Pancakes for Days!!!

Pancake Day is better known as Shrove Tuesday, which is the day that precedes Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday varies from year to year since it’s based off of Easter. It will always fall 47 days before Easter. This year Pancake Day takes place tomorrow, Tuesday February 28th. 3bb8b2a2a7582824652245b2d47ad6df

The name Shrove Tuesday comes from ‘shrive’, meaning absolution for sins by doing penance. If you’re familiar with the concept of Lent, you know that devout Christians choose something to give up for 40 days and don’t partake in it until Easter. In the US, we refer to this day as “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday”, since traditionally you do not indulge in fatty foods during Lent.

 

In the past,  families would clear out their cupboards and remove the fattening foods so as not to be tempted during Lent. In those times, eggs, milk and sugar were considered fatty and had to be removed. Rather than waste good food, people would find ways to use them up. Enter – the pancake.

Over the years, pancakes have definitely evolved. As we have become more adventurous and health conscious, our pancake taste buds have fluctuated. In preparation for tomorrow, I’ve pulled together 3 delicious recipes that are sure to fulfill your cravings for a tall stack of flapjacks!

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Vegan Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

  • 1 T ground flax seed
  • 2 1/2 T water
  • 1 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup + 1 T non-dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T coconut oil, melted
  1. Make flax egg by whisking together flax and water in a small bowl. Set aside while prepping other ingredients.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. Mix together milk and vinegar to make buttermilk. Add in melted coconut oil and flax egg.
  4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients. Slowly mix for about 30 seconds – don’t over mix!
  5. Pour batter onto heated and greased skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until edges look done, and flip. Cook another 4-5 minutes.
  6. Serve with fresh strawberries 🍓

Yields: 6 pancakes

 

 

 

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

  • 2 cups of gluten-free oats or rolled oats
  • 1¼ cups vanilla almond milk
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1 tsp of raw honey
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 cup of sliced strawberries
  1. Place the oats, milk, banana, honey, sea salt, vanilla, cocoa powder, and baking powder into a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated.
  3. Heat a skillet or frying pan over medium heat and melt a teaspoon of coconut oil.
  4. Once heated, pour ¼ cup of batter for each pancake onto the pan and brown on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).
  5. Serve the pancakes with chocolate syrup or pure maple syrup and sliced strawberries.

Yields: 6-8 pancakes

 

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Blueberry Kefir Pancakes

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 T coconut sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups lactose-free Kefir
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup blueberries, frozen
  1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Add the kefir & eggs; whisk everything together until combined. Lumps are fine – do not overbeat.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium-low with coconut oil.
  3. Add blueberries right before pouring the batter in the pan. Ladle ⅓ cup of batter into the skillet. Allow to cook 4-5 minutes.
  4. Flip pancakes once bubbles rise to the surface and the bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Cook until both sides are lightly browned.
  6. Serve warm as is, with syrup or jam, or with fresh fruit!

Adapted from recipe by Green Valley Organics Lactose Free

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Calling All Chocoholics!!

Ever notice how whenever you’re having a bad moment (or day), chocolate always comes to mind. What – that doesn’t happen to you? Just me? Hmm… I’m not sure you’re all telling the truth! But seriously – don’t you crave chocolate when you’re having a bad day?

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The past few months have been a serious of good and bad days for me. There were some days (and nights) where I rummaged around the house, praying that I would find some sort of chocolate that appealed to my craving. Sadly, it seemed that all I really wanted was a fudgy brownie or a dark chocolate infused ice cream. Neither of things are common around my house and not wanting to drive out into the cold, I usually went without. I did, however, discover that I have a fondness for carob chips during these late night raids. My new favorite “cleaner” snack are carob chips, almonds, and apple slices.

While I do tend to crave chocolate when I’m stressed or feeling very under the weather (ladies, you know what I mean), there are some times I just randomly crave it. I know it’s not healthy to eat chocolate every single day or in the large amounts that I was craving, so I did a little digging. Chocolate is very high in magnesium, so when we crave chocolate, it typically means we’re in need of magnesium. There are a lot of foods that are high in magnesium, so chocolate isn’t your only option (I know, you’re jumping for joy right now). Not surprisingly, some of those super healthy foods we’re supposed to be eating all the time (leafy greens, fish, nuts, and seeds) are high in magnesium. Oh hey – look at that – my cravings for carob chips and almonds fit right in here!

