Last year I signed up with Kiwi Magazine to become a Mom Ambassador as part of their Green Moms Meet program. As a Mom Ambassador, I get the chance to try healthy and organic new products with my playgroup and then provide feedback to Kiwi about the experience. So far our group has tried So Delicious Coconut Milk, Kashi granola bars, Bob’s Red Mill products, and most recently Sambazon smoothies!

Officially, our moms group has over 30 members. But most can’t make it regularly to our weekly meetings each Tuesday at 9:00. On average, our play group has about 15 moms, grandmothers, and babysitters, and about the same number of kids.  We meet in the basement of a local church, where we keep a stash of toys and take turns bringing a snack. It’s really great to have two hours once a week to decompress with other moms while the kids play!

People in the group always want to know what it’s like to be a Mom Ambassador, so I thought I’d write about the process, detailing our most recent sampling with Sambazon!

Day 1: I check my email and discover an email from Green Moms Meet. They want to know if I might want to sample Sambadon smoothies with my group. Are they kidding? Heck ya! I’ve seen them in Whole Foods, but haven’t had the chance to try them yet.

Day 2: A few weeks go by before I discover that we’ve been selected.  The sampling items should arrive within a month. I’m so excited! I log in to take a look at the company information and sign up for the webinar. They record them, which is helpful in case you can’t make it when they do it live. There’s usually also a Facebook party, but I don’t see that information posted yet. I’ll keep my eyes out for that.

Day 3: The large package arrives – it’s our sampling supplies!  Every company’s sampling is different, but generally speaking we get free samples of the product, coupons for a future purchase, and some sort of gift.  Because the smoothies are perishable, they’ve sent a ton of coupons for free smoothies, some for the sampling and some for the moms to take home. They’ve also sent a really cool gift – a bracelet with a purple bead. I’m going to have to hid it from my daughter! She loves purple and will try to repossess it for sure!

Day 4: We set a date to have the sampling. After I drop the older kids off at school, I run to Whole Foods to pick up the smoothies. My daughter loves that the containers are purple. We get two of each kind: Blended Breakfast, Supergreens, Original Acai, and Acai, Blueberry, and Pomegranate, and Energy Mocha Java.  There was only one Vanilla Protein, so I grabbed that one too. I surmise that the Chocolate Protein must be excellent since it is “always” sold out according to the man working the dairy department. I make a note to try to that kind with my free coupon and pack my recyclable bag and head on over to our playdate!

Some of our playgroup members try out Sambazon smoothies!

Some of our playgroup members try out Sambazon smoothies!

It takes a minute or two to set up. I decide to bring paper cups so people have the chance to sample all the flavors instead of just picking one or two from the choices. I’m glad I did because people were more likely to try flavors like Supergreens if they only tried a sip rather than having to commit to a whole bottle!

The final verdict: The kids seemed to prefer the original Acai flavor.  This surprised me. I thought they’d love the Blended Breakfast since it had strawberry and bananas in it!  The adults loved the Mocha Java and we all agreed that the Supergreens flavor was much better than we thought it would be! I pass out a free coupon to each attendee and let them know that the smoothies are on sale at Whole Foods this week!

Day 5: The next day, I take the information I compiled from our sampling party and enter it using a survey they’ve sent.  It takes about five minutes to fill out and upload the pictures I took.  By adding picture, I’m entered into a drawing to win more freebies!

Overall, the process for doing the sampling is fun and pretty easy. I love that we get to try new and exciting products and that we have the chance to give companies our feedback. I can’t wait until the next sampling comes around!

Like many parents, I’m always looking for a craft to do with the kids. I’m also devoted to recycling and reusing whatever I can. And who doesn’t want a few minutes without listening to the kids whining or complaining in the car during long trips or in a restaurant? Well, this activity is a three-way win in all these categories!

