Before Five in a Row: Katy No-Pocket

((Hannah is 4))
 ((Danny is 2))

 As of right now Katy No-Pocket is the last book we will be rowing this year. Not sure what we're going to be doing now but with summer right around the corner we might just take some time off and focus on lots of outdoor time. As I go on this journey I'm starting to realize some things. One is that Hannah needs activity time, two is that she gets bored with the same activities every week. She started getting really bored with the printable activities that go along with the books we are rowing. Even though they were different subjects and different activities she would get bored. This was tricky. I'm still trying to figure this out. I'm hoping that the preschool program that I've chosen will fix this. From reading it so far it looks like we're doing something different everyday. So besides focusing on outdoor time now, which the kids can never get enough of, I want to make sure Hannah is having some sort of book time and table activity still, they probably won't be related though like when rowing books.

On to Katy No-Pocket.

 Danny was really focusing on putting the pom poms into the bowls, it was so cute.

 Hannah painted the cover for the folder that will store this books activities.

 More cuteness, he just likes to flip the squares up and then swipe them all down with this hand, good for fine motor skills.

They wore their little aprons and you can't really see it but they have tools in the pockets like the nice man in the book.

 More play-doh and straws, so much fun, who knew?

 I put this whole book together for her, she was not interested at all, but once it was done she really enjoyed looking at the Daddy, Mommy and baby animals.

She also had fun naming the pictures on the cards. All in all it was a good week, I'm so glad we tried Before Five in a Row and I love the concept. I  might come back to it for Danny when he's a little older, but right now I think it's time to move on to a different style for learning time. I had planned on rowing through the summer so now that I've changed my mind I'm not sure what we will be doing.

Home Cooking Veganized: Creamy Tortilla Soup

Recently I posted a recipe that my family had fallen in love with. It was a chicken tortilla soup that tasted just like a recipe at a restaurant I used to eat at. It was amazing and my husband wanted it weekly. So when I changed my diet a few months back I was determined to figure out how to change the recipe to be healthier and plant-based. It ended up being much easier than I anticipated and it turned out great. Read ahead before you make this recipe so you don't forget to soak your cashews! However if you do forget, I've gotten away with soaking them in hot water for 30 minutes prior to making this.

Creamy Tortilla Soup

6 cups No-Chicken or Veggie Broth
1 15oz can crushed or diced tomatoes
1-2 small cans green chiles
1/4 cup dried minced onion
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
1 cup crushed Juanita's tortilla chips
1/4 - 1/2 cup rehydrated TVP (optional, textured vegetable protein, amount depends on how thick you want the soup)
1 tsp poultry seasoning (there is no poultry in poultry seasoning)
8 oz homemade cashew sour cream, I only use 1 tsp of lemon juice instead of 2
Garnish: Juanita's tortilla chips, green onions

The version I made in the pictures was actually without TVP, I completely forgot to add it in. It still turned out great! Really the TVP would just be for added protein.


To rehydrate the TVP, add equal amount of boiling water to equal amount of dry TVP. Add poultry seasoning and let sit while you start the soup.

In a large covered pot, add broth, tomatoes (with all the juice), green chiles, dried onion, cumin, pepper and Juanita's tortilla chips. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce to medium and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add already prepped TVP and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until heated through. Remove pot from heat and stir in cashew sour cream until thoroughly incorporated.
To serve, top with crushed chips and green onions.

If you cannot find Juanita's tortilla chips in your local grocery store, look for a chip that is more authentic and is a "oilier, greasier" chip. 

Hope you enjoy! Be plant strong!

Veganizing Family Meals

The biggest question I had when changing my diet was "what in the world was I going to make for dinner that tasted good, was familiar but didn't have any animal products in it?". I knew during the days while the hubby was a work it would be easy, the kids will eat what I make but dinner was another story. We have certain associations with dinner especially comforting dinners and certain dinners on nights when my husband has had a rough day, he doesn't exactly want to come home to a salad. 

