How to go from Vegan-Curious to Full-Fledged Vegan

I was lucky; I was highly motivated to change my diet. I was getting older and my numbers (cholesterol, weight, blood pressure etc.) were getting worse. I made the change to vegetarian in one moment after a visit to the doctor, and then a couple of months later, after reading about eggs, milk, and cheese, decided to go vegan. It has been—well, not effortless, but an interesting, rewarding, and delightful journey.

So what if you want to take this step but don’t know where to start? Here are my suggestions.

  1. Find a vegan group. I found mine on meetup.com. We have gatherings twice a month where I learn new recipes, can ask questions, find new cookbooks, and find out a lot of information. (Thanks, J.J.!) People who are vegan-curious go to those meetings as well as those who have been vegan for 35+ years. They’ve got a lot of information to share, like “Where to get your protein?” The answer? Everywhere. Cows are vegan. Elephants are vegan. They seem to get enough protein.
  1. Educate yourself. Here are some films to find and watch: Forks over Knives; Cowspiracy; GMO OMG, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and Dr. Greger’s three amazing videos from http://www.nutritionfacts.org: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day–Preventing Our Most Common Diseases, and From Table to Able–Combating Disabling Diseases with Food. Some of these are only about nutrition, and some are about environmental issues. None of these have footage of tortured animals, but they will change your idea about how meat, cheese, and dairy is produced, marketed, and delivered to the table. It ain’t pretty. Read The China Study, and The World Peace Diet.
  1. Buy a couple of vegan cookbooks. I have amassed a nice collection, but the one I seem to continually come back to is Vegan on the Cheap, because it has good recipes for vegan mayo, vegan sour cream, a delicious mushroom gravy, and all those basics that I threw out and didn’t want to replace with expensive ones in the grocery store, especially if I didn’t know whether or not I would like them. Vegan yogurt? I still haven’t tried it, but I do love vegan cheese—in small doses. Baking without eggs can be tricky, but The Joy of Vegan Baking has never failed me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Know that you’re going to have some failures. Not every culinary experiment is a winner. Annotate your cookbooks. Make adjustments. Cross out the terrible ones.
  1. Make a journal. This is an entirely new way of eating for our household, and I didn’t want to get stuck making the same three things over and over again. So when I get a new vegan cookbook, I read it, and mark the things I want to make. I write those down in the back of my journal. Then when I make them, I put them in the front of my journal, along with a grade. Some things I’ll never make again; some things have become staples.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Make a menu and a shopping list every week. I do this, and once the food is in the house, I only have to look at my menu and know what I’m going to cook for the evening. Sometimes these recipes have what seem like exotic ingredients, but once your pantry is stocked, you will be amazed at how little you spend on food every week. This week, for example, for two evening meals we’re eating leftovers from the freezer (love that Crockpot!), and for two other meals I only needed to buy a cabbage and some red bell peppers. I already have everything else. (Note: I have a soy milk maker, so I make our own soy milk and almond milk. (Thanks, Karen!) The appliance cost about $110, and I buy organic, non-GMO dried soybeans in 25-pound bags, so a quart of soymilk costs me about 25 cents.)
  1. Stock your kitchen with the basic appliances. I love my Crockpot, and have a couple of vegan Crockpot cookbooks. I was on this culinary journey for 18 months before I bit the bullet and bought a Vitamix and now I can’t imagine living without it. (Thanks, Jerry!) Soymilk maker. A rice cooker is mandatory, (Thanks, John and Mike!) as are good vegetable chopping implements, like quality knives and a mandolin.
  1. Take the time to look and appreciate at how beautiful your food has become. It has a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Notice how you can actually feel the micronutrients energize your cells after a good meal with healthy food. Watch your numbers come down and know that you are reversing the heart disease that the Standard American Diet has created in your arteries.
  1. Don’t be afraid to go out to eat. I can always find something to eat. Most kitchens are happy to accommodate my requests. And when they do, I make an extra effort to thank them, and post reviews on Yelp and Happy Cow. Best is the great array of vegetarian and vegan restaurants that are popping up all over. People are becoming aware.
  1. If you don’t want to commit, don’t. Start with Meatless Mondays. But the more you know, the less meat and dairy you will consume. It’s not just a health thing, it’s an environmental thing, it’s an animal thing. And because of all that, it becomes a spiritual thing. But whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand. What we eat has significant consequences.
  2. Let me know how it goes. I’m interested.

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Two Years Vegan

I embarked upon the vegan adventure two years ago today.

They say that the longer one is vegan, the more reasons one finds to stay vegan. I have found this to be true.

