Gift ideas that focus on togetherness

So it’s that time of year where we feel the need to get gifts for everyone. But, as in the Grinch’s epiphany, “maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” This post piggybacks off of last week’s, that it’s about presence and not presents, providing some ideas for gifts that aren’t just going to sit and collect dust. Christmas is about love and here are some great ideas to help spread that love while making memories with our loved ones.

Spa/salon/massage certificate or gift card

This is great for the person in your life who needs a little pampering. Getting a manicure with some girlfriends or sisters is a great way to spend an afternoon. And guys, it’s okay for you too! You don’t need to get polish to have someone soak and take care of your hands.

Dinner at a restaurant

A gift card to a favorite restaurant is great for a loved one who lives a distance away. For one who is closer, give them a certificate to take them out to dinner.

Dance/yoga/kickboxing classes

This would be a great time to try something different, like dance classes with a significant other or a belly dancing class with a couple of girlfriends.

Coupon for a service

Do you have a friend who just had a baby or an older person in your life who doesn’t get around as well as when he/she was younger? A voucher for babysitting or a day of help around the house or yard is sure to be greatly appreciated.

Movie/concert tickets

For someone who loves the movies or a particular band, tickets to the event would be a fun evening for you to do together. The event can even be a couple of months down the road. Sometimes the anticipation is part of the fun!


Maybe you have a loved one who holds a cause near to his/her heart, like cancer research, homelessness, or need of resources in a developing country. A donation in someone’s name is a caring gesture of that person’s values. There are foundations for every cause out there and local aid organizations. A couple of amazing international aid organizations are World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and Charity Water. Charity Navigator can also direct you to choosing the right one for your donation.

Tourist attractions

If you live in a big city, you sometimes take attractions for granted. Spend an afternoon playing tourist and do those activities that you haven’t done since an old school field trip, like visit a museum or local historical site.

Homemade consumables

A homemade sugar or salt scrub is very easy to make in large batches, as is dry cookie dough mix in a jar. For coffee and hot chocolate lovers, chocolate dipped spoons with a bag of their favorite drink is also a great idea. Get the kiddos to help bake and package family favorite holiday treats to hand out to friends. Pinterest is full of ideas!


Whatever you buy does not need to be expensive. What matters is that you spend time with the person. Look on Groupon for deals for different services and activities. If you have siblings or a group of friends, you can even agree instead of buying gifts, that you will all get a package to a certain class or spa service. And these gift ideas are good for other traditional giving occasions, such as Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays.

Things I wish I could tell my 21-year old self

Hindsight is 20-20. How I wish I had a time-turner (or a time machine, for you muggles) so that I could travel back to my 21-year-old self and sit down over a drink and lay some truths down. But then again, at 21 years old, one generally feels like he/she already knows everything.


This past year, 2017, has been a really good one in my life. I feel like all of the puzzles pieces have fallen into place to create a more meaningful, simple life. Note: simple does NOT mean easy. I imagine the thought of my arrogance in thinking that I have life figured out probably makes God laugh, because this is truly not my life, but His. I wonder what my 60-year old self will think of this blog post.

Regardless, I have learned some really good lessons in the past decade and a half since entering the “real world”.


Never Say Never

Several times in my life I have been arrogant enough (hmmm…) to dare to tell God that I will never do something. Not long after that, every time, God has called me to do that very thing.

I said I would never move away from Cleveland, where I grew up and my family and friends pretty much all lived. When I was 28, I felt that God was calling me to move down to Texas. For four years when my best friend, who did live in San Antonio, would ask me every month when I was moving, “I’m not” was my standard reply. Then one morning I woke up and was like, “I think I’ll move to Texas!” Six months later, I was making the drive with my car jam packed with my belongings.

In college, I said I could never be a teacher. Then God called me to be a special ed teacher in San Antonio and I taught for nine years. I did love the work.

A few years ago, in my women’s Bible study, I vividly remember stating that God did not care what we ate, that there was no Biblical place for that idea.  Fast forward to January 2017 when I started following the Primal diet because I believe so deeply that God does care and that it does make a huge difference what we eat.

There are a few of other instances. It’s just funny how God changes our minds. And in every single instance, following through on what I said I would never do, has so greatly improved my life.


Your parents were right!

I remember in the mid-90s, my mom talked about the evils of refined sugar, white flour, and carbs. I would roll my eyes and try to ignore her. Yeah. See above.


Frustrated Mom


My parents tried to get me to budget my money and my mom would recommend Dave Ramsey’s books to me. I thought that because I worked in a bank and talked to people all day long with tons of credit card debt that I would be impervious to that pitfall. Cue a move across country and a very active, single lifestyle (trips, shopping, eating out) and usher in lots of credit card debt. Thankfully, when my husband and I first started dating, he was listening to Dave Ramsey and I finally did as well. We ended up both getting out of credit card debt and now know how to manage our finances.

