Jello Salad & Other Indiscretions

burger.jpg

I was recently at a family reunion of sorts.  The traditional kind of summer picnic where the only thing available for us vegans is fruit salad, potato chips, and the standard burger topping sandwich:  a bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard.  Who hasn’t resorted to this meal at a family picnic before?!

This picnic honored my grandmother and her wonderful talent for creating baked goods.  There were all kinds of sweet treats:  cookies, cakes, and several flavors of good old fashioned Jello fruit salad.  Determined to consume a rare dessert in my grandmother’s honor, I chose the Jello salad with pineapple, so as not to consume the dairy-based cake frostings and egg-filled cookies.

As I finished the last bite, I remembered with horror that Jello is made from gelatin, an animal-derived product.  Here I was, queen of nutrition, and I was so distracted with visiting my family that I completely forgot this dessert was animal-based.  I exclaimed out loud, “OH NO!  I just ate gelatin!” to which my mom replied, “I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”  It’s such a mom instinct, protecting your kid’s feelings above all else.

Problem is, I kind of hurt my own feelings by eating the Jello by mistake.  I might have preferred it if mom had spoken up and stopped me.  Looks like I lost my vegan card…AGAIN.  At this point I realized that I also forgot to check the sandwich bun ingredients for milk or eggs, so there were likely more indiscretions that day.

My perceptive mother could sense my internal battle, so she reminded me that health was not about perfection.  I agree with her, but I also think the animal who gave its life for that gelatin is not feeling so healthy thanks to my choice.  We all deserve health and happiness in my opinion.

I wanted to share this story because I think it is easy to slip up when you are starting a vegan lifestyle.  It is also easy to slip up when you have been vegan for years.  It happens, especially during travel and special events, when food ingredients may be less under your control.  I argue that to give up on travel or family is to compromise your health and happiness in other ways.

So if you slip up, just renew your vegan card with the next meal.  It never expires as long as you continue to feel committed and compassionate towards yourself and towards animals.  Remember, you are an animal too, so give yourself the same love you show all other living things.

 

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Easy Golden Milk Mix

golden milk

I have a love-hate relationship with turmeric.  I love it for its anti-inflammatory effects, as most athletes would agree.  I hate it because every time I add turmeric to a recipe, I think how much better that recipe would have tasted, had I only left out the turmeric.  Let’s just say it is an acquired taste.

Perhaps it’s the powdered version I dislike.  So, I hopped onto my online produce delivery service, and ordered the real thing:  a horrific, wormy-looking root that stained my fingertips almost as much as my other nemesis, beet root.  Each day, I reached past the ugly turmeric root in favor of my fresh ginger & lemon, until the sad, neglected plant shriveled up and died in the back of my fridge.

Then I found golden milk.  Ok, not quite as great as hot cocoa, but this I could probably tolerate.  I tried a few homemade recipes, but something about them made me gag slightly.  I am chai tea averse, so apparently, the more spices you mix together, the more my taste buds revolt.  Some golden milk recipes taste overly pungent and complex.

I recently came across a jar of powdered golden milk mix in my online grocery market.  Ok, it has only a few ingredients, so let’s splurge and order it, to see if I might enjoy the flavor.  Or more accurately, so I can copy the recipe, make my own and reuse the jar, thus only paying the $14 premium price once.  Done.  Click.  Purchased.

Golden milk mix arrives at my doorstep with only 6 little ingredients:  Turmeric Root, Date Palm Fruit (what the heck is that), Cardamom Seed (nope, not in my pantry), Ashwagandha Root (that just sounds expensive), Vanilla Bean (confirmed…definitely expensive), and Black Pepper.

Now, everybody knows you’re not allowed to consume turmeric without a pinch of black pepper, or the anti-inflammatory police will show up at your doorstep and fine you for your lack of research on curcumin absorption.  Don’t even think about leaving out the black pepper here.  No one is concerned with your personal taste preferences when it comes to the proper turmeric-absorbing lifestyle.

Just kidding.  Remember, you get to do health your own way…no one is policing you.  So anyway, my jar of expensive golden milk mix was on its last remnants, and so it was time to make my own.  My new streamlined golden milk mix consisted of the following:

1 jar of powdered turmeric (I used Simply Organic brand, 2.38 oz.)