First, let me say that I do not miss animal protein one bit. No meat, milk, cheese for me. It was easy to give up. And I am convinced – without a shadow of a doubt – that what I am doing is reversing the heart disease I spent 60 years acquiring with my standard Midwestern meat, milk, and cheese diet. I have read that those eating the standard American diet have heart disease by the time they’re ten years old.

Let me also say that I effortlessly lost 35 pounds, bounced back up 5 pounds, and here I have stayed for over a year. I have never maintained my weight in my life. I was always dieting — gaining or losing. This seems to be my body’s weight, and I’m happy here. I eat everything I want (well, almost everything – I still have to watch my intake of bread and sweets), as much as I want, as often as I want, and my weight remains the same.

My cholesterol and blood pressure are down. I usually have two or three or four colds a year, but my immune system is so rock solid now that I haven’t had a cold in two years. Vegan food is much less expensive. All we eat are fruits and vegetables and grains and legumes. The least expensive food in the grocery store.

How is it that it took me this many years to find this lifestyle? Better late than never, I guess.

Food is delicious and nutritious and beautiful. There are amazing vegan restaurants in town, and while traveling, I never have to worry about finding vegan food, mostly because of the extensive directory of vegetarian and vegan restaurants on Happy Cow, but also because restaurants and chefs seem to have gotten the message. Recently, on a trip to Washington, D.C., when I asked about vegan options, I was actually brought a separate vegan menu! You just have to ask.

I came to this lifestyle for health reasons. I stay not only for health reasons, but because I see no reason to eat an animal. I love animals. I see no difference in eating a cow or a pig than eating my dog, and you know I would never harm a hair on sweet Jook. There are many animal activists in the vegan community who blast us with horrific images and information about how animals are treated in the meat and dairy industries. I don’t want to look at that stuff because it’s so disturbing, but my awareness has expanded, just because I hang out with vegans. Not everybody comes to this lifestyle for health reasons. And I truly appreciate the activists’ efforts.

I saw a statistic not long ago that said if everyone in America went meatless on Mondays, the carbon footprint effect would be that of taking 69 million cars off the road. That is the effect of the meat and dairy industry on our ecology and our climate. Add in antibiotics and meat-borne diseases, and the fact that no other mammal drinks milk after weaning – especially the milk of a different species – and going vegan begins to make really good sense.

I have joined a vegan Meetup group. This weekend, I am going to VegFest in Portland, Oregon. It is through these efforts that I have learned the right cookbooks to have, some tips and tricks, what meat-and-dairy-substitute foods taste good (vegan cream cheese, vegan cheddar, vegan sausages), how to bake without milk and eggs, etc.

My husband has been a very willing participant, and although he has not embraced the vegan lifestyle as I have, we maintain a vegan home (except for the salmon he catches – he prepares and eats that himself), he eats very little meat when we go out. Like as not, he orders from the vegan menu as well. He can tell the difference the past two years has made in his health.

Here are some resources, in case you’re vegan-curious.

  1. Nutritionfacts.org – Dr. Greger scours the scientific reports on nutrition and posts his findings. Don’t miss his informative, entertaining and enlightening hour-long Year in Review videos, Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day: Preventing Our Most Common Diseases, and From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food. These are available for free on his website; they’re also on YouTube if you want to stream to your television.
  2. The China Study – the most comprehensive study of human nutrition ever conducted.
  3. Forks Over Knives, the documentary film, available on Netflix.
  4. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, the documentary film, available on Netflix. Very entertaining and inspiring. I hear Joe Cross has a sequel out now, FS&ND2, but I haven’t seen it yet.

You don’t have to go all-in. Start with going meatless on Mondays. Check out a vegan cookbook from the library and try a few recipes. Do a little research on the internet.

It won’t kill you. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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A Vacation in the Nation’s Capitol

I think Washington, D.C. is one of the world’s great cities, under appreciated by Americans. I lived there for seven months back in the ‘90s (another story for another time), but my husband, a Vietnam veteran, had never been. I think everybody should go and see what belongs to us, and particularly the moving memorials.

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One of three remaining Gutenberg Bibles – at the National Archives

This was as perfect a tourist-vacation could be. If you’re thinking of going, here are some of the things we did that made it so sweet.

First, the right travel agent. We use Mary North Travel. They are, for my money, the best in the biz. They made perfect flight arrangements and got us an excellent deal at the Kimpton Palomar Hotel. Highly recommended, not only for the price we paid, but for the superb location. (They get a demerit for sucky television reception.) There were excellent restaurants of all kinds within walking distance. We ate at Turkish, Syrian, Indian, and Chinese restaurants, all within two blocks of the hotel, found an excellent breakfast place where we ate every morning. I’m vegan, and had no trouble finding accommodating menus, particularly because I use Yelp and HappyCow for research.

