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The Birth of Eilonwy Christine

 

My dear baby girl was born a year ago, six weeks ahead of schedule. I’ve tried to process and type up the story many times over the past year, but between illness and insomnia I never had the mental energy. But today I am making the time, because it is a story that needs to be told, a story of miracle and grace and serendipity. It is not the birth story that I wanted. But sometimes when everything goes wrong, everything goes just right.

Last March my biggest pregnancy complaint was insomnia. I spent hours in bed trying to sleep, but it was hard to find. We actually went to our childbirth classes on Saturday mornings and I remember sitting on the birthing ball, falling asleep as Jer rubbed my shoulders while we practiced relaxation breathing techniques. I think I had slept about two hours that night. St. Patrick’s Day weekend we went up to Vancouver BC for a little babymoon and to celebrate the third anniversary of the day we met, March 21st. It was a wonderful relaxing time. Our plans for the following weekend included a baby shower that my parents were hosting for our family and friends. But things changed on Thursday when I went in for my regular midwife appointment.

A few weeks earlier at my regular checkup I had elevated blood pressure. I was sent to triage and tests were run and within a few hours I was sent home with a clean bill of health, instructed to drink more water and get more sleep (hah!). I had been perfectly fine since then, but this Thursday I had elevated numbers again. There were a couple of other warning signs that popped up and so my midwife requested that I go to triage again, and she got on the phone to schedule an ultrasound for the next day. Again I experienced the stress of going to the hospital, Jer rushing home from work, and being strapped to monitors. However, this time the blood pressure didn’t come down. After a few hours the midwife on call decided to send me home. Get some rest, she said, and come back before your ultrasound to get checked out again. So home we went, praying that tomorrow things would be okay.

But Friday morning at the midwife’s office my blood pressure was even higher. The staff was starting to get very concerned and began ordering more tests.  We headed to the ultrasound unsure of what we would find. The tech completed the scan and left to take the info to the doctor, who would call the midwife to discuss our next steps. After what seemed like forever (45 minutes) the tech came back and told us that we had to go back and see the midwife. And I felt that horrible sinking feeling, the knowledge that everything wasn’t okay, that something had gone terribly wrong.

Jer and I sat in the midwife’s office, holding hands as she told us that my amniotic fluid was low and that our baby was showing signs of distress. She said that our girl had asymmetric growth-her head was normal size but her body was small-meaning that she was probably not getting enough nutrients. The placenta was breaking down, and so she was not growing correctly, and I was developing preeclampsia. I needed to be admitted immediately and the midwife was turning my care over to the OB team due to my high-risk situation.

I lost it. The moment she said that my baby girl was being hurt by the situation and was in danger I buried my face in Jer’s shoulder and wept. Even now as I type this the memory of the fear and overwhelming love for my daughter gets me choked up. Up until that point all the symptoms and troubles I had only affected me, and she was perfectly healthy. Hearing that she was no longer happily growing without a care broke my heart.

So within a couple of hours I was admitted, stuck in a hospital bed and hooked up to IVs and fetal monitors, with a blood pressure cuff automatically checking my pressure every ten minutes. We were hoping that with fluids and rest they might keep me pregnant for a little longer, but the OB on call wasn’t convinced that was a possibility. Preeclampsia comes in two kinds, she told us, the gradual kind and the sudden kind, and I seemed to have the sudden kind. The only cure for that is delivering the baby as soon as possible. Friday night she recommended that I be given a dose of steroids that would help the baby’s lung development in case we had to deliver quickly.

As it turns out, that was an excellent prescription, for on Saturday they did another ultrasound and despite the night of IV fluids and rest my amniotic fluid level was even lower. The decision was made to start inducing labor that evening, after the second steroid shot could be given. I was also started on magnesium sulfate to help prevent seizures or stroke due to my high blood pressure, which was now running in the 160/100 range.

I won’t go into all the interesting particulars of the methods of inducing labor they tried on me, but suffice to say that the initial estimate of 12 hours by one OB was woefully ambitious. All told my labor took 48 hours. The first 24 hours of less intense methods led to very little activity, just a lot of discomfort, sleeplessness, and progression to only about 2cm. All day Saturday night and Sunday I stayed in that hospital bed, with Jer beside me, people coming and going-nurses, doctors, my mom, our doula Nancy, our friend and priest Jen. Finally on Sunday night they started the pitocin.

