cultivate your life

Month: January 2018

January Favorites

January Favorites

We’re already one month in to 2018 and so far so good! A lot of that New Year’s enthusiasm has worn off for sure, but it’s good to get in the swing of things this year. This month was a bit of a struggle with […]

On the Menu: Thai Tofu Lettuce Cups

On the Menu: Thai Tofu Lettuce Cups

  My husband and I eat vegetarian/vegan at home so I like to get creative with our recipes. When he’s out for work dinners, the only vegan option is often pasta primavera or a portobello burger. Neither is super satisfying to be honest. When he […]

How to Find Your Voice in Writing

How to Find Your Voice in Writing

In the past year, I’ve learned a lot of things for the first time. And, honestly, I sucked at a lot of them. Changing diapers well came with time, but calming a screeching newborn? Who even knows how to do that! Again and again my abilities and hard work were tested. I tried not to tumble into the pitfall of taking control of all new parenting at my house because “I know best.” The times when I did that, it was just to keep away the shrieking uncertainty of any of my ideas and solutions. Day by day, week by week, month by month, I’ve built up a little confidence about this new parenting skill I’ve been learning and practicing.


But you know when I DO feel confident? Writing! I’ve been writing short stories and poems since I was 8 or 9 years old, started a magazine at 12 (it was a super stylish fashion magazine that I illustrated and edited, of course), published three of my own ‘zines throughout the 90s, and then earned a degree in English with a concentration Creative Writing. I’m not going to bore you with my adult resume, but trust me, I’m no newbie at writing.


And because I had a pretty un-confident parenting day yesterday, I thought I would build up some of my confidence and offer some advice on writing to those of you who might want to pick up a keyboard and write something for yourself. I’m happy to take parenting criticism and maybe we can share our talents and make something good out of our corner of the internet!


Even though my education and pedigree in writing is pretty solid, I think there’s a few things even the most unsteady and inexperienced writer can do to find their own voice while blogging or writing anything from the heart. If you’ve been clicking away for years, maybe I have a tip or two for you as well. I think it’s so important to empower other people to share their own stories, to be brave, to speak up, because when we find our voice in writing it helps us find the voice deep in our heart and listen to it more often.


+ all art begins with seeing

My high school had a pretty rigorous art program, and I was blessed enough to be a part of it and “major” in studio art while I attended. Although she was tough as nails, my teacher Sr. Lucia told us that “all art begins by seeing.” In between endlessly drawing ellipses and straight lines until I though I was going to pass out, I learned to really see things, pay attention, take them in while I was working. We might spend twenty minutes in that class just looking at and studying our still life before we even picked up a charcoal. This lesson is true for any creative process I think. Whatever your subject matter: food, fitness, politics, religion, fashion… it matters a great deal that you spend the time to look and listen before you even start to write about it. Do your homework! When I write a post, it’s probably already been mulling around in my head for weeks or even months before anything really gets written. I don’t spend a lot of time writing or editing because that’s gotten faster with time. Observing never speeds up for me. In fact, the longer I’ve been writing, the more time I spend watching, listening, taking it all in, studying. And if you can learn to really see, sometimes you get lucky enough to make a little art!


+ listen to strong voices

I spent just absurd amounts of time reading. I don’t plow through books like most people, though. Most of my reading is in snippets here and there between naps. It’s usually articles, advice, news stories, and tidbits. Lots and lots of articles. One thing I love most are memoirs and interviews if I’m going to spend my time on anything for more than a moment. I really enjoy hearing other people’s voices through their writing. And I love hearing what really strong voices in entertainment, personal development, politics, faith, fashion, and beauty have to say. Their voices are so clear! I just read an interview with RuPaul. Of course, every single answer sounds just like RuPaul. If you read lyrics to any new Taylor Swift song, you’d think to yourself, “yeah, this is exactly what I thought Taylor Swift would sound like!” If you read scripture, it always sounds like scripture. Surround yourself with writers who have unmistakeable voices. The classics are an excellent place to start. Just a chapter or two of Austen and a chapter or two of Faulkner and you’ll see what I’m getting at here. Every writer starts with a little bit of imitation, but when you start imitating other voices it becomes a lot easier to see where they leave off and you begin. Try it! Write a page or two in the style of Poe and then write the same thing in your own, natural voice. You’ll start to hear the differences right away, and it will really help clarify your voice.


