A Lot to Love

I don't go out of my way to promote many things but I want to tell you all about an amazing idea that my friend's twin boys brought to life.

I'm not sure how old they were when they had the idea but it was already making news back in 2012, when they were ten.

Ben and Sam are twins. They make twin monsters. Ben designs and Sam, with the help of their lowly assistant/dad, Ray, sews, and they have stuffing parties to get the monsters ready to go. When one monster is sold, it goes to the purchaser and its twin goes to a child who could use A Monster to Love - maybe because he's in the hospital or she's a refugee who just arrived in the United States.

I've admired the boys' initiative ever since I learned about it a little over a year ago but it really hit me today what a blessing their efforts are.

A college classmate has twin boys, one of whom happens to be named Ben. Less than a week ago, Ben was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, today, he had surgery. In order to gather prayers and support, another college friend organized "Wear Blue for Ben Day" because that's been "his color" since he was born - a way to tell the boys apart.

Wearing #blueforBen
I posted a photo on Instagram of myself wearing blue and mentioned that it was for my friend's son who was having brain surgery.

Later, I got a message from Ray asking for an address where they could send Ben a monster. When I told Ray that Ben has a twin, his response was, "WHAT? Awesome we will send two..."

Though I have no doubt that Ben will receive numerous cards and any number of gifts, I can imagine that his monster, made by another set of twins, not so many years older than he is, might become a little boy's treasure.

Every time I've thought about Ben over the past few days, I've been overcome by sadness - questions about why any family would have to endure this kind of trial - but, alongside that sadness, there has been the evidence of an incredible response of love from thousands of people, near and far, man of whom have never met Ben and his family - including two teenage boys in Colorado who make monsters.
These are the actual monsters being sent to Ben and his brother. Photo courtesy of Ray @ A Monster to Love
If you think of little Ben, please pray or send good thoughts for him and his family. The surgery went well, he's in recovery, and has even been alert enough to ask for things. His family won't know what kind of tumor it was for as much as a week and I'm sure the waiting will not be easy. From there, they will have to decide further treatment options.

A banner created for the Facebook event by a friend of Ben's family.
And, if you have any kids who need gifts, check out A Monster to Love. They are doing good stuff!

13.1 Training Group

If you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I've been struggling with the motivation to stay active. Considering the fact that one of the two races I'm signed up for this year is coming up in less than three months, I knew I needed to get my act together if I wanted the whole experience to not suck.

Last week, I went on a group run at Fleet Feet Baltimore (FFB) as part of the launch of the Brooks Transcend. The shoe wasn't really for me but I met a new friend while out for a few miles and she encouraged me to think about doing my half marathon training with FFB.

My biggest concerns were money and travel - the program costs $129 and most of the group runs are at least a 20-minute drive from my home, usually more. Cindy offered to carpool, which put to rest one objection, and then I got my tax returns and a raise in the same week, putting to rest my concerns about the registration fee. Along the way, I also got advice from more experienced runner friends who thought a training group sounded like a good idea for me at this time, to provide both encouragement and accountability.

I was not into being awake this morning.
This morning was my first run with the training group. It was a fun bunch of people. I was in the 1:1::run:walk group. We were estimating 12-13 minute miles but actually ended up with 13-14 minutes. Since we did nearly six of them (about twice and long as I've run in months), the slow roll helped me endure the distance.

Posing for the camera before we headed out to run. Photo courtesy of FFB
My group of runners was fairly large and some people moved ahead while others fell behind. As is typical of me, I ended up smack dab in the middle of these two groups, running by myself. It didn't bother me but, apparently, it bothered the program director, who made me choose. She was worried that I was trying to keep up with the folks ahead of me. I wasn't, for the record, I was just running my own pace.

It's amazing how running with people made the time on the road more bearable. On my own, over the past week, I'd run three other times. Even getting in 2.5 miles was killing me. With the group, 6 was doable, even enjoyable. Someone else was calling out our intervals, so I barely paid attention to my watch. And, because I was not alone, I knew I wouldn't cut my distance short unless there was a very good reason.

I did punk out on one run interval but it was on a steep uphill and, since everyone else was jogging so slowly, I kept up with the group easily.

This "long run" pretty much wiped me out. I forgot what a lovely feeling it is to be tired from working out. I didn't sleep well last night either, so I ended up napping for three hours this afternoon - just making up for the time I was awake between 3 and 6 a.m.

I think I made the right decision signing up for a training program. Next money to spend on running: new shoes. Mine are worn out.

