Saturday, December 28, 2013

Loosen the Reins.

It's that funny time between Christmas and the New Year and things feel a bit slow and unplanned. It's kind of a holiday free-for-all where lounging in pj's 'till noon and eating weird leftovers for breakfast is totally acceptable.

I admit. I have been trying to force things along to get to the next stop on our journey. Where will we go next? What's around the next corner? As far as I can tell, we are still on a road trip - Just back on Canadian soil. Living out of our suitcase, skipping around to visit friends and family all over Vancouver Island is wonderful. But... we all have our limits. I'm ready for some solitude.

It just dawned on me that there is a very good reason that I'm hanging out on a sofa in Lantzville, sipping a coffee while our car is getting poked and prodded by a pair of jolly reunited cousins in greasy coveralls. A perfect pause to write a blog post.

We had a very un-traditional Christmas season. Not surprising, eh? We stayed with some pals who harvested their own 12' tree from the woods, hauled it home and a team of 5 of us decorated it to the nines. I have opted out of chopping down trees to enjoy a brief period of holiday cheer for my entire life, opting instead for decorating mini living potted trees or the occasional artificial tree. So this was a first for me. I must say, we had a lot of fun. I'm feeling inclined to go plant a tree, seriously.

Later that week, we helped gift-wrap a bunch of (someone else's) gifts for our friends to bring back to northern Alberta. Also a rare occasion for me. Also lots of fun. I slowly transitioned away from giving people "stuff" several years ago (ok..except for the mix CDs that I passed out last year). Instead, for several years, I opted to purchase "living gifts" from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade chain of retailers. These gifts range from school supplies to seeds to milk cows and goats. They go to villages in developing countries who need a meal more than any of us need a new iPad or diamond earrings. Less stuff, more love. 

It's not about how much we spend on a gift or if it was equivalent to what someone else gave or what we received. Eventually, I realized that I didn't really have to spend any money on anything for anyone. I am convinced that the people who know me well, know that they are special to me and don't need a sparkly greeting card or a trinket to know that I'm thinking of them - every month of the year. 
When I asked what their favorite part of Christmas was, two little boys didn't hesitate one moment to say that it was "when grandma took us skiing and we stayed at a cool hotel with a pool!"  It wasn't the Legos. Or the cool shoes. Or the skateboards. Or the gift cards. Or the money. It was the memories. They will never wear out, be out of style, need replacing, upgrading or repairs. Even kids don't "need" stuff.

On Christmas Eve, we were super grateful to be included in a family get-together with some good friends and their new wee babe, and a handful of their family members. We all collaborated to make an awesome Christmas dinner. While their family shared a fun gift exchange, I enjoyed capturing the events on our friend's lovely camera. Baby's first Christmas is pretty special. I was a bit rusty since my photography school days 10 years ago, but I found my groove and snapped away.

On Christmas Day, we met up with some cousins and took a long hike up a mountain.  I was wearing a dress and leggings under my jacket and was told it would be a "little stroll". I laughed at the top after an extremely muddy, steep one-hour climb to the top, as I thought about the time wasted on styling my hair all fancy that morning (which I seldom bother doing). It was sweat-drenched and wild from the adventure. We then took a wrong trail back down the mountain and deep in the thick forest of the northwest, it gets awfully dark, awfully quickly. We eventually found our car at the base (thank goodness for smartphone flashlights...yes, they are handy!) and decided we should try to make this a yearly Christmas tradition. Good times can come from unexpected events. So...then we did the same thing on Boxing Day!!! In a different park. With more people. And a baby. And two Labradors. With extra smartphone flashlights. It was Not on purpose. But it was an equally fun and memorable adventure in the dark woods.
(Note to self: If I had tried to plan the week surrounding Christmas, those things would likely never have happened.)
Which is my lead-in to...

This time of year is great for reflecting on what memories and experiences we have been gifted with (the good, the bad and the ugly) and to learn from our mistakes aka "misreading the signs" that are always right in front of our noses. 

Sometimes we try to force things to happen the way we think they should and despite repeated blatant "no's" from the universe, we keep on trying. Pushing. Forcing. Controlling. 

One of my goals for 2014 is to stop trying to direct the details of life. I have been well aware of the "green lights" and the "red lights" (oooh sounds Christmasy) of life for years and yet... I still find myself feeling upset because things failed to materialize the way that I pictured them. How self-centered is that? Hmmmm. 

Could you use a little loosening of the reins? Maybe a lot of loosening? Yeah. Me too. 2014 is now officially known as the Year of the Loose Reins.

Life knows what to do without us micromanaging it. It's got millions of years of experience under it's saddle!

Let's see where life takes us. 

Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Peace Starts on Your Plate

Food. We all depend on it for survival.  I have been gathering thoughts and info for this post for many months. I think this will be the first of numerous posts about eating. Why write about food? Mostly because I want to share what I know to help others to better their health and wellness.

I just finished a great book called Mad Cowboy by Howard F. Lyman, which finally helped me to sum up my thoughts and start writing this post. In a nutshell it's his story of going from cattle tycoon to vegan. This man's story is very relevant to a place like rural Alberta, where cattle ranches cover the countryside, cowboys are as common as steak houses and burger joints and the word vegetarian is seldom heard or understood. I struggled at times, often avoiding talking about food, for the first 6 years that I called the Canadian prairies home.

My journey to veganism began when I was probably 14 years old. I can't recall my age exactly, but I do recall what prompted my food reformation. It was the movie Babe. Yup. The talking pig. I was very saddened and disturbed at the implications of animal farming for human consumption. I would rather pet animals than eat them. Unfortunately, a young teen doesn't have as much say as they would often like to in what's for dinner. So I continued to eat what was in our grocery basket and on our dinner table. 

When I went off to art school at 19, I became more interested in the topic of animal rights. I watched films by PETA such as "Meet Your Meet" and read Fast Food Nation by Eric Scholsser. Again, I was disturbed  and inspired by what I saw and read. Slowly, but surely, I eliminated most meats from my plate. 

In 2003, I moved to a yoga ashram in rural Pennsylvania where I adopted a fully vegetarian diet. No meat was allowed on campus. So for the 6 months that I resided there, no meat was eaten. Not even fish or seafood. However, for 5 years after that, I ate the occasional shrimp or salmon at holiday dinners and the like. This all came to an end when I was camping with family in 2008 and the kids wanted to catch a fish and cook it up for dinner. No problem. We cast in a line and caught a wee fish. Who was going to kill and gut it? We all declined that job position. Or conclusion was that if we couldn't do the dirty work, we shouldn't be eating it. Why should someone else be doing the killing and we just enjoy the end product? Sounds like a cop out. That was the end of fish and seafood in my diet. Fully vegetarian.

So how did veganism become the norm for me? Well, my former husband has two young boys. When they came and stayed with us each summer, we noticed that the youngest, who was 4 at the time, had a constant "cold". He had an icky stuffy nose, dark circles under his eyes (as did his big brother) and digestive troubles, to boot. We decided to eliminate all wheat, dairy and soy products (all common allergens in young kids) out of our kitchen and see what happened. Result?  Within a week he was breathing clear, looking perky and refreshed and his tummy seemed back to normal. Bonus: we were all feeling better. We didn't even realize that we were not ourselves until we knew what it was like to feel awesome. We were astounded! I haven't turned back since. 

(Except...when we kept a small flock of backyard hens for fresh eggs. We treated them like part of the family and they all had names and personalities. What a fun experience for all of us. We had eggs galore. After that, I had made a deal with myself to only purchase eggs directly from people that I knew who loved their hens and fed them well. Since then, I have also scrapped eggs from my diet again. I have discovered how much better I feel not eating them.)

Do I miss meat or dairy products? Not at all. It took time to adjust my mental and intellectual self to get to where my emotional and spiritual self were at with these lifestyle choices. The hardest part was fielding questions from mostly curious and occasionally standoffish people who don't understand why I have made this choice in my life. The two most common questions are "why are you a vegan?" And "how do you get your protein?" And here are a few tidbits of info from Mad Cowboy to help answer them:

Vegans have one tenth the chance of heart disease of meat and dairy consumers. 

Too much protein can actually cause osteoporosis. Over-consumption of dairy (concentrated proteins) forces the body to secrete the excess proteins along with calcium (which it pulls from our bones) to neutralize the acidic blood.

50% less cases of diabetes are found amongst vegans. 

Regardless of what you believe or what you've been taught, no one needs to consume animal flesh or byproducts. There are more than ample amounts of protein in all plant foods. Simple. All plants contain protein. As long as you don't become a junk food vegan (ie. "I get my fruits and veggies from French fries, potato chips, popsicles, and ketchup") and you eat whole fresh foods, you will be getting lots of vitamins minerals...and proteins.

Take a peek at this chart:

I was thrilled in 2012 when the documentary called Forks Over Knives was released, and veganism became a more widely understood term amongst the general public. If you haven't seen it, and are curious about making a healthy change to your lifestyle, it's an awesome film. I think I have seen it 5 times. Check your local library system to borrow it...and invite some friends over to join in the learning! 

