Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Cake With Cookie Butter Frosting

I can't stand clutter.  At. All!  Seriously.  It makes my head want to explode.  However, I live out in the boonies and it's a 30 minute round-trip to the grocery store to get stuff when I need it.  That being said, my pantry is in constant need of help and organization.

So, it is with moderate disgust that I am admitting, out loud, that I am a border-line hoarder when it comes to my kitchen.  I'm not sure if it has something to do with all the post-apocalyptic fiction that I read, (I actually wrote a whole blog years ago on this topic) or all the hours that I used to spend listening to Glenn Beck go on and on and on about the impending "end of the world" and how we needed to stock up for the Great Tribulation.  It may have a little bit to do with the fact that on more than one occasion, my family has been stranded in our little corner of the middle of nowhere due to severe weather and 6 foot snow drifts.  (I know, it's weird, we live in Texas, yet snow has trapped my family, more than once, for days on end, and we have been forced to survive on what we have on hand.)

This past Monday, being the first day of school and the happiest day of the whole year for me, I decided it was time for the annual pantry purge.  Imagine my surprise when I found I had been hoarding 5 jars of Trader Joe's Cookie Butter!  What?!?!  How did that stuff even survive a night in my house--much less the six months that it took me to amass such a stockpile.  Needless to say, this little find set me off in a direction where I felt able to get a little creative with my newly-found jars of heaven.  It became the catalyst for my latest creation and magnificent work of art.  And, lucky you, I am willing to share.

So, here it is. . . my easy as pie (or cake) recipe:

Pumpkin  Spice Cake With Cookie Butter Frosting. . . 

The Cake:

1 pkg spice cake mix
1 pkg (the small one. . . 3.4 oz) vanilla pudding mix
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

*  Side note:  I also had a package of cheesecake flavored pudding in my pantry that I considered using. . . maybe next time. . .

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place all ingredients into mixing bowl.  Mix 3 minutes on medium speed. Pour cake batter into 9X13 cake pan and bake for 35 minutes.  Cool completely before frosting.

The Frosting:

1/2 cup butter (the real stuff--not that partially hydrogenated crap)
1 cup cookie butter (I used creamy, but I am intrigued by what the crunchy would be like. . . also, next time)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2-3 Tblsp heavy cream or milk

Cream butter, vanilla and cookie butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar and mix completely.  Slowly add cream or milk and whip (with whip attachment on your mixer) until smooth and creamy.  Spread onto completely cooled cake and serve.

If you are fortunate enough to live close to a Trader Joe's, you have no idea how lucky you are.  If, like me, you have to drive several hundred miles (or more) to this perfect little self-contained amusement park of food perfection, I have found that this little product is a fairly decent substitute for cookie butter:

My local grocery store (United) carries this on the shelf.  It's a bit more expensive, but can you really put a price on such a delightful product?  Really?  Trust me, if you've never tried it, you should just shell out the 4 bucks for a jar.  I promise, you will thank me later.

Seriously, this cake is a dream in your mouth.

So, there it is!  My latest culinary creation!  I have to admit, I feel a little weird posting this recipe just days after the blog post on my Plexus weight loss journey.  However, it really is delicious. . . I'm willing to share. . . and I don't plan on eating the whole thing by myself. . . although I have thought about it!

Enjoy!  And make sure to share with your friends. . . they will thank you, I promise!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

366 Days And Counting

I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.  Feeling the need to write a follow-up blog to a post I did six months ago, I was going to lead with this little verbal tid-bit.  Being the stickler for fact-checking that I am, I decided I should probably verify this definition with my good friend Webster.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the definition of insanity is NOT, in fact, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.  

According to Webster, the definition of insanity reads something like this:

Insanity:  1 a: a deranged state of the mind usu. occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia) and usu. excluding such states as mental deficiency, psychoneurosis and various character disorders b: a mental disorder  2:  such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility  3 a: extreme folly or unreasonableness  b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable.

3b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable. . . . hmm. . . 

6 months ago, I wrote this little blog post in which I admitted to all 3 of my readers that I had been secretly using this product called “Plexus”.  I was a bit embarrassed that I had been lured into the overly-hyped world of “network marketing”, (more commonly referred to as “pyramid scheme” or multi-level-marketing).  I thought it was all a bit intense. . . this whole concept of sucking your friends into buying something so you could make a few bucks off them.  It’s never really been my gig. However, it was hard for me to deny that in 6 months, Plexus had helped me shed the 20 lbs that I had been carrying around for over a decade.    It was with great trepidation that I admitted in cyberspace that I:  1.) actually had 20 lbs that I really needed to lose, and 2.) hadn’t been able to do it using the standard mantra “eat less, move more”. 

As a side note:  who are these people that say this, anyway?  Buncha skinny girls that never have any fun and have never been seduced into eating half a cake in one sitting—that’s who.  But I digress. . .