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Details of the ceiling at the Smithsonian Castle, an architectural marvel.

Second, do your research about getting around. We bought a unlimited-ride week pass on the Metro (subway trains) for $28 each, and boy did we get our money’s worth. Metro stations are conveniently everywhere, and the system is clean, well lit, supervised, safe, and pleasant to ride. We traveled with friends who are fans of Uber, the non-taxi service, and we utilized that regularly when we were with them.

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The nine seats where the Supreme Court sits.

We flew into Reagan National Airport (DCA), which has a Metro station, so we just jumped on the train and it took us to within three blocks of our hotel.  And back, when it was time to leave. Very convenient.

Third, make a list of things you want to see and prioritize them. I lived there for seven months and when I wasn’t working, I was busy doing the tourist thing, and I never even scratched the surface. We spent all day in the National Art Gallery and only saw a fraction. TripAdvisor is good for the top 60 things to do/see, and that’s a good place to start.

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Al, a veteran of the Vietnam war, looks for names of his lost Army buddies.

I wanted Al to see the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery (we got there just in time for the changing of the guard – a bonus). Our traveling companions wanted to see the Air and Space Museum (one of the 30+ Smithsonian museums), the Smithsonian Castle, The Supreme Court, and The National Archives. Al wanted to see the National Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden. Through our friends’ congressman, we got a White House tour, which we all agreed was the lowlight of our visit, and that the National Archives was the highlight. In addition, we spent $20 each to see the Newseum, which was not all that great except for the beautiful display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, which moved me to tears.

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Mike Sack, me, John Saul, and Al after lunch at the National Archives cafeteria, with the capitol dome in the background. A nicely overcast day.

We needed to schedule a Pentagon tour 15 days in advance, but opted instead for the White House tour. We would have enjoyed the Pentagon more.

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Looking across the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument and the Capitol building beyond. Taken from the steps of the Lincoln memorial.

We spent a day on Capitol Hill, my old stomping grounds, visiting old haunts, a little trip down memory lane of 20+ years ago, and walked and walked and walked. (tip: Take two pair of shoes and alternate.) Then we went back to the hotel for a nap, went out for dinner, and roamed the city after dark. We felt completely safe in the neighborhood of our hotel (Dupont Circle), on the Metro, and on the national mall, where all the monuments are beautifully lighted.

Finally, see a show at the Kennedy Center, if you can. We had dinner on the waterfront before we went to see the whodunit comedy “Shear Madness,” an overpriced but delightfully funny show geared toward the mostly middle-school, high-school audience members.

All the monuments are free, all the Smithsonian museums are free, all the federal buildings are free. They all belong to us.

Take your camera, take your travel journal, but most of all, take yourself and take your kids. It’s a trip worth taking.

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Time to Reflect

I have taken the summer off. I’ve biked, hiked, knitted, hassled, fretted, sweated, gardened and napped.

Now the harvest is coming in hot and heavy and soon I’ll be putting food aside for the winter (already have lots and lots of applesauce, raspberries and rhubarb in the freezer for morning oatmeal), and I’m eager to get back to writing.

I recently wrote about the value of lying fallow. This has been a good time for me. For certain, I still write, but what I’m writing has more to do with posts and blogs and copy for Wordcrafters’ variety of literary events. I now need to get back to my personal work.

So this morning, I tallied what I have that is incomplete, but still holds my heart. This exercise was both gratifying and horrifying.

  • Four novels – first drafts complete, awaiting rewrites.
  • Three novels – first drafts in process.
  • Two novels – outlined and ready to go.
  • Four nonfiction books in various states of completion.
  • I also deleted a few fits and starts that no longer interest me.

When I decided to take a few months off, I was convinced that I had exhausted my creativity, that I really didn’t have anything new to say. Today, I look at my list and I am excited to prioritize and get busy, mostly because I have a whole batch of new ideas popping up in my head every day. Clearly, however, I need to finish something before starting something new.

I participated in NaNoWriMo last year (National Novel Writing Month – Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days), and that was not only great fun, but it helped move forward a project that had been languishing. I only wish I had come to it better prepared, as I ended up with a very messy first draft. My first drafts are usually untidy, but not this ugly. So this November, I will work on one that I have already outlined. Between now and then, I intend to complete one of the novels awaiting rewrites.

My self-imposed hiatus lasts until mid-September.

I wonder if I can wait that long to get started.