Something else that I have gathered via personal observation and reading various books over the years is that many older folks suffer from inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and gout. These are often linked to high acidity of the body. Guess what! Animal food products such as meat and dairy create an extremely acidic environment in the body. Eliminate them, and watch the inflammation start to minimize. Try it. I'm not a doctor by any means, but I have seen this help people to find some relief. Other contributors to an acidic body are alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Use them sparingly. This chart gives a great visual. 

Another fact we all should know is that no plant based food contains "bad" cholesterol. If you have had issues with high cholesterol levels, reducing animal products in your daily routine might help bring those numbers down. What have you got to lose? Put yourself to the test. 

A wonderful woman recently gave us a copy of an audio cd called Living in Harmony with All Life. It's an overview of a book titled The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, MD. In there he states that he believes many of the root causes of upheaval on our planet stem from the slaughter, abuse and consumption of animals. This eventually lead to the abuse and animal-like treatment of humans, which is still occurring today in many parts of the world. Once people disregard each other, the next step is to disregard the natural world around us. The formula equals utter destruction.

We did a U-turn in Cleveland, OH to take a photo of this banner opposing fast food in their neighborhood. A piece of McDonalds litter was in the foreground. Ironic?

If you're thinking "I could never give up ice cream and cheese", think again. According to Dr. Tuttle, the human tongue takes only three weeks to replace all of its cells and therefore, retrain taste buds. Our food choices are habits. We can retrain our minds to love eating healthier foods. You have a choice. Don't let your mind (or society) tell you otherwise.

Here is a link to an unique European documentary with no dialogue that shows us the behind the scenes production of all of the things we put into our grocery bags; from meat to bread to cheese and veggies. It's very real, not censored, so be prepared, it could upset your kids. The thing I liked about this film is that its not geared toward anything. It's just showing the reality of our commercial food system. 

Try omitting one animal product at a time. Either find alternatives or just learn to live without, knowing you are changing your lifestyle for the love of yourself and the love of our world. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Home Sweet Motor Home

Winding through the rolling coastal hills of Southern California, we breathed in the ocean air and the scent of eucalyptus groves. 
We learned that the eucalyptus, which is native only to Australia, was brought to the California coast during the Gold Rush, in the late 1800's to help reforest the barren land and supply lumber for the massively expanding industry. Tycoons bought up large tracts of land and planted millions of blue gum eucalyptus seedlings. They built large sawmills, anticipating the harvest of these giant lumber groves. Little did they know, that these trees can't be used for lumber until they are at least 75 years old. Until then, the wood just isn't the right consistency and quality for lumber. The oils also didn't stand up to their native friends across the globe. So now these 150+ foot-tall giants are seen along nearly the entire coast of California. They sure are lovely. 

We decided to take our time and enjoy the famous El Camino Real coastal highway along the majority of the California coast. It was certainly the curviest road I have ever experienced. The huge cliffs and rugged landscape were just awesome. I can't imagine the job of constructing the roads and bridges all along the Pacific Ocean. What a gigantic project. 

As we came around one curve, we saw three California Condors perched on a cliff beside the road with their wings spread out wide, catching the rays of the setting sun. I remember learning about their extinction when I was in grade school. So I did some research online and discovered that in the 90's the remaining few were captured and repopulated then released in 3 states in the southwest. As of May 2013, there were only 237 of them recorded in the wild. If you aren't familiar, condors are giant vultures, with a wingspan of 3 meters, or nearly 10 ft. The largest bird in North America. Pretty cool. 

We arrived in San Francisco late one evening during a crazy wind storm that blew from the coastal mountains out to the ocean. We thought that was strange, and so we asked our hosts about it. They said that a couple of times each year these Santa Ana winds come out from the mountains and are historically reminiscent of major energetic shifts or natural disasters, such as earthquakes. (Shiver). Luckily, we didn't experience any quakes. 
The next day we took a ferry from Oakland to San Francisco for the day. We rented bikes and rode along the Embarcadero, which follows the piers and turns into a trail that ends up at the Golden Gate Bridge. 

 We rode out onto a pier to see Alcatraz in the distance. It was a Saturday, and parents had their kids out on the pier helping to catch fish and with checking their crab traps. We were fairly intrigued by a billboard that showed various species of fish in two columns. One side said "less chemicals" on green writing and one side said "more chemicals" in red. Neither one sounds appealing to me.  I feel sad that our oceans are so dirty because of humans. The world has treated them as a garbage dump for way too long. (One more point on the long list of reasons why we strive to eat a vegan diet.)

Lavender, olives in distance. 

After San Fran, we headed northeast into the mountains to  see a relative at a place called Lakeport, on the shore of Clear Lake, the largest lake in the USA. En route, we passed orchards of walnuts, olives, pears, and thousands of acres of grape vineyards. The terrain was very hilly and barren, covered in dry grasses sprinkled with gnarled scrub oaks. 

