Fitness Friday: Like Riding a Bike…

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July 2014. New bike helmet!

Here I am last summer, proudly sporting my brand new bike helmet. Notice the sign behind me? Proceed Without Caution–the Dirty Girl Mud Run slogan. In this particular case, I really should have used more caution, as this bike helmet was the result of a bad spill I took which scared both me and the husband enough that we decided it was time to be grown-ups and wear helmets. Besides, they make us look sportier, like serious cyclers.

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7/25/2014. Wild Ride at the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo

We had purchased new bicycles together as a 25th anniversary gift to each other at the end of the summer in 2013. We had taken the trip of a lifetime to Oregon (watch Travel Tuesday in the future for details) but wanted to buy ourselves a gift that was a commitment to be more active together. Because our anniversary is at the end of August, and the husband coaches football, this didn’t leave a lot of bicycling time before the weather turned. It was a great time to buy the bikes, though, as they mark them down at the end of the summer, so we got great prices.

Here is a photo from the only organized bicycling event we have attended so far. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as there was a giant hill that I was worried about conquering after my mishap on a similarly steep hill a month earlier, which resulted in a bone bruise that still bothers me a year later. It was a great time, though, because I was able to reconnect with a dear friend (who would kill me if I put her photo in here) that I hadn’t seen in years.

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Labor Day weekend 2014. Allegheny National Forest Anniversary Trip.

We took our bikes for their first road trip on the Jeep to the Allegheny National Forest last summer because we had heard and read so many places that it was such a wonderful bicycling area. As novice bikers, what we failed to realize was that it is great for cycling on the road. But we are not experienced at riding on the road, and we stick to paved trails here at home; the trail shown above was really too rough for the tires we had on our bikes, so we didn’t make it very far that day. Our favorite paved trails in our area are: the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland MetroParks; the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga National Park; the Maple Highlands Trail in the Geauga County Park District; and the Summit Metro Parks Bike & Hike Trail, one of the first “rail to trail” conversions in the country. The Maple Highlands Trail is also a rail to trail path.Thanks to our good friends (and world-traveling bicyclers) Pam and Jim for all of the great trail advice!

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Labor Day Weekend 2014. Allegheny National Forest anniversary trip.

We were able to find just one “paved” trail in the area of the Allegheny National Forest where we stayed, and it was actually packed limestone, like the Canal Towpath Trail we use in Peninsula, Ohio. It wasn’t very long but it was pretty and mostly flat, winding around a little river. It was very difficult to find the trail head and we encountered some very shady characters along the way which will likely find a place in a short story series I have in mind. Watch out for the “Cult of the Primitive Star” stories in the future…we had great fun inventing back stories for the characters we met that weekend on our little adventure.

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Labor Day weekend 2014.

Although this path was too rough and it was raining most of the weekend, we had a great first adventure with the Jeep and bikes. I am perfectly happy being a paved trail bicycler, and I may never ride on the open road. For me, bicycling is a return to childhood freedom and the pure, unadulterated joy of flying down the hills at top speed, wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. What more could a girl need?

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Therapeutic Thursday: Visible Growth

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6/18/2015. Lots of new growth after a very rainy week.

Last week’s post focused on being patient while growth wasn’t necessarily visible, letting water, sunshine, and soil work their magic underground and inside the plants. That patience has paid off over this extremely rainy week, and there is ample evidence of visible growth. I am hoping that the plants forgive me for making the mistake of crowding them all into a 4×4 foot plot and that, in the words of Jeff Goldblum’s character Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way!”

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6/18/2015. First tomato sighting of the season yesterday.

Not only have the plants grown larger, they are beginning to blossom and bear fruit. Yesterday I found my first tiny tomato, but since this is one of the four “mystery” plants we were gifted, I have no idea whether they will be grape, cherry, Roma, beefsteak, or anything in between!

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6/18/2015. More pumpkin blossoms.

