Great pizza at a great price…

agriculture cherry tomatoes cooking delicious

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I am always on the lookout for tasty food options I can easily fit into my semi-healthy eating plan and I give bonus points if it’s fast and affordable as well.  Mod Pizza definitely falls into this category.

The concept reminds me of Subway restaurants, but for pizza.  Customers step up to a counter area that houses all types of fresh looking ingredients and sauces, choose a base, and watch as their personal pizza is created before their eyes.  Bases include 6 inch, 11 inch single, and 11 inch double crusts.  Pizzas can be topped with all the usuals like green peppers and sausage, but the diverse selections also include artichokes, arugula, broccoli, and corn.  There are also a few choices of sauce and specialty glazes such as BBQ sauce, sriracha, and fig balsamic available to add even more flavor.

Once the pizza has been custom topped, it is baked in an open oven where flames are visible.  This allows the pizza to bake quickly (in about three minutes, per their website), but also provides an amazing crispness and flavor to the crust.  

Mod provides several suggested pizza combinations on its menu, including the Maddy, which is a basic cheese pizza, and my favorite called the Mad Dog.  Mad Dog comes with red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, and ground beef.  Amazingly, there is no extra charge for extra ingredients- more cheese and add bacon? Yes, please!

My husband and I usually share an 11 inch and even though we are pretty hearty eaters, that is more than enough to feel satisfied.  The calorie count for half a Mad Dog, without extra toppings, is 430 calories. 

That is only 20 calories more than a Lean Cuisine pepperoni pizza, but so much better tasting.  My husband and I can eat at our local restaurant for under 13 dollars, including drinks, which is incredible, given how tasty the food is!

Obviously, the fat content on a Lean Cuisine pizza is much less than half of a Mad Dog, but there is a wide assortment of fresh vegetables and grilled chicken available as toppings for those who might prefer something even healthier.  They also serve salads and will even place it on a freshly baked pizza crust, if desired.  I haven’t tried the salads, milkshakes, or artisanal lemonades, but if they are as good as the pizza, they would be a real treat.

When I want a little splurge to satisfy a pizza craving, without totally blowing my eating, Mod Pizza is a great value.  According to their website, they have stores in 28 states and the U.K.


Beating back a summer slump…


Dinos Alive Exhibit – Moody Gardens, Galveston, Texas

I have really been backsliding with my eating and exercise lately.  It’s hard to admit, after being so diligent for so long, that bad habits are creeping back in.  After doing strength training for at least two times a week for six months, I have only been to the gym a few times this entire month.  I have also been struggling with my eating.  I feel hungrier than normal and have been using that as in excuse to eat whatever I want.

It could be a summer slump.  It could be because I was on vacation and out of my routine for about 10 days.  It could be because I have been suffering from a cold for about a week.  It doesn’t matter the reason, I need to get back on plan.

I took my vacation so I could help out at Vacation Bible School.  I had this vision that I would do that in the mornings and have afternoons and evenings to do whatever I wanted.  Of course, it didn’t work out that way.  I was recruited to do the preschool arts and crafts, which I enjoyed, but meant I spent most of my afternoons and evenings cutting, pasting, and planning activities.

One thing that I did get to accomplish was to take my son to see the “Dinos Alive” exhibit, with life size animatronic dinosaurs.  We have been to these exhibits every time we can get to them.  It was held at Moody Gardens in Galveston, a place I have been to often, just not recently.  There is a pretty good set of stairs leading up to the main building where tickets are purchased.  It’s been several years since I climbed those steps and when I got to the top this time I realized I wasn’t out of breath.  For so many years going up those steps had left me winded and embarrassed; I almost wanted to run back down and come up again.  However, it was 95+ degrees with 90% humidity- I resisted a second trip.

This is the nugget of truth I keep focusing on- I don’t want my size to hold me back.  I can’t stop the clock, but I can choose how I age.  Do I want to be tethered to a chair, unable to walk or climb stairs, or do I want to be able to go on outings and keep up with the preschoolers in my Sunday School class without getting breathless?

The answer is why I will be back at the gym.

Happy Independence Day!!

Bunting 7-4

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I consider myself a patriotic person, but you won’t find me doing the typical July fourth activities.  I live in Houston, where it is usually horribly hot and humid, even after dark when the fireworks start.  I am also not a fan of large crowds and traffic, two other factors I associate with most Independence Day activities.  

However, sometime on that day I will hear Lee Greenwood’s words and will get teary eyed.   The chorus of God Bless the USA begins:

And I’m proud to be an American

Where at least I know I’m free

And I won’t forget the men who died

Who gave that right to me….

It amazes me when I think about what those words are actually saying.  Lives were lost to protect many of things I take for granted- rights and a way of life I haven’t had to personally sacrifice much for.  I can worship God however I choose.  I can express my opinion without fear of arrest.  I had access to a free education.  I live in place that is safe for my family and if I get sick I have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. An argument could perhaps be made that there are people in this country who can’t claim those same privileges, but I am speaking here only of myself.  It fills me with incredible awe to realize just how lucky I am.  

