Plant Life

Today marks two years of not eating anything with a face. I discussed my reasons for moving toward a plant-based diet here, but two years in, a review of the process seems in order.

There have been many failed recipes. Homemade bean burgers that fell apart before we even got them out of the oven, a spring roll that was fine with enough sauce, but the wrapper tasted like rubber, and a misused spice that ruined a whole pot of stew all come to mind. Trial and error. Find what works. Dump what doesn’t.

Gather knowledge. And recipes! I have a penchant for purchasing cookbooks. The more photos, the better. Discovering Forks over Knives has a quarterly magazine FULL of tasty concoctions that I’ve revisited many times was a game changer. The internet?! Hello. SO. MANY. IDEAS. It has been a learning curve, but some tasty eats along the way.

Health. There has been much research on the health advantages of a plant based way of eating. Here are a few:

NutritionFacts.org

Forks Over Knives

Thug Kitchen (Language alert – but SO funny and great eats!)

Dr. Dean Ornish

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Quick article from Harvard Health

Dr. Garth Davis

Personally, it’s been a road of increasing health, but not in the way we typically think of it. For most of us, we think of health in terms of appearance. 6-pack abs, a certain size, before and after pictures, etc. all promote an idea of what healthy looks like. The fact is, you can be very unhealthy and achieve those things. I’m talking about health from the perspective of cholesterol and A1c (blood glucose levels). Health from the inside out.

For me this process began after getting blood test results that indicated I was prediabetic. Basically that means that I was on the road to Type 2 Diabetes. I sought advice from a registered dietician and followed her instructions. My numbers came down. Among the list of foods to consume was lots of processed meats; and it just didn’t seem right so I kept investigating, reading books such as Protein-aholic by Dr. Garth Davis, Presto! How I made over 100 pounds disappear and other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette, The China Study by Dr. Colin T. Campbell among many others. I read about Type 2 diabetes and how the conventional advice was to limit carbs/sugars and watch the A1c numbers come down. It’s true, the numbers will come down a bit. But it’s putting a bandaid on the problem. It’s not addressing why the body isn’t processing carbohydrates the way it should.

Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in. “Fat in the bloodstream can build up inside the muscle cells, creating toxic fatty breakdown products and free radicals that block the insulin signaling process. No matter how much insulin we have in our blood, it’s not able to sufficiently open the glucose gates, and blood sugar levels build up in the blood. And this can happen within three hours. One hit of fat can start causing insulin resistance, inhibiting blood sugar uptake after just 160 minutes.Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

And what type of fat? Saturated fat. The kind from animals, trans-fat, deep fryers, etc. You know – the ones that you know you shouldn’t eat. (The fats from avocados and nuts are unsaturated fats.) According to my registered dietician, eating meat was going to help me lower my blood glucose levels. By eating meat?! Nope. Bandaid for sure, but not a long-term solution.

My A1c numbers came down but my cholesterol and triglycerides had shot up! Great. (insert eye roll). It’s no wonder most of us are so dang confused by nutrition. The ‘experts’ attend conferences funded by fast food companies. While many practitioners are simply teaching what they are taught, it’s not solving the problems, and it’s not accurate information.

Fast forward a year in to a plant based diet, I had bloodwork done yet again to check my A1c and cholesterol. My triglycerides came down from 276 to 118. My doctor was so excited by my results she called me from her personal phone after hours to celebrate with me! My A1c number when from 5.6 to 5.3. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it is a trend in the right direction. The farther down the normal range the better. A plant based diet has done just that!

BUT WHAT ABOUT PROTEIN!? My answer is two things.

  1. Proteins are amnio acids. There are 20 amino acids – some are made by the body, some we obtain from food. Regardless of whether you get those amino acids from plants or animals, the amino acids are the same to the body.
  2. Take a look at a gorilla, one of the strongest animals on the planet. Guess what? They have lots of muscles on their body and are capable of lifting 10 times their body weight. They are STRONG. And they are plant eaters. I don’t think they are saying to their gorilla friend at the gym, “What about protein, Brah?”

I also did a test of sorts, I looked up the nutritional value of my typical breakfast and compared it to a typical meat/egg breakfast. Here’s how it stacked up:

Bowl of oats with sliced almonds, blueberries, and hempseed: 23g protein, 12g fiber.