The pumpkin plant is taking off into the yard, carrying with it multiple new blossoms every day. I have yet to work up the nerve to pick the male blossoms (I am told they have a pointy thing inside and they won’t bear fruit anyway) and stuff or saute them. I had the most delicately sauteed pumpkin blossoms at the Mansion District Inn B&B in Smethport, PA last year. We are headed there again at the end of this month so I will have to ask owner/chef Jovanna Porter for on tips for preparing them. I have also recently seen a recipe for cream-cheese stuffed nasturtium blossoms, and could use the same stuffing recipe for the pumpkin blossoms, replacing the cream cheese with Toffutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese non-dairy product.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

I have never seen a pepper plant do what this one is doing with its leaves. I found them twisting around and growing up the plant’s main stalk, almost like a vine. The photo isn’t doing it justice, as I moved them to investigate and somewhat loosened their grip around the stalk.

I am concerned the peppers will suffer the most from my rookie gardening mistakes. I planted them too close to the tomatoes (which I almost moved over about 6 inches closer to the edge of the bed, then changed my mind about at the last second) and the row closest is a little yellow. I can’t be certain it is due to the tomato proximity, though, because they are a different type of pepper than the other row.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

We finally got the blueberry bushes into the ground last week, and my husband built little bases for them out of leftover pavers we had from the front flower bed. He secured them with some waterproof caulk and they are bungee corded together temporarily while they set. We purchased two different varieties so they could cross-pollinate, and the two varieties are Blueray (left) and Elliot (right)–hence their names.

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6/18/2015. Cherry Roma potted tomato plant.

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6/18/2015. Herb container garden with rosemary, basil, cilantro, lemon thyme, chives, flat parsley, and Italian peppermint.

The cherry Roma plant has grown at least 6 inches in just the last week. Soon I will need to give it a taller stake or tomato cage. I am truly hoping it does as well as the hanging basket we had last summer. We won’t know until these start to produce if they are indeed the same variety we had last year, as last year’s either weren’t marked or I didn’t record the variety.

Finally, my little herb garden is still struggling along. The basil continues to get eaten by little bugs. Several gardeners have assured me that when the weather heats up and dries out the basil will flourish. My first batch of cilantro has already gone to seed, so I am waiting patiently for some coriander seeds to appear. I got a new cilantro plant that will hopefully last a bit longer this time.

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It is great to see the new growth, but I must remind myself that the end goal of the garden is to produce fruit and vegetables worthy of human consumption. I must remember to be vigilant about watering between rains and weeding and staking and cutting back when necessary. All of this hard work and preparation will hopefully pay off over the next few months, not only in volume of produce but in gaining valuable experience as well as confidence in my abilities as a gardener.

Thanks for reading today’s post! If you enjoyed it, please comment or follow me or share on FB or other social media. Stop back often for more posts on my journey toward living a simpler, healthier, happier life.

Whole Food Wednesday: Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Basil

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6/17/2015. Rotini with roasted grape tomatoes, chickpeas, and fresh basil.

Since we are trying so many new plant-based recipes, I thought I would share one of our new favorites. My husband made this for dinner tonight and it was quick, uncomplicated, and absolutely delicious.

The original recipe calls for 12 ounces whole-grain spaghetti, but we had whole-wheat rotini on hand, so that is what he used. Any whole-grain pasta will do. The original recipe also calls for cherry tomatoes, but we prefer the grape tomatoes so that is what you see pictured here. This dish reminded me quite a bit of another pasta dish my daughter discovered last summer, which calls for white beans, garlic, fresh basil, and fresh chopped tomatoes. Really, I think you could try just about any kind of beans in this and it would be great.

The thing that sets this dish apart is the roasted tomatoes. The original recipe calls for 1 pound of tomatoes, but we will definitely add more next time. Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic, and roast them on a parchment-lined baking sheet or a non-stick baking sheet for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the tomatoes are roasting, start boiling the water for pasta. When the tomatoes need only about 10 minutes left to cook, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to your package’s instructions. Save 1 cup of the pasta water as you drain it.

While the pasta is cooking and the tomatoes are finishing roasting, chop 1 cup fresh basil. More is even better! You can’t put too much basil or tomatoes in this dish! I prefer to cut my basil with my Ball herb scissors, but stacking the leaves and rolling them up to slice them into ribbons is quick and works well also.

