Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Truth

Looking back at my posts it seems to me that I have painted myself in a very favorable light. I seem to be this angelic figure sitting at Brennis’ bedside and calmly taking care of my him without complaint. I must say my bedside manner was pretty impressive. I did feel very centered and calm and compassionate most of the time and I really wanted to be the person Brennis could depend on if he needed me.

I was, however, also very angry, disappointed, frightened, sad, lonely, stressed, frustrated and any number of other negative adjectives throughout this experience. There were moments when I was angry with Brennis for not taking better care of himself (not that I was the picture of health myself….but I wasn’t the one in the hospital). I was aggravated with myself for not taking better care of him (I treated unhealthy foods as a “reward” for both of us: Have a good week? Here’s an extra bag of Doritos!”). I was frustrated that we had no control over the situation we were in. I was scared. I was terrified. And sometimes I honestly thought he might not make it.

Most of the time I was tired. If you’ve ever been in the hospital you know that there is very little time for rest. Between the nurses waking you up regularly to get blood samples and the alarms going off in the room down the hall you’re lucky to get two straight hours of sleep while you’re there. Brennis and I realized years ago that 95% of our arguments happened when we were either hungry or tired. We didn’t argue while he was in the hospital ever…..but we were almost always hungry and tired so we were walking on thin ice.

Looking back at the time preceding the heart attack I have to say I am not pleased with the person I had become. I worked too much, was burned out and began to treat even those people closest to me rather poorly. I was short tempered and grouchy. I didn’t mean to be but I was becoming a bit of an ass. Brennis going into the hospital was a kind of “slap in the face” for me and made me realize that I was not being kind to the people I love….the people who now were keeping my business open and collecting toilet paper and toothpaste so I wouldn’t have to go shopping when Brennis came home.

Somehow, in the rush to become the person I wanted to be I had become the person I didn’t want to be. I was so focused on getting “there” that I forgot that I already was “there”. Why did I feel that I had to “work” at being a better person by pressuring myself to do more things better and faster than the person I was? Why couldn’t I just be glad to be me with all of my wonderful qualities as well as my faults?

So sometimes I’m a jerk. Most of the time I am not. I try my best to be kind to people whenever I can. I try to smile when I pass someone on the street and not get upset when they don’t smile back. I try to be optimistic and pleasant and a good listener….but sometimes I just don’t have it in me and that’s okay. Once again, it’s about being present in the moment….really experiencing the way you are feeling as things are happening to you. It makes it easier not to bring your own “stuff” to your interactions with other people because if you try to be conscious of the moment that “stuff” doesn’t exist….it’s just you and the other person and the space around the two of you. The “stuff” isn’t really there at all.

On the second day that Brennis was in the hospital I felt an overwhelming urge to forgive someone who never thought I would be able to forgive. One might think that such a desire to forgive someone came from a selfish place…..trying to be a better person in exchange for Brennis getting better (I wondered at first if that’s where that came from, anyway). The feeling, however, came from somewhere very deep inside of me. It was a feeling I would never be able to describe to you with a million words. Why that person even entered my mind during that time I will never tell you. What I do know is that I realized in that moment that my inability to forgive that person was as much a disease in my body as the blocked arteries around Brennis’ heart were a disease in his. I had diagnosed myself with an illness and the only cure was removing it. It was the most liberating thing I have ever done.

I have often said that most of the times when people act poorly they do it out of their own insecurity. We get angry with people because we wish they liked us better (not all the time, but think back….you’ll find it’s true a lot). We yell at people because we feel we are not being listened to. We act aloof because we don’t want to be judged. When you realize this it is much easier to forgive people for their imperfections.

My ability to allow myself to forgive the person I never thought I would be able to forgive proved to me that I was indeed the person I wanted to be…..I just didn’t know it. It was the little voice inside of me that told me it was the right thing to do….that was me speaking…..and I listened.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unsweetened Applesauce

Unsweetened Applesauce

Today I realized I forgot to buy applesauce at the store. I use applesauce in most of my baking as a replacement for oil and I had a lot of baking to do and didn't feel like running out to the store. I happened to have some apples left from last week's trip to the store so I checked online to see how hard it would be to make my own applesauce.

Turns out it is one of the easiest things I've ever done in the kitchen!

The link below is where I happened to land and it worked like a charm. I cored and quartered five apples (I happened to have red delicious) boiled them according to the recipe, added the vanilla and cinnamon, simmered and processed. That's it!

Next step....baking!

Unsweetened Applesauce From "Say Yes To Salad" Blog

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Better Place

The events of the first few days of Brennis’ hospitalization seemed to happen so quickly it was hard to process them as they were happening. It was as if we had been plucked out of our lives and placed into someone else’s life temporarily. It was like characters from your favorite sitcom showing up on a medical drama. We were fish out of water. We were terrified.

The first day Brennis was admitted I ran back to work and the house to tell people what was going on and to collect some things for him. When I was at the gallery he called me to tell me that the doctor had just told him he had definately had a heart attack. My heart sank….not just because of the news but because he was alone when he heard it. I jumped in the car and raced back to the hospital to be with him. I promised I would stay with him as long as he wanted me to be there. From then on I was with him the whole time except for about an hour a day when I would go home to shower pet the dog and check emails at work. I didn’t want him to be alone again if he heard bad news….and I wanted him to know that I was there. Whenever he drifted off to sleep the first thing he did when he woke up was to look over at the chair next to his bed to see if I was in it. I made it a point to be in that chair as much as I could.