+ get clear with your message

While I was teaching, I spent a lot of time presenting talks and lectures and did some inspirational-type talks while doing ministry and religious education. I have terrible stage fright and REALLY have to work at presenting well. One thing that helped was asking myself: “ok self, if the building came crashing down and the kids were running out the door, what’s the one thing you would want them to take away from this lesson?” If I couldn’t answer that in one or two bullet points, I sent myself back to the drawing board to work though it again. It’s pretty easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re passionate about a subject. For each post, I try to think of one or two real takeaways and stay clear on those. If you want to get formal about it and don’t have a lot of practice writing, start researching thesis statements and two point sentence outlines. That will totally transform your writing! It’s such a handy tool to clarify exactly what you want to say and how you will say it. After years and years, I can be a little lazier about structure (and it’s just a blog after all), but if it’s every truly important, I take the time to break down my message into clear, digestible bits.


+ always remember your audience

You know who I’m writing to most of the time? Me! And my handful of really close friends who are (maybe?) reading this right now! I keep my circle small when I think about my audience. I think that’s a good thing! So often, I see writers and creators trying to be everything to everyone. Most of the time, it comes off artificial and fake. If I see a content creator on youtube and there is even a hint of fake-ness, I know immediately that they are trying really hard to appeal to too many people. No successful writer, company, brand, or director appeals to everyone all the time. And that’s ok! If you start to narrow down your audience to a handful of people you know well, you can direct content to them and it’s amazing… there are others! One thing I love about the internet is that even the strangest, most unusual person can find their tribe. It helps a lot of people feel less alone. So no matter what your voice, how you use it, or what you say, your audience will find you. I try to maintain authenticity to people I can picture really clearly in my mind while I’m writing and try to ignore everything else. Somebody’s bound to listen!


+ seek out editors you trust

My husband is really successful in his professional field. Every time he’s applying for a job or program he makes sure to send it my way to have a good, thorough look at his application, resume, and cover letter. Part of that is him being sweet and including me in things, but a far larger part is that he trusts me as an editor. He knows I want the best for him and want to show him in his best light. He appreciates my expertise and my voice, even if he doesn’t agree with all my edits. That’s so important, writers! Find people who believe in you but who aren’t sycophantic yes-men saying everything is wonderful. Fans are great, but they will always be just fans. If you want to truly hone your craft, hand around writing samples to people you really trust in life and in expertise. It’s going to take swallowing a bunch of pride and really putting your heart out there, but there is no replacement for a good editor.


+ trust yourself

Set aside time to hear yourself think and speak and opine and feel. Take out a journal and scribble thoughts only you will hear. It doesn’t matter if it “sucks” or is “good.” This isn’t about being good. This is about listening and trusting the voice that comes out of you. Some people like morning pages where they just toss everything in their mind on paper first thing. I use Bible journaling and just bare my soul there with zero filter. In my writing journey, the more I trust God, the more I start to trust myself. I think there’s a lot of different ways to bare your soul and begin hearing your voice. Find whatever works for you, and go there frequently and honestly. Every single thing we do otherwise is just an airbrushed version of the truth. Even though some writers are higher on the authenticity spectrum then others, it’s just a shadow of who they are laid bare and honest. If we don’t know what our own voices sound like, how can we give a voice to all the things that are closest to our hearts? Listen well to yourself and trust yourself a little.


+ the journey is never over

Every time I think I’ve written my best stuff or poured my heart out the most, another day passes and I find fresh ways to present my thoughts and fresh things to share. There’s never a time when I won’t be writing. I’m currently reading Misty Copeland’s memoir, Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina. She’s a principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theater (a favorite). She often hears the question, “you still go to ballet classes every day??” And like any professional ballerina, her answer is “of course!” Until she retires, she will be taking daily ballet classes to make each step a little better, a little stronger, a little more precise, a little more elegant. Thankfully, my craft is just warming up as I’m reaching midlife instead of winding down like a professional dancer. That doesn’t mean I can get lazy with my sentences and style! Good work requires practice. That’s one of the reasons I blog. This is practice for me! It’s fun, interesting, totally self-directed, and just gets me in the habit of writing frequently about the things that I love. I want to be a better, more authentic, writer, so I’m going to keep on seeing, listening, clarifying, speaking to my audience, editing, and trusting myself over and over again for years to come.


I hope some of this was helpful in your own writing journey! If you happen to blog, these are just some ideas to get you started. If you are in school or own a business or are even an aspiring novelist, I think a lot of these tips will help you find your writing voice as well. This is just the beginning of course! I look forward to seeing what you have to say soon.