Fast forward to yesterday.  Yesterday, August 26, 2014 was exactly 1 year to the day that I got mad enough to actually do something about my overall health and well-being.  One year ago, yesterday, was the day that I woke up and realized that, according to the CDC definition, I was officially overweight with a BMI of 25.0.  One year ago I vowed I would take my life back, stop making excuses about my weight and finally get back to living the healthiest life possible—both for me and my family.

Now, I have to admit, when I wrote my original "confession" about Plexus six months ago there was this small voice in my head chirping "Hey, Vanessa!  What if this whole thing was a ruse?  What if you look up in 6 months only to find you have gained all of that weight back?  What then?  You have just declared to the world that Plexus is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  What are you going to do to save face?"  Yes, I was terrified that I had just put my personal reputation on the line for some crazy multi-level scheme that was going to be a flash in the pan.  Can you say 8-track, beta max and laser disc?

3b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable. . . . what if I end up looking "insane"?

Well, I have to tell you, since February I have "fallen off the wagon" a time or two. I have indulged in all sorts of fancy desserts, all manner of intriguing dining establishments, and lots and lots of evening ice cream parties with my kiddos.  I have fluctuated up a few pounds and then right back down as I have learned to enjoy all things. . . in moderation.

So, all that to say, one year ago yesterday, I set out on a journey to lose 10 lbs.  As I sit here, 366 days later, 20 lbs lighter, 6% body fat slimmer, 90 seconds faster on my mile, and a WHOLE heck of a lot healthier, I am more than confident that I will never be overweight again.

A number of my friends have asked me to tell them the secrets to my success.  I have to admit to you, Plexus alone did not remove the extra pounds from my body.  You will hear a lot of claims from people about how all you have to do is drink this little pink drink once a day and the pounds will miraculously melt away.  Well, I'm here to tell you that if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  There is no such thing as a magic drink.  There is no quick fix.  THAT would be the definition of "insanity"--3b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable.

I will tell you, I'm a little bit nervous to call people out about the efficacy of Plexus. On more than one Plexus forum, Ambassadors have been "warned" to tread lightly on the negative speak.  There have been veiled "threats" from higher up the food chain (or mlm pyramid, if you will) that only "positive" comments are to be posted.  While that's all well and good from a marketing standpoint, the reality is: there is not a product on the planet that has 100% positive reviews, or 100% success.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to anything.  That being said, I feel a little bit like Jerry Seinfeld standing in front of the Soup Nazi right now.  I hope I don't get the "No Plexus For You" from the powers that be. . . because I have to admit, I'm a little addicted and dependent on their products at this point.  I believe in being open and honest about pretty much most things in life.  You aren't going to get a bunch of unicorns and rainbows shooting out of my butt, and I'm not going to intentionally misrepresent how Plexus products work.  Plexus does not work for everybody, but I have found that when people begin Plexus and are intentional about getting back to a truly healthy lifestyle, they have much, much better success.

So, without further adieu, here is basically what I have done for the past 12 months.  Admittedly, it may not work for you, so read with your brain engaged and feel free to disregard anything that you consider "insanity".

1.  I have permanently reset my thought processes to eliminate the word "diet" from my vocabulary.  I will no longer "diet".  For the rest of my life I will focus on a generally healthy lifestyle.  I will eat cake, candy, pasta, and other not-so-healthy foods on occasion.  I just won't make them a daily staple in my life.

I think this graphic says it best:

2.  I intentionally move a lot.  I received a Fit Bit for Christmas, and I am intentional about taking at least 10,000 steps a day.  I also change up my workout routine.  I run 4 miles, 3-4 times per week.  But, I also do yoga and simple 10-15 minute targeted workouts as well.  There are tons of these available on the internet that focus on legs, butt, arms, abs and whole-body.

3.  I ALWAYS eat breakfast!  I ALWAYS eat a breakfast that is high in protein.  This keeps me from snacking on foods that are quick, but unhealthy later on in the day.

4.  I drink water!  A LOT of water!  Most nutritionists recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces every day.  I drink more than that.  I average somewhere between 90-128 ounces per day--128 oz is a whole gallon, FYI.

5.  I never, ever drink sodas.  I used to drink about 1 per week.  Since starting Plexus, all sodas taste gross to me.  Not a bad side effect, I must admit.

6.  I use my bathroom scale as a motivator, not a drill Sergeant.  After my initial 6 months on Plexus, I did not lose any additional lbs.  However, my bathroom scale has a body fat calculator on it and what I found was my body fat continued to decline even though the pounds did not.  This has led to a faster and better metabolism.  IE:  now I can eat more calories without gaining weight, like I used to.

7.  I recorded my food consumption for a good six months with the help of My Fitness Pal.  It is a free service with a great phone app and was extremely helpful for me when determining portion sizes, and when eating in restaurants.  I am, admittedly, not all that great about doing it consistently anymore, but the transformation in my brain that it provided has been permanent.  The biggest revelation for me, after using this app for some time, was the amount of empty and/or excessive calories I was consuming in restaurants--even when opting for the "healthy menu" options!  Once this information stuck in my head, I almost eliminated eating out altogether.  The interesting side effect of that decision was the massive amount of money that we saved as a family!  As a side note:  within 2 months of starting with Plexus, I saved enough money just from our restaurant budget to cover the cost of the products.