If your kids are like mine, and eat Plum Organic Puffs like they’re going out of business (even my four-year-old devours them!), then you’ve probably got a million of these cute BPA-free plastic containers hanging around. I felt bad about throwing them in the recycling bin and found some great ideas from other moms on how to up-cycle them. One mom used them to make canisters! Other moms used them for maracas, a bowling ball set, and even as a rain stick!

With summer travel season coming up, I decided to use them to make surprise packages for my toddler daughters to help keep them happy during long car rides or while stopping for breaks at restaurants. They were fun, easy, and best of all – basically free!

Here’s what I did:

1. Peel off the label and wash and dry the container.

2. Let the kids decorate their container and write their names on them. You’ll have to use a Sharpie, so keep an eye on the kids. Unless you want one of yours (the youngest) covered in indelible ink for three days. Trust me.

3. Add some stickers or other bling.

4. When the kids aren’t looking, fill the surprise packages with cars, trains, pages from a coloring book, crayons, letters, small dolls (those toys from children’s meals are great for this) and anything else the kids might like. Make sure to rotate the contents to keep the element of surprise.

5. Keep the containers in your car and diaper bag. You never know when you might need them!

How do you up-cycle your containers? What other things do you up-cycle? Leave a note in the comments below!

Handy puffs containers - before and after!

Handy puffs containers – before and after!

These cute containers may look small but they can hold a lot of stuff!

These cute containers may look small but they can hold a lot of stuff!

Is it just me? Maybe I’m being a little overly sensitive. But holding a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) at a Hooters just seems wrong to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that Costco wants to help raise money for CMN. But are you telling me there is NO OTHER PLACE in the state of New Jersey to have a fundraiser than Hooters? Come on, Costco. We deserve better than that. Shame on you!

Really, Costco?

Really, Costco?

For most of my adult life, I’ve been overweight.  It all started when I had my first child 15 years ago. I gained 40 pounds with that pregnancy. When I got pregnant a year later, I gained another 40. While I managed to lose a few pounds afterwards, I never really got back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

Several years later, I ate my way through a rough divorce. Not long after my divorce, I got laid off from my job. And ate some more. I had to sell my house and move to an apartment, and, well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. I began using food as comfort until that comfort reached unhealthy levels.

I realized that I was madly unhappy and it wasn’t just with the way I looked. I changed careers, started going to Curves during my lunch hour, and attended Weight Watchers meetings. I lost 25 pounds. I started to feel pretty good about myself.

After a few years, I got remarried and pregnant again. Guess what? I gained 30 pounds. Another year later, another blessing. And another 35 pounds. I quickly gained back all the weight I had lost and then some. In fact, somehow I ballooned up to 250 pounds! My doctor gave me a warning: four bouts of gestational diabetes combined with my unhealthy eating had left me pre-diabetic. If I didn’t lose 10% of my body weight, I’d have to start a diabetes regime.

A memory flashed through my mind. It was an image of my grandfather laying in a hospital bed. He was in his mid 60s and had just had both of his feet amputated due to complications of diabetes. He had tears in his eyes and said that his life was over. That was not going to be me, I resolved. I was serious this time.  But with four kids at home, I thought that I didn’t have time to exercise and eat healthy. Instead, I looked for an easy, “magic” solution to lose weight.

I looked for the “magic pill” for four years, but never found it. I tried every diet, pill, and fad product that came my way to no avail. After about four years of this nonsense, I had an “aha!” moment and realized that there is no one thing that will help me lose the excess weight that I’ve carried with me most of my adult life. Instead, I made 10 significant lifestyle changes that helped me to lose 80 pounds in six months. I’ve got just 30 more to go to reach my goal!

Since enough people have asked me what my “secret” is, I figured I’d share it.  I should mention that I’m not a doctor. And you should probably see a doctor if you’re thinking of starting a similar weight loss program.  I also want to clarify that while I mention several products that I use by name, I am not paid to endorse these items, and I do not receive any benefit (like free products) for mentioning them. These are just items that I’ve used successfully and personally like. Feel free to research and share any comparable products or services that have worked for you in the comments.

Step 1:  Wear a bodybugg LINK by Body Media.

