Nichole Hall

Stress Free Living with Chronic Illness



InvolvementInvolvement. That word makes me cringe every time I hear it, see it or write it. Mainly because that word means I must do something. And let’s face it. I have very little to give anyone other than family. They are my top priority. But I’ve been thinking more about community this week.

If you haven’t read my first post about it, check that out here.

This week I’ve struggled to stay in the presence of God. I had 3 full days of laying in bed. Between Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, I think I’m burnt out on tv. On those days I chose not to do my bible study, and not to write in my prayer journal. I did manage to read my Jesus Calling, but being in relationship with Jesus was not in the cards those days.

I didn’t tell Him how hard my day was. I didn’t ask Him to give me strength. I didn’t talk to Him at all. Not one single word.

I should have, but I wouldn’t open my heart to Him.

On days like that even talking to the One and Only seems like more energy than I can muster. So as I think about involvement and what it means in relationship to community I fight to keep my heart open. Because I barely have enough spoons for the people who are in my life daily, let alone the ones that take more effort. And by effort I mean, I must leave my house to see them 🙂

Today, I picked up my Jesus Calling, and picked my bible study back up. I did one week’s lesson in one day. I tend to do that when I am thirstier than I realize. Anyway-what God showed me today was that if I am to be part of a community I must be involved. That seems like common sense to some, but for me, it was a revelation.

Because being involved means keeping my heart open on a continual basis. It means being vested in something or someone. And if I’m not vested, it’s easy to walk away. So this week as you go about your life deciding who and what to give your spoons toward, think about what you want to be a part of and be vested in it.

Don’t under commit and don’t over commit, just commit to be involved. Ask God what and where He wants your involvement and do it.

Question: What barriers keep you from involvement?

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Pacing Yourself

PACING isn't just for marathon runners

Pacing. It means two things. Walking back and forth in one space (usually in a worrisome manner) or to control stamina so you can perform a marathon of sorts. I’m speaking of the latter. Now, my running friends can tell you all about pacing and how important it is when they run marathons. Here’s @arkansasrunnermom ‘s site if you’re interested in marathon running.

I’m not that girl.

I’ve heard time and time again if you give all you’ve got the first few miles you won’t make it to the end. Now considering the most I’ve ever run in my life is 2.5 miles I think it’s safe to say I can take their word for it.

I’m not a marathon runner, nor do I intend to be. But one thing I’ve learned from my marathon running friends is that conserving your energy and stamina is important. So I have applied some running techniques to my life in order to maintain healthy levels of energy.

Some of the ways I pace myself are listed below.


  • Start out slow. Every morning I give myself time to wake up. This means my alarm rings at 7:00am and I get my coffee. Coffee is always number one on the list. Then I climb back into bed to drink it and take my morning meds and vitamins from my apothecary night stand. Then I stretch. I stretch my arms, my back, my legs and just enjoy being snuggled in a nice warm bed. At 7:30 I get out of bed and start my day.


  • Don’t over do it. I flip through my calendar and see what the day holds. Every day is different. I may be taking my mom or my children to doctor, I may be free to work in the garden. But as I schedule my days and weeks, I only write down (in ink) three days a week worth of activities. This enables me to take on more if I have conserved enough spoons, or gives me the space and rest to do just the minimum without feeling guilty.


  • Hydrate often. I forget to eat and drink. I know, I know there’s a ton of you hating me right now, but it’s true. Food and water is just not on my radar. I get so busy doing so much (like watching Netflix) that I look up and before I know it I’m feeling bad and it’s noon. So for optimal pacing, drink more water than me. I’ve heard to drink eight 8 ounce glasses a day or half of your body weight. Who knows what the rule of thumb is anymore, but I tend to go by the latter. And any water is better than none, right? So I keep a quart size mason jar handy and refill it as needed.


Those of you who measure spoons know that when I borrow from the next day’s stash it will inevitably catch up with me. And the times I’ve started out too fast, over scheduled and didn’t hydrate, I ended up tired, stressed out and in a doctor’s office. That is not only borrowing tomorrow’s spoons, it’s using the entire month’s supply and no one is doing the dishes. Someone really should think about inventing disposable spoons. So after much trial and error I have learned it’s much easier, healthier and less stressful pacing your spoons and even keeping one in your back pocket should you need it.
Question: What ways do you conserve spoons for your marathon called life?

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Canning Blackberry Jelly



Canning. I love canning. It’s one of my all time favorite things to do. I love to cook and preserve food for my family. Using fresh ingredients and living off the land feeds my soul. One of the things I love to can is jellies and jams, but I have a hard time finding ones that don’t contain a ton of sugar. Here’s the recipe I used.

