Inner Wisdom

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Yes that’s me, meditating out on the Granite Park Chalet trail, about two and half miles in (or should I say, up).

This trail kicked my butt last year (twice) and I didn’t do any better with it this year.  Admittedly, I expected it to be easier this year since I feel like I’m in better hiking shape.  But alas, no.  This is NOT an easy hike.  It is an uphill grind for almost four miles and then four steepish miles back down.  Before I sat down to commune with myself and the universe I was winded and miserable, and I still couldn’t decide if I wanted to continue.  David, undoubtedly sensing that my ego was running amok (but I SHOULD be able to finish…!) suggested I sit on this log, enjoy the scenery (we are in one of the most gorgeous places on earth after all) and meditate a bit.

So I sat (Ahhhhh!), and looked around me and saw this:

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Then I closed my eyes, and started to meditate.  As a familiar feeling of peace descended on me, all the “shoulds” and “buts” fell away.  I had a knowing that my ego had indeed run amok.  I had stopped being present, and instead of enjoying the spectacular views and my spectacular husband I was fretting about why I wasn’t able to handle a decidedly strenuous climb.

Like many of us, I can struggle with tuning into what I really want.  I can be hijacked by feelings of inadequacy or competitive tendencies that drown out my inner voice, the one that is aligned with the me that knows I am good enough no matter what I “accomplish”.  And in that hijacked place I lose perspective and make decisions that seldom serve me well. Plus I’m not all that wonderful to be around.  In the quiet and stillness of meditation I gain access to my inner voice and my inner wisdom.  In this case I quickly knew that while I felt some disappointment that I didn’t have as much stamina as I would have liked, I was ready to turn around and enjoy, rather than dread, the rest of the hike and our day. And that’s just what I did.

As we made our way home, we were treated to some gorgeous scenery, and I was present for all of it.  Here are some of the highlights in pictures (for you Shannon!):

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And all is well.

Travel Like a (Vegan) Boss

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Greetings from Glacier National Park!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that David and I did this exact trip a year ago, and it was so fantastic that we decided to go back for two weeks this year.  We arrived yesterday after over two full days of driving.  It felt great to get out and hike this morning, and breathtaking Avalanche Lake was our first stop.  Everything feels the same, but different.  First of all, the weather is hot, hot!  Last year we did some hiking in the snow.  This Tucson girl prefers the heat!

The biggest difference from last year to this year though is that this year we are vegans.  And as all of my vegan pals know, that can complicate things unless you plan, plan, plan!  So that’s just what we did.  From the drive to get up here to hanging out at the park to finding reasonably accommodating restaurants we are on it and I’m convinced that this will be a smashing trip.  Here’s how we’ve done it so far…

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Our general plan for driving up here was to do a short leg from Tucson to Flagstaff on Thursday night (about four hours), stay over in Flagstaff, then continue on to Park City, Utah on Friday.   Since we did this trip last year, we knew that between cities we would be treated to spectacular scenery and absolutely nothing healthy or vegan to eat.  So we took a little cooler with some cold packs for all the perishables (Trader Joe’s vegan wraps, hummus, veggies, peanut butter) and tossed the rest of the nosh in shopping bags in the back seat.  The Boy Scouts have nothing on us as you can see from our pile of provisions!  BE PREPARED!

Along with bringing our own eats, we checked out Happycow.net to see where we might be able to grab a vegan bite in Flagstaff and/or Park City.  We found a funky-looking place for breakfast in Flagstaff called the Whyld Ass Cafe (really!), and according to the info the place opened at 5:30am.  So we took a few extra minutes to find this place hoping we could get a muffin and coffee and be on our way.  I like to frequent as many vegan restaurants as I can so they stay in business. Unfortunately, when we found the place it looked closed (like for good).  Not sure if that’s the case, but there was no sign of life there.  So, we found the nearest Starbucks, got some soy lattes and made some peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast.  No problem for us but a good reminder that while Happycow is a good resource, it’s not perfect.  For me a little bag of Starbucks almonds was not going to cut it.  I was glad to have my provisions.