Now I have to go back to practicing at this mom thing so I can get just a little better at keeping my baby away from outlets and electrical cords…




For more tips, tricks, and inspiration head over to my Pinterest board , my Instagram, or my lifestyle and fitness Instagram.

Sick Day Survival Tips

Sick Day Survival Tips

  This winter cold and flu season has hit my family and my friends’ families pretty hard this year. It’s the first time we all have little ones, so it keeps spreading from kids to parents to kids to parents to kids… My little guy […]

DIY: Dollar Store Menu Board

DIY: Dollar Store Menu Board

Ok, I have to admit, I’m a little bit obsessed with Dollar Tree. I love watching Dollar Tree hauls on youtube, and a close friend and I are planning a trip to a GIANT Dollar Tree about 30 min from us. Nope, I’m not sponsored […]

Find Your Thing: My Tone It Up Journey

Find Your Thing: My Tone It Up Journey



If you spend time with me in my daily life, you’ve heard me mention Tone It Up a million and one times. I like to call it a fitness cult, but it’s really a lifestyle brand by Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn that started on youtube with workouts and nutrition tips and is now a multi-million dollar company. They have a workout app and nutrition program with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The hashtag #tiuteam has over 4 million posts to date! Do I get paid to talk about Tone It Up or shill their products? Nope. It’s a program that worked amazingly for me and made me a healthier, happier person, so I like to talk about it a lot. I’ve been a member since 2015 and each year I’m fitter and healthier because of it.


That being said, it’s not everyone’s “thing.” I made a joke to a friend recently that it’s a fitness cult for type-A lunatics like me who don’t understand human limitations. Ok, it’s not that bad, but it’s not for everyone. I get that. I guess what I want to encourage today is for you to find your thing. Whatever makes you wake up in the morning, get stronger and healthier, and make you feel really good about yourself.


For today’s post, I wanted to share a little bit about my Tone It Up journey and then in the future I want to add a post with some tips on how to find your own thing. I firmly believe that chasing after health and happiness is good, it’s honorable, and it’s something worthy of admiration. You know, like in Philippians.


Philippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”


We’re temples of Holy Spirit after all. Let’s see the honor and joy in that and take care of ourselves and extend ourselves some grace and love.


+ My Tone It Up Journey: Part I 



That was me on the left, six years ago. I weighted 93 lbs. and really thought I was happy with my body and my life. After a lot of patience, hard work, and help, I managed to the the mental side of things together. So much of our physical health is tied to our spiritual and mental health, so it’s no surprise when those are off, our bodies can be a little off too. I decided to only focus on being emotionally healthy after that, afraid that if I even thought about my body at all, I would be back to where I started. Instead of learning how to eat well and learning how to be physically stronger, I ignored my health altogether.


I ended up in 2015 at a relatively healthy weight, but tired, unhealthy, weak, anxious, and unsure of myself. I started doing Tone It Up workouts on youtube to get the physical part of my life together and then started getting sucked into the lifestyle because I loved it so much. The workouts and trainers, Karena and Katrina, were so positive! Instead of saying “push yourself to your limit! It hurts because it’s working!” they were showing me that workouts and food can be positive and fun in and of themselves. When I would wake up early and do a 15 to 20 minute workout, I would feel better about myself during the workout and felt even better afterward. The “if you’re not suffering, you’re not working hard enough” vibe just didn’t click with me at all. I liked laughing, having fun, and cheering myself on. Eating and cooking were fun too, when you’re feeding yourself nourishing foods that fuel you and give you a bunch of energy.


I joined the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan on Black Friday, 2015 and then started my first TIU Challenge in January 2016. After eight weeks of that challenge, I finally got this healthy thing right! Meal planning and the TIU Nutrition Plan reminded me to actually eat five times a day, even when I didn’t feel like it (huge hard thing for me, to be honest). The TIU Community on instagram inspired me to value health and happiness over any number on a scale. They were so sweet and encouraging every step of the way. I was in such a confident, clear-headed place full of hope, and excited about the future. My TIU Transformation didn’t look like your average one, where I could show a dramatic weight loss, but that was ok. It was a journey that worked for me and spoke to my needs.


