The Value of Grief

It’s one of those nights when every song that plays reaches some part of my heart that can’t help but open to grief—I’m in tears every 10 minutes or so. Not because anything bad has happened, or because I’m in a difficult place—simply because it’s there—that grief, these tears—they are in me. It’s part of the human experience to suffer, sometimes to grieve, and if we don’t give it space when it makes a natural appearance, its later manifestation is never quite so congruent with our hearts.

This sadness, tonight, is asking for my attention.

Grief is not comfortable, for most of us anyway. It’s not something we choose to hang out with much. And in our efforts to avoid it, I often wonder what else we miss. We do so much to push it away, repress, suppress, distract, distance—but isn’t there validity in our pain? Isn’t there something there that, if we can lean into it, might have some wisdom to impart to our hearts?

There is a reason that we weep to the point that, at times, grief3
it can feel as if our hearts will rip apart. And I have to wonder, is it maybe our soul’s way of asking us to stretch a little further into life, into love? Love is certainly not for the weak of heart, so if we are going to feel its depth, we better find ways to strengthen our tolerance.

My belief is that when we are willing to allow grief some space in our hearts, and we stretch into the discomfort, and simply “stay” …we are equally strengthening our capacity for the other end of our emotional spectrum. We stretch ourselves into deeper love, to fuller compassion toward the human experience, into more receptive intimacy, into more complete authenticity, and into gentleness toward ourselves, and to those around us.

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Grief can break us open, and in the depths of our open hearts, we sometimes find who we were made to be.

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

 

 

 

 

 

Bullying–a Cycle of Abuse

Talking to our children about bullying definitely makes it more real, doesn’t it? When we begin to see our kids concern, hear their questions, feel their fear? And how we navigate those tender topics will have a lot to do with how our children respond to the idea, and the reality, of this pervasive form of societal abuse.

Nathaniel and I had an interesting dialogue tonight about bullying, victims, and different kinds of abuse—including one person lying about another, or blaming a victim and why victims of abuse so often remain quiet—how the cycle unfolds and continues to spiral, sometimes out of control. Maybe because he’s entering Middle School next year, and he’s hearing a lot about bullying, he’s sharing some growing concern about the issue. He’s wondering what it looks like, what he’d do, why people act in certain ways, and who’s at fault.

There are so many ways that people bully one another, many being so subtle that it can often take a panel of experts to decide whether certain behavior constitutes. There’s physical bullying—aggressive types of bullying. There are threats to physical safety, threats to emotional or psychological well-being. There is teasing, name-calling, taunting behavior. There is the type of bullying used to belittle someone—to cause them to feel left out, singled out, or hearing untrue rumors about themselves. There are devastating impacts from cyber-bullying these days!  bullying-research-image

Ultimately, bullying means there is a difference, or a perceived difference, in power. When one person seems to have power over another, and uses that power to cause harm—that’s bullying.

I gave an example of one boy bullying another, and the victim doing everything in his power to stop the bullying—talking, practicing compassion, setting boundaries, using defensive force, and even using humor—and eventually needing someone to help him advocate for himself, if the person bullying just won’t stop. Often, even if the kid being bullied gives fair warning, a “bully” will often respond with, “go ahead and tell. I don’t care if I get into trouble,” all the while, possibly feeling “above or beyond” the rules—or subconsciously trying to get the attention he desperately needs. So the kid finally tells an adult—someone who can set more effective boundaries and provide stronger consequences that hopefully make a difference for both kids.

And what does the person bullying do? He blames the victim for being a tattle-tale, a wimp. He externalizes any responsibility (most often, right?) and blames, even when he had every opportunity to change the behavior. And in his mind, this is the truth—it is the fault of the other kid, or the teacher, or the school… but never his—he simply can’t see it. And he convinces others that the other kid is the one at fault, and sometimes (oftentimes) his parents will enable the behavior and belief. And so the cycle goes…

…And children who are not held accountable grow up to be adults who believe they can do no wrong.

And the other kid? Hopefully he has enough emotional support to buoy his belief that he is not the one to blame and that standing up for himself was the right thing to do, and that sometimes we all need support—we need people to advocate for us when there is an imbalance in power. Sadly, this is often not the case—we have way too many kiddos, and subsequently adults who raise more kiddos, who feel safer simply keeping their mouths shut.