In the beginning I was making a ton of different recipes every day of the week and soon realized that this was getting expensive and taking too much time to plan, shop, make and not everything turned out so great. One night my husband mentioned doing the same meals every week. I thought this was a great idea, it would keep the cost down, I could start to perfect recipes and shopping would be much quicker and cheaper as I could stock up on items I was using weekly. So I came up with a simple plan that went like this.

Sundays - New Recipe
Mondays - Soup/Salad
Tuesday - Tacos
Wednesdays - Italian
Thursdays - Asian
Fridays - Burgers and Home Fries (occasional vegan fast food)
Saturdays - Homemade Pizza & Salad (occasional vegan fast food or family gathering)

This might seem boring to some people but it worked for us. These were all pretty much comfort foods for us, were super easy to make and shop for. I highly recommend for any family transitioning or who wants to try it out to figure out how to veganize your favorite meals instead of trying a bunch of new foods, especially if you have a family, it could be too much too fast for them. Maybe just start with one meal a week. With a little research this was easier than I thought. The one thing I make sure to do for most meals is have a big salad before I eat the main dish. Even though the main dish is vegan and helps with weight loss and other health issues just by being plant-based I like to make sure I get a big portion of fresh veggies in with only a little dressing if I'm using a store bought plant-based dressing. This also helps tremendously with digestion which I'm finding is a huge key to weight release.

The best advice I have for beginning this lifestyle is keep it simple and take it slow. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all of the new products and how healthy you want to be. This lifestyle isn't about perfection or purity it is about living a life that is better for your health, animals and the environment. Educate yourself, once you know why you are doing this whether it be health, animals, the environment or all three you will have the motivation to swap out old foods for new foods. Then once you start eating the new foods and start feeling so much better it will get easier and easier. You'll see that this isn't a fad diet or a quick weight loss gimmick but a complete lifestyle upgrade. You will have more energy, you will look at life differently, you will start eating to live not living to eat and you will be set free from the foods that have been keeping you a slave all these years.

Follow my Pinterest boards for great tips and recipes. Pinterest and YouTube have been my best friends through this change. Once I decided that I was going to be open to a plant-based diet the first thing I did was go on YouTube and search "vegan". I just wanted to see what it was all about. There is a plethora of information on there. I will write another post about everything to watch on YouTube and the best people to follow.

YouTube has allowed me to educate myself quicker than reading a book. I'm reading books too, but I like to have quick tips, see how other people are implementing this lifestyle, get encouragement, know there is a large community of people all over the world doing this and I get to see their results.

I will have my recipes soon. I'm a bad blogger, I keep making the recipes and forgetting to take all of the pictures I want before it's too late, soon though, soon.

Transition Foods

 The hardest part about incorporating a new lifestyle is how to blend your old life with your new life, especially when you have a family that isn't interested in your new lifestyle. It's so difficult because I have all of these new convictions, new knowledge, and dedication to do this for my and my families health. But when they, mainly my husband is not on board that can make things tricky. I knew that the kids wouldn't be that difficult to transition because they naturally do not like meat, well real meat anyways, they love chicken nuggets and hot dogs but I do not consider those real meat and haven't for a long time. But my husband on the other hand was another story. But he wanted to start eating healthier which I was happy about, at least he was taking that step forward with me in my journey.