+ My Tone It Up Journey: Part II



Living in my healthiest body was a huge contributor to me getting pregnant in the summer of 2016. I won’t go into that whole story because, honestly, it has more to do with a spiritual journey than a physical one. But the physical part made that journey go way more smoothly! Though I did a lot of modifications, I kept going with my Tone It Up lifestyle throughout my pregnancy. I felt so much stronger throughout, had a lot more energy than I thought I could be while pregnant, and knew that I was taking good care of myself while my body was doing double the work. I think the biggest thing that it helped was my anxiety. I tend to be a pretty anxious person in general, let alone during so many changes in my life, but daily workouts and staying active were insanely helpful for my mental health. Not only was I doing TIU stuff, but I also started going to prenatal yoga classes. That just helped me center so much in my body and take care of myself inside and out.


I posted the above picture at the end of the “fourth trimester.” It was 12 weeks since my little guy had made his arrival. And it was at the very end of the popular Tone It Up Bikini Series in 2017. I finished that challenge really proud of the woman on the left who grew a tiny healthy human for 40 weeks (that pic was taken 2 wks pp). I worked my bottom off staying healthy & active during my pregnancy.  I was even more proud of the woman I was after the Bikini Series! I think it’s really hard as a brand new mom to make yourself a priority. The sleepless nights, constant tending, tears, frustrations, & failures can really take a toll on your health. But there was real joy in the process too! I met myself over those eight weeks: a woman who is strong, confident, hard-working, optimistic, and persistent. I really felt like I could do anything I set my mind to. I felt so confident because it would have been easier to say “I’m doing this for my son. I want to be a good example,” but I 100% did it for me. It might have seemed selfish at the time, but I knew I needed to do something just for me. I didn’t want being my son’s mom to take away from myself and my own identity: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m a mom, sure, but I’m not just a mom and that’s something I like to be mindful of.


I think that’s why Tone It Up is my thing. It’s something just for me. It’s the path I used to remind myself of who God created me to be: strong, confident, persistent, positive, full of life and energy. And being physically healthy gives me all the energy to chase after all the other things I want to do in life.



That’s why I’m passionate about encouraging others to find their thing. Any time you struggle with your health, it’s important to think about your whole mind, body, and spirit. It’s easy to neglect one or make one the only thing you think about. Doing that starves you of creativity, inspiration, motivation, passion, and hope. You can just get along, or you can make a big change and choose to love yourself. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Your health and happiness depend on it!


I want to encourage everyone out there who struggles with their body: find your thing, whatever it is that motivates and inspires you to be healthy. It could be marathons, boxing, rowing, lifting, CrossFit, ballet, Weight Watchers, workout videos in your living room, whatever. You are worthy of being a priority. Trust me. Once you start on that lifelong journey to loving and caring for yourself, you will keep heading in the right direction. Things in your life can really build you up and some things can really tear you down. If you believe that you are worth caring for, you can start to feel stronger and more resilient. And you can start extending that love to the world around you.


Romans 5:3-5

“… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”


Listen to that voice inside of you that pushes you forward and gives you strength. Listen to that trustworthy voice because that’s what’s going to lead you to hope. Throughout my journey, I couldn’t be more grateful and more proud of who I am, where I am, what I’m doing, where I’m heading, and Who is helping me along the way.


Photo: Tone It Up



For more tips, tricks, and inspiration head over to my Pinterest board , my Instagram, or my lifestyle and fitness Instagram.


Paint Brushes Instead of Makeup Brushes?

Paint Brushes Instead of Makeup Brushes?

If you’re a serious beauty junkie, you know that good makeup brushes can really take a toll on your paycheck. For a very reasonable $450 you can get the Artis Fluenta set with brushes that feel like cashmere & apply makeup like a dream. I’ll […]

Out and About: The Mummers Parade

Out and About: The Mummers Parade

What do you get when you combine one part cross-dressing, one part parade, one part performance art, one part Italian and Irish Philadelphians, and one very large serving of alcohol? The Mummers Parade of course!   Every January 1 in Philadelphia for years and years, […]

5 Detox Habits to Start 2018

5 Detox Habits to Start 2018

Happy New Year and Happy 2018! I’m sure everyone started on Monday, January 1 with a clear head, a good night’s rest, and energy and determination for a whole new year. Right?

I don’t know about you, but I certainly had a little recovering to do yesterday. I wanted to start off the year on the right foot though, so I kicked off my day with a 20 minute workout, a bunch of water, cleaning my apartment, and a detox shot (lemon juice and apple cider vinegar). That was enough to kick start my day. I don’t always have the luxury of starting my day like that, but I already felt inspired and motivated and my husband was sweet enough to play with our little guy while I worked.