There is something very jarring about being removed so abruptly from your familiar surroundings and placed someplace else….somewhere you’ve never been before. There is, however, also something very energizing about it. Removed from all of the things you know and trust you have to learn how to function in a different way….and you have to be conscious about what you are doing more often. Do don’t just mindlessly go down the stairs in the morning and make coffee like it was a factory job… have to be active in your life and it makes you more aware of what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you really find important.

At the same time you are really forced to make the decision about what your priorities are. I decided very early on that I wanted to be with Brennis at the hospital for a variety of reasons. I am very fortunate it turns out because I own my own business and I had a huge, generous support system that was willing to keep the gallery running while I was with Brennis. What I knew very early, however, is that even without that support system I could have cared less about the gallery during that time. If the gallery had to close I would have been fine with that. Brennis being alright was the only thing that mattered. If there was no business when this was over we would start over again. We had done it before and it we could do it again. It was not the least bit important to me. I was exactly where I needed to be right then. I know there are a lot of people who don’t have that luxury and who cannot take that kind of time from their jobs. They are (and I was) making conscious choices every moment to determine what their new priorities are. What is really important? Do I choose the person I love or do I choose a promise I made? What is a real sacrifice and what is really worth making a sacrifice?

Being in a new world made me think like a new person. Now, almost a year later, I find myself often thinking like the old person. I try to remember what that new person wanted and it’s not difficult to remember….but it is awfully difficult to be him again. The world I was plucked out of almost a year ago continuted without me for a while unchanged. When I was put back into my place it was me who had changed and I wanted to tell everyone about what it was like being in a different place but I didn’t think they would believe me. I felt like Dorothy returning to Kansas from The Emerald City. As a matter of fact I also felt smarter, more courageous and more loving than I was before. Could it be that I had been over the rainbow?

Before Dorothy returned home to Kansas, Glenda told her the secret to the power to return home: “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You’ve had it all along”. Returning home for me wasn’t such a challenge. Figuring out how to bring some Oz to my home is my real desire….and every day I think I am getting closer. Often these huge life shifts are caused by events over which we have no control….a death in the family, loss of a job, a health crisis. It forces us to “take stock” and to re-prioritize our priorities. In the thick of that process we are often unconscious about the fact that we are living in a different world…sometimes it is actually a different place (a hospital, a new city) and sometimes it’s just a radically different frame of mind. Regardless, we are transported and most times to a place that brings us wisdom, courage and a full heart. Returning to that place within the context of our daily lives really is not so difficult. Turns out we have had the power all along.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

"100 Days Of Real Food" is one of a handful of blogs I go to every day to look at healthy recipes. They are not vegan but a lot of their recipes are or can be adapted to a vegan recipe. Regardless, they are delicious, simple, healthy recipes that are worth exploring.

I found "100 Days" while searching for a recipe for fat free refried beans. This recipe is so simple it literally takes about five minutes to prepare and then just throw everything in the crock pot and go to sleep! Follow that with some minimal prep in the morning and you have a great, healthy snack!

Photo courtesy "100 Days Of Real Food"

For the recipe, click on the picture above or HERE!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Myself & Strangers

When I started writing this blog I did it because I felt that there were a lot of things that had been on my mind that I needed to get out. It had been almost a year since Brennis had his heart attack and all of these thoughts had been in my head rolling around for so long they just had to come out. I chose a blog because it was efficient and because I could then share my thoughts with others. I felt that I had something to say that might mean something to somenone else.

What I didn’t even consider when I started is that I was telling not just my story but Brennis’ story (and the story of a lot of other people who lived with us through it) as well. After I had posted a few blogs it dawned on me that I had never asked Brennis whether he minded me writing about his experience last year. I had honestly never thought about the ramifications of writing about such a personal experience. I was just purging my emotions.

When it finally dawned on me to ask Brennis he was gracious and said he didn’t mind. It was the first time I had become aware that people would be reacting to what I was writing. Suddenly I was overcome with the feeling that I would have to be careful about what I said in this blog because it was public and because it was about Brennis and other people I know. Then people started making comments on the blog and I started to be conscious of what I was writing in the context of some of the comments. I found it frustrating and stifling and I didn’t let it interfere for long.

Gertrude Stein once said that she wrote for “myself and strangers”. I never really understood what that meant until I started writing this. Writing for me comes from somewhere outside of my consciousness. I don’t really “think” when I’m writing as much as “process”. Sometimes it feels to me that the worlds come from my fingertips right to the computer screen. The only time I really stop to think is if I get stuck on a spelling or phrasing. Otherwise the words generally just come “out of me”.

When I began worrying about Brennis and when people started commenting about my blog I suddenly became acutely aware of what I was writing and I began to think too much. What I think Gertrude Stein meant when she said she wrote for herself and strangers is that you are essentially writing for yourself as a creative act and that your audience must remain “strangers” in your mind or else you risk writing something specifically for a particular “audience”. I didn’t want to feel like I was editing myself because someone might be offended or not like what I was saying. I wanted to continue the process of writing from my consciousness as much as I was able.