8.  I try to never eat anything after 8:00 at night.  Sometimes I will have an after-dinner dessert, and sometimes I will break this rule altogether.  However, I do find that I sleep better and have an easier time with weight management if I consume all of my calories for the day before 8:00 p.m.

As for the use of Plexus products, in addition to the lifestyle changes above, here are some of the products that I have used, and my opinions about them:

1.  Plexus Slim: This is the basic staple of my overall transformation.  It is a simple powder packet that you mix with water and drink before a meal.  It has a fruity flavor that I really like, and helps me with sugar cravings.  I really like this product a lot and will continue to take it over the long haul.

2.  Accelerator:  Personally, I don't think this particular product did much for me.  However, I have had other people tell me that it was fabulous for them.  It didn't make me jittery, wasn't difficult to take, and didn't seem to have any weird side effects.  I just didn't find it sped up my weight loss efforts much, if any.

3.  Boost:  Now this product is an entirely different story from the Accelerator.  I love my Boost!  Introduced in May, this product facilitates extra energy and has really helped me with my workouts.  I have gone from a solid 11.5 minute mile to a consistent 10 minute mile on my runs since I started this product.  It does make me a bit jittery for about an hour, so I don't take it before I go to work, as I need very steady hands.

4.  Pro-Bio 5:  I like this product for general digestive health.  I simply take one at bedtime to help maintain optimal digestion.  It's especially good for people that have been on heavy doses of antibiotics in the past and/or have digestive issues in general.

5.  Bio Cleanse:  It took me a long time to work up the nerve to try this product.  I eat a ton of fiber, veggies and fruit.  I wasn't sure that I needed anything to "keep things moving along".  Since I started this product, though, I actually feel better in general.  It seems to help keep me from feeling "bloated" from all of the natural fiber and fruit that I ingest.

6.  X-Factor:  I take this as my regular multivitamin.  The B-vitamins help with immunity and energy, the D helps with bone health, and the rest are antioxidants that help the body repair itself.  It has also made my fingernails grow like crazy!!!

7.  Fast Relief:  I have not personally taken any of these products.  My husband, however, swears by them.  He has suffered with tennis elbow and bursitis for a number of years.  Taking multiple Advil per day to alleviate the pain was how he made it through the day.  Since taking the Fast Relief Capsules and using the cream, he doesn't really complain at all about pain in his arm and shoulder anymore.

So, there's my 12 month story.  You may think I'm insane, but I just think I'm finally healthy!

Here's the link to my Plexus site, should you decide to give it a whirl.  

Until next time. . . 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Finally! The Perfect Sugar Cookie With Buttercream Icing!!!

If you know me very well, you know that I LOVE to bake.  I especially love to bake cookies.  Not to toot my own horn, or anything, but I think I make pretty awesome cookies.  That being said, I have spent the past few years, off and on, trying to perfect the pretty AND delicious sugar cookie.

My first attempt was two years ago when I made these Angry Bird cookies for my son's birthday.

I thought they turned out pretty well. . . considering it was my very first time to even hear of flood icing. . . much less my very first time to actually try to do flood icing.  I found this awesome web site, where the tutorial was spelled out for me.  You can find that tutorial here.  I have to tell you, the cookies in the tutorial were WAY better than mine. . . but a bunch of 9 year olds still thought they were pretty cool!

I also made these for that same party. . . 

They were pecan sandies filled with the left over flood icing.  Oh, and they were supposed to be smashed Angry Birds, in case you were wondering.

Then, last year, I tried my hand at some floral cookies for my daughter's birthday.  Still using flood icing, my technique improved and I thought these turned out rather nicely.

So, fast-forward to this year. I wanted to make cookies for my daughter's birthday to take to school.  I was a bit pressed for time--flood icing takes forever!!!  So, I threw out the plea on Facebook for good buttercream icing that would hold up in room temperature.  

I had several of my trusted baker friends post several different options for such a product.  I know how to do buttercream frosting to decorate cakes, but do not really like using shortening--all those weird chemically altered fats kind of freak me out a little bit.  I'm more a fan of good ol' butter--made the way God intended!  So, with that in mind, I settled in on the recipe my friend Jo Nell sent me.  You will find that recipe below.  Thanks, Jo Nell!  I hope this wasn't some deep, dark, secret family recipe. . . 'cuz it isn't anymore!

Anyway, it was super easy.  Took me exactly 39 minutes, start to finish to make and decorate these bad boys!  There was a little bit of trial and error, early on. . .

I thought, at first, I could just cut the tip off the decorator bag and pipe the icing on that way. . . 

