Thanksgiving Day: From The Inside Out

“Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It’s absolutely true that, “Wherever you go, there you are.” 

-Richard Carlson

To prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to…

Stop trying to make everything perfect!!

Hubby and I have been hosting holiday dinners for over 20 years.  I use to stress and beat myself up over making sure that every little detail was perfect.

Crisp table linen, a visually pleasing spread of desserts, a spotless home, plenty of food, a beautifully set dining table, and then some.

Although I’ve always adored decorating my home for each occasion, cooking ridiculous amounts of food, and having the over-night house guests, sometimes I stressed and fussed over details that no one even noticed… stuff that didn’t matter.  So I did what I could and focused on what mattered most; the meal.

From the time I got up on Thanksgiving Day, I reminded myself to stay present. To be aware of every moment…  my invigorating morning shower… the warm water clashing on my back…. the scent of lavender…Mmm.. a reflection of the sun and the odd-shaped shadow on the bathroom wall.

Being mindful and present supports a lifestyle of wellness. When we exert energy anticipating possibilities that we cannot control, we miss out on the daily pleasures of interacting with people around us. Our loved ones smile, kind gestures, affection, or a call for help.

Routinely focusing on the present takes practice and mental muscle. The more we practice, the better we become at it.  One way to focus is to try to concentrate and engage one or more of your five senses:

  1. What do you smell?
  2. What can you taste?
  3. What do you hear? What kinds of sounds (i.e., leaves crackling under your feet, the sound of running water, a child’s laughter, the distant echoing of an ambulance siren, or in silence the sound of your breath).
  4. What do you see?  Notice the details of colors, shapes, the sky, or a person’s eyes.
  5. What can you feel?  Textures that are hot, cold, soft, hard, etc..

Being comfortable with doing my best, accepting my best and staying current allowed me to make the most of my day with my family. I think I listened more than usual and captured more intimate moments throughout the day.

Our home was packed! Bodies were everywhere.  I concerned myself less with crumbs on the floors and coasters on the table and more on getting to know my little cousins and catching up with the adults I haven’t seen in years.  The noise from the 11 kids running through the house shooting nerf guns, screaming and laughing personified quality family time. I laughed all day.

Vegan Challenge Update

This was my first Vegan Thanksgiving.  Except for four family members, everyone came from at least four or more hours away.  Which meant I did most of the cooking.

The day was undoubtedly a mental test for me. Was I ready to bypass the 5 pounds of baked mac & cheese and the two deep fried turkeys?  My plan to cook additional vegetables for myself and five other Vegans worked well. My two favorite veggies were prepared by my cousin’s husband; roasted brussels sprouts with sweet onions and olive oil and roasted cauliflower and carrots with olive oil, Vidalia onions, and turmeric!!

In addition to the above tasty vegetables, Thanksgiving dinner included, two-deep fried turkeys, honey-ham, baked chicken, broiled salmon, shrimp cocktail, kale/collards with smoked turkey, vegan kale/collards, hot stuffing, mild stuffing, potato salad, baked mac & cheese, black-eyed peas, roasted butternut squash, spaghetti squash, traditional candied sweet potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes (with cinnamon & nutmeg only) , and plain white sweet potatoes with coconut oil.   The list of desserts is too long, but there were plenty.

Here’s my plate!!  Everyone was surprised that I did not cave into the mac & cheese, but I was cool with not eating it and consciously enjoyed every bite of the food on my plate.  It really is amazing what we can do when we set our mind to something.

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It has been over one month since I started my Vegan challenge.  My major hiccup occurred last Saturday on a quick visit to Jersey.  We ate at a fantastic seafood restaurant, Doc’s Oyster House in Atlantic City.  Majority of the menu options is seafood.  The offerings for a salad were of little interest to me… probably because I was beyond starving and I’ve eaten at Doc’s before.  This would probably be the last time I visit this restaurant in a long time, so I ordered the special, which scallops.  The servings are large portions, and I could only eat half my dish.  I took the other half home, and my girlfriend ended up eating it. Although the food was delicious, the entire time, I kept thinking, “I’m eating seafood.”