So I am writing this with my fingertips…not with my brain. I wonder how much of our lives would be better lived if we didn’t use our brains so much. Sure we have to know not to touch something hot because it might burn us….but haven’t we really become so afraid of everything that we stop inviting our spirits along on the journey with us? We get so involved in the tiny details of our lives that we often forget that we are living in a miracle. If you are nourished and sheltered you have enough. The million things that you have to do today to perpetuate the million things you told yourself you needed yesterday is all just extra stuff. Extra stuff is good but you don’t need it at the expense of living your life.

Maybe we should start LIVING for ourselves and strangers. I know it sounds selfish but I don’t believe it is. If I am more honest with myself about what I want I am presenting the real me and the real me is the person I want people to know. The real me is pretty amazing and has a lot to offer others. The real me has more time to be loving and caring and giving because he isn’t so busy pretending to be someone he’s not. Pretending can be exhausting and never gets us anywhere. Trying to get people to like us (or at the very least not HATE us) takes a lot of effort. If they don’t like us, so what? Are we going to run out of people? It’s doubtful.

So I will continue to write with my fingertips….sometimes my brain will try to take over but I won’t let it. If you don’t like something I say let me know. You’ve read this far and I’d like to know the real you too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Confetti Salad

Confetti Salad

This is something I make with different dressings depending on my mood. Of course it would taste good with any number of over the counter dressings but since I'm trying to use mostly whole foods and watch my fat/sodium I've made my own here. This would also taste good with a bit of red onion or peppers thrown in but I just didn't feel like it today....feel free to play!

1 can no-sodium corn
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 1/2 Cups Edamame
1 1/2 Cups cooked and cooled brown rice

1/4 Cup Ketchup (check the only needs to have tomato puree, sugar, vinegar and spices.....try organic if you can find it)
2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Minced Onion
1/2 tsp Paprika
Black Pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbsp Apple Sauce or Apple Juice

Mix the salad dressing in a blender until the onion and garlic have been liquified. Chill for an hour.

Meanwhile, mix the salad ingredients and after the dressing is chilled pour dressing over the salad. The flavors will marry the longer it sits so enjoy it all day long!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Life On Purpose

Sometimes I think too much. Actually, most of the time I think too much. I remember when I was a child I would worry that at some point all of the possible melodies would be used up and there would be no more new songs. I don’t know if that’s mathematically possible and as I get older it becomes less and less relevant since I’ve come nowhere near hearing even a billionth of the songs that have already been written but it was one of the many things I thought about every day when I was growing up.

I still think too much. I like to know what to expect in any situation I am entering. If I can’t “know” what to expect I try to visualize it. I spend hours each day imagining what might happen tomorrow, what might happen when I get to work, what might happen during a doctor’s appointment. It really is maddening but I like so many other things about my brain that I’ve just decided to live with this quirk.

When Brennis had his heart attack I had to stop thinking and just let things happen. I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen, I couldn’t even hazard a guess. I just sat next to him and allowed this new world to unfold before me. It was pretty liberating actually and I learned a lot about being able to do that. There are a lot of things in this world that we have control over and a much larger number of things that we do not. I was in a place where I had no control over anything and honestly I felt as safe as I had ever felt before.

When they first admitted Brennis on Saturday they told us they were going to do some tests on Monday to determine what caused his symptoms. Shortly after this they came back with the final results of the blood work and EKG and told us that Brennis had indeed had a heart attack and that they would be doing a heart cath on Monday instead to see what the next step would be. We knew that they would either do stents to open the arteries if the blockages were minor or do open heart surgery if the blockages were more severe or if there were several blockages.

I had a sense almost immediately that Brennis was going to have open heart surgery. I don’t know if it was my own mind trying to prepare me for the worst or if it was some power greater than me giving me a glimpse of the future….but it’s what I knew and I prepared myself for that.

From that moment on I felt like I knew exactly what was happening as it was happening. I didn’t need to know it before it happened. I knew it while it was happening. I learned later that this is what is known as “living in the moment”. For the first time in my life I was experiencing my life while it was happening. I wasn’t living through one event while I was worrying about or planning an upcoming event. I was living the event I was actually a part of. Unfortunately, this was a new concept for me.

If you have ever experienced it you know that it is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world. I was able to experience this feeling throughout Brennis’ stay in the hospital and for a short time after he was released but slowly the feeling left me as the daily routine of living crept back into my reality. In addition to the regular day to day stresses of work, cleaning, family, etc. we had now added Dr.’s appointments, wound care, blood pressure checks and nurses visits to our “to do” list. It was easy for me to start thinking and worrying and visualizing the future again. This time, however, I knew that I didn’t have to. I was conscious of the fact that no matter what I worried about or visualized the future was going to unfold the way it was going to unfold. I could still plan what I wanted to do but once planned I needed only to experience it. Isn’t that afterall the reason we plan things?

Regaining control of my moments is a struggle. I have to check myself quite often and bring myself back into the moment. It really is as simple as reminding yourself to do it. Stop worrying. You are here. You are doing this thing you wanted to do…..the thing that you were looking forward to doing…..experience it. Live it.

