was losing them before we were even seated. “What is going on?” I kept asking to no one in particular. “This is ridiculous. Did something happen to a dancer?” Exasperation.

Just when I was about to blow, the door opened. A woman in uniform appeared with her scanner and Kelly in front of me handed over her tickets. The usher scanned the ticket. “This isn’t the show.” She said. Oh man did I feel for Kelly. Could you imagine waiting all that time with your kiddos in tow and accidentally showing up to the wrong showing. I felt for her. I was embarrassed for her—you could tell she was near tears. She literally almost fell into her ticket trying to read it as if to will the numbers to correct themselves. “The ballet is at the Grand.” My head jerked and the pity party for Mama Kelly in front of me came to an abrupt halt. “I’m sorry, what?” Chirped the soapbox woman from behind (that’s me). “This showing is Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande.” Who in the actual F is Jim McDonough was on the tip of my tongue, but I was too choked up to even get it out. We were at the wrong place too. We were those people. I wondered if Rhonda behind me was having a pity party for me as I had been for Kelly in front of me. Shirley and I looked at each other in shock. I didn’t even know where the Grand was to be honest. I’d just moved back. I hadn’t lived permanently in Dubuque for over fifteen years. 

All we could do was leave. I started pushing my way through the shoulder to shoulder crowd like a salmon trying to swim upstream. Halfway to the door Shirley, who hadn’t followed me and was over by the coat rack yelled about our coats—which I one hundred percent would’ve left without. I was flustered and in shock. We got our coats and made it outside—I may have thrown an elbow or two but it was a desperate situation. We hit the street to biting cold air and I stood there, traumatized. Kelly was there too. It was one of those moments. I wonder if you’ve ever had them? You go through something—anticipate something—put the work in to go to something and be ready for it and be excited about it, stress over it and then it blows up in your face. In that moment, I wanted to calmly walk to my car, buckle up and drive across the Illinois bridge and just keep going. I quit. I was actually standing there in my head with these thoughts while people were talking (to me I think) when I caught Kelly’s friend saying the Grand was just up the street a block or so. “Let’s go”. I said. “We might make it if we run.” Shirley almost fell over—she had actually started heading toward the car thinking we would drive over. Not happening Shirls. We would be late for sure by the time we did that—I was already pretty sure it was over but we were going to try dammit. I might’ve failed but I’m not a quitter. I was in four-inch stiletto boots, she was in heeled boots and I had two little girls in dresses and inappropriate coats for the weather. “LET’S MOVE.” I said, and into a dead sprint I went with my family, surely concerned about my mental well being, trailing behind me. The other family followed suit for some reason (the blind leading the blind, clearly) and we all ran the four blocks up the street in heels, with kids, in ten degree weather, cheeks rosy, lungs bleeding and praying to baby Jesus that they were still doing announcements and we weren’t too late. As we neared, I saw a family trotting in and was immediately thankful we weren’t alone.

We arrived right before they closed the doors. Fifteen minutes late. “I’m so sorry” I wheezed. “You have no idea what we did” (hacking up a bloody lung as I started to explain). The usher looked at me with glassed, annoyed, judgmental eyes. “Of course.” She said and smiled a plastic, you were late, you have no class, you are tacky and your mom would be so disappointed in you kind of smile. Ok, I made that up but that’s sure as heck what I swore she was thinking. We went barreling onto the floor, found our seats— which were thankfully on the end of a row—sat down and literally had gotten our coats off just as the overture began. 

The show was fantastic and we didn’t miss any of it. I wasn’t present for a single moment of it though. Thoughts were going a mile a minute in my mind—I almost killed Shirley, they stayed late purposefully to see this ballet and we almost missed it, why didn’t the lady at the ticket booth tell me the tickets weren’t for this show, no wonder people were casually dressed and the crowd was older, I’m such a snob, I can’t believe we were late after I talked about not being late the entire week, what were the chances the people in front of us did the same thing, I need a drink, the girls think their mama is losing her mind, how did I run that far in heels? I mean on and on. Needless to say, when we made it back to our car—remember we had to walk back to it in even colder temps after the show—we both burst into hysterical laughter. How that happened I will never know. I am seriously thankful for laughter because it was either that or succumbing to a complete and total mental breakdown. The laughter continued well into the evening over wine.

In the end, we enjoyed the performance. The girls had fun. The tradition carried on and we were able to share it with Shirley. We also have a pretty decent memory out of it. The moral? Well, don’t be late to the theatre, yes. Also, when double-checking your ticket, best to also look at the location. 

The Accountability Struggle and a Few Ways to Beat It

Do you find yourself struggling with workout accountability? Do you cop out more times than you’d like to admit? Do you tend to start something and then fall off the wagon? I’m certainly not a fitness trainer or professional but if there’s one thing I am and always have been good at over the years, it’s not missing workouts. If I’m in—you can go all in on me showing up. Now, have I missed some? Of course—I’m by no means perfect. If I’m being totally transparent, I actually didn’t go to a workout today I had initially thought I’d attend. So what better person to give you advice than me, right? HA. I don’t usually go today and it wasn’t really planned and it was on a day I rarely workout (more on why this is a formula for failure later). Normally though, I’m there. 

I talk to quite a few people who’ve told me they really struggle with making the workouts, classes or fitness commitments. They feel guilty and get down on themselves and it’s a bummer headspace to be in–I get it. I recently sat down and tried to think of some of the reasons my track record might be good with sticking to my fitness goals. Is it an inherit personality thing? Is it from a lifetime in athletics? Is it because I so desperately look forward to time out of the house to myself? I realized a couple of things (some tiny and some a bit more thought provoking) and wanted to share. These may or may not work for you. Maybe one or two resonate. You may already be doing them. I’m not sure. Just in case you’ve found yourself struggling to get to the gym or your workout class or in keeping that promise to yourself, these may be worth giving a try.