If you’ve ever seen the Biggest Loser, you’ll know what these neat little gadgets are: a small arm band that you wear all day that tracks your steps taken and calories burned. I honestly don’t know what I did before it. With the bodybugg, I’m able to see exactly how many calories I burn, and enter the food I eat to make sure that I’m eating the right number of calories to support my weight loss goals. I actually find myself trying to walk further or take more steps as a result of wearing this little tool. The bodybugg sells for around $120 and the software  membership is $6.95/month after the first three months.

Step 2: Drink Shakeology.

One of the biggest problems I’ve always faced during “diets” is cravings. I always felt hungry. Unsatisfied. Yearning. I read about Shakeology in the May 2011 issue of O Magazine and decided to check it out. I did some research and liked everything about it except the price. I couldn’t possibly justify spending $129 a month for a shake!! I mean, how would I be able to afford my $4.55 grande caramel macchiato with sugar free vanilla and soy milk every day? Desperate, I finally decided that I owed it to myself to take a chance on it (it has a money-back guarantee), and placed my order. I’ve been drinking it for breakfast every day since. And guess what? It gives me so much energy, I don’t need a Starbucks run every day. And my cravings? Gone. I mean it. Totally, completely gone. I can walk by a plate of cupcakes and not even give them a second glance. My kid’s Easter candy wasn’t pilfered by me this year. Their Halloween candy? I threw most of it away. If you knew me, you’d know how huge that is. But you don’t, so I’ll just have to let my weight loss speak for itself!

A few of my favorite things!

A few of my favorite things!

Step 3: Get some exercise.

I really wanted to start exercising but I was too embarrassed by the way I looked to go to the gym.  Whether they were or not, all I saw were people staring and laughing at me. Sure, it was probably just paranoia, but I’m the kind of person who can’t perform if I feel uncomfortable, so I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. So, I began an exercise routine by simply walking. Everywhere. I walked my kids the two miles (roundtrip) to and from school every day.  I walked to the pharmacy. I walked to the park. If it was less than a mile away, we walked there. This had other benefits, too. Of course, I saved money on gas, and helped the Earth a little bit. But all this walking helped me start losing weight and gain endurance. Once I had that under my belt, I ordered a workout program to do at home. Using Les Mills PUMP not only made me physically stronger, but it also helped me to gain more confidence and increased my endurance even more. Before long, I decided to attend  free workouts twice a week in my hometown. This helped me meet other people struggling with weight and helped motivate me.

Step 4: Find like-minded people who share your commitment to health and will support you.

I never realized it before, but most of my day was consumed with food.  I’d get up and wonder what I was going to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d plan errands around making stops at my favorite food establishments. Visits with friends and relatives always involved some sort of food, and I’m not talking about the healthy kinds. Sure, it’s OK to have something special every once and awhile. But this was my life every day. As I began getting healthier, I steered clear of my favorite food haunts. I stayed away from the dessert table at functions. I said no to the birthday cake. At events, I’d bring healthy snacks or volunteer to bring the coffee. When friends and workout buddies saw my commitment, they encouraged me. Not just verbally, but physically – by coming to workouts, or finding active things to do. The group of people I work out with twice a week have been an amazing support group and I’ve found that meeting with a small group of committed fitness seekers keeps me on track. We share our challenges, successes, and goals, but do it in a fitness setting. I’ve come to really look forward to my twice-weekly workouts, instead of dreading working out.

Step 5: See a nutritionist.

If you have insurance, and are overweight, your insurance plan will probably pay for you to have a consultation with a registered dietician or nutritionist. If so, I highly suggest doing it! I’ve been meeting with the same woman for the past two years and found her not just a valuable source of information, but also an amazing support network. When I recently reached a point where my weight hit a plateau, she suggested some ideas to get me back on track that worked. Some of her other suggestions are described in more detail below.

Step 6: Eat every 2-3 hours and eat S-L-O-W-L-Y!