2 eggs, 2 slices bacon and an English muffin: 11g protein, 0.8g fiber

The numbers are clear. Protein is more than sufficient and plant based eating will give you the fiber most omnivores lack and then some!

My palate has changed. Eating a steak or a piece of bacon doesn’t even sound appealing. (I used to LOVE me some bacon!) When I walk by the meat department in the grocery store I can actually smell the blood. It’s so weird. Two years in and I’m feeling great, my doctor is beyond thrilled with my results and I have energy! I have no desire to return to eating meat. Doing so would undo all the health progress I have made and wouldn’t make sense.

Cheers to eating nothing with a face for life!

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Those Moments

I have loved the ocean as long as I can remember. It’s unknown depths, countless lives beneath the surface, and breathtaking beauty are simply mesmerizing. I always come away from the beach stunned and in awe of this extraordinary planet.

We’ve had the distinct privilege of living near many oceanside locations:

Beach on NAS Whidbey Island

Maylor Point Trail, Oak Harbor, WA

Hanama Bay, Honolulu, HI

Waikiki Beach/Fort DeRussy Boardwalk, Honolulu, HI

Washington Park 3 mile loop, Anacortes, WA

Front Street, Lahaina, Maui

Washington Park, Anacortes, WA

Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi, TX

The white sugar sands of Pensacola, Florida were intoxicating and such a far cry from the barnacle-laden rock beaches I was accustomed to growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Living on Oahu of course was paradise, no question. We spent many days out on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, while living in Corpus Christi, TX. It really doesn’t matter where we travel, the ocean is a must. Pretty much the only thing I love as much as the ocean are my dogs!

Knowing our time in San Diego is finite, I’m determined to make the most of it before we head back to the evergreen state. What better way than to check out a new beach?! And what better beach than one where dogs can roam free and play?

Yep – Dog Beach!

They played and raced and sniffed all the smells!

As I looked around, there were dogs as far as I could see. People were are smiling. Dogs happily barking, splashing and playing chase. Whitney whined to be let off of her leash. Her joy is running, and she had some running to do! Buck didn’t really enjoy the beach in Corpus Christi when we took him a few times, but the waves were calmer today and far off the wet sand so they weren’t as scary.

For dog people, we get that our animals are something special. They are more than pets. There aren’t words to adequately describe the way we feel – the way I feel – about them. They soothe the ache of being human.

Walking amongst the myriad dogs of all shapes and sizes, joy couldn’t help but seep in. Looking over at my “grumpy old man” Buck, seeing him trotting happily and rolling around in seaweed – those moments of pure joy and content – I simply inhaled the the view around me. I savored the feeling of wanting to be no other place than right there, feet in the sand watching them be free.

Dogs….and beaches.

That’s just about heaven on earth if you ask me.

Back Then

I remember feeling amazed and nervously excited when I descended the stairs in our tiny 2-bedroom apartment to tell my husband of 8 years I was pregnant. He looked up at me, “Really?!” Nodding, I confirmed what we’d been planning for about a year. We were thrilled.

I devoured all the books, the guided meditations that were supposed to help with birth, ate all the ginger things and was sad when I had to quit my job because of severe morning all-day-and-night sickness. Eventually I felt better with the aid of medication and tracked all the changes in my body and read details about the growing baby.

Over a decade ago, Jenny McCarthy could be seen all over spouting her doctor’s erroneous findings that vaccines cause autism. Back then, this was my worst fear; (and likely a fear of many parents-to-be) that something could be “wrong” with the life growing inside of me. I remember telling my friend at the time, “I pray that nothing like that happens to my baby.”

Jacob was born 4 days after our due date and was a hefty 9lb 11oz. He hit all the physical developmental milestones, had the most adorable smile, and was the center of our world. I struggled with breastfeeding and postpartum depression, but felt our “new normal” of life with a baby around 3-5 months.

As he grew, we noticed little things that, at the time, gave us no cause for concern. Things like his inability to be laid down on his back while asleep. He would startle awake and scream. We carried him and let him fall asleep in our Ergo baby carrier. We co-slept because as long as we were all getting sleep, the location didn’t really matter to us. He nursed and didn’t desire solid foods. Getting messy and exploring foods with fingers seemed not to be his thing but for just a handful of times. He wasn’t verbal until almost 3 after speech therapy interventions. We had taught him sign language and had developed our own unique way of communicating. We discovered his right eye blindness as we prepared for preschool and kindergarten. Jacob struggled at the dentist and doctor visits. We prepped him well in advance for changes in routine, as well as transitions from one activity to another. We adapted. We learned. We read and researched and asked questions.

