Plant Based Eating Month Reflection#1: How we got here

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my own personal journeys–in relationships, in parenting, in my faith and calling, and around food and health. I rather enjoy thinking about food and health. In fact, throughout my entire adult life, I have believed that food has the power to heal and to harm and the choices people make regarding their food intake has a lot to say.

I was a kid of the 80s, teen of the 90s. Pop-tarts, kool-aid (with the full 2 cups of sugar), Wonder white bread, cheese slices wrapped in plastic, and heavily processed meats in yellow plastic containers were it! Also, we had exactly 4 kinds of fruits (from my recollection): red or green apples, oranges from Florida, grapes and bananas.

I was a fast food kid. I can recall weeks where every meal was from McDonalds. When Mom wasn’t feeling up to making lunch, I would get a Happy Meal delivered to school around lunchtime. (There is nothing to make your friends jealous like french fries and a coke for lunch.) Our Sunday afternoon tradition was to get some subs from the deli and head into the mountains for a picnic in Millcreek Canyon. Arby’s was my comfort food for whenever I was having a bad day. But also, we were big fans of convenience foods: Kid Cuisine microwave meals (we didn’t actually have a microwave until I left for college–it was excruciating to wait for that little brownie to cook in the oven), Hot Pockets, and Totino’s pizzas were standbys. My favorite sandwich (and until this month, I would still eat a healthified version of this) was toasted white bread, mayo, mustard, a slice of American Cheese and thinly sliced turkey breast.

It was a different time back then AND there were a variety of real challenges in my home. So I look back on all that with nostalgia, not judgement.

Needless to say, when I was a young bride I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen. Our first thanksgiving, I was super proud to have figured out that if you add a can of broth to a turkey in a bag, it could turn out pretty well. I also figured out that you should remove the bag of gizzards BEFORE you put it in the oven.

Early in my marriage, I learned there was a strong penchant for prostate cancer in the men of my husband’s family. I did a little digging and found out that although there is a small genetic component, prostate cancer is MOSTLY determined by lifestyle choices, particularly food and exercise. I decided there was no way my young husband was going to endure that, so I embarked on a journey of figuring out what foods could keep him healthy.

Along the way, I’ve been influenced by a number of writers about food: Marion Nestle in What to Eat, Michael Pollen in In Defense of Food, The Omnivoire’s Dilemma, and Food Rules, and various other thinkers and eaters. I’ve been influenced by friends who returned to a more wholesome way of eating and friends who have fought off disease with their diet.

When my kids were young, I was diagnosed with a non-Celiac gluten intolerance. Eating gluten (the protein found in wheat and barley) made my body ill and depressed. Removing it from my diet was a major shift. This is when I really learned that food had the power to harm. In recent years, I’ve started to experience the aches and pains that are “normal” for a woman in her mid-40s. And I don’t like them. But I also started to notice that they were worse mornings after I had a meal heavy on the cheese or dairy.

So I wondered if the food I currently eat really had the power to heal. I wondered if food really does have an impact on my mental health, on how my brain works or how well I sleep. I wondered what it would be like to remove some foods from my diet? I wondered who was right about ideas on sources of protein, natural foods, the effect on the environment, the inequity of food distribution. I wondered if anyone else was curious about eating differently. I wondered if changing the way that I ate would make me feel better. I wondered if anyone would want to do this crazy thing with me or if I would lose all my friends. I wonder a lot of things.

That’s what this month has been about. Exploring the reality of plant based living. So far, the results have been compelling. I’ll be sharing them with you in the first week of June, because May isn’t over yet.

But it’s going to spoil anything to tell you that I really like living and eating this way.

Except the dishes. So. Many. Dishes.

Before I go, I wondered if you had any questions about this food journey or how you might go on one of your own. I didn’t just wake up on April 30 and say, “I think I’m going to be plant based on May 1.” It’s been a couple year fascination AND transition for me. I had to learn a lot in order to be ready to do this. And if you’re curious, I’d love to know what questions you have or how I can encourage you to find the best way of eating for your health.

When all else overwhelms, books to the rescue..

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted on this little blog of mine. Not because of any real boycott or anything, but simply because life is full and (as I regularly remind myself) we are still in the middle (hopefully near the end) of a pandemic. My brain is simply clogged. It’s full of the things I need to do to conduct life in a busy house, support the ones I love, do my work with integrity, and have space to care for my self.

When life seems overwhelming, the first thing I cut back on is my writing. Why? Because writing, like lots of other types of art, is an emotional act. To do it well, I find, I need to have emotional and creative energy to fuel it. And life has required that I use my emotional energy to fulfill my duties.