 Image via Veggieboards.com

But, I made the classic mistake of going too far too fast. After my initial introduction of no red meat and meatless Monday went over well I was feeling great about it. I took that part slow. But then once I decided that I was going vegan for the first time I wanted to make all of our meals plant-based. This was a bit trickier because I went against my instinct to take it slow. I was smart enough not to clear out the pantry and fridge and start over with all new plant-based options, I knew that would be too much even for me, not to mention way too expensive. So I replaced things as they ran out with new plant-based items. Since I make all of the meals and do all of the shopping for our family this was easy to control. But then I made a mistake I wasn't into the idea of making a meal for them and a different for me especially wanting them to give up animal products like I did. So I just stopped buying certain products hoping that my husband would just forget about them, mainly milk. I'm laughing as I write this now because I had high hopes that would soon be dashed. I quickly learned that he would not forget and after a couple of heated discussions I soon realized that my new lifestyle changes were not worth ruining my marriage over. It never got to that point but it wasn't worth arguing over. It wasn't my place to make those decisions for him especially since I'm the one who decided to change years into our marriage. It makes me sad knowing that he still eats mostly the same way but he has accepted some new changes and I'm happy with that. I have managed to keep the dinners that I cook plant-based but I do still buy animal products that he can add to the meals to make it like he likes, mainly cheese. Some meals he will do this to and others he will leave all plant-based. I feel this is a good compromise, the main part of the meal is plant-based and healthy so that is a step in the right direction for him. He also is willing to give things a try which is great but he will quickly speak up if he doesn't like it.

Some of the easiest food changes I've made are mayonnaise, margarine, chicken nuggets and baking. Vegenaise is a great eggless mayo replacement. I can find it a my local grocery store and even found a large jar at Costco. Earth Balance is my new favorite margarine replacement, we were big Country Crock fans and I find this to taste the same, with no casein or whey. Baking has been easy too, I've made a ton of vegan cookies and even Duncan Hines cupcakes. For Duncan Hines just check the ingredients but most of their cake mixes and frostings are animal product free. I'm still working on the perfect egg replacer that actually keeps the cake together better but the taste is spot on and using a fork to eat the cupcakes fixes the crumbly problem. Gardein's crispy tenders and Madarin orange crispy chick'n nuggets have been a yummy addition to our meals. The first time I made the the orange chick'n with a stir-fry my husband kept asking me why I was eating meat. All I could do was giggle. He was shocked at how yummy they were, I even turned my in-laws onto them. Costco has them available in a large bag, so these have become a staple. Last week I put them on top of a salad with the orange sauce as a dressing and it was amazing!

Image via namelymarly.com

Other products that I love and my family will eat are Gardein's beefless grounds, burger patties and Life Lite Smart Dogs. These aren't their favorites but they will eat them. I know these products aren't the healthiest way to eat and some might call these vegan junk foods but they are great and much healthier when trying to incorporate the whole family in a plant-based life style. There are many other brands of beelfless grounds and "meat" products that I've tried and that work but the brands listed above are my favorites. It is so easy these days to go plant-based. There are countless products and tons of information out there, it really is much easier than you might think.

However I will not lie, vegan cheese just doesn't do it for any of us. That is the one thing that I just cannot seem to get on board with. It makes me sad to say that but I'm not going to lie about it. I love the taste of animals products and I try not to compare them to their vegan counterparts because I know they will not be the same but I just cannot do cheese. Luckily I've finally gotten to the point where I can just eat things without cheese or a cheese substitute. This has been very freeing. I'm not a slave to cheese anymore. There is only one cheese product that I have been able to tolerate so far and that is the Daiya Havarti Style Wedge. But I do not use it much at all. 

Milk has been a super easy item to replace because I already liked almond milk and rice milk. I do not like soy or hemp milk though. But to each their own. My favorite almond milk is Silk Unsweetened Original Almond Milk which is Non GMO Project Verified and my favorite rice milk is Costco's Kirkland Organic Rice Milk. I don't exactly drink these by the glass full but they are great in cereal, baking and cooking. I've also completely replaced Daniel's bottles of cows milk with these.

I know there are many more products that I've purchased and used but these are some of the staples that have helped me and my family transition to a healthier way of eating without changing our weekly meals too much. So my advice is take it slowly. Replace items as needed when transitioning. Do not go cold turkey especially if you have a family that isn't on board. We still have a freezer full of meat because I used to stock up on marked down meat. I still occassionally make a meal that has meat as the main dish and I just eat the side dishes and a big salad usually. I still buy dairy, eggs and meat for my husband. I don't like to but I do because I love him and respect his wishes.

