2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker

Frozen 2 Isn’t Just For Kids

Simply put, I think Frozen 2 was written for adults trying to find our way.

I’m not writing this post to debate whether or not the Frozen franchise is feminist, or to analyze how well (or not well) Disney represents indigenous cultures and tackles the humongous feat of teaching young minds about colonialism. Those are fantastic topics for a blog, and I’m sure there are hundreds of posts out there deconstructing every Disney film with a fine-tooth comb. So I’m taking a far different approach – spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, much of this may not make sense.

Oprah introduced me to the idea that in our lives we will be guided by what she calls “whispers.” Subtle and sometimes tiny signs from inside of ourselves (or possibly from a larger force, like the universe, “god,” or whatever you believe in) guiding us to our purpose, if we take the time to listen. Often we ignore these signs because the thought of disrupting our predictable lives to pursue anything different is scary, and journeying into unknown territory isn’t something that many of us do willingly. After a period of ignoring the whispers, the universe makes the signs bigger, and louder, and if we continue to refuse action the whisper will turn into a life-altering scream. Forcing us out of our perceived comfort zone, and right into the unknown.

“What do you want, because you’ve been keeping me awake? Are you here to distract me, so I make a big mistake? Or are you someone out there, who’s a little bit like me, who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?”

I think everyone can relate to this scenario in one way or another. You struggle with your job and consider quitting to do something more meaningful. Years go by, and every sign is pointing you to move on, but you’re afraid to leave. Then you get fired.

You’ve been in a relationship that you know is bad for you. You’re not growing and flourishing but never leave because of the consequences that action could bring on. And who wants to be single again? Then you get dumped.

You get the point. You knew all along that those things weren’t right for you, but since you didn’t take the “whispers” advice to take action, you were shoved back onto your path in a different and more disruptive way. And most of the time, it works out for the better. Because the truth is: Everything is the unknown, so you should take the risk. The mythical and symbolic river who is “full of memory” is inside of you all along.

“In her waters, deep and true, lie the answers, and a path for you… Yes she will sing to those who hear, and in her song all magic flows. But can you brave what you most fear? Can you face, what the river knows?

The idea of a comfort zone is a false construction of our minds, because anything can happen at any time and we have little control over the outcome. Sure, staying at that job that makes you chronically unhappy may be “predictable” and “safe,” but is it really? No, because you could lose it anyway. Our brain does have certain evolutionary mechanisms in place to keep us safe, but typically our everyday risks don’t include whether or not conditions are ideal for leaving the village to slay a wooly mammoth. They include things like starting a blog or going to the gym. Going on a date with someone new, or starting that Etsy shop. The only things that never change are the inevitability of time passing, our inability to control it, and the very unpredictable nature of life: Everything can and will change. So we may as well live our lives and treasure the moment.

“Some things never change, turn around and the time has flown. Some things stay the same, though the future remains unknown. May our good luck last, may our past be past. Time’s moving fast it’s true. Some things never change, and I’m holding on tight to you.”

Then we have a piece of this equation that I think is often omitted from the “life’s purpose” discussions: The idea that since we’re adults we know everything. I believe that a huge piece of the happiness puzzle is related to realizing that we know very little, almost nothing. As an adult we have constructed a complex memory of truths: How things are and should be, what is safe and what isn’t, how our lives should be lived, and what is ridiculous and unbelievable. Our sense of wonder and unknowing evaporates over time, and I think for a lot of us disappears altogether. Again, these shortcuts have been constructed in our human brains to make living easier. If we looked at everything with new and wondering eyes each time, we’d be a lot like Dory wandering through the ocean and we wouldn’t get much done. But there is definitely an argument out there for why that might make us happier, even if evolutionarily we may not last long. We essentially train ourselves to see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. This can be depressing if we focus on what a small and myopic version of our world this lets us in on, or it can be exciting if we realize that there is so much more to discover if we allow ourselves to open our eyes in different ways to see something new.

Ultimately, the realization that we know almost nothing and understand very little can lead to a sense of peace with the unknown (which is everything). And I think it can help us to see more of our life and world through the wondrous eyes of a child (or a magical snowman) if we realize that nothing makes sense once we’re older, we will not feel more secure, and we’re okay with that.

“Growing up means adapting, puzzling at your world and your place.”

