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Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 14 (food and gratitude)

September 30, 2017

Holy hot dogs made of carrots, batman! We made it to Day 14 of the Livin la Vida Vegan 14-Day Challenge. I doubt that anyone is half as excited as my husband and children, who are anxious to get the flour-coated gluten balls off their plates.

It’s an interesting day because it’s the day before race day and the last day of this crazy adventure. I’m very aware of my body today, I guess is what I’m saying. How does it feel … How will it feel in the morning … Was this smart … Will this pay off … Will I have enough gas in the tank come morning? I’m not quite sure what the ole’ girl has in ‘er.

7:30 a.m.
I gave myself a splash of the Califa this morning, against my better judgment, and went about blending up the same smoothie as yesterday. The spirulina gets less noticeable every day, but I need to find a way to get the chocolate protein powder completely out of the equation. Baby steps. I have to keep reminding myself that the work doesn’t end just because the jumpstart is over. Sunday can be vegan. Monday can be vegan. (Tomorrow is definitely not going to be vegan.)

12:30 p.m.
I picked up my race packet and grabbed lunch at an adorable diner downtown with a friend from work. There were so many vegan options, I was pleasantly surprised. I opted for this insane veggie panini (hold the havarti) and kettle chips. Big, meaty mushrooms and thin strips of zucchini and tomatoes … it was fire! The chips weren’t bad, either.

It’s interesting, you’d think it would be so hard to go out, but truly it’s just a matter of leaving off a few things here and there. And honestly, as heavy as they sauce and suffocate things with cheese these days, I find they actually taste better without all of the fixins on occasion.

5 p.m.
I ate celery and almond butter for no good reason.

6 p.m.
Every Friday night we have dinner with my folks, then come back to our house and play three hands of euchre. We have an ongoing tally: Boys: 204, Granny Panties 157. It’s always a big deal … Where are we going to go? What sounds good? It’s a tradition rooted in food and an ultra-competitive card game. Tonight we went to a local place with a huge menu. I assumed there would be something to bring us home on this thing.

There wasn’t much. Hank got a veggie wrap that looked less than awesome (and he reported tasted as such) and I got veggie tacos. They had a pound of black beans on each tortilla (blech) topped with a corn relish and sliced underripe avocadoes. It came with, what else, a side scoop of black beans. Not the coolest way to go out, but I did the job. We were fed.

I stared at my mom’s pulled pork sandwich like a little girl outside a bridal shop.

8 p.m.
A vegan everything cookie to silence my screaming internal sugar demon and some ginger kombucha. For the record, just so everyone is crystal clear on the matter, my father believes that the Standard American Diet, paired with exercise is really what people need … none of this microbiome, gut health mumbo jumbo the kids keep yapping about. Write it down, somebody. We’re all going to regret shooting apple cider vinegar and gagging down tubs of sauerkraut one day.

9:50 p.m.
I feel like a half an almond butter sandwich is a smart choice right now. I don’t think I got enough protein tonight and I’m nervous about my plant-powered 13 in the morning. I’m just going to sit here and think about it until I get up and make it.

It was the right call.

10 p.m.
So … final thoughts on this whole thing. I guess the most common thing people ask is, “Do you regret doing this?” No. I learn something every time I try one of these challenges, and I think that, even though I didn’t lose 20 pounds in 14 days, which, let’s be honest, I was secretly hoping would happen, I did change my mentality a bit. And big change often starts with “a bit”.

I’m sleeping like a dead man, my head fog is gone and I move easier when I exercise. In truth, I doubt 14 days is sufficient for something like this, though I suspect I knew that all along. It was a convenient, manageable chunk of time, but now, on the other side of it, the ending feels abrupt, premature. But I’m sitting here, fingers on the keys, focusing on all the wins.

I can remember, not that long ago, staring at my Pinterest boards for hours trying to come up with Meatless Monday ideas. I’ve known for some time that less meat, less dairy, less animal fat, is better, but I’ve really lagged on the execution. Now, I know that this house won’t crumble without a deep freezer full of the cast of Babe chillin’ in it. I know we will eat our tofu lettuce wraps and carry on.

Every day, for 14 days, more than 500 people stopped by to see what we ate, how it went over and how we were feeling about the whole thing. That just blows my mind. From your time here on these pages, whether you’d been to the blog before or not, I can only hope you garnered a laugh and an actionable takeaway. Maybe that was a product recommendation (likely from Costco, let’s be honest) or a recipe to try. Whatever it was, I pray that our experiment sparked one of your own.

If you’re a veteran vegan or a newbie or considering a change or just a supportive friend, I thank you for spending some of your day with me and, of course, I invite you to stick around for the regular DSS chatter on life, love and losing my shit on a daily basis. Your interest and advice has been one of the greatest pearls from this whole experience. Every text, every email, every instant message, every private message, every comment, every shared pin, every everything. Your kindness was an unexpected, beautiful byproduct of dipping our toes into the vegan pool. I feel humbled and encouraged.

As for us? Well, tomorrow is Vegas, not vegan. I plan to chase the half marathon with donuts and a tub of cookies, none of which I will apologize for. Then we have a fun dinner with friends on the books for the evening and I plan to wear maternity pants and just get into bed with all the foods. All of them.

But after that, we’ll see. I finished my meal plan for next week and it’s all meat- and dairy-free for me. These other yahoos will have to sort things out for themselves. Of course, I do 90 percent of the cooking, so it could get interesting.

Good night, sweet friends, old and new. It’s time for me to turn in. Tomorrow seems like a great day for a run, doesn’t it?

Wellness

The road to my 14-day vegan challenge

September 7, 2017

Oy … you guys, I could say, “Things have been crazy,” but that would need to be followed by “for the last 8 years,” right? You have a drawer full of big girl pants, too, so you get it. Let’s talk about this vegan challenge.

Oh, wait, two quick things since we haven’t chatted in a bit. No. 1, am I the only parent out there getting d-o-w-n to some Descendants 2 songs? Mel is basically Missy Elliott at this point in my life. It’s sad, but I’m leaning into it. So many ways to be wicked. And No. 2, Sloppy Joan pooped down her leg so bad the other day, it filled her rain boot. Like, to the brim. I have a picture, but I think just typing it is about all anyone can handle today.

Good, we’re all caught up.

So, sometimes I wonder if I’m some sort of masochist, ya know? When someone invited me – me! A woman who has spent hours googling phrases like, “Why do yoga arms evade me?” and “Can a person overdose on sugar?” and “painful upper leg jiggle” – to voluntarily lay down on a table and have an iDXA scan, where a machine runs down your person to reveal your actual body composition, I said, “Why yes! Yes, I would love to.”

Why would I do that? Let me just tell you this, now typing from the other side of the experience, there is no go-get-em TEDTalk, no healthy perspective podcast, or frightening food documentary, or humble blog post or Brene Brown-eque book to prepare you for seeing how much of your body is bone, how much is muscle and how much is straight up butcher shop lard.

None. Nothing. Nope.

So, first of all, they have you lay down on your back for the iDXA scan. You know what happens when you lay down on your back? Everything spreads and settles. Like a batch of thick pancake batter hittin’ the griddle, baby. Then, you can’t move for 7 minutes. Because I had to fast for the test, I hadn’t had a lick of caffeine. So, when they said, “Hold still, please,” I heard, “Now, go ahead and take a 7-minute power nap with your eyes open.” And I said, “OK then.”

After your scan is complete, they hand you four papers and send you down for a consult. This is the portion of the visit where you discuss what the colors and numbers you’re seeing around your silhouette – which resembles Baymax from Big Hero 6 – actually mean. They try to be positive, but it’s basically like being broken up with by a cute boy in high school. “You’re bone density is great, but …” “It’s not your lack of muscle mass, it’s your …”

I won’t drag this saga out, or keep you in suspense; my results showed that I am just slightly into the overweight category. This information, sobering as it was, was no Sixth Sense plot twist. It wasn’t like Rachel choosing Bryan after crying off an eyelash over Peter. Or any of the Game of Thrones murders all you dorks are always freaking out over. The news was just confirmation that the slight insecurity I’ve been silently wrestling is now a full blown enemy, and we must go to war. It’s not about vanity (OK, it’s a little about vanity), but it’s about my health and my mobility and my children.

I’m not morbidly obese, but I’m not in a good place, either, and that’s enough to get me motivated for change. I think we’re often an all-or-nothing culture. People are too thin or too fat. They’re too toned or too frail. They’re too obsessed with their body or entirely negligent. But there’s a whole bunch of people globbed together there in the middle. And that’s where I find myself at the moment.

The problem? I’ve kind of exhausted the familiar weapons in my arsenal. The Whole30s and the half marathon training and the calorie tracking. It’s not cutting the mustard, obviously. So, I’ve decided to try something drastic and new, because, you know what, you don’t know until you try, right?

Several months back, while doing an interview with a cardiologist, I asked him about his diet. He smirked shyly and looked down, as if replaying and reliving months of judgement from his peers. “Well, I’m actually vegan,” he said. “Really?” I inquired. “Yeah,” he said. “Of all the personal and professional research I’ve done, it’s the only thing that really makes sense. I cut things out in stages and now I’m almost entirely vegan. I feel great, I maintain a healthy weight and my cholesterol looks fantastic.”

That was the first time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

Then, about a month ago, I got a weird bug. I felt a ton of pressure in my head and completely nauseous with stomach pains and just generally shitty. While hugging my internal organs and sweating profusely, I decided to watch, “What the Health” the trending new food documentary. (A little secret about me: I am obsessed with food documentaries.) As I listened to the testimonials and the research (some of which I’m not entirely sold on), I started to fear that there was some truth to the reports that my sizzling love affair with bacon might not be in my best interests.

That was the second time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

And then I flipped through my planner and came across the images from my iDXA scan, tucked shamefully in the back behind a baby shower invitation. Holding them in my hands, I walked into my closet and looked up at the 8 neat stacks of pre-baby clothes taunting me just below the ceiling. I turned to the mirror and I thought about all of the excuses and do-overs and self-loathing I’d racked up over the past eight, likely more, years. And I started to get really angry.