Sorry if this was kind of a boring post but I wanted to share the things that have helped us transition and keep transitioning as a family. I feel it's very important to be honest and real. It's hasn't been the easiest transition for us but it's been easier than I thought it would in the beginning. It is so worth it for long term health.

My Journey to Plant-Based. Part 2

I forgot to add in the last post that I also have some type of autoimmune disorder, which is why I had arthritis at such a young age but the doctors aren't able to diagnose it yet. Which is the case with many autoimmune disorders. I've been tested for Lupus twice, which my mom has, but it's been negative both times. I tested positive for Sjogren's syndrome but it was only for one of the two antibodies and I don't have the actual symptoms that come with Sjogrens. So I was told I don't actually have it but there is something definitely going on.  This was another reason for changing my diet. I've known for a long time that diet is related to how you feel and as I've learned more about autoimmune disorders I've learned that they can be related to diet as well.

So even though I heard the message about animal products and it clicked  I decided I was going to become vegetarian. No meat is easy, no dairy is another issue. That would literally require a complete lifestyle change and something I never thought I would do. I've never ever met a vegan in real life and quite frankly I didn't have a good representation of them. In other words I was ignorant to the whole lifestyle. There is way more to it than I ever thought.

It just so happened by accident that my first meatless day was February 1 and I haven't looked back since. I will admit meat smells good and looks good. My hubby still eats it and when we BBQ his juicy burger smells so good, but I have come so far now that I would hate to eat it, oh yeah and it's not good for ME. Other than everything I learned from Forks Over Knives and other documentaries, books and the online community, I have a literal reason why not to eat meat. It physically causes my body harm. I'm only 32, I can't imagine if I would have kept eating meat how I would feel in 10, 20, 30 years. I was miserable now and ready to change. I finally had the education about meat and dairy and since I had real life proof about what was said I knew it was true and everything made sense.

 Another reason to cut animal protein, uric acid increase and calcium leaching. Got milk? Has another meaning to me now that I've learned the truth.

As I continued not eating meat I started to learn more about the plant-based diet and cholesterol. I didn't realize that the only way we put cholesterol into our bodies is through animal products. Our bodies produce it on their own so why did we need to add more? These new things that I've learned go against everything that I've been told my whole life. But look around, why are we obese? Why are we the leading country with osteoporosis, yet we consume the most dairy in the world? Why is cancer getting worse when we spend more money than ever on research? Why are our kids getting type 2 diabetes? Why is heart disease, a completely unnecessary disease the number 1 killer in America? To me it is not a mystery anymore. It is simply what we choose to put in our mouths at every meal. I understand the people who don't want to know, my husband is one of those people. But I was finally ready to know and take action. I was done with the SAD.
There is way more information out there than this but I like how short and to the point this video is.

As I learned more and more I knew that I needed to go plant-based. So I slowly stopped drinking milk, eating cheese and eggs by themselves. Everything was a process, I slowly cleaned out our fridge and replaced animal products with vegan alternatives as needed. This made the change doable. (I will write another post in more detail about what foods I changed and what I do for meals.)  I started to try to go most days without any animal products. Even though something would slip in here in there because I'm still learning what has animal products in it and what doesn't. We also stopped fast food for a month or so. And you know what started to happen? I started to lose weight! By eliminating animal products and eating a ton more fruits and veggies the weight started to fall off. I wasn't even working out, no exercise at all. I was eating all I wanted, no calorie counting, I was even eating baked vegan goods daily and still the weight was falling off. I felt so much lighter, my stomach started to flatten more and I felt unencumbered, if you know what I mean. I now call it weight release instead of weight loss. My body started to release what it had been holding on to this whole time but I also started to go through detox. I believe the majority of that weight release was toxins my body had been holding onto. I started to get acne again and started needing more sleep, water and rest in general. I was in full on detox mode and I didn't really realize it.

 One of the meals that really helped me transition and is still my favorite meal is taco salad. This is a mountain of taco salad on my plate. I use lettuce, a few Juanita's tortilla chips, Gardien meatless grounds with taco seasoning or brown rice and black beans with taco seasoning, Wholly Guacamole or avocado, bell peppers, green onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and salsa.