Why does this happen? Why don’t victims of such abuse get both the advocacy and the support they need? Similarly, this is a common scenario in adult relationships—both with domestic violence as well as more subtle types of abuse—“bullying.” The following article in Psychology Today mailto:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201311/why-do-we-blame-victims theorizes that it’s against our natural tendency to support the victims of such behavior because we fear letting go of our attachment to the belief that the world is safe. We prefer to believe that bad things happen to bad people, and we get what we deserve.  Holding these beliefs helps us to avoid the vulnerability that would come from true empathy. If bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them, they can happen to us as well.

Now this is an area I’ve struggled—for years, I struggled to acknowledge victims, even myself when I’ve been victimized. In fact, I’ve explored the extremes of this victim pendulum well! After recognizing that I spent much of my life as a victim, I formed a reactive defense, wanting to believe that we each have ultimate control of our lives. It used to really irk me when someone in a “victim position” actually claimed to be a victim, because I wanted them to acknowledge their own power and, therefore, a solution to the problem, because that allowed me to believe “I” was all I needed for solutions to my own problems. Of course this was my own way of avoiding vulnerability.

2121754867_745c975b98_mI continue to explore the balance between victimization and personal power, being a relationship therapist who does a lot of work around our primary issues being systemic and “relational” rather than solely “personal.” I support people in looking not at what their partners are doing wrong, but how they are responding because even when our partners make the worst of mistakes, it is our ability to respond effectively that sets us up for relationship success.

…And that’s another post!

This PT article asserts that our avoidance of vulnerability to others’ suffering comes with a deeper cost—that we are less able to empathize, less able to feel true compassion for others because of our own fear.

I want to add to this theory. If we actually look at the “wrong” that someone has done…. And we look deeply, we also become vulnerable to looking at some reflection of ourselves. Example: If we honestly look at a child who is bullying, we often look at the parents who’ve potentially taught, enabled, and modeled a way of being in the world to that child; we may also look at the school system that hasn’t provided safety, and we can’t help but look at a society that hasn’t provided enough community, support, and love. Ultimately, we look at our part in that society, if we are willing. To acknowledge the entire system that supports bullying—that supports abuse—we must look at ourselves. And that’s really uncomfortable for most of us.

When friends and family remain neutral about abuse or bullying, saying “it was both people at fault,” they deny the needed life lesson of the perpetrator, colluding with him or her, and they also make it less likely that the victim of abuse will reach out for support. This is one form of “enabling.” When we take the easy road, seeing both people as equally culpable, we not only continue to enable abuse, but we support the avoidance of accountability that we each need to hold.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about issues where each person truly holds equal responsibility and both are blaming one another, which can be very confusing. I’m talking about actual abuse—where there is a consistent pattern and a disparity in power; whether physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological—and I’m talking about both children and adults. There is a big difference here in areas where we “claim victimhood,” and where people are truly victims. Both are real. Both are worth our time.

Nathaniel and my discussion ended in the shared belief that it is all of our responsibility to acknowledge where and how abuse and bullying manifest, and to step into the vulnerability of acknowledging our part in it either continuing or ending.

I feel grateful for the privilege of sharing these dialogues with this very wise soul! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Parenting… Good Enough

I remember the first (and possibly only) time I ever heard my mom swear. It was the word, “shit.” And it was directed right at me. I’ll never forget the level of annoyance and disbelief that crossed her face, to the point where she just couldn’t contain it anymore. “You little shit,” she said. And while I have no recollection of exactly what I’d done, I knew that I was being just that—a shit. And I’d pushed her to her edge.

Which apparently was an area I had a good amount of skill.

My mom has never been someone who lost control, who yelled and screamed, who expressed anger like the other people in my family. Maybe it was the Greek blood in the rest of us. I knew angry outbursts—but not from my Mom. But that day, she’d had it. And I deserved it.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve had it as a Mom. I feel that twinge of fear—the “I must be failing as a parent” fear that wrecks me because honestly, since the moment that my son was born almost 12 years ago, my identity has become absolutely attached to being “Mom.” And when most of us feel fear, to the point where it literally “hijacks” our brains, we do everything we can to protect our created realities—our identities, as if our survival depends on it.

