31 months, 51 half marathons – and a whole lot of love

I met Jann at the expo for the Augusta University Half Marathon and 10K in 2016. She told me what she was doing, and I immediately decided I wanted to write her story and share it on here. I hope you enjoy getting to know Jann as much as I have!

Heat and humidity and a hurting hip hit Jann Carlson hard at at mile five of the St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 2016.

“I felt like such a failure,” Jann recalled.

Jann, 63, didn’t want her husband, Mike, 65, to run with her, because she feared she would slow him down. But he could see how frustrated and in pain she felt. That’s why he decided to balance her wishes and his desire to support her by running ahead and then waiting for her until she caught up.

Eight miles later, despite Jann’s feeling as though she was going to pass out, Mike held her arm and told her to cross the finish line. And she did.

“I am so proud of you, LB,” Mike professed to Jann – whom he affectionately calls “LB,” which is short for “Love Bug” – in the medical tent, where she was taken after she passed out. “You did it. We did it.”

This may not have been how Jann imagined completing the 50 States/50 Half Marathons Challenge, but she did it.

Jann is many things, and a failure isn’t one of them. She’s a wife of 38 years. She’s a mom to three children and a grandmother to seven grandchildren. She’s a retiree. She’s also a runner.

Did you say ’50 states’ and ’50 half marathons’?

You betcha – except Jann and Mike completed 51 half marathons to include Washington, D.C.

Overachievers!

“We wanted to include some fitness goals in our retired life,” said Jann, who retired in December 2013. “We didn’t want to wait too long after I retired to get started. Since we had done half marathons before, Mike was playing around on his computer at home one day and came across the 50 State Half Marathon Club website.”

The Carlsons started running long distances around 15 years ago. In this time and before starting the challenge, Jann had completed 22 half marathons and one full marathon. Mike joined Jann in this activity and completed about 15 half marathons and three full marathons, one in which he qualified for the Boston Marathon, which he also completed before the challenge. In addition to the marathons, Mike completed many 70.3 Ironman races and four full Ironman races.

The club sounded interesting to Jann and Mike – shirts, race discounts, the opportunity to meet people from around the country and a trophy or plaque when goal is completed.

“We also wanted to travel the United States, and what a better reason to use to go to a state than to run and then tour it!” Jann said.

The Carlson’s 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge began March 2, 2014 with the Little Rock EPIC Half Marathon, where they managed to dodge the ice storm and finish the race before the marathon and half marathon runners were called off the course.

“We had already planned a 20-day cruise in January 2014 and then planned a family trip to Texas in late February,” Jann said. “Mike noticed there was a race in Arkansas on March 2, so we decided to start there since we were already in Texas.”

Jann3Just a few races and states into the challenge, Jann went from being motivated by a flashy medal and found her muse in the club and other runners.

“Seeing other runners push through injuries, weather and illness to finish a race was a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of,” Jann said. “Once we started, there was no way we weren’t going to finish!”

In addition to finishing the 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge, Jann and Mike kept a couple other goals top of mind.

  • Spend 7-10 days traveling each state

  • Complete the challenge within three years.

The Carlsons had traveled to many of the 50 states for sporting events, vacations, visiting family, and work but not always together. During their time traveling each state for the challenge, they wanted to visit national and state parks, state capitols, Presidential libraries and museums and see the claims to fame. Mike even found the best hamburger in each state and Washington, D.C. from various lists.

Jann and Mike were having so much fun that the two years and seven months flew by. They had finished their challenge ahead of schedule, even with a month in China, two month-long trips to Hawaii, cruises and other planned family vacations. They made it a point to be home for important family celebrations and obligations and holidays.

Needless to say, the Carlsons weren’t home very much.

“Friends asked, ‘Why do you have a house?'” Jann said with a chuckle.

Heat, hills and humidity

“I have three demons,” Jann said, “and they’re heat, hills and humidity. Believe me, I let those demons affect my performance at many races, but Mike was always there to push me through.”

In addition to the physical aches and pains involved with running, the Carlsons also faced adverse weather conditions, illness and injuries.