Ceago villa

We got a tour of some of the surrounding villages and had a stroll around a winery. Neither of us was feeling like ourselves that day, so we opted out of wine tasting. If we had done a tasting, this would have been the place. It was called Ceago and it was organic and biodynamically maintained. In addition to grapes, the grounds featured lemons, oranges, olives, and lavender. 
The same Santa Ana winds had hit the east side of the lake a couple of days prior, and dozens of massive oaks and palms had fallen across roads and roofs had been torn off of quite a few homes. The whole community seemed to be outside chopping wood and mending fences and roofs. 

Our next stop was the Redwoods. We made a quick detour to drive through a tree (I know. It sounds very touristy.) I can recall my grandma telling me about her family driving through the same tree 60 years ago. It's called the Chandelier tree and its over 300' tall. It would have taken a whole car full of people holding hands to hug that tree!

We drove along the Oregon coast and chose a state park deep in the majestic cedars to pitch our tent for the night. It was a clear quiet night except for the faint babbling of a nearby creek. There were only two other campsites occupied in the whole campground, probably due to the chilly weather. We woke up in the middle of the night to the most bizarre sounds we have ever heard in nature. My best description is a heavy old squeaky wooden door, mixed with humpback whale song and a child's plastic kazoo whistle. We heard two calls back and forth for about 5 minutes. Then they stopped. We were speechless and laid in silence for a half hour waiting to hear more. Nothing. 
Our conclusion? Sasquatch. Laugh if you will, but nothing else either of us has ever heard (and we both grew up surrounded by nature) anything like it. Not coyotes, not elk, not birds. Hey, it's possible that Bigfoot exists. Just sayin'...It's possible. 

We spent a night in Eugene, Oregon. What an awesome, artistic town. Wish we had more time there, but we were on a mission to reach our relatives on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington for Thanksgiving #2. 

They own a health food store and a vegan cafe, which were both welcome destinations after two months of mysterious greasy restaurant meals that our stomachs (and waistlines) weren't fans of. They also just completed a large retreat center on the beach, complete with a walking labyrinth, built with care by family and friends out of ocean treasures.  While walking it in a slow, meditative pace, a hummingbird zoomed by twice and then hovered right behind me. A good omen, I assume.

We spent 5 days there resting and enjoying the ocean and the eagles that were gracing us with their presence and songs daily. After 4 days of soggy, foggy weather, the sun came out. My "second mama" came across the bay from Victoria on a ferry to spend a few days with us before she departed to Puerto Escondido, Mexico for the winter. She will be teaching health and wellness at a place called the Sanctuary. Will that be our next destination? Time will tell. It's sooo tempting!

We arrived back on Vancouver Island and were thrilled to see that our moHo awaited us right where we left her with some good friends. A familiar place at last! We saw our first skiff of snow of the season today and were grateful that we didn't have to dig out of the blizzard that much of Alberta has been enduring this week. Sorry Alberta. We do miss our wonderful pals, but not the -30 Celsius weather. We have the heat on full force in here as it is, and it's only just below freezing here. Yikes. 

So. What now? I am personally feeling quite lost and out of sorts today. My mind is still traveling after two months, 28 states, 3 provinces, 2.5 oil changes, 7 ferries and 18,000 kilometers of road. You may wonder what I have concluded at the end of this journey. Did we find the answers to some of our questions? I will try to be concise:

1.  Wherever you go, there you       are. So. True. Always. 

2.  Be greatful for all that you have. There are millions (or billions) of people who have much less than you do. 

2.  Humans want to reach out and connect with each other, even with perfect strangers. Sharing stories, food, love and laughter is what makes life more wonderful. 

3.  Every place has its pros and cons. It is what you make it. 

4.  Most people are oblivious to what exactly is in the "food" that they are putting into their mouths and the mouths of their children. Or where it comes from, for that matter. If our moHo was a billboard, it would be flashing food facts to help people make more informed choices. Ooooh. I like that idea. 

***5.  In every state we visited, at every age, in all walks of life, people are working themselves to the point of illness and misery. (And we aren't exceptions...yet!) We saw the pattern daily. Everywhere. People hoping to achieve their goals and dreams, only to be stuck in a perpetual struggle of declining health (cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure) and endless debt payments. What is the point? There must be a larger purpose for humanity. Why do we all keep agreeing to perpetuate this mad system? Mortgages, rent, healthcare, credit card debt, car payments, student loans, taxes and on and on and on and on. First world tread mill anyone? Unplug it for good. We can make a shift if we all take a stand. As we uncover the solutions to the madness, I promise to share it. Right here. Piece by piece by peace. 

Ps. Comments and questions are always welcome. :D