The Free

Sometimes a novel will make me cry, and when I say, "cry" what I mean is one or two tears will leak out of my eyes and I will slowly wipe them away. This book though - this book made me bawl. I was sobbing. The characters and words touch my heart in such an unexpected way.  

Willy Vlautin's writing style is simple, but he has this talent for bringing huge emotion to realistic everyday characters. These characters could exist in real-life. Each of them are facing real-life problems with their real-life emotions.

But how do you write about real life problems, and actually make it interesting? (I'm not sure yet what the answer is, but Vlautin was able to do it.) This novel is one that I will be studying in depth to understand how he was able to tell such a powerful story in such a simple way.

There are three distinctive characters: a veteran with a brain injury, the nightwatchmen of the care center, and the veteran's main nurse. Sounds simple enough, right? But the understated qualities of the characters caught me completely off guard.

The Free: A Novel

The blurb of this book on Amazon says:

While serving in Iraq, veteran Leroy Kervin suffered a traumatic brain injury. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, and unable to form new memories, he eventually attempts suicide. Lying in a coma, he retreats deep inside the memories locked in his mind. Freddie McCall works two jobs and still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative—and dangerous—proposition. Pauline Hawkins is a nurse at the local hospital. Though she attends to others' needs with practical yet firm kindness, including her mentally ill elderly father, she remains emotionally removed. But a new patient, a young runaway, touches something deep and unexpected inside her.The lives of these characters intersect as they look for meaning in desperate times. Heartbreaking and hopeful, The Free is a testament to the resiliency of the human heart.

The Free: A Novel


What books have made you cry lately?

Fast Metabolism Diet Results

In the last five years, I've gained some weight. Was I miserable? No. But I wasn't exactly thrilled about it either.

In the past, I thought if I ate relatively healthy and then worked out everyday that I would lose weight. But I had been working out consistently for a couple months, and my weight loss seemed minimal.  That's when I knew the problem was with my eating.

2016 had been a especially tough year on us and with the 2017 New Year approaching, I decided that I had enough of pursuing my goals half heartily. I wanted 2017 to be different. No more coasting along with mediocrity.

Right around that time, my mom started telling me how she had lost weight doing what's called The Fast Metabolism Diet.

What is the Fast Metabolism Diet?

The Fast Metabolism Diet: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight

Guys, I NEVER thought I'd be that person to promote a cheesy celebrity diet. I've never liked the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet or even Weight Watchers. I didn't believe in "diets", I just believed in having a health lifestyle. (Or what I thought was healthy.) But The Fast Metabolism Diet helped me lose 8 pounds in four weeks and drop from 27.3% body fat to 25.8%.

I know those numbers aren't crazy big - but remember it was only 4 weeks.

So how does it work?  

For 28 days you are not allowed to eat:

Sugar - all refined sugar. (Just 2 teaspoons of refined sugar can inhibit your weight loss for 3-4 days.)
Wheat - bread, crackers, rolls, cereals, etc.
Dairy - milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, etc.
Corn - corn tortillas, corn chips, corn cereals, cornstarch, popcorn, etc.
Soy - tofu, meat substitutes, processed foods containing soy, etc.
Dried Fruit or Fruit Juices
Artificial Sweeteners

There are 3 phases of the diet, and you cycle through different phases of eating every couple days. This creates what some people refer to as "diet confusion" for your body, allowing it to drop excess weight.

Phase 1 focuses on eating: carbs, high amounts of fruits, moderate amounts of protein and no fat.
Phase 2 focuses on eating: high amount of protein, high amounts of vegetables, no carbs, and no fat.
Phase 3 focuses on eating: low amounts of fruit, moderate amounts of carbs and protein,  high amounts of healthy fat.

You cycle through these phases for 28 days at a time, which allows your metabolism to heal it's self. It sounds weird, but it worked for me.

I feel very vulnerable posting these pictures online, and I debated about whether or not to share them because:
1. It's really scary to put yourself out there for everyone to see.
2. The bikini I'm wearing is super old (about ten years old).
3. I haven't been out in the sun and I didn't take the time to apply a fake tan. So yes - I'm really pale.
4. These pictures aren't the best quality. They were taken with a cell phone camera.

So even after thinking about all the reasons NOT to post these pictures I decided that I'm still really proud of myself for sticking with a difficult goal. More importantly though, I decided that I wanted to share my progress with you because maybe the story I have to share and the small pieces of advice I have to give will help you on your own journey?