Jacob was evaluated at 2, 5, and diagnosed with ADHD-inattattentive type (with Autism Spectrum Discorder verbiage in the paperwork, but not formally ASD diagnosed) at 8, and now at 10 we are looking forward to another comprehensive evaluation. His IQ is 133. He’s crazy smart, and loves to learn about things that interest him. He as a 504 plan in place at school for accommodations as needed. We are working with an occupational therapist who has taught us both.

Sitting in the car before an appointment, we were chatting before heading into “food school”.

“Mom. I want to work at Microsoft,” Jacob told me, veering off of whatever topic we were currently discussing.

“Really? Why is that?” I asked.

“Bill Gates is thought to be on the spectrum. Maybe I could work with him and help other people like us. Plus, I like computers.”

“I think you would be great at that.”

As he walked into the appointment it hit me how far we’ve traveled on this autism journey. How scared I was for him, and frustrated at times because life with someone on the spectrum isn’t always easy. I struggled (and sometimes still do) when people are judgmental or unkind, knowingly or not. He makes me laugh out loud at his literal way of thinking, his interpretations of figures of speech and his other little quirks. I love the protectiveness he feels for his sister. He has taught me compassion, patience, and to slow down and see things from another perspective, that different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Back then, I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know how much I could love another human. I didn’t know that autism spectrum disorder really sucks as a label because it doesn’t feel like “disorder”. I stopped asking the futile “Why?” and “What is the cause?” questions years ago. It doesn’t do any good and there are no satisfying answers. It just is. I didn’t know that I would one day be thankful for resources and knowledge and tools to help him navigate and understand the world.

I never thought that I would be thankful for autism.

That was then.


Reading Stories

“Mama,” Hannah looked up at me.

“Yes?” I asked, distractedly.

“I hate the part of reading when you are almost done and you know the book is almost over. Especially if it’s a really really good one!”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I told her. She now had my full attention. One thing I have always loved is reading with the minions. I couldn’t wait until they were finally old enough to enjoy Harry Potter. Hannah loves Amelia Bedelia, as well as Ramona Quimby- one of my absolute favorites. Jacob is also a voracious reader, inhaling any books about subjects that interest him (currently WWII). On the fiction side he reads any James Patterson book he can get his hands on and we’ve read all of the Magic Treehouse series.

Novels, movies, blogs, music, television series – form is not important. Getting lost in a great story is one of my favorite ways to spend my time. My hope was that my kids would enjoy stories – reading specifically – just as much. We read some Minecraft books a few year a ago, a not-so-scary Stephen King novella, and some Judy Blume. Sometimes we take turns each reading a chapter, other times I’m just tired and they read to me. Most of the time I read aloud.

We start reading just a chapter of a book and then I’ll say, “Ehhh…that one’s no good. We probably shouldn’t keep reading it…”

“NO NO NO! Mama please keep reading!!!!” They both plead. “Pleeease!”

“If you’re sure…” I continue to drag out the drama of my reluctance, silently cheering in my mind that they are excited (finally) about a selection I have chosen.

Tonight we started one of the first books I remember reading as a class in Mr. Ziegler’s 5th grade; Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. It’s a classic and most of the time when I pull an old book off the shelf, the kids groan and won’t give it a chance; hence my new ‘give it one chapter and then decide’ tactic. It worked like a charm.

“Just one more chapter????”

“Sure. Just one more…,”

…as they have to convince me to keep reading.

Just Be

Post inspired by Storyshucker

Swaying in the cooling afternoon air, I mused once again how much I loved that the sky never appears the same way twice. “Oh mama, I just love you,” she said, extra lovey since I let her stay home from school. Sometimes we all need a mental health recharge day I reasoned when she had asked. “One time – this is not a habit,” I emphasized.

We sat swinging in silence for just a bit on the hammocks I had just moments before wrestled out of their sheaths, brushing off the sawdust from their garage hideaway.

“Oh! Look!” Pointing at a group of streaked clouds, “It’s a duck with little ducklings following her,” she asserted.