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But enough about not getting chocolate, because that’s not something we want to hear at all! Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and I’m pretty sure chocolate is one of the most popular gifts that are shared for this holiday. Why, you might ask? Well, because men are smart and know that chocolate is the way to *most* women’s hearts. When my husband was dating, one of his favorite treats to bring home were brownie bites and a nice red wine. Sometimes on my birthday or Valentine’s Day, he would splurge and bring home a specialty box from Russell Stover or Whitman’s. Delicious….

But…have you ever wondered what it would be like to incorporate chocolate into every meal? No, not just eating candy or chocolate bars. That’s just crazy talk. I’m talking about finding ways to sneak chocolate into salads and other savory dishes73705809be5b8238331e6b0b7d15d81f – unexpected meals. It’s kind of like the strategy of hiding vegetables in sweets (i.e. avocado brownies or zucchini chocolate cake), but in reverse. Well, this is something that sparked
my interest, so I decided to set out and find some tasty recipes that would pair this delectable treat with every day items.

And so, the Chocoholics Menu was born! Below you will find recipes for every meal so you an treat yourself for a day. Careful not to spoil your appetite though!! Before you go, here are just a few fun facts…

  1. Chocolate causes your heart to pound faster then when you kiss!
  2. Ben & Jerry’s was the first to make cookie dough ice cream. Where did they come up with the idea? This flavor came from an anonymous suggestion on their flavor suggestion board in one of its shops.
  3. There is a tiny bit of caffeine in chocolate. While most bars have about 10 milligrams, some darker chocolates can have as much caffeine as a can of Coca-Cola!
  4. Chocolate milk is an effective post-workout recovery drink.
  5. Americans buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate on Valentine’s Day every year. This makes up about 5% of sales for the entire year!!

 

 

 

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

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2 cups of gluten-free oats or rolled oats
1¼ cups vanilla almond milk
1 large ripe banana
1 tsp of raw honey
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1 large organic egg
1 cup of sliced strawberries

1. Place the oats, milk, banana, honey, sea salt, vanilla, cocoa powder, and baking powder into a blender. Blend until smooth.
2. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated.
3. Heat a skillet or frying pan over medium heat and melt a teaspoon of coconut oil.
4. Once heated, pour ¼ cup of batter for each pancake onto the pan and brown on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).
5. Serve the pancakes with chocolate syrup or pure maple syrup and sliced strawberries.

Yields: 6-8 pancakes

 

Brownie Batter Shake

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  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder (I use Shakeology)
  • 1 cup water or unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 tsp PB2
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Ice
  1. Blend all ingredients until smooth and serve immediately!

 

 

Chicken & Pear Spinach Salad with Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette 

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1 T milk chocolate chips
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp honey
Dash of salt and black pepper 

1 cup fresh baby spinach
6 oz. cooked chicken chunks
1 pear, sliced
2 T dried cranberries
1 T sliced almonds, toasted

  1. In a microwaveable bowl, melt chocolate with olive oil. Stir until smooth, then whisk in vinegar, honey, and seasoning.
  2. Place spinach on a salad plate. Top with chicken, pear, cranberries, and almonds.
  3. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately!

 

 

Chocolate, Balsamic, and Blue Cheese London Broil

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4 oz. top loin, strip, or tenderloin steaks
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese

Chocolate Balsamic Glaze
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T dark chocolate chips
1 T butter

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and season meat with cracked black pepper and salt. Place steaks on baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Turn oven onto BROIL and cook for another 5-10 minutes, watching carefully. Be sure to watch carefully so as to not overcook. 
  3. Meanwhile, stir together balsamic vinegar and chocolate chips in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter.
  4. Drizzle each steak with the glaze. 

 

Mozzarella Strawberry Salad with Chocolate Vinaigrette

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  • 6 thin slices deli ham, chopped
  • 1 package (5 ounces) spring mix salad greens
  • 1-1/2 cups kale
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese pearls (or slice up mozzarella sticks)
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  1. In a small skillet, cook ham over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon; drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, divide salad greens and kale among 4 salad plates.
  3. Arrange cheese, strawberries and ham over greens.
  4. In a microwave, melt chocolate with oil and vinegar for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, heating longer if necessary. Whisk in honey, salt and pepper. Drizzle over salads.