When the pasta is drained, put it in a large serving bowl and quickly add the chopped basil (to get it cooked a bit by the hot pasta), the roasted tomatoes, and a 15-ounce can of chickpeas or cannellini or your other favorite beans. Toss it and add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten to your taste. Add your favorite salt (mine is Pink Himalayan),  freshly ground pepper, and more of the granulated garlic for an amazingly easy whole-food, plant-based meal.

We had planned to serve this up with a leafy green salad but got pressed for time; any vegetable medley would be great as a side, or even tossed right into the pasta dish. Follow with fresh fruit for dessert–Bing cherries are in season now and were great after our meal. We have so many leftovers that we will be eating this for lunch and side dishes for several more days. I plan to add some additional veggies, such as grated carrot or zucchini, for variety.

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The chickpeas are very hard to see here; they are camouflaged by being the exact same color as the whole-wheat pasta.

This recipe is from The Forks Over Knives Plan: A 4-Week Meal-by-Meal Makeover (How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet) by Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD.

Thanks for reading today’s post. Please stop back soon or follow my blog for more posts about living a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle!

Transformation Tuesday: Charitable Donations

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6/16/2015 load of donations heading for Goodwill and the local animal shelter and library

Travel Tuesday will be taking a hiatus while I work toward transforming the cluttered spaces in my home into minimalist islands of tranquility. Today we took out our first load of donations, which packed the entire Jeep. The back seat has been taken out so that should give you some idea of the volume of items here. As I was cataloging the items for our tax write-offs next year, I counted 117 household items, 63 pieces of men’s clothing, 36 pieces of women’s clothing (I did a major purge last year), and 20 magazines. This doesn’t even include the three bags of books we sold to Half Price Books in the morning or the two bags of clothing my daughter took to the local consignment shop.

It was important to us to try to donate to local organizations, but many no longer take donations in kind, so we donated the clothing, decorative, and most of the household items to the closest Goodwill.  Our local animal shelter where my daughter used to volunteer takes towels and blankets for the cats and dogs to sleep on or be bathed with, so we took a giant box and full trash bag to them. Last year I cancelled all but one magazine subscription for each of us. We take the magazines every month or two to the local library for their book sale, as they prefer only near-current issues. Even though we only subscribe to two magazines, we have two or three gift or free subscriptions which just keep coming. By donating them every month or so I never get bogged down; I only keep the current month’s issue of Cleveland magazine and my husband gets rid of his weekly Sports Illustrated just as soon as he has finished reading it cover to cover.

Several years ago we needed to re-insulate our attic. This meant taking everything out of it, and once we took it out we had absolutely no desire to put it back. When I first looked up there I couldn’t believe my eyes. Due to the access point be very difficult to traverse, my husband was usually the one to take items up for storage, so I had no idea how packed it had become. I remember laying in bed that night, feeling that the items above me were literally weighing me down.

The crazy thing was, much of what was up there was our kids’ toys and clothes, but I had constantly given items away as they outgrew them!  I couldn’t believe they ever had that many toys, or that I had ever had any reason to save the little red patent leather shoes my daughter wore just a few times as an infant. In the end, after advertising on Craigslist, in our local newspaper, and with signs all around the neighborhood, we got rid of an astonishing amount of stuff and had $1300 more in our bank account. Most importantly, we have just one item left stored in our attic: a closet door that we don’t use but plan to leave for any future homeowners.

We considered having a garage sale after this clean-out as well–and we may still–but I strongly believe in donating items that are life necessities. By this I mean food, clothing, and shelter, and blankets count as an integral part of shelter in my book. So even if we decide to have the garage sale, I feel great about donating the clothing and household items we dropped off today. I know there will be much more to donate, but first I want to see what can be sold so the money can be used for more Travel Tuesday post material!