But at the same time people were telling me I looked different, I had a glow about myself. This made me feel awesome and fueled my passion. Which I needed while detoxing. But then April hit. Life started to get busier again which made it harder. I started telling myself that I'm just going to stick with the vegetarian thing full time and be vegan when I can. We started to eat fast food again and I just made sure it was vegan when I could or at least vegetarian. So I had cheese pizza here and there and birthday cake and ice cream. But then what happened, they weight release stopped. *insert sad face*. I wasn't gaining any weight thank God but I wasn't losing anymore. I started to feel encumbered again and I knew exactly what was causing it. I was eating things with animal products in them, eggs, milk, cheese. I wasn't eating the foods by themselves but they were hidden in the things I was eating. Like a certain peanut butter cracker we get has cheddar cheese in the ingredients. This shocked me! If I wanted cheese crackers I would get cheese crackers, not peanut butter crackers.

I was proud of myself for ordering a veggie pizza (sans cheese) for the kids birthday party but I did eat cake and a little ice cream. I was trying but not very hard.

Once the birthdays were over at the end of April I had decided I was done with animal products all together and remembered everything I had learned before. Now that I knew the truth and how I felt without eating animal products I wanted that back. The emotional tie that I have to cheese isn't worth how I feel after eating it. Also, I want to be clear, when I was eating the SAD I didn't have problems with digestion, I didn't have heart burn or bloating most of the time. So when I say now that I feel yucky after eating cheese I never felt that before when eating cheese or dairy, it is because my body has reset to what it is supposed to be. When I put these animal products in it, I feel weighed down, I feel like I have a rock in my stomach and sometimes my stomach hurts. It just isn't worth the discomfort for a few seconds of pleasure that I know is making me sick.

Now that I've recommitted myself, it is the second week of May and I am feeling great. I'm down another 2 lbs. I've started to incorporate some more changes into my diet this week which are very exciting and very new and foreign. I'm still nervous about it which is something else I'm dealing with, but I'm again immersing myself into research. All I know is the two days that I've done it I felt great! I didn't do it today and felt a difference and can't wait to get back at it tomorrow. Once I have more time under my belt I will share more.

Here's a hint of what I'm doing. Mangos, Ataulfo mangos, bananas, Asian pears, pineapple, Medjool dates, avocados, cantaloupes, watermelons, apples and oranges. #fruitstash

My journey to Plant-Based. Part 1

I've been completely quiet about this on the blog so far because everything was so new and I wanted to see if this was going to stick or fail. But I'm finally ready to share what I've been doing and why I haven't posted any recipes lately, though I've been cooking up a storm.

In short I have become a vegan. I eat a completely plant-based diet, no animal products at all go into my body. Here is the story as to why I decided to switch from the standard American diet (SAD) to a vibrant abundant plant-based lifestyle.

Eating vibrant colorful food in abundance makes you feel vibrant and colorful. You are what you eat!

Over the past few months I've made some pretty major changes in my life concerning what I eat. This past fall I went into the doctor for some pain in my thumb that I embarrassingly enough thought might be from being on my phone too much, but to my surprise I was diagnosed with Gout. Gout is a form of arthritis. It comes from having high uric acid levels in your body and this creates crystal like formations around your joints causing a lot of pain. Usually it occurs in the big toe but mine was mostly in my right thumb. I've had arthritis since I was 11 in most of my major joints but this was a new one to me. At that Dr.'s appointment I also discovered that my blood pressure was higher than it ever had been (it was always perfect in the past even during pregnancies), my cholesterol was heading in a bad direction, I was 60 lbs overweight (which I already knew!), and the big kicker was that I was .4 points away from being pre-diabetic!