We’re never done growing up, so the universe is full of possibilities and magical things we can’t even begin to comprehend. We may as well keep learning and growing. The real unknown, in my opinion, is positive. It’s the journey you go on with yourself as you discover who you can be. Self discovery can be difficult, and simultaneously rewarding. Shedding your old skin to inhabit a new one should constantly be happening on our journey to becoming more of ourselves and discovering our purpose. Stepping into your power, or “showing yourself” will be disruptive, life-altering, and you may even feel like you’ve lost everything to get there. But it is possible to struggle and to be more empowered than ever in the same moment. “Do the next right thing” applies to everyone, and I think is particularly useful advise for adults who find ourselves constantly lost. A live-in-the-moment step by step approach can help us through difficult times, but can also help us to appreciate the great ones, once we’re ready to learn.

“Show yourself. Step into your power. Grow yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for, all of your life. Show yourself.”

What A Refined Sugar Free Vegan Eats on Thanksgiving

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

With Christmas quickly approaching, I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to the amazing refined-sugar-free and vegan foods I prepared, served and ate this Thanksgiving.

My intention is to shed light on how easy cooking without refined sugars, meat, dairy and eggs can truly be. Whether your intention is to host a more inclusive and cruelty-free holiday meal in the future, or simply to contribute a vegan dish to an otherwise non-vegan-friendly family gathering, I’m here to help.

To me, being truly thankful for this human experience means honoring all beings on this planet as equally as possible. Eating plants is compassionate, nourishing, and kind – to ourselves, our earth, and the animals we are blessed enough to live amongst. Let’s cook more peacefully.

-Liz

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Thanksgiving Eve Dinner: Vegan “Hamburger Helper”

We have a tradition that when possible my sister will stay the night before major holidays, so I wanted to cook us a yummy vegan dinner. I decided to use this delicious mushroom stroganoff recipe by Ela Vegan. I made the recipe as directed, but doubled the seasoning, liquids and cornstarch, added a bag of slightly thawed (but not cooked) Boca Crumbles, and about 8oz of cooked Fusilli pasta noodles. And there you have it- my version of Hamburger Helper- delicious and vegan.

https://elavegan.com/vegan-mushroom-stroganoff-gluten-free-recipe/

Thanksgiving Brunch: French Toast & Sausage

This recipe seems like it should be simple, but until recently there just simply was not an egg replacement product that I deemed worthy of using for a real, delicious french toast. Then Just Egg happened.

https://www.ju.st/en-us/products/consumer/egg/egg

I haven’t used this product for scrambling or savory cooking yet, but it’s now a staple for my french toast making, and the fact that it’s cholesterol-free and packed with protein is just a plus. I purchase mine at my local COOP, but Safeway and other major chains are now carrying it.

Recipe:

1 loaf Sweet French Bread cut into 1″ slices

(I use Brio bread from a local bakery because it’s vegan. Check the ingredients on any bread you buy, but most home-made or bakery-fresh bread will be vegan.)

Mix:

1 container Just Egg

1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

2 Tbsp Plant Milk of Choice

Cinnamon to taste (I add a lot.)

Whisk together, soak bread on both sides, then cook in a non-stick pan.

This makes plenty of toast for 3 or 4 people. Serve with pure maple syrup, and Earth Balance butter. As a side I cooked a package of Beyond Meat sausages.

Snacks & Desserts:

-Spinach Dip & Bread: We cut up little squares of Brio Sourdough bread (also vegan) and make the Spinach Dip recipe on the back of this Knorr packet. It’s so yummy, and the mix only has a tiny bit of added sugar. I prefer to use Follow Your Heart brand vegan mayonnaise and Tofutti brand sour cream as substitutes.

-Blueberry Muffins: These muffins are super simple, healthy, and delicious! I got the recipe from the Two Raspberries blog, but use 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup mixed into the wet ingredients instead of cane sugar. They bake the same.

https://tworaspberries.com/amazing-blueberry-muffins/

-“Twix Bars:” These bars of peanut butter chocolate goodness do not taste at all like Twix to me, but are very similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, in a bar form. I got the recipe from the Ambitious Kitchen blog. Since I use dark chocolate chips with no sweetener (Pascha brand), I added a touch of maple syrup to the top layer mixture as well. They keep best in the refrigerator in a Pyrex container with parchment paper separating them.

https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/healthy-peanut-butter-twix-bars/

-Chocolate Chip Cookes: I got my friend Kelly’s permission to post her amazing chocolate chip cookies. They’re THE ONLY refined sugar free cookie recipe that I’m obsessed with. They’re also vegan and gluten free! I use the Pascha chocolate chips in this recipe as well.

