My Mason Jar Experiment

mason-jar-salad-anatomyWith some new mason jars in my pantry, and a friend who is a raving fan of mason jar salads, I’ve been wanting to give these a try for ages! Finally, I did!

Looking for some inspiration, I loosely followed this guide from The Two Bite Club in terms of how I would be assembling my jars. I had all my normal salad “staples” and went to work!

Since I tend to use some fruit in my salads from time to time, I included fruits (like berries/apples/etc.) in the “soft veggies” category. Also, I added a small piece of paper towel folded at the top of the jar to capture any moisture that got trapped inside the jar to help keep them fresh. I do this with my bags of lettuce that I wash and bag/seal up too, to help keep them fresh for the week.

I just started with all the things i use to make salads throughout the week pulled out and spread out on the counter. I didn’t really have a plan per se.

The hardest part about this “winging it” method was figuring out what dressings to use. I’m not a huge dressing person honestly. Give me a teaspoon of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic and I’m good. And on my Mexican-type salads, I usually just use a little salsa instead of dressing to spice it up. I did whip up some of the “Fixate” honey mustard salad dressing to use on a couple of these though, in the name of trying something new.

Another nice thing about making all my salads at once was measuring my  containers for several meals all at one time! I just jotted it down on a piece of paper in case I forgot what I put in each one. Cass enjoyed helping with this part. She actually kind of seems to know what foods go in what container, too 🙂

Look at them! So so pretty, as Cassidy would say. And so delicious!

My biggest question was “is it going to taste fresh!?” And the answer was a resounding yes! I ate my last one on Friday (prepared these on Sunday) and it tasted like I’d just put it together. I also loved the convenience of everything in the jar. Made packing lunch on workdays sooo easy.

I will definitely be assembling more mason jar salads in my future! Maybe not every single week, but alternating weeks to keep it interesting. Or maybe just putting like three together so I’m not eating one every day but do have them for convenience. I get bored with food so I don’t want to burn out on ’em.

The only adjustment I would make would be to keep my main protein out of the salad (unless I’m doing like a chef salad or something with definitely cold meats). I realized I do really like my protein to be warmed up most often, and since I usually have chicken breast strips on hand in my freezer and ground turkey pre-cooked for the week in my fridge, it shouldn’t be too difficult to measure out a red container of protein, heat it up, dump my jar and add my warmed protein to it. Other than a preference of tastes, there was not WRONG with having the meat in there, though!


Butternut Squash Turkey Chili

img_8160One of my new favorite loves this winter, I’ve been wanting to come up with a few more butternut squash recipes while all the winter squash are still easy to come by and a great price in the stores. Enter… my new butternut squash turkey chili!

This was a quickie to throw together. I chose to make it in the dutch oven over about an hour and a half but it could be a crockpot recipe too. See below the instructions for recommended crockpot modifications.

Makes 6 servings

1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
2 t oregano
3 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 c diced pepper (I used red pepper)
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
1 can tomato paste
3 cups beef broth, divided
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes (NOT drained)
1 1/2 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes

Possible toppings include diced avocado, shredded mozzarella or cheddar or sour cream if desired.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven. Add the spices, cook and stir for 30 seconds.
Add onion and bell pepper. Cook about five minutes.
Add the ground turkey and fully cook, chopping it up well.
Add tomato paste, black beans, diced tomatoes and 2 cups of the beef broth.
Add the butternut squash. Bring to simmer and reduce to medium low.
Cover the pot and stir every 10 minutes. Add last cup of beef broth if desired.
Cook about 60-80 minutes until butternut squash is fully cooked. Enjoy!

Recommended crockpot instructions: Brown ground turkey. Add all ingredients to the crockpot and stir well. Increase beef broth to four cups. Give it a good stir at least one time in the middle of cooking. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 4 hours. 