In December 2015, in the Delaware race, Jann, who has experienced issues with one of her knees and ankles, tripped over a rock and “did a total face plant around mile 8.”

“But even with blood gushing from my nose, I was determined to finish,” Jann said. “With the help of fellow runners who had Kleenex, baby wipes and Mike’s gloves to cover my nose, we continued to run/walk the remainder of the race.”

Following that difficult experience, Jann and Mike had 20 races scheduled between February and October 2016. But, after finishing the Georgia event, she experienced a bad case of plantar fasciitis.

“The doctor said no more running,” Jann said. “I followed the exercises and persevered through the next several scheduled races while the plantar fasciitis continued to get worse.”

Jann’s physician gave her three choices:

  1. Stop running

  2. Get a shot

  3. Continue with exercises and wear a boot, except when running.

Jann chose option No. 3. However, by wearing the boot on her right foot, she experienced pain in her left hip.

“Don’t race with a chronic injury,” Jann advised. “Heal first, train, and return strong. Plus, it’s OK to walk.”

The couple’s schedule didn’t let up. Between June and October, they had 12 races left. They completed their last 10 races/states in 13 weeks!

Jann said that the traveling in itself posed a challenge, citing eating out at restaurants and being out of her normal routine.

“I gained weight and got slower, because I wasn’t eating and training like I do when I am home,” Jann said. “Even though we hiked a lot, it’s not running.”

The Carlsons finished the challenge October 16, 2016 at the St Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll, in time for the 50 State Half Marathon Club’s annual meet up in 2016 and to go on a 42-day cruise, during which they had no plans to train.

Now that Jann and Mike have completed the challenge, Mike is looking at doing another 70.3 this year. As for Jann, she signed up for a race in Kansas in May to meet up with 50 State Half Marathon Club members and hopes to run some local 5k’s, 10k’s, too, for training purposes. Having completed 76 half marathons to date, she also looks forward to running her one hundredth half marathon.

“Accepting half marathon times of two hours and 35 minutes has been hard,” said Jann, whose fastest half marathon time is 1:53:33 at the age 49, almost 50. “I want the joy back in doing half marathons again, and that is why I am taking time to heal, get strong and lose weight and lose my expectations for my time and just enjoy the race!”

A new experience, a new perspective and person

“This experience showed us that our country is so amazing and beautiful,” Jann said. “We learned so much history visiting all the states, and we met so many amazing people. We found that no matter where we were, people love and are proud of where they are from.”

The impact of this experience on Jann also runs deeper.

“It changed the way I looked at the racing,” Jann said. “When I first started running half marathons, I never walked. I thought I was weak or not prepared if I had to do walk, but after my knee injury, I realized if I wanted to continue to participate in races, I needed to do intervals. Mike showed me I could do intervals and still have good times and feel good too.”

Jann also learned something about herself while on this journey and is using this to grow.

“I learned that I am hard on myself when it comes to the actual race,” Jann said. “I am trying to work on forgiving myself if I have a bad race. I am learning to accept not running a complete race anymore.”

JannJann’s favorite thing about the 50 States Half Marathon Challenge is having experienced it with her husband.

“I had the best running partner in the world to be by my side through the best of races and the worse of races,” she said. “This was our journey. Mike is a great runner, but he decided that he would do this journey by my side, at my pace, and cross all the finish lines together holding my hand – and he did.

“He was by my side, carried my GU and water bottle, whatever I needed. He pushed me when I needed it and always complimented me after the race. I would not have been able to finish some of those races without him by my side. He was really supportive and encouraged me during each and every race. Mike was always proud of me.”

For more information about the 50 State Half Marathon Club, visit www.50statehalfmarathonclub.com.

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While the 50 State Half Marathon Club is comprised of many ages and ability levels, all members have one thing in common: they support each other. “That’s what I miss the most about my break from attending races,” Jann said. “They are definitely part of the motivation to heal, get strong again and continue reach my goal of completing 100 half marathons!”