Despite not being able to write, I have read some PHENOMENAL books in the past couple of months, one of which I wanted to highlight here:

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was not a book I expected to read. When I grabbed it at the library, I was totally emotionally spent and wanted something light and easy to read. The title suggested something light and fun. When my friend informed me that it was fantastic BUT tackled issues of race, I almost put it away. But I read it–actually devoured it. What I love most about this book is how the author flips the narrative on its head. Specifically, it is the story of a young black woman stuck in a difficult position, made worse by the well-meaning white people in her life. Her goodness against the drop back of two different white people’s “wokeness” made for a thought provoking read. For one friend it was a life-altering book. For me, it is a read I will not forget for some time.

Other books I’ve read include Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and Simple and Free by Jen Hatmaker. Each of these books has shifted how I think, how I want to write, what I want to do, and my level of joy in reading. These books have held me steady during my past few emotionally taxing months.

What books have held you steady during difficult times? Are there any particular reads you had in the past couple months that you’d like to share? Because I am always on the hunt for a great book suggestion and would love to hear yours.

Do you remember dating?

Friends, I’m a bit stuck in my writing and I am begging for your help…

For those of you who have had a significant dating/marriage relationship in your life, could you help me out? (Or those of you with really creative imaginations or who are well read or have lots of friends or whatever…)

In my current work that I am editing, “The Unfortunate Life for Genevieve Ryder”, Gen is meeting and falling in love with her soon-to-be husband, Peter. They both have their faults and their relationship isn’t going to be anywhere near perfect (or long-lasting).

I’ve been married for quite some time to a guy I dated in high school and college. I fell hard for him. Falling in love with him was quite easy for me. I can still remember significant dates or conversations.

What I can’t remember is how it felt to fall in love. Or when I knew. Or what those early years were like. (Sad, I know.)

Can you remember from your relationships? Would you share it with me? What did it feel like for you to fall in love? What were some of your early/simple/fun/memorable dates? What did you do to impress your significant other? What did they do to impress you?

Listen, short of going out and getting a new husband (which I’m not really interested in doing), this is research I need you to do for me. I’m depending on you.

20 Book-ish Confessions

Below you will read 20 (somewhat sheepish) confessions about books that I am making today:

  1. I rarely finish a non-fiction book. Sorry Michelle, as much as I loved Becoming, I just didn’t finish it.
  2. I am an aspirational book buyer, usually of non-fiction titles. (see above)
  3. I am drawn to reading to help me travel the world in both location and experiences. I am especially drawn to books/authors from a Chinese/Korean/Indian perspective. Cutting for Stone, Pachinko, The Good Earth being memorable for me.
  4. I read most before bed. Otherwise my house is never quiet enough to read during the day.
  5. I married a non-reader. (I know, what was I thinking.)
  6. Only a few books have ever made me cry. The Art of Racing in the Rain was one of them.
  7. If you ever need a book to give you hope, read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffiendach. Still one of my all-time favorites.
  8. I don’t read books related to mothers with mental illnesses doing poorly by their children.
  9. I love to read a book about mormonism or polygamy. (I was raised in SLC, Utah as a non-mormon in a predominantly mormon area. Everything about the culture of that religion utterly fascinates me.)
  10. When I just need a comfort read, I choose to rejoin the lives of Jaime and Claire in almost any of the published Outlander books. (Some I just like more than others.)
  11. On a whim, I picked up Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel because it was a “local” read here in Michigan. It has haunted me ever since.
  12. The first book I ever loved was Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost.
  13. I really don’t like audiobooks. They just aren’t my jam. Give me a physical book with pages, please.
  14. While I nursed my children I re-read a few of the great classics, the most memorable being Les Miserables. (Yes, I had that much time and focus during those late night sessions to read a hefty piece of literature.)
  15. I have never read Austen. Instead, I was a huge fan of the Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre being a book I have also read in adulthood and loved even more.
  16. I love to read series (YA series to be specific)–and to get lost in them. In fact if a book is in a series and I loved the first one, I will not wait for the next books to come to the library, I will (quite quickly) own the whole series (minus the first book which I got from the library.) The only exception to this rule is Twilight. I have read all of them. I will not own any of them.
  17. I love that my teenage daughter has similar reading tastes to mine. We “borrow” from each other regularly. There are at least 3 books of hers that I am waiting to steal: Jaqueline Woodson’s Red to the Bone, and also, Six of Crows and Caraval.
  18. My son thinks I talk about books too much.
  19. I kept a running list of all the books I read from 2012 until 2017. For some reason, I either stopped reading books (very unlikely, although maybe…those were hectic years) or just stopped writing down titles (maybe I was embarrassed to write down that I had spread read the entire Outlander or Harry Potter series again…). I picked the practice up for like 3 months of 2020. This year sees me working to keep better record of the books I read.
  20. I love my local library. I always choose way more books that I could ever read. I am very bad at returning the books that I borrow from them. I am very thankful that there are no longer any return fees.