I find now that if I am in that state,experiencing my life while I’m living it, that my life opens up for me in amazing new ways. Try it now. Stop and listen to the sounds around you, feel the pressure of your chair against your back, experience the aroma of the room you are in. You may have missed these things before but they were always there. Without having to think about it they will move you in the direction you are meant to go. Move forward now…..with purpose. Your life is waiting…..but it won’t wait forever.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Low Fat Banana Strawberry Bread

Low Fat Banana Strawberry Bread

I love sweets so it's just natural that my first recipe would be for something sweet. I tend to make quick breads a lot. I can easily incorporate whole wheat flour and make substitutions without it changing the taste or texture of the bread too much. You'll find I use mostly whole, natural foods in my recipes. I try not to use white sugar much but with this recipe I made an exception because it just tasted better. So while by no means health food this bread will satisfy your sweet tooth without a lot of guilt.

1 Cup Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 Cup White Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
2 Egg Whites
3 Ripe Bananas, Mashed
1/4 Cup Applesauce
1 Cup chopped Strawberries (I leave them pretty chunky.....cut small strawberries in half and larger strawberries in quarters.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Lightly grease a 4" x 8" loaf pan.

Combine Flours, Sugar, Baking Powder, Baking Soda & Cinnamon in a larg bowl
In a small bowl combine the lightly beat egg whites. Combine mashed banana, strawberries and applesauce and add egg whites and fruit mixture to dry ingredients until well incorporated.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Let the bread rest in the pan for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

You'll find the texture of this quick bread is different because of using the egg whites but it's delicious and the taste of fruit is very refreshing!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Open Doors

There are a lot of things about that Saturday that I remember very clearly. Most of them small details. I remember that for some reason when we went to the emergency room I was fixated on finding the best parking spot closest to the entrance and drove back and forth twice trying to find the best place. I’m not sure why I had this fixation though looking back I think I must have known that if and when I stopped the car the real “ride” was going to begin.

Apparently, when you are having a heart attack you become impatient with people fixated with trying to find the perfect parking spot because after about 45 seconds of my wandering Brennis yelled, “Stop the car”. I did. Brennis got out and I parked the car in the nearest space and followed him.

The other thing I remember very clearly is that when we walked through the door to the emergency room there was nobody there but the nurse doing intakes. Mind you, this was 10:00 on a Saturday morning. Any other day at any other time this emergency room is filled with people. Dozens and dozens of people with pained faces, swollen kneecaps, bleeding foreheads, you name it. This morning….nothing. Just the nurse.

Now I understand that even if the room had been full, Brennis would have gotten right in to see the doctor since he was experiencing heart attack symptoms but we didn’t have to wait even one second to get his assessment. I realized even then that there was something eerily scripted about that particular detail. It was as if we were living in somebody’s story of what happened and all of the messy details had been cleaned up.

There were many moments like that during the time when Brennis was in the hospital. Small details that were similar to the feeling of deja vu (but not quite). It felt to me like the universe (or God or whatever you want to call it) was trying to say to me….”It’s okay. This is supposed to happen like this”.

It was probably this thing that gave me the most peace throughout the next week and afterward. Brennis was extremely calm throughout his time in the emergency room but occasionally would apologize to me or ask me “what if……(I’m having a heart attack; my blood pressure doesn’t go down; I have to have surgery). I knew he wanted me to say, “It’s going to be alright.” but I couldn’t. I didn’t know that. All I knew was that this was supposed to happen like this. I would look at him and say “If that happens then we will deal with it and move on”. It wasn’t the cliche he was looking for but it seemed to calm him. Turns out he was feeling the same thing I was feeling….but his reality was much more acute than mine and he was allowing fear to close his mind to it occasionally.

What I have discovered since this happened is that I get that feeling a lot….almost every day. It’s that feeling that everything is very familiar and safe….that your body is planted in space exactly where it feels right. I don’t think I am feeling these things because I went through this experience last year. I believe, however, that I am more open to knowing that feeling because of it. Because I know it is possible I allow myself to experience it. Otherwise it’s simply a moment.

When I was in college I wrote a poem that just popped into my head as I am writing this:

All of them go treading about
in their beliefs
like rainwalkers
dodging mud
avoiding the spash of passing cars at bus stops
folding newspaper hats
with spoiled faces
damning weather

I sit here behind my drapes
unfolding my umbrella
knowing not that rain is falling now
but that it has
and that it will again.

That’s how I spent a lot of my life….sitting behind my drapes assuming the worst was out there. It really wasn’t helping me be or do anything. Since I’ve opened the door I feel more at home with myself…more comfortable and even though i know that sometimes it does rain at least my door is open. And sometimes the rain isn’t so bad…..and when the rain goes away, thankfully, now I know.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Favorite Hummus

My Favorite Hummus

One blog I look at almost every day for amazing vegan recipes is Susan Voisin's "Fat Free Vegan Kitchen". There I have found countless low or no fat vegan recipes that are simple, delicious and that don't require a trip to several different stores for ingredients. She uses a simple, honest approach to cooking healthy delicious food and if it had not been for her I might not have been able to figure out how to cook great tasting vegan food.

This is just one of her delicious hummus recipes. I make this about once a week and use it as a dip, a sandwich spread, a other words I use it a lot. Sometimes I will add a few roasted red peppers or play around with different spices but this basic recipe is fantastic. I actually have never made it in a blender but I imagine it makes a much smoother hummus....