1.) Lay out your clothes the night before. I know. It’s a little wonky and seems insignificant and like a tiny thing to do, but I think it’s big impact. Whether you are working out at the butt crack of dawn, in the afternoon, after work or later in the evening, lay out your workout gear. Whenever you workout and regardless of what it is you’re going to be doing, always get the gym bag packed the night before or lay out the outfit. I would go so far as to say to put the gym bag next to your door so you literally can’t miss it in the morning or throw it in the passenger seat of your car the night before. Here’s the funny thing with this one—the clothes, the bag–they turn into a form of your accountability partner. You wake up and see the clothes sitting there laid out and ready and you see the promise you had made to yourself just a few hours earlier that you were going for that walk. The gym bag by the door is the reminder of the commitment you made last night to hit the treadmill. Somehow, these non-human articles turn into powerful reminders that we made a commitment to ourselves—don’t let those leggings down! 

2.) Speaking of accountability partners—get one. This whole concept could be a single blog post in itself but I’ll try to be brief(fish). It is said that we run on either internal or external motivation. If you are someone like me, you are internally motivated and pretty good at holding yourself accountable. This means if you say you’re going to do it you don’t need anyone enforcing that motivation other than yourself. You’re on it. Then if you add in accountability to someone externaly, the chances of you bailing other than a majorly good reason are slim to none. If you are someone who is externally motivated (which is the highest percentage of people), you’re going to do best with someone holding you accountable. To put it bluntly, you’ll likely let yourself down if you don’t have someone telling you or reminding you or calling you out to get it done.  What the heck does this all mean? It means that literally everyone benefits from an accountability partner—those internally and externally motivated. I want to say a little more on partners instead of making it such a blanket statement.

First, don’t get an accountability partner with the same accountability problem as you. Latch on to someone who will make you better. Reach up in this instance so that you can get to the point that someone else in your life is reaching up to you. If you and a friend are both wanting to do better and you want to support each other, a great option would be to reach up to the instructor in the fitness class or the trainer or someone else in your life who has a better track record. Obviously you still want to support each other but you both might need that extra support from someone in a different head space. The thing I like about holding yourself accountable to the instructor is that now he or she not only depends on you to attend because you said so, but also because you’re helping fill the class. You don’t want to let the instructor or yourself down. I’m internally motivated but I’m friends with my spin instructor—I know she’ll give me crap if I miss and I also know she depends on numbers to fill her classes and I don’t want to let her down and be an empty bike that could’ve been filled by someone else more committed.

Second, accountability can be as simple as speaking your schedule or plans to the people in your life. Tell family and friends or co-workers you’re starting a routine or class. They’ll ask you about it and it may just be enough motivation for you to attend. No one likes answering “oh I am not making it,” Or “I didn’t go,” to people asking how that new routine is going you were jabbering on about. Who wants to deal with veiled sympathy or veiled satisfaction people silently scream at you with their eyes when you fail? No one. No one wants to deal with that. Say what you want, but you know you have those people in your life and they’re who you need to prove wrong. Let them hold you accountable without even realizing it. Sometimes these people are the most powerful partners and motivators.

Finally, find classes with a cancellation policy—money is an accountability partner and a strong one. You’re less likely to skip if they’re charging you for missing class. Who wants to flush money down the toilet? Gym memberships are costly, don’t waste that money per month when you don’t show up. The fitness world is pricy–get your money’s worth.  

3.) Do what you love. If you hate running, don’t decide to be a runner. If you hate weights, don’t do weight training. There are plenty of physical activities out there that give you incredible benefits. Don’t feel like you have to do one just because it’s the new hot thing or everyone is doing it or people say it’s the only way to go. If you love walking then hike and walk your little heart out. If you love sports activities then find somewhere in town offering lessons or leagues. If you love being on a bike then spin and bike trails. If you don’t like strenuous heavy lifting, pick up a yoga class. There’s something for everyone and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to work in your joy. If you don’t, you eventually burn out. If you are working in your power and joy, you will stick with it and actually look forward to what you are doing instead of dreading it. I’m not saying it’s easy or always fun—there will still be hard classes and days you want to skip—but if it’s something you don’t mind doing, you are way more likely to let that moment of weakness pass and stick to your guns.

4.) Routine. I can’t speak generally on this because some people are not into routines, however, if you’ve been struggling with accountability you may have to try this one. It will help. Pick a time you workout and stick to it. Pick a class and stick to it. It doesn’t mean you have to work out the same time every day, it means that each week your routine is the same. Maybe you do a class on Saturdays at 9:00 am and then one on Thursdays at noon—then do it every single week. They are different times but those are the ones you do and don’t deviate. People will get to know your routine. You’ll get on a routine so that it becomes your normal—not a workout but a part of life–a habit. Once you form a habit, you don’t even think about it. So the goal is to get to the point that it’s a habit you’re subconsciously doing. If you are willy-nilly all over the map, oh I’ll workout here and there and maybe today, you aren’t creating a habit. This is exactly what happened to me today. It was so out of routine–out of habit–it almost felt wrong. But if you nail down certain dates and times and put them in your calendar and get the help in to watch the kids and tell friends and family, it will become something you don’t even think about anymore because it’s your way of life.

The other nice thing about routine is you will get to see certain people week in and week out who become silent accountability partners. If someone is missing from a class I attend weekly, I always wonder why or where they are. When I went to the gym and saw the same person next to me on the treadmill, I’d wonder where she was if she wasn’t there running and reading her People magazine. You want that. Why? It means they’ve gotten to know and expect you to be there. Be the person people wonder about when you’re absent.