 

Chocolate Nutella Cheesecake Cake

by Wicked Good Kitchen

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Nutella Cheesecake Layer

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, such as Philadelphia®, softened to room temperature
  • ½ cup Nutella® Hazelnut Spread
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
  • ½ cup  granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sour cream, such as Daisy® Brand
  • 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), melted & cooled
  • Butter for greasing nonstick springform pan
  1. Arrange oven racks to lower and middle positions and preheat oven to 325ºF. Place a 9×13-inch baking dish or pan on the lower rack of oven and fill it halfway with water. The middle rack should be just above the pan of water which will provide added moisture to help prevent the cheesecake from cracking during baking. Generously grease springform pan with butter and set aside.
  2. Beat the cream cheese, Nutella® and vanilla until creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of bowl as necessary with rubber spatula.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
  4. Add the sour cream and melted chocolate; mix until fully incorporated and smooth.
  5. Using rubber spatula, scrape and pour batter into prepared pan. Place springform pan on middle rack in preheated oven above the pan of water.
  6. Bake until cheesecake is just set in center and no longer jiggles, about 50 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and place on wire cooling rack.
  7. Immediately run thin metal icing spatula around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake from sides of pan. This will prevent any surface cracking as the cheesecake cools and contracts.
  8. Allow cheesecake to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
  9. Once the cheesecake has cooled, place it (while still in the springform pan) into the freezer, covered with plastic wrap. Let the cheesecake freeze completely, about 4 to 5 hours or overnight.

 

Chocolate-Hazelnut Velvet Cake Layers

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, spooned into cup & leveled off, plus additional for dusting cake pans
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup sifted Hershey’s® Unsweetened Cocoa
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1¼ tsp kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon sea salt or table salt)
  • ½ cup hazelnut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup organic buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs (mine weighed 105 grams w/o shells), at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup Frangelico® Hazelnut Liqueur or hazelnut syrup such as Torani*
  • 1½ tsp instant espresso granules, such as Ferrara®
  • Butter, shortening or favorite cooking oil, for greasing cake pans
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with butter, shortening or oil. Line bottoms with parchment or wax paper circles. Grease paper linings and dust lined pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt on low speed (stir) until well combined and aerated, about 1 minute.
  3. Add oil, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla; mix on low speed, scraping down the sides of bowl as necessary with spatula. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes.
  4. Bring water and Frangelico® or hazelnut syrup to a boil in heatproof glass liquid measuring cup in microwave. Immediately add espresso granules and stir until dissolved. Carefully add boiling water mixture into batter on low speed and mix until well combined. Batter will be very thin.
  5. Using spatula, scrape and pour batter into prepared pans dividing evenly. Smooth tops evenly with rubber spatula.
  6. Bake in center of preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes.
  7. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run thin metal spatula around edges of each cake to loosen, then invert onto wire rack and peel away parchment or wax paper.
  8. Turn right side up onto wire racks (using an additional rack to flip); cool completely.

 

Chocolate-Nutella Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (or 1 stick salted & 1 stick unsalted)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, such as Philadelphia®, chilled from the fridge
  • ½ cup Nutella® Hazelnut Spread
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
  • 4 T sifted HERSHEY’S® Special Dark Cocoa, or your favorite
  • 3½ – 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, spooned in cup, leveled off & sifted
  • 12 Ferrero Rocher® chocolate-hazelnut candies, for top of cake

 

  1. Using an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or handheld mixer and large bowl, beat butter on medium speed until creamy.
  2. Add cream cheese, Nutella® and vanilla; beat until fully incorporated. Gradually increase mixer speed to high and continue beating until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of bowl as necessary with rubber spatula.
  3. Gradually add cocoa and 3½ cups confectioners’ sugar, beating on low speed (stir), until well combined. Add additional confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency for spreading and level of sweetness is reached. Beat on high speed until well combined and smooth while scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, about 1 to 2 minutes. Before frosting cake layers, rebeat buttercream to ensure smoothness.