Tips By Jann

  • When traveling via airplane to a race, always plan to arrive at least two days before a race and pack a carry-on bag with all of your running gear. “We would wash everything when we got home and then repack that same bag for our next race. We had other clothes and shoes to use at home for training runs. When we were on the road for multiple races, depending on the weather we sometimes had to wash at the hotels we stayed in. Only one time did our bags not arrive with our flight and that was because of weather, change of planes and delays. They actually took our carry-on bags, because there wasn’t room on the plane we were transferred to. Luckily it arrived the next day.”

  • Always check your race time and place. “I placed a number of times in my age group. Some of the hardest races for me I received either first or second place in my age group. We actually left a few races without checking our times and age group place and I missed out on extra awards because of that.”

Jann’s Highlights

  • Favorite race was Missoula Half Marathon, Montana

  • Most memorable race: Kona Half Marathon

  • Other favorites: Boston RUN to REMEMBER, Marshall University Half Marathon, Run the Bluegrass, Tulsa Route 66, Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville, Bryce Canyon, Myrtle Beach, Ohio Hall of Fame

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Cooking on vacation: 4 tips and 3 recipes

Click here to watch our July 24 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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My “joy of cooking” isn’t what I’d consider a pure joy of cooking. I do it to support my healthy lifestyle – to have total control over what I’m putting in my body. Sure, in doing so, I’ve discovered and developed a fascination in making healthy cooking cheap, quick and easy, but I don’t love it so much that I want to spend what little personal time I have in the kitchen – especially while on vacation.

Last month, my husband, Nate, and I went on vacation with my family and stayed in a lovely home in a beautiful, remote lake town, so we ate all of our meals at the house. As I planned for the trip and drafted my grocery list, I found myself facing the following challenges:

  • Not really wanting to cook on vacation.
  • Few grocery stores with limited options at the lake.
  • Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar or few gadgets at the rental home.

Vacation is all about striking the perfect balance between fun and relaxation and minimizing the things that we don’t really want to do – which, for me, was spending time in the kitchen instead of being either on the lake or looking at it with my family. Since cooking on vacation was totally new to me, I kicked off the process with what I do best: planning!

I’d like to pass along a few tips that I discovered leading up to and during the vacation:

  1. Plan your meals, and grocery shop in advance. Pack all refrigerated or frozen items in a cooler with lots of ice.
  2. Plan to cook things that require as few kitchen gadgets as possible, and bring those gadgets that you need with you.
  3. Prepare food as much as you can ahead of time without sacrificing freshness.
  4. Make sure that all meals, whether prepared in advance or on site, are low-maintenance!

Note: I was only responsible for shopping for and cooking dinner one night!

Per the challenges and tips listed above, I’m sharing three recipes, each representing one of the following conveniences:

  1. A meal to make ahead of time that travels well.
  2. A meal to fix and forget on site.
  3. A *quick and easy* meal to make on site.

Make Ahead of Time: BBQ Turkey MeatballsIMG_9194

When I say “make ahead of time,” I mean make way ahead of time. The meatballs can last in the freezer for about two months, so, if you’re making them that far in advance, I recommend holding off on making the BBQ sauce until closer to when you plan to enjoy it.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • BBQ Sauce:
    • 2 cup unsweetened ketchup mixture:
      • 2 Tbsp. water
      • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
      • 2-6 oz. cans tomato paste
      • ½ tsp. garlic powder
    • 1 cup molasses
    • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
    • 1 tsp. onion powder
    • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce
  • Meatballs:
    • Cooking spray
    • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 white onion, diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
    • ½ cup unsweetened almondmilk
    • 1.25 lbs. 93 percent lean ground turkey, raw
    • 6 Tbsp. egg whites
    • 1 Tbsp. oregano, dried
    • 3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
    • ¼ cup BBQ sauce
    • Ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

BBQ Sauce:

  1. Place all ketchup mixture ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Once it starts to simmer, back it off to low so the tomato paste doesn’t burn.