5.) When all else fails work out with a grateful heart. This is the one that will get me out of bed super early on a Saturday morning after I’ve had too much wine or am so tired I don’t think I can even make it to the chair (where my clothes are laid out). Have a grateful mentality. I look at some of my aging family members who struggle to even walk up and down stairs. I know what they would give to have their healthy, younger bodies back —that could run, spin away on a bike, squat and lunge, chase down a drop shot and go into an all out sprint for kicks—without pain. I think about this often because I think about my own mortality a lot. There’s going to come a time when I can no longer do the things I can do today and I know I’m going to wish I could. I’m going to give anything to be able to get up early, hop out of bed and get ready to go workout at a spin class and absolutely crush it. Work out with a grateful heart. No, I’m not being that annoying friend who is saying “it could be worse,” or “be grateful,” but I guess maybe I am and I’m ok with that. Think of people who are dying and bedridden. Think of people cooped up in a nursing home tied to their wheelchairs. Think of people who’ve lost a limb. I know. I’m being kind of annoying but sometimes it’s annoying because it’s uncomfortable…and the truth. It could all be gone tomorrow and you’d give anything to go for that walk. So on the days it’s especially hard, try thinking with a grateful heart. It will help you overcome that moment of weakness and doubt. 

There are lots of other tips and tricks out there. These are just a few of mine that have worked over the years. They may or may not be for you, but if you’re struggling, they’re worth giving a try. Maybe I missed a few that are your own favorites—be sure to share them in the comments below for everyone reading. If you do give one or all of these a try, let me know how they work for you in the comments as well. Now, get those clothes laid out for tomorrow and be the partner people are reaching up to for accountability. You can do it!  

Shave Shave Hooray!

I shave my face now. No, I’m not transitioning or having a Britney moment. What I’m doing is one of the it skincare and beauty trends of late and I can’t believe I waited so long to try it. You’ve likely heard of Dermaplaning (it has been around for awhile) or wondered about it yourself haven’t you? If the term shaving your face makes you a tad uncomfortable or dissuades you from trying, we can use Dermaplaning. Much prettier isn’t it? “Hey Connie, I’m shaving my face now.” or “Hey Connie, I’m dermaplaning my face now.” Definitely a difference. I’m the type to call a fig a fig though and it’s basically shaving your face… and you want to do it.

Today, I’m going to debunk two of the biggest reasons why I waited so long to try and, what I’m guessing, may be your own two biggest fears. I’m also going to give you a few pointers because in my limbo of fear, I did major research, read reviews, researched some more, reviewed some more and then researched again just in case before I delved into it. 

For anyone wondering what I’m even talking about, dermaplaning (or face-shaving in my books) is a procedure you receive by a trained technician one to two times a month, with each session lasting around thirty minutes. The cost is relatively low considering costs of other skin treatments. In the session, the technician surgically scrapes any irregularities off the surface of your skin using a sharp blade. New gadgets have also hit the market for you to achieve similar results at home. The process removes the outer-most layer of dead skin and any peach fuzz found on the face. As someone who isn’t hairy, let me just say you never thought you had a mustache until you dermaplane. You never thought you had peach fuzz until it clumps up on your face the same way your dog’s hair clumps in the comb. You never thought you had dead skin because you exfoliate often with your cleanser but then you see your face glowing like a happy little firefly on a summer night after you do it. It’s kind of horrifying, addicting and amazing all at once. 

I watched blogger after blogger and models and influencers rave about this process. I saw trusted professional services offering it and read article after article about how wonderful it was for your skin. I read the cons and scoured reviews of products only for the negatives and kept coming up empty-handed. Obviously there are some cons but not the ones you’d think. I was intrigued as the benefits of this treatment were wild—brighter skin, minimizing fine lines, lessening age spots/discoleratin, makeup going on flawlessly, makeup not settling into fine lines as much, skin regenerating new cells more quickly for younger looking skin, minimizing acne scars, less breakouts, I mean on and on. I was terrified to try it for two reasons only–that my hair would grow back darker and thicker. Somehow I saw myself morpohing into The Bearded Lady in The Greatest Showman

What tipped me over the edge? It wasn’t the constant debunking of my two fears. It was that I rolled into the new decade on the other side of thirty-five and I couldn’t help but notice signs of aging settling in (to my fine lines). At last, based on my research and my vanity, I was finally convinced to go for it. I can assure you the two fears I was most concerned about are myths and I’m going to kick in a few tips for you if you opt for an in-home treatment as I did. You can pay to go see a technician for the professional service, but you can also do it in home just as easily and with pretty similar results. I’m not telling you what to do either way—you have to do what you are comfortable with and these are my personal results.

1.) Will my hair will grow back thicker? No it won’t. I’ll say that again for those in the back–NO. It won’t. What your facial hair was, it will continue to be. Shaving doesn’t change the structure of your hair follicle. This is probably the biggest myth with dermaplaning. I know it was my biggest fear. I was convinced that my tiny, blonde wispy hairs would grow back thicker and coarser. Biologically, it’s simply not true. If you already have coarse hair, expect for it to stay the same. If you have wispy hair like I did, expect it to stay the same. No thicker. No bearded lady. 

2.) Will my hair grow back darker? No. It’s not going to magically change colors anymore than your eyebrows change colors or your hair on your head changes color when it grows. It’s going to come in not only the same density (as discussed above), but also the same color. Again, your genetics determine your hair follicle and it’s not going to change by shaving. 