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To Assemble

  1. Place one cake layer onto serving plate. With icing spatula, spread about 3 tablespoons buttercream evenly over top of cake.
  2. Remove cheesecake layer from the freezer. Loosen cheesecake from sides of pan by running thin metal spatula around the inside rim. Unmold cheesecake by removing sides of pan.
  3. Carefully, slide a hot knife (warmed under hot running water and wiped dry) under the cheesecake, and slide knife around the circumference, to release it from bottom of springform pan.
  4. If necessary, trim cheesecake to match the size of the cake layers. This is done by measuring the cheesecake layer against the cake layers on a cutting board. If the cheesecake layer is slightly larger in circumference, use a sharp knife to carefully shave away some of the outer edge of the frozen cheesecake to match the outer edges of the cakes until all sides are even or flush.
  5. Place cheesecake layer on top of the first cake layer. Spread another 3 tablespoons buttercream over top of cheesecake.
  6. Place second cake layer on top of the cheesecake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake neatly and evenly.
  7. Top with Ferrero Rocher candies and serve.

 

chocoholics

Love 101: Acts of Service

 

Acts of Service sounds like a very simple love language, since it’s based on helpful actions in life. However, not just anything can count as an act of service. Like all other love languages, an act of service requires thought, planning, and positive energy. These acts might be expressed by chores around the house, running errands, doing yard work, or keeping up with car maintenance.

Like all other love languages, it is imperative that you express this as your love language. If you feel loved by having someone else do things for you (i.e. wash the dishes) and they don’t do them, you will feel unloved. But if your partner isn’t aware that’s how you perceive love, then he/she may feel you’re being selfish. Take, for example, my marriage. I express my love by performing chores around the house, running errands, and taking care of our puppy. Making him lunch and dinner are acts of love for me. My husband, on the other hand, just sees these as distractions because instead of cooking, I could be cuddled up next to him watching a movie or reading. Acts of Service is clearly one of my primary love languages, but not one of my husband’s.

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Now, at this point you may be thinking, “Good grief, if they would just tell me what they wanted, I would do it for them.” I know exactly what you mean when you say that, but that’s not how this works!! I’ve exclaimed that exact phrase to my husband numerous times, but he got to the point where he would retort, “I shouldn’t take to tell you these things.”

Why would he say this? Well, even though he would tell me exactly what he wanted, I began to resent being told this because I felt like he was demanding something from me. Now, most of you don’t know me, so I’ll be up front with you: I am an extremely stubborn individual. I’m a Taurus and Irish, so that already gives you an idea about my disposition. My father is extremely strong-headed, and I am most definitely my father’s child. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I have a terrible tendency to jump on the defense if you don’t agree with me. And when I feel like I’m being manipulated or forced into something, I will plant my feet and refuse to budge.

In his book, Dr. Chapman states, “Love can’t be demanded. We can request things of each other, but we must never demand anything. Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.” This is why it is so vital to communicate your love language with your partner, so that they can communicate without being told or pressured into doing it. Being offered with a list of ways that your spouse or significant other views love allows you to have the options of how to communicate when the time is right.

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12 Acts of Service

  • Give the kids (or the dog) a bath! If you have children, you know this nightly routine can be time consuming and if you’re the cook in the family, fighting with little ones isn’t the first thing you want to do after you just cooked a meal!

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  • Keep the house tidy. Whether it’s picking up the toys and shoes, folding the laundry, or taking on vacuuming duty – helping to keep your home tidy will be a sign of love.
  • Make them breakfast or lunch one day, so it’s one less thing they have to stress about. This is amazing when you have children!!

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  • Let your significant other go out with friends while you take care of their responsibilities for the evening. Men need their time alone or with their “boys” and us ladies need our girl time. Try to negotiate an even amount of time through the month where you each get some “chill” time with your friends.
  • Helping with their chores around the house. I’m known for doing laundry in our household, but I despise folding clothes. Having my husband help with the folding is very helpful and demonstrates love to me.

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  • Fill up the car with gas. One of my best friends commutes and hour to work every day, so when she leaves it’s dark and when she comes home it’s dark. After dealing with horrible traffic, the last thing she wants to do is stop for gas. Her husband is a sweetheart and will take her car for gas while she unpacks from work.
  • Take over the grocery shopping or other errands for the day. Every Saturday morning is grocery day in our house. I make the grocery list on Friday night and after my Saturday morning run, I head out to the different stops. Having someone take over that duty even just once a month so I could sleep in would be incredible!

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  • Wash the car. This is my most dreaded task, and I begrudgingly do it. I think most women would agree with me, so men – listen up. Take their car and get is washed one in awhile. I guarantee you she’ll be all smiles!!
  • Take the pets or children to appointments, play dates, etc. Been a chauffeur is a part of the role as a parent, but this should be split up equal between both parents. If your spouse is the usual driver, offer to take the keys for a day.
  • On long road trips, take turns to drive so that your spouse can sleep and/or relax. Trust me – no one like driving more than 4-5 hours at a time.