Oh the pitocin. One of the things I had passionately desired to avoid in my labor. I had heard the stories of what it does to your contractions, and despite the OB who insisted there was no difference between pitocin and regular contractions (complete lie), I knew it was the last thing I wanted. But we had to get this labor moving, and so on it came.

And I was right to not want it. The contractions came every two minutes for hours on end, no break, no breather. I could manage the pain just fine-I sat up in my bed and watched Battlestar Galactica on the portable DVD player through the night, swaying and humming as wave after wave rolled over me. After a few hours I had to lie down because my blood pressure was too high again, and I curled up in a fetal position and rocked and hummed through Monday morning. By 11am I was exhausted, and I did something I didn’t ever think I would do-I asked for the epidural. I didn’t need it for the pain, but I was so weary, and hadn’t slept for almost two days, and I knew that if I didn’t get some rest I wouldn’t have the energy to push the baby out. I was only about 4cm, and they wanted to increase the pitocin and get things moving. So I let them stick that needle in my back and as the pain medicine rushed through me I said, “so this is why women get these!”

Four hours of blessed, oh-so-needed sleep followed. When I woke up they broke my water and I quickly progressed to 6cm. Everything started to move very fast. Around 7pm as I was in transition my epidural stopped working. I could feel everything, and while all around me alarms were going off as my IVs ran out and they called the anesthesiologist to come fix my pain medication I descended into myself, focusing on the waves of pain and the pressure building as I started to feel the desire to push. Nancy had sent Jer to the waiting room to get some food, expecting a few more hours of labor and pushing but suddenly the baby and I were ready for her to be born, even if no one else was ready! Doctors and nurses appeared out of nowhere, bringing in NICU equipment, not knowing what shape the baby would be in. Someone went to pull Jer back in the room and I grabbed his hand and got ready to push.

Then they started to lose the baby’s heartbeat. She was so tiny, and down in the birth canal the monitor on my belly couldn’t find her. In my fog of labor I could hear the doctor talking to Jer, asking about putting a intrauterine monitor in, a catheter that attaches to the baby’s head so they can monitor her. I could feel myself getting weaker, and in all the confusion I had a moment of clarity, and all I could think was, I NEED TO GET THIS BABY OUT. Somehow my body communicated to me that I wasn’t well, that I didn’t have much left, and on the strength of all the prayers being said for us I pushed and pushed and there she was.  48 hours of labor, 7 minutes of pushing, and she was born, coming into the world crying, showing us that her lungs were just fine.

She was so tiny, and so perfect, and they let me hold her for a minute before taking her away to the NICU. The moment she was in my arms I knew that the name we had chosen was right, that this was my little Elly. She had her daddy’s blue eyes and my mouth and she looked at me and my heart exploded in love.

Jer went with her to the NICU while my mom stayed with me. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but I was having trouble breathing. All of that magnesium to prevent seizures had kept me safe but caused fluid to start pooling in my lungs after days lying in bed. For the next 24 hours I was watched very closely, wearing an oxygen mask and getting pumped full of drugs to bring down my blood pressure and evacuate the fluid in my lungs. (I was on restricted fluids for a couple of days and it took several days for them to discharge me.) But the next evening they let me get out of bed and be taken in a wheelchair to see my little girl, safe and warm in her isolette. They were feeding her the breastmilk that I had pumped (thanks to a great lactation consultant) through a little tube down her throat. I would end up pumping for six weeks until she was strong enough to nurse, but she was healthy and thriving. Two and a half weeks later we were able to bring her home.