Interested in Learning more?

If you are interested in learning more about the diet and it's different phases, I would highly recommend getting the book: The Fast Metabolism Diet: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight. (I carried this thing around for two weeks.)

You can also find out more about the diet on Pintrest. I've pinned a few infographics to my "Good Food" board. Check those out here.

My Tips for Completing the Diet:

Do a "Prep" Week:
Do not attempt this diet without first doing a "prep" week. 

Take a week before starting the diet to get off of caffeine and sugar. I wish I would have done this because I think it would have been an easier transition. 

Also, clear everything out of your freezer that you won't be eating. Buy freezer containers, and make at least two different types of  soups and the chicken, rice, and veggie bowls to freeze for later. (This is the only way that I survived!) My mom and I also made some homemade beef jerky to eat as snacks during the high protein phases. 

Plan  Your Meals in Advance:

Every Friday I would sit down and chart out all of my meals and snacks for the next week. Whenever I could, I would plan something that I could eat for dinner one night, and then for lunch the next day. It doesn't always workout because of the different phases you transition through, but it did save me some time. Then I'd make a list of all the items that I needed to get from the grocery store and get them late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Stay One Day Ahead:
Every evening, I would look at what I was planning to eat the next day and then make any of the meals or prep any of the food that night.  This would include chopping up any fruits or vegetables and cooking any of the meat/rice/vegetable for the next night's dinner. And I always-always packed my lunch the night before.

Drinks Lots of Water:
Do you know how you'll sometimes think about food, but you're not really hungry, you just like the idea of eating? That's a good time to drink water. Lots of it. 

I was drinking an average of 13 cups of water a day. 

Fight Sugar Cravings:
Whenever I'd get cravings for sweets I'd just chew on a piece of minty gum, and then remind myself that it's only for 28 days. 

Promise Yourself: 
You might think it's cheesy or stupid, but the day before you start the diet look at yourself eye-to-eye in the mirror and promise yourself that you're going to do this no matter what. Get pumped about it.  

Then later on when you start feeling weak or discouraged, remember that you promised yourself you would do it, and there's not much that's worse than the feeling you get when you let yourself down.

My Week-by-Week Experience:

Week 1 - January 9th. 
So. Much. Cooking.  I didn't work out because all my time was consumed by cooking food.

Also the sugar withdrawals were horrible. I had no idea how addicted to sugar I had become until I stopped eating it. 

It might sound crazy, but it was "freeing" to be released from my sugar addiction. I normally don't eat a lot of candy or sugary treats, but I had gotten to a point where every day I would have a little "pick-me-up"  to get me through the afternoon. I also started wanting a little treat almost every night after dinner. I would justify all of this by telling myself that I was working out and eating healthy for the most part, so there wasn't a reason to worry about being a little indulgent.


On the fourth day of the diet, I became the grumpiest person because of the sugar withdrawals. I felt so tired and sluggish. In the afternoons, when I would have normally had a little piece of candy, my energy levels tanked.  I hadn't realized how much I was relying on that little burst of sugar to get me through the day.   

I also think that maybe some of my fat was storing toxins, and that when my fat was used up the toxins were released? I was sick to my stomach and dizzy on the fourth and fifth day. 

The first week was by far the worst for me.

Week 2 - January 16th.
In the second week, I finally started to feel like myself again. 

I noticed that my energy levels throughout the day were higher and steadier than they had been in years. I used to hit my snooze button 3 or 4 times, but by the second week I had no problem getting out of bed in the morning. It was crazy how much more energized I felt. 

I was able to get two workouts in this week, and had enough energy to finish them strong.

I also noticed that my clothes were beginning to fit better and that my stomach no longer felt bloated.

Week 3 - January 23rd.
This was the most discouraging week because I actually gained weight. So I switched one of my phase 3 days for an additional phase 2 day and that seemed to help because I lost 4 lbs in five days. 

My taste buds had drastically changed by the third week. All of the food I was eating tasted amazing and the diet was becoming easier and easier to do. 

I was able to get three workouts in this week. 

My jeans started to have a lose fit, and I noticed that my thighs and arms were looking smaller. 

Week 4. - January 30th. 
I actually got sick with a head cold this week. I didn't workout at all, but I still followed the diet. 