One of the ways I live a stress-free life with chronic illness is by maintaining stable blood sugar levels. So when I found a recipe on making blackberry jelly falovored with honey I couldn’t wait to try it. I still have to be careful with honey because it will trigger migraines, but eating it in small doses is better. So that was my choice of sweetener for this jelly.

I don’t have blackberry bushes on my homestead, so I bought blackberry pulp at my local farmer’s market. I also bought the raw unfiltered honey at my local farmer’s market. As the pulp already had the berries cooked down and seeds strained out, this made a great smooth jelly.

I cooked the jelly with the honey on the stove and added about 4 apples I intended to use for pectin. But I didn’t cook those down enough for the apples to thicken the jelly. Being impatient, I added a small package of Sure-Jell pectin. I use the low sugar version. Once it began to thicken coating a spoon, I ladeled the jelly into hot jars and processed in my water canner for 30 minutes.






Once finished I took them out and placed them on the counter to cool for 24 hours. I gave one to my mom, one to my aunt, one to my sister’s MIL and the rest I kept for myself. I’ve been getting calls and texts about how great this stuff is! I was afraid the honey would be too bitter, but it’s just the right sweetness to satisfy that craving on a gluten free piece of toast (if you’re following a gluten free diet)!


Nutrition Facts
Servings 70.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 37
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0 g 0 %
Saturated Fat 0 g 0 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 8 mg 0 %
Potassium 42 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 10 g 3 %
Dietary Fiber 1 g 5 %
Sugars 9 g
Protein 0 g 1 %
Vitamin A 1 %
Vitamin C 7 %
Calcium 1 %
Iron 1 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Question: What’s your favorite low sugar jelly?

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Cooking 101

Cooking Lifehack

Cooking Lifehack

Cooking. I love cooking. But if there’s one thing that will wear me out fast, it’s cooking. Here are a few things I do to make cooking easier on me.

  1. Use the Crock-pot. I choose one to two crockpot meals a week. If I’m having a busy week, I choose more than two. When using a crock-pot, I’ll throw everything in the morning of, let it cook and forget about it.
  2. Pre-thaw meat. When cooking traditionally I’ll lay the meat for the meal in the fridge the morning of so it’s thawed and ready when I need it. If I’m cooking a roast, full chicken or pork loin I’ll place the meat in the fridge the night before I plan to cook it.
  3. Limit prep Time. Cooking on some days can be laborsome, so I try to select recipes that only have a 20 minute or less prep time. This definitely makes a difference in my energy levels. I also purchase frozen carrots, frozen onions, etc to consolidate prep time. On days when I have more energy I’ll cut all leftover veggies from the fridge, blanche them and freeze them so I do not have to purchase more precut frozen veggies.
  4. Sit. Sometimes standing at the counter is too hard on me. Between standing at the sink, standing at the stove and moving back and forth betweeen the counter and the stove, my feet hurt. So I’ll sit on my stool at the counter and prep there. It gives me just the break I need to be energized for the cooking part. And often times, I’ll play a show on Netflix while I prep to keep my tired spirits up!
  5. We eat leftovers. Another way I conserve energy is to only cook ONE meal a day. That’s usually dinner. So whatever we have for dinner gets wrapped up and placed in the fridge. That’s what I have for lunch the next day. It provides a healthy lunch that meets my dietary restrictions and still allows me to put all of my energy into the dinner meal.And it eliminates waste. I hate wasting food, so I try to freeze, can or eat leftovers whenever I can.


Cooking can be overwhelming. I hope the next time you stand up to cook, you’ll remember to use some of these tips and sit down instead 🙂


Question: How do you conserve energy when cooking?

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Meal Planning 101

Meal planning Lifehack

Meal planning Lifehack

Meal planning. It can be very overwhelming. I imagine it’s overwhelming for someone who has loads of energy, let alone someone who needs to be selective in how they use the energy they have. I have tried everything from monthly meal planning to daily runs to the grocery store. After much trial and error I have finally found a system that works for me. I shop every two weeks. And I gradually meal plan up to shopping day.

My game plan is this. The Tuesday or Wednesday before my hero gets paid, I get on Pinterest. You can follow me here. I create a two week meal plan board for the month I’m in. I scour the net for low carb, low sugar recipes and pin them to my bi-weekly board. I don’t plan specifically for each day of the week because my mood changes. And as long as I have what I need to make the recipes, it doesn’t really matter what night of the week I cook that particular meal. I simply know that I need 10 meals for a two week period. We generally eat at small group or with friends and family one night of the week, so I only purchase enough for ten meals.