En route to Park City, we stopped at a highway convenience place and munched on our Trader Joe wraps in the Burger King.  I was dying to find some picnic tables or anywhere else to enjoy our lunch, but the options were non-existent.  The whole scene there was pretty depressing and an acute reminder of how important it is that we spread the word about the health benefits of plant-based eating.  At least we were able to eat our own healthy and satisfying food.  By the way, if you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s vegan wraps, you’re missing out.  There’s a great selection (falafel, unchicken, lentil and veggie) and they travel well.  These are our go-to sandwiches for travel of any kind.  Convenient, tasty and filling.

Once in Park City, we unloaded our little cooler and put everything in the hotel room fridge overnight.  This Best Western happened to have a larger than average mini-fridge with a freezer area for refreezing our cold packs.  I hadn’t asked about this in advance, but in the future I will.  It made a big difference to be able to put all our stuff in a refrigerator overnight and those teeny tiny ones don’t fit much.  In Park City, we found a place (also on Happycow) that had a decent selection of vegan options.  It was right on the main drag, and it’s called 501 Main:

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We learned a lot here, particularly that the vegan food you request might not actually be vegan.  Case in point:

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We treated ourselves to “vegan” onion slivers with our drinks.  As you can see, the chipotle dipping sauce looks a bit creamy.  We made it clear to the waiter that we wanted the vegan option.  He obviously had no idea what vegan actually is, because when David asked him what was in the sauce he said “buttermilk”.  Uh, no.  He replaced it with another fruity dressing which didn’t exactly go with fried onions.  Maybe that was the universe suggesting that I could do better than fried onions.

I ended up having vegan chili (mine is much better) and a salad (mine is much better), and David ordered one of their specials, a vegetable risotto in a potato crust (vegan option).  When the dish arrived David dug in and lifted up a fork full of stringy cheese.  Um, no again.  Apologies, apologies and the vegan version arrived:

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This was actually very tasty (Mine isn’t better because I’ve never made it!).  We enjoyed our time at 501 Main hanging at the bar and watching World Cup Soccer, but the food bit was a grind.  It was a reminder that we really need to be vigilant.

Day two of driving took us out of Utah, through Idaho and into Montana.  Lunch again was in a truck stop place, but this time we munched on homemade hummus, veggies and crackers in the McDonalds.  Interestingly, the McDonalds was pretty empty so we didn’t have to deal with as much of a sensory onslaught.  Everyone seemed to be eating at Subway.  No better, but at least we could chill in peace.

Many hours and lots of chips and mango slices later we arrived in Columbia Falls.  Because we are staying in a time-share community, we have a terrific one bedroom condo with a full kitchen and all of the amenities.  We’ve  always enjoyed vacationing this way, but it’s particularly helpful now that we’re vegan.  This area has no vegan restaurants, and while we can make our way through some Asian and pizza places our plan is to cook most meals ourselves.  So as soon as we got settled we ran out to the local supermarket for some staples.

We started the day today with a berry smoothie (we brought our Vitamix with us) and hit the trail.  In the afternoon we needed to go to Costco for some additional items, and we were thrilled to find a Natural Grocer across the street.  TOTAL SCORE!  If you don’t have Natural Grocer near you, it is a store of all organic products including produce.  The selection of vegan products is excellent.  I’m now certain that we will have all we need for these two weeks.

I’m sure that my desire to cook will eventually start to wane, and we will venture out into Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Kalispell to see what we can find in the local restaurants.  A few places look promising, and as we make our way through the local offerings I will report back on how we’re faring.   In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a whole lot more of this:

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and this:

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The Perfect Age To Go Vegan

It seems that I went vegan at exactly the right age.  That was 54, by the way.  Did you know there is a perfect age to go vegan?  Well, I didn’t either, but apparently there is.  I know this because I’ve been told by countless people who are older than me that they are too old to go vegan.  You know, folks in their 60s, 70’s and 80’s who are, by their own admission, too set in their ways to make such a significant change.  And I’ve also been told by many younger people that they want to have their fill of all life has to offer (you know, like I did for decades) before considering limiting themselves to a vegan lifestyle.  They believe they are too young to go vegan.

Clearly, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I’ve heard these rationalizations and justifications plenty, even among people who claim to know about the suffering of the animals, the raping of the planet and the negative impact of an omnivorous diet on our health. And each time I am faced with comments like these I have thoughts and feelings of my own that in the moment I have trouble communicating.  So I thought I’d post some of these here.