I did, however, learn a valuable lesson.  Before dining out at specialty restaurants, I should carefully read the menu online and make my selection beforehand.  While writing this post, I went to their website and re-read the menu.  I saw options that I missed when I was in the restaurant.  I don’t know if I missed the items because of the ambiance and the dimmed light or because I got caught up in the moment or I just wasn’t paying attention.  Either case, I know that mistakes happen and I learned from the error so, all is good.

Below are some photos with brief captions from Thanksgiving Day.

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Quiche… pre-Thanksgiving Breakfast from the best bakery,  Sweet Brown Suga!

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These two beauties are my cousins.  They are also Vegan.

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Thanksgiving morning… help from my cousin in the kitchen.

Aunt Miriam & Aunt Clara

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Breakfast and school work.

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Even my little cousins enjoy a variety of fruit.

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An early text from another cousin.  He deep fried two 15 pound turkeys.

Holiday punch in the making…  designated bartender.

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Thank God for relatives who like to cook. She was a big help.

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Every woman can appreciate a man who can cook (healthy) in the kitchen.

Seconds, please!!

Loc inspiration from my favorite cuz! He’s also the Deep Fried Turkey expert.

The buffet line.

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Dining room. Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

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Dining room Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

Punch without the punch (alcohol). Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

Cousins!!  Some met for the first time.

Trying to get everyone to pose was a bit challenging.

This munchkin  Loved my mom’s doll baby and wasn’t trying to give her back.  

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Runway ready!

One of many attempts to get a good pic!  Lol!

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Seriously focused!

LOVE!

Two car fanatics!

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Love, Love, Love!  My daughter and our 84-year-old aunt haven’t seen each other in over 15 years!

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My nephew, his son, and auntie!

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Delivery of the ham and two turkeys in style!

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A toast to family, friendship, and a splendid day!

I hope that you found gratitude in your Thanksgiving Day!

Smooches!


Thanksgiving Shenanigans: 31 And Counting!

I sustain myself with the love of family.
– Maya Angelou

Some relationships in families are complicated. We’d like to handpick our family members, but we cannot. But even if we could choose our peeps, we probably wouldn’t get it right anyway.  Think about it.  Over your lifetime, how many of your friendships have come and gone?   Some were short-lived and a few continued for decades.

Thanksgiving is less than one week away.  And let us remember that the holiday is a celebration of unity and gratitude.  If you have a warm place to sleep, food on the table, and are alive, stop and give thanks.  You are blessed. Churches, community centers, food banks, and other generous souls cook, deliver, and serve thousands of meals for less fortunate and homeless individuals. Those of us who have options and do not have to rely on others for the holiday feast need to recognize and not take it for granted.

That said, I ask you to consider your Thanksgiving plans. How so?  If you are prosperous enough to enjoy a meal, then think about a family member who you have not spoken to for some time. Maybe it’s time for you to reconnect. Perhaps it is time to bury the hatchet. You don’t have to become best friends with them.  Enjoy a meal together while giving thanks for being alive and for the opportunity to make amends. Or, at the least, pick up your phone and start a conversation with them.

Each year, I look forward to hosting our family holiday dinner, but 2017 is, generating, even more, excitement for me.

For the first time in my life, I am celebrating
AND hosting Thanksgiving dinner in a new home, outside of NJ….
In Georgia!

As soon as we settled on our home and prepared for our move, we told the  family, “We are still hosting Thanksgiving dinner, so start making travel plans!”

For the last 20+ years, we’ve hosted holiday dinners at our home and although 700+ miles away, I didn’t want that to change.

I wasn’t sure how many would make the trip, but hubby and I put it out there.

Whelp!  As of this writing, there will be 31 of us!!!

Six generations coming together! Oooomygooooodness!  How cool is that?

Our peeps are coming from New Jersey, Washington, DC, Tennessee, Michigan, and from other parts of Georgia.  How friggin awesome!!

Now, with that said. Chile… like most families, we have an assortment of temperaments and personalities!  We are a loving family and, like most, folks butt heads, have conflicts, kiss, and makeup.

However…sadly some folks hold on to grudges have issues and carry their baggage around like it has value and be cashed in for dollars!  So, on Thanksgiving, a few folks with strained relationships are dining under one roof.  The forgiveness conversation with my mom is an ongoing project; however, I remind her, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  She is a tough cookie, but that’s the rule in our home.

Sibling conflicts, parental conflicts and more. But you know what, I’m determined to make the occasion positive and memorable and encourage you to do the same.  All relatives deal with conflicts and fallouts, and typically the issue is over dumb sh**.

The pitfall is that some folks cannot get past their pride, their anger, their hurt, and the resentment they feel toward the other person.  Like an Olympic torch, they pass the burden on from one generation to the next. In my family, I continue to do what I can to stop this foolishness.  I’m not having generations of cousins, nieces, nephews disliking each other for nonsense.

Memories lapse, stories change,
but the animosity continues.

If we are to achieve optimum wellness,
we must open our hearts to forgiveness.

By not forgiving others, we are weighed down with trappings that grow heavier by the year.  The baggage inhibits our ability to experience complete joy and happiness.

Consider trying an exercise in writing a forgiveness letter.  Write the letter to the person who hurt and whom you have not forgiven.  Do not give it to them.  Address precisely what they did to you but also why you forgive them.  Set grammar and sentence structure aside, the point is to put your raw feelings on paper.  Pour our your emotions.  Cry if necessary.  Read what you wrote every day for a week.

Forgiving does not right a wrong.  To forgive someone allows you to move on to a place where the anger eventually vanishes. It grants the opportunity for growth and for more positive energy to flow through you.  If you cannot surpass the tension, seek counseling to help you work through it.

Mentally I am prepping harder than usual for Thanksgiving because this is my first Vegan Thanksgiving!  We have always had vegan family members for holiday dinners, but I was eating meat then.

This is the fifth week that I’ve sustained life without chicken, turkey, dairy, or seafood.  I’m singing and dancing around the house to Cool & The Gang’s, Celebration!

Lately, I’ve had a bit of a sweet tooth.  I’m not sure why that is, but I fixed the craving with some bruised apples in a bag.

I washed and peeled six apples.  Add them to a pot with a little water (about a half-cup) and added cinnamon and nutmeg.  NO SUGAR!  I cooked them on low until they softened.  The result is intoxicating!!  If I hadn’t prepared them myself, I would swear that the cook added sugar.  Restraint was in full effect.  I wanted to eat the whole pot in one sitting.

One morning, I had to eat on-the-road, so I went to Starbucks for Oats. They came with nuts and dried fruit. For protein, I added nuts but passed on the dry fruit with 22 grams of sugar.

After eating the darn oats, I realized they probably had dairy in them.  Ugh!! The thought didn’t occur to me to ask for coconut or almond milk and until the cup was empty.  Lol!
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One of my favorite meals of the week is this bowl of red quinoa, black-eyed peas, sautéed mushrooms, and onions.

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Each week my strategy is to cook one to two cups of quinoa, a crock pot of legumes or beans, bunches of kale, and to try something new. This week, I was just too busy preparing for Thanksgiving to do that, but still did just fine.   Later in the week, I can always add additional roasted veggies, which will add a variation to my meals.

I’m working on ideas for next week… hoping to make a few savory vegan dishes so I won’t be tempted by the baked mac & cheese and deep fried turkey.

Since taking on the Vegan challenged, I’ve noticed a few changes.

  1. I feel lighter.  Not like I have lost a bunch of weight but somehow brighter.  Putting into words is hard.
  2. Late afternoon, I no longer feel sluggish and crave power naps. It’s odd because I am not getting any more or less sleep but I have more energy.
  3. I haven’t felt the need for my afternoon cup of java.
  4. Although I’ve been working out intensely pretty much five days a week, in the past week I lost 5 pounds!
  5. I’m feeling a bit more energized.  This is funny because I’m already high energy….when I’m supposed to be resting between sets at the gym, I’m pacing around looking for some cardio sh** to do!  Hubby thinks I’m nuts and can’t figure it out.

This post is longer than planned but, the bottom line is that any change takes times. 

Diet, mindset, attitude— any change in behavior involve a process.  Neither occurs overnight, but YOU must want to make the transition.  You can’t do it for anyone but yourself.  I suggest merely starting today.  Then try again tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that…   Eventually, you will achieve what you seek.

“Everything is hard before it is easy.”

-Goethe J.W

In preparing for the holiday, the upcoming week is going to be hectic… traveling, cooking, making plans for house guests, squeezing in gym time, writing, and more.  But with that said, my goal is not to stress about any of my plans and worry about everything being perfect but to remain mindful, present, and to enjoy the process and the time with my family.  I hope you do the same! I can’t wait to share pics!!

We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable.
It would be wise to use that time adoring our families,
cherishing our friendships, and living our lives.

– Maya Angelou

 

Forgiveness Support

How To Forgive Someone Who Hurt You

Forgive Someone

The Untethered Soul

The Language of Letting Go


Surprises in Mindful Meals

“Fill yourself with passion and purpose
that enable you to offer your best to the world.”
-Oprah Winfrey

Collectedness.

Determined.

Peaceful.

Purposeful

My feelings.

I am in week four, day two of my Vegan challenge.  Although this blog is dedicated to more than my transition to a vegan lifestyle, I am sharing this journey with you because it is essential and my experience may help you.

My journey may be different from yours, but most of us are on some kind of quest.  The common theme is a lifestyle change.

Quit smoking. Stop drinking.  Start exercising.  Stop cursing. Be more positive. Eat better. Spend more time with your children.  Become more timely.  Or something else.

We often identify a behavior that we want to change.  The practice is often a mindless habit like brushing our teeth, driving our kids to school, or getting dressed in the morning. Our awareness becomes dull, and we mindlessly perform tasks. Converting to a plant-based diet requires a shift in consciousness, which is not automatic.

Giving up chicken, turkey, seafood, and dairy products require mindfulness.  Each week that has passed represent my success.  Every new week serves as an opportunity to improve.  I expect hiccups and when (not if) they happen, I won’t beat myself up.

I intend to share my successes, my failures, and my thoughts with you. I want to inspire you to do what you’ve wanted to do but lack the confidence or discipline to execute.

In the wellness profession, numerous models for change exist. To effectively implement change in your life, you’ll need more than a desire.  A plan with concrete steps will put you on the path to a lifestyle of improvement.  To help you with you the change you desire, stay tuned for a Guide to Life Improvement.

Keeping with the weekly theme of introducing new food each week, this week, I tried unfamiliar foods but also cooked and combined some of my favorite veggies that I have never paired before.

  • Red Quinoa – It has a nuttier flavor than the regular quinoa. I cooked 1 Cup in  2 Cups of organic vegetable broth, and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.

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  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Acorn Squash.  The Acorn Squash is a first for me. I found a Youtube video to instruct me on the best way to cut the squash.  I don’t always measure so I’m estimating ; 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil, granulated garlic powder, 2 Tablespoons of Ponzu Sauce (Citrus Seasoned Soy Sauce), & some new (to me) Japanese spice I found, Shichimi Togarashi (Chilies, Sesame Seeds, Orange Peel, Salt, Garlic, Pepper, Seaweed, Ginger).  I combined all the ingredients in a bowl, stirred it well and placed the veggies on a cookie sheet. I baked them at 350 degrees for about 45 min or so.  The outcome?   Amazing!!

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  • Dinner!

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  • Lentils (plant-based protein) and Sauteed Kale – Nothing new here. Merely a combination of two of my favorites.  I cook the lentils in the crockpot.  Super easy.  Chop 1 Jalapeno pepper, 1 medium sweet onion and toss them in the crockpot.  Add lentils or beans of choice (black-eyed peas, black beans, etc..), season with a generous amount of garlic powder and ground ginger.  Add 1 1/2 carton (48 oz) of vegetable broth (prefer low sodium) or 32 oz of vegetable broth and 16 oz. of water.  Cover and cook on low (6 hours) or high (4 hours).  Serve plain, over brown or black rice, spaghetti squash, whole wheat pasta, or something else.

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  • Cauliflower & Carrots – I seasoned the carrots with Kerrigold butter (natural, grass-fed, hormone-free cows’ milk on cooperative dairy farms). Yup! As I melted the butter, I realized it is dairy, so eventually, I need to find a replacement.  Anyways, I seasoned the carrots with the Ponzu sauce, granulated garlic powder, and a little raw honey in a bowl, then placed them on a baking sheet.
  • I seasoned the Cauli with olive oil, garlic, a dash of salt, and the Japanese spice in a bowl, stirred them well and placed them on a separate cookie sheet.
  • I baked both at 350. I think they cooked for about an hour.  They still at a crunch.
  • For a blend of contrasting flavors, I combined the two.  Yummy!

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I remembered… when in doubt, substitute a vegetable for meat.  So here’s Monday’s dinner. It was delicious, but I have to watch my portions!  It’s time to get the scale out. Today we worked legs at the gym. The combination of kale, quinoa, cauliflower, and black-eyed peas gives me about 17 grams of protein. Not bad for a newbie needing protein.

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Finally, I made time to cook Kale Chips.  Crunchy baked chips are fantastic!  Olive oil, a dash of sea salt, and a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper.  Lord!  These were my dessert!

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For more kale chips later in the week, I have extra kale already cleaned and cut. Heey!!

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One final note.  Earlier this week, I was tested at Longhorn.  My son and I always share the calamari appetizer.  He ordered, and I did not taste even one.  Yay!!!   Before we got to the restaurant, I mentally prepared and wasn’t in the least bit bothered.  I ordered my favorite strawberry salad without the chicken and the raspberry vinegarette on the side with an order of fries.

Passing on the calamari wasn’t a struggle.  I’m surprised and very pleased.  Who knows what this week will bring but I’m ready.  In one week, I will have gone an entire month for the first time ever without meat and dairy (except for the butter in my carrots, last weeks, dairy coffee creamer, and two weeks ago’s one piece of calamari).  I’m flipping thrilled because it has NOT been a struggle.

I feel fantastic and look forward to discovering more about myself on my vegan challenge.

Until next time!  Smooches!


Pay attention to the things you are naturally drawn to.
They are often drawn to your path, passion, and purpose in life.  Have the courage to follow them.
-Ruben Chavez

I am at conflict.  Like really feeling some kinda way.

Only two weeks into my journey, I promised myself that I would not to turn into a wacky extremest.  Hmm…  I am the only person in my household on this vegan trip.

No one is interested in a plant-based diet, so I have to cook two different meals, which isn’t new for me.  Right before I started training for my first figure competition, I began to eat clean (avoiding processed foods), so I cooked “clean” meals for me and regular meals for my family.

If you are not vegan, please; keep reading!  I am not trying to gross you out or offend you. I am sharing my private thoughts…that’s all.  You might have initiated some kind of change in your life and are facing a struggle with its execution.

To shift our behavior to more positive behavior requires some level of self-awareness and self-regulation (factors of emotional intelligence). Efficiently being aware of and managing our emotions can guide our thinking and our actions through the muddle and eventually achieve our goals. That’s what this post is about… me sharing my private thoughts with you and while sorting through conflicting emotions.  If this post helps one person, then it is worth my time and effort.

This blog is devoted to sharing insight on how to improve Health & Wellness (HW).  The food and beverage we consume impacts our physical, mental and overall well-being.

Chicken drumsticks

Ugh!

Anyways, while seasoning a pan of drumsticks for my peeps, all I could see where thousands of ill-health chickens squashed together in coop.

Then there’s the realization of the sheer volume of antibiotics and other chemicals that were injected… the thoughts produced feelings of guilt.  Yes. Guilt!

Why guilt?  Because I do the grocery shopping and cooking for my family.  If I prepare plant-based meals, they will be annoyed with me.

My 15-year-old son ain’t trying to eat plant-based…period.  Hubby and mom.  They enjoy meat too.

Knowing more about the effects of meat on the body, makes me feel bad.  I feel like I’m feeding them chemicals and contributing to future health problems.  I have to figure how out how to manage my unsettling emotions without passing judgment for their dietary choices. After all, other vegan family members have never judged me for sucking chicken off a bone or for eating a half dozen shrimp saturated in butter.  I’m merely trying to keep things in perspective.

Read More

Private Thoughts Of A Transitioning Vegan