Ummmmm. . . . NO!!  Here's how those looked. . . 

So, I tried again. . . 

Using these two different tips (#7 & #12):

With icing bags loaded, and tips in place, I tried again. . . 

I thought they turned out pretty well--not as pretty as flood icing, but way tastier, and waaaaaaay less of an investment on my time.  So, I thought I would share my new knowledge with all of you.

First, I have always used the very same sugar cookie recipe since I found sweetsugarbelles website years ago.  Be careful if you click to this link.  The site is fabulous!  I promise, you will waste hours and hours of your precious time perusing the pages of fun ideas.  It's like Pinterest for cookie lovers. . . 

I have made some minor adjustments to sweet sugar belle's recipe, and have tried other recipes over the years, but just keep coming back to my tried-and-true-and-slightly-tweaked favorite.  

So, without further adoo. . . (drum roll, please) . . . 

Here it is:

Basic Sugar Cookie:

1 cup butter (I prefer salted, but the recipe calls for unsalted. . . not sure why)
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp butter flavoring
2 1/2- 2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cream together butter & sugar.  Add egg and flavoring.  Mix until fluffy.  Add dry ingredients.  Roll out to 1/4" thick.  Bake on parchment paper lined baking sheet @ 350 for 8 minutes. Makes 2-3 dozen relatively large cookies.

I always double this recipe. . . 'cuz while your kitchen is dirty, you should make it worth your while!  I also, always make them a day or two ahead of time and freeze them in a large tupperware tub.  They are easier to decorate when they are frozen.

Okay, now for the icing. . . 

Buttercream Icing:

1 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp butter flavor
2-5 tsp heavy cream

Whip butter and sugar together.  Add flavoring.  Slowly add cream and whip until it is fluffy.  You want it to form stiff peaks, but still be thin enough to pipe through a decorator bag.

Once I was done, I was faced with this dilemma:  How the heck do I get soft buttercream frosted cookies to my child's school without jacking them up?  

Well, you sweet talk the nice local pizza parlor owner into letting you have a couple of pizza boxes, of course!  (In my defense, I did offer to pay him).  When he realized that we purchase lots and lots of pizza from him, he just let me have them. . . free of charge.  So, kudos to LaBella Pizza!  This may be the cheapest advertising you've ever done!  Your pizza is awesome, by the way!

So, in a few minutes, I will be off to the school with these suckers in hand. . . 

I hope my target audience appreciates the hard work, and dash of love that went into each and every one of these things.  Also, I hope that you don't have to waste hours of your life on Pinterest (like I did yesterday) trying to find a tutorial on buttercream frosted sugar cookies.  Just go ahead and pin this link and and be done with it.  They are fabulous!  I promise!  

Yep, I'm humble, like that.  


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I'm Not Giving Anything Up For Lent This Year

My husband is a fantastic leader, impressive bible scholar, and an extremely motivational small group leader.  This year, he challenged our small groups to consider giving up something for Lent.  I have to admit, I have struggled and searched my soul for what it is that I need to remove from my life for the next 40 days, so that I can be the compliant little pastors wife and fellow team player in the life group.  Now, as I sit here on Ash Wednesday, having drawn a complete blank as to what to sacrifice, I have reached the decision to . . . .



I know!  Right?  It's hard. . . leading people, challenging people to observe certain religious rituals, and then being a total hypocrite!  I struggle with that. . . really!

Disclaimer Alert:

Now, please don't hear something that I am NOT saying here.  I am not opposed to sacrificial giving or personal deprivation during Lent.  In fact, I have observed Lent in this way in the past and it was very enlightening and personally fulfilling to me.  On several occasions, it has actually facilitated me carving out negative bad habits from my life permanently.  Also, the premise behind this observation is to reflect on Christ's sacrifice for us, and I think that is a very good thing!  So, please hear that I am totally okay with others sacrificing deeply during this time of year.  This year, however, I will not be among you. . .

End of Disclaimer

Several years ago, I spent the greater part of a year learning the ins and outs, ups and downs, and true nature of grace.  It was a hard year.  Seriously.  Those of you that know me, know that I am really black and white in my thinking.  Things are either right or wrong, good or bad, "one" or "two". . . .

Give it a minute. . . that last one will sink in shortly. . .

Since that time, I have really had a transformation in my thinking.  It really isn't about right or wrong, good or bad, or punishment vs. justice.

Sometimes it's simply about grace.

. . . . G  R  A  C  E. . . .

Grace. . . it's a bizarre concept. . .

One of the big things that I learned during, what I fondly refer to as "my year of grace", was that there is nothing that I can do to "earn" favor with God.  In my head, I have always known this.  Growing up Baptist, I was always taught this.  Ephesians 2:8-9 even specifically spells it out for me:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast".  It did, however, take me a full 41+ years to even remotely begin to understand this concept.