Even though I was in pain from the gout all I could think about was that I was almost diabetic. I had always wondered about diabetes but never thought I could actually come close to having it. Even though I had gained the least amount of weight with my third pregnancy I already had so much from the second that the measly 11 lb gain from the third completely put me over the top. I was in pain all of the time, I knew I wasn't supposed to be that heavy and my body was screaming at me. But I just didn't know what to do. I had lost complete control of what I was eating and had some how slipped into binge eating and I was scared to death of not having any control.

The Dr. had prescribed an arthritis medication for me that I was supposed to take everyday. We ended up having trouble with insurance every time I went to pick up this medication and I hated taking pills everyday, so all of that combined with my declining health, I knew I had to do something once and for all but I didn't know what that was or when I was going to be ready to do that. Oddly enough I actually look at my Gout diagnosis as a blessing now because it has started me down a path that I never would have imagined. Gout is a food related disease and it really hit me that you are what you eat. The main thing you need to stay away from with gout is red meat, it causes high uric acid levels. So that was my first step on my journey. I cut out red meat, it was super easy, I just replaced it with ground turkey and chicken in any recipe that called for ground beef. At the time we were eating too much spaghetti with meat sauce and hamburger helper (I  know, mom of the year right here). But I was exhausted all of the time and it was a favorite dinner that the kids loved and would actually eat. Little did I know that I was killing myself with my food choices.

100% Cherry juice and carbonated beverages are supposed to help fight uric acid levels, so I combined the two for a tasty spritzer.

Soon after that I decided to figure out how to make boxed meals from scratch because I knew we were eating way too much processed foods. Thanks to Pinterest that was super easy. I pretty much looked up whatever we were eating from a box ( hamburger helper, rice-a-roni, etc.) and found lots of recipes from scratch. Then I started to incorporate Meatless Monday into our weekly menu. Again this was super easy there are so many delicious vegetarian dishes out there, our whole family enjoyed this.

Then sometime after that "the major change" occurred. We had decided to down grade our cable to the most basic local channels to save money and get rid of junk TV and we decided to try Netflix. Always being someone who was interested in being healthy, I was 40 lbs lighter before my second child,  I was hardcore into lifting, running and eating clean. I felt great but once I became pregnant everything fell apart big time. Anyways back to what I was saying, I was interested in losing weight and nutrition; and I always like learning new things. So I started watching a bunch of documentaries and then it happened, I watched Forks Over Knives (free on Netflix). Something inside me clicked but I felt I needed to keep it secret because my husband still isn't on board fully. He fully supports me and my efforts but he himself isn't ready to make any "crazy" changes. This was sometime in early January 2014, that whole month I couldn't get Forks Over Knives out of my head. So I immersed myself into learning more about the plant based vegan lifestyle. I tried to be a vegetarian for a week when I was like 12 but when I went over to a friends house and her grandmother got mad at me for not eating the meat she had prepared I thought it was too difficult and quickly gave up. So not eating meat wasn't a foreign concept, but veganism was. No eggs? No milk? No butter? No CHEESE? Excuse me, I eat that stuff with every meal, how am I going to live and....be happy?

Before Five in a Row: If Jesus Came to My House


((Hannah is 3 1/2))
((Danny is 1 1/2))

It's been a while since we did these activities, these past few weeks have been super busy. I haven't really had time to sit down and blog. 

Reading If Jesus Came to My House every day was great. It really put how we are supposed to love people like Jesus into easy to understand perspective. Great lessons. The part that stood out to Hannah the most was having Jesus near all of the time so there is no need to be afraid, especially at night time shadows like the boy in the story.We used the lapbook activities from Home School Share.

It worked out great that we were on the letter J while rowing this story. As you can see she's very enthused. She actually does still enjoy these Alphabet Cut & Paste sheets, they really help with phonics.

Danny had some fun playing with little bells and a bottle. Hannah had to get in on the fun, she's still more interested in Danny's activities.

A little more enthused after finishing her dot letter J. She does still love this activity.

We did the cutest art work for the Alphabet Art Book. I had no idea what to do for jellyfish so I looked on Pinterest and found this idea.