Meatballs:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line two medium or large baking sheets with aluminum foil, and coat with cooking spray.
  3. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  4. Mix bread crumbs and almondmilk in a small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Combine onion/garlic mixture, turkey, egg whites, oregano, Parmesan cheese,¼ cup of the BBQ sauce, and add bread crumb and almondmilk mixture. Once mixed thoroughly, place in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. Form turkey into about 35 1-inch balls, and place on lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Roll them over, and bake for another 5. Remove from oven to cool.
  8. Once cool, place in two gallon-size zip freezer plastic bags, and freeze for up to two months.
  9. When you’re ready to eat them, place them in a large pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot in order to thaw the meatballs, and simmer over medium-high heat. Once thawed, add the BBQ sauce.

Fix and Forget: Pulled Chicken Ranch Lettuce WrapsIMG_9198

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs. or two chicken breasts
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almondmilk
  • ¼ tsp.+ ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
  • 1 tsp. onion powder, divided
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. cumin
  • 2 cups reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • Cilantro, to taste
  • 18 leaves of Bibb or Romaine lettuce

Instructions:

  1. Place chicken breasts in a crockpot liner, forming an even later, and pour in water. Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.
  2. Ranch dressing: In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, Dijon mustard, almondmilk and ½ tsp. of the garlic powder and ½ tsp of the onion powder, and add some ground black pepper to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator.
  3. Taco seasoning: In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ tsp. garlic powder and ½ tsp. onion powder and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper with the chili powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika and cumin.
  4. Once chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish, and shred with two forks. Mix in taco seasoning.
  5. Divide the lettuce leaves among six plates, and place the pulled chicken on top of the leaves. Then drizzle with ranch dressing and other toppings.

On-Site: Baked Tilapia with Georgialina SalsaIMG_9200

Augusta is right on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, so this area is often referred to as “Georgialina.” Since the state fruit of both states is the peach and the pineapple serves as a symbol of hospitality and friendship – two wonderful things – in South Carolina, I thought it would be perfect to make salsa with both fruits! The peach and pineapple are very sweet, but the combination of shallot, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and garlic cuts the sweetness. Together, they make a rather refreshing combination!

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 peach, ripe, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • Your choice of one of the following peppers:
    • 1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and finely diced
    • 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 tilapia fillets
  • Olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place all ingredients – except for the tilapia and olive oil! – into a food processor, and pulse about 10 times or until the pieces are diced small and mixed.
  3. Transfer mixture into a bowl, cover and place in the fridge for about an hour so the sweet and spicy flavors have the opportunity to blend.
  4. After the salsa has been marinating for at least 45 minutes, lightly coat pan with olive oil. Place the tilapia on the pan, and flip them a couple of times to lightly coat them with oil. Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove tilapia from oven. Once cool, divide among six plates, and top each fillet with salsa.

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Never underestimate the power of a greeting card

I’ve always been a sucker for a good greeting card.

I think that this comes from my appreciation for the written word; it takes more effort to communicate through writing and feels more permanent – like a promise. I love promises. Plus, I’ve always felt most comfortable expressing myself that way.

Two months into my relationship with Nate, he received military orders to move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for five months of training there, immediately followed by a month of training on the West Coast. I missed him terribly, but we saw each other at least every other weekend. I’d send him little treats here and there to comfort him, along with a card. And not just any card – but a thoughtful one that I hand picked after poring over every word on every card in the store.

How much I truly love greeting cards didn’t click with me until Nate took notice of how the people in my family and I respond when given one. Not all cards can move me to tears, but the anniversary card that he gave me in April did. The front reads:

“I love the way you can read me before I even say anything,

The way you do so many nice things for me just because that’s how you are,

The way you live life with all your heart…”

It was the third line that really got me, considering what has been going on in my life.

What do you see in me?

Rewind to about three years ago, when Nate and I were planning our wedding. When we were planning the ceremony, in particular, our officiant had us go through the exercise of answering questions about us as individuals and as a couple. Not only did this serve as a little bit of “premarital counseling,” but it also primarily gave her insight regarding who we are so she could write about us and our relationship.