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please follow me or make a comment or share on FB or other social media. Check back tomorrow for Whole Food Wednesday…

Minimalism Monday: Starting Over

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6/14/2015 craft room

When I started scrapbooking in 1997, I couldn’t even afford to buy the Creative Memories starter album for $36.00; I hosted a party to earn it for free. By that time my son was 9, my daughter was 4, and I had already saved drawers of their artwork and school projects, Safety Town badges, swim lesson certificates, and birthday crowns. I just knew I had finally found a way to preserve all of the wonderful treasures I had saved for them! If only I could afford all of the beautiful papers and fancy stickers to decorate our scrapbooks, my job as a mother would be done, I thought. Well, maybe not exactly those words, but the sentiment was the same: saving their memorabilia and chronicling it for all time was what a good mother was supposed to do. So I began to save my pennies for stickers and host parties to earn papers and page protectors and cutting tools and museum-quality adhesives. A year later, everything I owned for the hobby fit into a fancy tote bag just for taking to crops where I could work on my scrapbooks all day and all night without interruption. For several years, my hobby stayed within manageable margins.

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6/14/2015 craft room scrapbooks

And then things became less tight for us financially. Finally, I could have more of the fancy supplies to make even fancier scrapbooks! I started lots of scrapbooks–one for the family photos; one for each child’s school pictures and grade cards and awards; one for my husband’s coaching team photos; one for our Disney vacation; one for our anniversary renewal of vows; one for our new dog! The possibilities were endless!  The supply options were infinite!  The new design companies and lines of themed supplies were being released every few months, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. There was even a line called Candy Shoppe!

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6/14/2015 craft room stamping area

And then I discovered stamping. It was 2005 and I was appalled at the prices of the products when I attended my first home stamping party. I came home and told my husband that I would never become one of those fanatical stamping ladies. Then I was invited to another party. And another. And I loved it. It was so freeing!  It was like scrapbooking on a miniature scale, only with no pressure for perfection to be encased in archival-quality materials for all time! And thus began my stamping supply collection….

After 10 years of stamping (and teaching classes and selling my creations at several points), I still love it, but I am taking up an entire room of my house with all of the supplies to make personalized greeting cards for absolutely any occasion…but I almost never do. I have so many stamps, inks, embellishments, die cuts, and embossing folders to choose from that it is paralyzing. Add to that the boxes upon boxes of memorabilia I have saved from every trip, event, and loved one who has died, and I cannot even move in my craft room. When my brother died 9 and a half years ago, I essentially stopped scrapbooking because I couldn’t bear to look at family photos knowing that he would never be at another family event again. You might think the photos would be comforting instead, but it was too raw then. It just hurt too much, so I stopped the huge family heritage scrapbook project I was doing for my mom, step-dad, and brothers.

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6/14/2015 more stamp sets in basement

At different points over the past 18 years of these hobbies I have sold or given away many supplies. I used to participate in a big swap every year where I would sell my cast-offs and go refresh my stash with bargains from my papercrafting friends. Even so, I still counted at least 75 sets of stamps as I was moving them to the basement to prepare for sale. That doesn’t include the hundreds of single stamps stacked in baskets and artfully arranged in antique printer’s trays on my walls. What was toughest of all about moving all of these supplies to the basement was the fact that they had lived there once before, but I moved them upstairs to the spare room a few years ago. Many of the boxes of memorabilia have never even been opened in all that time. So this is it:  my chance to start over. How many times have I said to myself, If I knew then what I know now, I would only use this line of supplies for simplicity, or that style of tool because it works better than all the others. I have been using Miss Minimalist’s book The Joy of Less as my guide in this process. Of course, I have purchased countless organizational books in the past–even one specifically for scrapbookers:  The Organized and Inspired Scrapbooker. None of those books ever told me how to be happy with less supplies–only how to dream about storing more in space I don’t have or don’t want to use for supplies I barely touch.

My approach is really two-pronged:  First, I am limiting the amount of space my supplies can take up. This will be equivalent to my library card catalog and a Creative Memories tote bag and Longaberger craft supply basket. Completed scrapbooks will go in a bookcase and do not count toward the supply total. Partially completed scrapbooks will go in a separate area of the bookcase until I can complete them. The second part of my approach is to choose what to keep, NOT what to get rid of. So, I have been choosing only my absolute favorite items that I know I used consistently. I haven’t made all of my choices yet, but having a process for doing so is extremely freeing at this point.