 

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The Power of Showing Up

The Power of Showing Up.

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Oh, Those Golden Moments

I have spoken and written about the golden moments of an author before. These are the twinkling little tiny gems that happen amidst the angst and insecurity that creates fiction and comprises most of the life of a writer.

Most of the time, I’m a writer. Sometimes, I get to be an author.

I was privileged to enjoy an extended golden moment two weeks ago, when I was invited to be on the set of the film production as they shot the movie of my book, Candyland.Candyland book cover art

Rusty Nixon, the screenwriter/director and I have talked about this for almost ten years, and it is finally a reality. He wrote an excellent screenplay.  Much of this story takes place within the characters’ heads, so he had to craft original scenes that dramatized that internal action. He did a stellar job.Rusty and Liz

I arrived in Vancouver (and was a guest of the gracious Judy and Ken Nixon) and went to the set that had been constructed inside a vast warehouse space. A complete apartment had been built inside the warehouse, complete with “wild” walls—walls that could be moved to accommodate the camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The crew of about thirty went about their business as complete professionals, from Jan Wolff, the Director of Photography, to Malin Ottosson, the Assistant Director, to the hair and makeup people, to the wardrobe people, grips, gaffers, set decoration, sound, lighting, and craft services (caterers). And, of course, Marena Dix, Blaine Anderson, and Marc Petey the producers, busy all the time making it happen, fixing glitches, and putting out fires. The stars, James Clayton and Chelah Horsdal, total professionals, rehearsed tirelessly in that cold warehouse, and then got out of their down coats, undressed, and made movie magic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the most part, I watched the actual filming from a tent outside the set on a monitor with the others who were not required to crowd those doing the filming, and was amazed, take after take, as actors spoke the lines that I wrote, and I believed them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were nesting owls in the warehouse, and every day I got a glimpse of one or the other. Pueo. My ’aumakua. Magic.

Nobody on the set initially knew that I was the author of the original material, and slowly, as word got around, those tiny golden moments happened over and over again for the three days I was on the set.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been said that the most exciting day in the life of a writer is the first day on the movie set when a book is being filmed, and the most boring day in the life of a writer is the second day on the set. I did not find that to be the case. In fact, the second unit shoots in April, and I hope to be there, at least for part of it, because it is amazing beyond belief. Yes, there’s a lot of down time, but there is always something interesting to do, someone interesting to talk to. While the actors are working, the makeup, wardrobe and other people are not, and when the actors are relaxing between takes, the other people zoom into action. There is always something going on.

It was my job to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way (I promised to be an adult and behave myself—this is not my book after all, it is Rusty’s movie), but I certainly took it all in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those golden moments. I tell ya, they make all the angst and the insecurity (financial, social, mental and all the rest) worthwhile.

(This post was simultaneously posted in the Shadow Spinners blog

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2014: My Year of Good Cheer

2014 marks the sixth year I have named my years. It provides an interesting focus for me throughout the year as I remind myself (via a post it note on my desktop) my name for the year and gives me something to live up to. To strive for.

2009 was The Year of Hesed (lovingkindness)

2010: The Year of the Tao

2011: The Year of Living Simply

2012: The Year of Forgiveness

2013: The Year of Living Sustainably

2014: The Year of Good Cheer

Have I achieved any goals with these years? I don’t set out any goals, per se, it is just a reminder of ways in which I can adjust my thinking.

In The Urantia Book (a spiritual endeavor that I have studied since the early 1970s), whenever Jesus encountered one of his disciples, the first words out of his mouth were: “Be of good cheer!” This is in the Bible, too, John 16:33.

Words to live by, those. What good does it do us to be critical, to add negative thought-energy into the world, to hate, hold resentments, argue, and live our lives in cynicism?

Why not be happy? Happiness is a choice. Only we can choose whether or not to be happy. No one on earth can make us happy if we do not want to be. Conversely, nobody can make us feel bad if happiness is our chosen state of being.

Only we can choose to put cynicism aside. Only we can choose to focus on the right side, the light side, the good side of things instead of the ugly. Only we can choose to see the successes in apparent failures, to view the future with excitement instead of dread, to banish depression and decide to be of good cheer.

I was privileged to deliver a sermon last summer, the topic of which was how we can change the world with our thoughts.

It starts with a single decision to lighten the world with positive thoughts, thoughts of happiness and gratitude and love and light. There are enough people who add the darkness to fabric of planetary thought with their thoughts of greed and anger and me-first-ness.

It is a mighty challenge to change the balance from dark to light, but we can do it, one day at a time, one person at a time, just by being of good cheer.

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