Tonight was one of those nights.  And just like me, my kids are damn good at pushing me to my edge.  (My mom warned me about that!)

It’s as if on the nights when I am so excited to just hang out with my kiddos, plan a great dinner, know that we have some simple play and relaxation time, and that’s everything I want… those are the nights when all hell breaks loose and I lose my grasp on my lovely vision of motherhood.

Now here’s where I’ll share that I’m with the rest of you who wonders how much reality exists in social media. I know that what I share—my pictures and posts, especially of parenting—are of the moments that I want to cherish. They’re the moments that get me all soft and, honestly, a little bit like “wow, what a great Mom am I!” And then I get a swift kick in the ass like tonight and I realize that all I can hope for, and work for, is “good enough.”

I’ll also share openly that it’s during nights like tonight when I truly miss having a parenting partner. Single parenting is… well, like an entirely different, life-changing adventure.

We’re wired to do this dance together. It’s sometimes only our kiddos other parent who really gets the unique way that our kids push us to our edge, when all we need is that “I’m done” look to the other, and it’s as if we immediately have our stunt double to take over. In this solo dance… we look sideways for someone to step in and give a reprieve, and realize that when we feel we’re at our edge, our only hope is to stretch even further into the resource of who we are, to manage whatever has taken over the system. And it can feel virtually impossible at times.

Now I’ll be honest, I think my kids are perfect! Perfectly imperfect—exactly how they were created. I believe that their natures are kind and good, and that they are beautiful, wonderful, and innately brilliant in their unique ways.  And I think that they get off track sometimes, and as their Mom, it’s my job to help them get back on—sometimes simply to hang out with them where they are and trust the bigger love that is holding them, to get them back on.

Sometimes when I see my kids have wandered off too far, I think, “yep, that’s normal kid stuff. It’s going to happen,” and I can calmly reflect what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling, and that’s all that’s needed. They feel held and loved regardless, they are okay being “seen,” and are able to recognize what needs to change, and all is good.

Other times, like today, I calmly reflect, and I hear defensiveness and blame and excuses and dishonesty, all sorts of things that trigger this grinding in my heart, and I’m guessing they sense that. And my brain gets a little caught, and I’m not the mindful, centered Mama, but a triggered, fearful woman who’s quickly losing her skills, and searching for a rope to grab ahold of, and flailing.

And tonight… after flailing, I sat at my dinner table alone, looking down at a lovely dinner, while both my children were in their bedrooms crying.  And I had a little “whoa is me” moment, while the old adage, Mothering—the most thankless job, came into my head, and I thought, “No—there’s a deeper Gratitude in the world for Moms, and Dads—parents who are pushing past the edges of who they’ve known themselves to be because they love their kids to the ends of the earth.

Life asks us to stretch into more capable, more tolerant, more vulnerable versions of ourselves when we step into parenting. And if we can do that, Life will thank us. I fully trust that.  And wow, sometimes that’s just about the most difficult task there is.

Ultimately, my kids joined me for dinner and, later, after a quiet, somewhat tense evening, we talked, and cried a little, and watched Brené Brown’s TedTalk on Vulnerability. Honestly, it’s all I had left, and I felt like she’d share it better than I would.   And while some of it was probably over my seven-year-olds head, my son got it—and it was exactly what they needed to hear. They needed to hear—maybe from someone other than me—that it’s their willingness to share all of themselves, and to be seen, even when they mess up, to be compassionate—first and foremost toward themselves—and to believe they are worthy of immense love, that will allow them to actually feel love deeply.

Something began to heal what had been a really painful experience between us tonight. Shared understanding maybe. Willingness to allow ourselves to be imperfect and still worthy of love—for my kids to get that they can’t “earn” my love—nor can they un-earn it. It’s as present as the sun and has nothing to do with how they act or behave, or what they accomplish, or how often life gets messy between us. It just is.

So I’m doing it—this parenting thing, I’d say about good enough…

And tonight, I’m wiped!

Nate-cherish

For the Love of Your Life!