Dinner: Tofurky, Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli Cheese Casserole

-Tofurky: We bought the Tofurky that comes in a set with gravy and a mini chocolate cheesecake. You can purchase this almost anywhere now, but I do notice that the health food stores tend to sell out closer to the holidays.

The Tofurky is extremely easy to make- you essentially thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then bake it for an hour and 45 minutes, and baste it twice with veggie broth. For those of you that are curious, it does not taste like tofu, and it has more of a substitute meat-type texture. Think Garde-in chicken tenders. The gravy is not phenomenal, but is good. And the cheesecake has sugar so I did not eat it, but I remember it being pretty delicious in previous years.

-Mashed Potatoes: Use whatever recipe you have and prefer but substitute Earth Balance butter and Tofutti sour cream for your dairy additions!

-Broccoli Cheese Casserole: I got this recipe from the Connoisseurus Veg blog and make it exactly as directed, but I bake mine in the oven to melt some Follow Your Heart vegan Parmesan on top at the end.

https://www.connoisseurusveg.com/vegan-broccoli-cheese-casserole/

Fitness Update & Natural PMS Remedies

I haven’t posted a fitness update since I ran my half marathon in May. Since then my routine has completely changed because my fitness goals shifted from building endurance to building muscle. My body is very slow to build muscle in general, and when I’m doing any type of cardio in my weekly routine it becomes even harder. Since weight loss is the opposite of my goal, my current training and food plan reflects that. I’m so excited to share the progress I’ve made, and as a bonus, a couple of dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made to maintain energy levels during those lethargic and headache-y days during the Luteal Phase* of my cycle.

*The Luteal Phase is one stage of the menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. Often times this is when “PMS” symptoms arise.

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My Current Workout Routine:

As many of you know from my previous fitness updates, I’ve been working with my good friend and personal trainer, Katie Berrey for nearly three years now. She owns Rebel Fitness & Nutrition in Eureka, California and is certified in plant based nutrition. If you’re interested in learning more about her business, check out her interview on my Women in Business Series.

https://thereallifeveganwife.com/2019/03/16/women-in-business-preview-katie-berrey-rebel-fitness-nutrition/

As a courtesy to her time and expertise I will never publicly post exact workouts or the exact plan that she puts together for me. I encourage all of you with serious fitness goals to try working with a personal trainer at least a few times to see how amazing your results can be when you trust a professional to help you.

For the last six months I’ve been doing an amended version of what Rebel Fitness calls the “Transformation Program.” Essentially the program includes customized daily workouts, training sessions when applicable, progress photos, measurements, muscle quality assessments, etc. Because Katie had a new baby (Asher, he’s adorbs) in September, the parts of the program that I can’t do myself have been put on hold until future notice. Currently I have an at-home program that Katie puts together that looks a little like this:

Monday: Arms

Tuesday: Heavy Hip Thrusts

Wednesday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit.

Thursday: Heavy Deadlifts

Friday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit – different than the first one.

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Rest or light exercise like yoga, Pilates, or a walk.

I absolutely love this routine because I’m working out five days a week instead of six. But here’s the deal – Last week I ran six miles on one of my rest days. So for me, the idea of resting is nice, but doesn’t always happen. It just depends on my mood, and more than anything I appreciate the flexibility in my schedule.

With this routine I’ve been able to “PR” (beat my personal record) in hip thrusts, deadlifts, and backsquats (when they were in my schedule). Going from running and lifting light weight, to occasionally doing cardio when the mood strikes, but mostly lifting heavy has been a great change for my mind and body. And I’ve definitely gotten substantially stronger, lifting more than pre-surgery for the first time. BUT I haven’t been going to Pilates or yoga for the last few months. During bridal season it can be extremely difficult to get workouts in if I have to leave my house to do them, or if they’re at any time other than 5am. Therefore, that part of my plan has been put on hold until this week. Now that my busiest season is over and we’re back from vacation, I can get into the routine of at least two classes per week to strengthen my core and improve flexibility, which in turn, improve my lifts and form.