21 Day Fix Containers: 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green (does not include any of the suggested toppings)

Knowing how far you’ve come

One of my instructors last week posed the question, “as we enter the last week of the year, make sure to take some time and ask yourself ‘how far have I come this year?'” I thought it was a good opportunity for me to look back on this past year, 2015, because gosh it was an incredible one.

Click back to December 31, 2014 when I wrote this post:


Coming off of 2014, and the shocking surprise it was (really, I didn’t set out to lose 40 pounds in that 52 weeks last year) I had no idea what to expect for 2015, so I simply set the possibilities wide open – sky high. Here’s a quick recap of things I did this year that never seemed within reach… before this year 🙂

  • Set a workout schedule and stick to it long-term. In January of this year, I started to find my groove with my first “real” workout schedule since I became a mom in 2010. And I stuck to it. That schedule still is fundamental to my week coming out of the year, just like it was, even so new and fragile, at the beginning of the year.
  • Register for, train for and run in my first competitive run longer than a 5K. (The 10K with the Illinois Marathon.) 13528_10104954745636840_7318643304820967340_n
  • TIMG_1320ook a leap and signed up as a Beachbody coach, to help others along their own journey, just as I had several people helping me. I didn’t know what to expect, but coaching has been an incredible ride this year and I can’t wait to keep it going this next year. Oh, and I get to go to Nashville for free next summer thanks to such an exciting start out of the gates this year!
  • “Kicked things up a notch” with my fitness schedule, when it went from something I did a handful of times a week to something that began to challenge and push myself in day in and day out. Mike tells people there was a specific day where I told him “someday I’m going to take these two 60 min classes at the Y back to back”… and then that very day, walked out of the first class just to tell him I’d decided to kick it up a notch and make THAT day the day I tried them both 🙂
  • Began and successfully completed three different at-home workouts, spanning between 21-60 days each, on top of the other workouts I was doing
  • 11707547_10105215014221510_1221497081363800093_nCelebrated one year of healthful living with my hubby when we had our “August anniversary“. We commemorated it by each holding 45 pound weights at the gym, since we’d both individually lost 45-50 pounds at that point.
  • Took what felt to be my biggest leap yet and signed up to go through training to become a group fitness instructor for Les Mills Body Pump. That was back in October, and I managed to survive an intense weekend of training, my first (somewhat nerve-wracking) times teaching in front of a live class, hours and hours of studying and practicing and passing my taping to become “officially official”.

And those are just my “how far I’ve come” milestones related to fitness!

Things I’ve gained this year? Deeply rooted confidence in myself unlike any other time in my life. Way more muscle than I ever thought I’d have on my body 🙂 Improved relationships with my hubby, kids and others, too. Many new wardrobe items.

What have i lost this year? Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly really), not much weight. I’m ending this year just a little less than ten pounds less than where I was when I started it. But I am telling you, the difference in myself (physically, mentally and otherwise) is INCREDIBLE from them until now. While it may sound cliche, I have to say it. You are so much more than a number on a scale. A LOT of change can be happening without even seeing *that* number moving much.

It’s been a huge year. How far have I come? I go back to what I said almost exactly a year ago: “… I have no clue what I’ll be capable of in the new year and I won’t be limiting myself.” Yep. That’s exactly what happened 🙂

My BODYPUMP Certification Adventure

11082618_10104827889183190_1297740662901646353_nSo… where to start this story? I guess it began almost a year ago (as of tomorrow). Mike and I made the decision after much consideration to join our Y here in Champaign. Neither of us had any sort of regular workout routine going, though we had both just embarked upon significant weight loss during the second half of 2014 thanks to some major changes to our diet and eating habits. I was excited at the prospect of exercising regularly again, knowing how important it was for my health. My first stop was the cardio equipment, as putting some earbuds in and getting on an elliptical, treadmill or bike was the “comfortable” thing for me to do.