“Oh I see that,” I replied, looking where she was pointing. “It also kind of looks like the mama duck is a genie bottle and the little cloud above her is the genie coming right out.”

“Huh?!”

“See? Right at the top of the mama duck’s head…”

“Ohhhhhh, I do see that now,” she replied, eyes gazing across to a new group of clouds. “I just love these hammocks – and being with you.”

I love these quiet not-doing-anything moments. Just being. I pointed out a humming bird floating just above us over the neighbor’s tree. “Look!” I whispered so as not to scare it away like our barking dogs enjoyed doing.

“YES! I saw a hummingbird just like that before you came out!”

Before I came out I was happily vacuuming, checking off a to do list of randoms that always need tending. Laundry, dishes and general afternoon pick up that included getting ready for a furry family member’s return from the vet. I can always find something to do. It’s an ingrained trait that extends before my years as a waitress when I’d first heard a similar phrase. Shedding the impulse to “earn” some free time, I mentally filed the list away and decided to join my daughter reading peacefully in the sun that had hid itself over the past few rainy days. Looking at her, it was simply too enticing to stay inside doing things that could wait.

We chatted some more and enjoyed comparing cloud shapes and images that popped out to us, giggling every so often at the imagery she projected. I reflected on the idea that kids will far more often do as we do, not as we say. If I want them to appreciate nature, or slow down, or read, they need to see me doing so as well. It’s more than okay to be bored. It’s necessary for creativity, for inner thought, for time to just be.




Sleep Overs and Stuff

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” a friend said to me one time. We were discussing kids having sleep overs and what that does to the kids the next day. They come home grumpy, tired and irritable. They likely had lots of fun the day before and plenty of junk food. And it makes for a very long next day for their entire family. I remember having sleepovers with friends. Lots of them. In high school it was like every other weekend. Seems innocuous enough. A rite of passage even; a part of growing up.

My sweet 8 year old daughter was recently invited to a sleepover birthday party of a classmate and it gave me pause. She desperately wanted to stay overnight. The family is perfectly fine, but I still can’t erase the fact that at 11 or 12, I woke up at a friend’s house in the middle of the night to a man staring at us while we were sleeping, slowly smoking a cigarette. I don’t remember if it was her father, a step-father or a brother. Nothing happened, but it made me uncomfortable enough that I never again stayed overnight at that friend’s house.

Dropping her off for the day, and a “late-over”, I knew she’d have a great time.  I knew she would likely be irritated that she had to come home and the other girls didn’t. Sometimes A lot of times, parenting is just hard. Am I too helicopter-y? Am I overreacting to an isolated non-incident years ago? Will my kids be too sheltered? Maybe. But, it only takes one time. One time to let my guard down and her innocence is gone. I thought of her often through the day, and prayed for some small sign – anything – to just let me know that I did the right thing in not letting her stay overnight.

The climate of #metoo, Supreme Court nominees being accused of sexual assault, and even the President of the United States boasting himself on tape about sexual assault, I feel that vigilance is the order of the day. Perhaps it always has been, but we are just talking about it more. In 2018, it’s in our face 24/7 and makes watching the news with the kids risky. When arguments like “oh, that happened 35 years ago” in reference to an alleged assault, “that it doesn’t matter because they were teenagers at the time,” and that’s “just how drunk teenagers act”, it really isn’t surprising that assault victims do not come forward. Why would they? They are not believed. They are railroaded. Their lives are turned upside down, they get death threats. Why would anyone willingly sign up for that? I have not been raped. Thank God.

I was flashed by an older man at a playground at 4 years old.

I was groomed at camp in the 3rd grade. The camp counselor was fired mid week for inappropriate conduct with another girl.

At 11, my breasts were touched at a modeling agency by a man who was making decisions of who would be included in their next event.

I was repeatedly hugged and tickled a little too often and a little too long at a daycare facility.

While no irreparable damage was done to me, I was very early on aware of sex, aware of a need to protect myself, even if I couldn’t articulate it. It’s the way I walk to my car to this day with my key poised like a weapon, should the need arise. The way I replay the Oprah Show episode where the detective implores the audience to “never let them take you to a second location!” It’s also the reason I say a hard no to sleep overs. Over protective? Maybe. But my experience tells me that listening to my intuition rarely steers me wrong.