So, I have now reached this stage of my life with more than a "head-knowledge" of grace.  I have truly experienced a heart-changing realization of what grace is.  Along with that transformation, came the realization that God The Father desires to lavish on me all kinds of wonderful gifts, blessings, and experiences.  He is a creative and generous God with all kinds of tricks up his sleeve.

 . . . Hmmm. . . Does God wear clothes?. . . Does He even have sleeves?. . .

Sorry. . . ADD moment!

Now, I have always had this weird "feeling" that I will not experience old age.  I'm pretty sure it's just the more paranoid side of my personality--plan for the worst, hope for the best? That being said, I have spent the better part of the last 5 years truly attempting to experience all that this world has to offer.  It is the premise behind our family's philosophy of "route 3". (For those of you not familiar with the Anderson Family verbiage of "route 3", I gave a brief synopsis of that concept in an earlier blog.  You can read that, for reference, here.)

Don't get me wrong, I am a big believer in the value of hard work, perseverance, reliability and accountability.  I don't even come close to living life by "the seat of my pants".  However, I am a huge fan of new experiences in life.

So, with my current view on the concept of grace, my philosophy about "route 3", and my husband's challenge on the observance of Lent, I have reached this conclusion. . .

While I am not going to give up anything for Lent this year, I am going to observe the Lenten season. . . Vanessa-style!

I have resolved to spend the next 40 days seeing, eating, exploring, and experiencing something new in God's creation each and every day.  While the rest of you are spending time "sacrificing" something, I'm going to be spending my time "adding" new things--while simultaneously giving thanks to God Almighty for his vision, creativity, and generosity.  My goal is to "see" the world with child-like eyes--with all the wonder, joy, and magnificence that God intended when He created it.  I want to accept this marvelous gift from God and simply be thankful that the gift was free for me to enjoy.

I am excited about what the next 40 days will bring.  I am giddy with anticipation of what God is going to reveal about this unique world He has placed me in.  I'm pretty sure that He has all sort of hidden gems out there just waiting to be discovered and experienced.

We will see how it goes. . . and I am looking forward to sharing some of the more interesting finds with all of you over the next 40 days.

Happy Lenten Season, to all of you!

Monday, February 24, 2014

So, What's All The Hullabaloo About Plexus, Already?!?

Unless you've been living under a rock, don't spend much time on Facebook, or simply don't have all that many Facebook friends that are women obsessed with their weight, you have probably been inundated with ads for Plexus, before and after photos of people on Plexus, and over-the-top testimonials about Plexus.  Listen up, people, it's annoying!  There is no such thing as a "magic pill" (or drink, if you will).  I am skeptical of the claims that have been made.  I am annoyed that my Facebook feed has been filled with weird claims and testimonials about the pounds of weight and inches of fat people have lost. To be honest with you, I have contemplated unfriending more than a few of these obnoxious "Ambassadors" over the past few months.

You know the ones. . . the people that fill their Facebook pages with images like this:

So, it is with great trepidation that I admit the following to all of you out there in cyberspace. . . 

I am a Plexus user. . . . 

Gasp!!!  I know, I just gasped along with you!!

So, now that I know I have lost about 99% of you reading this, and more than one of you will probably unfriend me before the rooster crows at dawn, I would like to continue my story. . .

You may be asking, "Why are you admitting this in such a public forum, Vanessa?"  Well, I will tell you.  I have been using Plexus for a full six months now.  This is not something that I just tried for a few days, figured I could make a few bucks selling, and then tried to suck all of you into purchasing as well.  This is something that I have been highly suspicious of, researched thoroughly, and decided to really put to the test before admitting out loud that I was using it.

So, read at your peril, but here's my story. . . 

Right about the middle of August 2013, I realized that I just couldn't keep eating some of the crap I had been eating for years.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have never, EVER been one of those really skinny girls that could just eat a bag of Oreos every day yet never gain weight.  I have worked VERY hard--especially since having 2 kids--at maintaining my weight.  I am also a conscientious eater that really enjoys a steady stream of healthy fruits and veggies in my diet.  I try to limit starchy carbs, breads, and I never, ever, ever drink sodas. As the decade of my 40's reared it's ugly head, I just woke up and said to myself, "Vanessa, you're not getting any younger, your metabolism is never going to just spontaneously gear up one day, and it isn't going to get any easier to lose the weight.  So, you need to get off your fat @%*!" (yep, I know, I'm the wife of a pastor, but I do occasionally swear in my head. . . okay, who are we kidding?  I pretty regularly swear at myself just right out loud.)

So, I circled a date on my calendar--August 26th--as "D-Day".  That was the date I was going to get serious about losing that 10 lbs that had eluded me since having my last baby (who is now 8)!  I realized that after 8 years, I could no longer blame pregnancy, childbirth, and 50 lbs of weight gain while pregnant as the reason for my steadily increasing BMI.  