Check out her recipe here: Hummus In The Blender

And while you're there check out her entire blog and all of her terriffic recipes!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Smoke Gets In Your Heart

Invariably, when I used to smoke, somebody would come up to me while I was having a cigarette and say something like, “You know those things are going to kill you.” I was never sure what they were trying to accomplish with that statement. Did they think that perhaps I had been unconscious for the last thirty years and wasn’t aware of the dangers of cigarettes? Or were they just smug, self-righteous people who felt the need to verbalize their superiority over others. Well…as I found out recently they are neither. They actually cared about me. How do I know this? I know this because I have donzens of times almost walked up to a perfect stranger who I see smoking and say to them “You know those things are going to kill you.” I haven’t done it yet because the memory of my own reaction is still fresh but I can’t promise I never will.

When I see someone smoking now it hurts me. I know how (relatively) easy it was to quit (relative to quitting drinking water, I guess) and how absolutely wonderful I feel not smoking. I care about them. I want them to have what I have. I want to shake them and say inappropriate, smug, self-righteous things to them. When did I become THAT person?

Brennis had his heart attack at work one Saturday morning. For the preceding ten days he had had some intermittent pains in his back which were concerning me a bit, mostly because his reaction to them was different from anything he had had before. He had been working out in the yard for the few weeks prior, however, and we assumed it was just routine back pain and it would go away. We were very wrong. That Saturday morning we had arrived at the gallery an hour early as usual and instead of sitting at his desk working on his computer he was running around like a child with A.D.D. flitting from one project to the next, organizing the “screw and nail box” (which we actually now call the “heart attack box”) sweeping, cleaning off tables…..anything but painting the ceiling. I asked him what was the matter (we had been having a small argument before work and I thought he was still angry at me….because, of course, everything in the universe revolves around me). He said he was having those pains again. I was worried but I waited for him to tell me what he needed. He continued to focus on the “heart attack box”.

About ten minutes later, he came back to my office. “I think I need to go to the emergency room”, he said. Without hesitation we gathered our things, told some people we were leaving and left the gallery and started walking toward the car. “It’s getting better,” Brennis said. We stood at the car leaning against it. He didn’t know what to do. “It’s better,” he said and he walked back to the gallery. I followed.

When we got back into the gallery I looked at Brennis and asked “Why aren’t we going to the emergency room?”

“Because it’s expensive”, he replied.

“Well then, we’re going,” I said and we walked back outside toward the car. (We had no insurance so the expensive part was a very real consideration but not worth thinking about in our current circumstance). On the way to the car Brennis lit a cigarette. I was tempted to yell at him and tell him to put it out but I figured you probably don’t chastise people having heart attacks so I got into the car, started it and lit a cigarette.

Halfway to the hospital (ten minutes away) Brennis lit another…..and his last……cigarette.

I quit smoking the day before Brennis came home from the hospital.

I have learned a lot about health and heart disease and cancer and diet since that day that Brennis quit smoking (a more positive spin on naming that day than “the day Brennis had his heart attack”). I have also experienced very real and powerful benefits to living a more healthful life. I resist, however, being that person who wants to force my experience on other people. I always remember the people who felt that they had to remind me that smoking was bad for me. That’s not who I want to be, though I totally understand now why that person acts the way that they do.

I also don’t have any answers. I know what is working for me to make ME feel better. I have no idea what would work for someone else’s life. So instead, I will let you in on some things that I have done to make myself feel better. I have no intentions of living to be 100. I just want to feel good and respect another of the gifts that I have been given….my body and (so far) my health. I will occasionally share some recipes and ideas that I have found helpful in my journey. I won’t tell you that what I am doing is the best thing for everyone. Just that it works for me at this moment.

What happened to Brennis and me was placed in our laps, not yours….but if you have followed me this far you must have found something in it that is speaking to you.

Then again, maybe nobody is reading this and I’m alright with that too. I know that not writing it would be bad for my health.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend about a party and we were talking about food when she said "Oh, I eat all that weird stuff". I got instantly angry. Why the judgement? What business is it of anyone else what I eat, when I eat or why I eat what I eat? I have had comments like this ever since I started losing weight. When I became a vegan, however, people got very vocal about MY diet and by the time this friend made this comment I had had enough.

I understand that I write a blog about health and food and that I state my opinions pretty openly. I do not, however, ever place judgement on anybody else's choices. If you are overweight and want to eat french fries I think that is your choice. My choices are about wanting to enjoy the rest of my life as fully as I am able. If eating french fries is what does that for you then I say go for it. Believe me, I have been the fat guy that felt like every one was judging me for everything I put into my mouth and I don't place that on anyone else. You make the choices for your health and your life that allow you to enjoy it the most. I celebrate those decisions. All I ask is that you respect my choices without judgement.

I think the thing that upset me the most about my friend's comment was the word "weird". Just because my friend knows I'm a vegan she assumed that I was eating something that she didn't understand and so in her mind that was "weird". I eat fruit, vegetables, brown rice, whole grains, spices, beans, sugar, nuts.....and other "weird" things. That's about it. I am not particularly fond of eating a lot of processed vegan foods (fake cheese, fake meat, etc.) because they are usually packed with chemicals and/or high in sodium or other stuff I try to stay away from (once again, my choice). So I eat food. Weird, huh?