One Sunday afternoon that December, I was on the elliptical, earbuds in, when I watched a bunch of people (seemingly in kick-butt shape) lining up outside the group fitness studio. A group of 20 or so people flooded out shortly after, and the new group poured in. I realized the same class was being offered back to back, and was completely packed out for both hours. Quick consult of the schedule on my app, ok they’re doing something called BODYPUMP. I’d never heard of it. I made a point to creep over pay a few visits to the water fountain that hour and think, “how on earth do they lift that many weights?”

I’d never lifted weights before, except for a small handful of times with Mike several years prior.

One night that week in late December, I found myself walking into that studio completely unplanned when I saw it starting up again. I walked up to the instructor and said, “I have no idea what I’m doing. Please don’t be offended if I walk out half way through.” I wish i could remember who that instructor was because she was incredibly kind, got me all set up and encouraged me before she hopped up on the stage.

I walked out of that studio completely sucked in. Less than a month later, I’d fallen in love. People talk about “soulmate workouts”. This was mine. I felt so STRONG and the fact that this was so far out of my comfort zone made me feel amazing every single time I made it through the sixty minute class. I was completely addicted to the way it made me feel. And not too long after that, I thought “I’m going to teach that class someday”. “Someday” in my mind was when I had older kids (you know, like school age, like YEARS from now).

Then someday became sometime in 2016.

Then a training popped up right in Champaign in October 2015. Opportunity, present yourself. I went back and forth for a looooong time and then one random morning I talked it over with a friend (and new instructor of another class) and I decided to go for it. In the two days that followed, a number of people found out I was planning to do it and my own accountability on actually following through with registering was getting pretty solid!

Training weekend happened. Saturday and Sunday, all day, 8-4. I think we did the equivalent of five or six Pump classes. I lifted heavier weights than I ever did in the class before in our BODYPUMP “challenge”. I held a four minute hover for the first time. I ached like I didn’t know I could ache. But I made it through…

And I passed!  

That’s not the end of it though! Passing your certification training is just the first step. Then you are released to team teach with instructors at your gym, before teaching the entire class start to finish by yourself, filming it and sending it in to Les Mills for review and the ultimate “yay” or “nay”. I have some INCREDIBLE instructors and one of them reached out to me during my certification weekend and said I could join her on stage later that week. I knew right away that was just what I needed, so I could jump right into the next phase and get over THAT hurdle in and of itself. To date, I think that very first class I led three tracks in was the biggest class I’ve been in front of with over 30 people! So thankful for the opportunity to do that fresh out of the gates!

You have an 8 week window in between your training and your deadline to submit your video, but I wanted to knock it out before Thanksgiving so I upped my time to be about 6 weeks to prepare. Lots of team teaching (shout out to those INCREDIBLE instructors again!) and then some solo prep time in the studio on Saturday afternoons. And I was ready (I hoped!) to go…

I borrowed a camera and planned a small “off schedule” class one afternoon. Some of my friends came to support me and participate in my class. Filming went smoothly and teaching went pretty well, all things considered. I’d never taught 60 minutes straight and schwooo was that a wake-up call!

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 8.10.29 PM

Two short weeks later…. THIS arrived! I was THRILLED!


So… now on to the next thing. When I signed up for training, I wasn’t even sure of what the next steps would be. I had tried to talk myself out of certification training because I “wasn’t ready yet” and needed to get in even better shape. Turns out I really needed the intensity of training to help push myself to the next level in whatever my fitness journey is. Things are starting to come together now and any time I get the chance to teach I’m always excited and filled with anticipation… plus its just FUN. This photo to the right is from our training weekend, when we did an exercise where we listed every word that Pump made us think of.. and yep, this pretty much sums it up for me. I’m so thankful to have found my “soul mate” workout and pushed myself to a whole new level in exactly one short year… whatever will the next year bring!?!?