My goal weight had been to get down to 115 lbs and 24% body fat. I didn't reach that goal, and I wonder if I wouldn't have gotten sick if I could have made it. 

My Weight/Fat Loss Throughout the Diet:

January 7th    126.8    Body Fat 27.3
January 12th  124.2    Body Fat 26.7
January 15th  124.0    Body Fat 26.7
January 19th 123.2     Body Fat 26.6
January 23rd 124.0     Body Fat 28.6
January 27th 120.4     Body Fat 25.3
February 3rd 118.8     Body Fat 25.8

Final Thoughts:

Am I now going to look like those Instagram-famous fitness girls? Nope. Not anytime soon. I don't have a six pack and my thighs are still thicker than I'd like them to be. But it's progress that I'm happy with. (I now weigh about the same as when I got married.) 

Am I a better person now that I've lost weight? Am I more kind, compassionate, and loving? No that part of my personality hasn't changed at all, but I am more confident in myself and my ability to do difficult things.

I will probably try the diet again in a few months to see if I can reach my goal weight. But for now I'd like to focus on some of my other goals. (I do worry about getting stuck in that mindset where nothing is ever good enough. Ya know?) 

If you're thinking to yourself that you'd like to try The Fast Metabolism Diet, but it just seems to hard - then please understand that I felt the exact same way! I just couldn't image life without wheat, or cheese. But then I read this blog post and it gave me the inspiration I needed to reach for my goals. It's written by a girl who completed the diet a couple years ago. Go check it out if you're looking for some motivation. 

If you have any questions feel free to ask! I'd also love to hear about your weight loss success stories and your healthy lifestyle habits. What works for you? 

Other 2016 Adventures

This is my 101 published blog post!

I'm really excited about the milestone, but looking back I feel like the purpose of why I keep this blog has shifted a little bit.

I originally wanted to use this space as a place to connect with others and to share encouraging thoughts about life and love - but it was never my intention to blog solely about my personal life. (If that makes any sense.)

Now it seems like my personal life is all I’m writing about on here.

Which is ok, I guess. I do like having this blog as sort of an online journal. Although I worry that maybe I’m sharing too much of my life publicly online? (So I may share less of my personal life on here- or not. I haven’t decided yet.) So even though I have mixed feelings, I still want to finish up a small review of our life in 2016. There were a few personal experiences that I never blogged about, but felt like I should mention them for the sake of journaling.

So this post is going to be a random mash-up of the things that happened throughout the year that I haven't blogged about before.

Here we go....

This year, my sister Chantel and I decided that we'd like to start an online business together. We've been working on it for a few months now, but we're not ready to reveal it yet.

I've been devoting all my "spare" time to creating the content and building the website on WordPress. (Which is very different from Blogger) But I'm excited for this new adventure, and hope to launch it before summer.  


In June we went to the Garland Salmon Fry with my mom and sisters. Mom showed us some of the old places she used to hang out at when she was in High School, including Mack's Family Drive-in. It was really fun to see the house she grew up in and the places from her past. We were stuffed from the Salmon Fry, but of course we had to get some ice-cream. 

I really wanted to do a post all about Mack's for the "Only Here - Utah Food" blog series, but it didn't happen. Hopefully I go back this next summer, get more pictures, and do a full post on it.


J.R.'s sister won tickets for an "after hours party" at the Living Plant Aquarium and was nice enough to invite us along. They were celebrating Shark Week on the Discovery Channel so they gave us these goofy shark hats.

We'd never been to the aquarium before, and we really enjoyed (almost) having the place to ourselves. 


Our home got new windows! 

This was a really stressful day, but it was worth it in the end. 

The windows in our home were really old and desperately needed to be replaced. One of the upstairs window leaked, and most of the edges of the downstairs windows had been painted over so they couldn't even open. 

It's hard to see in this photo, but they had to cut out the big window in our kitchen piece by piece. They used glass cutters (which look a lot like box cutters) and cut one foot squares out of the window a little bit at a time. 

We also had to drill a new outlet for our dryer vent into our home's foundation. (And when I say we, I mean J.R.) 

It was really interesting to watch the whole thing, and this heavy block of concrete is what came of it. 


This summer we accidentally fell into the bunny business. Ha!