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6/14/2015 end of day 1 of room transformation

The biggest dilemma I have yet to face is the memorabilia. It is a whole category unto itself. Purging the memorabilia will be emotionally draining, so I am being gentle with myself. Much of what is saved is from my kids’ early years, and now that they are in their twenties it seems even harder to let go of those precious memories. Another major source of memorabilia is from trips we took. I would always purchase stickers, postcards, and whatever else they had that I could use in a scrapbook, but I rarely got these themed books completed–and often I didn’t even get them started! So that is a bit hard to swallow throwing out things I collected and paid for but never used. I will get there, but it will take time. Yesterday I was able to clear out almost all of the supplies from the craft room (with the help of my wonderful husband, of course) and most of what is left in the photo here is boxes of old photos and memorabilia.

So, I have my work cut out for me for the rest of the summer, both in selling off 90% of my supply collection and in purging memorabilia…but I know it will be worth the peace of mind I will have in the end when I am not feeling overwhelmed and guilty every time I pass another pile of kids’ drawings or family vacation photos I haven’t scrapbooked yet. And this is only the beginning. Stay tuned for my minimalist journey as I venture into each room of the house, paving the way for a new way of life unencumbered by past regrets and a future burdened with endless projects of chronicling the past. A life where I spend more time in physical activity and less in sedentary hobbies. A life with room for both types of activities within reasonable boundaries. A life with margins. A life of living in the NOW, in which ENOUGH is enough, and more is too much. A minimalist life.

Thank you for reading. Please follow my blog if you’d like to read more. Leave me a comment to let me know how the minimalist philosophy has improved your life. I’d love to hear from you! Have a great week!

Therapeutic Thursday: Lessons from My Little Garden

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6/11/2015. Container herb garden: rosemary, lemon thyme, cilantro, basil, basil, chives, flat parsley, and Italian peppermint.

I got all of my herbs into the planter box on the deck this week. The basil is not doing well, and many of my friends have echoed the same lament. Basil was my best grower last year, so I am hoping it turns around. My go-to guy at the garden center said it has been too wet for it this spring and that as soon as it gets hot and dries out a bit it will be fine. I hope he is right. My other problem child in the herb garden is cilantro. It keeps falling over. If anyone has experience with cilantro I would love to hear what I am doing wrong and how to fix it!

I was gazing out the window, trying to decide if I should go out to my little 4×4 foot square garden just one more time to see if anything had miraculously grown or bloomed in the last 3 hours. I was thinking, I wish they would grow faster! when it hit me:  I am just as impatient with my garden plants as I have been with my own personal growth. That got me thinking about the lessons that gardening can teach us wherever we are on our journey of development as human beings. Here are a few I came up with:

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6/11/2015. 4×4 plot: 4 tomato plants, 4 red beauty bell pepper plants, 4 golden bell pepper plants, 2 watermelon plants, ping tung eggplant, calliope eggplant, and a pumpkin plant.

Lessons I am learning from my garden:

  • Be patient when looking for visible signs of growth. Even with the optimal amount of sunshine, rain, and fertilizer, plants can only grow in the correct season and at their own slow and steady pace. They must develop strong root systems, which we cannot see, before they can support large stems and leaves and heavy fruit. We may not be able to see the small increments of growth each day, but as the days and weeks add up, the growth is clearly evident. I must give them their time, and give myself my own time to grow in the areas of life I am trying to improve right now.
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6/11/2015. Cherry Roma tomato plant on the deck.

  • Bask in the sunshine. For those who live in sunnier climates, this lesson may sound trite, but Clevelanders and many others in the northern U. S. simply don’t get enough sunshine for a large portion of the year. When it is sunny I take advantage of it and get my vitamin D each day by going out for about 20 minutes without sunscreen, then applying SPF 30 or higher religiously at all other times. Sunshine always improves my mood and outlook on life.
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6/11/2015. Nessie the garden mascot. Last year a woman at the farmers market told she put rubber snakes in her tomatoes to keep birds out. It worked for us last year, so let’s see if Nessie can protect a whole row of tomato plants this year!