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  • Pay the bills ahead of time so there’s no stress. If you know you have the electric bill every month on the 12th, let your spouse know that it’s covered. This will alleviate some stress for them and also share the responsibility!
  • Take the kids or dog for a walk (especially if your spouse is the stay-at-home parent).  Even just 5-10 minutes of peace to start the transition to the nightly routine is amazing!

I hope you found these ideas insightful and useful for your acts of service partner. Be sure to share with us your favorite ways to express love through acts of service!

❤️

This weekend marks the end of our series on Love Languages. I truly hope that this has enlightened even just one person. I know I’ve learned a ton, just from reading and researching!

Learning to Love Yourself

Learning to love myself is a journey that continues through out the span of our lives – not something you accomplish in a day, a weekend getaway, or even in a month. For people like me who are focused on deadlines and checking things off my to-do list, this really aggravated me. I didn’t have time to wait around and try to learn this self-love stuff day-by-day. I wanted results now! And because I couldn’t find just a few minutes a day to practice, I wound up just avoiding it all together.

And I was doing pretty good for myself. I even remember thinking to myself, “oh yah, I definitely love myself”. I would hear Oprah and other talk show hosts talk about having to love yourself first before you could love anyone else and I told myself, “yep, I’ve got that down pat.” And so I kept telling myself, for a good 12- 15 years. I thought I had snuck past that pesky, long drawn out process of learning to love myself and just skipped to the fun part – loving someone else and building a life together.

Well, guess what happened? Life came knocking and reminded me that I hadn’t done the best job of fooling it. “Oh hello, you remember that self-love thing you didn’t ever have time for because you were too busy with your job, your friends, your relationship, your LIFE? Well, now you’re going to have to actually do the hard work because guess what – all those things that kept you so busy aren’t there anymore. So now what’s your excuse?”

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And damn it, life was right. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always made sure I was super busy and active, so much so that I didn’t have the down time to work on myself. I remember after my first terrible relationship ended, I started seeing a therapist. I wanted to wrap my head around what I had gone through and be sure that I didn’t have to go through those experiences again. But then I met someone new, and I began spending more time with them in the evenings after work and I decided that was more important than continuing therapy. And then 3 years later, I found myself leaving that relationship and moving very quickly onto a new relationship (less than 2 months between the two).

About 2 years into this new relationship, we begin experiencing similar issues to that former relationship which had landed me in therapy years prior. I took the initiative and suggested we go to therapy, which he actually agreed to (m y ex had refused). I felt this was a super positive sign and was ever helpful that this would be the “fix”. We worked nearly 9 months in therapy, alone and together, as we prepared to say “I do” to one another. Shortly after our wedding, he launched into a serious study course and our therapist switched insurances, so we once again became “too busy” for therapy.

Flash forward less than 18 months, and I somehow wind up fleeing a relationship that was supposed to be “the one”. I suggest we see that same therapist who had counseled us prior to the wedding, but I knew it was too late. The work we had put in before the vows had stopped abruptly and it’s impossible to just pick up where you left off in these sorts of things. So, I decided to go see a therapist on my own, to work through the issues independently. I only saw her a few times, but within the first 10 minutes of meeting me, she delved right into the burning questions I had been avoiding.

  • How are feeling?
  • How are you dealing with all of this?
  • How are you working and still functioning day to day?
  • How do you feel about yourself? 
  • What is your inner voice – your inner critic – saying to you?

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All things I didn’t want to answer or face. I utterly and completely blamed myself for everything that was happening to me. I believed it was my fault and that I had somehow caused this cyclone of insanity that had touched down in my life and literally ripped my relationship – and my heart – into shreds. As I sat in her office, I felt as if pieces of my life – my fairy tale, happily ever life – were scattered across her floor like the remnants after a tornado. Oh look – there’s the memories from our honeymoon in New York City, crumbled up in the corner. And over there, that’s the memories of the screaming matches in our first apartment because I didn’t want him to take shots every night when he came home. Oh and that over there? That’s just keys that I threw because I was so fed up with his manic drinking behavior that had last all night and kept me awake.