What helps you stay motivated?
Have you ever trained with a group? Was it a positive experience? Would you do it again/recommend it? 

Recipe: Vegan Cole Slaw

I just invented my first (on purpose) vegan recipe that is good enough to share! I've invented a few others that weren't even worth repeating, much less sharing, but this one is excellent.

I've been loving me some cabbage lately. Last week, I roasted some and it was superb. This week, I wanted to go with something raw instead. And what better dish for raw cabbage than cole slaw?

The challenge was the sauce, which is usually mayonnaise-based. The eggs were out with a vegan diet. Oil and salt were out with the Eat to Live Challenge. I did a little research but all the mayonnaise replacements I found had oil in them. So, I got creative.

Ingredients
For the salad:
1 head of cabbage (I used half red and half Savoy)
1 medium onion
1 apple
Carrots (I used 5 small ones)

For the dressing:
3/4 cup raw cashews
1 large clove garlic
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup vinegar of your choice (I used red wine)
1 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1/2 tsp dill seed
1/2 tsp fennel seed
freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
  • Soak the cashews in water overnight.
  • Slice the cabbage, onions, apple, and carrots however you'd like to. I sliced everything thinly, including the carrots.
  • Drain any excess water off the cashews and put aside. Add all the dressing ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Add back the cashew water as needed to get the sauce to your desired consistency.
  • Add the sauce to the sliced vegetables and toss until they are coated.
  • Enjoy!
I made a few dressing recipes from Eat for Health but they were all so bland. This one is incredible. The cashews make it creamy and a little sweet, the garlic adds some zest, the lemon and vinegar balance the fat in the cashews, and the dill and fennel provide great flavor. SO GOOD! Someone please try it and tell me what you think.
The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

Midterm Report Card

I have been doing the Eat to Live Challenge for three weeks now.

That feels like a lie because I went off-plan A LOT this week. Peanut butter straight from the jar to fast food, I went off the rails.

Today was the worst. I ate Burger King for lunch and then Taco Bell for dinner. I felt awful after lunch. And the so-called "food" didn't even taste good. Except for the first few French fries, everything was either flavorless or tasted faintly of plastic. But that didn't stop me from making a run for the Border a few hours later.

My lunch and dinner tasted about like what I imagine plastic play food might.
It was as if I had to test it; I had to see if I could really feel a difference so soon, if it was really the food making me feel gross.

TMI alert: After my Taco Bell dinner, I felt so bad I actually contemplated making myself throw up. I felt like crap. The ability to avoid regurgitation is a point of pride for me, so thinking of doing it on purpose shows just how disgusting I felt. I expected to feel some effect after eating well for two-and-a-half weeks but I didn't expect to feel the impact so immediately. Headache. Nausea. Grogginess. And my skin felt tingly for a while.

Though I'd like to beat myself up for deviating from the plan (again), I'm looking at this experience as part of the grand experiment.

It's hard to get back on once you're off but not impossible.
Has eating a mostly plant-based diet changed my body in only three weeks?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. My body loves eating a plant-based diet and "cheating" has helped me to see what a vast difference eating primarily whole foods has already made in my health. Though I don't enjoy feeling sick, it has helped me recognize some of the "symptoms" I'd been experiencing for the past several months/years that have disappeared in the past couple of weeks.

Going into this challenge, I was not expecting to come out the other side a vegan but, with each passing day, I am increasingly convinced that it might be the best option for me.

I'll do my best never to make people feel like this around me.
Here's to renewed commitment for the next three weeks.

In Which I Wax Eloquent About Cabbage

"What a superbly featured room and what excellent boiled potatoes. It is many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable. To which of my fair cousins should I compliment the excellence of the cooking?" Mr. Collins, BBC's Pride and Prejudice
Brussels sprouts were on my grocery list this week. Since I was a child, they have been my favorite vegetable. I wanted to roast them, so fresh was imperative. As I perused the produce section of Wegmans, I found that Brussels sprouts were $2.99/lb. but plain ol' cabbage was a mere $0.79/lb. When I left the store, I was carrying two nice heads of red cabbage and not a single sprout, from Brussels or otherwise.

I discovered a while ago that I love most vegetables roasted. Cruciferous vegetables are some of my favorites. Until now, I've always coated them in oil and salt. Today, I just put a head of cabbage, sliced into eight wedges, into a 400*F oven and let it bathe in the heat for 45 minutes, with one flip for even cooking.