The topic of food tends to come up often when you are a vegan because it's a bit different than what people expect. When you go to a party people want you to try things and when you're a vegan you generally have to state at some point that you are a vegan just because people are curious why you aren't eating something. It's a great way to start a conversation about different diets and different ways of cooking and eating....but generally it usually ends up in the judgement pile. "Oh, you eat all that weird stuff".

I will admit that sometimes what I eat for dinner is not exactly "what Mom used to make." It's probably a lot more like "what Great Great Great Great Grandma used to make". That's just what I do. It's what I like to eat. It's what I eat that makes me feel good and I enjoy it. I am not trying to convince anyone that what I am doing is the best thing. I change the parameters of my own diet often based on what may or may not be agreeing with me at any particular point in time. I recently had to give up oats because my body was having an adverse reaction to them. Since I was conscious of the food I was feeding my body I was aware of what was causing the problem and was able to eliminate it. That is the great thing for me about eating the way I eat. It's simple and easy to figure out what feels like fuel and what feels like......junk.

Being a vegan has opened up my culinary world in ways that I could never have imagined. To be honest I wasn't a particular fan of vegetables before I became a vegan. Now that I know what to do with them I love them. Sometimes I miss meat....sometimes I eat it because I just want to. (now the vegans will think I'm weird). These are my choices. The less we judge everyone else and begin to focus on ourselves and making choices that make US happy the better off we will all be. Whether your the overweight woman getting shameful stares from her friends or the vegan being told your choices are "weird"......we all could do with a little less judgement and a little more love.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Red Cabbage Slaw

Red Cabbage Slaw

This one is so easy and it keeps for about a week in the fridge. I usually wrap a healthy scoop onto a whole wheat tortilla and eat it as a wrap at lunch.

1 Small Head Red Cabbage
3 Medium Carrots
1/4 to 1/3 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar

Shred the cabbage in a food processor, with a grater or thinly slice it with a knife. Grate carrots. Mix carrots with cabbage, add 1/4 Cup Vinegar and stir. Taste and add more vinegar if desired. The white balsamic vinegar is a bit sweeter than other vinegars and if I don't add too much the sweetness of the carrots keeps me from having to add any sugar to this. It gets more flavorful the longer it sits in the refrigerator!

Remembering Memories

You’ll find that the “narrative” about my experience over the past year is everything but linear. Part of that is intentional… make the blog more interesting and to keep you coming back to read more. The other part is purely a product of self-preservation….one over which I have very little control. The truth is that I still don’t remember a lot of what happened during those few months last summer. Memories come back slowly and carefully as I am ready for them. But I honestly don’t think I could sit down and tell you the whole story from start to finish even now. A lot of it is still buried in my memory.

My first exposure to this inability to remember memories happened pretty early and it made me aware very clearly what was happening and why it was happening. Two months after Brennis got home we were cleaning the house. We were slowly getting our life back to normal and putting all of the furniture back to where it belonged (we no longer needed a bed in the living room, for instance) and Brennis was able to do a lot of things now that he wasn’t able to do even a week before. While he was busy in the den I was straightening up the kitchen and happened on a stack of papers. I turned them over and realized that it was the folder that the hospital gave Brennis when he was discharged. It was the “So You’re Going Home With A Hole In Your Chest” brochure, outlining what to expect, what to be cautious of, etc., etc., etc.

When I saw that folder, it literally knocked me off my feet. I sat on a chair at the kitchen table and cried like I had not cried in years. It was as though I had forgotten what had happened to Brennis….to both of us…..and this brochure brought it all back into focus. I can’t really explain it any other way. My brain had allowed me to “forget” the whole experience temporarily so I could slowly get back to my “real” life. It’s the ultimate deinal and my brain was willing to allow it to happen so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed and I was grateful.

Even now, almost a year later, I occasionally have random memories sneak back into my brain and I am able to process them slowly into my recollection of the entire experience. With the year anniversary coming up shortly I think they are coming faster than normal these days. The other day I got a rash on my wrist and I remembered that I had the same rash on my wrist last year when Brennis was in the hospital but I kept hiding it from the nurses, afraid that they would ask me to leave his hospital room. It’s obviously something that blooms in May or June that I’m allergic to but I had totally forgotten about this little detail until just this week.

Part of this process of remembering memories is wonderful. Some of these memories are just too horrible or hurtful or sad to have in your memory every day. It would be overwhelming. But the somewhat random return of these memories can be like punches to the gut if you aren’t ready for them (and you almost never are).

It makes me wonder sometimes why we make ourselves remember bad things about our past at all. All of us make mistakes. All of us have done things we are ashamed of, are embarrassed by or that we regret. We have all hurt people we love and made bad decisions. We learn our lessons and move on….hopefully learning enough not to make the same mistake again. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we aren’t. Many of us, however, are so entrenched in the failures of our past that we are unable to move forward.

I could very well dwell on these memories as they come back into my consciousness but I have chosen not to. I allow them to come to me and I let them be. Sometimes I cry and sometimes I just stop what I’m doing and consider the memory as it enters. There is, however, no need to dwell on it. It is a part of my history that I have back and it is something that I choose to keep but it is also my choice whether or not I am going to let it define me.