In the early stages of our relationship, it felt very uncomfortable for either of us to talk about our feelings. Actually, it just didn’t happen. It was unnatural for Nate, and I felt guarded. So I used the wedding ceremony planning exercise as an opportunity to understand why this wonderful man wanted to marry me.

Receiving this anniversary card and wondering what it was that inspired him to give this particular one to me was another one of these opportunities to learn what it is about me that Nate loves – not to stroke my ego but so I can focus on bringing more of that into my marriage.

Self-love and support

Nate told me that he noticed how committed I’ve been to my health – not just through healthy eating and exercise but also through all of the doctor appointments and medications. That felt like the biggest compliment I’ve ever received, both because of how hard I work to live a healthy lifestyle and also because it reminds me that, despite hardship, I know how to love myself and look forward to the future, especially with Nate by my side.

After experiencing some changes in April 2014 that threw me for a loop physically and emotionally… After months and months of not settling for feeling just “good” or “fine” but “GREAT”… After a lot of resources spent on treatments (and Nate never complaining, questioning, or losing faith in me)…

That anniversary card was just what I needed.

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Thank you for always supporting and encouraging me. I love you, Nate!

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Summertime, and the linking’s easy

I abstained from publishing this post yesterday, because I believe in giving Memorial Day its much-deserved own space. I didn’t want to make it share the day with the cliched “unofficial first day of summer” – you know, when BBQs, pool parties and white-wearing commence. All of those things are wonderful, but I love our veterans, which includes my husband, even more.

I have a few trips planned this summer. The first involves staying at a family member’s home, the second involves a vacation rental and the third involves a hotel. All of them will involve a lot of food and beverages and not enough exercise. While vacations are meant to be relaxing and a deviation from the day-to-day, exercise and healthy eating are vital to my feeling well physically and emotionally. That’s why I make both a priority in my everyday living and make an honest effort to take them on the road with me.

As you get back to the office today from the glorious long holiday weekend, you’re probably catching yourself daydreaming about summertime. So here are a few links to blog posts I’ve written that may come in handy during this time of year, especially as you travel.

  1. No-mayo grilled potato salad
  2. 5 exercises you can do anywhere
  3. 3 ways bouncing back from vacation is easier than you thought

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How to fix a fit-friendly fiesta

Click here to watch our May 15 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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The celebration of Cinco de Mayo earlier this month got me thinking about ways to lighten up Hispanic cuisine, which is one of my absolute favorite kinds of food. Before my weight-loss journey began, two dishes I made often consisted of tostadas and stuffed peppers. I loved impressing my husband with them. So, I’ve lightened up my original tostadas recipe as well as a classic chiles rellenos recipe. I also included recipes of substitutions like cauliflower tortillas and quinoa taco meat. Like most, if not all, of my creations, these incorporate complex carbs instead of simple carbs, lean meat instead of fatty meat and plenty of veggies!

Recipes

Vegetarian TostadasIMG_8473

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans reduced-sodium black or pinto beans
  • Cooking spray
  • 12 fajita whole wheat tortilla
  • 4 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ cups guacamole
  • 1 ½ cups pico de gallo and/or salsa
  • 6 cups lettuce
  • Optional: Lean ground turkey or quinoa

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain black beans, and mash.
  3. Coat muffin tins with cooking spray.
  4. Place wet paper towels between every couple of tortillas. Place on a plate, and microwave for 30 seconds to soften.
  5. Place tortillas in compartments of muffin tin. Portion black beans in each tortilla – about enough to fill the muffin tin – and carefully pressing the beans down as you go so the tortilla doesn’t rip. The packed-down beans will help the tortillas to take on the shape of the muffin tin and, therefore, stand up on their own once baked and they come out of the muffin tin. Portion cheese in each tortilla shell, and bake for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven, place two tostadas on each of the six plates, and top with remaining ingredients of your choice.

Baked Chile RellenosIMG_8474

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 poblano chiles/peppers
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • 1 cup egg whites
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • Optional: Stuff with pork or ground chicken or turkey

Instructions:

*Note: I recommend wearing rubber gloves while handling the poblanos.