I think it is especially present in my thoughts this Independence Day, as a close coworker and friend is on the last step on the long path to becoming a United States citizen.  She has shared the stories of the vast corruption in her home nation that leaves many of its citizens destitute, family members who do without basic medical care, Christians who fear assault or death for merely practicing their faith, and nights spent without electricity and other basic needs.  Again- It fills me with incredible awe to realize just how lucky I am.

So, no, you won’t see me out at a picnic or parade this July 4.  I won’t be playing with sparklers or watching other fireworks that evening.  However, I will be celebrating in my heart the birth of this incredible nation that I am proud and extremely grateful to call my home.  

Firework 7-4

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I haven’t burned the kitchen down, yet….


Photo by Devon Rockola from Pexels

Writing these posts has really opened my eyes to how much I have changed over the last several years.  I remember having the thought, at about the age of fifteen, that I had reached adulthood and moving forward from that point, I didn’t anticipate changing much.   I am SO thankful that I was wrong.  I have been happy to discover that even someone like me, with a lot of well-entrenched habits and ideals, can learn new tricks.

One of these is my approach to preparing food and eating at home.  I was raised by someone who didn’t enjoy cooking and kept our family fed on easy and cheap meals like hot dogs, pancakes, and potatoes and eggs.  I didn’t do much better for myself when the choices were left up to me.

Many of my culinary challenges were because I was simply uneducated.  As a young adult, living by myself for the very first time, I decided to cook a chicken breast.  I put it in a pan, without seasoning, and baked it in the oven for a long time.  I had no clue that sometimes less is more or why it was completely inedible.

I am naturally a finicky eater who married someone even pickier.  Our son, whose palate is challenged even further by autism, definitely has our genes when it comes to what he eats (or more appropriately- what he won’t).  When I did cook at home, things had to be simple and eating out was very common.  Unfortunately, my wallet and my waistline paid the price.  Even when I started eating better two years ago- I still ate out frequently; I just made sure my choices were fitting into my Weight Watchers points allowance.

I began looking at social media, searching for weight loss inspiration.  It was in that search that I found some recipe sites that had meals that were both easy to prepare and fit within my point/calorie budget.  I began to experiment and discovered for the first time in my life that I enjoyed cooking at home.  This was a huge surprise!  I had always turned up my nose at leftovers, but I find I would much rather eat those, cooked specifically the way I like them, than pay for restaurant food.  Eating out often leaves me disappointed and then I feel bad for wasting money on a splurge I didn’t enjoy.

As my confidence builds, I have started looking at meals outside the lower calorie recipe sites and contemplating how I can adjust them to suit me, both in terms of flavor and calories.  It’s actually kind of fun.  I have had to deal with some real bombs, but I have also been lucky that the successes have far outweighed the failures.

Simply Scrubs…

One of the side effects, for me, of being so overweight for so long, was that I really didn’t care much about my appearance.  Am I clean?  Do I smell good?  If I could answer yes to those questions I was good to leave the house.

fashion texture luxury design

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Being overweight doesn’t mean someone is not attractive.  I know many overweight women who look great, but I have always felt like I was missing the “beauty secrets” gene.  I almost had a panic attack in an Ulta Beauty Store once, as I felt so out of place and was certain that everyone else in the store knew it.

It has helped that I have mostly had jobs where scrubs were required as part of a dress code.  I haven’t even had the freedom to pick the color- it has been navy blue (ugly), gray (even uglier) and forest green (better, but the shortest lived color choice).  However, no one could tell I lacked fashion sense- we all looked the same.

As I lost weight, I found myself much more interested in how I looked and I raised the bar a little higher than “clean”.  I have found I like pretty things and clothes shopping is not the chore I once considered it to be.  The dress code at my main job is either business casual or scrubs and I have been opting to look cute.

However, in recent weeks, I have had a desire to simplify and and declutter things in my life.  It struck me how much easier managing my work wardrobe would be if I went back to wearing scrubs.  There are no worries about matching shoes or accessories.  I don’t have to figure out which items have to be washed or dried a particular way.  They are amazingly easy to wear and lightweight enough to combat the heat in Houston.  

I am in my second week of wearing scrubs and have been delighted to find this plan works as well as I thought it would.  I am very comfortable and it certainly has simplified getting ready in the morning. 

I did make one allowance for style and picked a pretty color- it’s called azalea and I love it!

Denise in scrubs2

Becoming an early riser…

Thirty years ago I was an unrepentant late sleeper and resolute night owl; most of my activities didn’t even start until I got off from work at 9 pm, or later.  I told myself for many years that my schedule was based on my own natural rhythms and my brain just functioned better at midnight. Looking back with more mature eyes, I think it probably had very little to do with my circadian clock, but was more likely a justification for how I chose to stay up and sleep late during that period of time.  Either way I’ve evolved into one of those exuberant morning people that I used to despise.