Because Shakeology was curbing my appetite and cravings, I’d try to skip meals. This was a BAD IDEA!  But by the time 5:00 rolled around, I’d be so ravenous that I’d eat everything in sight. The nutritionist suggested I eat something every 2-3 hours, whether I’m hungry or not, and to eat SLOWLY. When you have kids, it’s pretty easy to get used to inhaling your food, but now I make eating a priority. I take the time to sit down at the table and enjoy what I’m eating.  I also make sure to keep healthy snacks in my car, so I never have to resort to getting something unhealthy. I really like the 100 calorie mini protein bars that Lara makes and the 100 calorie granola bars from KIND. I throw a few of those in my car, and am all set!

So you can get an idea of what I eat in a day, here’s a sample:

Breakfast: Chocolate Shakeology (vegan) made with 4 ounces of unsweetened almond milk and 4 ounces of coconut water.

Morning snacks: 1 cup of Chobani Greek yogurt with KIND granola or flax seeds.

Lunch: Cup of tomato soup and half a grilled (soy) cheese sandwich

Afternoon snack: cup of coffee or carrots and hummus or handful or almonds/trail mix

Dinner: 4 ounces of chicken thighs with broccoli and a spoonful of noodles

Evening snack: Edy’s sugar free popsicle or KIND mini granola bar or a sugar free pudding/Jello

You’ll notice that I don’t measure stuff. I probably should. And as you can see, I’m not exactly starving! Initially, I admit that I was bored by eating the same things all the time, but I’ve actually found that I enjoy not having to think about what I’m going to eat at my next meal and it makes grocery shopping a bit easier for me now that I know what I’m going to eat on a daily basis.

Step 7: Count every (I mean EVERY!) calorie.

One of the prerequisites I had to fulfill before meeting with the nutritionist was to keep a food journal of everything I ate in a week. By that, I mean EVERYTHING. That includes the leftovers I was eating off my kid’s plates each night. And the spoonful of Nutella right from the jar. Oh, and that handful of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, too. All that. I was shocked, no, horrified, to discover that these little nibbles – that I didn’t even consider “real” food – added up to 1,000 calories a DAY! That was almost as much as the nutritionist thought I should be eating in a day!  I quickly learned to throw whatever my kids didn’t eat away right after mealtimes to avoid the temptation. I also began religiously tracking everything that went into my mouth. I began making decisions: would I rather have that 500 calorie donut that would leave me hungry again in 10 minutes or have a mini granola bar and full dinner later? In the beginning, I’m confess: this step was a pain. But pretty soon, I found that I automatically made the right decisions without even thinking about it. I still make sure to log all my food in the bodybugg app to make sure I’m eating the right amount for the amount of calories I burn daily but it’s gotten much easier for me now to stay within my range than it was in the beginning.

Step 8: Don’t drink and eat at the same time.

One of the most helpful tips I got from the nutritionist was not to eat and drink at the same time. Think about it for a minute. You sit down to eat dinner. You have your big glass of water or milk or wine – whatever it is. As you eat, you drink several glasses. Where does it go? Into your stomach, where it mixes with your food and expands your belly. Does that mean I don’t ever have anything to drink while I eat? No. If we go out for dinner, I’ll have a single glass of wine throughout the course of the evening. For dinner. I have a cup with about 2 ounces of water in it to wash down my food afterwards. And if I’m getting a cup of coffee, then that’s my snack. I don’t have anything else with it. I believe this has helped to shrink my stomach.

Step 9: Track your progress by taking measurements and pictures.

Scales lie. Really. They do!  When I first started my voyage to get healthy and fit, my once snug size 22 clothing was becoming baggy. But the scale wasn’t showing much weight loss, for whatever reason. Was it the muscle that I was getting which weighs more than fat? Maybe I had water bloat? Was I getting my period? I don’t know. But thankfully, I was taking my measurements monthly and photographs, so I could see the difference in myself, even if the scale wouldn’t give me any satisfaction. Eventually this changed, thankfully, but I still keep taking my measurements and pictures.