 

 

Goodbye to Our Sandstone Home

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The Grand fort building that often took over this room!

Here I sit in my living room. The “Great Room,” actually…. Probably the only home I’ll ever live in that will be grand enough to have a room called a great room! And next week, another family will be here, sitting, looking around, enjoying the space—living their lives. Knowing nothing of the lives that have been lived within these walls for the past 15 years.

I want… and need to acknowledge this moment. While I have felt “ready” for way too long, I don’t want this opportunity for conscious closure to slip by without recognition. I want to be sure to feel the ending, to fully experience the transition of closing this chapter so that I can fully step into the next.

And what a chapter this has been…

So much about this home I have loved. First off, that it was the first place that my babies knew as home. It was the space I watched them explore the newness of life and love and relationship. It’s been the space that’s given them room to become who they are thus far. This has been a home that has captured so much laughter, so much play—the dancing and games and parties and shared time that this house has held—what memories!

The walls of my children’s rooms have held so many hours and hours of story telling, books, cuddle time, and long talks. The basement has been home to the kids learning about training our bodies—they’ve been immersed in it, with a huge home gym. They’ve had movie parties with friends in the theater, and slumber parties and sleepovers and play dates that will never be forgotten. We truly have been blessed to live in this amazing space.Papou

We’ve loved the beautiful, spacious kitchen where we’ve enjoyed cooking for friends and family—where my children have learned to bake and learned about their Greek origins, helping Mama, and

home4their Yia yia and Papou with all sorts of Greek dishes. We will miss the joy and love that has been shared in this kitchen, and look forward to bringing that same joy and love into the next.  cooking1

 

 

 

My garden has been my safe haven for the past four years.   It has been my place where nourishing my family through tending the soil has saved me at times—has given me a sense of calm in the storm, has connected me to my roots—particularly to my Dad, and has connected me to what sustains. I pray that the family who lives here will gain as much from digging their hands into the soil as I have. I hope that the children learn to love planting and harvesting and digging for worms.
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home3The friends who’ve shared in our lives here continue to share in the transition, and deepen my experience of holding all that blessed this space. Amazing people who are a part of each of us.

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And there has been a lot of sadness too. There has been heartache and suffering of people not knowing how to love well enough, and children yearning for a certain stability that never fully came—who saw too much anger and too many tears to feel completely safe.

That breaks my heart and is a truth I hold tenderly, and will consistently work to repair.

This is the only home we’ve known as a family. This space has become part of our identity, and much of it difficult to let go. And I pray that our memories will continue to be cherished—the lives we have lived thus far between these walls will forever be part of our foundation, part of who we are, and what we will bring to our new home.

The time of transition has finally come, too long after it was needed. I see the final pieces being moved out, furniture broken down and stored, walls and carpets bare, the space becoming emptier and emptier—there’s a quiet now that, honestly, seems louder than anything this space has ever held.

And finally the tears come. Now I can weep at all that is being lost and let go. Now that it is so real, that my body, even, is experiencing the stillness—the lack of “us” here, now I can say my final goodbye to all that was, and was not.N&L

My children feel this ending—are beginning to experience the poignancy of what it means. They are expressing the sadness that comes with awareness and truth. Their reality still not completely stable, and they desperately need to rest in the comfort of something known. “Not quite yet,” I say, “but so soon. And it will be so nice, the newness and freedom.” And I believe it will be. This is a welcome transition—and yet welcome does not negate pain.

And for now, we need to simply be with the ending. We need to share gratitude for all that we have experienced here and all of the memories we can continue to hold. We need to say goodbye—to bless these rooms, the memories we’ve made here, and bless the space that will become a safe haven for a new family to grow and become.

May this house—this home—inspire LOVE to flourish. May it provide safety and security and warmth. May it be a place where adventure and dreams are realized, and where relationships deepen. While we know that a house does not make a home—that our home will be where we share our lives together as a family—may this become a wonderful home for a new family.

So many blessings,

Angie, Nathaniel, and Lilly

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For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Thankful

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, and while I don’t often “re-write” articles, this one, to me, is more of a practice–a reminder of the blessings in my life.  They have shifted and grown, so I will allow my sharing to grow as well.

