For several decades, I have focused on working out and eating healthy, organic foods in an attempt to stay fit and promote good health and overall wellness. With numerous fitness and nutrition certifications and bad genetics (i.e., an extensive family history of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's), I know that what I put into my body and how I treat it play critical roles in determining whether those bad genes remain in the background or move to center stage and become the main act.
I also have tried to reduce the amount of toxins I am exposed to in in the rest of my life. I don't smoke and I do everything I can to stay away from second-hand smoke. I avoid hard liquor (beer and wine are another story and a work-in-progress...). I don't use harsh chemicals or cleaners in our home, and I go to the local natural food store every week to get reverse osmosis water for our family.
But when it comes to what I put on my body - lotions, potions, shampoos, washes, lipsticks, blushes, creams, etc. - I have been far less diligent. As a self-proclaimed personal care product snob, the performance of products has always been critical to me, and while I have dipped my toes into the world of "healthier beauty" numerous times, I have generally been disappointed with the results and gone back to using old favorites from the department store that quite frankly performed better.
And yet as an educated health and wellness professional, I know that what I put on my body is as important as what I put in my body when it comes to overall health and wellbeing. Your skin is your largest organ, and the proliferation of transdermal patches worn on the skin for the delivery of medication clearly reveals that what you put on your skin is very quickly absorbed into your bloodstream.
In essence, you are not only what you eat, but you are also what you wear on your skin.
With this knowledge, I have spent over a decade searching for products that are both high-performing and also clean and safe, a search that became even more critical to me after having Beautiful Baby A (BBA) last summer and after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (for the second time) this winter. While doing research on safe, non-toxic baby care products on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database, I stumbled upon a relative newcomer to the industry - a brand of skincare, cosmetics and personal care products that not only outperforms my (former) favorite department store brands, but that lives and breathes its mission of putting safer products into the hands of everyone.
The brand I discovered is Beautycounter, and that discovery has improved my health and the health of my family.
If you are not familiar with EWG, it is a non-profit, non-partisan, independent environmental research organization that specializes in research, education and advocacy in several areas, including toxic chemicals. If you are familiar with EWG, numerous Beautycounter products are EWG-verified, and every single product I looked up, got a green light from the organization. No other company I researched compared.
Beautycounter was founded by Gregg Renfrew, a former high-powered player in the retail industry, who was inspired to start the company after becoming a mom herself and realizing that the seemingly "all natural" and organic products she was using on her children contained toxic ingredients that were scientifically linked to cancer, reproductive issues and hormone disruption.
The U.S. has only banned 30 ingredients from use in personal care products due to toxicity. The European Union has banned over 1,300. Beautycounter goes above and beyond both standards and includes over 1,500 questionable or harmful ingredients on its "Never List" (i.e., never will they be used in their products), all while ensuring that their products are as high-performing and luxurious as any other brand on the market. And they truly are.
Those of you who know me or have followed me for a while here or on Facebook know that first and foremost, when it comes to health and wellness, I am an educator. I have spent a large portion of my life studying and researching all things fitness, nutrition and wellness and freely and honestly sharing this knowledge with others to help better their lives in the same way that having and applying this knowledge has bettered mine.
I am not a salesperson, and I have turned down numerous opportunities to support or represent other companies and products in the past because I pride myself on speaking the truth and only associating myself with brands and products in which I truly believe. So, when I had the opportunity to partner with Beautycounter and make its mission part of my own, it was a big deal for me, but I feel compelled to become a part of its movement to put safer products into the hands of everyone because I love my friends and family members. I love their children. I love my child. And I want to share with all of them - with all of you - whatever information I can about how to live a longer, healthier, happier life.
Ultimately, I truly believe in this company, its products, and its mission, and I want my family to be as safe and healthy as possible.
And so today, I launch my new business venture as a Beautycounter Consultant. If you are interested in finding out more about the company, its mission, how to spring clean your personal care wardrobe and incorporate safer and healthier products into your home; or would like free samples of some of my favorite products or a one-on-one consultation with me, send me a note to kathleen(at)bellsandpeppers.com or leave a Comment below. I would love to share my experience, knowledge and honest, straight-forward reviews and recommendations to help you incorporate healthier habits into your life. You can also learn more about Beautycounter on my Beautycounter website.
Until next time, be happy, healthy, safe and beautiful,
I feel like a fraud.
I've often warned of the dangers of social media, since most people use it as a "highlight reel," only posting their happy, shiny moments and never the unfortunate moments that are a part of real life, particularly #realmomlife. This can make the rest of us, who are scrolling through our Facebook feeds sitting behind a locked bathroom door late night whilst downing a glass of wine and shoveling chocolate soy ice cream into our mouths trying to embrace the only "me time" we have gotten in weeks, feel inadequate and like failures.