“But I’m too old…”

This really saddens me, and I don’t say that in a condescending way.  I like to believe that with age comes wisdom and I see no wisdom in these words.  While I understand that change can feel overwhelming for many people, especially as they age, I believe this attitude is limiting.  It serves neither the individual nor society.

From a health perspective, switching to a vegan diet does not guarantee you will be forever free of disease or illness, but it is well known that a plant-based diet can vastly improve health, particularly if one is suffering from one of the “diseases of affluence” like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer.   Our system of healthcare in the United States is predicated on a medical model which usually results in treating symptoms rather than finding root causes, so it doesn’t surprise me when I hear of folks spending a great deal of their time going from doctor to doctor with the hope of feeling better.  The docs may or may not be of help, but ignoring the huge role that diet plays is missing a key aspect of health and wellness.  Doctors are oftentimes woefully uninformed about nutrition, which is seldom taught in medical school, yet we (and especially seniors) have been raised to believe that the doctors have all the answers.

A well-planned plant-based diet has no “side effects” yet so many older people with health issues are loathe to even consider making the change. I don’t get this.  To me, any successful intervention that limits engagement with our broken health care system is a slam dunk both for ourselves and our debt-ridden society.  Plus, there is something so empowering about taking control of our own health.  If you haven’t seen “Forks Over Knives”, and you are of the “I’m too old” mentality, I highly recommend it.  It just might change how you view change and aging.

Regarding the animals and environment, it baffles me how someone can learn about these atrocities and decide that they’re too old or set in their ways to lead by example and do something about it. Regarding going vegan, I’ve heard from some people that they couldn’t make much of an impact, so why bother.  While I can understand the sentiment given the enormity of the animal suffering and planet devastation,  I’ve seen these same folks engage in all sorts of other philanthropic, volunteer and community-based activities  trying to make a difference in some small yet important way.  Sadly, if we don’t address this problem, the rest of the problems will start to pale in comparison, and it’s likely that I and those who are older than me will be long gone.  But what of our children and grandchildren? They are the heirs to the hubris of previous generations (including mine) and I think it’s time we take responsibility. They are watching, and something we can all do today is stop contributing to the killing and destruction and start to clean up the messes we help create.  And it can be as simple as changing what we put on our plates. Gaining wisdom and sharing that wisdom is exactly what our world needs.  I don’t think we are ever too old to live more compassionately and with greater awareness and integrity.  In fact, I’d say that’s pretty much the point of it all.

But I’m too young…

I haven’t met one vegan who doesn’t wish that he or she had woken up and made the change long ago.  This is why it can be so difficult to speak with younger people who understand and are aware of the issues with factory farming, the environment and health.  I often hear some version of  “you got to have fun and eat whatever you wanted for 50+ years, so why do I, as a twenty-something or thirty-something, have to think about this?”  It’s as though a vegan lifestyle is synonymous with deprivation and limited opportunity.  A variation on this theme is the “I’ve got a life to make happen here;  I don’t have time for this”.  “This” in this case refers to all the perceived inconveniences of making a large lifestyle change while dealing with career building and social life and fitting in.  In some cases, I would say that the perception is the reality.  Going vegan can make aspects of our lives more difficult, especially at first. What is missing though is the understanding that “this” is really where the compassion is–where the heart is.   Loving animals and eating animals is not a comfortable thing.  Neither is repressing our sense of justice and fairness.  Compassionate living is peaceful living.

That being said, I actually understand these protestations. I really do.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a senior citizen with declining health but I do remember what it was like to be 20, 30 and 40.  I remember ignoring common sense and my own health.  I remember being very me-focused and then kid-focused.  I can’t in good conscience say that if I had become aware of the plight of the animals or water scarcity or the negative health impact of Jarlsberg cheese I would have changed a thing.  I like to think that I would have, but who knows.  But I would have liked to have known what life would have felt like for me and my children if it had been infused with honesty and the joy that comes from living my values from the very beginning.  I see my stepson, Jeff (a vegan) teaching his son about the dignity of all living things, and I know that this is the path forward for all of us.