I think that these two fears can be compared to people who get lash extensions. When you take off lash extensions it’s a shock. Your lashes likely haven’t changed much but it seems like they’re gone. That you suddenly have no lashes. With dermaplaning, once you have shaved and know what you look like without that forest of peach fuzz, it will seem more noticeable to you if you let it grow back because you’ve gotten used to it not being there. It’s not going to come back any darker or thicker but once you’ve done this treatment you notice the difference. Just like plucking, too. Remember that first time you did your brows and you realized you had rocked a unibrow for a few years? Was that just me? Anyone? Ok maybe that was just me. But my point is you realize it only because you are aware. 

I have a few tips for doing this procedure in-home. 

1.) The tool is important. You do not use a normal razor on your face. Don’t be whipping out your shaver for your legs to do your face or stealing your husband’s trusty blade. Use a single blade. My favorite is the Tinkle razor three-pack. Not only do they work great but they are dirt cheap. Get them here: https://www.tinkleyourface.com You can snag these on Amazon as well, but there are a lot of sellers sneaking in fake razors. I didn’t want to chance it. I’d pay to be sure you get what you want.

2.) Always dermaplane with a clean, makeup-free face. I like to do it at night after I remove makeup and cleanse. If you don’t, you are just scraping off makeup, ruin the razor and miss a ton of hairs and skin. Afterwards I cleanse again and give my face a dousing of my favorite serum and then moisturize. 

3.) While you’re at it, touch up those brows. Don’t forget your brows. This is an amazing way to remove some unibrow action and get those pesky hairs under the brow bone area. You want to be ultra careful around your eyes (do I really even need to say that?) as your skin is thin there. Despite waxing or plucking religiously, you don’t always get all the hairs and sometimes you can’t even see them—but they’re there. This will remove them for epic wow brows. Just don’t shave off your brow tails. Slow and steady.

4.) Do your entire face. Don’t just do your chin or skip your nose or your forehead. Afterwards, you’ll notice—so will everyone else. Do your entire face. It will especially affect your makeup if you only do one area—why does she have a funky shadow on her forehead? I like to start around my cheekbones and work my way down to my chin. I then start up at my forehead/brow area and finish with my nose and upper lip. Remember, this process isn’t all about the hair—it’s about getting rid of the dead skin. So even if you have little to no hair on your forehead, you want to get rid of that layer of dead skin. Also, don’t go against the grain (for lack of a better term) and careful around your hair line so you don’t start shaving your head.

5.) It’s addicting but don’t overdue this. Do it on an as-needed basis. You’ll know. Just like your at-home glycolic peel or microderm, you only do them a couple of times a week MAX. This is a whole other level treatment, so I would say once a week max if not once every two weeks. Like I said, you’ll know. You don’t necessarily want stubble growing back but don’t overdue it for the sake of your skin.

6.) Be careful with sun exposure immediately following dermaplaning. You should be wearing SPF every single day as is, but still be careful going in the sun after doing this—it’s fresh new skin you’ve uncovered and it will fry. 

There you have it folks. I’m hooked and you will be too. My initial results were incredible and immediate. My skin is brighter, healthier, younger looking and will continue to be with each swipe of my Tinkle blade. My makeup (which I had a pretty good makeup game to begin with) leveled up. It will transform your skin. Don’t wait to try it as long as I did out of fear of the beard. It’s a myth. Again, speak to a professional if it will make you feel better and maybe have it done professionally the first time. However you decide to finally delve into this, I think you’ll love it and if you’re still scared to admit you’re a face-shaver I promise your secret is safe with me. 

I’d love to hear your feedback if you decide to try or if you’ve been on this for awhile, tell me your results and how you are liking it. Maybe I missed a tip you want to share–please do so below. Also, leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Chow Down and Cheer Super Bowl Sunday with these Fan Favorite Recipes

I was raised on the appetizer. When other families would gather around a beautifully set table and enjoy a Christmas dinner with ham or turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade buns, green bean casseroles and so on, we were chowing down on appetizers all night while we opened presents. Each year, a new one would be added or someone would try something new. I loved it and never missed that Christmas dinner at all. Over the years I’ve collected a slew of appetizer recipes, from cucumber sandwiches to wings to dips to bacon-wrapped everything to seasonal, you name it. I can confidently attend any event with a slew of options up my sleeve—yes, even “snobbier” options. As I began cooking, I tweaked some of my favorites to my own taste preference and have come up with some twists on the originals. 

With the Super Bowl fast approaching this weekend, I thought I would try to get a quick post up for you in case you were on the hunt for a great game-day option. I have loads of other appys in my vault but these are great wintery ones that feel football game appropriate (and ones I won’t have to kill you for sharing). I kid, I kid. As I typed these out, in true midwest fashion, I noticed almost every single one utilizes ranch dressing in some way shape or form. Aren’t you happy I’m here to help keep things classy? Also, if you’re looking for healthy options, you won’t find them in this particular post. Tasty? Yes. Healthy. Not so much.

These are great to bring to a party, great for if you’re hosting a party or if you’re just doing something small and fun with your family. I hope you find one that catches your eye and  maybe give one or two of them a whirl. I’d love your thoughts, too, so comment below with which one most excites you to try. If you have any questions on the recipes, feel free to also drop a comment below. Enjoy! 

Kurtis’s O Canada Wings

These wings were inspired by my husband Kurtis. He has perfected them over the years and they are our tribute to his home country. When I lived in Canada, the “buffalo wings” I had come to fear (not a huge spice fan) took a strange turn. Kurtis was chowing down on them one night and I couldn’t understand why they were a creamy orange color. I tried one and a whole new world opened up to me. These “O Canada Wings” are a Canadian version of buffalo wings—and they are epic my friends. Perfect for game day or a backyard bbq. 