That was last week. That was also the time I decided to try this vegan thing out. Now, before you get all Judy Judgey on me, realize that I’m not buying the Porsche. I’m just taking it out for a test drive for a few weeks.

There are claims out there that a vegan diet can:
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
Lower risk of cancer
Improve kidney function
Help lose excess weight
Reduce inflammation
Improve bone health
Reduce your carbon footprint significantly

Gosh, if even one of those works out, I’d be pretty pumped. Of course I realize these benefits would take much longer than 14 days. I also realize there’s a good chance my affinity for the Hog Trough platter at my favorite local BBQ place might just crap all over the whole thing. It’s going to be real and it’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be really tough. But, if I can come out meatless even a few days a week after this little adventure, I’d throw a tally up in the win column.

I will start my animal-free experiment on September 16, and end the trial period on September 29. I might keep going. I might make some alterations. I might just take a nap and decide not to decide anything. In the meantime, I’m pinning my panties off and checking out every vegan cookbook the local library has to offer.

Do I think it’s a magic pill? Nah, I’m a little too old to buy into that fairy tale. But do I think it’s going to hurt anything to try it and see how I feel? Nope. Because it’s about the journey. It’s about trying different things and finding the personally tailored prescription that fits. I am certain I haven’t found that yet, so I’m going back to the drug store.

I’ve had this quote from an article I read for more than a year now. I came across it again last week. It’s from Christopher Sommer, a former men’s gymnastics national team coach, who said:

“Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.

The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.

A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge.

Refuse to compromise.

And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.

Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.

Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.

If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.”

The goal is to document every day of the 14 days, including recipes, noticeable changes and my feelings along the way. I’m sharing this now, in case any of you brave souls would like to follow along and try it as well. I promise I will not feel differently about you if you choose to sit back and take bets on my potential failure from afar. You gotta do you.

Wanderlust

Biscuits back on the AT, Miles 14.3-21.1

May 3, 2017

I gradually woke up, cozy and rested on the side o–

Oh, shoot. That’s a lie. There goes my silly mind, romanticizing things again. Let me stop here and throw ‘er in reverse.

I woke up to the adolescent cackles of Just Matt and The General tooting and talking about their high school buddies in the tent above us. None of nature’s alarm clocks – the rose-gold sun, or the prattling river, or the amorous birds – would gently rouse the ledge full of tuckered out travelers from their hard-earned slumber. These two idiots would. When those clowns were up, everyone was.

The best breakfast I had on our trip was the one I had on the side of that mountain. My Trader Joe’s instant coffee with cream and sugar and – what else – freeze-dried Biscuits and Gravy, combined and expanded like a warm sponge in my depleted body and warmed me up. I wanted more than my half.

I sat the Mountain House bag of milky remnants next to the tent and went about my minimal hygienic upkeep. I pulled my toothbrush out first. My hand shook as I forced the very last of my travel-size tube of toothpaste out onto the frozen, matted bristles. I stepped back to pace the trail as I lathered up my gums. Then, something stopped me. It felt like lukewarm vomit spreading out over my foot. But it wasn’t. It was the soupy white remnants rapidly escaping the blue Mountain House bag and saturating my last pair of clean hiking socks; sparing the fabric only where the straps of my Tevas crossed. Frickin great, man. Now my pack not only smelled like 3 days worth of butt, but dehydrated sausage juice as well.

We started up the trail for what would be our final day of hiking. You know when you go for a jog and sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t? Well, on this morning, on this section of dirt, I just didn’t have it. Gravy went up ahead of me, focused on reaching the privy at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, just over a mile ahead. Just Matt kept me in sight for a bit, but eventually his Sasquatch stride naturally separated us. I felt weak and weighted. Every step required more energy than it should have. I started pounding the Rx Bars and Snickers I’d stashed in my waist pack pockets. I sucked on an energy Blok and hoped for the best.

But then, I was reminded of a phrase uttered frequently on our first venture to the Appalachian Trail, and it ignited an important conversation with myself: Hike your own hike, Courtney. Look around you. What’s your hurry? By dinner, this will all be over and you’ll wish you were starting again. My body was sending me signals to slow down and enjoy the journey and I was trying to juice it up and speed things along. And why? So I could breeze past the white blazes I’d been looking forward to seeing for months? I had to listen in the quiet, not rage against the voice. I pried my eyes up off my feet and regarded the tendrils of rich emerald leaves. The birthmarks on the trunks to my left and to my right. The sounds of the forest starting its day and getting down to the business breathing, sprouting, spreading, creating new life.

We stopped at Gooch Gap for a snack. I’d created the perfect trail mix of granola, Traders Joe’s Omega Trek Mix and Simply Almonds, Cashews and Chocolate, and I was now hammering it like a savage by the filthy handful. An elderly couple came down the path behind us and crossed the road to pick up the AT on the other side. “Hey guys, I’m going to go ahead since I’m slower today,” I said. The truth was, I was just happy to see people whose pace I could certainly match. I imagined the stories they would tell me about their time on the trail, their past. Maybe this was their 10th time doing the whole thing. Maybe they were just out for a section.

But it was a story I’d never actually hear. Because, you guys, they dusted my ass. Those two old birds traversed the AT like a pair of mountain lions and I sniffed their burnt rubber for at least a mile. The trails take all sorts of travelers, and the great ones have legs they’ve earned on the backs of boulders and jagged peaks. I had to admit, I’d just been schooled by a set of septuagenarians on making assumptions and respect for those who’ve put in the mileage.

We had a lot of company that morning in Georgia. One gentleman, from Florida, stopped The General to review his map.

“He’ll never make it,” The General said, after the kid walked on. “I can tell you within 3 minutes of talking to these people which ones are going to pull it off, and which ones are out of their league.”

As I write this, nearly 3,500 hikers are en route to Katahdin, and about 500 are heading south to Springer Mountain. Statistics tell us about one-third of these ambitious men and women (and children) will actually make it. This guy seemed to be struggling to navigate both the elements and the route, both of which have the ability to bend you over their knee and break you like a bitch.

After a few brutal climbs, we came to an overlook at Ramrock Mountain. It was sunny, beautiful. A collection of thru-hikers had gathered to eat Clif bars and chat. I saw the guy in a kilt and the woman with a dog who thought I was the other woman with a dog from the day before, a pair of girls clearly just out of college, Just Matt, and the elderly couple from earlier.

“Man, I tried to keep up with you two, but you were too quick for me!” I said, playfully, like a granddaughter would.
And just like a grandmother would, the woman smiled sheepishly, first at her husband and then at me, and said, “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. We could have waited for you if you were looking for someone to walk with.”

In my mind, they laughed and high fived each other the second I turned away. Thrilled at the fact they’d straight smoked another unsuspecting youngin. I wanted them to be my grandparents so bad.

Just Matt was antsy, and mentioned he hadn’t eaten anything since 3 p.m. the day prior. The promise of real food, namely a cheeseburger, gave him the strength he needed in this moment to push on and persist up the mountain. Before I could put my pack back on, he was gone. Tank was waiting at Woody Gap just over a mile away. He was ready for the reunion, for the road, for the beef.

Gravy had arrived and agreed to wait for The General, so I could go ahead. Truth be told, I kind of liked walking alone for a change.

As a society, we are searching. We think if we meditate, if we unplug, if we administer a digital detox, if we journal, if we cut out sugar, or gluten, or dairy, or red meat, we will unlock the hidden temple of peace. Myself included. I am, perhaps, the deepest worshiper of these beliefs. But honestly, I think the answers we want are already in us – bouncing around somewhere in the landfill of our frantic minds. If you spend enough time digging around up there, if you wait around long enough, and let all the crap filter out, the things you really want to hear will settle at the bottom. They’ll come to you.

Walking does that. Walking gives us enough time.

Somewhere between Moana lyrics and organizing our new camper, unbelievable truths appeared to accompany me on the trail. All the shit that typically gets diluted in the noise of motherhood and my career were suddenly barefaced in the solitude of the woods. I had to listen. Really listen. But they were in there.

I’ve been standing at the edge of the water – Long as I can remember – Never really knowing why … I could pack the girls’ clothes in the collapsible laundry basket and then use it for dirty clothes, and then if I get that 31 tote … I need to challenge myself more. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. Gosh, Courtney, remember when you used to set big goals? Where’d that girl go? … Every turn I take – every trail I track – every path I make – every road leads back, to the place I know – where I cannot go – Where I long to be … Ah! My ankle just turned. That hurt. OK, we’re good … What should I do next? I need to clean up my diet, that’s what I need to do … Am I a good mother? I wonder what my kids will say about me when they’re older … That girl has those cute pants like Lydia had. Ask her where she got them. Just ask her. Ask her. Ask her. Ugh! Great, now she’s gone and I’m going to have to spend an hour on Pinterest tracking these pants down.

Still wearing my down vest and pants, I was really starting to sweat in the 70-plus-degree heat. I knew I had to be nearing the end of the section, so I decided to stop at a small water source and wait for my husband and The General, so we could finish together. One by one, the thru-hikers came. First, the guy in the kilt and the gal with the dog. They slowed and eventually agreed they’d get water.

“Where are you guys stopping tonight?” the gentleman asked.
“Actually, we’re getting off just up here at Woody Gap.” I said.
“Oh, wow! So you’re really almost done then.” the gal commented.
“Yup! We like to do this for our spring break. Then it’s back to reality and kids and jobs and responsibility,” I whined.
“Yeah, I hear that. I’ve been missing my kids,” the guy said.
“You have kids?” the girl asked, surprised. Which surprised me because I assumed these two were trailmates and had likely already covered this territory. I was also admittedly surprised that a young guy like this who had walked the AT, he claimed, several times had a wife and a kid. I mean it takes the assemblage of a small army and a willing village for Gravy and I to take off and do this for 5 days. And that’s just 5 days. Again, I’d fallen into the pit of assumptions. I had more in common with kilt guy than I’d thought.