But that’s not what this therapist wanted to talk about. No, she wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes, deep down inside of me. What was causing me have such a negative outlook on the situation? Why was I taking the blame for something that so clearly had happened to me, but not because of me? Did I do this often – take the blame for things? Oh yes – always. And I was great at just volunteering myself to take the fall; so much so that I think everyone around me just expected it and began to do it for me. Oh why is he having a bad day? Oh well, Erin didn’t wake him up with a kiss and instead went running before he woke up. Yep, that’s why he’s in a bad mood, why he was late to work, why the traffic was horrible…

Wrong. All wrong. But how did I get to this point?

Remember what I had no time for? That little thing called self-love, that which I had run from and avoided all these years, telling myself that I did love myself… Well I hadn’t ever developed it. Or if I had, it had disappeared long before I hit my college years. Instead of taking the time to learn about myself and really become my best friend, I had run wildly out into the world, expecting it to fill me up and fill the gaping holes within me.

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But when to world around you crumbles down and you’re left there standing alone amongst the rubble, you begin to realize how large and hollow the holes really are. Before when I was so busy decorating, cleaning, dancing, partying, working, running, flirting, loving, and cooking, I hadn’t noticed them. I filled my spare time with all the things that I loved so I didn’t have to be alone. Oh, I was along for a good portion of my first year of marriage due to my husband’s courses, but I found lots of things to do. I was never bored; rarely lonely. But in those 9 months that I was alone, do you think I took the time to just be with myself and my feelings?

Come on, you know the answer to this one. Nope. And when I did feel that my emotions and thoughts were creeping in, I would drink to desperately keep the thoughts at bay and make them recede to the farthest, darkest corners of my mind. Thankfully this didn’t happen very often, or I may be sitting here today with quiet a different problem on my hands. But no, my problem – the underlying cause of all my failed relationships and not-so-happy-endings was very simple: I don’t love myself.

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You see, when you don’t love yourself, you have no example of what love is. Oh, we have Hollywood and social media and friends and family to show us examples of love. And trust me, you’ll get a wide kaleidoscope of varying types of loves from all of those sources. And like me, you’ll start to pick and choose which types of love that you like. You’ll play around with different behaviors, different looks, different tricks, in order to “win” the love that you’re looking for. Or the one you think you’re looking for, because remember, you don’t really know what love you want.

And maybe you’ll get lucky and stumble across a type of love that is raw, pure, and magical. The kind of love that you read about in fairy tales or see on television. And you’ll get swept up in that love whirlwind and sail off to Never-Ever Land, where you and your love will live happily ever after. Content. Happy. Blissful.

But maybe you won’t find your Prince Charming and you end up with some jerk face who can barely remember your name. And even though you know he’s not good for you, you’ll keep trying to keep his attention, even just for a few second longer. Knowing full well that the moment you are gone from his mind, it’s on to the next pretty lil’ thing he sees. And why do we torture ourselves with this game, when we know deep down we should stop playing? Because deep down, we have a hole that we’re trying to fill and when we’re with him, the aching of that hole fades away.

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The hole is aching for love. We are all aching for love. But we have been raised to believe that we can find love through things and through others. And so the moment we begin to deal with the pain, we start reaching out for love. Never once do we think to just turn inwards and try to love ourselves. Instead of crying out for love from someone else and then making ourselves miserable because we don’t receive that attention… we could just give ourselves attention. But that would seem so simple, now wouldn’t it? And if it was so simple as taking the time to be with yourself, don’t you think more people would be doing it??

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So, my dear readers, I have been embarking on this self-love journey for almost a year now. It began last summer when I began focusing on myself in order to stop focusing on trying to get pregnant. And I really began to feel confident and stronger about myself after just a few short months. I even remember thinking to myself, “oh yeah, you’ve got this thing down. You totally learned to love yourself in way less time than you thought it would take you. Go you!” Imaginary high five to myself. But I still had my life at that point. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest or anything to write a fairy tale about, but I still have people present in my life on a a day-to-day basis. I had that support system that I had grown accustomed to. I had the routine that I had built for myself and was reliant upon.

 

But when all that crumbled apart and that one person wasn’t there every morning when I woke up or every night as I fell asleep, or even throughout the day via text or phone… well that’s when the true test of self-love commences. That’s when you realize that you really can’t rely on anyone else to fill you up when you’re lacking, to pull you back up when you’re down, or to make you smile when you’re sad. That’s when you realize that YOU are the only person you can truly rely on (and should rely on) to do those things for you. And that’s when you actually have to start doing these things for yourself, or else that great big gaping hole instead of you will swallow you up.