3-4 packages of wings (purchase them split)

1 large bottle Frank’s Red Hot Wing Sauce 

1 extra large bottle Hidden Valley Ranch dressing (40 fl oz)

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Season wings to your liking. Foil a sheet pan and bake wings until crispy. Approximately one hour or so. 

While wings are baking, mix ranch and wing sauce. Kurtis doesn’t measure but he would recommend 3/4 the bottle of the ranch. Add wing sauce to your desired spiciness. At least 1/4 of the bottle. The sauce will be pale orange. Stir.

Dump wings into a large bowl and pour sauce over top. Gently toss. 

The wings are ready after that step but we like to put them in a Crock-Pot on low for them to merry for a bit. Stir occasionaly. 

Aunt Suzy’s Wontons

Kurtis first had these at my aunt Suzy’s annual Halloween party and he begged me to make them for literally every single other appetizer related event or party we ever attend or host. LITERALLY. Every one. They have become a crowd favorite and when appys are discussed, I usually get the nod to make these. They are one of my most asked for recipes. They are crunchy and unique, mild and tasty. They are also pretty on a platter so if you need something that is pretty and tasty this is a good one. They are kid-friendly, too. Be careful though, one tends to turn into four or five. Or ten if you’re Kurtis.

1 pk Won Ton skins

1 lb Jimmy Dean pork sausage

1 red pepper finely chopped

1 can chopped black olives

1 bottle Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mini muffin tins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In the mini muffin tin, form Won Ton cups. Bake for ten minutes.

Cook sausage and drain grease. Combine sausage with the other ingredients except for ranch in a large bowl. Add ranch until mixture is moist (sorry had to use that word). You don’t want it too dry but definitely not oozing ranch. 

Fill Won Ton cups with mixture (don’t overflow them) and bake for approximately ten more minutes.  

Beer Dip

We are a family of not only appetizers but also dips. I could do an entire cookbook on dips alone. This beer spread has a fun zing to it and while pretzels are often served with it for a full pub-like effect, I have to say that this dip on a Ruffle chip is about as close to perfection as you can get for my basic palette. Yes, there’s beer in it, but none of us have ever gotten drunk of it–yet at least. I still let my kids eat it. If you can’t stand that thought, opt for a non-alcoholic beer. For a low-carb option, try parmesan crisps or celery sticks. 

2 cups shredded cheddar

2 8 oz cream cheese softened

2 TBL bacon bits (I like the real ones not the crunchy ones)

1 package of dried Hidden Valley ranch seasoning

1/2 can of beer

Combine cheddar and cream cheese and dry dressing mix. Gradually stir in beer.

Chill for at least two hours (but honestly the longer the better). 

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Everyone probably has this recipe in some form or another but I like making mine with a Rotisserie chicken. I think it adds in a whole next level of flavor because sometimes this dip tastes bland. We are BIG blue cheese fans, so I recommend topping it with crumbles. Shredded cheddar is fine, too. This one is great with celery sticks, chips, pretzels or even baguettes. 

1 Rotisserie chicken

2 8 oz packs cream cheese (softened)

1 c Hidden Valley ranch dressing

3/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1/2 cup shredded cheddar or blue cheese crumbles

Skin the rotisserie chicken and chop up the meat. I focus on the breasts and save the legs for something else. 

Heat the chopped chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the softened cream cheese and ranch. Stir until blended and warm. Top with shredded cheese or blue cheese—whichever your preference.

From here, you can either place the mixture in a pie pan and heat in the oven to brown the cheese or add to a crockpot on low or serve immediately. Your choice.

Cracker Mix

I roomed with a fellow tennis player my freshman year of college and she brought this to one of our meets early in the season. I think I was late to my match because I was in a corner chowing down on this mix. It’s unique and addicting. This is a great one to have in little bowls around the house if you are hosting or to bring to someone’s home in a cute tin. Even if they don’t tell you they need you to bring anything it would be a nice gesture—it will get eaten, trust me. You can mix and match the crackers to your liking—this is just my personal go-to lineup.

(Use six boxes total —feel free to mix and match)

Bugles

Goldfish crackers

Cheez-It Grooves white cheddar

Rye chips

Wheat Thins

Ritz Crisps Original

twin pack of Hidden Valley Ranch dry seasoning

Orvil Redenbacher butter popcorn oil

Dump the six boxes of crackers into a large roaster or disposable roasting pan. Stressing the word large. Stir gently. Sprinkle seasoning packets on top or crackers and gently stir again. Add popcorn oil (slowly). You may not need an entire bottle. Stir gently to coat. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Twisted Taco Dip

Don’t skip this!! I know you’re thinking—who doesn’t have this dip recipe? Boring! I have a surprise up my sleeve–read it out. I don’t use taco seasoning in my taco dip. Instead, I use dried ranch seasoning powder. It takes it to a whole other level and your guests will notice (and ask why yours tastes so much better). You’re welcome! 

2 8 oz packages cream cheese

1 package dry Hidden Valley ranch seasoning

1 jar mild or medium taco sauce

1 small can sliced black olives

1/2 jar sliced green olives

1 can diced mild chiles 

shredded cheddar 

Blend the dressing mix with the cream cheese and spread onto a large round platter. Spread taco sauce over top. Top with listed toppings and finish with shredded cheese. Refrigerate to give it time to set and for favors to blend. Serve with hearty Tostito chips.

Ham & Cheese Buns

These little guys are my favorite game day entree to serve. They are simple to make and can even be done ahead of time less the butter mix. They always get crushed and no matter how many times you serve them, people always love them. You can mix it up with these as well—try beef with cheddar or turkey and cheddar and bacon or beef and blue cheese crumbles. Have fun with it if you get bored of ham and cheese. 