After what felt like 40 minutes, I gave up on the rest of my party showing up and decided to walk into Woody Gap alone. I tiptoed over a waterfall, jumped from boulder to boulder, came around a bend in the trail and there it was, the parking lot. I was heartsick that it was over, to be honest. All the preparation and the anticipation and the effort would quietly absorb into the stories I would tell of our time on the trail in just a few steps.

I came upon Just Matt, who’d changed into shorts and a T-shirt, sitting in Tank. The truck was running and he looked like he was ready to hit the gas at the first signal. Gravy and The General came up about 10 minutes after me. The General was quick to tell the story of his run in with the thru-hikers, at the same water source where I’d left them.

“They asked if Hank was your husband and said he’d just missed his wife. Then I said, ‘Who? Biscuits?!’ and they proceeded to tell us that your trail names were too easy, too basic.” I think he felt offended since The General had assigned those names to us about a year ago and a few hundred miles north (as a crow flies). I wasn’t offended. I smelled too bad to take offense to anything. The General went to the public restroom to bathe in baby wipes, and then we all climbed into Tank and started the vomit-inducing road out of the mountains. It was like an evil snake with no tail, you guys. It went on for years. I was green.

Eventually we came to a straight away where a Wendy’s, nestled inside a gas station, sat, waiting for my carnivorous brother. The Masters were on. Not a word was spoken. Just the sounds of bun and burger being shredded by teeth and jostled around between gums and dry lips. They were burgers 3 days in the making. This stop would be followed by dinner at a Big Boy outside of Cincinnati at 9:45 p.m. that night. Only at a greasy restaurant whose mascot is a tubby boy in checkered overalls is it acceptable to order a side of what I believe to be doctored up tartar sauce to dip your french fries in. And you bet your sweet ass I did.

As the space between my body and my typical life shrunk, I felt myself slipping back into my routine. I frantically returned to the 800 minuscule worries and tasks I’d set aside while walking. I sat, curled up in the back seat, watching light poles tick by and thinking about the ground I’d covered. I was smiling, longingly, like the way you smile when you see a new mom with a fresh little baby and you think about your own days of rocking and smelling and squeezing soft little butt cheeks.

My friends think I’m crazy. Acquaintances politely regard the hobby as “interesting”. But it’s so much more than privy pots on cold mornings and rodents. When I think about backpacking, I think about my comfort zone. I think about the reward that comes on the other side of obstacles and the way getting there changes me. Every time I do something that brings me off autopilot and forces me to reconnect with my instincts, I feel stronger, clearer, more awake in this life. When I’m counting my steps, working my way slowly up the side of a steep summit, I feel so aligned. I feel like my mind and body are communicating for the first time in months. Like I can hear the screams that are typically muffled by mundane responsibility and my own self doubt.

And again, there’s that word … perseverance.

I love the concept of perseverance. More than anything, I want my girls to know that they can, and should, always persevere over what hinders, haunts or hurts them. I – and they – have unimaginable strength sleeping just on the other side of fear. If it’s scary, that’s OK. If it hurts, all the better. Sometimes, it’s those feelings that surge in the pit of your stomach that signal it’s all going to be worth it. That’s what backpacking does for me. It frightens me just enough to stretch my limits and takes me to that uncomfortable place where change resides.

I have anxiety, right? And I think people who struggle with the constant dripping faucet of anxiety can understand when I say that a normal day, week, month, sometimes feels like walking through a rose bush. As lovely as the flowers can be, it also leaves hundreds of tiny little cuts. The journey often leaves me bleeding, aching and irritated, but the bouquet in the end keeps me coming back. Being out there, in the unadulterated air, with my thoughts and the crunch of my boots, smooths over the gashes. It heals me. It tastes like sun tea with honey and rose petals and feels like my oldest t-shirt. At least for a few days. It’s the same feeling I get when I put my ear to my daughter’s chest and listen to her heartbeat. Each thud sends purpose surging through me.

And it’s the culture of the trail, the people. To be frank, there are times it’s hard to be a human in this world in its current condition. I panic about our future and the abuse of basic rights I’ve taken for granted. But with no phone, no push notifications, no “breaking” anything, it all feels a lot simpler. The current events of the trail are related to weather conditions and record setters, not press conference blunders and cruel, unthinkable acts that my heart just can’t seem to process. I feel safe around this species. The people you pass (98 percent of them, at least) want to know how your journey is going, and help if you need it and encourage you and stand under the majesty of what God gave us with you. It’s the softer, more digestible version of humanity.

We’ve been off the AT for about a month now. The chicks ask about the mountains a lot, and tell us they can’t wait to join us on the Appalachian Trail, and every fiber of my being hopes that day comes. Nothing would make the path sweeter than having my daughters’ footprints beside my own and their fingers against the white bark of a blaze.

Until we meet the path again, I’ll go in search of smaller, closer trails, and that same revealing quiet. I want to thank everyone who asked about our small adventure and followed these posts. I hope it awakens your wanderlust and leads you to a corner of the world that heals what aches in you.

Read about Miles 6.2-14.3

Read about Miles 0-6.2

Read about Miles 28.3-30.7 + Springer Mountain

Wanderlust

Biscuits back on the AT, Miles 6.2 – 14.3

April 26, 2017

Morning came.

That’s right … By the grace of God, the sun rose sheepishly above the trees just beyond the pavilion and each of us had all of our limbs, and a pulse and a different theory about the headlights from the night before. It’s funny, in those startling moments when the lights crept in and filled the thin fabric walls of the tent, no one had uttered a word. But now, come dawn and the promise of another day, we were discovering that each of us had been awake. And each of us had entertained our own demented impending plot twist. (Granted, some more dramatic than others.)

After a few minutes of lingering in the sticky, sour-smelling warmth of our sleeping space, we emerged, one by one, out onto the cement carpet. When you’re frozen, everything feels hard, unyielding. I turned my face toward the morning sun, which was doing everything in its power to heat the pavilion where our dewy gear laid about on high picnic tables, and sipped my coffee. Maybe if I imagine a beach … if I focus on each stream of light, I can fabricate warmth, I thought.

My mind was weaker than my coffee.

History told us that movement is truly the only cure for numbness, and my lifeless extremities were screaming, demanding, I take my first steps. When we left Hickory Flats, we had just over 8 miles ahead of us. It was our third day on the trail and the first time we would walk without rain.

As our frigid, pathetic parade made its way down the path and past the white blazes, my fingers and toes slowly came back to me. I can’t say for sure, but it seems as if almost every morning on the AT begins with an incline. I see it as Mother Nature’s bitch slap to your lungs, heart and legs, and a great way to get the blood pumping. This ridiculously crisp morning was no different. As I put one heavy foot in front of the other, I felt my internal temperature rise and sweat start to gather under the lining of my wool cap. One extreme to the other. Perfect.

Not long into our walk, we came to a breath-taking babbling stream. It was the kind people write poems about. The current made the water twinkle and wink beneath my feet. I stood on a rock and looked down to chaperone the elements’ dance. As the guys went about attaching hoses and filling water bladders, I observed the incoming traffic. It was a busy morning at the stream, as thru-hikers who stayed at nearby Stover Creek Shelter came by in pairs to fill up.

A pair from South Africa stopped first. The one had just finished a temporary position as an auditor in New York and hit up his buddy, who was currently residing in Canada, to try the trail before he had to return. They’d made this plan just two weeks ago on a whim and the idea that it “looked neat”. My eyes were wide with astonishment and jealousy. Next came a cavalcade of lively, starry eyed youngsters. Most of them just two or three days into their attempt to cover the entire AT, optimism clung to their faces like shiny makeup. They were high on the newness of their endeavor … the buzz of this temporary and rugged minimalism. I got it. I was rooting for them. We indulged their chatter about breakfast and trail legs before parting.

The warmer I got, the more I relished this dry, sunny day. We came to a crossing with a wide log, and I decided to express the turn in my mood through the universal language of dance. I hopped up, Gravy and Just Matt behind me, The General already across, and started recreating one of my favorite scenes from the iconic, never-to-be-forgotten chick flick, Dirty Dancing. “Heeeeeeey, hey, baby! I wanna know-oh …”. I gingerly maneuvered back and forth with the necessary pep to really sell it. “Do you have your phone out, Matt? Are you getting this?” I asked, like a 6 year old attempting her first cartwheel. “No.” he said. Flame completely extinguished, I dismounted the log on the other side. “Dick.” I whispered to myself but also, I kind of thought, loud enough to reach The General’s ears. But the face I found when I looked up was not that of our dear old family friend, like I’d been expecting. It was a stranger. Dressed in neon yellow. A stranger who had been waiting for our group to cross and witnessed my Baby moment in all its glory.

The boys had a field day with that one.

Whatever. My performance was on point, and everybody knew it.

We stopped at The Hawk Mountain Shelter for breakfast. Hank and I whipped up some oatmeal while Just Matt raised the waterline in the privy. The General sipped on a mug of hazelnut instant coffee as we chatted about the logistics of ick spreading on the AT. See, hikers’ hygiene isn’t exactly a gold standard out there, and if one person gets sick, and they stay in a shelter, and what comes with a sickness comes out inside the three walls, chances are someone else is going to come into contact with that mess. Then they get sick and the gift goes on, and on and on. I remember talk of a nasty strain of the stomach flu going around the Tennessee and North Carolina sections when we went out last year. Nasty stuff. I stood down on the ground, out of the shelter that morning. I mean, I only had so much toilet paper and tolerance for bodily functions behind tree trunks.

It was windy, but a beautiful day to walk in the woods. The temperature seemed to rise with the mountains’ inclines, causing me to peel off layers, and drop as the wind whipped through, bringing my hood back up to intercept the chill. We stopped for lunch at a clearing along an access road called Coopers Gap. The strong breeze bullied my empty mayonnaise packets as I pulled my jacket up around my face to shield my skin.