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla bean powder (unsweetened)

1 tsp. ground black pepper

I combined this into a mix and used 1 tsp. of mix per 10 oz. mug of warmed non-dairy milk.  I sweetened to taste with stevia, but any sweetener of your choice would work.  I have to say, it tasted remarkably similar to the original version, and so far, I have had no adverse side effects due to Ashwagandha deficiency.

Vanilla bean powder is simply ground up whole vanilla beans, and can usually be found in the spice aisle.  You can make your own using dry vanilla beans and a coffee grinder if you are feeling ambitious.

I buy vanilla powder when I can find it, as I also like to add it to my smoothies.  My precious supply of vanilla bean powder is currently depleted, so my next batch of golden milk mix might have to be made sans vanilla.  I suspect the world will keep on turning if so.

As long as I am still able to choke down my daily (or weekly, depending on my mood) teaspoon of turmeric, then mission accomplished.  If not, there’s always hot cocoa.

Vegan Closet

plant shirt

My new favorite shirt.

I’m 43 years old, and I have been mostly vegetarian since age 18.  At age 36, I finally decided to go vegan.  It’s not that I pondered going vegan for 18 years before committing, it’s just that it wasn’t really on my radar.  In 2010, seeking answers to health problems, I read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman.  After reading those two books, I finally understood the advantage, and the choice to be vegan became a no-brainer.

I naively thought that once other people heard the same message, they would have the same epiphany.  That my friends & family would start asking me lots of questions, like how I was suddenly able to run back to back endurance races without injury or fatigue, or why my skin looked so clear, or how I looked so fit.  Instead, they looked at me with concern.

I suspect that many of my friends quietly thought my eating was extreme or disordered, or that I was restricting my food choices because of low self esteem.  Quite the opposite, I felt so positive, that I started valuing myself, and didn’t consider the standard American diet worthy of my body anymore.  I was addicted to feeling good, and hopeful to spread the message to others whose lives I touched.

But what evolved was more like isolation, like being stranded on a vegan island.  (Not that I would complain…I think a fruit farm in Hawaii sounds amazing).  I invited a friend to join me at the Woodstock Fruit Festival, an idea which she quickly rejected as the worst idea of a vacation ever.  I cooked vegan meals at home, about which my family openly complained.  At age 43, countless races & blog posts later, I can honestly say that still none of my close friends are vegan (that I know of).

And neither is my local neighborhood.  A quick search of the Happy Cow app reveals that the closest vegan restaurants are not in my zip code.  In order to buy groceries, I still have to spend my money at markets carrying meat and animal products.  Even my produce delivery service has expanded to offer meat & dairy.

It can feel lonely being vegan, but I encourage you to keep seeking out community.  For me, that started online, and eventually led to a visit to the Stanford Inn, a vegan eco-resort in Northern California.  I cannot express how positive it felt to hang out with some vegan people for literally the first time in my life, and to not be in the minority.  I physically felt that long-held tension melt away, like my insides were finally untwisting and relaxing.

Since that visit, my soul has changed.  There is no more wavering in my commitment, no more hiding my dietary preferences from friends, no more bending at social functions, so as to not make waves.  I am unabashedly vegan now.  I’ve come out of the vegan closet.  I’m wearing green more often, in case someone should happen to ask.  No, I’m not an angry vegan, I’m still full of vegan love, and I’m ready to be friends with you.

 

 

Opportunistic Sitting

chair

My favorite chair, mostly because it’s outside.

I think I sit too much.  This is the epiphany I arrived at after a few months of wearing a Garmin Vivoactive, the running watch that happens to count steps and remind you to feel guilty whenever you don’t move.

What I noticed over time from the data was that after a run of 6 miles or more, I tended to sit around for most of the day.  On days I didn’t run, I walked more.  Aside from once-weekly long run days, most days my total number of steps was about the same whether I ran or not.  Not cool.

There must be too many places to sit in my house.  After all, if I wanted to eat better, I would remove unhealthy temptations from my pantry.  So it follows that if I want to move more, then my house should not be filled with places to sit.  Thus the inventory of seating options began.

Awareness is not always an easy thing to possess.  After a household scan, I counted 33 chairs, benches, and stools.  Add in the outdoor spaces and that number soared to 44.  This is not including couches.  I have 7 of those.  Note:  we are a family of 4.  I must curl up into a fetal position now, having so far yet to go on the minimalism practice.