  • Get enough water. Think of what your plants look like when they get parched. They get wilted and the leaves hang listlessly from the stalk, but as soon as water is added they plump back up and stand proud! This one is especially tough for me, but on the days that I sip my water continuously all day, I feel much more awake and alert. Also, it keeps me more active as I have to keep traveling to the rest room to de-water before I can re-water some more! Last summer I discovered Ball’s water infuser kit for their wide-mouth jars. It includes a lid with a seal and an infusing attachment. I much prefer to drink out of glass than plastic, so I love this gadget. My favorite infusing recipe is to combine chopped cucumbers with chopped fresh basil leaves. I use the Ball herb scissors to get the basil leaves cut into thin little ribbons.
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6/11/2015. Elliot blueberry bush which was planted later in the day.

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6/11/2015. Blueray blueberry bush which was planted later in the day. We went with two different varieties as it was recommended for cross-pollination.

  • Live in the fresh air. Plants can, of course, grow indoors–but they do not do so naturally. What I love about being outside more than anything else is the fresh air. I have run in the freezing, pouring October rain not because I am a dedicated athlete but because I desperately needed to be outside and breathe the fresh air. And while breathing in the fresh air, I invariably begin to notice the other sights and sounds and smells of being out in nature, which maybe plants notice and maybe they don’t, but I talk to mine anyway just in case they do. Listening to and watching the birds always reminds me of mornings at my grandma’s house, and I would rather have to take allergy medicine  than miss the amazing and mysterious smells of the flowering blooms in spring and summer.
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6/11/2015. First pumpkin blossom.

  • Roots must grow strong to bear fruit. Underground is where the real action happens in gardening. The soil must be rich and re-fertilized from time to time to add new nutrients for the plants to absorb. The roots must have room to spread out and grow deep. Bugs and other micro-organisms do their part to aerate the soil and make it good for plants. So it is in my life as well. While my roots are going deep into my psyche and soaking up the richness of life–by reading, gardening, walking, doing yoga, or any other activity that feeds my soul–it may look to others like I am doing nothing. I need time to grow and spread my roots before any visible sign of growth–that is “fruit” in the form of writing or other creative productivity–appears above ground. Once I have had enough nutrients and enough time to process them, I will begin to bear blossoms and soon heavy fruit. But all in good time.

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Whole Food Wednesday: Why?

Summer 2014 Jeep adventures.

Summer 2014 Jeep adventures.

So my husband and I have recently adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and the most common question I get about it is, Why?

Well, the short answer is that I want to improve my health. But that is not specific, persuasive, or particularly interesting. A longer explanation would include the fact that I would like to live with the highest quality of health possible so that my husband and I can travel the world and have adventures together for many, many years to come.

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Green beans, purple beans, and yellow beans from the local farmers market.

The most accurate answer, however, begins with my 16-year struggle with a chronic health disorder called IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is essentially what they diagnose you with when they can’t find anything else to explain your symptoms. I was first diagnosed with IBS in 1999, and my internist’s exact words when he diagnosed me (based on my symptom descriptions with no further testing or referral to a specialist) were, You need to reduce chocolate, caffeine, dairy and stress in your life. My exact response was:

But I need the chocolate and the caffeine to deal with the stress in my life!

My doctor was not amused by my response. I was not the most compliant patient. I could go months without any symptoms (while consuming chocolate, caffeine, and dairy) and then seemingly out of nowhere I would suffer a barrage of debilitating symptoms that could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I finally accepted that I was probably lactose-intolerant and stopped eating dairy, which helped. I never gave up chocolate, but I did eventually give up coffee and most caffeinated sodas. I now drink only tea and the occasional diet soda (this is my biggest weakness). But about that stress…

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Uh-oh. I left the lemon and cucumber together in the produce bin and look what I found the next day…lemon cucumber twins! Apparently, cousin squash is not a great chaperone. Thanks to our friends Mike and Carol for the awesome lemon cucumbers, which I used in my infused water for weeks.

When I was originally diagnosed I had just finished my first year of college as a full-time non-traditional student. I took 15 hours (5 classes) both semesters and kept a 4.0 while being a wife and mother of a 6 year old and an 11 year old. Add housekeeping and a part-time direct sales job (to help pay tuition) and it was a recipe for constant stress overload. My symptoms began after finals week at the end of my freshman year and continued to resurface at times of high stress or poor eating habits.