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Food:

Other than my experiments with raw plant based eating, I’ve kept my nutrition fairly simple. I meal prep for work days and eat intuitively. Usually my daily food plan includes a smoothie for breakfast, a bowl of fruit for a snack, a salad for lunch, some mixed nuts and seeds as another snack, and then an unplanned dinner, because my husband likes them to be flexible. Because I found my results from eating raw to be so amazing, I’ve tried to incorporate as many raw foods into my daily routine as possible, but we do cook most of our dinners and sometimes I eat cooked foods during the day.

I don’t track macros or count calories at all. I don’t have a cheat day, or any rules regarding vegan junk food other than no refined sugars. I just eat (mostly) good plant based food, in whatever quantities satisfy me and give me enough energy to get a good workout in the next morning. The other day I went and got Beyond Burgers from Carl’s Jr for dinner – it’s all about balance.

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Tips to beat the lethargy that happens right before your period starts:

I get tired before my period, not regular tired but so exhausted that I can barely keep my eyes open for at least one to two days. I also get a headache that is lingering, terrible, and sometimes morphs into a migraine. When my nutrition is on-point (all raw plant food) the headaches go away and the tiredness lessens considerably. Here are two things that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine that have helped me tremendously without having to change entirely into a raw vegan.

#1) Magnesium

A very basic search of what magnesium does for the human body includes: Maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heartbeat steady, helping bones remain strong, adjusting blood glucose levels, and aiding in the production of energy and protein. Additional benefits include boosting exercise performance, fighting depression, lowering blood pressure, and preventing migraines.

During all my research to try and discover what I could do to help with my headaches, and why a raw plant based diet was so effective at curing them, I discovered that this one mineral was responsible for many of my positive results and is found in particularly high levels in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds – huge staples in a raw plant based diet. Our bodies also absorb much more of it if we consume it in food, rather than in a supplement form.

I started making myself (what I now call) my Chocolate Headache-Curing Smoothie. I drink one every morning and because of the high levels of magnesium found naturally in the plant ingredients, my headaches completely go away when I am drinking them on a regular basis.

Recipe:

1 Cup Coconut Water

3 Medjool Dates

3-4 Frozen Bananas

2 Tbsp Cacao Powder

1-2 Tbsp Raw Almond Butter

2-4 Tbsp Raw Hemp Seeds

Because of the hemp seeds, this smoothie is also high in protein. And because of the cacao, you can also enjoy a boost of energy. So add as much as you’d prefer!

#2) Mushroom Tea

I know, I know, I know. Mushroom tea sounds disgusting and conjures up an image of privileged college kids trying to dress like hippies and drink weird things for the sake of being holistic or whatever. But I have to admit they’re onto something. I’ve been drinking the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir Mix with Lion’s Mane. The loose tea or “elixir mix” comes in tiny packets that I pour about two cups of hot water over, mix, then enjoy. You can add creamer to it, but I don’t. There is a touch of stevia added to the mix, but as someone who cannot stand the taste, I do not notice it. It tastes like an earthy tea, and I get mine from our local health food store. Four Sigmatic’s website is awesome, and there are several different elixirs, coffees, and teas to choose from so I plan to try more.

The reason why I love this particular elixir is because it’s organic, vegan and decaf yet it gives me a huge boost in energy that lasts most of the day. This is especially useful to aid in intense workouts and during long days at my shop when I’m about to start my period and I’m experiencing that intense lethargy. The lion’s mane mushroom supports memory, concentration, cognitive function, and nervous system function, so I’m also able to produce more meaningful work on projects that require concentration. I find that the energy it creates feels cleaner and more sustained than the temporary boost caffeine gives.

https://us.foursigmatic.com

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I hope that you’ve found some of this information useful. Leave a comment if you try my magnesium smoothie, and let me know what you think about mushroom teas!

How to Move Forward When Your “Metrics of Success Have Been Blasted to Shreds.”

A story inspired by Rob Bell.

I grew up in a born-again Christian household, in a largely born-again Christian town. Church on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, youth group on Wednesday. Church camp, Vacation Bible School and field trips during the summer. No Harry Potter, no Sabrina the Teenage Witch – no dressing up “like anything scary” on Halloween. I remember church and all of it’s functions being a time to socialize with friends, but little to nothing else. Even as a small child attending Sunday school I was always aware that every teaching should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to be interpreted literally, akin to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my shelf, or my favorite Aesop’s Fables. Useful stories and cautionary tales. Written by men and usually not very feminist.

