Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's Down the Road?

It's happening again. It is still sinking in as I glance over at my newly installed stainless steel shelves that we bought a couple of weeks ago, a desperate attempt at adding much needed storage space in the kitchen. Note that I said "the" kitchen. Not "my" kitchen. Anything we have added to this house is really ours and anything that was here already is really theirs. The reality of renting. After many years of being a homeowner, it is difficult to hold back from making too many improvements. When you own your house, each improvement is justified with the notion you are adding value to your home. When you rent, it only adds temporary satisfaction and more nail holes to fill when you leave.

At the time you try not to think of that day. The day you will leave seems like some distant moment in time. It has been 18 months in this house now and we were looking forward to the next 6 month lease renewal when the curve ball hit two days ago. "Mrs. MacFarlane? VIP realty here, I have some bad news." Initially I thought maybe the rent was going up. I braced for the number. "The homeowner's circumstances have changed and they need to move back into the house." I felt my heart sink and my thoughts were swirling. No, I thought, not this. "You have two months notice." I stood at the window and looked at my paw paw plants that were growing nicely and the Clivia I planted a few months ago that would surely start to show me an emerging bud any day now, my herb garden that seemed to be flourishing since the last feeding and felt the simple joys of these things slipping away. The hope and anticipation draining from my body and landing on the floor beneath my feet. A puddle of sadness. 

Two months. Where will we live? Will there be a garden? Will there be a pool? Will we have wonderful neighbours? Will kangaroos graze by my back fence? Will the kitchen be worse or better? How will I find the energy and enthusiasm to do this all over again? The 6th time since 2011. Whaaaaaaa! I need chocolate...and wine.

Now that it has sunk in, it has occurred to me that I have done it again. I have grown attached. Attached to this house, this neighbourhood, the birds, the sound of the kookaburras each morning in the bush across the road, the grey and white cat that hunts in my back yard, even the dated ugly kitchen (ok, so maybe not that). How do we avoid it? It is a well-known basic tenet of Buddhism. Attachment causes suffering. And what would it look like now if I was not attached to any of these things? Would I not feel defeated and sad or filled with sentimentality? Would I just accept this news without any pain or emotion and take the necessary steps to gather up my belongings (which have grown along with my attachment) and find a new place to live? That is what will happen. But before I go turning lemons into lemonade, I will linger a bit longer here in my puddle of sadness.

 OK, that's done.

So, time to pull up my big girl panties and do what needs to be done. Search. View. Negotiate. Purge. Pack. Sprain my back. Sweat. Move. Rearrange. Spend. Resettle. 

I must remember to leave my change of address for my birds. 

And hope they find me.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

Creating Health

Zoodles with garlic and kale

So the vegan journey continues. I am well past the two month mark now and there are some interesting observations. For starters, my overall health has improved. Not surprising. Just about every morsel of food that passes my lips is made from scratch. Yeah, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. For some this may sound like drudgery, but for me it is a little slice of heaven. I find it creative and peaceful and at the end of every session I spend chopping, slicing, mixing and whirring in there, I have a tangible result and I feel productive. Some are more successful than others. 

There was a bitter pot of soup that was a flop and went in the bin and a vegan feta cheese made out of tofu that joined the soup. May they rest in foul tasting peace together. However for the most part the food has been very good, with some dishes deserving of  "seriously awesome". Last night for instance - the recipe was for Vegan Chikin Pot Pie. I did not use the faux chicken that the recipe called for and instead added more veggies and it was a real winner.  I am not a fan of all those fake vegan meats and cheeses that you can buy in the grocery stores. I find they can be as full of weird shit and preservatives as other meat-filled processed stuff that is available, so I make my own vegan burgers and cheeses so I know exactly what is in them and can add things that make them healthier and/or tastier. You could say I have become semi-obsessed with knowing what the hell I am putting in my body, and you would be right. 

I feel the same way now about cosmetics and anything that I slather on my skin. Eating is the not the only entry point for toxins. My household cleansers are all environmentally friendly and I practice organic gardening. One result of all these changes in my daily life is that it has taken away the guilt I used to feel about using toxic products that end up back in our soil and water table. As for the guilt I used to feel about killing animals, well that is a thing of the past now too.