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And so I re-started my self-love journey, but this time from the very bottom. I had lost the entire world that I had known for nearly 4 years, and I was having to face some pretty tough decisions. I could continue being as I had always been – flitting here, there, and everywhere in hopes of gaining love. Or I could use this situation as a learning experience and finally start the annoying business of learning to love myself. I only call it that because in my mind, it was annoying and not half as much fun as falling in love with someone else. What could possibly be exciting about loving myself??

 

A lot can be, actually. Deciding to take a million steps backwards and looking at my life through the most honest of eyes possible, I’ve begun to peel back the layers of myself and see what really makes me, me. 

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  • I’ve had to learn to be ok with myself. I’ve always been super critical of myself, mainly because I feel this is how I’ve been able to accomplish so much in life. If I’m my biggest and harshest critic, I can never truly be hurt by anyone else. I learned that lesson early on in grade school when I stuck out like a sore thumb for being very tall, gangly and then curvy, and having not-so-mainstream interests (like choreographing my skating moves on roller blades in the driveway because I was determined that I would be a figure skater).

 

  • I’ve had to learn how to make myself smile and to make myself laugh. Not a lot of things truly makes me do either these days. And that’s really sad because I have amazing parents and friends who I communicate with daily. But somehow, my moods somehow get in the way and bumble everything up. Or something they’ll say or do triggers a memory, which then triggers and unwanted emotion. Things that shouldn’t upset me cause me to be angry; other actions cause me to be sad. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason to it all.

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  • To combat these mood swings, I’ve had to learn what I need in my life. Prior to all of this, I was working out and running every morning, working full-time, making dinner every night, and then working and writing until bedtime. I never had a spare moment. I figured if I was busy, I wouldn’t have to deal with the nonsense that was going on around me – I could just block it out. Since embarking on this journey, I’ve learned that not all of those things are necessary for me to get through the day. I’ve had to let a lot of my expectations for myself go. Sure, I would love to work out for 2 hours a day and have a six-pack. But that doesn’t make me smile as much as being able to write about my feelings or about cooking.
  • I also had to learn what is best for my body. Waking up early, running myself ragged all day, and going to bed late was not working for me. After two weeks of this behavior, I would wake up one day just absolutely exhausted and not wanting to do anything. I would get the extra sleep, but then I would wake up feeling terrible because I had “wasted” my day. I wouldn’t do any sort of exercise or physical activity because I was anxious to attack my to-do list and (you guessed itimg_0036), I would crash shortly afterwards in a puddle of angry tears. After about two of these episodes, I learned three very important things: 1) I need my sleep now more than ever; 2) I need a routine to help me combat the depression in the mornings; 3) I need to exercise in the morning to counteract the depressing thoughts.

 

  • I’ve learned that I missed reading. I never had time for reading outside of work projects, and we all know how exciting those can get. I always told myself that I would read when I free time, but then I never gave myself any of it! Prior to Christmas, I ordered a whole box of books from Amazon and lined them up on my bookshelf of me to see them daily. I’ve been slowly working my way through them, which gives me a sense of accomplishment. What’s better is that these books have all been centered around learning to understand and love yourself.
  • For the first time, I really have had to look at my life and decide, “what do I want to do? If I can’t be a mother, what will I do?” This is a question I’ve been dreading to face and still don’t know quite how to answer. Ever since I was in college and in relationships, I planned my life around what was best for US – where we would live, where we would work, where we would find a house, where we could have children. Whether it was moving the Virginia to be near his parents (my first love in college); or staying in Jacksonville because his family was here (my first troublesome relationship); or to moving somewhere between our parents so that our kids would have grandparents who could easily visit (my marriage) – I always strove to find what would work best for us both. Don’t get me wrong – I was selfish from time to time (like wanting to have kids now vs. waiting another 2 years). But when I was faced with the reality that my future might not involve kids and a big house as soon as I’d hoped (and that I might have to start over), I was petrified. I hate not knowing and I still hate not knowing what is going to happen. But you what I’m begun to notice in the past week or so is that when others are starting to plan around me and have me involved, I’m now the one getting anxious. I take this as a sign that I’m beginning to learn my lesson of relinquishing control to someone stronger than me.