If you care to read, please take a moment to quiet your thoughts, and allow your heart to open to the gifts that are yours, right in this very moment…

Happy Thanksgiving.  

I’m blessed to live in a state where a three-hour mountain ride on my road bike is possible at the very end of November. So today, Thanksgiving, as my way of “giving thanks,” I donned my cool weather (even though it was close to 70 degrees) riding gear and headed out into the peaceful hills to breathe it all in.

I had my kids a few hours longer than anticipated last night, so just soaked them up, playing games, doing puzzles, coloring, snuggling, cooking, eating. And I’ll have them again on Friday for our Thanksgiving.

I thought that I might feel a little “whoa is me” being solo today, but I’ve been struck by how filled my heart is—especially as I road—with the amazing blessings in my life. Of course my brain goes to the psychobiological—“well, I’m stimulating the release of positive neurochemicals through exercise so of course I’m feeling good!” But there’s more to it than that today.

Maybe because of the work I do, or certain shifts I’ve felt as of late, but I’m often reminded that the pain I’ve suffered throughout my life, while sometimes overwhelming to me, does not compare to what so many endure. The things that people can do to people, and the burdens that humans must bear… the trauma and tragedy, the abuse, the betrayals, the life and death events that break hearts and tear families apart, the unresolved hurts… And what I see, consistently, is that the human spirit is not only resilient—we want to feel joy and so we choose to. Not always, and not everyone. But feeling joy beyond our particular suffering is a choice before us that motivates bravery beyond measure. And when I witness those who’ve suffered so much choosing to continue to open their hearts to love and to joy, risking what is most vulnerable, I am humbled and changed.

And without really trying to today, I kept thinking of the things I’m most grateful for. My “top 10” – not necessarily in any order.

I’d like to see your list too, if you’re motivated to share.

10 Blessings for which I’m incredibly Grateful

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#1 My children. Beyond anything in this world, they are my greatest teachers, my most powerful motivation, the wellspring of my love. They have grown me into the mother I am and they are the center of my heart, my most profound joy. I am currently struck by their emotional intelligence. Their ability to open their own hearts, to cultivate empathy, and to love—just purely LOVE, is so humbling. Deep gratitude to this life for the blessing of my children.

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#2 About three and a half years ago, I met an amazing man who, with humility, integrity, willingness, and love, has taught me to slow down and has connected with me in a way I’ve longed for my entire life. He reflects my gifts, challenges my mind and body, inspires my deepest respect, and my most playful presence. He “meets me” in the unique design of my heart’s longing and I have changed through receiving his love. I am blessed to be fully sharing my life.   To practice the skills I’ve cultivated over the past decade in an intimate and loving relationship, where they are welcomed and where I feel cherished, is… well, amazing. I am so grateful.

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#3 My family. We’re Greek and messy and dramatic at times. We’re quirky and strange in our own way. We exhaust one another. My parents taught me early on how to work really hard and they taught me that family is family and we stick together. They taught me that sometimes, no matter how tired we are, we just do what needs to be done for one another. They taught me to cherish our time together, to celebrate and dance, to be passionate, to tend to one another well, and to love big. I am so grateful for my family.

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#4 My work with my clients, I’ve found, is often as transformative for me as it is for them. I am humbled and honored that people choose to open their lives to me, and to trust me with their hearts, their questions, their shame and hurt, their anger. The work that I do is an incredible gift to my life. The community and team of people—Noeticus Counseling Center—with whom I work is like a cocoon for our collective personal and professional development, and provides me with the foundation for my work as a therapist. So thankful!

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#5 My closest friends are the people who meet me in the stability and the chaos, holding my hands through our shared journeys. They are the ones who grab ahold when I don’t have the strength and the ones who pull me back with loving arms to challenge my objectivity. They are the ones who see and love all of me, and allow me to witness the wildness, the grit, and the suffering of their hearts.  They allow me to help hold them with gentlenss, especially when they forget to be gentle with themselves. I am forever grateful to these women who have stepped into the fire with me!