Perhaps the most glaring thing I have noticed is how I feel after I eat my meals. Even when I eat too much at a meal, I never feel heavy or bloated. I like the new feeling. Another thing I like is never having to worry about cross-contamination in the kitchen when I am cooking. With no raw animal products being cleaned or cut up there is no need to worry about that. I have never enjoyed handling raw meat and chicken and I don't miss that at all, especially reaching inside the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to dig out that limp bloody wet bag of organs before stuffing that bird. 

So, those are some of the benefits. The most difficult aspect I have encountered is the challenge of eating out in restaurants as so few of them offer vegan choices and I don't consider french fries a healthy vegan choice. Nor does a pathetic tossed green salad with bottled dressing and a slice of barely ripe tomato excite me. I would rather stay home than eat like that. If I lived in a metropolitan city, I would have more choices, but such is my present situation. There is one restaurant in Bundaberg that can and will cater to vegan diets with creativity and flare, but driving over an hour to go out for a meal is not the most practical choice. 

The other challenge that I have managed to politely deflect so far is having to defend my choices. The big question everyone always asks is how do you get your protein. From now on I am going to just tell people to google it. All the information you need about getting adequate protein on a vegan diet is out there and it is easy and a no-brainer so stop asking. Most people consume way too much protein anyway - you can google that too.  And yes, I do take a Vitamin B12 supplement and I use fortified nutritional yeast in many recipes, so I am not going to shrivel up and die anytime soon for lack of it. 

The best question of all though is ..."What do you eat if  you don't eat meat and dairy?" HUH? I eat every and all types of vegetables, fruits, grains, nut milks, coconut yogurt, nuts and seeds and I experiment constantly with various combinations and seasonings. My meals are inventive and delicious and satisfying. In fact, my cooking is so much more creative now than it has ever been. Now that vegetables are the starring role on my plate, I am finally whipping them into the culinary main event they deserve to be versus the boring sideshow they have been relegated to for way too long.

I have also discovered a whole new tribe. There is a big bad vegan world out there. We may be separated by miles but we are connected in the cyber world any time of day or night with a click. We follow each other on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and it will be a miracle if I ever live long enough to try all the tempting and tantalizing recipes I am accumulating daily. I have new vegan heroes like Angela Liddon, author of Oh She Glows and talented raw chef Doug McNish and Rich Roll,  and blogs like The One Ingredient Chef , The Minimalist Baker, The Sprouted Kitchen, Fork and Beans, Gluten-Free-Vegan Girl, Pickles and Honey, Vegan Richa, Hell yeah it's Vegan and on and on. 

The truth is, going vegan has been like a big new adventure in living for me.

One that hopefully keep me living long enough for many more adventures.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Eating Crow and Humble Pie

What's more annoying than a reformed smoker?

A reformed carnivore.

This morning I am neither smoking or ordering up bacon and eggs. No, I am eating crow, aka, a shit sandwich.  I have been preaching and the funny thing is, I hate preachers. I recall when my daughter first became vegetarian about 7 years ago, she would sit across from me in a restaurant and ask me how I was enjoying my baby lamb or little calf or my plate of flesh and I would reel her in and tell her that vegetarianism was "her" personal decision and that it was not right to judge or try to force her opinions on others and after a while she backed off and we all lived in harmony with our food choices.

This morning, one of my dearest friends told me I sounded preachy lately and she was absolutely right. Just because I have changed, it is no business of mine to try and change the world along with me. I think I have gotten a little carried away with my postings on Facebook and even though I had an inkling I was being annoying at the time, I still felt passionate enough about the relationship between food and health, that I went ahead and hammered my point a little too forcefully. The truth is, I don't know for sure if eating meat or dairy is the cause of illness, or if not eating them is the cure. Nobody really knows for sure. There is research to support both ends of the spectrum. 