Recently I’ve shifted my thinking from a strictly atheist perspective to more of an agnostic outlook. I used to take comfort in the simplicity of believing in what you can see. In science, in practicality, in the fact that when I die all that happens is my own decomposition. Back to the earth. I haven’t quite decided what I believe in now, but what I do know is that the universe is far too complex to believe any of our senses are producing the “truth” because our scope of understanding is simply too small. I do believe that each of us is a tiny part of one larger piece – the earth, plants and animals, and that is why our joy and our suffering is so intrinsically connected. So while I do not believe in god or a creator, I do believe in purpose, in connectedness, in energy, and ultimately in the simple fact that at the fringes of what we like to believe are “scientific facts” are actually whimsical and largely unexplained phenomena that all lead back to the same theme: We can’t believe what we think we know, because at this time our lens is not advanced enough to see what lies beyond our comprehension. There is so much more that we are blind to. When my body goes back to the earth, what really is it feeding? Isn’t that exchange somehow a form of magic?

My entire life I’ve been drawn toward a sense of connectedness. To plants, to animals, and to a feeling of belonging that I can’t quite explain. It’s not a nostalgia for my past or a wish for an ideal future, but a peace I feel on certain days when the smell of wet leaves and dirt sends me off to a place where I truly belong, but haven’t been yet. Crisp air, the sound of wind chimes, and white garden roses losing their petals, my husband and our animals – it’s magic. I feel like every choice I’ve made is leading me down this path, but I’m not sure where it goes, I just know it’s right, and when I get closer, I feel it. I’ve always been good at following my heart. Until this point I’ve always chased tangible dreams. College, business, career. And then one day I realized that all of these successes are amazing, but haven’t led me toward that feeling – to that place I’ve haphazardly been traveling to since the beginning. Toward that connection to something my soul feels but my senses can’t describe or articulate. To the unknown future that I know is there for me to discover. So for the first time I’m sitting with an open heart – trusting the universe to show me why I’m being pulled toward a feeling and a life that by all accounts can’t be measured by traditional metrics of success.

I recently discovered Rob Bell, a pastor and speaker who’s sermon-like podcasts on the Robcast often shed light on feelings or dilemmas that many of us can relate to. I’ve found that when strict religious underpinnings are removed from teachings like his, I love listening to smart and relatable sermons, and often use the time to learn, reflect, and meditate on the ideas. One of his latest episodes “A Hymn For the Curve” is about those of us that are drawn to do things differently, who know things can be better so we change our behavior accordingly. For those of us that simply aren’t sure why we’re drawn to be different, but we are. We take the path less traveled and are often misunderstood. Maybe we’re ahead of the curve, maybe we see something that others can’t yet see. Maybe if everyone saw it then the change wouldn’t be needed. But it is.

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He shared a version of this story:

There are a group of people living in a village near a river. One day they notice a body coming down the river so they jump in to pull it out. Then they notice another, and another, and another. The bodies start coming down the river so fast that the people can’t pull them out fast enough.

Another group of people living nearby observe the problem and decide to help, so they build a dam to help catch the bodies. The bodies begin piling up, but their method makes it easier for them to catch more to pull out at a time. The bodies keep coming down the river at a rapid rate, and eventually the dam will break under the weight because it will become impossible for the people to keep up, even with the dam.

A third group observes both methods, and after watching for a while, they turn their backs on the other villagers and begin walking upstream.

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What we know is that the third group is going exploring. To the other villagers they appear to be dismissive. They seem uncaring and unwilling to help. But in reality, they’re traveling into the unknown to discover where the bodies are coming from and why they’re coming down the river to begin with. They are seeing what the others couldn’t see so that hopefully they can change behaviors and therefore, change the outcome.

Maybe when we’re drawn to something we can’t explain, it’s the universe leading us to the magic. Our minds just haven’t caught up yet.

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Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography

Let’s Be Better At Loss

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief, trauma, and loss lately. Friends and close clients have been experiencing the death of loved ones or being presented with challenging life situations at a rate that seems higher than normal – unusual even. And so it has me contemplating something that one of my best friends said recently in response to the death of one of her close family members – maybe as we get older this just becomes normal.

So maybe we should start teaching ourselves to be better at it.