Ok, I’m back.  Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to focus on a single positive action.  I would move my laptop to a taller table, remove the chair, and enjoy my new standing desk.  Result of experiment:  I went two full weeks without writing a blog post and my email inbox swelled into total anarchy.  I mean, why stand at the computer, when my iPad is next to this comfy sofa?  And besides, I need to stay current on my YouTube subscriptions.  Why does my human brain default to lazy?

A few nights ago during dinner, our family got on the topic of designing our ideal room.  Turns out, my ideal room has glass walls (to enjoy the stellar view), a lap pool, bike trainer, treadmill, yoga mat, smoothie & green tea bar, and an adjacent sunny courtyard filled with an organic produce garden and waterfall.

Heck, if the location of said room was temperate enough, I may not even need the indoor sports equipment, or the garden courtyard.  So maybe what I’m realistically envisioning is a tent on a tropical island.  Either way, no chairs are necessary, because of course, I would be sipping my green tea under the waterfall, or happily sitting on a rock.

Who even decided that a house should be filled with chairs, and why did everyone else follow along?  At some point in my life, my focus obviously turned to chair accumulation, and I’m not sure I even noticed at the time.  Now I must focus on shaping my environment to reduce opportunistic sitting, since clearly my brain and body default to mush when I am presented with leisure options.

I wonder what I should do with the extra 40 chairs?

Yoga Retreat

yoga retreat

This one is called ‘Panic Pose’

After my recent beach trip, I set off on my much anticipated yoga retreat to the George Washington National Forest.  Yoga is something I suck at, but enjoy.  What I love about yoga is that you are allowed to suck, and this act of sucking is kindly referred to as an ‘individual practice’.  If sucking is too much trouble, you are always free to revert to ‘child’s pose’.

Last week, I was chatting with a friend who is new to yoga, and she described how her first yoga class was such a disappointment.  It was a little too confusing, hard core, and Sanskrit-spewing for her taste, so she promptly decided yoga wasn’t for her and never went back.  I get that.

I imagine she is not the only woman who has felt this way, exhausted and disheveled from a sweat-filled power yoga session, lower back twinging, while the lululemon-clad twenty-somethings remain glistening and beautiful on their way to grab a green juice.  Don’t even get me started on the intimidation guys feel.  My husband insists that he would be denied entry since his bald head is incapable of producing a man bun.

I recently discussed this with a thoughtful young instructor who had the body of a goddess, and even she admitted that some classes have evolved (due to demand) to be more like high intensity workout sessions masquerading as yoga.  Glad I’m not the only one thinking this.  I am also thinking, “Why did I not have her body when I was that age?” but I digress.

As I told my friend, if you’ve been to one yoga class, you’ve been to one yoga class.  Yoga classes and yoga studios are as unique as the many yoga instructors who teach them.  You have to try a few on, date around, until you find a good match.

Once you find an instructor or a style of class that resonates with you, you will experience the yoga buzz firsthand.  If you walk away feeling disappointment, then move on, but do keep looking.  Nothing beats the serenity of a good yoga buzz, surrounded by your happy yoga forcefield, inpenetrable by the grumpy people or aggressive drivers you will invariably encounter on the way home.

It took some time for me to find a good instructor, and of course, my favorite instructor will be different from yours.  My current instructor is close to my age, spiritually curious, sporting a cool tattoo, singing bowls, and is newly vegetarian (I think I’m rubbing off on her).  She’s also a smoothie entrepreneur, tree hugger, and she will hike your ass into the ground, because she’s cool like that.  I’ve seen butterflies land on her.  Enough said.

Accordingly, her yoga retreat was amazing.  Totally unplugged, rustic mountain cabins with bunk beds, drum circle, bonfires, babbling streams, ridiculously good vegan food (at my request), and a hike she described as featuring a small ‘rock scramble’, which turned out to be a death-defying mountaintop climb over boulders the size of small cars upon the summit of which she did a balance pose while I sat trying to stop shaking with fear.

That very same hike is the reason I love my yoga instructor and her adventurous spirit.  I am so grateful to have returned to my yoga practice this year.  Like every other form of movement I pursue, I try to embrace being in over my head.  Yoga is one of the few practices that will literally turn you upside down if you allow it to.  Namaste.