And yet, if you look at my Facebook page recently, you might think my life is all rainbows, roses and unicorns. I, too, have fallen into the "highlight reel" trap, and it's time to come clean.
Like so many of you, I'm struggling right now to keep the many balls I have in the air from crashing down all over me.
I'm struggling to break free from what seems like an endless to-do list and find just a few moments to take a deep breath and have some fun.
I'm struggling to figure out who I am and who I want to be after having Beautiful Baby Ava (BBA) last June. After spending nearly 43 years focused on academic, professional and athletic achievement, I find myself in a place where I never thought I would be - madly in love with my little girl and wanting to experience life alongside her every day. I want to make her homemade meals and kiss her boo-boos when she bumps her head. I want to be there to witness all of her developmental milestones and see her smiling face every morning when she awakens.
At the same time, I long to find the time to use my talents and intellect for something truly meaningful - like helping others become healthier, happier versions of themselves - and I desperately miss certain aspects of my old life. Like catching a movie or a TV show every now and then. Or taking a bubble bath. Or going out on a random Tuesday night with friends. Or reading a book or a magazine. Or having time to dry my hair and put on makeup. Or wearing something other than leggings or sweatpants. Or doing nothing.
You see, my life right now - like many of yours, I suspect - is a whirlwind of tasks, with little, if any, downtime. It's Groundhog Day, and that day looks like this:
Get up at o'dark-thirty to pump before I workout, so I can get in a training session before BBA wakes up. I'm exhausted, because BBA still wakes up 2-4 times a night to feed, which I hoped to end with Cry It Out, but her pediatrician told us that would be "mean," because BBA is feeding at night because she is too distracted to feed much during the day, so she is really hungry, which means my over-a-year-long stretch of not getting a full night's sleep is still going strong.
Rush to get in my newly-invented Daily 15 (15-minute, intense workout) and maybe have time to grab an Almond Milk Chai Tea Latte from Peet's on my way home, which is basically the only thing I do for myself during the day (and yet I feel guilty for spending $5.67 every day on a sugary tea drink...). Walk Bailey the Pup, feed BBA and put her breakfast together, maybe have time to shower (or maybe not), throw in a load of what seems to be a never-ending pile of laundry (how can a baby possibly produce so much laundry?), grab a quick bite for myself and start working.
My new workspace is in our garage, next to my gym equipment, since my prior home office space (our dining room table) is near where BBA spends her time playing with The Au Pair (and my prior gym is now BBA's nursery). If there is a less inspiring environment in which to work or workout than a garage that is actually used to store a car and tools and bikes and baby strollers, etc., I'm not sure what it is.
When I get breaks from work, I feed BBA (I know "breast is best," but I am looking forward to weaning her when she turns one in exactly 2 months and 3 weeks - but who's counting?), fold laundry, do other random housework, put BBA's lunch together and go back to my dark cove to resume work.
After I finish working, I rush (see the trend here) to get dinner made for the family and BBA before The Au Pair is off duty, since cooking dinner with an active, crawling 9-month old is a nightmare. Once dinner is made, I'm on BBA duty, and we play or go for a walk and often FaceTime a family member until it's time to eat.
I get dinner on the table for The Man, the Au Pair and me, and try to shovel my food in quickly while feeding BBA her meal (usually my meal is cold by the time I get to it). I clean up after dinner (The Man helps if BBA is too tired to stay up), and then I start BBA's bedtime routine, which includes a bath every other night, a long feeding (sometimes 45 minutes), and some soothing music (more for me than for her, I suspect).
By the time BBA is down for the night (or rather, for the next 2-3 hours), I am exhausted, and while I have aspirations of staying up to watch a movie with The Man or do some reading, I generally retreat to the bedroom and go to bed, knowing that in a few hours, I'll be up again to feed the little miss.
Rinse and repeat.
It's a real struggle to juggle a full-time job; manage a household; start up a health and wellness business; keep up with a blog (big fail - my last post was January 2nd, people!); maintain my own kettlebell skills; spend quality time with The Man (who is also incredibly busy running a small business); care for my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer this winter, just had surgery and now has to undergo radiation and chemo treatments; and take care of our 17-month old puppy.
I suspect many of you understand how I feel, particularly if you are a new mom or dad (or an old mom or dad, or a busy executive, or really just about anyone these days), but I find it strange and unfortunate that so few people talk about their challenges. For a while, I thought I was "the only one" who was having difficulty keeping up with it all, but as I began to express my struggles with several close friends, they started opening up about their own difficulties, which is why I decided to write this post.