On Thursday before my hero gets paid, I put together a grocery list. I actually go through the cabinets, freezers and refrigerator to see what I have and what I am lacking. I only put the items on the list I need. If I have it in stock, I don’t buy more. I only purchase what I need. This does two things. 1) It keeps my budget balanced as I seldom have enough to buy bulk and 2) I only run to the store once, which conserves my energy.

Friday, Saturday or Sunday, after my hero gets paid, I go to the store. I buy what’s on the list and use a calculator to make sure I stay within budget. Breaking up the meal planning and grocery shopping process into multiple steps throughout the week enables me to know exactly what I need and being focused speeds up my shopping process to insure I don’t waste energy.

And us spoonies need all the energy we can get!


Question: What tips do you have for meal planning with the spoonie life?

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Oh for the love of Cheesecake



Cheesecake. It’s my favorite dessert. In order for me to live a stress-free life, my diet is pretty strict. After loads of trial and error, I’ve pretty much figured out that my body doesn’t like carbs or sugars. And it loves protein. But how can I live without my beloved cheesecake?

Looking for ways to still enjoy some of the good things in life, I played around with my late grandmother’s recipe. I found a way to make it lower carb, low sugar and best of all…it tastes GOOD!

So here is what you need:

2 packages of cream cheese (room temperature)

1 Egg (from my girls in the coop)

1/3 cup Truvia (sweetener)

1 graham cracker pie crust (premade-I don’t have the energy to do this from scratch!)

Combine cream cheese, egg, and truvia in mixer. Beat for 2-3 minutes on medium. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with spatula. Mix for another 2 minutes on low. Mixture will be thick and creamy. Pour into pie crust smoothing out with spatula. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Cool, refrigerate and eat! Super easy and super yummy!

The best thing about it? It won’t spike your blood sugar, satisfies that sweet tooth and gives you a little bit of protein in the process! Listed below you’ll see the nutritional info I gathered from my fitness pal. While the carbs are not as low as you would think, this recipe doesn’t raise blood sugars which is why my body can tolerate it well. And if you’re counting calories it’s only 183 calories! Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 183
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 11 g 17 %
Saturated Fat 4 g 21 %
Monounsaturated Fat 3 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 39 mg 13 %
Sodium 206 mg 9 %
Potassium 32 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 26 g 9 %
Dietary Fiber 0 g 2 %
Sugars 11 g
Protein 3 g 6 %
Vitamin A 8 %
Vitamin C 0 %
Calcium 2 %
Iron 4 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.



Question: Do you have a dessert you’ve modified because you can live without it? Please share!

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Community3Community. I’ve struggled greatly with this one little word. What is it? How does it work? Why do I need it? As an ex-military brat the concept of community is not foreign to me. Within the military community everyone strives to help one another. Life is hard and we all recognize it. Most of us are familiar with sacrifice and not getting what we want for the sake of others. We meet people easily and form long lasting relationships through the bonds of sharing lives.

But when my illness hit my community dissolved. Not because my community didn’t care, but because they didn’t know how to help. And to complicate matters, the way I live my life is so different from others because my circumstances demand it.

My family functions based on what I call our non-negotiables. These are the mandatory things in our schedules that come before anything else. Church, job, and school. That’s all I pretty much can handle and sometimes I don’t even handle that very well!

My kids don’t do sports because I can’t maintain the physical schedule of getting them there and my husband works six days a week, so I’d be the one driving them. We don’t take family vacations because the traveling alone wears me out. Forget about actually enjoying myself once we get to our destination. And meeting friends for playdates or coffee? It’s all tentative. And believe me, when you’ve cancelled enough times people just quit asking.

What I have found is that being part of a community means the same thing as it did in the military. You get out of it what you put into it.

So how do I stay involved in a community when my circumstances are not ideal? There are a couple of things I do.

1. I’ve joined what online communities I can to keep me connected to the physical ones. I’m not talking about chicken forums or online support groups of people who have like interests that I’ve never met. I’m talking of Facebook groups that have people I actually know. My church affiliated groups, my writing groups, my local farmer’s market groups. Staying active online keeps me connected so that when I do get to go to church functions, writer’s meetings and the town farmer’s market I still know what is going on in the community and can plug in and be a part of it. Even if it is just for that one day.

2. Another thing I do is call or text one friend each day. Sometimes it’s a simple text just telling them that I’m thinking of them. Other times it is more specific to what my struggles are and how I’m coping that day or focusing on their needs. What I love about doing this is that it gives me an outlet to share my life with someone in that moment and they share theirs. And again, when I see them in person it helps that I haven’t gone a month without talking to them.