In preparation for "D-Day", I hopped on line and set myself up a nice little Nutrisystem account.  I know, I know, it all seems a little weak, but a decade ago Nutrisystem helped me lose the extra 15 lbs of weight I needed to get rid of after the first kid was born.  I think the food is halfway decent, it's relatively affordable, and super easy to just throw in my bag and warm up at the office.  Anyway, "D-Day" just happened to coincide with the first day of the new school year.  My kids were back on schedule and I was ready to lose that weight!

It was all going pretty well.  I lost 4 lbs the first 2 weeks on the plan. . . and then I plateaued. . . 

No biggie, I thought, it's gonna just take some time.

Then, as luck would have it, my neighbor--who is also a close friend--came over and helped me plant some cacti in my front yard.  We got to talking and as it turns out, she had been using Plexus for several months. She told me her story, and how she was a little embarrassed to be hyping it on Facebook.  However, as she continued, she told me that she was so thankful that she had been given the opportunity to try it and didn't want to keep it from other friends that might also benefit from it.  No hard sales pitch, no "awkward" friendship, no big deal.

So, after a few weeks of researching the ingredients and the product as a whole, I decided to sign up and give it a whirl.

Fast forward to today. . . I have lost 20 lbs since August and really do feel pretty good.  However, here are some of the questions I had initially, what worked for me, and various other things that you may be interested in.

1.  Is it expensive?

I guess that's relative.  I'm kind of a tightwad, so yes.  It is expensive.  30 packets of Plexus Slim will run you about $75 a month.  I actually do 2 packets a day, and It is just shy of $150/month.

2.  What is it?  A shake?  A meal substitute? Is it disgusting?

It is a powder packet (kind of like those Crystal Light singles).  You just mix it in a bottle of water and drink it.  It is not a meal substitute, just a fruity-flavored drink--not thick or gritty at all.  I think it tastes pretty good, but with the exception of my one cup of coffee a day, I only drink plain old water.  So, any amount of flavor is awesome for me!

3.  Does it make you jittery?

It hasn't given me the jitters.  I'm one of those people that can only take half-doses of decongestants, otherwise I get hand-tremors--which is highly unfortunate for the poor soul that wanders into my office for a foreign body removal during allergy season. . . Needless to day, I am extremely cautious about ingesting stimulants. . . It's very bad for my practice!  So, I have been pleasantly surprised to find no queasy sensation, jitters, heart palpitations, or hand tremors.  Does that mean you will have the same outcome?  I have no idea.  All you can do is try it.

4.  Is this a multi-level marketing deal?

Yes, and let me tell you, that is the MAIN reason why it has taken me 6 months to tell anybody I have been using this stuff.  I freaking HATE MLM's!!!  Nothing will ruin friendships faster than an mlm!!  Seriously!  That said, I want you to hear this from me:  I don't really care if you buy this stuff, or not!  In fact, if you're worried about this effecting our friendship, then don't buy it at all.  Or, better yet, buy it from my friend Kristy.

5.  Is there a guarantee that I will lose weight with this product?

Umm. . . NO!  Like any weight loss regimen, you have to work hard at it.  That means you need to eat right, exercise, get a good night's sleep, and control your caloric consumption.  You also need to drink a lot of water.  The nice thing about Plexus is it makes me really thirsty, so I actually want to drink lots of water.  Plexus was just one tool in my toolbox.  I still eat Nutrisystem prepackaged meals occasionally for lunch and dinner.  I run 3 miles 4-5 times a week, and watch my calories with the help of My Fitness Pal.  (You can download the app for free on the iTunes app store).  I also wear a Fit Bit (courtesy of my in laws this Christmas) and am intentional about taking at least 10,000 steps a day.  So, if all you want to do is drink 16 oz of pink drink every day, don't waste your money!

That said, Plexus does offer a 60-day money back guarantee.  Not sure how much of a hassle it is to actually get your money back, though.  If you try it and are dissatisfied with the product, let me know how the customer service is. . . I'm just kind of curious on that one.

6.  Will I stop craving sweets?

I have no idea.  I absolutely love sweets--cookies, cake, interesting things I find on Pinterest. . .   I can pretty much eat sweets any time of the day.  However, I did find with this stuff, I was less inclined to crave them.  If they are sitting in front of me, you better believe I'm gonna dig in.  However, if it's not easily accessible, I don't find myself going out of my way to look for them.  Again, all you can do is try it and see how it works for you.  No guarantees from me.

7.  Will this cure my Type 2 Diabetes and/or Thyroid Disease?

See the first sentence of #5.  I know, I know, there are a lot of claims flooding Facebook about this one.  As an Optometrist, a significant portion of my day is spent dealing with patients that have diabetes, thyroid disease, and other random autoimmune diseases. It's a lot of what I do for a living.  Yes, losing a couple hundred pounds will more than likely help your Type 2 diabetes.  It will also make things a lot easier on your thyroid.  Don't even get me started on obesity and autoimmune disorders. . . The positive impact on your overall health and wellness will more than likely come from the actual weight loss itself, not the Plexus product.  I think most Americans could stand to lose a few pounds.  If we cut out a lot of processed and highly refined foods, the levels of Type 2 diabetes, thyroid disease, and autoimmune disorders would plummet in this country.  However, if you have any of these medical issues, and Plexus helps you shed a few pounds, you will  probably notice that you feel better.