The magical thing about being out on the AT is the diverse landscapes. You never know when you turn a corner or come to the top of a mountain what you’re going to find on the other side. After several miles of pretty-but-predictable mountainside woods, we came upon a Secret Garden-style labyrinth of lush greenery. The trunks of the trees twisted and jutted up against each other, flirting, mingling. The roots rose out of the ground, each set forming an enchanting wooden helix. The verdant leaves were a deeper hue than any of the growth we’d seen up to this point, drawing our eyes upward with their rich, emerald presence. The sunlight poked through keyhole openings of various shapes in the canopy covering this charming section.

We worked our way through the maze, admiring its intricacies, until we came upon a clearing. Below us, a stream rushed across perfectly distributed stones. It was picturesque, perfect. This was Justus Creek, where we would be camping tonight. It was a pleasant upgrade from the cement slab we merely tolerated the night before. We crossed the water and marched our way up a steep elevation to the campsites; six flattened planes on the side of the mountain. We picked our square and went about setting up. The sun was bathing us in luxurious heat now. A branch that died months, maybe years, ago cracked and fell about 4 feet from our spot on the ledge. A good sign, indeed.

I changed into my sandals, grabbed a mug full of red wine and my notebook, and ventured back down to the steps beside the stream. I sat to collect some thoughts, the comforting soundtrack of the stream in the background fueling my recollection. This, I thought, is why we do this. This is the prize.

I felt silent inside. Clear. Calm. For perhaps the first time in months.

“Where’s your dog?” an approaching thru-hiker inquired.
“Me? Oh, um … I don’t have a dog.”
“Oh, sorry! You look just like this other girl on the trail. She has a dog.”

I wish I was a thru-hiker out here with a disciplined, friendly pup, I thought to myself. But no. I am a suburban mom with a corporate job and an old bitch of a dog who whines at the wind and drags her butt on my carpet. Close, but not quite there. They moved on and I disappeared again into my stream of consciousness.

I loved to listen to the waves of wind crashing through the forest. The tops of the trees, still barren from winter, would rub together like a group of bucks locking antlers, generating the most peculiar sounds.

About 20 minutes later, a young woman and older gentleman approached the stream. She was wearing a blue raincoat and coaching her adorable little shepherd dog, Maggie, across the rocks.

“Hi there,” I greeted.
“Hi!”
“You must be the other me,” I joked. She just looked at me indulging my eye contact out of sheer kindness. “A couple that came along earlier mistaked me for you. We must look similar.”
“Oh!” she sighed, and smiled.
“You look tired. Come a long way today?”
“Kind of. We go pretty slow because my dad has bad knees. We stopped for breakfast at the Hickory Flats Cemetery, but didn’t linger.”
“We stayed there last night.”
“You did? Was there a young guy there?”
“Actually, yeah!”
“Well, he was still there. He kept packing and unpacking his gear.”
“He was doing that when we were there!”
“Yeah, I teach mentally challenged kids and that’s a huge sign that something’s going on. My instinct was to move on, and my instinct is usually pretty dead on.”

Oh. My. Lanta.

I knew it. I knew there was a Stephen King vibe coming off that lil fella. I would say 98 percent of the people you meet on the trail are a delight, but the other 2 percent are scary AF, my friends.

Biscuits No. 2 walked up the trail to the campsites, my mind like the exploding car behind the badass in an action film in her wake, still reeling at her observation. I sat for a few more minutes, until the sun touched the top of the treeline and threatened to disappear completely. I walked back up to have dinner with Gravy. And maybe two more mugs of wine. And maybe a chewable melatonin.

My entire body was a pool of content, peaceful jelly. I was on the side of a mountain with some of my favorite people on the planet, dulled by a few mild sedatives and downright jubilant. We sat, the four of us, chatting and giggling. Just Matt from his sleeping bag inside the tent. The General balancing in his squatty, collapsible chair. Gravy and I perched on a log dressed in an inch of dirt. Our faces were pink from wind and early spring rays, and the blush that comes from sipping a cheap red blend dispensed from a bladder that once lived inside a box.

The boys were having the same argument they’d been having for three days now: What do you call a group of bears. We’ll call it 45 bears, for good measure. We asked Ridgerunner Lydia, who guessed a pack. I, too, guessed a pack. Herd was thrown out there as a suggestion. Still, the debate raged on for the entirety of our time in Georgia, and via text all the way back to the Midwest. (The answer is actually a sloth, in case your curiosity is killing you.)

A tiny mouse scurried by and earned a huge reaction from our group. People always shudder when I mention the critters known to make their way into the shelters and campsites. But truth be told, they didn’t bother me much, because they weren’t much of a bother. This little guy was the first true wildlife we’d seen up close, and he was gone as fast as he’s arrived.

He was turning in and, after a walk down the trail for a potty break and tooth brushing, so were we. I nestled in next to my husband. “Do you hear the water?” he asked, a few minutes after we’d settled. I did. And that was the last thought I had before I drifted off.

Read about Springer Mountain + Miles 28.3-30.7

Read about Miles 0-6.2

Thoughts

Secrets. If you can’t tell the Internet, who can you tell?

November 10, 2017

Therapy looks different for different people. For some, it’s yoga, for others, it’s cigarettes and gossip. It might be an emergency session with a legitimate counselor or a vigorous hike or a bottle of red. For me, it’s these keys. This space. You guys are at all of my therapy sessions. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and I can almost instantly feel the weight of my burdens give way. Like a bra coming off after a 12-hour day, just the thought of being brutally honest about what ails me can be so freeing. But not today. Today, this post is scary and embarrassing, and I feel heavy just sorting through the words that might appear on this screen.

As you know if you follow DSS, I just had my 35th birthday. It was lowkey and sweet, both figuratively and literally. Those who spend any real time with me, know the key to my heart comes baked, frosted and coated in chocolate. My mom got me a necklace, gift card and seven candy bars. My birthday party (an event I share every year with my nephew) didn’t disappoint, as I blew out a candle nestled in a white cupcake topped with decadent whipped frosting, my favorite. My girlfriends from work took me to lunch and passed a superhero bag across the table. Inside, I found my favorite bath salts, a heavenly scented candle and three bars of dark chocolate.

The irony was lost on everyone but me. Because I am in on the secret. And now you will be, too.

While I’ve lightheartedly documented my suspicions here before, I am fairly certain that I have some food addiction issues. It seems so small, right? Inconsequential and petty. Dramatic maybe. It’s silly to assume that a grown woman would be incapable of practicing moderation. That she would compare a simple sweet tooth to true, uncontrollable compulsive behavior. But staring at the bag, with a superhero emblem on the front and my greatest weakness inside, I had to face the fact that none of this is funny or small anymore. Food is my heroin, my whiskey, my cocaine. It is destroying my body and wreaking havoc on my soul.

I often find myself hazy, drunk on additives and refined, racy treats peeled from brightly colored wrappers. I celebrate with chocolate. I mourn with cakes and cookies. I string the hours at my desk together with a licorice rope adorned with syrupy popcorn balls. I fight stress with frozen delicacies, named mint chip and cookie dough. I reward with cocoa-coated almonds and lean into lazy with a bowl of sweet cereal for dinner. I reach to find food in every high and scoop it up in every low.

And I guess most people would argue that it’s normal. Because in our culture, it kind of is. We eat too much, we joke about it, and then we have a salad to make up for it the next day, followed by a cookie that afternoon. It feels like balance and looks like trouble. But that’s the game. It’s a merry-go-round of too much and not enough, and we all have a generous roll of tickets.

From a 30,000-foot view, I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing it right. I work out at least 5 days a week. I pin vegan recipes and shop on Thrive Market. I obsess about curating all of the things my ultra-healthy alter ego is going to need for her ultra-healthy life. But it’s aspirational. All of it. I am planning meals for a person who doesn’t yet exist.

“You look fine!” people say, when I groan about my binges or complain about my weight. But I don’t feel fine.

I’ve been fighting the scale for months now. About two years ago, 11 months after I had Sloppy Joan, I made it back to my pre-baby weight. I was running, going to classes at the gym, tracking my calories. I was making the smart sacrifices you make to get your shit together. And I got there. But then, I got comfortable. And comfortable for me, is sugar and those simple, simple carbs. But it’s not just a little sweet here and a little apple fritter there. It’s disgusting, mindless gluttony.

A lot of people love food. I get it. Clearly I love it, too. But love, as many of us know, can be pretty twisted. It can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. It can consume you and blind you and make you sick. As so many loved ones pointed out last week, I’m flying toward 40. I don’t want to go into the next chapter of my life flailing and foggy.

I smoked for years (I know, gasp!). I can remember sitting in my garage and having these tough conversations with myself. About how I was killing myself, and paying a lot of money to do it. Every pack was “my last pack” and every Sunday night was the Sunday night before the Monday morning when it all went away. But what I didn’t realize, was that I never gave the substance enough credit. I underestimated everything about those little white bastards. I always thought I was stronger. And, in the end, I was, but it took years and years and countless attempts to find that strength. Because I loved those cigarettes. And only now can I see that love for the twisted lie it was.

But this time, I can call this by name. I can see this cycle as addiction rather than a harmless romantic indulgence. I know that, right now, I have no control in this relationship.

Let me give you an example. The marketing geniuses who came up with retail birthday coupons saw me coming a mile away. The second a voucher for a free frozen yogurt hit my inbox, I started thinking about it. What flavor, what night, what toppings. I obsessed. I mentioned it to Hank everyday, until finally we went, on a night when it wasn’t convenient – because with three kids, it never is – and after a sensible dinner that left me more than full. But that’s what I do. I lust after sugar like Heath Ledger in his knight suit, may he rest in peace. And I tell myself I could stop if I wanted to. I could just let the coupon expire. But I don’t. I can’t.

My relationship with food is one of shame rather than guilt, and it’s important to know the difference. When I eat an entire coffee cake, I instantly feel like I’ve satisfied those triggers firing off in my brain that scream, “Right now! Do this! It’s delicious! You don’t always have this in the house!” And then I immediately wash that down with a tall drink of regret and shame.