Learning how to be supportive, understanding, and effective friends and family members to those going through difficult times seems more important than ever. And with all the literal guidebooks out there to help us cope with loss, experience grief and depression, and help others in need, you’d think we would have improved by now. But I’m noticing that we haven’t. And from my own experience, I can say that most of us fail miserably at trying to be supportive – but not for lack of caring. Mostly it’s from lack of understanding and an overall feeling of helplessness. Most of us find the talk of death or trauma uncomfortable at a minimum, and so it goes undiscussed and becomes invisible. And with it, so do the people experiencing it. The world keeps turning even though your world closes in. And because your loved ones (and everyone else around you) are too afraid to discuss it, you’re forced to pretend that that loss, that grief, that trauma never happened. But everything is still different.

I am very aware that I am not any type of expert on loss, grief, or trauma. I’m not an expert on communicating or empathizing either – but I do talk to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me who is constantly compiling stories, or the critical analyzer struggling to understand as much as possible, but I compulsively ask the other question. Not just the what, or where but the why. There’s so much more to be found there, I think.

Yesterday I was in the treatment room with a client who I barely know. This happens rarely but she is the type of client that floats in a couple of times a year for an eyebrow wax, and during that twenty minutes we can only cover so much ground. She had just gotten back from a three-week-long vacation, and I asked her how it went. She said that it was great, but she was really forced to get out of her comfort zone and face some of her biggest fears. So naturally, I asked her to tell me what those fears are. She laughed and asked me if I really cared to know, and I said I’d love to know because then we could have a real conversation. And at the end of those twenty minutes we had both concluded what we’re sure we must have heard Brene Brown say somewhere:

“It’s better to just do it afraid.”

Maybe I’m being nosy. Maybe it’s none of my business. But it turns out we have a lot of the same fears, and it helps to talk about it. And it adds a level of humanity to an interaction that could otherwise skim a surface level simplicity that leaves us both the same.

Let’s apply this to loss.

I had an interaction recently with an acquaintance who had recently suffered a devastating death of a loved one. I had known the person who had passed also, but we weren’t close, and I had discovered the information via social media. When I encountered this person in public we exchanged pleasantries, but after thinking over this whole topic and how horrifying it must be to be trapped inside a mind that is suffering while having to casually respond to “How are you’s” with something like “fine, thanks.” I stopped myself and told this person how sorry I was, and how I know they’re not okay, and that’s okay. They mentioned that they weren’t sure if I knew, and thought it would be weird to bring it up. So I just said, how could this kind of situation get any worse or any weirder? And they laughed and said “I guess you’re right.”

It’s better to just do it afraid.

I thought I’d share the three most important things I’ve learned from experiencing traumatic loss myself, but also from talking with hundreds of people who all have some version of death or trauma that they can share and relate to.

#1) Don’t say nothing.

You will not make your friend, family member or co-worker “feel worse” or remind them of their loss if you offer your condolences, support, or make a gesture to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Most likely, there is no way that they could feel worse, and they are thinking about their loss or difficult situation at all times whether or not someone acknowledges it. It is literally impossible for you to “remind” them that their loved one has passed, for example. They are always painfully aware of that reality.

What can be hurtful is the isolation that we can experience when we’re going through a difficult situation and those around us do nothing, say nothing, and try to treat you like nothing happened. Or worse, ignore you all together because they feel awkward. The fear of saying the wrong thing often translates into saying nothing at all, and that can make the person who is hurting feel frustrated and alone. Just offering up a simple “I’m sorry and I’m here for you” can go a long way for someone who is suffering.

#2) Directly ask the person whether they want to talk about it or not, and then respect their answer.

One of my go-to lines in the treatment room is: “I’m here if you want to talk about it, but if you don’t then that’s completely fine too. We can talk about other things, or not at all.” Sometimes I lead with that statement; sometimes that’s a follow-up to another technique I learned from a client going through a terrible time. I ask how they’re doing today. In general, they are most-likely not doing well, but in this moment, today, they may be doing better or worse. I remember hating it when people who were aware of my loss would ask me a blanket “how are you” because I’d feel confined to answer in a socially acceptable way like “fine” when what I really wanted to say was: “Fucking terrible. How could I feel any differently?”

Some people may want to talk about it. Others may not. Some may tell you ahead of time through a non-confrontational text that they just want you to treat them like nothing has happened when they see you. Others may come through the door at work and immediately break down and tell you everything. But not everyone is that direct, or has the capacity to do those things. The point is to be brave enough to ask them what they actually want instead of saying nothing, or assuming you understand how they feel and want to be treated.