1 TBL Dijon mustard

2 TBL Poppy Seeds

1/2 cup butter

24 Hawaiian dinner rolls

1/2 lb thinly sliced honey ham

1/2 lb sliced swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt botter in saucepan over low heat. Add poppy seeds and Dijon mustard. Whisk. 

Form sandwiches on a parchment paper or foiled and lightly sprayed sheet pan. I split the cheese so that it goes bun bottom, cheese, ham, cheese, bun top. 

Brush the tops with butter mixture and drizzle remaining butter mix over top. 

Bake for 20 minutes and serve immediately.  These are best when the tops are slightly browned and crispy.

Kurtis’s Caesar Drink

I’ll never forget the time I went out up in Canada for the first time. I ordered a Bloody Mary. The bartender looked at me like I was drugged. Then when I was exasperated they didn’t have my drink, the just rolled his eyes and told me I was in a new country now and to get used to it as he handed me a drink. The “it” was a Caesar and let me tell you, it now reigns superior over the Bloody Mary in my book. It is lighter and not as thick and murky as your typical Bloody Mary. Although we aren’t in Canada anymore, it’s the only thing we serve on Freedom Farm. I’ve also converted a few people over to it already. The key is Clamato. You’ll find it by the Bloody Mary mixes. Kurtis also drinks “beer and clam” which was another Canadian specialty. Pour your beer and add some Clamato to it. If Vodka isn’t your thing, try it with Gin. It’s also excellent. 

In this order:

1 glass of ice

freshly squeezed lemon

freshly squeezed lime

a few dashes of Tabasco (if desired)

a few dashes of celery salt

1-2 shots of Vodka (depending on your mood) 

COLD Clamato juice (cold is key)

Stir. 

Wet rim with a wedge of lime and then add lime to cup. Add one more dash of celery salt. Garnish (celery, olives, beef stick, pickles, whatever). You can also rim the glass with Sea Salt.

My Low-Carb Lifestyle & Five Tips for Living Your Best Low-Carb Life

For me, low-carb has become a lifestyle—coming to me as naturally as my cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It’s not for everyone, though. Fitness, eating habits, skincare, fashion, makeup—all of them are not a one-size fits all for people. What works for me may not work for you and what works for you may not for me. With that being said, I can say with certainty that low-carb has and continues to work for my lifestyle.

I’ve had three c-sections. After Tia, the weight came off pretty easily. I had started attending fitness classes five days a week and was running at least three times a week up to five miles per run. With just one child and no other job title other than “mama” at the time, I could keep this commitment pretty easily. The weight came off and I was in stellar shape. 

I remember lying on the table during my second c-section and feeling that rip. If you haven’t had a c-section you won’t know this, but if you have, you know the rip. It was a painless pressure feel of them ripping apart those abs that I had worked so hard to get back (and I had gotten them back–they were pretty). I think this doctor was feeling especially aggressive that day because I don’t remember a rip like that with Tia. Anyway, the rip, the tug, the pull and instead of thinking, I can’t wait to see this baby, I remember thinking, there go my abs. And my friends, there they went. If anyone sees them let me know, I’ve been looking for them since. 

Losing the weight after my second c-section was radically different than my first. It just didn’t come off the same. Those last ten pounds hovered and my body felt…saggier. I mean, let’s be honest. There’s no pretty way to put it. Everything didn’t bounce back into place rubber band style like it did the first time. I was eating healthy and working out. I couldn’t hold the same commitment to fitness as I did with Tia because I was now running a business and raising two babes only 16 months apart with a husband working six to seven days a week (he’d leave at 5:30am and get home around 6:00pm). I walked a ton because that was easy to do with the girls and we had a treadmill and weights and I had a fitness program a trainer had given me. I ate healthy meals and didn’t overindulge. But the weight wasn’t coming off. At this point, I knew I needed something a little more. I knew my body well and was well aware of health, fitness and nutrition from a lifetime of sports and trainers. I looked at a lot of diet options and finally decided to try the Atkins. With Hadley, I went hardcore into this diet. I learned about it, read a ton of articles and religiously followed it for six months. I’m not getting into the nitty gritty of it or saying that’s the diet to follow—there are a lot of articles swearing it will kill you and equally as many saying it’s epic and amazing. I’m not going there. What I’m saying, is Atkins is how I ventured into low-carb. I strictly followed it for a time and then shook it out to fit into my life. It wasn’t about my life fitting into the diet—it was about the diet fitting into my life. Eventually, it wasn’t a diet and was my lifestyle. I knew what I could eat, how much, what things affected me most, where I needed to be for carb intake for my energy and more. I guess it became my own diet because I perfectly curated it to my life. 

In 2018—a year and a half after I had Carolyn—we went to Florida. I had been eating (sort of) low-carb after her birth and continuing to be moderately active, with two to three mile walks almost daily. But I wasn’t feeling good. My pants were snug. The weight I had initially lost was creeping back. I saw a picture of myself on the beach and just had that feeling…like, yikes. Now, I carry my weight well. People like to give me grief sometimes and would even say “you look great,” “you don’t need to lose weight,” etc. This isn’t coming from a skewed image of myself. This was coming from a, I know my body better than anyone and I’m telling you, I don’t feel good and I don’t feel healthy and you might not know it because I have an oversized sweater on but I can barely button these pants place. So, I decided to recommit to what I had learned. What worked for me before, worked again. I tweaked only two things—upping my cardio and cracking down on my carb count. 

I’m in as good of shape now as I was after Tia. Same size pants. Clothes fit well. All the things. The low-carb lifestyle I had adopted and adapted after Hadley is what best works for my lifestyle and my body. Like I said, it’s not for everyone and there are tons of different low-carb options out there with lots of different terms and names. Each has its own following and merit. My body is a different body after three c-sections and that’s ok, but I know my body well and it’s healthy and happy and looks great in whatever I decide to dress it in thanks to the low-carb lifestyle I follow. 