Again, there are more examples, but those two are the most important issues on which I would tell my younger self.


Exercise and Eat Right

This may sound obvious. I wish I would have been more active when I was younger but I am so glad that I found my group, Camp Gladiator, when I did a few years ago.

My viewpoint on nutrition has changed so completely that I left my teaching career to focus on coaching others to value their own nutrition. What we eat has such a huge impact on our bodies. Duh, I know, but when I was getting my Primal Health Certification, it just struck me as truly amazing how our bodily systems all work in conjunction together. I was CONVINCED at one point, pre-Primal, that I had diabetes and a bunch of other ailments (slight hypochondriatic tendencies). Since eliminating grains, added sugar, and dairy from my diet, I no longer think I am coming down with anything. I feel so much better when I eat REAL food; I should have started this a decade ago.


Don’t Buy All the Things

This is part of what got me into all the credit card debt in the first place. I thought that buying THINGS would fill some void inside of me. And it would for a short time until I needed another fix. My “drug” of choice was clothing. It was truly disgusting how many articles of clothing I had. 90% of it didn’t fit or was outdated because I never got rid of anything.




Over the past few years, I started getting rid of things – the benefit of getting married and combining two households into one. I found The Minimalists this spring and their podcast and documentary has added sooooo much value to my life! (A link to their page is on my Resources page.) Getting rid of all the crap, the clutter, the tchotchkes, the things that I never use, has made my life so much simpler!


Add Value to the World


I graduated college with a dual major in International Business & Economics and Japanese. I wasn’t sure what I would do but I wanted to be a “businesswoman”. I liked to travel and loved learning other languages and, as there was no other strong job calling, it seemed to make sense.

I was fortunate enough to get hired with a major bank a few months prior to graduating. After 5 years of doing a job that I thought trained monkey could do, I left. I had a strong desire to do something that actually made an impact on the world. This was when I felt called to move to Texas and be a special ed teacher.

A couple of years ago, I took three different personality tests to try and find the “perfect job” for me. No joke, each one told me “elementary teacher/special ed teacher”. I really wish I had taken this tests earlier. I have the “provider guardian” personality.


“Providers are observant, cooperative, informative, and expressive. They are greatly concerned with the health and welfare of those under their care and they are the nurturers of established social institutions such as businesses, churches, social clubs, and schools.”
  • Wikipedia, “Provider (role variant)” article


While I wish I would have learned this at the start of my adult life, I think of all the valuable lessons and experiences I have had along the way. Those lessons and experiences have made me who I am today. And I am at a point where I truly love myself.


These are just a few things that I am trying to teach to my kids now, while they are still young, to instill good habits. Some of it is taking hold and some, well, they are just kids.

Oh, and God, I am NEVER going to Tahiti!!!!

Presence not Presents

It is that glorious time of the year where we pack lots of social events, family time, cooking, baking, eating, shopping, wrapping, running around… into 6 weeks.

This year, maybe you can do something different. Slow down. Don’t focus so much on presents as presence.

Start some new family traditions.

Clean out the toy box or the closets and have your children help you take the items to a charity for donation. Teach them that just because they are done loving their stuffed bear doesn’t mean that another child won’t love it just as much. The way I explained it to my kiddos when they both still believed in Santa was that by us donating their old toys, moms and dads who want to buy gifts for their kids but maybe cannot afford brand new things, can buy these things to make their little ones happy.

Take nature walks or discover geocaching, which is basically a modern day treasure hunt.

Watch science experiment videos online and then perform them together (with proper safety precautions, of course).

Watch the home videos your parents took when you were a child. Our children love seeing us at our awkward stages in living color.

Make hot chocolate or tea and sit and have a conversation with them, especially if they are at an age where they still like to talk to you and even more so if they are in those difficult teen years where they don’t talk to any adult.

When the littles ask you to play an imaginary game, do it, even if it’s five minutes. You will only have so many more chances. Turn things like making dinner into a game. I call it cooking school. We put on our aprons and the girls do what they can according to their ability, usually really easy meals.

As a stepmom, I get less time with my two girls than a full-time parent, so I really need to make my time count. Some mornings it’s hard to pry the electronics out of the kids’ hands (and let’s be honest, sometimes my own) but once I am successful, the girls always have fun when we spend time doing something together. And I really value the time with them.

In terms of presents: Sure, you may have bought your children forty gifts each last year and might feel the need to surpass that this year. But if you don’t, your kids will live. A few years ago I saw this on Pinterest and I love it.




Our culture is driven by mindless consumerism and meaningless materialism. It took me getting out of a lot of credit card debt to have my eyes opened, but this topic is for another blog post. As one of my heroes Dave Ramsey says, “more is caught than is taught”. Your children learn by watching what you do, not what you say. You remember that anti-drug PSA from the ‘80s…




Anyway, just some thoughts on that. We just had the girls at our house for the past week and it’s always a little sad the day or so after they go back home. I am just feeling a little sentimental.