There is a good chance I did the same thing to smokers when I quit smoking in my twenties. The difference back then was that if I did preach, it was not splayed all over the internet. So, to any and all of you reading this blog, I vow from this day forward to try not to preach. The last thing I want to do is annoy or offend the people I love and care about. I certainly see that there is no one right answer and to illustrate exactly how true that is, take a look at the following two stories. The first one is the story of Annette Larkins, a 70-something woman from Florida who claims her raw vegan lifestyle for the past 27 years has been her answer to the proverbial quest for the fountain of youth. The second story is that of the Guinness Book of Records world's oldest female body builder, Ernestine Shepherd,  who eats 10 egg whites and a handful of walnuts for breakfast everyday. Both of these women seem to be healthy and full of 

Vegan, Annette Larkins

Body Builder, Ernestine Shepherd

Maybe we all just need to do what feels right for us. The goal is not to live a long life, but a long and healthy life and how you get there is a very personal journey.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Good Enough

We do it to ourselves really, don't we? Just when  you think you have achieved or perfected something and are happy with the method used or the result, you take the bait. You see the headline or the tag line and instead of just continuing to scroll you click on it. 

The dreaded click. 

After all, why wouldn't you want to strike a better yoga pose, or bake a better cake or take a better photograph, or have a more mind-blowing orgasm, or be a better parent, or get more from your meditation practice, or have the most organized closet...or, or, or.

These are the continuous subliminal messages that flog us daily. Clearly the way you are doing it is not good enough. It's not fast enough or slow enough, or intense enough or tasty enough. It applies to our work, our relationships, our hobbies, our cooking, our possessions, our homes, our travel destinations, our skill at just about anything. Let's face it, none of us are good enough at anything. There is always a better way.

As much as I can see through these admonishments intellectually, there is still a latent curiosity to have a quick peak to see if maybe, just maybe I could change things up a bit to improve upon what I already thought was pretty good. It is almost as though you need to see if the difference between how you do it already and how someone else does it is just a matter of a quick and easy tweak that will elevate whatever it is to some sort of Nirvana. Not content with a simple bowl of hot oatmeal with cream and brown sugar like your mom always made you, no worries, make it like this and turn your morning bowl of gruel into a foodgasm.  

It diminishes your reality. That's what it does. Just when you think you have found the perfect little black dress, the September issue of Vogue poo poo's your choice. Think you have a wonderful loving and harmonious relationship? Look there - Sting and Trudie Styler practice Tantric sex and have the perfect house to boot! It's enough to make you stop the madness and just unplug altogether. Turn off the devices and put an end to the constant reminders that you can and should be and do better. 

The truth is, we can always improve because none of us are perfect. But do we really need to bother? And what is it that drives us to try? Why is perfection a goal at all, because even those who seem to achieve it in some area of their life often find it does not make them happy. The list of celebrities that we have at one time or another viewed as having achieved the perfect lives and then blew it all up in some way is endless. Think Robin Williams for instance, whose tragic departure from our world almost a year ago still saddens and perplexes us. So talented. So loved. So fortunate. So dead.

I had my own interesting discovery last week. My first boyfriend and first love who I had, until last week, thought had it all - or so it seemed.  I knew he had married the girl who came into his life after me, they had financial success, three children who were privileged to attend the best schools, a nice home and a summer cottage. I was happy for him. It seemed he had the happily ever after we all want. As I scrolled my Facebook feed I noticed a woman with a hyphenated name - hers and his. Hmmm, that was odd. I dug a little further and sure enough it turned out his perfect marriage ended some time around 2007. Sigh. One more fairy tale life bites the dust. It does seem that they have both gone on to re-marry and give it another go - maybe this time they will find that elusive perfect relationship. Maybe not.

The key for them and for all of us really may be to not expect perfection. Just wake up each morning and be grateful for how it is, and how they are and be thankful to be alive and perfectly imperfect. As much as I have come to find Dr. Phil annoying, he did have a couple of great ideas when it came to relationships. One thing he used to say that I have never forgotten had something to do with asking yourself "What can I do to make my partner's life easier today?".  The other thing he used to say was "How much fun are you to live with?" I think those two simple ideas are really effective. It prompts giving and introspection. And those two activities alone could be enough to achieve happily ever after as long as both partners participate. 

And on that note, I am going to the kitchen to make a pot of soup. Not the most mind-blowing, foodgasmic, gourmet's dream crock of hot nectar of the gods. Just a simple, nutritious, tasty pot of goodness, the way I have made it many times before. A "clean out the crisper" soup that will be less than perfect, but more than adequate.  