I posted a line of Facebook a few days after Brennis was released from the hospital: “I don’t think it’s true that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle….he just doesn’t let you know you can’t handle it until it’s over”. I am certainly in no position to hazard a guess about what role God played in what happened last year…but I do know that I made it through to this point and really that’s all I need to know.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Unwrapping The Present

When I was sixteen I had a dream. I dreamt that I was reading the most beautiful poem I had ever seen. It was several pages long and I knew as I was reading it that it was a miraculous poem….the best poem anyone had ever written. When I woke up I tried to remember the dream and remember as much of the poem as I could but every line of the poem evaporated from my memory as soon as I awoke. Everything was left behind in the dream.

I was so excited. I had found what God wanted me to do. He gave me a sign and I was going to spend the rest of my life being a writer. I knew that because I had dreamt this “perfect” poem…somewhere inside of my brain was the “perfect” poem and I was meant to share that with the rest of the world.

So I started writing anything I could: sonnets, free verse, prose, scripts….anything and everything. I was consumed with writing and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my new “calling”. I never did figure it out.

I tried majoring in English in college but didn’t really find it interesting. I wrote lots of great poetry that I only let a few people read because I was insecure. I wrote a novel when I was 29 because I had always said I wanted to write a novel before I was 30 but never bothered to have it published. I lived most of my life believing that I had been duped by my dream….my “calling”. Obviously, it was just a dream.

I have spent the last ten years running an art gallery with Brennis. One of the most rewarding parts about the gallery is being able to help people make their dreams come true. An artist works for hours, weeks, months on a canvas and the dream of being able to see it hanging in a gallery for others to see is a huge dream for any artist. I get to play a small part in that process and I always find it a powerful and rewarding feeling. So I had resigned myself to the idea that maybe that was what I get in this life: I get to do that for people….which is great, really but why did I feel so empty and, quite honestly, so guilty?

I find I ordinarily write when there is something that my brain cannot process with rational thought and I have to try to piece it together in poetry or prose until it starts to make sense to me. It happend on September 11th and it happened while Brennis was in the hospital. I didn’t understand what was happening, why it was happening, what it meant, what I was suppossed to learn from it. All I could do was write about it for myself as though I was translating my own life into a language I could understand. So I started during those dark nights in the hospital with Brennis to write these thoughts in my head, making a promise to myself that if I was able when it was all over I would put them down on paper.

The truth of the matter is that I love to write. I love being able to say things like nobody else can and I love the process of making sense out of the world using this thing called language. It’s pretty incredible to be able to do that. I always marvel at those who do it well and sometimes I get close to that mark and anyway…I like to try.

I have begun to realize that not writing and not sharing my writing with others was an act of selfishness. I had been given a gift and I wasn’t using it. Even worse than that I resented having the gift. I hated the expectations of it. THAT is selfishness.

For me now it’s not important whether people like my writing or not. I understand now that that’s not the important part. The important part is that I use this gift and use it with care. I don’t know why I have it and I don’t really know what to do with it but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.

I had a dream the other night that I lived in a room that was four stories tall and on the walls of that room were shelves of books stacked from floor to ceiling. Each book represented something that I was thankful for and I was reading each book and feeling the gratitude of each passage all over again. It was really a wonderful feeling to be able to conjure those feelings from simple words on paper. Being able to do that myself is something I’ll always be grateful for…..that, and the ability to dream.

Friday, May 11, 2012



So often when we eat we do it without even thinking about it. There is a bowl of chips on the table and we grab a handful. We're in line at a fast food restaurant and we make a quick decision because they are busy and you are starving. As a compulsive over eater I was guilty of this a LOT. I never thought about most of what I put into my body other than that it sounded good at the moment. I usually opted either for salty, highly processed foods or sugary and/or chocolaty confections. Often when I started with one I had to balance it out with the other creating a full-fledged binging cycle.

Understanding our choices and learning to make better ones is essential for losing weight and for maintaining your goal weight. Every time you put food in your mouth you are making a choice. Before you eat it (or drink it), think about it.

There is probably no more simple example of this than the labels on your food at the grocery store. I'll be honest, two years ago I had no idea what three-quarters of that information meant. I had no idea what I was supposed to eat and how all of those tiny little numbers affected my health. When you go to the grocery store you are faced with hundreds (thousands) of choices. We're all always in a hurry so we ordinarily don't take the time either to learn what our bodies need or to look at the labels on our food to see what we are putting into our bodies. If you are going to start feeling better it's time to start.

Ideally most of what you put in your body won't have a label because it's a fresh fruit or vegetable. About three-quarters of the food that I eat is fresh. I look at the labels for everything else.

What am I looking for? Well....for me I consider a few things. I am primarily concerned with sodium when I look at labels. I would also look at fat and calorie content but I generally don't buy pre-packaged things that are high in calories and fat. I buy lots of canned beans and canned vegetables and it is amazing the difference in sodium content in different brands of canned vegetables and beans. Read your labels. If your doctor has told you to be cautious about fat/calories/sodium/potassium.....whatever....LOOK for it. That's why that information is there. You don't have to sit down with a calculator and figure out your daily allowance....just make the best choice.