If you too are on a low-carb diet or have decided on this lifestyle, or are maybe thinking of it, here are five of my favorite tips for you to help make it a bit easier. Most importantly, remember this simple equation for counting carbs: Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols. 

1.) Hold the starch, extra veggie. Why even tempt yourself? When you go out to eat is likely your biggest set-up to fail. When you’re home, you’re in control. When you’re out, you usually get a big ‘ol side of starch. What I like to do is remove the temptation completly. Anytime I’m out with friends or for date night I order my protein (typically a filet or salmon) and ask for extra veggies instead of the starch. They are usually happy to accomodate. The good news is, your veggie option is usually broccoli, asparagus or green beans. If it’s carrots, run and ask for something else. Consider carrot a starch. Usually it’s one of those green veggies though and then you’re in business. I like them steamed and put lots of lemon or even some shredded parmesan on them if they have it available. 

2.) Cauliflower is your new bestie. Your new bestie also smells like garbage, but you’ll get past that. I missed bedding my meals on rice. It wasn’t the rice I missed though, it was just that extra something with my stir-fry or that saucy casserole I had made. I missed my homemade spaghetti but it was the sauce I missed, not the pasta. Cauliflower can replace all of that. Tuna casserole? Use cauliflower rice instead of noodles. Beef Stroganoff? Use garlic mashed cauliflower (see recipe below–it’s one of my favorites) instead of mashed potatoes. Spaghetti? Cauliflower rice instead of noodles. You can replace just about anything with cauliflower something. Yes, it smells, but it is incredibly healthy, keeps things moving (if you get what I mean) and is a perfect filler for those things you think you miss.

3.) Don’t be fooled by whole wheat, bean, vegetable or whatever pasta. Pasta is pasta. I check labels. Pasta companies are getting smart. Low-carb is huge–almost as big as gluten–and they are trying to offer variations to their pasta so that it’s healthier and we’re tricked into thinking since it isn’t that regular pasta it must have less carbs. Is whole wheat pasta healthier? Yes. But it usually has more carbs than regular pasta. Is bean pasta healthier? Yes. It has less carbs than regular but it’s still loaded with carbs. Just because it’s healthier doesn’t mean it fits into the lifestyle you’ve chosen. It’s best to steer clear in general and opt for Zoodles, Spaghetti squash or cauliflower. 

4.) Water is life. I’ll keep this part short. When you cut carbs, you can get bunged up like a gopher (as my husband would say). You should be drinking about a half gallon of water every day as it is, but when you go low-carb–especially early on–you need to hit that and then some. Water is a vital part to any low-carb lifestyle and it’s essential that you drink it by the buckets or else you’re going to find yourself in major struggle town. Water, water, water. 

5.) Find an app you like to track your food, exercise and carb intake. Tracking is important with anything in life–if you set a goal for yourself and you want to achieve it, you have to track it. The same goes for your carb goals. Writing in a journal is fine, but there are apps out there now that have the actuals for you and take a lot of the guesswork out of it. Whatever your target net carb for the day–50, 100, etc.–you want to be tracking throughout the day to see that you do or don’t hit that. You’ll be surprised at how much you eat and how many carbs are in a lot of foods you initially thought were good for this lifestyle. My favorite app to use is MyFitnessPal.

People always ask what I miss most living low-carb and I get a kick out of it. I can eat carbs. I still do eat carbs and of course I cheat here and there. I don’t really miss anything, though in all honesty, because you can find a low-carb version of just about anything. Anything you can’t find in low-carb, there are fabulous substitutes to trick your mind and satisfy your craving. Parmesan crisps, Alyssa’s cookies, sugar-free Jello, Stevia, cheese cubes, and turkey sticks are some of my favorite snacks. I drink wine, use creamer in my coffee, splurge on pizza, you name it. But I’m disciplined, too, and took the time to find out my best version of “low-carb” that best fits my life and my body. If I have one more piece of advice for you, it’s this: don’t be afraid of trial and error and straying from your plan to find what’s best for your life. Again, if you are trying to fit your life into a diet, you’re likely to eventually fail. It’s not supposed to go that way. It’s about a plan that best fits into your life. 

Lauren’s Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 Head Fresh Cauliflower, cut into florets. You can also sub with a couple of packages of frozen cauliflower florets (get the steamable bag).

Minced Garlic (equivalent to one clove)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

2-3 Tablespoons Cream Cheese (room temp is best for blending)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Splash of red wine

Directions:

1.) Steam Fresh or Frozen Cauliflower and drain

2.) Slowly add Cauliflower to food processor or blender and blend. Add in remaining ingredients and blend to preferred consistency. Serve. 

Unplugged.

I once drove over twenty-five miles on a highway with an extension cord plugged into my car and dragging out behind me about thirty feet. 

As someone who isn’t a fan of winters, it’s always a family joke that I continued to move north. First to Green Bay and then across the border to Canada. In the winter depths of the Frozen Tundra, Kurtis loaded up all my worldly possessions into a trailer and I said goodbye to my darling duplex in DePere—bound for a new chapter in Saskatchewan. We stayed overnight in North Dakota and I remember wondering why there were all kinds of little stations in the parking lot. I thought they were parking meters at first but upon closer inspection they were outlets. I probably asked Kurtis at the time but sometimes I only half listen to his answers, so there’s a chance he explained and I just forgot. It was cold. My mind was likely on a warm shower.