10 Simple Thanksgiving Tips

The big day is almost here — The Super Bowl of Food! The day we get together with our family and sometimes have to deal with awkward questions from nosy/well-intentioned loved ones. People spend lots of money and time to make large, decadent meals.

You’ve worked hard the past few weeks. You made it to the gym or to your boot camp every day last week! You were careful when ordering take-out. But you still don’t want all of your hard work to go down the drain, nor do you want to deprive yourself.

Our culture, especially the during the holidays, revolves around food.

It seems, sometimes, to be the entire point of a get together. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the day…without the self-loathing later.

1. Eat before the big event.

If you are going over to Aunt Sally’s at 3 p.m., make sure you’ve had breakfast, a glass of water, and maybe even a small salad before you pack up the car. When you arrive starving, you are more likely to go overboard with the appetizers laid out.

2. Let others get ahead of you in line.

A full dish heaped with a mountain of mashed potatoes next to a full gravy boat is very enticing. A half full dish isn’t as luring.

3. Turn your plate into a rainbow.

A variety of food will help you to get the most variety of nutrients – vitamins and minerals, not just nutrient-lacking carbs. The different colored food will also tend to have different textures, giving more eating pleasure.

4. Make smaller dishes.

We love to make large dishes, or double a recipe, to feed large crowds of people. But chances are really good that there will be a plethora of dishes at the buffet and sometimes just a bite or two is really all that’s needed to satiate a craving.

5. Choose booze or sugar — not both.

These two food groups pack a huge caloric punch for their volumes. If you go full blast for all the choices, bloating, lethargy, and disappointment are sure to follow.

6. If you choose booze, make a low-calorie drink.

Mixed drinks can be a “two-fer”: both alcohol AND sugar, which are just empty calories and both negatively affect blood sugar levels. Alcohol is a toxin and the body treats it as such, expelling all of its energy into ridding itself of it, thereby disrupting other bodily functions, such as digestion and regulation of hormones, to do so.. Be wise with your choices. If you like mixed drinks, a great substitute is vodka and La Croix. La Croix is super trendy right now and can be found at most grocers. It is naturally flavored, carbonated water that has no sugar or artificial ingredients, and comes in about 20 different flavors. My favorite is the Cherry Lime/Cerise Limón. Mix it with vodka and it is a grown-up version of a Sonic Cherry Limeade.

The best part of getting a case of La Croix is that it is a perfect substitute for kiddos or other non-drinkers to have instead of chemical-laden soda/pop and you can make festive mocktails. Here is a link with some recipes to inspire you.

7. If you choose sugar, make one indulgence.

A piece of pie, any flavor, has a significant amount of calories and sugar. Choose one dessert to have one serving of and let that be the pièce de résistance to an amazing meal.

8. Practice mindful eating.

If possible, make sure to sit down while eating. Hopefully there will be no electronic distractions at the dinner table. Take two or three bites, set down your fork, take a drink, and reply with a witty comeback to cousin John’s comment about current events. Oftentimes we consume our meals so fast that our brains have a lag time in realizing that we are full.

9. Stay hydrated.

As I tell my kids all the time, much to their annoyance, sometimes when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty. Drink a glass of water before the meal starts.

10. Help clean up.

Especially if you are not hosting, assisting on the clean-up crew is such a big help to your host/hostess. It also helps to ensure that you are not going back for seconds.
Happy Thanksgiving!! 

New Beginnings

Hey everyone! Welcome to my brand new blog! This is my first blog post EVER so go easy on me. I will be posting weekly articles, mainly on health and fitness, but also just my thoughts. Please feel free to comment or to share but keep it relevant, PG, and KIND!!

A lot of you may have heard/read my story already but for those who are just meeting me, here it is. The long version.

I was always the kid who hated gym class growing up; I was a bookworm. I can remember watching the batters during the baseball unit in elementary school and figuring out that the odds were that most kids were right-handed and would hit the ball out by third base and that the couple of lefties would hit the ball near first base. I would always position myself past first base. Nerd.

As a teenager, I can remember my mom saying (in the mid ’90s) that white sugar and white flour were horrible, blah blah blah. I would roll my eyes and say “Yeah, sure, whatever.” That was my most used phrase as a teen. (Heaven help me as my [step]daughters are approaching their teen years.) We never ate fast food or pop. In college, despite finding both of those food groups, I didn’t gain the dreaded “freshman 15” and I learn to cook occasionally in my senior year house.