And a bonus…

21. If there are two non-fiction categories I am very good at completing its Food writing and Garden/Nature writing. And cookbooks. I love to read cookbooks.

Talking to a friend

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One challenge that is inherent in blog writing (and keeping to a schedule) is that, inevitably, there will come a time where I feel like I have nothing to say. You know the feeling, being physically tired, emotionally tired, just tired. Today is one of those days. I just don’t think I have much to say.

There was a time in my life where I felt the pressure to talk, as in I thought I had to talk all the time because to me, quiet was SOOOOOOO uncomfortable. If there was silence in a conversation, well, I had to fill it, because I was afraid that if I wasn’t talking, there was no reason for a friend to stay with me, to not be bored. Or even worse, I would have to sit with the thoughts that are constantly swirling around in my head. So I would make something, anything up, just to fill in the silence.

But this past year (oh, 2020 how we cannot forget you, no matter how hard we try) has taught me a lot about silence. About needing my own silence. About sitting with a struggling friend in their silence. About me being silent because I didn’t have words for my feelings. I learned that silence is okay, even healthy. Maybe, in a small way, I began to crave a little.

So tonight, I’m imagining that you are here, across from the table with me. We are each holding a steaming cup of tea. Mine is licorice, yours is a berry type. You add sugar to yours. I refill my mug with hot water a few times. And the comfortable pauses in our conversation are not painful or strained. They are calming. Natural. They give us the break to formulate a new thought, or think of a book to talk about, or remember a funny story about something.

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Tonight is our comfortable break. I don’t have a lot to say. That’s okay. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind though, but I won’t be pushy. We can just sit here together, sipping out mugs of hot tea (and enjoying some leftover birthday cake.)

P.S. My first newsletter is coming out this week. Are you signed up to get it? You can sign up below!

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Goals, goals, goals…

Or, how I almost ruined my entire year in the first three days….

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I love the new year. I “secretly” love to make resolutions. Only I don’t call them resolutions because that’s stupid and I only make it for about 2 days on whatever resolution I make. So, I do the sneaky thing and call them goals.

But then, the problem I have is that I like BIG goals–like knock your socks off, achieve the big things, get-really-excited about them goals. And I like to have quite a few of them. I get very excited about my new and shiny goals (I’m going to organize the WHOLE house! We’re going to be Vegan! I’m going to drop 8 pounds! I’m going to be an urban homesteader! I’m going to read a million books! I’m going to Journal. Every. Day! We’re going to have date nights every week! I’m going to go on a retreat one a quarter!–I’m sure you see the problem.)

However, when I start asking myself what I am going to do to achieve these goals, my head starts spinning out of control. How do I workout and clean and plan meals and do all the things…and not loose my head over it all? The honest answer is: I can’t possibly. And I start to totally freak out. I get totally immobilized and essentially achieve nothing for a few days and then I just stop. I don’t do anything. At all.

This year started as the others do: I’m going to to ALL THE THINGS! (I even had a blog post to write about all the things I was going to achieve–you would have been so impressed.) But I learned a few things in 2020 about my limits and my desires. I really do want to do all the things, but I am not super-human. Some things are more important than others. Some things will happen/not happen quite naturally alongside other healthy choices.

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So this year, I set only two real goals for myself.

  1. Be able to do 10 pull-ups & 10 chin-ups. (Along with working out, I know I will eat better because HEALTH).
  2. I want to be signed by an agent who believes in my work and wants to publish it. (This requires multiple steps & levels of work in social media, writing/editing, and perseverance in order to be achieved.)

And that’s it.

Because along with all the things I want to do in life, I want to practice grace and kindness. And the first person who needs to receive that from me….is me.

What about you? Do you do goals? Resolutions? How does it go for you? I’d love to hear!

Some thoughts on 2020

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Phew, we’ve almost made it, haven’t we? In the next week, all our feeds will be filled with “best of” lists and people making public their thoughts for 2021 (Hopefully, better than what many experienced in 2020!) But it doesn’t make much sense to move on to next year, without reflecting on the year we are finishing. Does it?