Fast forward to April 2014. For years I had kept the IBS in check with varying degrees of success. I had started exercising regularly in the summer/fall of 2013 and my weight loss had just reached the 30 pound mark. I was trying to “eat better” as well, which basically meant not partaking of the constant barrage of candy, desserts, and other junk foods at work. I thought I was doing really well–right up until I wasn’t. I got sick on a Saturday morning and the first bout lasted 5 days. After several more weeks of misery and a self-imposed period of eating no gluten (which made no difference), I made an appointment with my new GP who disagreed with my original diagnosis of IBS and referred me to a Gastroenterologist for further testing.

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Thinly sliced tender Japanese eggplants, both purple and white, water sauteed with grape tomatoes for a simple and delicious pasta topping.

The tests were uncomfortable, time-consuming, and ultimately inconclusive. They did reveal that I was not lactose-intolerant, but my GI cautioned me that dairy still aggravated my symptoms, so I should avoid it. I will admit that I did not complete all of the tests, as they were beginning to add to my stress level which–ironically–increased the severity and frequency of my symptoms. Talking to the GI, however, did make me realize just how sensitive a person’s gut can be. I began again reducing carbonated drinks, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and refined flours. I could definitely see a difference when I was vigilant about these things, especially the caffeine. I started shopping at the farmers market more often, trying to increase my fiber intake with fresh fruits and vegetables as my internist had also suggested in 1999.

I was becoming aware on a deeper level that I really needed to consistently improve my eating habits. I went to the library and started checking out books, but as my symptoms waned, so did my interest in changing my eating patterns. It is easy to ignore a chronic illness when you are not actively sick. As the year progressed and I couldn’t seem to lose any more weight, I began to research in earnest different types of eating plans. I wasn’t interested in any fad diets, and I knew I needed to make permanent changes instead of eating well for a while then getting lax as my symptoms abated.

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My new whole foods pantry, spring 2015.

Around this time someone recommended the Forks Over Knives documentary to me. I watched it on Netflix that very evening. Then I went to the library and checked out the books that had followed the documentary. I also started reading The China Study, which was the evidential basis for the Forks Over Knives movement. While I am not trying to persuade anyone that their way of eating is wrong or mine is the only right way, I do recommend the documentary and books mentioned above if you want to know more about the evidence which led me to the decision to adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet.

After my husband watched Forks Over Knives he was completely on board, which was a major relief to me since I had tried to move toward a whole-foods lifestyle in the early 90s, but the husband and kids didn’t much care for it then. It was also much harder to find things like whole wheat pastry flour in a regular grocery store back then. (Thank goodness that is no longer the case.) Back in the 90s I had used Nikki and David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook, but that became problematic as time went on due to the amount of dairy products in many of their recipes.

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The cupboard where I stashed all of my old cookbooks and processed oils while we cautiously converted to a whole-food, plant-based diet.

So we jumped in with both feet and started the Forks Over Knives way of eating. The simplest way to explain what that means is that we only eat foods that are whole and come from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Little or no meat, dairy, processed oils, refined flours or sugars, or artificial ingredients of any kind. While that may sound drastic, after struggling with IBS for 16 years, it was a small price to pay for better health. We did a 3-week transition into the eating plan, changing just one meal a day each week. This allowed us to slowly process the lifestyle change mentally, emotionally, and physically. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so…did the diet help my IBS?

Unequivocally, YES! In the first 8 weeks we were on the whole-food, plant-based diet I had NO IBS symptoms at all!  Add to that the fact that we had a major life stressor occur during this time, and it was downright miraculous that my IBS didn’t kick back in. The only times I have had IBS symptoms since we started the program occurred when I went off the plan and ate processed foods full of sugar, refined flour, and fat.

I use the plastic freezer lids on my canning jars and label them to store all of our new whole food ingredients.

I use the plastic freezer lids on my canning jars and label them to store all of our new whole food ingredients.

So…that is the main reason in a very long answer to why I have changed to a whole-food, plant-based diet. There are other reasons and things to discuss about our progress on the diet, but I will save those for another Wednesday. Thanks for reading, and if you liked this post please comment or follow my blog for a different topic each day of the week. Happy Hump Day!