I eventually had to join the real world where I’ve worked in hospitals most of my career and twenty-four hour staffing is a must in the department I work in.   Morning shifts often require a start time of 6 am, or earlier, and those first few years of rolling into the laboratory that early were pure torment. It didn’t help that, traditionally, this is the busiest part of the workday.  There was always an encounter or two with these cheerful morning types who I was certain wore this upbeat demeanor in an attempt to annoy me. Honestly, who could possibly be that happy and alert in the bowels of the day? I loathed them, at least until 10 am or so, when the reasonable part of my personality would finally wake up and join the rest of me.  It’s probably out of respect for the cranky grouch I used to be that I keep my morning bliss very low key.

Surprisingly, it was during my years on the night shift that my view of early mornings began to change.  There are many drawbacks to the graveyard shift, but the biggest one for me was managing my time off. I adapted a hybrid sleep pattern on those days that allowed me to have a few extra hours to enjoy myself without becoming totally exhausted.  I usually slept in two bursts- once during the afternoon and then again when my husband went to bed. I would wake up at 3 am or so, still partially tethered to the schedule I adhered to on workdays. It was during this period that I fell in love with that blossoming part of the day, when the sun just begins to peek over the horizon and reach tentatively across the sky.  The new day, in those moments, just seems to overflow with unlimited potential.

It took several more years and some employment changes before I got to a place where I could enjoy being up early on a regular basis.  I still love that time when the rest of the day sits unfurled before me. I have to admit that many times the plans I make in that quiet calm have gone unrealized as I rush through the rest of the day, derailed by distractions, and out of steam long before bedtime.  However, I know after a restful sleep, I’ll be able to try again tomorrow, in the freshness of another new day.

Weight loss win…


It will never become the focus of what I write about, as so many others do it much more eloquently, but the issues surrounding my weight limited the amount of joy I felt for most of my adult life.  I’m not arguing that a normal weight is necessary to fully experience self-love and contentment, but being significantly overweight clouded and distorted my perception of myself and my surroundings.  For me, it’s not the weight that I’ve lost that has made the difference, but the celebration of my self-efficacy that has made the biggest adjustment in how I now see myself and why I am able to more fully appreciate the treasures around me.

I had a difficult and unstable childhood, raised by people who enjoyed upheaval and lots of drama. Many times food was scarce. I went from a skinny little kid to a chunky tween to someone who graduated high school already wearing plus-sized clothing.  I associated eating with personal security, stress relief, and other emotions. When I was a child nutritious foods were not usually offered and healthy eating behaviors weren’t modeled. As an adult making my own decisions, I continued to adhere to those well entrenched habits, even as I acknowledged that they didn’t best serve me.

Denise and Joey

I dieted off and on for many years, sometimes finding limited short term success, but more often failing to get through even a few days of whatever plan I tried. It often seemed futile to even make another attempt, but I knew that those who had found success often cited how they had tried everything repeatedly before finally finding what worked for them. I kept trying.

About two and a half years ago, I started a new job. During orientation, reps from the wellness program came in to do a presentation. I distinctly remember tuning out, thinking that I was way too unhealthy and overweight to participate.  However, I discovered a few months later that they offered Amazon gift cards as one of the incentives to adopt healthier behaviors. That was a rabbit I was willing to chase.

I started by walking.  If I got a minimum number of steps everyday I earned a few cents for shopping everyday.  I did classes. I went to the gym. I joined Weight Watchers. I built my Amazon wish list and cashed in.

Between June 2016 and April 2017, I lost 85 pounds.  My lab work improved tremendously. I could shop in the section of the store that housed regular sizes.  I even got enough points for the health insurance discount. I was on top of the world, ready for the first time in my life to finally get down to a normal weight, but then I hit a plateau.

Plateaus are part of weight loss. I really wasn’t worried, at first.  I had all kinds of tools I felt would work to shake things up for me. However, no matter what I did I couldn’t lose anymore. I did all iterations of the Weight Watchers point systems through various apps, counted calories, ate more protein, drank more water, started strength training, walked more, took maintenance breaks, gave up the Sunday splurge meal and dessert that I had enjoyed during my entire loss- nothing has worked.  The scale has not moved, not for the 10 months I diligently worked at it or since. It is easy to fall into feelings of frustration and despair, but at 50, I know my hormones are not necessarily helping this process. I’m not giving up.

I have been tempted to do low carb eating plans, packaged fixes, and even to start running. However, I know that for me, none of these are sustainable.  I refuse to start anything I can’t do forever.

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

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Right now, my focus is maintaining where I am.  I know, according to weight charts, I have more to lose, but I am really trying to be content where I am.  I am focusing on strength training, walking, building healthier eating habits, and staying off the scale.  I know this struggle will be with me for the rest of my life, but better health and a stronger body are crucial to enjoying this phase of my life.  I feel I’ve missed so much already.