Behavioral researchers would make the distinction between shame and guilt in my situation this way: If I were a woman in control who made a bad food choice here and there, that would elicit some guilt. Guilt is temporary and not tethered to the characteristics one associates with their core being. But I’m on the other side of that. I am not a woman who feels in control of her food choices. I feel consumed by urges and addictive patterns, and overall, just riddled with shame about the whole thing. Then I try to swallow and shrug off that shame so that I don’t pass these tendencies down to my girls. Oh my gosh, life is short. It’s just food. I don’t want to feel deprived. But what I really feel, is sick.

They say shame is the worst thing for children, because they connect feelings of shame with feelings of being unlovable. But I’m an adult. I feel loved unconditionally and I feel accepted. I don’t fear being abandoned or found out or rejected based on this addiction. I just feel like shit because of it. I feel like I turned over a huge piece of my self-respect to a chemist who sat in a lab and figured out exactly how to hook me. And I want to think I’m stronger than that. But I’m not. And that concession is where the shame resides.

But you do Whole30s and 14-Day Vegan Challenges and all that stuff. I know, I do. And I stand by the fact that I find these exercises valuable in the war to gain control over my habits. But I also find it troubling that I require such strict parameters around what should be such an intuitive act in order to feel like I’m driving and not along for the ride. I feel like there should be a simpler way.

So what’s a girl to do, huh? When she’s come onto this blog more times than she can count and confessed her shortcomings. When she’s tried so many different diets. When she’s 21 Day Fixed and bootcamped and MyFitness Pal’ed her brains out. When she’s scared the sugar’s stronger. What is she to do then?

Last week, I saw the number on the scale I’d been running from for two years. I know that number does not define me, or my worth. I know that obsessing over that number does nothing for me nor does reacting to it in the way I instinctively want to react to it, particularly with three little chicks watching everything I do and listening to everything I say. I need to see it as the spark for change, rather than the fire that’s going to burn me down.

I choose to try again. I choose to make this Sunday the Sunday before the Monday when it all goes away. Because if 45 things don’t work, maybe the 46th will be the one that sticks. I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness, transcendental meditation and food addiction. While the salt/fat/sugar trifecta is certainly something to conquer, there’s also a lot of noise and stress and underlying triggers lingering just below the surface, whispering, “Food is comfort.” A little quiet might just help shut down those extra triggers enough to make some progress. So, maybe there’s something there.

It would all just be so much easier if the answers were in the back of the book. If I knew the solve. I have this friend at work and she’s always cold (you know the type). She combats the chilly office climate with a space heater. One she turns on periodically throughout the day and one that, inevitably, pops the circuit. She used to have to chase down a maintenance guy, explain her misstep and then wait for him to go flip the breaker. Until one day, it occurred to her to just follow him, write down which switch he flipped and then take care of it herself when the fuse, inevitably, popped again. Now, she heats her space without fear. “Well, I mean, I know my button,” she’ll say. Having the power to fix things for yourself is such a simple but rich reward in this life. I wish I knew my button.

I have no answers, no plan, no challenge in the works. I don’t know which button is my button. What you’ve read here was a trip to the confessional. An informal declaration. I just needed to come here for a bit of therapy. I needed these keys tonight. But our time is up for now.

Thoughts

Crying is cool … right?

October 19, 2017

I stood, a dandelion in a field of other dandelions. The red illumination of the rotating stage lights rolling over me and then away and then back to my face and arms.

He was taking requests from the stage. Pointing to signs and playing a minute or so of each song. Songs that tell stories that have held up for 30 years. Songs I have heard more times than I can count, in every decade of my life. It was just him, a cowboy hat in a wandering tunnel of white light, and 20,000 captivated onlookers singing along.

And then, he pointed to a sign a few sections over. Then another, bearing the same title. They were asking for, “The Change”. He said a few words, about how he couldn’t do the song justice with just his guitar, so he took his fingers away from the strings and closed his eyes.

“One hand
reaches out
and pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for, and
they say what good have you done
by saving just this one?
It’s like whispering a prayer
in the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
still believes
that love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
that love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
with the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me.”

There was nothing else in the air. Nothing but his rich, familiar, seasoned voice and those soul-stirring lyrics filling every corner of the vast, breezy stadium.

I pulled my fingers up over my mouth; I could feel my lips starting to tighten over my teeth, eventually curling inward, on top of each other. Clenching. And then, there in the scarlet light, in a sea of strangers with a shared admiration, I ugly cried so damn hard.

And that’s the story of the time I went to a Garth Brooks concert with my parents.

I mean, in all fairness, I’d had four beers and I really, really wanted to hear that song. Like, I needed to hear that song. I needed to hear him say those words, like he was saying them just to me, “It’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so, this world will know, that it will not change me.”

I’d watched a performance of “The Change” a few times in the days before, after the Vegas shooting. I didn’t think I’d hear it live. Ever. But there he was, soothing our unsettled souls with a song he’d offered the nation decades ago after a similar unimaginable tragedy. It was poetic.

But the crying? I mean, the crying is just out of control. To make it worse, I was with Big Rog and Marilyn, one on each side, neither of whom stood at all through the entire show, so it was like pulling the bun away from the sweaty hot dog; It’s bound to draw a little more attention. At one point, my mom, noticing I was sobbing, reached over and put her hand on my leg. Maybe a tear fell on her head down below. Or snot. There was snot for sure.

Just so we all have the timeline straight, this was after I cried during “Unanswered Prayers” and before I passed out sitting straight up, an empty McDonald’s bag filled with regrets in my lap.

But it got me thinking about my salty new companion. I notice myself tearing up more and more these days. The emotions always seem to be right at the surface, raw and in waiting. I’m not depressed. I’m not pregnant. I’m just, finding my ability to cry is very accessible these days.

Hank’s mom is a crier. But not in the moments you would think. Like, she always calls and sings this song the day before your birthday. It’s called “Tomorrow’s the birthday” and I have such a love/hate relationship with this song. It drives me crazy that it doesn’t rhyme:

Tomorrow’s the birthday,
I wonder for whom,
Maybe it’s someone right here in this room,
So … let’s look around us and see,
Who’s smiling and laughing, my goodness, it’s you!

Infuriating, right? Just make the person sing it and have it end with “me” or swap “you” for “she/he”. I mean, my name ends with “ey” for the love of sugary lattes! There are some very simple fixes here, folks. But, I’ll tell ya what, one year she didn’t call me the day before my birthday and sing me the “Tomorrow’s the birthday” song, and I was miffed. It was like finding out your best friends went to dinner without you. But anyway, I’m getting sidetracked … She always gets choked up when she sings it, which I always found … interesting. Endearing though.

Or, there’s this song the counselors sing at the midweek pow wow at the summer camp the girls go to. It’s about flowers and friendship and love, and they all put their arms around each other and sway as the warming words pour tentatively from their teenage lips. It’s slow and lovely, sure, but my mother-in-law was always crying by the end of it. It was sweet, but secretly, made Hank and me chuckle.

And then this year, as they sang of the flowers and the friendship and the love, I found myself crying. Hank’s grandma had just passed and his mom couldn’t be there and as soon as those hands went awkwardly onto the shoulders next to them, I was done. Gone. Quietly weeping as mosquitos swarmed around my head.

And it’s not just songs.

The other day, I sat down to meditate, looked up to the sky and just started crying. Like this huge emotional release through my eye holes. I had a window of quiet so I filled it with wails about, what, I don’t know.

In addition …

I cry at my Facebook memories.

I cry at This is Us all the time. (But I feel like that’s what they’re going for.)

I cry in interviews when people have gone through really terrible things.

I cry at happy, motivational videos on Facebook. (Basically any time a soldier reunities with someone.)

I cry at sad videos on Facebook.

I cry when my kids talk about being grownup.

I cry when my Spike has a bad eye doctor appointment.

I cry at the participant’s stories on Dancing with the Stars.

I cry at the participant’s dances on Dancing with the Stars.

I cry when I watch TED talks.

I cry when I have cocktails and talk to my friends.

I cry when I watch CBS Sunday Morning.

I cry when I hurt myself, even if it’s not that bad.

I cry when I burn dinner … or make a bad dinner … or nobody likes my dinner.

So, basically I am just crying all the time.

I was never one to just melt into a puddle. I mean, sensitive, sure. Empathetic, of course. But not a blubbering tsunami like I am these days. It’s embarrassing. I think all the books about leaning into my emotions and embracing the hard feelings finally got to me. I think I leaned too far and now there’s no leaning back.

One study I came across estimated that women cry an average of 64 times a year (men just 17). Another estimated women cry 6.4 times a month. Just 64? 6.4? That’s cute. Adorable. I can hit that quota at one Boyz II Men concert. Not that I’m bragging. I feel very Lauren Conrad circa-2007-2008, mascara running down the face like spider arms.

Is anyone else experiencing these overactive tear ducts? No? The cheese stands alone?

It might not be all bad. A Huffington Post article I came across said people who cry see benefits, including: 1) stress relief, 2) improved mood, 3) cleansed and protected eyes, and 4) a clearer nasal passage. So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

While I prefer to chalk it up to an increased awareness about others, as well as myself, some don’t see it that way. “Jezus!” my brother will say when I tell him about my tears. “What is wrong with you?” I dunno. Hank just gives me this smile he shoots my way whenever I do something that’s cute/pathetic. Like when I trip over nothing or sneeze and pee a drop or two. The chicks will notice my tears, eventually, and then immediately analyze the situation in their 3-, 6- or 8-year-old mind to see if they, too, should be crying. Eventually they’ll just cave. “Mama, why are you sad?” And then I have to come up with some the-toilet-takes-the-fish-to-Jesus response.

I don’t see things calming down in my ducts anytime soon. And I guess it’s partly karma for all the times I chuckled at my sweet mother-in-law and her seemingly random cheek streaks. What goes around comes around, my friends. My tender heart is taking over here. My emotional pot runneth over. You’ll read about me in the newspaper, “Woman drowns in own tears.”