So many things could have gone wrong with Elly’s delivery and the months following, but she has been the most perfect, healthy little girl. She eats and sleeps so well, avoided all the illnesses we were warned she was at higher risk for, and is developing right on schedule. And while my recovery was long and complicated, the timing of everything that happened and the care we received was nothing short of miraculous. Preeclampsia can cause your liver and kidneys to shut down, and when that happens an emergency c-section is usually the only option. My blood tests were fine all through my long labor, until the last test right before I gave birth. If she had not been born that night I would have started having major trouble, but because I went in that particular Thursday afternoon, and my midwife scheduled that ultrasound and I was admitted on Friday, I was able to deliver my daughter and avoid surgery. It may not have been the beautiful natural birth I wanted, but it was still a birth full of joy, and all I can do is praise God for how He took care of us through it all.

A few pictures of that weekend:

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Kombucha Me Baby

 

kombucha 001

 

Last summer I tried all sorts of lacto-fermented treats. I even started making beet kvass and milk kefir. But over this past winter I have discovered my favorite fermented beverage: kombucha.

I never caught on to the kombucha craze a couple of years ago. I thought it was just a hippie fad. But now that I have been making it and drinking it for the past few months, I am officially addicted.

Kombucha has all sorts of health benefits. It is made with a SCOBY-a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. These are the beneficial bugs that keep the harmful bugs-like e.coli and candida albicans-in their rightful place. Kombucha is also chock full of B vitamins as well as several acids that work to strengthen the body, most notably glucuronic acid, which is a natural detoxifier. Our bodies produce glucuronic acid in the liver to help flush toxins out, and it can be depleted by high levels of environmental toxins such as BPA, as well as alcohol consumption, so adding kombucha to your diet is one of the best ways to combat all the toxins in our modern environment.

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Kombucha scobies chillin’ like a villain

 

In order to brew kombucha, you need a scoby and some sweet tea. We got our scoby from a helpful craigslist poster-they reproduce quite readily, so if you find someone brewing it you can easily buy one off of them. Then make some strong black, green, or oolong tea. It can’t be a kind with essential oils, such as Earl Grey, and it can’t be herbal tea. The natural compounds and acidity of tea is what we want. I use plain black pekoe or a sencha green, or a mix of the two.

Steep your tea is boiling water for at least ten minutes. You want one tea bag (or one teaspoon loose-leaf tea) for each quart of water. After the tea has steeped, stir in 1/4 c of sugar per quart of water. Allow the tea to cool to body temp before adding the scoby. I have been using larger jars I got from goodwill that are 2-4 quarts each, so I will steep 2-3 tea bags in one quart of boiling water, then add 1/2 c sugar, then combine that with a quart of cold filtered water, which brings it to just the right temp and sweetness.

kombucha 002When you add the scoby, you will also need to add about 1/4 cup of kombucha from a previous batch. If you get a scoby from someone, they should have transported the scoby in some kombucha. If they neglected to do that, or you bought a dehydrated one, you can add raw apple cider vinegar. The important thing is to have the right acidity in the mix.

Now comes the hard part-you have to let the kombucha brew. Cover the jar with a thin towel and set in a warm dark place for 7-10 days. The scoby likes it around 72 degrees, so if you have a colder house, it may take longer to brew, or you might want to wrap the jar in a towel. A new scoby will begin to develop on the top of the kombucha. At first it will just look cloudy, and then a white film will form. This film will get thicker as the days pass, until it is a nice rubbery pancake floating on top of your tea goodness. When the brew is done, you can remove the new scoby and the old scoby (which will likely be stuck together) pour the finished kombucha into glass jars to be put in the fridge, and start the process again.

kombucha 001As you can see in the photo above, I like to put chunks of fruit in the bottom of my jars to flavor the kombucha. Here you see half a mango in a quart jar. I fill it with kombucha and then cap it tightly and allow it to sit out an extra day before moving it to the fridge. This intensifies the flavor and carbonates it slightly. The wait is well worth it. I’ve had fun with flavor combinations: berries, kiwi, mango, pear. You could even try some candied ginger or some fruit juice. Just don’t put more than an inch or so of fruit or juice in the bottom, to keep the ratios right.

Kombucha is refreshing, energizing, and most of all, delicious. It’s a fabulous alternative to all that HFCS-laden pop and juice drinks out there. The scoby eats up the sugar you feed it and gives you a tasty fizzy beverage in its place. I highly recommend adding it to your kitchen!