  1. Cut poblanos vertically down the side, and seed and devein them.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil, and coat with cooking spray. Place poblanos on baking sheet, and broil until blackened and blistered, for about 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand 15 minutes. Carefully peel the blistered portions off and whatever else will easily peel off, and discard skins.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Spoon ⅓ cup Jack cheese inside each chile.
  6. Place egg whites in one shallow dish and cornmeal in another. Dredge poblanos in egg whites then cornmeal.
  7. Place stuffed chiles on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes or until cheese melts.
  8. Portion tomato sauce on plates, and place one poblano on each plate on top of the sauce.

Click here for a healthier taco recipe!

Recipes of Substitutions that Suit Your Dietary Needs

Cauliflower TortillaIMG_8471

Ingredients:

    • Cooking spray
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • ½ cup egg whites

 

Instructions:

  1. Boil water in the pot you use to steam vegetables over high heat, and place the steamer basket on top.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Chop cauliflower into florets.
  4. Pulse in food processor until looks like couscous or grits.
  5. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until cauliflower has translucent/greenish tint. Don’t fret if your steaming basket has holes that appear to be a little larger than the grain of the cauliflower; it will clump up, keeping it from falling through. Mix frequently so cauliflower steams consistently.
  6. Lay dish towel that is tightly woven (essentially with no holes in it) flat on countertop. Once cauliflower is boiled, transfer onto dish towel to get rid of moisture that cauliflower soaked up during steaming. Once it cools, pick up the edges of the towel with the cauliflower still in it to form a sack. Over the sink, squeeze the sack remove water from the cauliflower.
  7. Once moisture is removed, transfer cauliflower to a bowl. Add egg whites and spices of your choice, and mix thoroughly.
  8. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat with cooking spray. Roll cauliflower/egg white mixture into six balls, and place on a large baking sheet. Flatten balls into circles, no larger than 6 inches in diameter (or else they’ll fall apart when you flip them).
  9. Bake for 8 minutes. Carefully flip tortillas, and bake for another 5 minutes.
  10. Heat skillet over medium-high heat, and cook tortillas for two minutes or until golden.

IMG_8472Quinoa Taco Meat

I often use quinoa as a protein-packed filler for chili – so why not use it for taco meat? This is simply my ground turkey taco meat recipe with quinoa instead of ground turkey.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cups quinoa, uncooked
  • 4.5 oz. can green chilies
  • 1 cup tomato sauce

Instructions:

  1. Cook quinoa per package instructions.
  2. Place oil into skillet and heat over medium-high heat.
  3. Once heated, place onion into skillet, and allow to cook for a few minutes minutes, until golden and translucent.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, and add the cooked quinoa, green chiles and tomato sauce. Mix thoroughly, and cook until heated throughout.

Other healthier swaps:

  • Flour tortilla: Whole wheat tortilla; for tacos and burritos, lettuce makes a great substitute
  • Sour cream: Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Ground beef: Lean ground turkey
  • White rice: Brown rice

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Guest blog post: “You do WHAT while pregnant?”


IMG_1367I first met Lani during the summer of 2011, when she complimented me on a pair of Enzo Angiolini brown gladiator sandals at the bus stop. I should’ve known at the time that we’d be friends someday. This was during the summer of 2011, and we were on our way to work. I saw her on the bus often but didn’t formally meet her until about a year later, when a mutual friend, Alexis (featured in a few of the photos below), introduced us. The three of us lived in the same condo building with our boyfriends/husband.

Lani was one of my first friends, if not the first, to have a baby. She openly shared some of her experiences with me, and we talked most often about fitness, which is an interest of both of ours. I was always impressed with how she kept moving during her pregnancy, and I remember the feeling of relief that came over me, an aspiring mother, when she told me that all of my exercising will especially pay off in labor someday. I admire her for her strength but, above all else, for taking care of herself and baby – who’s no longer a baby!

In honor of Mother’s Day and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, she’s here to talk to us about that very topic: exercising during pregnancy. Happy Mother’s Day to Lani and all of the other expectant moms out there!