Do you need a good cry? Check out my tear-jerking playlist:

Murder in the City – The Avett Brothers
I’ll Back You Up – Dave Matthews Band
Rise Up – Andra Day
The Change – Garth Brooks
Beam Me Up – Pink
Through My Prayers – The Avett Brothers
The Luckiest – Ben Folds
My Little Girl – Tim McGraw
The Dance – Garth Brooks
Landslide – The Smashing Pumpkins
Beloved Wife – Natalie Merchant
Fix You – Coldplay
Hallelujah – Rufus Wainwright

Uncategorized, Wellness

The day after vegan

October 9, 2017

Some of you have asked about the day after The Livin la Vida Vegan Challenge, and I guess, in hindsight, I did kind of leave you hanging a bit. Blogging every day for 14 days was a little intense for me. If you don’t want to read on, or suspense just isn’t you’re thing, yes, I finished the half marathon, and yes, I ate ALL the things, and yes, I got sicker than a dog. Read on if you’d like a deeper dive into any of the aforementioned statements.

The big race.
This was my third half marathon (running, sixth if you count the times I walked that mug). The beautiful thing about coming into a race like this with a few under your belt is the reassurance that you will, eventually, finish. It might not be pretty, but you’ll get there. I think that’s the most encouraging mantra to keep in your back pocket. “I will finish this. I will not die. I will finish this. I will not die.” People always say, “I couldn’t run that long,” or ask, “How do you do that?” and the truth is, you just keep shuffling along.

Jackie (my partna) and I are not record-setters. We don’t wear the fancy, fast shorts that look like bathing suit bottoms. We don’t have compression socks, or special sunglasses. We are just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance. That’s just us. That’s our m.o. We own that.

Forget your corral letter, forget your pace group, that is the categorization that matters. When you know who you are and what you’re doing there, the perspective really alleviates the pressure. We’re pretty content in the middle of the pack, because, for us, it’s just about proving our bodies are still capable of carrying us that far. We are not broken. We are not entirely swallowed up by our roles as mom or wife or nurse or writer. We are strong, amateur athletes with veracious lions (or more like angry kittens) sleeping just beneath our skin. At least for one day of the year that’s what we are.

The morning of the race was chilly. I didn’t eat any meat or dairy. I made a smoothie with spirulina, 1 scoop protein powder, coconut water, spinach and some Beet Elite. I ate a bowl of multigrain Cheerios, too, because it sounded good. That was it. And my stomach felt … off.

It was touch-and-go right up until the cannon went off marking the start of the race. Once we got moving, things in my belly really calmed down. In fact, the first 3 miles flew by. I felt great, Jac felt great. We were right on the heels of the 2:20 pace group. Considering we finished around 2:23 last year, that was pretty damn good.

“At Mile 4, let’s stop and have a chew and some water,” I said.
“Yup, that’s what I was thinking,” Jackie agreed.

This would be the biggest mistake we made all day.

Mile 4 is where the course takes a turn off of the initial long drag. In the past, it’s been a point where we picked up momentum. This year, it was the death of it. There was a gradual decline in our pace from Mile 5, on. I felt fine mentally, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, but my legs just started running out of steam. Like, in my mind they were flying, but in my shadow they looked more like a baby colt in a pool of tar.

We walked a few times, but we knew our friend Molly would be waiting at Mile 10.

“If we can just get to Molly,” Jackie would say.
“Right,” I’d agree.
“If we can just make it to Molly we’ll stop, have a chew, and then finish strong.”
“Yeah.”

And then …

“There’s Molly’s ass!” Jackie yelled.
“That’s not Molly’s ass.”
“Isn’t that her ass?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s Mol!!” I said, pointing to our dear girl, standing on a corner waving with her two kiddos.

It was like seeing a well in the desert. We’d been talking about her for so long. I think we both thought something might spark deep down inside us when we reached her embrace on that sunny September morning. But instead, we just felt full of dread.

Three miles to go.

My hips for sure hurt, though not as bad as they had on our longer training runs. Jac’s knees were getting to her. But bottom line, we just had nothing left in the tank.

“Oh shit,” Jackie said, motioning her head over her shoulder.

I turned to see the 2:30 pace group right behind us, seconds from passing. I shrugged and reminded her we just wanted to finish. We were racing ourselves. And all the other bullshit we tell ourselves to get our broken down bodies across the finish line.

And cross the finish line we did, at 2:31. “Totally plant-powered!” I exclaimed in a rush of dopey adrenaline. Jac wasn’t into it.

Passing my small tribe on the way into the arena, I was reminded, yet again, why we do this. Why we log the miles for 12 weeks beforehand. Why we abuse our aging bodies and spend so much time away from the kids. It’s for that moment you look down at your feet, knowing you can stop. That your children are watching. That you and your best friend just ran 13.1 motha truckin’ miles, together. Just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance, just ran 13.1 miles.

I ate 1.5 donuts and half a Gatorade. My stomach, again, was … off.

The very hungry caterpillar.
At noon, I had a Big John from Jimmy Johns and chips, but I was still hungry.

At 12:45, I had 2 cookies, but I was still hungry.

At 3, I had 2 giant chocolate truffles, but … I had to go to a wedding.

Dinner, and a deathblow to veganism.
The wedding was so amazing. It was touching and lovely and just entirely enchanting. I had to leave before the reception and head over to Matt’s for his Second Annual Fancy Dinner Party. I chugged water with an electrolyte tab on the way over and prayed for a solid stomach.

My brother bid on a special dinner-in-your-home package at a live auction last fall, and that night a special group of friends, myself included, would garner the rewards of that bid. The theme was Bourbon Pairings, so, on the plus side, we all knew we were in trouble right outta the gate. There wouldn’t be any surprises.

We started with bourbon sours. They were that perfect storm of delicious flavors in small glasses. When we ordered another round after the first course I think we sent ourselves down the path of mass destruction. It was a force greater than ourselves. They were too delicious. The glasses seemed so tiny, so harmless.

Basically, from there what transpired was a parade of meat butters and creamy dairy delights. Goat cheese-stuffed dates, fancy tater tots with a sauce you want to cheat on your husband with, duck tongue tacos (I know, I had the same reaction, but those tongues were tasty), pork belly that fell apart the second it touched your tastebuds, and bourbon s’mores. As meals go, this one was up there with the Wicked Spoon buffet in Vegas and last year’s Straight Outta Compton Fancy Dinner.

First Course
Herb De Provence chevre stuffed dates / wrapped with prosciutto ham / blue cheese fondue

Second Course
Patatas Bravas / Parmesan-truffle encrusted / smoked paprika aioli

Third Course
Duck tongue taco / bourbon barrel smoked salsa rojo / spiced red onion escabache / queso fresco/ achiote crema

Fourth Course
Pork belly confit / bourbon gastrique / pickled English cucumbers/balsamic pearls / charred tomato dust/orange blossom mousse

Intermezzo
Blood orange sorbet

Fifth Course
Woodford reserved braised short ribs / oaxacan mole sauce/lemon scented farro grain / coconut espuma

Sixth Course
Bourbon Marshmallow s’mores / ”campfire smoke”/ snap-crackle-pop graham crackers / dark chocolate ribbon

 

I emerged from my brother’s basement – the scene of the meat butter massacre – around 11:30, sat down, and let the doom wash over me like a 50-gallon bucket at a waterpark. I was in trouble. My stomach, my head, my body. I’d been still long enough for everything to catch up to me and now there was no running from it. My legs were too tired. My tummy was too full of all the animal things I turned away for two weeks. Plus, the bourbon. I gave Hank “the look” and we made an exit.

I slept on our new bathroom floor.

It was cold.

Linoleum.

And that, dear friends, is what happened the day after the Livin’ la Vida Vegan Challenge.

Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 10 (Bad habits and creepy cheese)

September 26, 2017

The alarm was particularly obnoxious this morning, but here we go Monday. I see you, ya little chump. We have just five days left in this Livin la Vida Vegan 14-day challenge, and I gotta say, it’s flying by. The pace isn’t necessarily a reflection of the food so much as everything revolving around it, but, all the same, we’re in the homestretch here.

I weigh in every Monday and every Friday, first thing, preferably before coffee. I do this because I like to ruin both the beginning and the end of the work week. I find it humbles the soul. This morning, the digits were up a tick. Not surprising considering I ate an entire tub of guacamole and drank a case of beer over the course of two days. And all of the vegan marshmallows, too.

Just for kicks, I went searching for posts from other beginner vegans who found themselves gaining weight post lifestyle switch. There was a common thread throughout their musings. Basically, people will tell you that you shouldn’t worry about tracking your food or looking at portions when you go plant-based because it’s all generally good for you. But then you gain 10 pounds by eating an entire bag of shelled pistachios (speaking for a friend) and you realize that’s a giant wheelbarrow full of crap.

For me, I think I went around the Internet and local groceries hoarding every food item I could find that was compliant out of a fear we’d starve, thus creating a winter stockpile of plant-based goodies. And then we ate all of it to get through the first week because we didn’t know what we were doing with ourselves and we were panicked about protein.

But now I know we’ll be OK. There will be food. There will be things we can buy at restaurants and other such places, so there’s no need to stash it all in my cheeks and, eventually, my thighs. Instead, it’s time to go back to the basics of smart portions, smart foods, just within the vegan parameters. Combine the rules that apply to the standard American diet with the vegan principles and perhaps that’s where the magic resides?

Of course, one of my major goals is to lose weight for sure, but moreso, it’s to just feel good in my body. And I feel physically good, I do. But I’m 100 percent not where I want to be appearance-wise. I guess what’s important right now is that I feel more capable of getting there, so we’ll start there.

Now that I’ve said all that, watch as I royally F up this day, dietarily speaking.