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  • I’ve had to learn to rely on my own judgement. I have come to realize that I really don’t know how to make decisions for myself. I would always get someone else’s opinions or thoughts before I did something too rash. Even in the case of my relationship – I literally went to my 3 closest friends and told them what happened and in a timid voice would ask, “what should I do?” I knew damn well what I should do, but I’m so scared to making the “wrong” decision that I always ask for everyone else’s advice. Which means I usually get about 10 different viewpoints and wind up irritating someone because, well, you can’t take everyone’s advice in one situation. A part of me thinks I am doing this advice-seeking as a means for attention, and I wasn’t pleased to when I made that self-discovery. I immediately retracted into my hole and counseled myself about the reasons I was asking for help in the first place. And people noticed – especially those close to me who were used to me opening up on a daily or weekly basis. But they didn’t question – they just let me be and understood that I must be going through a part of the process where I’m silent and withdrawn. And I’m still kind of in that place, but I’m beginning to make decisions based on my own truth and desires, only reaching out to others when I’m truly at a loss for direction.
  •  I’m learning to not compare myself to others. I am notorious for this in every aspect of my life. Running. Drinking. Marriage. Relationships. Cooking. Work. Driving. Getting pregnant. You name it; I’ll find someone who is better at it than me. I can rarely be heard praising myself for something I’ve done. Whenever someone pays mea compliment, I actually feel super awkward acceptingdontcomparemiddlebeginning it. I’m that person who automatically wants to respond with, “you did a great job too!” and immediately deflect the attention. I guess I grew up believing that you shouldn’t boast or talk about your accomplishments, and I just kept taking it seriously. While that is a great guiding principle, if you take it as seriously as I have, you wind up just shoving yourself to the ground. Forget having someone else do it for you – you’ll go ahead and criticize. And that’s the place I found myself 6 months ago – lying on the ground, not sure how to stand up and support myself. Not in a literal sense, but in an emotional sense. While I didn’t fully accept or believe the compliments I was receiving, those were the only positive things being fed to me. Everything coming out of my own mind, heart, and soul were negative. “You cause this. You’re such an idiot. You’re just like her – you got sucked in and now you’re going through the same things. How could you let things get to this point? What is wrong with you???” And when I wasn’t too busy beating myself up, I was looking over the fence to see what they were doing to make their grass greener than mine.
  • I’m learning to speak nicer to myself and others. In not knowing how to accept compliments and feeling awkward, I’ve gradually just stopped giving them to others. This occurred especially in my close personal relationships. I’ve never been great at voicing praise (probably one of my weakest points as an elementary teacher), and it’ showed in my relationships. I think a lot of it has to do with me being so busy that I just don’t notice little things like a hairstyle, a new outfit, or new glasses. I would realize someone got a haircut like a week after it happened and I would be so embarrassed that I would never compliment. And it’s horrible, because you would think I would take a moment to notice these things, instead of just rushing through life. That’s how my husband describes it – that I’m too busy thinking about or planning the next big thing, I don’t even take a moment to revel in what is going on right now. This mindset works really well in my line of work, but not in my personal life. People notice when you don’t notice them and the little things. All those little things are memories and moments in life that you can’t get back. Those little things are what grow a relationship.
  • I’m learning to be present. When I went to my first individual therapy session last fall, she could tell I was a wreck. I showed up a few minutes late to my appointment and she wasn’t there. I called every number I could find and even tried to check the neighboring offices to be sure I was in the right spot. When she arrived 20 minutes later, I was just relieved. Then we discovered I had somehow not made it onto her calendar at all for that day! I must’ve looked like I was about to bust into tears because she took me in and saw me anyways. I unloaded everything on her in those brief 20 minutes and I remember her just sitting there, trying to take it all in. Then she asked, “what is it I can help you with today – right now?” And I recall not knowing how to answer. It was the first time I had told my story and broken down completely. I had been holding it all together for weeks, not shedding a tear and putting up this hard exterior. But I was shattered there again in her office. She reached into a drawer and brought out a stone. With great seriousness, she told me that this was a grounding rock and that I needed to carry it with me everywhere. That the one thing I needed to focus on right now was being present in what was going on. Not the past and the pain; not the future and the uncertainty. But right here, right now. And while I don’t hold that rock in my hand quite as often now, it stays nearby and reminds me to take a deep breath and tell myself to stay right here. Me being the planner that I am; this is a difficult task for me.

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