What I also know, and what these young people can’t know, is just how good it feels to be vegan.   A vegan lifestyle is about abundance, not deprivation. To joyfully play with a companion animal knowing that dinner is not a different sentient being.  To put on clothes that no animal had to die or suffer for.  To look at our own children and know that we’re doing the very best we can to ensure that they and their children will have clean air to breath and clean water to drink.  This is what a vegan lifestyle is all about.  And no steak or pizza  can possibly top that.   In addition,  I firmly believe that when we open our hearts to the animals, we open our hearts to everything, including our own potential.  All the hamster-wheeling in the world won’t help us find what we’re meant to be doing in this world, but by knowing and living our own values the answers are likely to come.  And we’re never too young to get started with that.

My Neglected Blog and Recipe of the Week

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These are super simple and chewy chocolate chip cookies, but I’ll get to that in a minute…

Oh my goodness, where have the weeks gone?  It’s been about three weeks since I last posted and my “Recipe of the Week” should probably be renamed “Recipe of the Month”!  But I’m not quite ready to give up on weekly recipe postings just yet.

I have some good reasons and some not so good reasons for neglecting this blog lately (no judgment, just my own assessment).  First, I spent time in New York City attending Victoria Moran’s wonderful Main Street Vegan Academy, and now I’m a vegan lifestyle coach and educator!  Fifteen dedicated vegans from all over the country came together to learn, share and explore.  We heard from so many brilliant and committed professionals including Dr. Robert Ostfeld, Sherry Colb, JL Fields, Fran Costigan and others.  We also had time to enjoy the varied and wonderful vegan restaurants in New York, from vegan soul food at Seasoned Vegan to upscale eating at Candle Cafe West and Blossom to gazillions of options at Caravan of Dreams.

But easily the most wonderful part of the MSVA experience was sharing it with people with whom I feel a deep resonance.  I heard from many of my new friends that they sometimes feel isolated and sad.  I have certainly experienced some of that myself although both my husband and closest friend are vegan. Even before attending the academy I had begun actively seeking out like-minded friends here in Tucson and little by little I have been trying to build a community for myself. But I’m still aware of a need to scale it back or filter some of my thoughts and feelings about the animals.  At MSVA there was none of that.  While hanging with these people I could be fully open and honest.  I felt validated and understood and there is nothing better than that.  And being part of the MSVA alumni means I now have contacts and friends (I consider all MSVA grads to be friends) all over the country, and I will not hesitate to ask for their support or offer mine to them.

Another reason I’ve been neglecting my blog is because I decided, after a decade of saying “no, never”, to finally get on Facebook.  When Facebook first got going my daughter was in high school and heading off to college.  At that time getting on Facebook was a way to follow your kids to college and continue all manner of lurking.  I didn’t want any part of that.  And bearing witness to my sons’ adolescent shenanigans on Facebook didn’t seem like anything I wanted to do either.  But as Facebook morphed from the domain of kids and helicopter parents to the preeminent personal and business social network platform I knew I had to get connected.  And I’ve been enjoying my time there-too much time there actually, which is why my little blog has suffered.  It’s much easier to post pictures and share stuff than gather my thoughts and write something meaningful.  It didn’t take long for me to understand the allure of peeking into other people’s lives and letting them peek into mine.  And I did my share of “where are they now” searches.  But I think I’ve exhausted all that now, and instead I have another way of staying in touch with the people who matter to me.  And in terms of going forward with my vegan coaching, staying connected on social media is a must.  Evolution, evolution.

So on to recipes…I was going to share a recipe for a wonderful mushroom quinoa enchilada dish (you can see it on Facebook :)) but I don’t have permission yet from the author to reprint it.  If I get permission I’ll share it next week.  Regarding the cookies pictured above, I searched through lots of vegan chocolate chip cookie recipes for one that was not only delicious but super easy to make–one bowl, some elbow grease and a cookie sheet.   This recipe fit the bill and you can link to it here.  This uses coconut oil and a bit of almond milk but otherwise looks like the old Nestle Tollhouse version.  This batch came out great but I would probably use larger chips and add some nuts next time.

If you’ve got kids (or you’re still a kid!) and you need a quick and easy chocolate chip cookie recipe for all those school bake sales, this one should do the job.

Enjoy every sweet bite.

And don’t forget to “friend” me on Facebook (Lisa Slovin)