7:30 a.m.
I added ½ teaspoon of spirulina to my usual smoothie this morning. The color is intimidating, like beta fish gills, so I backed down from the recommended tablespoon. I could taste it, but it wasn’t as offensive as one would expect from something that brags about its high algae content. I’ll add in a bit more tomorrow. Sometimes bravery trickles, rather than rushes in.

10 a.m.
Snack attack came early today. Trail mix with extra pistachios. I only ate half of the serving, so, see, I have some control.

10:35 a.m.
I ate the rest of the trail mix.

Noon
Hey, hey! The gang’s all here! The usual salad – mixed greens with Salad Topper and [too much] Greek dressing from Primal Kitchen – plus some leftover guacamole, Late July Chia and Quinoa tortilla chips, and the three remaining samosas. I also enjoyed a yummy suja organic ginger kombucha drink, which I will consume half of today and the rest tomorrow.

So, remember just a few minutes ago when I was talking about not being able to eat whatever you want, just because it’s technically vegan. Well, I just looked up the samosas. The fried casing really should have tipped me off. When all was said and entered into MyFitnessPal, the dressing, tortilla chips, Salad Topper and samosas came in around 150 calories each. So, what I’m saying is, I have like 100 calories left for the day going into dinner, which is tacos. Which I love. Which means I’ll be way over on my calories for the day, even though nothing I ate was too crazy.

It’s the nuts and seeds and dried fruit. It’s the healthy fats. It’s just all adding up to the same numbers in the red as when I’m not eating vegan. Same loss of control, different ingredients.

3:15 p.m.
A handful of Boom Chicka Pop because that is my favorite and there’s always an open bag in my top drawer.

6 p.m.
Hank had to work late tonight, so I threw tacos together. To get crazy, I also put this 10 Minute Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce in the mix. I used beef imposter crumbles for the meat and it came out beautifully. I always just throw the seasonings – cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano – in with whatever crumbly meat stuff I have nearby, and fake meat was no different. I made a taco first, with the meat, guac, lettuce, salsa and a torn up piece of daiya cheddar. It was good, but didn’t need the feddar (fake cheddar, get it? We’ve been doing this a lot.) Then I just put all those fixins on a plate and mixed ‘em around for a taco salad. Sensational.

I don’t know what that nacho cheese shit was, but it wasn’t anything resembling cheese. At least no cheese I’ve ever had. It wasn’t a bad taste, it was just not a great taste. Or a taste I’d ever need to taste again. Plus, it was misleading. Like if you fixed a recipe for chocolate chip cookies but they came out tasting like cheeseburgers or something.

Hank came home later and confirmed my take on the gunk.

“I don’t know about that cheese,” he said, as I put away laundry.
“Yeah, I know. It was strange.”
“Definitely not my favorite flavor.”

[Delete pin]

Then I ate three vegan sugar cookies. They were small, but does it really matter? This is where I set myself up for failure. The treats were left over from our camping trip, a purchase so I wouldn’t feel left out of dessert. If I hadn’t picked them up, I would have felt deprived and likely gone off course. But now, having them in the house, I’m going off course during the week … three times. I get caught in this sticky sugar web of mental trap doors and temptations a lot.

Plus, I was so irritable tonight. I don’t believe this has anything to do with the diet. Everything the girls did made me feel like a mad woman. Do you ever have those nights? JoJo wasn’t listening and Spike was hitting Sloppy Joan and Sloppy Joan was stealing apples and taking them to squirrel away all over the house and I had to get the downstairs swept and mopped, and dinner made, and three baskets of laundry put away, and I just had zero energy in reserves for their drama and rotten fruit. Some nights I can find all the blankets and solve all the fights, and some nights I just have to stick the babies in a corner.

Try That With Matt, Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Days 7-9 (happy campers with cucumber sandwiches)

September 25, 2017

I’m back! The girl who went into a weekend of camping on a mission to stay vegan and came out on the other side with recipes to share.

Friday had more landmines than the whole weekend put together. Thursday morning I got an email from my boss (like, my boss’s boss), asking if I wanted to grab lunch and catch up on a few key initiatives. Yes! I absolutely do. I most definitely do. I’m looking so forward to i– Aw, crap … What the hell am I going to eat? My official response went something like:

Dear inspiring leader,
I would be thrilled to catch up. One thing I feel like I should mention, I am doing this vegan thing for 14 days and it would be amazing if we could go somewhere with super boring salads or the one vegetarian place in town with questionable options. Great, thanks for this opportunity!

But people have a way of surprising you. Not only did she keep our lunch date after my pain in the ass request, she actually looked up the menu at the restaurant ahead of time and found a vegan-friendly salad for me. Say what? Michael Scott, hand over your World’s Greatest Boss mug, am I right? And, it was so damn good, you guys. I didn’t take a picture because, you know, corporate adulting, but it was a glorious mouthparty of cashews, avocado, cranberries, kale, spinach, fried tortilla strips and an avocado lemon dressing. I only had to have them hold the creme fraiche, and I don’t know what the hell that is anyway.

We were leaving for our camping adventure Friday evening. Our tradition on these weekends is for me to pick up Jimmy John’s on the way home and then we eat it en route to our destination. Welp, that’s not going to work. I came home and gathered all my Earth Fare booty I’d gathered the night before, packed our bags and got to work putting together a meal for the road. Less convenient, sure, but it really wasn’t that much of a bother.

I put sandwiches, nectarine slices and avocado oil chips in a cake pan with a lid for the chicks to share in the backseat. Then I made Southwest Quinoa burgers, and leftover warm cabbage slaw with crispy tofu for Hank and me. The burgers were just OK. They had whole lentils in them, which gave me some texture issues. I gagged a few times. No actual vomit, so don’t worry, everyone. Not my favorite meal, but it did the job. I find that the quinoa and lentils fill me up a lot faster than the meals I used to make. But forget those damn beans, man.

I couldn’t tell you much about Friday night. We pulled in after the sun went down, set up our home away from home, and I curled up and passed out to PBS Kids.

Saturday morning I got up and went for a nice 3 mile run around the campground. By nice I mean, the scenery was sightly until the sweat ran down into my eye holes rendering me completely blind. I stopped at a spot overlooking the reservoir and stretched my legs. I tried a little mindfulness, which was refreshing.

I phoned it in for breakfast and went with cereal (with almond milk) for my first meal of the day, with this bomb ass cinnamon coffee Hank picked up. He was still asleep so I took my mug outside to watch the sun finish rising. Just lovely.

Our friends arrived around 10 that morning. They have three boys, which is such a fun social experiment. Spike forgot to put underwear under her skirt at one point and we had to talk about when privates are appropriate (hardly ever). We started pulling lunch together after they set up camp. Nutella sammies for the chicks and my best invention ever for us. Get ready, because this layered creation is a thing of pure love. OK, I took a sandwich thin, opened ‘er up and, on one side, put vegetable hummus, and on the other, plain kite hill cashew cream cheese. Next, some basil pesto on top of the cream cheese. Then sliced cucumber, broccoli sprouts and mixed greens. I’m telling you it was a flavor fireworks show behind my teeth. I rounded it out with grapes and a few avocado oil chips.

Then I started pounding Summer Shandys and all was well with the world. We spent a few hours down at the beach because it was 12 thousand degrees outside, and then went back to the campsite for a water balloon fight and more beers for the grownups. Dinner was sausage and hot dogs for the others and buffalo quinoa burgers for me and the Mr.

You know what I’m finding? Good friends do things like humor you when you say you’re going to go camping but you can only eat things from the earth. Well, things from the earth and things manufactured to appear like they came from the earth … am I right? My girl brought a tasty salad (vegan approved) and some stellar trail mix. We roasted up some tiny potatoes and boom! Dinner was a wrap.

I’m a dessert junkie, so you know my ass was going to find a workaround for some s’mores. And I sure did. Dairy free chocolate (not so good) with gluten free graham crackers and vegan marshmallows. I also had vegan molasses and sugar cookies from Earth Fare and I threw a mallow on one of those molasses puppies just for kicks. I wasn’t mad at it or anything. Pretty tasty.

Sunday morning was stress-free. Mama had some vegan-friendly pancake mix, both plain and chocolate chip because you know I like my baked goods kind of dirty, with some butter-flavored coconut cream and veggie bacon. The vacon, as Hank called it, was interesting. JoJo loved it! It was kind of like the forbidden marriage of beef jerky to a dog treat. I ate a piece, but a piece was enough. The pancakes on the other hand … Gosh dang. Murdered those things. No evidence remained.

After a gorgeous, sweaty hike through the Sahara with six kids in tow, and one conversation about where babies come from, we went back to break camp, sadly. I recreated my green goodness sandwiches from the day before and wrapped them up for the road. I threw in some grapes and leftover guacamole with flax and chia chips to really get ‘er done and off we went. (I make that sound so simple, but it actually takes forever to get all that shit put away, the crap tank emptied and on our way.)

From the second we hit the driveway after a camping trip, it’s laundry and cleaning and running around like Elizabeth Shue in the last 5 minutes of Adventures in Babysitting. I’m like spraying counters with Windex and whatever just to make it look like a bunch of animals don’t live in this place. It never works. My toes just found a crayon the dog chewed up and left for me – along with 3 turds – in the front room. To be clear after rereading this, my toes didn’t find the turds, Hank did, earlier. Gross.

I had a 7-mile training run (my last long one), so I knew I needed to pull something together for dinner early so I could be pounding pavement by 7pm. I went to the freezer and pulled out a box of somosas I got from Costco. There is no picture because I ate these perfect little purses of flavor so fast, there was just no time for pleasantries. While there was also a chicken option in the variety pack, we opted for the potato and chickpea varieties, which came with a zingy little cilantro chutney that took things to the next level. I paired them with a quinoa and kale packet, also from … you guessed it, Costco. [pitter patter goes my heart]

I chugged some beet elite, and took off about 45 minutes later. I. felt. so. good. I mean, not like I could run forever good, but I really felt pretty energetic. After a typical camping trip, with all the baked goods and hot dogs and mayonnaisey salads, I could never go run 7 miles. It would have been an unthinkable task. But it wasn’t that big of a deal.