Here's the real story, someone didn't want their rabbits anymore so they abandoned them in field surrounding my mom's property. Well next thing we know, there are rabbits everywhere! They would burrow into the hay and dig dens under the barns. And they started to dig up my mom's backyard grass and eat all of the flowers she had planted.

So instead of trying to kill them, I convinced my mom we should capture them and then try to sell them at the auction. I wasn't expecting to make any money. But at least we'd get them off the property and maybe make a few dollars.

(Apparently you have to wear blue when catching rabbits.)

Well the first two rabbits that we caught had babies the next day! So we kept them around until the babies were old enough to be on their own. I told my mom, "At least they didn't give birth to their babies under the barn. Imagine all the new bunnies we'd have to catch."

It was so much fun watching these little guys grow, and it was hard not to get attached to them. 

We've caught over a dozen bunnies, and so far we've been able to sell them all. But I know there's more out in the field and that this will be an on going project.  (And yes, I realize that the people who buy them at the auction probably kill them, but at least I don't have to do it.) 


This September we sold the Jeep and bought a truck. It's not our dream truck but we're still really excited about it.


J.R.'s grandpa passed away over 15 years, but during his life he was an artist and made his living by selling paintings. The only paintings of his that I've ever seen were the ones that hang in the family homes. 

Well in October we found one of his paintings at a wedding reception "barn" in Lindon. The women who owns it said that she and her husband had loved watching J.R.'s grandpa paint, and that they had saved up their money to buy one when they were first married. 

It was amazing to see his art still being enjoyed by other people. It made me realize that each piece of his art was almost like an extension of himself, and that his art has granted him a small piece of immortality. 


J.R. turned 30 this year! And we were lucky enough to celebrate his birthday in Disneyland. (Because he'll always be young at heart.) 

(I feel like I should have written an entire post dedicated to our trip, but it just didn't happen.) We had such an amazing trip though! J.R. and I flew into California, so the two of us got to spend one whole day together in Disneyland before his family arrived. It was pretty magical.

For his birthday, he wanted to try a "Darth by Chocolate" dessert. It was out of this world delicious! If you ever find yourself in Disneyland (and you like chocolate) then make sure you get one! You won't regret one penny you spend or one calorie you consume - it's that good.

A list of other memorable moments in Disneyland: 

- J.R. and I had about 15 minutes until our next Fast Past, so we decided to stroll around the Mark Twain river boat. It was like a designated Couples Only Area. Ha! So many couples cuddling together, taking things slow. We leisurely made our way to the top deck to look out across the "Rivers of America". We were up there enjoying the view, when we noticed someone with a really nice DSLR camera taking pictures of a younger guy and a girl towards the front of the boat. All of a sudden the guy dropped to one knee and pulled a ring out of his back pocket. The girl was able to say yes in-between all of her happy tears, so the guy jumped up from his knee and pulled her into a giant hug that lifted her feet of the ground. All the while, their friend with the camera kept snapping pictures of them. Then they waved him over and the three of them had a group hug.  They really looked so happy, and it was sweet to see something like that. J.R. and I started clapping, and then slowly moved away to give them their own private moment.  

- One night, we were riding Big Thunder Mountain when the fireworks started. The timing was perfect, and it made the ride even better! (Which I didn't think was possible.)

- At Radiator Springs Racers, we had just climbed into our car and got buckled in when the ride broke down. They had us wait a moment because they weren't sure if it was just a delay or actually broken. But we couldn't get out of the car even if we wanted to! We were seat-belted in and the seat belts only release when the computer tells them to.  After a good 10 minutes they completely shut down the ride, then they had to manually reset each car so that the seat-belts would release us. It was kind of a let down, because no-one in J.R.'s family had been on the ride before, but the workers were able to give us an extra Fast Pass ticket for the ride later that day. 

-Matterhorn Mountain had been closed the entire time we were there, but on our last night they reopened it! They had redone the sleds for a smoother ride. Plus enhanced the "Abominable Snowman". I had never ridden this ride at night and it was so much more fun! The Abominable Snowman totally  scared  surprised us! We laughed and laughed about it afterwards.


The older I get the more I feel like the years are all running into each other, and I have a hard time remembering what events happened in what year. (Please tell me I'm not the only one that struggles with this.)

But I feel like updating this blog has given me the chance to review life and keep a record of our experiences. No matter how simple or mundane they may seem to others. 

After all, it's the little moments collected over time that build a life.