You see, having BBA is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And it is also the most challenging. Raising a child is monumentally difficult, especially if you are Type A+ and have high standards, and while it is easy for others to give the advice that my standards and expectations will have to "change" (i.e., lower), it is much harder to take that advice and run with it without feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt and failure - and quite honestly, without going against the core of who I am. And figuring out who I am and what I want to do "when I grow up" now that "Mama" has been added to the very top of my bio is something that is stressing me out more than I could have ever imagined.
While I don't have any answers or words of wisdom to share on this topic right now (perhaps some of you do?), to those of you who feel like you can't do it all or be it all. To those of you struggling to keep up. To those of you who are truly grateful for what you have but who also long for aspects of a previous life, I want you to know that despite what you see on your Facebook feed and Instagram, it is OK to feel this way. You are not a bad person for both loving and hating your life right now. And you are not alone.
Hello, friends! It is hard to believe that Beautiful Baby A (BBA) is now old enough to be referred to in months rather than weeks since she officially turned 4 months old on October 6th! It has been amazing to observe her growth and development over the past 16 weeks. Since I provided my last BBA update 6 1/2 weeks ago, she has reached a number of milestones, including: (1) sleeping through the night consistently, but then (2) experiencing the dreaded "4-Month Sleep Regression" (going from waking once at 4 or 5 a.m. to waking 3 times throughout the night); (3) going on her first beach vacation (and laughing at the waves while we dipped her feet in the water); (4) and on her first boat ride; (5) getting her first savings account (with a whopping .01% interest); (6) drooling nonstop; (7) grabbing at everything, especially my hair (she has a grip that suggests she sneaks out at night to get in a few sets of heavy kettlebell farmer's carries); (8) discovering her love for dance (when I start dancing, she kicks and bounces and flails her arms around with a big smile on her face, laughing and trying to imitate my moves); and (9) finding her "voice," which is a high-pitched squeal that will not necessarily win her a spot on The Voice.
As for mama, I have weathered the past two months quite well, since BBA has spent most of it sleeping consistently and napping regularly. I am continuing to train for my Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) certification to become a kettlebell instructor, which means I get up super early 4 days a week (before baby rises) to train in my garage gym, and then I work with my amazing trainer Andre at Fitness on the Run one additional day each week to help perfect my form in the major kettlebell exercises, most particularly the clean, which is currently my nemesis. Perhaps it is the training, or the breastfeeding, or the fact that I often miss meals because I am so busy (like missing dinner last night and breakfast this morning), or maybe it is because I am not spending my days sitting at a "desk job," but I now weigh over 8 pounds less than I did before I became pregnant, and instead of having to invest in bigger clothing post-pregnancy, I actually have to buy a pair of smaller jeans for the fall since my old pairs literally fall down when I wear them.
The biggest struggle I have had over the past 4 months since having BBA is overcoming the tremendous sense of guilt that accompanies new motherhood. As someone of Irish descent who was raised Catholic, I am intimately familiar with guilt - it's basically in my DNA - but being a mom takes it to an entirely new and unprecedented level. I am constantly wondering whether what I am doing will screw up BBA forever. And when I try to comfort myself by thinking that there is probably not much I can do that can really screw her up forever, I remember stories about Adolf Hitler, whose atrocities later in life experts blame on his troubled childhood. If I let BBA "cry it out" at night, will she resent me, no longer trust anyone, not develop a sense of self-confidence, and ultimately eff up the entire world?
You see the rabbit hole new mamas are prone to go down.
(And by the way, right at this very moment, BBA is screaming uncontrollably in her crib, after I put her down to sleep about an hour ago. I have gone in twice to comfort her and am asking myself how long I should let her cries continue before I go in again?)
Every single day I wonder if what I am doing is enough to help BBA develop and achieve the milestones all of the baby books talk about and whether the activities I am doing with her are the right ones. I constantly question whether:
(1) Spending nearly every waking moment with BBA during my 6 1/2 months of maternity leave will negatively impact her ability to grow into a strong, independent woman? or
(2) Letting BBA play alone on her play mat in the kitchen while I am making dinner will negatively impact her social development? or
(3) Giving BBA only a few minutes of tummy time will negatively impact her physical development? or
(4) Forcing BBA to do tummy time every day, even though she despises it and it makes her cry, will negatively impact her emotional development? or
(5) Will allowing BBA to "watch" the Today Show in the morning with me negatively impact her brain development? or
(6) Etc., etc., etc.
And so it goes...
Ultimately, what I am realizing as a new mama is that guilt is toxic. Guilt masks the fact that most of us are doing the best we can with what we have at any given moment. It does not allow us to appreciate our "wins," and instead causes us to focus on the "what-we-could-have-done-better-had-we-knowns." Guilt does not allow you to bask in the beauty of the now or dream about the possibilities of the future, instead causing you to dwell on the past with uncertainty and regret.