When Brennis was first released from the hospital and I had started cooking for him I thought I was making good choices.....I wasn't always correct. For instance I started buying Turkey Kielbasa instead of the regular beef or pork Kielbasa I had bought for years since turkey is lower in fat. Since I didn't read the label I had no idea that turkey kielbasa is generally much higher in sodium (they have to do SOMETHING to the turkey to get it not to taste like turkey!). I wasn't really helping Brennis at all. I was just trading one bad thing for another. The same is true of a lot of "low fat", "no fat", "healthy" foods out there. Many of them trade fat for sodium or are so packed with unidentifiable chemicals that the have negated all of their supposed "benefits".....not to mention that they often taste just awful.

Once you realize that everything you eat....every piece of food you put into your mouth is an important choice the easier it will be for you to start making good choices. Feeding your body is no different than fueling your car. Your car won't work well if you put inferior gasoline in the tank. The same is true of our bodies. Making intelligent, informed choices is how you start to take charge of fueling your body and make the most of the food you eat. It begins right now and every time you make that motion of bringing your hand to your mouth with another bite. Ask this the best choice right now? You know the answer. Listen. But first you have to ask the question.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread

I am always trying to make some of my favorite packaged foods at home without the added sugar, salt and preservatives. Last week I tried to dry cranberries so I didn't have to have all of the added sugar. It didn't work. So....I used them for this recipe.

I took an 8 ounce package of cranberries, placed them in a pot of boiling water, turned the heat off and stirred the cranberries until the skins had all broken (about two minutes). I went the extra step of trying to "dry" the cranberries in the oven overnight but it just didn't I just popped them in the fridge until I figured out what to do with them and then...VOILA! Cranberry Nut Bread. You can blanch the cranberries in boiling water like I did or you can just chop whole cranberries and use them that way. I must say that breaking the cranberries down a bit it made a lovely pink batter which I really like and the cranberry taste is spread throughout the bread....but do what you will anyway.

1 1/2 Cup Unbleached Four
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 Cups Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 Cup Cranberries (see above)
1 Egg
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
2 Tbsp Apple Sauce
3/4 Cup Orange Juice
1Tbsp Orange Zest

Combine Flours, Sugar, Baking Powder, Baking Soda. Add Cranberries, Egg, Applesauce & Orange Juice and mix until you have a moist batter. Fold in Walnuts and Orange Zest at the end.

Bake at 350 in a 4' x 8" loaf pan for about 50 to 55 minutes.

Cool for ten minutes before removing from pan!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Matter Of Degree

The third day that Brennis was in the hospital, two hours after we found out that he was going to need open heart surgery, I had gone down to the hospital McDonalds to get a cup of coffee (yes, the hospital had a McDonalds…more on that later). I was the third person in line and though I was in a state of shock and tears were threatening to come pouring out of my eyes at any moment I was transfixed by the activity behind the counter. This McDonalds had become my source of nourishment (I hadn’t yet discovered the hospital’s wonderful cafeteria stocked with healthy food) and I had come to be familiar with the restaurant’s staff. This day, the manager, a wirey woman with long hair gathered in a frantic bun beneath her burgandy manager’s cap, was running back and forth in an effort to fix the malfunctioning shake machine. In another state of mind this display would have annoyed me. If it had been two hours earlier, I might have found the whole thing to be too much and left. For some reason, however, at this moment I found the manager’s frenzied activity profound. Suddenly, the area behind the counter of this McDonalds became an operating room in the hospital and the energentic manager had become a surgeon. In that instant I had a strange sense of respect for the woman racing around with various pieces of plastic tubing and a stern, worried look on her face. This was important to her. This was her job. People would soon be wanting shakes and she didn’t want to disappoint them. I stood there, smiling…knowing that I had somehow been let in on one of Life’s little secrets. I had allowed myself to be open to the lesson and I learned it.

What did I learn? I learned what I believe to be one of the two core values of life: Be Kind To Others. I had often watched the people behind the counter at this McDonald’s and wondered how different their perspective was to people who worked at other fast food restaurants having to be in conact every day with people dealing with huge, sad, complicated medical decisions and death. I was surprised that for the most part the employees at this McDonald’s were similar to those at any other McDonald’s. They were calm and friendly but not overly connected with either their customers or the job that they were doing. They were, like most of us, going through the motions of working or, more accurately, going through the motions of living. The fact that the rest of us were possibly dealing with life and death decisions was really inconsequential to them. As I considered this I realized that at any given point in any day we all come across people that we know nothing about who may be going through a monumental life crisis and more often than not we will never know.

I understand that Be Kind To Others seems like a pretty basic concept….but as you become conscious of your dealings with people during the day try to be conscious of your interactions with people as it relates to being kind. Are you always kind to others or are you kind only to those who are kind to you? Do you, like many of us, wait to see how the other person will act before you decide how you are going to relate to them? Why not be kind first?

The other day I was in a bad mood and had to walk to the drug store. I encountered a “street person” (one who I had encountered before) who asked me for a cigarette. Because I was in a bad mood and just didn’t want to deal with him I ignored him and just kept walking. Two days later I read about a woman who had interviewed homeless people and she had asked them what the worst thing about being homeless was. The most common response was that people treated them like they were invisible.

I had a choice that day. I could have been kind but wasn’t. Being kind wouldn’t have been any more difficult than ignoring him and even though I wasn’t able to give him what he asked me for I might have been able to give him something he desired. Today I choose to be kinder than that. I owe it to him and to everyone else, including myself.