A "good enough" soup. Good enough for me.

Everybody Poops

A fitted sheet flaps in the breeze

The foxtail palm fronds sway gently

Dappled winter light dances on the lawn

Ripples on the pool surface cast moving shadows

on the steel shed next door.

Lorikeets chatter incessantly

while kookaburras gather and laugh

high upon a gum tree branch.

All is well with the world outside my window.

That is when I notice

what's so funny. 

A cheeky butcher bird has left his calling card

Streaky, slimy and seedy

dripping down the freshly laundered sheet. 

Bird humour,

I guess.

We are not amused.

Monday, July 6, 2015

It may not be killing you...Yet!

There seems to be this old school thinking that if what you eat has not "killed you", then it is safe to eat. I had this conversation one day with my aging parents. They are adamant about using their artificial sweeteners. Apparently one of their many doctors told them it was safe to use them, so that was all they needed to hear. Despite my encouragements to try Stevia or honey or maple syrup or agave, they insist on using them. They even said to me - "it hasn't hurt us". Well, that is where I beg to differ. No, I said, you are certainly still alive, but do you honestly think you are in good health? There was a slight pause as I put that thought out there for them. But, it was not enough to get them to change their ways. 

My father has had several illnesses over the past decade or more. He has had a quadruple bypass surgery. He is diabetic. He is currently battling lymphoma and just endured 7 weeks of chemo. He chalks all this up to the luck of the draw. Some people just get sick he reckons.  He has never even considered that what he eats might have an impact on his health. I don't get it. I also don't get anyone else who thinks this way. He does not consider for a moment that a lifetime of artificial sweeteners, sugar, alcohol, meat and dairy consumption and massive quantities of prescription drugs have had anything to do with his countless health issues. His health issues have been frequent and many since his early 50's. He has seen dozens of doctors and endured many surgeries. Not once has he put two and two together.

What is even more tragic in all of this is that not ONE of those doctors over the last 20 years has ever given him any nutritional advice. NOT ONE! This is more than tragic. It is criminal. It is criminal that our doctors do not study nutrition. It is criminal that they do not consider it in their diagnosis of patients. It is criminal that they are undereducated in the field of nutrition. They see thousands of patients and by the time they see them, it is all about treating the symptoms and trying to stop the disease that has already set in due to lack of proper nutrition. There are countless research studies available that have linked cancer and meat consumption. There are as many linking inflammatory diseases like arthritis to dairy consumption. There is even a new study that has linked diabetes to meat consumption, not sugar as many believe. The information available to everyone including doctors is overwhelming, and yet they still do not advise their patients to try changing their diets. 

My own personal experience very recently is what finally pushed me to change to a plant-based diet. I went to see a doctor about some serious digestive issues. I was astounded that this doctor did not ask me one single question about what I was eating. NOT ONE! He was quick to write a prescription for tablets and testing as though what I was eating mattered not. That is when the light bulb finally went on for me. I always knew deep down inside me that it was the key, but now I was ready to really make the necessary changes to test my theory. I stopped eating meat and dairy and have been eating a plant-based diet for over two months now. I have had the odd glass of wine or beer, but did find that it did not always agree with me. I quit coffee and tea and added more fermented foods. I eat very little sugar.  I stopped taking the meds he prescribed after 3 days. They were making me feel worse.

I have been sleeping better. I have more energy. All of my Achilles and ankle swelling is gone. My arthritic hands are 80% better. I do not take any medications whatsoever. I try to eat organic as much as possible. I have to wonder how my father's health may have been had he adopted some of these strategies in his 50's. 

So, the next time you say that the food you eat is fine; that it is not affecting your health and it does not matter, then turn to me, and tell me about this ailment and that ailment, I urge you to make some changes and just see what happens. It makes more sense to me to give your diet an overhaul rather than run to the pharmacy and scarf down pills to ease  your symptoms. Your symptoms are trying to tell you something. Masking them does not get rid of the root causes. 

None of this is new. Hippocrates had it figured out a long time ago. 

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

"Walking is a man's best medicine."

"If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health."