Step 10: Find things (NOT food) to motivate you. 

During my previous attempts at weight loss, I would reward myself for small weight losses with food. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me yet couldn’t be any more wrong. This time around, I don’t have any of the cravings, and because I don’t have the cravings, I found that I didn’t need to reward my weight loss with a sweet treat. Instead, I’ve found other things to motivate me: a mani/pedi, a new pair of pants, or purse. Sometimes my reward is just taking some time for myself and a bubble bath! (If you have kids, you’ll understand why this is a treat!) Recently, I reached a big milestone: 80 pounds down! I went from a size 22 to a 12!  But I realized that I had indeed reached a new point in my life when I wanted to reward myself with a new pair of sneakers – instead of a brownie.

I realize that these 10 steps may seem overwhelming and daunting to some. It’s a lot to do and many new routines to take on. That’s OK. You can do it. If these 10 steps seem like too much, try doing one for a week and then add a second one the next week. You wouldn’t get up and run a marathon one day without any training, so don’t think you have to do them all tomorrow. Do what feels right for you. You may not find that Shakeology works for you. Or maybe you like going to the gym. My attempt in sharing my story was to detail the things that worked for me.

It’s a cliché, but remember that losing weight isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.  I know I’ll always have to watch what I eat and exercise. The difference is that now I’m able to realize this and I’m OK with it. In fact, I actually enjoy exercise and eating healthy! Good luck on your trip!

This year, I was determined to look at my New Year’s resolutions differently. Instead of a somewhat random list of things I hoped to accomplish in the next year, I decided to make more of a to-do list. By keeping my list small and manageable, I figure that I can easily stick to it.

So, here’s my 2013 To-Do List.

1. I will buy less processed foods. With a family of six that includes two teenage boys with  seemingly bottomless stomachs (or tapeworm, I’m not sure), it’s easy to go to Costco and stock up on a lot of junk. And truthfully, that’s what I often do. But I’m not doing anyone a favor when I come home with 96 bagel pizzas, 130 chicken nuggets, or 48 bags of chips. Instead, I’m going to get more fresh fruit and veggies and have snacks pre-made for them when they get home from school. Today, I’ve got carrots and hummus at the ready. I think their inherent laziness will overcome their desire for junk food, but we’ll see!

2. I will walk anywhere that is less than a mile from home. Over the past few months, I’ve successfully lost a significant amount of weight. While a healthier diet is part of the reason, it’s also because I walk my daughter to and from preschool every day. It comes out to about two miles total, and those calories burned add up quickly! I figure that if I expand my walking even more, I’ll lose even more weight! Not to mention the good I’ll be doing for the environment by leaving the car at home.

3. I will finally get that mammogram. Last year I reached the magical age that woman reach where it becomes necessary to start getting regular screenings. I didn’t get around to it last year but I’m not going to put it off anymore. I want to be around for my kids and it’s not a big deal, anyway!

4. Ditto for a colonoscopy. Eek. I don’t even like typing the word!

5. I will start saving for our honeymoon.  When my husband and I got married five years ago in the fall, my teacher’s schedule, saving for our house, paying for the wedding, and my children from my first marriage precluded a honeymoon. We keep saying we’re going to do it, but now that we’ve added two more children to our family, we really need to make it a priority. Making time for ourselves in general needs to be a priority in 2013! But in the meantime, I’ve got my honeymoon coin jar started.

6. I will do a random act of kindness every day. So far, it’s been small things: wiping snow off a car in a parking lot with a baby on board sign, bringing in my neighbor’s recycling bin. But that’s the point: do a random small thing anonymously every day just because. I don’t want someone to thank me, or to do something for me. I just want to do something to help make someone else’s life a little bit easier. It makes me feel better.

7. I’ll call my parents once a week.  Sure, we keep in touch via email and texts but there’s nothing like the human voice.  And it makes my mom happy to hear from me, so it’s the least I can do for the woman who gave birth to me!

So that’s it. That’s my list for 2013. What’s yours?