Here are some other ideas to banish all those New Year’s hangovers, whether they are physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual:

+ tidy up your diet

I’m kind of meh about the term “clean eating.” I think it’s pretty vague and can also trigger unhealthy eating in some people. That being said, it’s always a good idea to try to minimize all the junk in our diets, particularly at this time of year. Take a good look at your diet and think of areas where you can ADD delicious, nutritious foods instead of thinking of what you should avoid. I find sometimes that if I’m eating all kinds of healthy foods, it can crowd out all the junk without it feeling like I’m deprived. Some great things to embrace: citrus fruits and juices, green veggies, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed grains. Was it Michael Pollan who said “eat food, not too much, mostly plants?” I can get behind that! Asparagus and beets are great detoxing foods as well as anything with a lot of fiber like Brussels sprouts and beans. You want to fuel up your body with healthy foods so it can start detoxing itself. Apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and kombucha are also great ways to power up an internal detox!


+ clean your space

Yesterday, I did a mad cleaning dash until almost 11pm. I have been working with either a cold or crazy allergies for the past few days and was convinced CONVINCED it was hidden allergens all over my house. You don’t have to go completely overboard, but deep cleaning a few key things will help detox your lungs and make your breathing easier. I focused a lot of attention on cleaning vents, washing all the textiles in my house (sheets, mattress pad, dog bed, couch throw, bath mats), doing some dusting, and vacuuming. If you’re particularly sensitive to allergens, it’s a good idea to clean out your vacuum from time to time: clean the brush head, rinse out the filter, change the vacuum bag, or doing whatever keeps your vacuum running smoothly. If you have a humidifier, it is SO important to clean it according to the instructions. I used a bleach/water solution recently to get rid of a ton of buildup. Rinsing it daily should be a little higher on my to do list… Already, I’m breathing easier and happy I spent the time deep cleaning yesterday.


+ get some sunshine

Did you know that sunshine during midday hours is processed through your retina and hits your pineal gland in the very center of your brain to produce melatonin, our natural sleeping pill? The science is pretty interesting and worth a look at some journal articles if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Getting out in the sunshine, even when it’s in the teens and twenties in January, is so important. It will help you sleep better and clear your head. Northern Europeans have a saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I couldn’t agree more. If the temperature is keeping you from heading out, start looking out for warm layering clothing, warmer jackets, and high quality hats and gloves. After Christmas is a great time to pick those up on sale. Then you won’t have an excuse to miss out on the benefits of sunshine to your sleep, mood, and general health.



+ hydrate

I’m really behind on this and it’s probably my weakest habit, but I’m trying to make this a lot more important in the future. I try to drink half my body weight in ounces of water, which for me means drinking water ALL THE TIME. But that’s ok. Our bodies need water to function well, detox naturally, and stay lean and healthy. I like making fruit infused waters to drink throughout the week. Add berries, citrus fruits, or anything delicious like melon or cucumber to a pitcher of water in your fridge to tap into whenever you need a drink. That at least makes drinking a bunch of water more interesting. I track my water consumption on my Fitbit app which has been a fun reminder to keep up the good work and helps track my progress.



+ banish negative thoughts

If you really want to do a deep clean, I challenge you to identify a handful of negative thoughts you find yourself sinking back into over and over and steer your way back by replacing those thoughts with helpful things. For example: I spend a lot of time thinking about things that have happened in the past. Past conversations, past opinions, past experiences. That doesn’t help anyone! Sure it’s nice to reminisce from time to time but happiness lives in the present, right? Any time I start thinking about the past, I try to consciously focus on something good in my present. Replacing those thoughts of the past with mindfulness is such a good way to start detoxing your heart and mind. I made a list of five of these types of thoughts and am going to actively correct them throughout January so I can hopefully start a good habit there.


I hope these ideas helped you get inspired to start this first week of 2018 on the right foot. I hope this year finds you happy, healthy, inspired, and ready to tackle anything. Let me know what you like to do to detox after a fun Christmas break!



If this picture of delicious food by the pool doesn’t inspire you to kick off this year in a healthy way, I don’t know what will! ; D


For more tips, tricks, and inspiration head over to my Pinterest board , my Instagram, or my lifestyle and fitness Instagram. 


Very Best of 2017

Very Best of 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! I hope your holiday has been filled with family, friends, delicious food, and happy times. My Christmas was so nice, even though we stayed home. I kind of like our in-between Christmases when we stay home with just […]