…because its all about the sides

Thanksgiving, Turkey Day, whatever you want to call it is coming and while the big bird gets a lot of the attention, its really all about the sides and desserts right?! We will be spending Thanksgiving at my Mom and Dad’s as my Mom whips up her traditional T-Day meal and Mike, the kids and I get to spend time with the whole fam. Since I am NOT cooking on Thanksgiving, but wanted to give you some options of things you might add to YOUR menu, I played around in kitchen tonight 🙂

And since I’m not cooking a turkey for me, a friend and my two unpredictable small children, our protein was plain ol’ chicken breasts. On to the more exciting things. The sides. The good, the “eh” and the “I don’t look bad but I sure ain’t good.”

First up. THIS. Oh my goodness. Called a “holiday butternut bake”, I knew I wanted to try it right away. I have been in love with butternut squash this fall and yea, my house smelled beyond amazing while this baked. I used more cinnamon than the recipe called for, double the apples that it called for and me, my friend and the kids gobbled this entire tray down. If I made this for a crowd, I would make like three of four times this batch. Recipe cred here thanks to the gracious pantry.  We call this “the good” (or the great!)

Then we have the “eh”. Mashed potatoes right? Nah. This is cauliflower! Cauliflower is one of the most versatile things you’ll ever come across. It really does a great job masquerading as a potato type dish. And while I enjoy it as a low carb staple (sometimes I’ll make it and have it with a steak and some steamed veggies) I’m not sure I’d vote this in to the Thanksgiving feast. (Here’s the super simple recipe I use.)

Then…. there’s this. Paleo pumpkin pie… (NO link to recipe for this one). I made the coconut flour crust and baked it. First off the crust looked like WAY too much so I scooped a bunch out. It was STILL a ton as when I cut into that sucker it was more crust than pumpkin 😦 The flavor of the pumpkin filling was the better part of the dish. It was recommended to have a “coconut milk whipped cream” with it so I did that. It looked ok at first but melted quickly….

All that to be said, this may LOOK like pumpkin pie but don’t be fooled. Grab one small piece of your aunt’s pumpkin pie, top it with the real deal and move on. I can’t in good faith recommend you replacing the Thanksgiving fav with this 🙂

Main point of my night? Make the holiday butternut bake and a few other clean eating dishes for your meal. Will there be some richer and indulgent things on the table too? I bet there will be. I know there will be on mine. Dish out some modest portions, don’t overdo it on anything, and I’ll see you in my next challenge group hitting it hard the Monday after Thanksgiving 🙂

Why I make a point to exercise in front of my kids (sometimes)

For the better part of my life as a mom, I have seen exercise as something to be fit in AROUND the child(ren). And my excuse for the first several years was that I didn’t have the time while he was sleeping, he wouldn’t stay occupied if I tried to do it while he was awake, etc. In fact, when we joined the Y last year, for the first time I was excited about working a regular workout routine into my mom life because I still considered myself to *need* childcare to get in a good sweat.

Fast forward to this year. I start incorporating “at home” workouts into my routine and (unsurprisingly) there are two little people in this house which has now become my at-home gym. Making it a priority to workout HERE has me planning to get up early and get in as much of a workout before they wake up as I can. Because (as far as I used to be concerned) as soon as they woke up, it was all over.

Not such the case.IMG_5325

This is me (to the right). Finishing up my early AM workout with both of my kids. I didn’t set my alarm that day because we didn’t have anywhere to be later that morning and I knew, bouncing back from a cold, I probably should take all the sleep my body needs without a 5:15am alarm interrupting it. When they were up, I literally paused to let Cassidy out of her room, retrieve the two iPads and run back downstairs to finish my last ten minutes. Reason #1 I workout in front of them (sometimes) is that I want them to know it’s important to me. Just like prayer time, cooking, showers, I want them to know that sometimes they have to wait and I have to do something for myself.

Then there’s this. This is more intentional on my part (see video below).