If you are anything like me, it’s that last thing on your mind when you are pregnant … It’s the last thing you want to coach your first-trimester, tired, sloth-like, icky-feeling self to do, but it’s so good for you and, of course, your little guy or gal.

What am I talking about? Working out while pregnant.

Yes, I said it. Working out while pregnant.

This was a taboo subject for our own mothers and still remains a sensitive one for a lot of people.

I’ve had people look at me strangely in the gym for working out.

I’ve even had my fair share of lectures regarding how I was harming my baby.

I went to the gym and Zumba classes until about the eighth month of my pregnancy, and, then, from that point to the day I gave birth, my workouts were long walks. The end result was a beautiful, happy and smart baby boy who’s now two and a half years old.

Was this outcome the result of working out? Did working out affect his development at all? WHO KNOWS, but I will share with you my experiences and opinions regarding why I think that working out during pregnancy is beneficial.

Now, before you, whether pregnant or not, consider working out, you should consult your physician. After you get the green light, go for it!

Benefit No. 1: Exercising helps you to beat first-trimester blues

As mentioned earlier, the first trimester is challenging. You are tired, likely sick and dealing with hormones. One of the many benefits of working out is that it gets your blood and oxygen pumping. I had so many days when I was so, so tired, but I made myself go and work out, even for 30 minutes – what most experts recommend – and was always amazed by how much better I felt, both physically and mentally. Regardless of what others say, do what makes your feel comfortable – a 30 minute walk, weight training, Zumba class… Just get moving!

Below is a list of activities that kept me fit during my pregnancy:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga (great for those random body aches!)
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Resistance training (It is recommended that you use light weights, depending on your fitness level.)

A good rule of thumb when working out while pregnant is to listen to your body; it will tell you when it doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing. For example, when I was pregnant with my little guy, I could no longer run. Even before I started showing, my back just ached with pain, so I stopped. Same goes for planking. I often had a pain in my ribs that felt like my little guy was swinging off of them, so I stopped planking, too. There are plenty of other things you can do to get exercise, so be willing to change your routine.

Benefit No. 2: Exercising during pregnancy helps with labor

In addition to staying healthy, active and fit, I really believe that exercising helped me to endure labor. Think about all those times when you ran or lifted more weight than you had previously lifted. Think about the mental gymnastics that were going on in your brain to get you to your goal. Do you see where I am going with this? Think of working out as a nine-month labor preparation.

When you work out, you train not only your body but also your mind. It is the same thing with labor. You have to be able to get to a mental point that will get you through your contractions as well as build endurance to get you through labor and delivery.

I realize that everyone has their opinions and that different techniques work for different people, but I feel that working out really touches different facets of pregnancy. It keeps you healthy, builds your endurance and makes you mentally and physically stronger. What more could you want for your baby?!

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Guest blog post: Living the Lyme life

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I met Kelly, a talented graphic designer, at work almost a year ago. I was working with her office to have a document produced, and she kindly sat down with me for more than an hour to help me. During that hour, I got to know her a bit; her brave battle with Lyme disease came up briefly. I learned very quickly that the same tenacity she brings to work and helping others she brought to fighting for her life.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, when sufferers and their supporters come together to share their stories with the world, in hope of raising awareness and finding a cure for the illness and its co-infections that have impacted their lives.

Kelly is one of the hundreds of thousands of those individuals.


My name is Kelly Fincher. I am 28 years old and I have suffered with chronic Lyme disease and its co-infections for more than 12 years.

I grew up in a small town called Jackson, South Carolina. I can vividly recall the majority of my childhood being spent outdoors. Whether I was in the yard with my brother, fishing with my father or camping with my entire family, I seemed to enjoy the time I spent in nature more than anything else. I loved exploring the woods, hiking, canoeing, riding bikes, roller blading, swimming – you name it. My fondest memories were those of the nature trail behind our neighborhood; the neighborhood kids, my best friend, my brother and I would explore it nearly every day.