 

This post is part of Foodie Link Love

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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Willows Inn

A few bites into our meal at Willows Inn, Jer said, “Food shouldn’t be allowed to taste that good.” We weren’t even to the first course; the chef started everyone out with a few little ‘bites’ of delectable goodness: a small wooden box with two bites of luscious smoked salmon, tiny plates with fresh potato chips topped with black cod and naturally fermented sauerkraut (I asked the chef who brought it to us, it had been started in October) a piece of herb toast with browned butter and plum blossoms, and best of all, a pickled oyster. It was literally the best oyster I have ever had. And the evening had only begun.

According to the New York Times, the restaurant at Willows Inn is one of “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride”.  We didn’t know this when we found the coupon on an online deal site. I checked out the description and loved the sound of the focus on local, sustainable ingredients, and the description of the Farmhouse Suite, equipped with a full kitchen that included a Wood Stone oven. I knew Jer would love the opportunity to use that oven to make pizza or bread, and I thought it was a great deal for a romantic weekend to celebrate the second anniversary of the day we met. So we booked the trip, packed our sourdough starter, and set out for Lummi Island, only a couple hours away.

We settled in to our suite and wandered around Nettles Farm, where most of the produce for Willows Inn is grown. The chickens were happy to have visitors, and we could see that the greenhouse was in use, and so looked forward to our meal. After a delicious cocktail we were seated and served our complimentary prosecco and starters. The waitress asked if we preferred the juice pairing or the wine pairing, and we decided to go with one of each.  Best decision ever.

First course was simply tender young turnips in a pork jus. Oh, but the jus. It soaked into the breadcrumbs topping the turnips and exploded in your mouth, taking you by complete surprise with its delicate yet complex flavor. The Pinot Gris that accompanied mine was excellent, but the celery juice that Jer had was our first clue that this juice pairing idea was sheer brilliance. Somehow the flavor married perfectly, as did each successive juice-carrot with the scallops and cabbage, green apple with the winter squash and black truffle, lingonberry with the steelhead salmon, and elder flower with the apple sorbet (topped with buttermilk foam and slices of licorice root).

Each course built upon the last while being delicious in its own right. The man certainly knows his seafood-the scallops were perfect, and the steelhead was such a delicate piece of work, you almost forgot it was a salmon. At the end of that course, we thought that there was no way that any dessert could possibly follow up on the parade of dishes, but the intense yet perfectly balanced flavors of apple and licorice with the buttermilk and sprigs of dill was the perfect finish.

It is amazing that someone with such a command of flavor, technique, and presentation could be so young. The chef Blaine Wetzel, a native of Olympia, trained at Noma, named the best restaurant in the world for 2010, but he is completely approachable. We chatted with him afterwards about his technique with the bread served between courses, how much we like sourdough starters and hot ovens, and our mutual struggles using spelt. We even exchanged recipe ideas, with him giving me a technique for spelt rolls in a muffin tin, and me suggesting sourdough cookies, which he had never heard of before.

The next day, while eating a delicious sandwich at Taproot Café, the other excellent eatery at the inn, we overheard the proprietor explaining to another diner that while he “serves dinner, Blaine serves an experience.” Yes indeed-an amazing culinary experience that I will not soon forget.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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Just Beet It

beet-root-bspGrowing up, I hated beets. They had a funny flavor, worse texture, and stained everything on your plate. Of course, the beets that I was eating came out of a can, so they can hardly be called beets. It wasn’t until I was an adult, out on my own and sharing an organic produce box with my roommates, that I discovered beets could actually be cooked in a tasty way.

I still wouldn’t list beets as my favorite vegetable, however. And when I first read in Nourishing Traditions about Beet Kvass, I put that recipe on the “probably won’t try” list. But the more I read about the benefits of this tonic, the more I realized that I should probably make it part of my kitchen routine.

What are these benefits? Besides being a lacto-fermented beverage providing loads of probiotics for healthy intestine function, beet kvass is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, a natural multivitamin, if you will. Most importantly, it supports the liver, which is sadly much abused in our modern world. The liver is our primary cleansing organ, filtering out the toxins in our food and the chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday life. When the liver gets overburdened with toxins, the body responds by either storing the toxins, causing long-term problems, or they look for other methods of getting rid of those toxins, such as through the skin. Acne and eczema can both be results of an overtaxed digestive system.