#3) Stop asking what you can do and just do something.

This, in my opinion, is the most difficult one to put into practice. What can you do for someone suffering emotionally other than be there for them? You want to make their life easier during this terrible time, but you’re not sure how, so you ask them. This seems harmless but actually then puts the heavy burden of delegating or deciding on the person who is already mentally and emotionally maxed out. So they usually respond by saying they don’t need anything. Which isn’t usually true.

Depending on the type of relationship you have with this person, the type of “help” will vary. But decide on something and just do it. Say, “I’m coming over with dinner. If you want me to stay and talk, great. If not, that’s great too. I just want you to have some food.” Say, “I know you’re going to be out of town a lot with family in the next couple of weeks. I’d be happy to watch your pets while you’re gone.” Come over and take their dogs on a walk. Babysit the kids for a few hours. Drop off some books or flowers. Sit with them. Answer their phone call.

I know that for me personally, I needed to continue going through my routine in order to keep my life somewhat together. What helped me tremendously, and what to this day I will never forget was the fact that for probably at least six months my sister never left me alone. And my best friends always answered their phones. My sister didn’t do anything in particular, but she was always there. Getting off work and having someone to sit with, and eat with, and watch movies with was very helpful, and being able to call my friends and talk in the middle of the night got me through some dark moments.

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I hope that these few tools can help some of you. I understand that not everyone is the same, and some of you may disagree with my ideas. Maybe my friend was right- as we get older these things start to happen more frequently, so naturally we should get better at dealing with trauma and loss as time goes on. But instead of waiting for practice, I think we should all try to be better now.

Photo: Kimberly Ann Photography

My 5 Days of Raw Food

I struggle with sometimes near-debilitating headaches in the day or two prior to starting the “period” portion of my cycle. This specific pattern has repeated itself for the last eight months since I’ve been closely journaling about it, but I’m sure it started long before that. Apparently it has much to do with hormone fluctuation.

August’s headache turned into a migraine, which turned into a day of lying in bed drifting in and out of sleep, getting up to vomit occasionally. Over-the-counter pain meds do little to help, and I try to avoid taking them in the first place. CBD helps the most, but still only minimizes the pain slightly. Usually I just wait it out or go to work and try to ignore it. But a migraine of that degree is impossible to ignore.

I had been contemplating the use of a plant-based raw diet to help treat my headaches for a while, but after spending my husband’s entire birthday holed-up aside from a woozy and slightly blurry dinner out, I was convinced I needed to try something now.

My hypothesis was simple (and to some, probably oversimplified) and therefore easy to test. I didn’t want to get lost in the specifics and analytics so I pared it down to the basics, which I believe are sometimes best. If we take a pill and blindly hope to get results, why should I not eat good food to try and achieve the same (or a hopefully better) outcome?

I thrive on a plant-based diet but during those specific days my body is not getting something (micronutrients, vitamins, etc) it needs to function at its most optimal. If all I eat is an abundance of raw plant food for the five days before my period, maybe I’ll be so pumped full of nutrients that my headache won’t happen.

It’s worth a shot.

And it worked.

The definition of a plant-based raw diet is different depending on the source, but after doing my own research I concluded that I would not eat anything processed, refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides, or heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature where the natural enzymes and some nutrient content is essentially cooked out of most raw foods.

Some people who completely subscribe to this way of eating get creative and sprout grains and beans and dehydrate foods. I did not want to complicate an already unknown territory, so I decided to just get creative with uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, eating a ton of them to make sure I could workout and function normally. This experiment, to me, had and has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss or dieting. I want to make that clear. It’s about using food as medicine, with an intention toward healthy and sustainable lifestyle change, if applicable.

One major takeaway from this experiment: Even if you think you’re eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, until that’s all you’re eating, you’re probably not. You may be eating more than the general American public, but that’s still probably not much. I ate intuitively, meaning, if I was hungry, I ate food. So I did not track macros or calories. I meal-prepped and grocery shopped so that I was over-prepared for the five days. And then I just went about my normal routine. The only adjustment I had to make to my typical schedule was drinking my breakfast smoothie before working out, whereas before I’d workout on an empty stomach. I noticed I’d get hungry mid-way through. But after that adjustment was made, I never got hungry again, and I was able to deadlift and squat more weight that week than I ever have before.