Success Cymbal

Cymbal

Cymbals:  the ultimate arm workout

Recently, I headed to the beach to recharge and reconnect with the sun and sand.  The beach is my happy place, and I am so privileged and grateful to have access to a little cottage by the sea.  I’ve had a dream to live at the beach since I was a young child, and this year I was planning to spend the summer there for the first time in my life.

Simultaneously, my daughter has been chasing a dream of her own, to march cymbals in Drum Corps International.  This was an intimidating goal, given that she was young, lacking an extensive percussion background, female in a guy-dominated world, and chasing a highly competitive instrument due to the shrinking number of corps that include cymbals.

I watched her plan over several years, gathering knowledge, attending competitions, and observing others.  This past November, she gathered her courage, signed up for auditions, admitted her goal to her friends, contacted mentors for advice, then headed to auditions.

The audition process involved traveling 6 hrs. by car, sleeping on a gym floor, practicing past midnight, and competing against college kids with years more experience.  She came back from audition camp bruised, sore, and exhausted, but also exhilarated.  I never realized what a workout cymbals could be!

Several months and several camps (and long car rides) later, she got word that there would be no contract for her this year.  She was obviously sad, but understanding that big goals take work and time, and she was on the right path.  Several months went by until she heard of another opening.  This was when the magic happened.

She expressed to me how much she wanted to try out again, but also how scared she was.  Trying out involved risk.  Risk that she would fail a second time, risk that she would feel embarrassed in front of her friends if she did not get a contract.  I advised her that failure could certainly happen, and that was the struggle she was going to have to accept if she wanted to reach that big goal one day.

As a parent, we want to give good advice to our children.  We want to protect them, but not shelter them from struggle in life.  I suggested that she acknowledge her fear, but instead focus on listening to her heart.  My advice was, ‘Close your eyes, and imagine you make the corps.  Does your heart feel joy, and if so, that is your answer.’  Let’s just say the decision was made pretty quickly thereafter, so we packed up the car again, and headed to the next audition camp.

This story ends with my daughter getting a contract, applying at the midnight hour for a cymbal scholarship (another big goal of hers), and finding out this week that she is one of the scholarship recipients.  As you can tell, I am a very proud mama!

So my most recent trip to the beach was spent packing up my things, cancelling my summer stay, and reflecting on how I will now spend my summer driving up I-95 to New Jersey, New York, and across the Mid-Atlantic to drum corps competitions.

Sometimes the Success Cymbal isn’t sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand.  It is working hard, taking risks, and chasing your dream.  Passion is contagious, and I could not be happier to be embarking on a new family adventure.  The beach will still be there for me when the drumline season ends.

A Dog’s Life

Zoe

Zoe, the Lawn Connoisseur

My dog Zoe is a rescue dog.  People often ask what type of dog she is, to which I usually reply, “Generic Brown.”  Although she is a mixed breed, I never had her tested, lovingly joking to her that she could remain undefined and would continue to love her as-is.  She may be lacking pedigree, but in her mind, she deserves only the best.

The ongoing joke in my family is Zoe’s habit of relieving herself only on premium grass.  Her delicate hiney is too good for common weeds.  No, the minute I turn my head, she sneaks off and uses the most pristine patch of perfectly manicured front lawn she can find.  All attempts by me to steer her toward common ground and dog areas have failed.  She’s got a radar for the good stuff, a taste for the finer things in life.

Just last month, we put a brand new patch of sod in our backyard.  I came outside to find the delicate new grass had promptly been christened by her highness.  At our favorite vacation spot, she consistently goes on the resort Bermuda grass, right next to the sign reading ‘Please Keep Off The Grass’.  She knows quality when she sees it.

Zoe’s kind of got a point here.  If this daily ritual is her main gift to the world (after love and affection), why not make it special?  She doesn’t do the whole deprivation thing, only using the nice grass at Christmas time or to impress when other dogs come over to visit.  Every day is reason enough for her to indulge.

Dogs really do lead the good life.  Toileting habits aside, maybe we should do the same.  Maybe we should burn the nice candle, and use the fancy dishes, for no other reason than joy.  If you are going to partake in something, why not have only the best and then use it often?  Less is more, but less can also mean better.  You deserve it, as does Zoe.