I can tell that drinking beet kvass regularly helps with my skin issues. If I am feeling itchy, a glass of kvass will calm my system. When I was ill over the holidays, my blood tests showed that my liver enzymes were elevated, a sign that my liver function was impaired. As soon as I got home I started drinking beet kvass every day, and when I went back to the doctor for my follow-up, my liver enzymes had begun to drop, and a few weeks later all my tests were normal.

It may take awhile to get used to the taste of kvass if you are not a fan of beets.  Sally Fallon admits that “you wouldn’t serve it to guests.” But I’ve found that I don’t mind the taste when it is mixed with filtered water or fresh juice or kombucha. And you can also add in carrots or ginger with the beets to give a different flavor if you like. The recipe is very simple, but it is truly worth your time.

 

Beet Kvass

from Nourishing Traditions

2 medium beets

1 Tbsp. sea salt

1/4 c homemade whey* (or an extra Tbsp. of salt)

 

Peel and chop beets into one inch chunks. Don’t cut it too small, or the fermentation will occur too quickly and it will turn alcoholic. Place beets with salt and whey in a quart mason jar and fill jar with filtered water. Cover and let sit on counter at room temperature 2-3 days, then transfer to refrigerator.

Drink a few ounces each day, either straight or mixed with filtered water. When most of the liquid is gone, refill the jar with water and let sit out on the counter for another 2 days, After the second batch, discard beets and start again.

If the kvass gets thick and slightly syrupy, that is normal-it means you have a good batch! Just thin it out with filtered water when you drink it.

 

*Homemade whey provides a starter culture and can be made from yogurt fairly easily. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and place over a bowl. Put one cup of yogurt (whole, plain, with active cultures and no fillers) into the sieve and allow to drain for several hours or overnight. You will end up with whey in the bowl, and the yogurt will have become thick like Greek yogurt or a soft cream cheese.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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When Life Gives You Peppers, Stuff ‘Em

Our CSA program is quite handy. Every week we get a box of fresh organic fruits and veggies delivered to our door.  It helps us eat seasonally and locally, and actually simplifies my meal planning. This winter, with my bounty of beef and salmon in the freezer, squash in the garage, and various preserved veggies in the pantry, all I have to do is check the upcoming bin contents for the week, skim a few cookbooks, pull out the meat to thaw, and my week is good to go.

I try to work with whatever the box brings, but occasionally I make use of the ability to submit substitution requests. Green peppers are a vegetable that almost never make it into the house.  They are not a favorite of Jer’s stomach or my tastebuds. But through some technical difficulties on the website, we have had two weeks since the beginning of the year that brought us green peppers to consume, so I had to decide what to make with them.

My grandma used to love making stuffed green peppers. I remember her baking whole trays of them and then keeping them individually wrapped in the fridge for her late-night snacks. Grandma and I used to compete for who would get home the latest-her coming from a prayer meeting or healing conference, and me coming from a Bible study or church party I was running. My mom would wait up for both us, and then we would all sit around and chat, eating our preferred snacks.  Mine varied, involving toast or cereal, or a couple slices of cheese, or sometimes just an entire head of steamed broccoli with butter.  Sadly, even though grandma offered, I never ate her green peppers.

Grandma isn’t here to give me her recipe, but I remembered the basics-seasoned ground beef, cooked rice, sauteed onions, all baked in the pepper with some parmesan cheese on top.  I used some leftover quinoa and added homemade salsa to the beef. It was pretty good. Then on the second green pepper delivery, Jer looked at our box and came up with a tastier version, which ended up being grain-free and full of good fats. He still had to take some digestive enzymes, and I didn’t finish my green pepper, but the filling was delicious. Next time you get some peppers, you should try it out.

Jer’s Stuffed Peppers

This can be adapted for as many people as you need-the proportions below are for each pepper.