Tucking her into her own bed, freshly made with clean sheets and listening to her exuberantly describe how much fun she had I got quiet and just listened. (Something I need to do so much more of, honestly.) As she settled in and snuggled close, she whispered in her small voice, “Mom, I’m glad I’m in my own bed. It would have been fun, but I missed you today.” I told her I missed her too, and hugged her tight.

“Thank you,” I thought. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

It’s Fall, Y’all!

Fall is here and with the change of season, for our family, comes football. My husband has umpired high school and college level games for years and loves it. With our move to the city with no yard for the dogs, it has become necessary to walk them more frequently and that job falls to me in the evenings when he is at a game. (See what I did there?!)

The change of season not only brings football, but the change in temperatures (from 85 all the way down to 79!), the little bit of crispness at dusk and dawn, pumpkin spice all the things, school in session, and of course Halloween on the horizon. The last dog walk of the evening is my favorite. There are very few people out, it’s quiet and calm and it gives us a chance to relax and settle in for the night. All the townhouses in our community have automated porch lights so it’s actually bright enough to see festive decorations trimming doorways along our route. Fall is here.

As I matched Hippo’s pace on our evening jaunt, my eyes scanned the sidewalks for possible hazards – the dog will eat all kinds of gross findings. I took a deep breath and as I rounded the corner under the large maple trees that line the walk, I saw something that looked out of place. It was a leaf, but oddly suspended mid-air. I stopped suddenly and Hippo looked up at me expectantly. I followed the line up from the leaf, and at eye level, about 5 inches from my face, is a spider the size of a quarter nestled in his ginormous web. (For the record, I’ve NEVER seen a web this huge before in real life. At least 6 feet high). His fat juicy body was the size of the coin, and his legs spread out from there, daring me to come just a little bit closer. I swallowed the bile threatening to exit and I abruptly stumbled back and turned the other way. Hippo glanced at me again, convinced I’m nuts because, let’s face it – I am certifiable when it comes to bugs. Scorpions, roaches and rattlesnakes were 3 things I was very happy to say “adios!” to as we drove out of south Texas. Spiders have never been my favorite, and after our stint in Hawaii and coming face to face with a cane spider, my hatred has far from waned.

When I say “stumbled back and turned the other way”, what that really means is this: you know when someone startles you and you freak out? Like when your kid stands at the top of the stairs, just out of sight waiting to nail you? You get to the stairs, they yell, “BOO!” or “Gotchya!” and you react by jumping straight up, hair standing out on end, and yell something super intelligible like, “HAWOGHGHHGHHHHH!” while your heart races and you marvel at the fact that you just almost died and why would your dear, sweet offspring want to give you a heart attack like that?! No?! Just me? I digress… But that’s basically how I reacted to a spider 5 inches from my nose. In the dark. In the fall. When it’s almost Halloween.

I consider myself a rational person. Intellectually, I comprehend the fact that arachnids have their place in the food chain and if we didn’t have them, other insects would flourish blah, blah, blah. I love trees. I don’t love that they are spider houses. If you are a spider, and I see you – I will murder you or hire someone to murder you. If you have more than 4 legs, I want no part of you. Do not come to my house. I don’t need roommates and I do not want to be your friend.

Picking up dog poo and taking deep breaths to calm down (not necessarily in that order), I collected myself and vowed to never ever under any circumstances ever go on that side of the road again. I also vowed that now my husband shall be the chief evening dog walker. I brought Hippo in and grabbed a drink of water to calm down. After leashing up the other two, we head back into battle. It’s the littles and me against all the creepy crawlies. I’ve just about talked myself back to a normal functioning adult when what do I see? A RED ROACH SCURRYING PAST MY FEET. I should mention that my feet are exposed – bare and in flip flops adding to the heebee-jeebee creepy feeling. As if that wasn’t enough, the universe decided that I must be tested further when it’s mate joined him from one patch of grass, across the sidewalk and under a bush, followed by what appeared to be a baby. Awe! How sweet. Mr. and Mrs. Roach and family crossed the sidewalk right in front of me. And on the same night that I almost died from a a spider on my face!

Just give me the dang straight jacket now. If it comes with a padded room, great. As long as the door seals tight and no bugs get in, I think I’ll be good. Happy Fall!