3. The last thing I do is that when I am out and about, physically in the community, I force myself to be engaged. Living in a small town in the south I can’t go to Wal-mart without running into someone I know, so I try really hard to at least make small polite conversation. Sometimes those conversations turn into deep discussions and other times they just are a quick hello because we are all in a hurry. But staying engaged is key.

We all struggle with different things and if you struggle with being connected to your community I hope these tips help you the next time you are out and about, or stuck on the couch.

Question: What tips work for you in staying engaged in your community?


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ChickenMath Round 3

Chickenmath. It’ll get the best of you. It did us. We buy EIGHT chicks, set up an indoor brooder and watch chick TV (which isn’t as terrible as it sounds ;). At this point we have four rhode island red pullets (baby girls), two black sex links pullets, and two barred rock unsexed chickens. I sexed these myself by wingspan and while I’m fairly certain these are cockerels (baby boys)-I’ve got a wait a few more weeks to be absolutely certain.

Turns out one of my rhode island red pullets is a cockerel (baby boy). So now if you’re keeping up with my chickenmath, I’ve got 1 rir rooster, 2 buff orppington hens, 3 rir pullets, 1 rir cockerel, 2 black sex link pullets, and 2 barred rock cockerels.


That is STILL messing with my ratios putting me at 7:4. For those who don’t know a good ratio is 10:1. I can honestly say this chickenmath is math I’m actually GOOD at. If only we’d had chickens in middle school to learn about ratios I might have better grasped that concept!

When these reach about 5 weeks old we get a call from a local pet shop saying they have a batch of three week old chicks they can’t sell. They warn us they are a straight run (unsexed) and ask us if we want them.

More chickens? FREE chickens? You don’t have to ask us twice!

We now have the three “big” chickens in the main coop. We made a transitional brooder/coop for the “teenagers”. And now we have welcomed EIGHT more 3 week old chicks (the “babies”) into our home. We have been told they think they are Leghorns, but they have been dyed to sell for Easter, so we really won’t know until their feathers come in and they grow a bit.


I’m pretty sure we have lost our entire minds.

Now these chicks have grown. They are five weeks old. We have transitioned the seven week old flock in with the big birds in the main coop. They are doing well. The five week old flock is in the transitional brooder outside. An early guess is that we have SIX cockerels and TWO pullets in this bunch. I may be wrong and let’s pray that I am.


Only time will tell. And after my fourth (?) flock of birds my hen to rooster ratio by my best count is 9:10. Needless to say if this keeps us we will be feeding our roos some calf manna and harvesting them for the freezer in about another 5-6 weeks.

Ninja needed a time out. He was picking on the other birds. Rest assured, he is back with the flock and doing well.

Ninja needed a time out. He was picking on the other birds. Rest assured, he is back with the flock and doing well.

And then we get another call…

This time a local farmer who works with my husband says his wife has 30 eggs in an incubator and may need to give us some chicks if they prove to be too many for them.

MORE FREE chickens? Hmmm…let me do the chickenmath…3+8+8+FREE = MORE CHICKENS!!


These aren’t going to be hatching for about 3 weeks so we’ve got some time to back out. But who in their right mind would do THAT?

Question: Do you have baby chicks? Is your chicken math about like mine?

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Flock of Chickens Round 2

Continuing my chicken drama from the last post – our first flock bit the dust,so – Oft to the swap meet we go…

We bought five more birds. Turns out two of those birds were roosters. Because I’m a newbie chicken mamma and believed the sellers when they told me they were hens!! The saddle feathers, large combs and wattles should have given them away, but what did I know at the time? I swear, those sellers saw me coming from a mile away.

Unknowing we were supposed to quarantine our new birds, our flock comes down with sickness. Raspy breathing, watery nostrils and milky glazed eyes called for antibiotics. Down to the local feed store I go. We medicate, but we lost one (the sickest) to the flock. Apparently it’s not uncommon for chickens to turn on each other when their is weakness among them.

It’s true what they say. Chickens are nature’s garbage disposals, disposing of each other if necessary. Gross.

The others recovered, but not without leaving my Black Austrolorp with one swollen sinus cavity and blind.

Another small hen got swiped by a hawk (we think) leaving us with four chickens. One brown bovine/red sexlink rooster (Ruddy), one rhode island red rooster (Joe-Buzz 2.0), our black austrolorp rooster (Raven) and our gold laced wynandotte hen (Goldie).


Ruddy and Goldie





Joe-Buzz 2.0

Joe-Buzz 2.0

Now anyone who owns chickens knows a hen to rooster ratio of 1:3 is bad if not deadly. I suck at math and don’t like ratios, but even I knew this was terrible chicken math.