One sweet pepper-green, or my favorite, yellow

olive oil

1/4 lb ground beef

1-2 Tbls finely diced onion

1 Tbls salsa

half an avocado, diced

1/4 c cheese , small dice (we like Tillamook from Oregon, because the cows spend some time on pasture, so the nutrient content is higher, but it is still economical)

Slice pepper in half and clean out stem and ribs. Brush lightly with oil and roast in oven for 20 mins at 400 degrees.  While it cooks, saute ground beef and onions. When beef is cooked through and onions are soft, add salsa, and any additional seasonings you would like-salt, pepper, garlic, hot sauce, etc.  When peppers are ready, remove from oven and turn on broiler. Mix cheese and avocado into the beef, then stuff filling into the peppers. Broil for 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted.  Serve with addtional salsa and cortido.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Things Edible

 

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The Way We Were

The wonderful husband did me the greatest favor yesterday of moving all our blog posts from our old server here to the new one on wordpress. Our old server was only serving spam, so here we are. It was quite a trip reading the early entries of a year ago. While I was already working on my sourdough starter I had just barely begun to research natural health information and hadn’t even heard of Weston A Price. In one of my recipe posts I actually talked about how to make a muffin lowfat, something I shudder at now. These days I am always looking for more ways to get more good fats (and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) into my diet, to help my skin and blood sugar.

2010 was definitely a year of learning and growing in the kitchen. Here’s just a quick list of some of the changes:

From yeast breads to natural sourdough

All purpose flour to whole wheat, sprouted wheat and sprouted spelt

Quick recipes to soaked baked goods to increase nutrition

Found sources for pastured eggs and grass-fed meat, even buying a quarter cow (and the freezer to hold it!)

Started rendering lard and using coconut oil

Learned how to can and preserve our organic produce

Dabbled in our own bit of backyard gardening

Learned how to make cultured vegetables and other fermented foods

Stopped buying toxic beauty products and started making my own

I’m really looking forward to expanding my traditional cooking skills this year, now that I have a solid foundation. I’ve been trying out more fermented foods, and want to start making my own kombucha soon. While this way of eating is a little more work, it’s a lot of fun for me to learn and experiment, and there is a deep satisfaction in knowing that I am providing wonderful healthy food for my family. Ultimately I hope to look back on these early years and chuckle at my newbie mistakes and rejoice in the legacy of health that we have created.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Things Edible

 

2011: A Year of Health

It’s that resolution-filled time of year again. All over the blogosphere folks are listing out their goals, and of course one of the top resolutions out there is to lose weight.  Of particular note are several real food bloggers who are running challenges that would/could be beneficial to me, such as reducing sugar intake, eliminating caffeine, and even working through Sally Fallon and Mary Enig’s great book Eat Fat Lose Fat (I’ve read it, and highly recommend). All of these are great ideas, and I’ve signed up for newsletters and notifications for many of them.  I’m looking forward to receiving the tips and recipes and such.

But right now, with coming out of a tough year physically, punctuated by my hospital stint over the holidays, I just can’t put weight loss down as my number one goal. Oh, I’d love to lose weight and get slim and trim. But I know that my body isn’t ready. Healing is my goal for this year-healing the allergies, eczema, fatigue, and other little things that have been stealing my everyday vitality. My body isn’t going to relax and lose the excess weight until it feels like it has all the nutrients it needs, so instead of calorie restriction and intense workouts, I am focusing on traditional foods, getting adequate rest, and taking care of my skin. Eating more fat and reducing sugar and caffeine are certainly part of that plan, but I’m going to try not to judge my progress by the number on the scale but instead on the amount of energy I have when I wake up in the morning.

Hopefully, as I heal and gain strength internally, the effects will show externally, and the weight loss will simply come as a function of reducing inflammation, eating healthy food, and having more energy. And really, my goal is to end 2011 with a little extra weight in the form of a baby, so a healthy system has got to be my focus more than fitting some social standard of acceptable weight. I know that I have the tools I need to move forward in my real food-fueled health journey. I truly believe that with everything I have learned over the past year, 2011 will be a year of health, vitality, and hopefully, babymaking!

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in Uncategorized