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#6 My deepest hurts are blessings that have strengthened my tolerance, broadened my perspective, and challenged every edge of my heart. Engaging with the brokenness has taught me that there is a deep wisdom in pain, when we pay attention, when we stay present. When we can allow ourselves to feel, we are opened to fully engage with life. When we stretch to feel the pain, we are also strengthening our hearts capacity for love, for play, and for intimacy. My deepest hurts are gifts for which I will be forever grateful.

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#7 I have cultivated a variety of physical practices over the years, with the influence of friends and mentors, and I am so thankful! Last week I danced, I climbed, I ran, I skied, I strength-trained, (and I also did these wild leg-blaster workouts that leave me crazy shaky and happy!) and this week I hope to ride… challenging my body has strengthened my mind, and I am grateful for the ability and motivation to push myself beyond comfort.

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#8 My education—both my formal education and life education, and the integration of learning and practices that have changed my visceral experience of living in the world. My education is a privilege, and something I do not take for granted. I am grateful for the opportunities, the support, and the motivation to embed the practices that change who I am and how I impact others.  I am thankful for mentors, for their work and legacy that I now have the opportunity to hold and share.

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#9 My health has allowed me so much opportunity. It has allowed me to learn to trust my body, to track the very sensation that informs me of what needs tending to, to deepen into complete present-centered relationship with me. My health is never a given. It is both something I do my best to manage well and it is a gift for which I am wholly grateful.

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#10 Neuroplasticity! So thankful that the “emotional wiring” I had for the first half of my life will not be the same wiring that I have at the end of my life! My brain—everyone’s brain—is plastic! We can completely rewire how we exist in relationship to others, how we respond to life, to love, to everything that comes our way. I am so thankful for the way that my brain and body work together to create the life that I envision.

There are so many gifts in each of our lives. I hope that you are struck today, and every day, with the unique gifts that have been offered to you. Please take them in and share them with all of us!

I ran across the following and sadly, I do not know who wrote it.  I’d like to give credit so please, if you know the author, let me know.  It speaks to my heart though…  maybe it will speak to yours as well.

“Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching… just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub into a pearl. So we can talk for a while but then we must listen, the way rocks listen to the sea. And we can churn at all that goes wrong but then we must lay all distractions down and water every living seed. And yes, on nights like tonight I too feel alone. But seldom do I face it squarely enough to see that it’s a door into the endless breath that has no breather, into the surf that human shells call God.” (Author unknown)

For the Love of Your Life!

 

Angie

Paleo Power Truffles

Here we go with my little food fling, once again…  Into the land of Paleo.  I feel as if I must continue to claim my anti-absolutist stance when it comes to these foods and I’m really not sure why–I’m pretty sure it has something to do with my ego and my resistance to drinking anyone else’s Kool-aid!

These are just plain yummy, and a great source of energy to boot!  I came up with the idea because I saw something similar on the  Justin’s website, using peanut butter, sans the paleo crunch, and my mind started spinning.  Here’s what I came up with:

Paleo Power Truffles

Ingredients:

2 Cups Almond Butter, crunchy or creamy (my intent was to use Justin’s  but I wasn’t willing to spend the $11, compared to the $6.99 Whole Foods brand!)

1/3 Cup Grade A Maple Syrup

¼ Cup Coconut Flour

½ Teaspoon Sea Salt

2/3 Cup Paleo Crunch, chopped (plus a small amount to sprinkle on top).
(I chopped this kind of course in a small hand chopper)

1 Box Chocolove Dark Chocolate Chips

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Directions:

  • In a large bowl, combine almond butter, syrup, coconut flour, and sea salt.  Mix well.
  • Add Paleo Crunch and stir until well combined.
  • Form into bite-sized balls, place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, and refrigerate.
  • In a double boiler, melt chocolate on low-medium heat, stirring frequently.

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  • Dip each almond butter ball into the chocolate and place back onto the parchment.
  • Sprinkle the remainder of paleo crunch on top.
  • Freeze the balls for about 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

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  • Enjoy!  (yields about 24 balls)
  • Keep refrigerated

My kids were devouring these and I didn’t even have to feel bad.  No refined sugar, no weird additives…  just good, nutritious, whole food!  (Okay, a little sugar in the chocolate, but not much and….  well, it is dark chocolate!)

I’d love to hear your feedback!

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie