Thursday, October 2, 2014

How to be Vegetarian

Nine years ago this fall, I took a trip to India with my good friend, Laura. We arrived to a land which had quite a lot of errant trash scattered about the streets and hillsides, as well as chickens running around who also appeared to be eating up that trash. It didn't take a lot of deep thinking to decide that maybe it was best to stick with the non-chicken, vegetarian plan. For three weeks, I didn't touch meat. It wasn't hard. In India, about 50% of the population is vegetarian so we were in good company.

When I returned to the States, I didn't have a particular plan to stay vegetarian, but at the time was dating a guy who was vegetarian for mostly ethical reasons. He fed me tasty meat-free food like roasted beets with goat cheese, marcona almonds, and more. After a while, I decided to try out the vegetarian lifestyle. He left the picture but continues to have an impact on me.

I'd never been a big meat eater, so it was a fairly natural transition. Years of being a student with limited funds meant that meat was low on the totem pole of affordable foods. I'd always been not very fond of the texture/gristle, not so good at cooking it, and not keen on handling raw meat.

My early years, I spent a lot of time with fancy vegetarian cookbooks making things that took a long time, ingredients and caused a fair amount of digestive distress (gas!). It was not until I moved overseas that I learned to simplify my diet for the better all around. I no longer include much beans, tempeh, or heavy grains as dietary staples, but instead feature vegetables as the main course.

Rather than complicated recipes, I rely on salad in the summer (mostly arugula, mixed greens, spinach) and cooked veggies (mostly broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus) in the winter. Or winter salads, which means cook some veggies and throw them on a bed of cold greens and drizzle with pumpkin seed oil or cheese, and you have a meal. Most days I have an apple and some nuts as well. Decaf coffee with a tiny splash of half & half is how we start our day.

I've experimented with veganism but I don't think dropping the small amount of cheese, butter and cream that I consume would be beneficial enough for health reasons to go that route. As well, drawing black and white lines in the sand can make it harder to get through life and enjoy food and social activities, which are something we all should do.

So my nine year anniversary is coming up this month. If you're thinking about going vegetarian, I'd say go for it. And if you don't think you are sure, well just try to be mostly vegetarian. There's nothing wrong with that and you'll still benefit healthwise and help improve animal welfare and the environment.

I personally find it easier to just be vegetarian, and have that particular line drawn. I feel great and as well have completely normal blood work, in case you were wondering - low cholesterol, normal iron, normal cbc, and normal blood sugar/HbA1C.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bicycling to the End of Summer

This morning I hopped on my weighted down 1979 Schwinn cruiser, cycling to work along the bike boulevard** that is Going Street. Every time I think “I’m going down Going Street,” it gives me a little laugh inside. The joke never stales. Or maybe I am just easily amused.

I’ve recently upgraded the Schwinn with bilateral back folding chrome metal baskets. Adding an extra ten pounds onto an already sturdy bike means I am getting super exercise by just biking a few blocks. Since I usually never go less than 6-10 miles any given day that I pick up a bike, I should be rapidly improving my cardio health. On a workday, I load up my backback with books and whatnot and two mugs of decaf coffee (must stay awake) and hunker down for a slow ride to work. It’s no wonder I’ve noticed my legs are aching.

The seasons are changing and I can tell by the way my ears ache partway to work. My feeble ears have long been a source of discontent- one of the reasons I’d try not to get my head under the water while swimming in the Minnesota lakes of my youth. I’ve noticed for three days of riding that I needed ear protection but keep forgetting anyway. Maybe it’s a sign of early alzheimers. Or just denial that the seasons are changing.

Regardless, I’m happy it’s cooler and looking forward to sweaters, tights and boots. Although last night we dressed in jeans and sweaters to attend the Portland Symphony, afterward it was so cold (68!) that I had to turn the seat heaters on. Yikes!

**Portland has city streets that are designated as “bike boulevards” which means they’re 20mph mostly and have road bumps and blockades periodically so as to discourage cars from using the streets as thoroughfares. For the most part, I rarely see a car when I’m biking down Going Street. It’s about 40 blocks that I take it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Post Camp Erin Week Two Thoughts

A week has gone by since camp and I've had some time to let the experience brew. For days, the Camp Erin song played through my head. It ended: "Camp Erin, Camp Erin, Makes Us Feel Good." Maybe there was some truth to it.

Honestly, I'd carried some of my jaded emotions to the camp. Not helpful emotions. They were there to distance and separate. Creating the walls of protection around me. I heard the song at training and thought it was kind of silly. But it worked its way into my brain and like a mantra, impressed itself upon me until I believed it was true.

Walking around the following days, I wanted to tell people what I had experienced. I realised no one wanted to hear about it- it made them uncomfortable. They'd rather hear that I went to naked biking clown camp, or anything really other than a children's grief camp. It was very similar to response I'd received in the past when I told people my dad was dead.

Obviously it is an uncomfortable subject.

American society in particular is focused on the positive and happy. No one wants the dark underbelly. Sadness should be swiftly swept under the rug and replaced with an industrious happy smile. Move on. Don't dwell.