A local homesteader gave us two more hens (by this time I knew my hens from my roos), buff orppingtons (Featherduster and Cinder). They are three years old.


Featherduster and Cinder


So now we have six in our flock. Three girls and three boys. My ratios are getting better, but no where near what they need to be. One buff doesn’t lay any longer. The other buff and gold laced wynandotte are laying.

Two eggs a day.

All this work for only TWO eggs a day?!? Seriously? I’m a terrible chicken farmer!

Now any other person might have thrown in the towel by now, but one thing living with chronic illness has taught me is how to persevere. So onward we go…

As chance would have it, my gold laced wynandotte goes broody. What’s broody you ask? She’s ready to be a mamma. She’s sitting on six eggs. But on one of her treks down to stretch her legs something scratched her neck up. She crawled into the nesting box next to the eggs and died. We found her the next morning looking like she just fell asleep.

We have no broody hen and the eggs had gone all night, uncovered, in 30 degree temps. They are no longer viable. We don’t have an incubator, but we candled the eggs and four out of the six had chicks growing. Bummer!

It’s now February. My chicken math and my buffs’ feathers tell me we need more hens!!

As cruel as it may sound, we culled the black austrolorp since he was blind and carried the gene for his sickness. The brown bovine rooster was a terrible rooster and was mean to my hens. Now we aren’t a wasteful family and since we live off the land the most logical conclusion was to put Ruddy out of our misery. So we ate him 🙂

Now, we’re down to three chickens. Joe-Buzz 2.0 (rir rooster) along with Featherduster and Cinder (buff orppintons). At their ages it is unlikely they will lay much longer (and one already has stopped laying all together). This leaves me with ONE egg a day and NO broody hens.

Tractor Supply chick days here we come…



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What the CHICKENs?

What the CHICKEN-

Chickens. I like chickens. Okay-I love chickens. Well, if I’m entirely honest I’m obsessed with chickens. From what I understand, it starts with one and then chicken math kicks in and before you know it you’ve got chicken fever.

It happens to the best of us.

If you know me at all you know that part of living with chronic illness is feeding my soul. And as the months pass, I look back and wonder why I’ve never written about my chickens. Because they feed my soul and my belly. So for the next few posts, I’m going to write about some of the things that feed my soul. Chickens!

We are fairly new to owning chickens. We purchased some property on the outskirts of town and on it came a ready made coop. Well, it was actually used as a dog pen, hog pen, and a storage facility as being in the south you learn you can use just about anything for whatever purpose you choose.

We were proud of this building. Structurally it was sound enough for chickens. It had two doors and was wrapped in hog wire. We modified it to have one door and reinforced the hog wire with an overlay of chain-link fencing we weren’t using.


My hero built  some nesting boxes, we bought feed, water containers a bit of hay and were well on our way.

Nesting Boxes

We got our first flock from a buddy my husband works with. He has a family farm and was eager to spread the chicken fever. We got three Americaunas (Mother-Clucker, Joe-Buz, Whitey Tidy, and one Bovine Brown rooster (Ruddy).

One by one, our first flock became chicken dinner to a family of coons living in a dead tree on our property. Only one survived. The ROOSTER. But we thought he was a hen, so we nursed him back to health.


Maybe chickens weren’t for us. We hadn’t gotten any eggs. We’d been hoodwinked by those rascally coons and we felt like terrible chicken farmers. With only one bird left we regrouped.

There’s something about living off the land that feeds my soul. And chickens provide eggs, meat and were easy-peasy to care for (or so I thought), so it seemed if my hero and I were going to live off the land chickens was an easy place to start. Yeah right.

Deciding to give this homestead another shot, we needed to better fortify the coop. I read plenty of forums and did my research. We boarded up any gaps between the roof line and structure with 2 x 4s. We wrapped the bottom half of the coop with chicken wire so the coons couldn’t pull the chickens through the chain link fencing. (gasp!)

And after reading how much coons dig, we bought hardware cloth and buried it along the perimeter of the foundation of the coop. When the coons climbed into the nesting box and ate one of the chickens while the others watched and feared for their lives, we declared war!

Now that we’d built Fort Knox, war had been declared, we set traps and waited.

Coons: 3  /  Hall Heritage Homestead: 6

Bye-Bye coon family of 6. We also caught a couple of possum and one cat. We let the cat go free as our neighbors probably wouldn’t think too kindly of us if we’d shot their cat. Plus we aren’t THAT mean.

With the rodents eradicated, we won the war and were ready to try again.

Oft to the local swap meet we go…

Question: Have you considered raising chickens? What tips do you have for new homesteaders?


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