Fast forward to 2008 when I moved from Cleveland, OH to San Antonio, TX. I was truly on my own for the first time ever at 28. As most single people do, I would get fast food more than just occasionally and sometimes dinner was a bag microwave popcorn (when you’ve been teaching/moming all day after 10 little ones with special needs, it’s really hard to take care of yourself). I was part of a women’s Bible study group and one of the studies we did was on the Proverbs 31 woman, how a Godly woman should be. I will never forget this moment – one of the chapter was on nutrition and I remember saying “I think this chapter is silly. God doesn’t care that much about what we eat!” I thought it was just ridiculous.

A few months later, we did the Beth Moore study on Daniel and she suggested to do the “Daniel fast” to get more out of the study. Well, it was right as Lent was starting, and even though I am not Catholic, I like the practice of restricting things in the pursuit of a higher purpose. The Daniel fast, if you are not familiar, is based on what Daniel and his friends told the Babylonian king they wanted to eat during Israel’s time of captivity. So basically fruits, vegetables, legumes, and herb/spices and only water to drink. So no meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol or fats. I did this for forty-six days of Lent.

It was hard. But I realized that it made me more intentional about what I was eating. I couldn’t just pick up a meal at Chick-Fil-A or a frozen dinner or a bag of popcorn. When Lent was over, I decided to become a vegetarian. At the time, I hated a lot of green vegetables so this was a surprise to my family. But as I tried new foods, I found that I actually liked some of them, such as asparagus, quinoa, and couscous. I was a vegetarian for about two years.

Then I met the man who is now my husband. He was not a vegetarian. As our relationship progressed, I realized that it would be very difficult do maintain two different eating styles so I stared eating meat again. After we got married, I swore we would not be the couple who gained weight after marriage. We had just finished training for a half marathon together and were active people (or so I thought).

I joined an outdoor boot camp called Camp Gladiator and would go to camp 2-3 days a week after work but would skip if plans came up with friends. School was back in session. After about 8 months of working out, CG ran what was called “Total Transformation”; a body scan to tell you your weight, BMI, and percentage of body fat. I signed up and was SHOCKED at my results. I was the heaviest I had been in my entire life. I knew I had had to buy increasingly larger pants over the school year, going up two, almost three, sizes, but I did not realize how bad the situation was. According to my BMI, I was borderline obese. And in serious denial. As part of Total Transformation, I started recording what I was eating in the MyFitnessPal app. Through this, I realized I was eating a TON of empty calories.

I knew I had to change my ways fast. I cut out extra, mindless eating. I eliminated fast food and pop. I started getting serious about working out and started going every morning before work. And the weight started coming off!! I kept going and improving my eating habits. I cut out wheat products and cut back on dairy. Kept losing weight.

Then, in January of 2017, my husband, Tim, got serious himself about wanting to lose weight and I suggested we do the Whole30 diet. All I knew about it was that my sister and brother-in-law had done it the previous year and it was a little difficult. As I researched what it actually entails, I was really intrigued by it. I saw the 30 day restriction as a challenge that I wanted to accept. As I had done the Daniel fast a few years prior, I knew I could do this no problem.

We started on February 16, 2017. We had our “last meal” at this amazing Italian restaurant for Valentine’s Day and then our leftovers the next night. I will save our Whole30 experience for another blog post, but by day 30, both my husband and I were convinced that THIS was how we wanted to eat for the rest of our lives. Through my in-depth research through such acclaimed health outlets such as Pinterest, I found the paleo diet. It’s basically how our Paleolithic ancestors ate – some meat, lots of veggies and some fruit, with the modern conveniences of healthy cooking fats and coffee were allowed. Thank you, Jesus, for coffee.

In May 2017, I attended a Paleo conference in Austin. It was there that I was introduced to the Primal Blueprint way and its champion, Mark Sisson. Primal is more of a way of life. Its eating principles are similar to paleo, with a few tweaks, and also focuses on how you live the rest of your life. Tim and I stick to Primal eating about 90% of the time, but occasionally we allow ourselves to eat other things, like in our favorite vacation destination, Vegas, or if we go out to eat with friends. But those instances are becoming more and more infrequent. We find that when we don’t eat Primal, we feel bloated and just generally sick. But again, more on that in future blog posts.

Now as a mom, I have taught my kids about Whole30 and Primal. Our favorite movie quote is from “Hotel Transylvania 2”: “And what’s the scariest monster of all, kids? Diabetes!” The little one calls sugar “the white devil.” And I have realized that my mom DID know what she was talking about two decades ago (goodness, I’m getting old!) when she was extolling the evils of sugar and flour. I realize now that God, our loving Heavenly Father, DOES care what we nourish our bodies with, just as a loving earthy father should.

So that’s it. That’s my journey from eating a SAD diet (Standard American Diet) to intuitively finding Primal. It’s been a really good journey for me so far and I know it will continue to be. I hope you join me as I continue on and that maybe you will find the information that you need for your own journey.