I know, 2020 wasn’t the year any of us wanted it to be. And it was full of such contradictions. Even yesterday, I saw two very contradictory posts. One told me that if I managed to survive 2020 intact, I had succeeded and that should be celebrated. The very next post offered me a plan to do more, be more, get more done, be less lazy. 2020 has been the year when we gave ourselves grace but also wanted more. We cheered when we managed to get up, shower, and remember what day it was, but also lamented all that we couldn’t get done. Anyone else’s house look like a herd of dinosaurs live in it?

However, I don’t want to jump ahead to the new things of a new year (think health goals, house organization, and professional goals) without taking some time to reflect on the lessons and learning that happened in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a list of what I learned.

  1. I am a feelings person, but after the initial onslaught of (paralyzing?) emotions, I buckle down and (usually) get the hard stuff done. In the spring, every new shutdown/limit sent me into a tailspin for 24-48 hours. But after the freak out came the plan and I got to work. (The idea that I am a feelings person is new to me. Honestly, for my whole life I thought I was a rational, logical thinker.) So now, I allow myself time to feel my feelings without guilt and then I move on and get to the task at hand.
  2. 2020 was a frickin’ hard year for all of us. Mental Health challenges in our home and in people around me. First, I learned a lot about the Mental Health systems in our area. But most importantly, I learned empathy and a whole lot of compassion. First, for the struggling people in my life and then for myself. Self-compassion is the hardest thing in the world for me.
  3. This year needs to be remembered, for me anyway, as one where the social injustices of systems were laid bare on the table. From the disproportionate deaths of people of color to COVID to protests and riots for the deaths of black men and women, this year forced me to think hard about my privilege as white woman. And it marked the beginning of a time of learning from BIPOC.
  4. 2020 is the year I realized that I am entering Act 2 of my life. And there are some things I want to do and achieve. With a house full of teenagers, I realize that I have time on my hands where they don’t need me. Although 2020 has been hyper intense parenting, there was lots of time for me to think about my own goals. And I’m willing to work towards those goals. For me, 2020 will be marked as the year that I started to think about & discover what I want to do with my life. I don’t think that would have happened without the forced slow-down of COVID quarantine.
  5. Finally, I learned about the powerful effect of small things. A friend who dropped everything to sit with my daughter when her cat died. Long zoom calls with family far away. Well-timed check-in calls and texts. People who listen. Conversations on the couch with teenagers who are learning and thinking and discovering their own selves. Near-daily walks regardless of weather. Social Distanced porch nights full of laughter. Cuddles with kids who aren’t too old to be held by mom. The all-inclusive love of Jesus. Routine. Small bits of quiet I took for myself. I could go on. . .

It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2020 was one of the hardest years I have encountered in my life (And that beats the years when all the kids were toddlers and Eric was working away from the house for 60 hours a week). And there were so many losses. BUT with a little reflection, I can see how much I gained.

How was your 2020? Was there loss? Was there gain? I’d love to hear your reflections on this life-altering year.

P.S. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter. The first one will launch in January 2021 and there you will be able to follow my honest journey to publication. You’ll want to be along for that ride. I promise.

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The Right Time for New Things

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Six successful gingerbread houses at the end of a fun night.

This year, for the very first time ever in my life, I made a gingerbread house. Actually, I made a graham cracker house, but you get the idea. I found and made the recipe for the icing that is like cement when it hardens, I purchased candy canes and gum drops and other candies and raided my cupboards for sprinkles and colored sugar crystals.

And I forced every other member of my family to do it with me. Forced family fun night.

For lots of years, we didn’t do stuff like this. Personally, I didn’t have the energy to force the work of it on myself. I knew I would be angry and frustrated and there would be tears. (I’m not Pinterest mom.) For me, that’s totally not worth it. But now my kids are entirely self-sufficient (they are 16, 15, 13, & 11) and I dropped all my standards for what would be good or acceptable. What they made was theirs. And I didn’t need to police it at all.

We had a fantastic time. We laughed, we made a huge mess and at the end, there were 6 creative, individual gingerbread houses covered in glitter and icing and candy.

But you know, this would have never worked in our family, even one year ago. Success, in this case, is a matter of timing.

Reflecting on it, making gingerbread houses this year is a lot like launching a writing career, or any new and different endeavor. Usually, success is a matter of timing (and a few other things, like persistence, skill, connections, etc).