Unfortunately, I never had the absolution of a telltale Lyme disease symptom – no bulls eye-shaped rash… or a tick that could be removed and sent away for analysis… or that most coveted of commodities to Lyme patients: concrete answers.

We kids would come home with all sorts of bites, rashes, and scrapes from the day’s adventures. Who didn’t?

After growing up with what seemed to be comparatively uncommon ailments, in both amount and frequency, I muddled through my adolescence, confused about what afflictions were unique to my situation and what was considered “normal” physical and mental issues for someone my age to deal with. I attribute my delayed diagnosis to this challenging time in my life, along with a total absence of information about my illness. My life went on this way until I reached a point in my senior year of high school, when I could no longer ignore my symptoms, regardless of the cause. The only thing I was certain of was that something was definitely wrong with me and that I needed help.

My straight A’s went to B’s and C’s. My ability to concentrate and memorize – gone. I felt as if I had the flu every day. I experienced striking joint and spine pain, ringing in my ears, sensory hypersensitivity, to the extent of being unable to do simple things like watch television or even listen to the radio. I randomly caught sharp, offensive odors that I could only describe as harsh chemicals – seemingly out of nowhere.

One day, I awoke with swollen eyelids, lips and severe hives. My throat was so swollen that I was unable to eat. My mother was instructed to crush prenatal vitamins so that I could retain the nutrients needed on a day-to-day basis. Once the infection subsided, I had my tonsils and adenoids removed. I was misdiagnosed with mononucleosis, though never testing positive for it – causing me to miss three months of my senior year of high school.

This was only the beginning of what had already gradually transformed into a long journey.

As time passed on, the symptoms grew worse; my left elbow and hands ached so terribly, I could barely hold a utensil or a pen to write my name. Cognitively, there were days were I could not read or write. My chest felt as if an elephant were sitting on top of me and I was breathing through cobwebs. The mini seizures kept me from proper sleep, causing more fatigue, and my anxiety level felt like a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10.

This is only a short list of my personal symptoms and experiences. Please know that the list is quite extensive and may vary from person to person.

I struggled my way through college and work, beating myself up along the way for not understanding how I had lost my identity. I felt as if my world was crashing around me, and, after countless doctor’s visits, there was no one who could help me. The confusion, pain and chaos that this disease was putting on my life made it hard to feel anything but hopeless.

Losing hope was not going to be an option for me; I did not give up until I found a general practitioner who was willing to listen. It took countless tests and a little more than a year to be diagnosed with Lyme disease, but she was more than willing and she never turned her back on me. I was immediately referred to a specialist in Washington, D.C., to start treatment, where I have been in treatment for four years.

With this disease comes a lot of life changes. As far as eating habits, I now eat gluten-free, organic, and non-GMO products as much as possible. I do my best to cut out sugar, especially products with artificial sweeteners. I only drink water with freshly cut lemon or my mix of daily detox tea with lemon, cranberry juice and burbur drops. My daily detox regimen consists of Epsom salts and essential oils.

Up to now, I’ve spent nearly half of my life struggling to take control of my health and make progress in conquering this disease that has already claimed so much of my youth and early adulthood. Through all the hardship, life has provided me with many valuable lessons and experiences that I call upon regularly to stay positive, and that I hope to share with others who are in similar situations.

 

Today I feel better than I did 12 years ago, but I am still fighting my battle with Lyme disease, and my body is slowly healing. I am grateful for every bit of my journey, no matter how difficult it has been. This trial has made me humble and appreciative of life and loved ones. If any part of my war with Lyme disease strengthens another on their journey, then my suffering has been worth it.

I’d like to specifically thank my parents, husband and doctors for fighting this battle with me; without them, I would not be here to share this.

Lyme disease makes hundreds of thousands of people sick every year; it is the most commonly reported tick-borne infection in the United States. Please take a moment to learn about Lyme disease prevention, and check for ticks!

To find out more details on my Lyme life and treatment process, or if you are looking for help on finding a Lyme-literate doctor, please contact me at kelclark88@gmail.com.

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