Guilt kills the joy in life.
When you are about to have a baby and nervous about motherhood, you often get the advice from other moms just to "trust your motherly instincts" and "do what feels right to you." And I think this is the key to mothering and basically the key to living a life filled with joy and happiness and with limited guilt. One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a new mom is that you should throw away just about every single baby book anyone has given you, because I am convinced that they are written by people who have never spent any real time with a real baby. They make you stressed out and cause you to feel guilty about your inadequacies and failures. Instead, talk to real-life moms who have experienced real-life mom issues, and you'll get real-life tips and tricks that are far more valuable and practical. And then trust your motherly instincts and do what feels right to you.
Whether you are making parenting decisions or decisions about work or finances or relationships or what to eat for dinner, don't compare yourself to the Jones'. Don't spend hours, days or even weeks questioning decisions you've already made and can't change. Don't allow the information you have today to cause you to look back with regret on choices you made when you didn't know what you know now. Instead, do your research, arm yourself with the information you need to make decisions today and in the future, and then go with your gut.
And if you need a reminder of the awesome humility of your own humanity, repeat the following mantra to yourself:
"I am doing the best I can with what I have at this very moment."
And you are doing the best you can with what you have, mama.
Until next time, by happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! Welcome to my new blog “bells & peppers”. Many of you know that this is not my first foray into the world of blogging, and I had a short but relatively successful run on my blog “Life and Other Minor Complications.” This is, however, my first experience blogging on my own web site – a site I eventually hope to expand to include health and wellness coaching, fitness programming, etc. For my first blog entry, however, on my brand spankin’ new (and still work-in-progress) web site, I thought it would be prudent for me to explain the why behind this site and the title “bells & peppers.”
Now for a little context setting…I have been engaged to my amazing fiancé (affectionately referred to as “The Man” to protect the identity of the innocent) since October 2013, after a romantic proposal at the finish line of the Cleveland Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. The following month, I paid a visit to my gynecologist for my annual exam, and after hearing about my engagement and in light of my impending 40th birthday that same month, she encouraged us not to wait to try to have children if we were considering it. I took her advice to heart, and The Man and I spent the next 2 years trying to have a baby, with no success. Having decided against pursuing fertility treatments, we were monumentally disheartened last summer when tests revealed that my egg supply was almost dried up, and my doctor told us that without fertility, we had basically no chance of having a baby (and even with fertility, chances would be slim).
After hearing this news, I allowed myself an appropriate amount of time to pout, and then I decided to take action rather than take the news lying down. As a lifelong athlete, Precision Nutrition Level 2 certified nutritionist, certified Turbulence Trainer and certified Food for Life cooking instructor, I turned to what I have always felt are the keys to all things health and wellness – daily movement and healthy eating – and I decided to challenge myself to 100 days of completing 100 different workouts and making 100 different healthy meals, not so creatively calling my experiment the 100 Healthy Days Challenge.
I repeat my advice to take a great deal of exercise, and on foot. Health is the first requisite after morality. – Thomas Jefferson
Let food be thy medicine… – Hippocrates
Fast forward to the end of my 100 Healthy Days Challenge in early October 2015, and within a week of successfully finishing workout and meal 100 (actually, meal 103) in 100 days, I learned that I was pregnant at the age of 42. Fast forward again, almost 10 months later, and as I sit here typing, my beautiful, healthy, 8-week old daughter (affectionately referred to as "Beautiful Baby A" - or "BBA" for short - to protect the truly innocent) is just waking up from her mid-morning nap, and it is time for me to take a break and tend to her...
When I asked my doctor how this could have happened when my test results indicated I was no longer baby-making material, he simply stated that “we don’t understand everything.” As for me, I was quite certain that my focus on the simple formula of daily movement – primarily strength training with barbells, dumbbells and my beloved kettlebells (collectively, the “bells” behind bells & peppers) – and eating healthy meals based on an array of colorful fruits and vegetables (the “peppers” behind bells & peppers), played a significant role in creating a healthy environment to support the creation and growth of a healthy baby.
And so I hope that through this blog, I can leverage my decades of experience as an athlete and my years of training in health and fitness to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. If you are someone who is looking to lead a healthier, happier life, I encourage you to join me on this journey.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! I’m Kathleen, the Kettlebell Mama. Welcome to bells & peppers – a blog dedicated to all things related to fitness, nutrition and healthy living. As an athlete, trainer, nutritionist, cooking instructor, attorney, senior executive and new mom, I have learned how to balance my personal health and fitness goals with paying the bills, spending quality time with family and friends and pursuing a demanding career – without losing my mind! My goal is to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. Feel free to read more about my story here. Thanks for visiting bells & peppers!