I journaled every day so that I can share my menu with you, and I will include links to bloggers and recipes below, when applicable. The only exceptions that I made during this time to my raw outline above were coffee and my birthday “cheesecake.” I allowed myself one cup of black coffee a day, and even though my cheesecake is considered raw, it did contain maple syrup as a non-raw ingredient. I wasn’t about to waste my delicious cake, and if I chose to omit coffee, the five days would likely have been more representative of caffeine withdrawal than anything else.

I know that many of you will be curious about cost. I plan on sharing exact costs of a regular meal prep week versus a raw week in the future, receipts included. When my entire shopping cart is produce, the cost tends to be slightly less expensive or around the same as my typical shopping trips per week- on average this is about $150 at my local COOP. This includes all of my food for the week and generally around 3-4 dinners that I will make for my husband and I. The expensive items like nuts, seeds, oils and butters (if applicable) can add a lot of cost, but can be purchased in bulk or at Costco and will generally last much longer than just one week, typically closer to two or even three.

My five days of raw plant-based eating were amazing. I felt the best and most energetic I’ve felt in years- no exaggeration. I didn’t get a headache at all for the entire five days I did it, not even a slight or small one. I slept better and felt more focused too. I will say that prior to this, my regular eating habits had been established as fairly “healthy.” I haven’t eaten any animal products in over three years, and cut refined sugars out several months ago. So my “detox” period was essentially non-existent (aside from coffee which I chose to keep.) If you tried this coming off of a more traditional diet, I would imagine it would take much longer to reap the benefits because a detox period would be necessary.

I will be doing this again as part of my regular routine. The day I stopped eating raw food I got a slight headache and felt markedly more lethargic and “foggy.” I immediately decided that moving forward I’d make a conscious effort to regularly only prep breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that are raw. And that every month for a week prior to my period I will continue this journey. I do not know what the future holds, or if I will ever go entirely raw, but the results were so amazing that I can’t even imagine not continuing, and improving. I won’t lie- it was daunting for me at first. I felt like I was going vegan all over again, unsure of what to make and how to do it. But there are so many amazing resources out there to help, and this process has only expanded my food and nutrition knowledge. I hope my five-day food diary can help make plant eating easier for you!

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Diary Day 1:

Breakfast: Tropical Smoothie Bowl

Recipe: 1 Cup coconut water, 4 frozen bananas, 1.5 Cups frozen pineapple, 2 Tbsp hemp hearts blended until smooth. Top with blackberries, almonds, cashews, and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Lunch: Lettuce cups with 1 avocado, pumpkin seeds, broccoli sprouts, and salt and pepper.

Snack: 1 plum and some mixed nuts.

Dinner: Mixed green salad (spinach, romaine, arugula) with bell pepper, mushroom, cucumber, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and avocado.

I also made a hemp seed and cashew dressing using the Fully Raw by Kristina app. Out of respect for her and her amazing recipes, I will not post it, but will encourage you to purchase the use of her app!

Dessert: Foodwise Kitchen Chocolate/Vanilla swirl raw vegan cheesecake.

http://www.foodwisekitchen.com

Diary Days 2-5

These are meal prep days, so everything but dinners are the same.

Breakfast: Chocolate Energy Smoothie Bowl

Recipe: 1 Cup coconut water, 4 frozen bananas, 2 Tbsp hemp hearts, 2 Tbsp raw almond butter, 4 pitted dates, 2 Tbsp raw cacao powder, blended until smooth. Top with blackberries, strawberries, and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Snack #1: Cashews, almonds, dates.

Lunch: Lettuce Boats with walnut taco meat and avocado.

Walnut “meat” recipe: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/raw-mexican-zucchini-roll-ups-veggie-walnut-meat/

Snack #2: 1 plum and 2 apples.

Dinners:

-Apple Walnut Salad: Mixed Greens, walnuts, red onion, honey crisp apples, and cashew chive raw cheese from Foodwise Kitchen.

-Zucchini Noodles With Pesto and Walnut Meat.

Pesto: https://bakerbynature.com/super-healthy-spinach-basil-pesto-vegan-dairy-free-gluten-free/

*I used unfiltered, cold-pressed olive oil to make the pesto.

-Massaged Kale Salad (This entire 5 Day Guide from Veggies Don’t Bite was very useful!)

Recipe: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/5-day-raw-food-reset-with-shopping-list/

-On the final night I ate leftovers and a tropical smoothie for dinner.