I interrogated Henry on our drive home earlier that day. I wanted to know where he was at, a week in.

“Do you notice anything?” I asked.
“I mean, I’m a bad person to ask,” he said. “I never really notice much. Like, even with Whole30.”
“Right.”
“I mean, my back hurts. Does it hurt less than usual? Maybe.”
“OK.”
“I feel like I’m eating enough, but when it’s time to eat, I’m definitely hungry. That’s probably a protein thing.”
“Yeah, probably.”
“Yeah, I dunno …”

So, there ya have it. An exciting report from the hubs. I feel invigorated just by how manageable it’s been, truly. I know people think I’m blowing smoke, but it hasn’t been too terribly hard. The convenient foods are so tasty, but I find they’re mostly made of shit. I’m encouraged by how relatively simple it’s been to eliminate the shit. Here’s to the next five days and no more convenient shit. Wait, …

Uncategorized, Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 6 (15 tips and an oil volcano)

September 22, 2017

Nothing moves me like people coming around people to offer genuine support. When there’s nothing in it for them, no motive other than kindness. That just gets me where it counts, right in the ticker. I’ll get to the vegan food stuff, but first, something to make you feel good. On Tuesday, I wrote about how this dietary adventure had me feeling sluggish. I thought nothing of it at the time I posted it, but, beginning that night, the universe responded in such a loving, supportive way. The feedback and advice was overwhelming!

I’m sharing all of this, because there are some great tips here for anyone looking to ease up on the meat or dairy …

  • Tuesday night, I got a message from a former coworker and friend (and vegetarian) suggesting I follow Ellen Fisher on YouTube. Her how-to and recipe videos, filmed at her home in Hawaii, are beautiful, as is she. Check!
  • Next, a text from a coordinator at work listing resources I should take advantage of, many of which I didn’t know existed or felt guilty tapping into. A vegetarian dietitian I should connect with and meatlessmonday.com. Check!
  • Then I woke up to three text messages from my nurse/running partner/BFF Jackie telling me I needed to remember why I made the decision to try this in the first place, hold onto that and carry a banana with me for a quick carb boost. Check!
  • Next, an email from a great gal I worked with on a charity event last year. Her daughter is a vegan and dietitian and she’d love to connect us. Yes, please. (Her incredibly helpful email is featured below.) Check!
  • And then this message:

She’d reached out to a friend to triage my sloth-like symptoms. Our convo transcribed:

Elizabeth: you need more protein
like she was so tired all the time

Me: Yeah, I just feel sluggish
Like, yesterday I got 53g protein, which wasn’t enough
I’m definitely learning a lot

[20 minute lapse]

Elizabeth: ok, I have more
the main thing she said was protein was key and it was hard for her at first to navigate the veggie based protein

Me: Right, b/c I don’t want a ton of soy/sodium

Elizabeth: Right!
she said she ate a lot of black beans and hummus

Me: I hate beans
I love hummus

Elizabeth: and I told her you don’t like beans

Me: lol, right, right …

Elizabeth: what if you made “hummus” out of other beans?
or pureed them to thicken soup?

Me: That’s what my friend Jackie said … puree the beans
I also think I’m going to get some spirulina
It has a ton of protein

Elizabeth: I have no desire to do this myself but I am enjoying your dairy free product recommendations
I want those quinoa patties

Then, later that afternoon, this email from the dietitian daughter I mentioned earlier. Mind you, I have never met this young lady before. She took the time to share her insights which, again, could be helpful to anyone looking to make alterations:

Hi Courtney,
I saw that you are worried about proteins & don’t like beans! Luckily there are many others ways to get protein. You could try lentils which are high in protein and fiber; there are many different colors. Green is most similar to rice when cooking. Red changes texture after cooked and becomes like Indian Dhal (which is really good).
Tempeh is just fermented soybeans. These can be marinated and grilled, baked or pan fried. You can find it at Kroger next to the tofu. It can be added to salads, tacos, or stuffed peppers.

Tofu is another good protein source that you can do a lot with. My favorite is tofu scramble. Nuts, Seeds and Legumes can also be a good source of protein.

Nutritional yeast gives dishes a cheesy flavor and is high in B-12.

For the prepackaged burgers and other items marked vegan, they are highly processed so you’ll want to look at the label to make sure it’s not too high in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar.

I like to Pinterest ideas and try the out. Most dishes can be made vegan! If I have an ingredient like lentils I usually just look up “what to do with lentils” or “lentil recipes”. I also follow a lot of vegan bloggers who cook and make new recipes which helps me come up with ideas too! My go-to-meals are ethnic foods like Indian, Thai or Mexican.

If you ever have any questions feel free to reach out. I don’t mind at all! I hope that was helpful there’s a lot of information that I’ve collected over the years and this is only a little piece! Don’t worry if it’s a little tough now. When I first started I only ate salad and potatoes until I got that hang of it. Also- I love vegan friendly brands. I know the good ones pretty well. If you ever need a product review 😉

With healthy vibes,
The kindest stranger ever (I added this part)

It turns out that all I needed to do to have my faith in humanity restored in its entirety, and then some, was try going vegan for 14 days. If this is vegan, I’ve thought many times in the last couple of days, then count me in.

The good news is, everybody can relax a bit because yesterday I hit my protein goal, with a gram to spare. (I don’t think Hank fared quite as well. He was flying around the house looking at labels while I made dinner last night, doing the math. It didn’t sound good.) Actually, I was over on everything but carbs. The sugar is a result of too much dried and fresh fruit, and the sodium isn’t that bad, so I’m happy with those numbers. A few adjustments to make. Every day I learn something new about my food.

7:30 a.m.
Nothing much to report here, except I added an extra scoop of hemp seeds (5.3g protein/tablespoon) to my smoothie this morning. I ordered some spirulina, and I’ll start playing around with that in my smoothie when it arrives. I don’t know why, but I fear the algae might night have the pleasing chocolatey flavor of my current go-to protein powder, so there will be some trial and error on that front.

11 a.m.
The snackies strike. I added some shelled pistachios (6g protein/1/4 cup) to my typical trail mix and it’s like butter, baby.

Noon
You know how I like to get down on that vegan salad. I sprinkled about a tablespoon of hemp seeds on that bad boy, too. I’m just throwing that stuff around like Uncle Bart’s ashes over here! I’m so into that Primal Kitchen Greek dressing, too. Thank goodness for delicious tubs of hummus and the comfort of routine to get me through this 12 p.m. conference call.

3:45 p.m.
A treat for my tummy. This is delicious, not like the super vinegar-y kombuchas of my past attempts. I had half a bottle today, and I’ll enjoy the second half tomorrow. Again, found these gems at Costco.

When I picked the girls up today they informed me there is a pumpkin decorating contest at school. But there’s a catch … there’s always a catch. Entries are due tomorrow, before the Fall Festival. I swung into the grocery store, told the 19-year-old who couldn’t understand my problems that I needed two of her finest pumpkins, and gathered the booty, knowing it meant a night of hell ahead. JoJo is doing Captain Underpants, and Spike is undecided at this point.

4:45 p.m.
I have a work event this evening, which happens from time to time when social media is your business. I need to be back to the office by 6 p.m. and I promised I’d get dinner around if Hank picked up the chicks at the Kay’s. I chose Warm Cabbage Salad with Crispy Tofu from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen for tonight’s dining experiment. It came together beautifully, and quickly. The longest part was waiting for the water to run off the tofu, a task to which the book allotted 20 minutes.

After I prepared the slaw salad and dressing, I sliced the soybean hunk into four separate strips and transferred them over to the cornmeal-cornstarch breading mixture. The oil was already heating on the stovetop. This looks like it needs … something, I thought. In a last-minute attempt to add flavor, I poured some rice wine vinegar on the tofu pieces. Then I dropped the first one in.

Let me ask you, dear friend, have you ever dropped vinegar into a boiling-hot pan of oil? Neither had I! Step into science class with me for a sec … First, the substance burped a bit. Nothing too noteworthy. Then an aggressive pop; enough that I turned my head. Then two more impressive bubbles. Then more popping … and splattering … and crackling … and before I could hatch a plan, there was a scorching volcano erupting in my kitchen.

As no-win situations go, this one was pretty brutal. If I tried to get close, I would get stung by a splat of oil. But if I didn’t turn the burner off, the lava would just continue raining down on my tile until the pan was empty. I threw a dishtowel over my arm and came at the dragon like a tentative knight. With every lunge, I managed to turn the dial on the burner back just a tad, of course, that meant the blue flames underneath got higher before I was able to extinguish them entirely.

When the raging eruption subsided, I surveyed the damage.

Everything on the east side of the kitchen was coated in the slime of my mistake. I looked at the clock; 10 minutes until I had to pull out of the driveway. I frantically started mopping up the worst of it with old burp clothes. Then shrugged. He knew what he was getting when he married me. I assembled a bowl of the slaw, threw a handful of mango in a container and darted away from the scene of the crime.

I text Hank: “Dinner’s all ready. Be careful on the floor. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I shoved a few bites of the tofu salad into my mouth as I whirled through the roundabouts on my way to work. Well, shit … at least it tastes good, I thought. I left the bowl in my front seat while I handled my work business and then slammed some more on my way to Earth Fare after, taking the final bites around 9 p.m., after I mopped up the last of my oil spill. This was a fave, i think. It was easy to make, had just enough crunch and salt, and felt like something I’d eat even if I wasn’t trying the vegan thing on for size. Score: B

Man, some days you kick ass and some days kick yours. This one felt like the latter.

Publishing note:
We’re going to push pause on the daily posts so the crew can go camping for the weekend. I’ll be back Sunday night with an update on how we took this vegan show on the road. So far, we’re looking at a lot of cereal and quinoa burgers to get through, but I’m trying to get creative. I’ve been to Earth Fare like 500 times in 4 days. I think they think I’m addicted to things made from nuts. Anyway … catch you guys on the flip side and thanks again for the love this week.