Sometimes I have a workout that isn’t super intense (like this active recovery day in the 21 Day Fix Extreme) and I know that they’d probably get a kick out of milling around while I do it. So instead of doing it before they’re up, I plan to do it later that day as we can fit it in. Reason #2 I workout in front of my kids (sometimes) is because I want them to see they can be a part of it, too. By making a point to exercise WITH them instead of while they sleep or even while they’re intentionally (on my part) glued to their iPads, I want them to know they can do these things too. They can lift weights. They can find their balance. They can have fun 🙂 My favorite part of this video was when Troy spontaneously came up and told me he loved me and wrapped himself around my arm (melt). Then he proceeded to ask me “are you making yourself stronger?” I’m so glad we’ve given him the word “stronger” instead of “skinnier” to use in that sentence. That’s a separate praise and post.

My second favorite part of this video was how calm they were. They’re so accustomed to me doing little things in front of them that they don’t go completely wild every time I push play. They kind of just mill around, and try some of the moves, and yea, they hang on me, and yea, sometimes I don’t get every second of the workout in or pay attention to exactly the right move I’m supposed to be doing, but I wouldn’t trade these kind of moments (on occasion) for anything.

I don’t write today’s post to make you feel bad for not finding the time to workout, if that’s you. I write it because I want to show you my kids and I got used to it, and yours totally can, too 🙂

“I could never…”

I wrote this in my head during my ten minute plank today…

About a month ago, one of my friends issued a challenge to simply hold a plank (or hover, or whatever you want to call it) for as long as you could. Pretty straight forward. At the en12087784_10105526834775620_8643606839552998021_od of the month, you go back and try it again and see how much your time improved by. Sweet. I’d never done such a thing before. And so I issued the same challenge to my challenge group and gave it a go.

Results? Not bad at all! I stayed on my toes for two minutes. WOW! I was so glad I could do it!

Then what happened? People all over started planking. It felt like every day that first week someone was planking every time I opened up my Facebook feed! And their times kept CLIMBING! First ten minutes, then I saw some people posting 12 or 15 minute times. What?! I only did two minutes and I couldn’t imagine going ten.

Fast forward to my Body Pump training adventure just a week later, which included a MINIMUM of four minutes on the toes. Ok, I did that. And that was DOUBLE the time I had just done a week prior. I fell to my knees as soon as I hit the minimum of four minutes though.

Until today. Its the last day of the month so I thought I’d give it a go before my shower. And….

SWEET! I made it all the way to ten minutes! My “goal” for myself was to make it to five (further than that four minute mark earlier this month) but as soon as I crossed the seven minute mark my new goal was ten 🙂

Here’s the thing, and here’s what I’m writing this post.

  • Had my friend not posted this challenge in the first place, I never would have even tried it.
  • Had another friend not posted the “trick” to take it to a “side hover” when you need a break, I would have fallen to my knees around the six minute mark.
  • Had I been intimidated by all the people holding it for ten minutes or more and thought “I could never…”, I would have never seen the possibility (and would have probably made myself feel pretty bad in the process too).
  • Had I not worked HARD this month, in fact, harder than I have EVER worked at my own physical fitness in any other month of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
  • And had I not taken the time to celebrate where I was starting from and push MYSELF (competing against MYSELF) further, this wouldn’t have felt so good.

Celebrate where you’re starting from, my friends. Find people who will ENCOURAGE you to dig deeper and push harder. Commit to it, GO for it and see what you can do. Compete against yourself and yourself alone. You’re going to surprise yourself, I guarantee it.

I don’t share this to brag on myself or make you feel like you have to do this precise challenge too. You don’t. You can try whatever you want. Figure out what your “I could never…” is and decide you’re going after it. Maybe yours looks like one of these…

  • I could never workout at 5am.
  • I could never run a race down the street against my kid on his bike.
  • I could never wear a size medium shirt.
  • I could never kick this sugar addiction.
  • I could never stop smoking cigarettes.
  • I could never walk or run a 10k.
  • I could never stick to something longer than a month.
  • I could never stay on my toes for 10 minutes…