8.  What's the catch?  Vanessa, why are you now sharing this with the world?

That, my friend is a great question.  I have an extensive background in health, nutrition, and medicine (I am a doctor, after all).  I have been reluctant to "hawk" this product, as it is really not a simple drink-this-and-you-will-lose-weight deal.  You have to really work at it.  However, it was the final catalyst for me to actually get back down to my pre-kid weight.  I feel great and have (so far) not experienced any negative side effects--unless you count having to pee every hour a negative. . . I have so many friends that struggle with weight and self-esteem issues.  My hope is that for perhaps one of them, they will find this to be the "thing" that they have been searching for that will actually work.  It worked for me, and I am a huge and natural cynic.

I have devoted my entire career to helping people with their health care issues.  I truly believe that this product is a great tool for that journey.  When used properly, in conjunction with common sense and healthy dietary choices, believe it can be quite a helpful product.

Again, I detest mlm schemes.  So, I can guarantee you I am not doing this for any monetary gain.  However, if you are interested in trying this product, click here to go to the site.  

9.  Oh, so since you set up your own site, you must be in it for the money, right?

Ummm. . . no.  Did you not read #8?  I'm not all that interested in selling this stuff.  However, by signing up for the site, I get mine at a discount.  Since I really like this stuff and plan on being on it for a while, it just made good financial sense to set myself up as an ambassador (did I mention that I'm a tight wad?)  Feel free to purchase it from my site.  I will forewarn you, though, if you want someone to bug you, be your cheerleader, or check up on your progress, I'm probably not your girl.  If I know you, I may shoot you a text now and then to see how you are doing, but that's pretty much the extent of the customer service you will get from me.  

In closing, there is no pressure here.  I promise, I am not going to corner you at church, or in the grocery store.  We will still be friends either way.  Feel free to message me, email me, or leave some way for me to contact you in the comments.  Otherwise, let's just pretend this conversation never happened, okay?

Friday, February 7, 2014

My 287 Ah Ha Moment. . .

My favorite day of the week is Thursday.  

I know, it's weird.  Why not Friday. . . or Saturday. . . or, for goodness sake, Sunday?  

Well, I will tell you.  On Thursdays, I commute exactly 56 minutes each way to work.  Early in my career I used to listen to music.  Once I tired of the never-changing playlists on the radio (yes, this was waaaaaay before the invention of MP3 players), I switched to talk radio.  That didn't last long, as I found it made me stressed, angry and paranoid about life and the world we live in, but that's another story for another day. . . 

Fast forward to several years ago when I finally entered this century and received my very first iPod--courtesy of my early-adopter husband.  A whole new world opened up for me--the beauty of podcasts!  I have listened to thousands of these interesting, convicting, (and yes, sometimes boring) self-help lectures all wrapped up in fancy little Apple packaging.  Thus began my weekly self-help pep talk along Highway 287, and the reason behind my love for Thursday.

This past Thursday was a particularly insightful drive for me.  The Texas Panhandle woke to about 2 inches of fresh, dry, powdery snow. . . covering about 1/8 of an inch of zamboni-smoothed ice.  Of course, being Thursday, it was my day to drive to my satellite practice 50 miles away.  I dutifully bundled up and set out just a few minutes early to allow some extra time to get there.

I quickly realized that it was going to take me waaaaaay longer to get the 50 miles than it normally did--since I was not breaking any land speed records in my little front wheel drive Chevy.  In fact, the simple 3 mile drive out of my neighborhood-in-the-middle-of-nowhere caused me significant stress at a meager 20 mph.  I was able to pull over in a couple of spots to allow the much faster moving (insert "insane") motorists to pass.  There were several places that I was unable to pull over, and could feel my blood pressure rise--along with the white knuckles--as other crazy 4-wheel drive wielding Texans tailgated me down the road.

Since I knew this was going to take a while, I put on one of my favorite automatically downloaded podcasts--Your Move, with Andy Stanley.  I was a little annoyed to find that the latest installment was a repeat message that I had probably listened to at least 4 times in the previous year.  It was a message titled "Comparison Trap--the Land of Er".  However, at this point, the roads were really dicey, and both hands (not to mention, 100% of my attention) were needed to merely stay out of the bar ditch.  

It's funny to me how God has such a unique way of getting my attention.  Apparently, there was something in this message that I needed to hear again.  So, dutifully, I decided to comply--more out of fear of death, auto damage, or the risk of having to hoof it several miles in 4 degree weather, than the actual realization that God might have something to teach me!

The message revolved around the centuries-long problem with contentment.  Now, those of you that know me, know that I invest a significant amount of energy trying to teach my kids the art of contentment.  It is a conversation that I regularly have with myself as well--thus the reason I had listened to said podcast 4 times in the past year!  So, my natural inclination was "Sheesh!  Really?  Again?  Haven't I learned this, already?!?