Anyway, we moved up to Canada in the coldest possible winter and I just about didn’t marry him on account of the thirty below temperatures that lasted from the time we moved in January until July (or so it seemed). One of the first things he wanted to do when we got there was put a block heater in my Jeep. Do you know what that is? Wait, let me rephrase that…has anyone reading in the states heard of a block heater? I sure as heck hadn’t. I actually didn’t ask when he mentioned it and let him do whatever car thing he needed to do to my vehicle. I’m not a big car person. I don’t like washing them, gassing them, oil changes any of the things. Wouldn’t it be nice if people still put gas in our cars for us? Ugh, what a luxury that was. Back to the story—I didn’t pay attention to what he was doing to my car.

When he arrived home with my block heated (or whatever he did to it) vehicle, I watched him run an extension cord from our outdoor outlet to the hood of my car and then he plugged the end somewhere under the hood of the car. I was so confused. I freaked out at first because I thought he had just converted my car into one of those electric Urkelmobiles. Exasperated and confused, I asked if he had turned my vehicle into an electric car. That was probably a dumb question. Kindly, he explained (probably for a second time since North Dakota) that up north when it gets really cold, people plug in their vehicles to keep the engine warm so it starts after sitting out overnight. Considering the thirty below temps with wind gusts strong enough to send a bungalow home to Oz, it made sense.

Fast forward a few years. Winters were just as cold and technology hadn’t gotten any better for us, so we still had to plug in our vehicles. I don’t think I actually ever did plug mine in to be honest—that was Kurtis’s job. I cooked dinner, he plugged in the cars.  We lived in a tiny town of 500 people and for me to go do anything like groceries, shopping, fast food, meet friends, or workout, I had to drive thirty miles to either Estevan or Weyburn. Any time I left, I’d call Kurtis and let him know we were heading in to whichever place I’d decided on that day—usually just flipped a coin to be honest. Heads: Weyburn Wholesale. Tails: Estevan Jason’s No Frills (those are grocery stores). He’d always tell me before I left, “Don’t forget to unplug the car.” I would get annoyed sometimes. Who would forget to unplug a car? Me.  

One March afternoon, I bundled up the girls, got myself put together and decided to go see a friend in Weyburn. She had a little girl Tia’s age, so we were going to do a play date and enjoy some coffee time together. I loaded up the girls, locked the house (just kidding we never locked our house up there) and then started the thirty mile trek to Weyburn. The highway to Weyburn is a two lane mess of jacked-up trucks, oilfield equipment, farm equipment, super-b’s, and international travelers. It’s a well-traveled highway connecting the northern United States through Saskatchewan to Alberta. People either went 20 or 120 kilometers per hour on it—rarely with much in between. Remember we are in Canada friends—kilometers per hour. Ask Kurtis sometime about my comment when we crossed the border for the first time and I saw the speed limit was 100. That’s a different story though. My point is that it was a busy, dangerous highway with lots of crazy drivers and you always said a little prayer anytime you went on it.

Well, I pulled out from Midale onto the highway and took off like a bat out of hell heading to Weyburn. Not far out of town a man in a Toyota Topaz–or something like that–pulled up on my left and was waving his hands and pointing. First I pretended not to see him. I hate awkward situations and this felt especially strange. I didn’t know the man and I wasn’t exactly sure what he was upset about—I was going the speed limit and minding my own business. He kept pulling next to me then backing off. Pointing and shaking his head. I was sure he was going to get smoked by a semi. After about the fourth time, I was getting a little scared  and certainly annoyed, so I looked at him and asked, “What’s your problem!?” Do you ever do that? Talk to someone outside of your car when there’s zero chance they can hear you? I do it a lot actually. I threw my hands up with a frown, rolled my eyes, shook my head and turned away. I mean, he was being so rude. I had a car full of precious cargo and I needed to concentrate on getting them in to town safely. After that, he shook his own head and sped past me.

About halfway to town I kept thinking I heard something other than my pounding heart from the random strange man incident. I was feeling a pull on the Yukon. It was still snowy so I figured a chunk of ice or snow had fallen off the back of the car or maybe something was still frozen onto it and dragging.

On I went the thirty miles to Weyburn ranging anywhere from 110-115 kilometers per hour. As I slowed to make my turn into town, I definitely heard another clank. Now I started thinking I had popped a tire or something was really wrong with the vehicle. As I toodled down main street, people walking the street were even looking at my vehicle and laughing. 

I pulled into my friend’s driveway, got out and grabbed Hadley. I then walked around the other side of the vehicle to grab Tia and saw it….the extension cord. The once fresh, bright orange cord (last seen plugged into the side of our home) was now dirty, beaten, knotted and the plug-in end was all kinds of bent from being ripped out from the socket on the side of our home. Oh boy. I had left without unplugging. What I would give to have been a neighbor witnessing me, stuffed into the drivers seat with all my winter layers, backing out of our driveway with the cord still plugged in. Driving off obliviously singing along to “Roar” while my cord drug along behind me. A bright orange pop of color against the bleak winter background.

The man on the highway—the one I thought was an ass—was actually a really good samaritan trying to tell me that I had an extension cord flying out behind me. He had risked his life multiple times to get my attention. Can you imagine what he thought of me!? 1.) That I was an idiot (because I was) and 2.) That I was a jerk store idiot who didn’t even know what was good for her (because I was). The people on main street staring? Not at my loud vehicle but at the person cruising around town with a thirty foot extension cord dancing behind her over all the potholes. Kurtis? He was speechless. This happens sometimes. It’s not always a good speechless. It’s more of a oh my god speechless. Not like oh my god baby baby speechless but oh my god you didn’t but you did speechless. Anyway. Speechless. Thankfully it turned out ok. I won’t get into all the ways that could’ve gone terribly wrong. We’ll just leave it as a lesson learned and a friendly public service announcement to those of you up north–remember to unplug.