In the midst of the cooking, I asked my roommate if she smelled baking bread. When I took the cabbage out to flip it, I realized that my cabbage was creating that gorgeous, buttery fresh bread scent. Even before I got a taste, my mouth was watering. If it smelled that good, how could it taste anything but wonderful?

To make it a meal, I sauteed some tofu, marinated in Braggs Liquid Aminos, and threw some pomegranate on top.

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. The cabbage was a delight. Some of the outer leaves had crisped perfectly, adding a beautiful texture. The innermost leaves were the best, sweet and savory at the same time, while retaining a bit of the crisp texture cabbage is known for.

This is what it looked like. Love the deep colors!
I was a little annoyed when I realized that eating the pomegranate and tofu in the same bite as the cabbage overpowered the flavor of this exemplary vegetable. Because of this, though it was all in one bowl, I ate each element of my meal separately.

The only reason I was able to eat the last bite without sadness was that I knew the other half of the cabbage was waiting for tomorrow's dinner and a whole other head is waiting in the crisper drawer of my fridge.

Even if you don't like cabbage, give this a chance. It's a game changer!

Three Chips

I ate three chips today. It's not the first time I've deviated from the Eat to Live recommendations in the past 11 days - I had Taco Bell last Friday, a few pieces of chocolate here and there, and scattered spoonfuls of peanut butter. Those three chips do, however, mark the first time in this journey that I’ve eaten one of my “favorite” foods and found that it wasn’t satisfying. In fact, they tasted off, almost as if the oil in them had started going rancid.

Previously, I would have wanted to eat three more chips and three more chips and three more chips… Today, I had no desire to eat another chip. In fact, I just realized that I am not hungry at all, as in there is not a single type of food that I can think of that I want to eat right now. Considering the ginormous salad and half of a watermelon* I ate for lunch, I should not be surprised, but I am.

This not being hungry thing is a new experience for me. Even when I’ve been so stuffed full of food that I knew I shouldn’t eat another bite, that feeling often didn’t translate into “I don’t *want* another bite.” More often than I would like to admit, I’ve been at that point and still managed to shove justonemore French fry/bite of pizza/piece of candy down my gullet.

In fact, because of my seemingly endless capacity for food, I’ve never quite believed people when they stopped eating because they were full. I always thought they were enacting a crazy charade perpetuated by our culture of thinness, pushing away half full plates of delicious food to keep up appearances. More often than not, when I got a doggie bag, I did so because I didn’t want to appear disgusting to my fellow diners. I would often eat the leftovers immediately upon my arrival home.

That kind of eating had very little to do with fueling my body and very much to do with comforting or, more accurately, numbing myself. After a while, even when I didn’t want the numbing effect of too much food, it had become a habit I felt like I’d never be able to break.

I’m too wary to think I’ve fully broken the habit even now. Every day, I still think about stopping at Burger King or Taco Bell on my way home from work. It will take me many more than 11 days to feel confident that my addiction to highly-processed, food-like substances has been broken. It may even take more than 6 weeks. Yet, the fact that I did not crave more chips after those first few feels like a huge step in the right direction.

*Full disclosure: It was a tiny watermelon. I could hold it in my hand. It was smaller than a cantaloupe.

I'm About to Get Effusive Up in Here

I went for a run today. I readily admit that, despite my loud, obnoxiously announced commitment to a plan, today's run was my first in nearly two weeks. The days have gone by, I can't change the choices made in the past but I can move forward.

The three miles I ran today were the best in months.

The park was beautiful and nearly empty.

It was cold outside but the weather wasn't harsh.

The sun was shining and the sky was perfectly blue.

My body was ready to go. From the minute I started I felt better than I have in weeks and that feeling continued through the end of my run.

It was a true delight to be on the trail, feeling my legs and arms move in time to my breathing. I took joy in the activity in a way I haven't since October, at least.

Clockwise: A bridge halfway through my run; in front of a frozen pond at the trailhead after I finished; I love the park in the winter with no leaves; completely even splits!; NEON!
And, honestly, the only thing that has changed significantly has been my diet. Over the past five days, the vast majority of the food I've eaten has been unrefined plant foods instead of the steady stream of highly refined, fat-soaked food I'd been shoving down my gullet for the last half year.

Eating more healthfully has had a direct and almost immediate impact on both my desire to run and how well I am running. It's taking some practice and experimentation to make the food as appealing as I'd like it to be but I'm getting better and discovering some tricks that have made most of my meals delicious.

If you've been thinking about cleaning up your diet, I would encourage you to make the decision and take some concrete steps to make it a reality as soon as possible. You will not regret it.