Anyway, as Andy began to speak, he referenced the book of Ecclesiastes.  Seeing as how Solomon was, indeed, much, much wiser than I, I figured I should pay attention.  Here are the verses that he referenced:

Ecclesiastes 4:4-6
4. Then I realized that we work and do wonderful things just because we are jealous of others. 
This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.
5. Fools will fold their hands
and starve to death.
6. Yet a very little food
eaten in peace
is better than twice as much
earned from overwork
and chasing the wind.

It was about this point in his sermon that I pulled onto Highway 287.  I was the car in front. . . you know, the slow guy that is holding up all the other traffic?  The roads were still a little icy.  The outside temperature was now a balmy 1 degree, and we were just about to go across a series of bridges.  For those of you that have driven in a Texas ice storm, you understand, it's the bridges that getcha.  So, being the experienced driver that I am, I was taking it kinda slow--40 mph to be exact.  There were a couple of trucks and several semi-trailers right behind me.  I was starting to experience some anxiety from all the traffic stacking up.  I don't know about you, but I'm the kind of personality that doesn't like being the slowest member of the herd--especially when that slowest member is keeping everyone else from going as fast as they would like.

I was very thankful when the road finally opened up into two fairly decent lanes.  Slowly, all those trucks began to pass me.  It was strangely freeing to slow down even more to grant them access.  In just a few minutes, all the traffic was long-gone and down the road and I was all by myself again on Highway 287.  I began to relax.  The roads started to clear, and I was able to ramp it up to about 70 mph.  

Still listening to Andy go on and on about contentment, he reached a point in his message where he was addressing "the comparison trap".  Why are we so inclined to always be looking to our right and our left?  Why are we always so worried about what others are doing?  Why do we stress about keeping up with the Jones'?

That's when I saw it. . . the huge double-stacked tractor trailer in front of me.  You know the one. . . that semi that has TWO trailers in tow.  The guy that is bigger, heavier, and meaner than everyone else on the road.  I began to slow, as the left hand lane had returned to a bit of an icy overlay.  The right hand lane was still fairly clear, and certainly did not require the measly 55 mph that the huge mammoth beast in front was traveling.  However, with no other options, I was resigned to camp out behind said behemoth.  I was surprised to find that my blood pressure began to fall, my knuckles loosened their grip on the steering wheel, and my entire body began to relax.  With nowhere to go, but straight ahead at 55 mph, behind the biggest guy on the road, life became inexplicably calmer.

By this time, the sermon was over and I had moved on to another. . . can't even remember what it was, because I had stopped listening and was instead mulling over the profound experience I had just had inside my own head.  As I realized I was only going to be about 25 minutes late to work, and that my first patient had actually no-showed, life just seemed so much simpler.

I was able to read the following verses in Ecclesiastes later that day, and here's what they said:

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8
7. Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense. 
8. For example, some people don't have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, “Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?” What a senseless and miserable life!

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
9.You are better having a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. 
10. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. 
11. If you sleep alone, you won't have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night. 
12. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, “A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.”

So, here was the take-home message to myself yesterday, and the Ah Ha Moment from 287:

1.  Sometimes when you are being pushed down the road by people behind you, you are going faster than you should.
Translation:  Don't let the world tell you how busy you need to be, how many accomplishments you need to make, how many sports your kids need to be involved in, and how many hours in the day you need to work in order to "keep up".

2.  When you start to look to your right and your left at those that are going to pass you, you forget to pay attention to what is right in front of you.

Translation:  Don't be so busy trying to outpace those that want to pass you, that you forget to enjoy the blessings of today.

3.  Sometimes it's nice and relaxing to align yourself with someone bigger, stronger, and more capable.

Translation:  That big double-stacked tractor trailer in front of me could have easily been traveling at a faster clip--he was bigger, heavier, and had A LOT more wheels on the road than the rest of us.  However, he was confident, secure, and not in any hurry to get where he was going.  It's good to be friends with those that are strong.  Let me repeat Eccl 4:10  "If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble".  I will add, sometimes your bigger and stronger friends keep you from doing stupid things--like driving too fast on icy roads!

4.  Sometimes going too fast does not really get you to your destination with anything extra to show for your effort.

Translation:  I was only 25 minutes late to work.  My first patient had already cancelled.  I didn't lose anything by being late, yet I gained my life, my sanity, all my fingers and toes, and an intact automobile.

So, in closing, I think the Eagles probably said it best in their song "Life In The Fast Lane"

Life in the fast lane
Surely make you lose your mind
Life in the fast lane, everything all the time
Life in the fast lane, uh huh
Blowin' and burnin', blinded by thirst
They didn't see the stop sign,
Took a turn for the worse

So, here's to staying out of life in the fast lane. . . 

Wishing you a right-hand-lane kind of day!