I wonder if all that shuffling along worsens the scarring that's created by traumatic experiences. I don't advocate dwelling on the past, but the past is part of your present and your future. And if we've developed unhealthy behavioral patterns related to our past then likely they are best to be dealt with.

I found a place in town that does grief support groups for children through young adults. It seemed like a good place to volunteer. I was toying with the idea of asking if I could attend a few of their sessions (as a participant). I wonder if it would be a good idea for a few weeks or months. Maybe then I could volunteer for them on a regular basis.

The idea of attending thirty-one years later seems almost ridiculous, but at the same time, it might be a good idea. If I could get a better understanding of myself and meet others in the same place, then perhaps I could do something for people who were in my same shoes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Camp Erin Weekend: Children's Grief Camp

The last three days I spent with fifty-nine children and a ton of adults just twenty-four miles from my home at Camp Erin. The children had all lost someone important to them- mostly parents, secondly siblings but also others of importance. Camp Erin is free to campers and run by donations and the Moyer Foundation.

I can't give any specific stories due to confidentiality, but it was an interesting and emotional experience. It's hard to suppress tears when you're seeing kids dropped off by one parent or seeing the pictures of their lost loved ones. I would've liked to have gone to a camp like that when I was a kid. The experience of being around a bunch of others in the same boat and talking about it is huge for those kids.

Going into the weekend, I was fairly apprehensive- mostly because I'm never sure how I'm going to react, and usually if someone else starts crying, I do too. I feel like we're there for them and having my feelings bubble to the surface is not very helpful. As well, I'm very introverted and really don't enjoy large groups or being around people all the time. Most of the other volunteers were teachers or counselors, so they were a little more prepared.

There are various roles for volunteers- Big Buddies (you stay in the cabin with the kids) and a lot of logistics. I was assisting the clinical leads (counselors) along with another girl for the teenagers. Having struggled with controlling emotions my entire life, I didn't feel that the Big Buddy role would be very safe if I were trying to be supportive of the kids. There's a lot going on behind the scenes, but I think the Big Buddy role is probably the most personally fulfilling (and tiring) for volunteers.

It seems like we address loss differently than we did thirty years ago. Back then, it was just have a funeral and go on with your life. At least now people are better about talking about things, and there's different ways to heal.

I feel like the experience should not have been about me but it brought up a lot of emotions again. At one point, watching a boy hide in his sweatshirt and hunch up and cry, I just could not help but start crying - identifying with them in the way that they try to hide their emotions, their tears - trying to move on, but still remembering that someone is missing.

I find it embarrassing that I'm still sad or apt to just start crying when I least expect it. Losing my dad is a problem forever. The loss that I have is like a scab that's ripped off and then I feel like I'm right back at that place again- where the hole is there - you can't breathe - the tears are rolling - and there's nowhere to hide. I still never know what is going to set it off again.

Sitting there watching the kids, I felt like I should probably be in some sort of grief program. I realised that I've never gone to a counselor for it, or to a grief support group, or a camp. I've been figuring out how to deal with it by myself since I was seven. And I'm still dealing with it in the same way I did as a child- withdrawal, hiding, embarrassment, introversion. It's strange how we are the same forever. 

On Saturday afternoon, I was sitting with my feet in the creek, listening to the water, writing in my journal. I'd been wondering lately what my dad would've thought of Oregon. Would he have liked biking with me? Would he go camping? What would it be like to have a dad-adult conversation with him?

It was a hard weekend. I don't cry that much anymore, but when it starts, the deluge is hard to stop. I don't think I helped a whole lot with kids this weekend (except in a behind the scenes way), but I think I ended up learning some things about myself. I might try to find a way to keep helping children in grief on a regular basis.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Nodak Visitor

Blogger is all whacked up and won't let me see the photos I uploaded. Jessie came to town last week. Aka The Basement Bitch. She was a college student who rented a room in my mom's basement for a couple years in Minot. We became friends when I was visiting my mom for about 6 weeks between my time in New Zealand and my time in Germany. She and I had a busy week--- and she also got to hang out with Carrie and Justin. Her first few days were spent on the Oregon coast with friends and then she took the train back to Portland. I picked her up and we headed off to Powell's books, where we promptly ended up in the "Lusty" section. They're busy remodeling Powell's, so I didn't know where anything was at. Yeah, that explains it... In other unrelated Portland weirdness, we saw three guys dressed up like the Ghostbusters when we first pulled out of the train station. Unfortunately we were too dumbfounded to get our cameras out in time to snap a photo. Later when I was trying to find the Small Press Books section in Powell's, I stopped an employee, who was wearing a ghostbusters shirt... I got all excited thinking there was a convention or something. But alas it was just a strange coincidence. Darn. The second day, we trekked up the St Johns Bridge (where the Real Hippies live) and over to the Pittock Mansion for some excellent city views. Lazy Sunday 16-mile bike ride (Jessie wanted to go for it!)-- was the culmination of the weekend. It was a very sweet visit...