So it goes in other things too: Success is usually a matter of timing. I actually finished my book 6 years ago. I put it on a shelf and let it sit. It wasn’t the right time. I couldn’t give it what it needed to be successful, my family demanded me full time, and I needed to grow in a number of ways.

But now, it’s closer to the right time. It’s time for me to consider my “next act.” I’m not scared to go out there a bit on my own. I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m much more able to see and accept difficult emotions and situations. I’ve managed my own tough stories. So it’s time.

And I’m hoping what turns out of this whole thing is at least as fulfilling as making my very first gingerbread house.

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This is my little gingerbread house, complete with a gum drop snow man.
And he’s not supposed to look so angry, but it was my first time doing this so be kind.

What’s in it for you?

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Hey friend–

So I’ve been thinking of this little blog as our place of conversation on the interwebs. I’m learning that there are lots of ways to have real, authentic relationships with people. And one way is through the way we share our lives in the virtual sphere.

But, I’m super bad at just talking about myself as we’re working to get to know each other. If you meet me at a party, you’ll notice that I ask a lot of questions, especially if I’m in new or uncomfortable space. I like to let other people tell me what they’re interested in. I find other people so fascinating. I love hearing all about the things people love and what brings them joy and what they are curious about. And what kind of books they love and what they’d recommend to others.

As I’m working to define this online space, I’m curious as to what you’d like to hear. There are gobs and gobs of people who are so good at this online space. It’s not hard to find high quality writings, posts, videos, blogs, and podcasts on everything: writing, reading, cleaning & organizing, cooking, health and lifestyle, faith thoughts, homeschooling, special needs parenting, mental health, youth ministry, teenagers–essentially anything that I think I know anything about.

So, I’d like to hear from you. What’s going on? What do you want to read about here? What can we “talk” about?

P.S. If you want to follow my journey to publication (the good, the bad, the ugly), sign up to receive my monthly newsletter.

What’s saving my life right now?

Jen Hatmaker concludes every podcast with this exact question to each of her guests. “What’s saving your life right now?” She accepts any answer, whether deep or surface, silly or serious. And the answers range that gamut as well.

We’ve been embroiled in this COVID pandemic for 9 months. In early spring, we all shut down. I don’t have to remind any of you what that was like–we all stayed home, stayed safe, and worked to lower the curve. In the words of Dr. Adam London, director of the Kent County Health Department, we were heroic.

And man, I managed the heck out of that first lock down (once the franticness of it calmed down). I had a schedule and system to help my youngest thrive, the olders finished the school year with decent grades, largely unaffected by pandemic learning. I was working out 2-3 times a week, my family was getting fed (or at least I remember some menus.) I think I even managed a few small organizational projects. It was also the time when I felt the nudge to embark on this writing career in a more serious manner. I was carrying the world on my shoulders. Yes, I was tired and often overwhelmed, but really, it was going fairly well. The weather was improving and spring was in full bloom with the promise of summer.

This time around, I feel like I am barely managing. I feel like I am simply one minor crisis away from complete collapse. These shoulders are tired (maybe I’m carrying things that aren’t mine to carry..). In our home, we’ve faced a pretty serious mental health emergency which woke me up to how emotionally devastating this entire thing has been for so many of us. Also, it revealed to me how little of this is mine to fix or manage. I feel utterly powerless in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, a shifting culture, and the pain and needs of the people whom I love.

So first, before anything else, a PSA from my heart to you. If you are suffering in the midst of this, you are not alone. If you feel that you are in danger of harm to yourself, please know there are resources for you. You can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to have a person to talk to at any time. Tell someone of the pain you’re in–let others around you help. You are valuable, precious, and deeply loved. We weren’t created to live solitary lives, but in times like these, it sometimes feels like the work of a lifetime to build community.

So what’s saving my life this time around? Well, it isn’t cute little “self-care” things. A bubble bath has never been my cure. Even a nighttime glass of wine really isn’t it for me. Also, my house feels like a disaster every moment of the day and I want to dish out lots of dollars to the Home Edit ladies to come fix it all. New containers will fix everything, won’t they?

The things saving my life right now is the work of finding beauty of the world around me, even when it’s gray and cold outside (and I really don’t want to take my dog for another walk, but I do anyway). It’s texting or talking with my friends. It’s being mindful about the food I eat, the media I absorb, and the ways I move my body. It’s making time to work on my writing in the midst of all the other things I’m responsible for. It’s leaning hard into my faith which declares that all of this broken world belongs to God. It’s purposely finding quiet in a noisy home. And sleep, lots of good sleep.

We’re in it for the long haul. So, how are you? What’s saving your life right now?