Tested Already: Day 2 of Vegan-ing

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, my husband was out of town on a work trip. These two days also happened to be the days I got my pathology report alerting me to precancerous cells in a polyp that was removed and my first full day of eating a mostly vegan diet.

My husband’s travel had not gone smoothly. His flights were delayed both ways and a non-working GPS left him directionless near the Philadelphia airport. As he waited for his twice-delayed flight home from Midway, he texted me that he wanted to go to Culver’s on the way home from the airport.

The sentiment was not lost on me. Greasy cheeseburgers have become our comfort food. In a previous effort to clean up my diet, I made a resolution to only eat fast food on days I had doctor’s appointments, as if crawling into a bag of fries could soothe my anxiety and frustration. Culver’s is especially delicious and I knew I would be tempted by their cheeseburgers on butter-slathered buns, fried cheese curds, and choose-your-own-mix-ins custard concretes. I was barely past the twenty-four hour mark of veganism and I needed some fortifying to be able to withstand the temptation. After all, I had a narrow miss at lunch when I got Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips instead of plain. Luckily the “made with real cheddar” boast on the bag caught my eye and I gave the chips to one of the starving millennials I work with.

And so, armed with the knowledge of my husband’s fast-food intention and the need to pick up a prescription at Target, off I went in search of reinforcements. I got my prescription and, after browsing the book section for a vegan cookbook (No luck there. Target was sold out of the Oh She Glows cookbook–their only vegan option.) I swung by the frozen treats aisle. Even the limited grocery selection at my non-super Target included two non-dairy ice cream options in a variety of flavors. I chose a cashew milk based chocolate ice cream and headed to the checkout. Even though this splurge was counter to my goal of reducing sugar, I rationalized that if I was to withstand the temptations of Culver’s, I needed something a little more sexy to come home to than taco-seasoned tofu.

After yet another delay, I picked up my husband at the airport and pointed the car to Culver’s. As he was selecting his dinner from the drive-thru menu–something called a “pub burger,” fried cheese curds and a salted caramel concrete–he asked what I was getting. I reminded him that I was going to eat vegan and told him I had some non-dairy ice cream at home. As we drove home, we talked about my decision. He agreed that it was a reasonable choice, given the potential benefits and limited drawbacks.

When we got home, he dug into his burger and cheese curds, having already eaten his ice cream in the car. I ate a little of my cashew milk ice cream and was surprised at how tasty and satisfying it was. My husband started feeling the physical pangs of regret you get in your stomach from overeating and offered me his last few cheese curds–old habits die hard. I declined. We did a few chores and went to bed.

I woke up this morning around 6:00 and my husband wasn’t in bed. His fast-food binge on top of his two days of travel-induced poor eating left him with a terrible stomachache. While I felt bad for him, his experience also reinforced my choices. Why put myself through the physical discomfort of an upset stomach when the offensive food might also be feeding my cancer cells?

Miscellaneous Notes: Pro, Con, Pro

Pro: I found out today that I’m in good company. A friend of a friend is also now vegan after having a similar medical experience to mine. It’s good to know I can reach out to someone who is in my shoes.

Con: I ate some leftover fish and cream at lunch as part of a veggie-filled taco bowl. In total there was probably less than 2 ounces of whitefish and 3/4 tablespoon of heavy cream. My husband ate the other leftover serving for dinner so my non-vegan leftovers are gone.

Pro: My mother-in-law is planning a family dinner for Sunday with a menu of takeout from the local BBQ joint. I called her to ask what I could bring, explaining that I wasn’t eating animal products because of my pathology report. She was mostly concerned about the diagnosis and said she thought my decision to go vegan was smart. I wasn’t looking forward to navigating family dinners, but I’m glad to have that conversation behind me and thankful for my mother-in-law’s understanding!

Pathology

Last week, I had surgery to have a polyp removed from my ovary. Surgery and the recovery have been super easy on my end–very little pain or bleeding. The pathology report, however, is another story.

Ovarian polyps are rarely cancerous so I wasn’t too worried about it. More than anything, I wanted the confirmation that everything was fine so we could get on with our lives. The doctor’s office was supposed to call on Monday but we didn’t hear from them. I called yesterday to check in and left a message for the nurse. She returned my call to say that my polyp showed moderate evidence of precancerous cells. We scheduled the appointments that my doctor wanted for follow up and my next task was to call my husband.

These are not the first precancerous cells that have been removed from my body. Shortly after we got married, I had a mole removed from my arm. The pathology report from that showed precancerous cells and that the margins were involved, which meant I had to have a larger chunk of flesh cut out. I’ve had mole checks regularly since then and everything seems to be fine. While I was a little shook up about the polyp pathology news, given my experience with my mole, pessimistic ideation didn’t set in until I talked to my husband. When I told him, he got that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that comes right before your brain formulates all your negative thoughts about potentially bad news into words. I didn’t get upset until he told me his stomach hurt.

The trouble with finding out this kind of news while you’re at work is that you have to hold it together and not overreact. Yelling, “I just found out I have precancer again! There are more important things in this world than board meeting Power Point presentations!” probably isn’t the best way to go. And not to mention that precancerous cells aren’t cancer and everyone in my office has their own personal battles–some of them I know and some I don’t.

What I did instead of yelling was download podcasts about cancer. As I said before, these are not the first precancerous cells that have been removed from my body. Twice, now, in my thirties, I’ve gone through this precancer diagnosis response. Twice is too often for someone who hasn’t even reached “over the hill” status. I needed some distraction from my thoughts and some preparation for what happens if those precancerous cells ever lose their less-threatening prefix. The podcast I landed on was an interview with Dr. John Kelly on the Chris Beat Cancer podcast.

Dr. Kelly is an advocate for a mostly vegan diet for patients that are fighting cancer. He’s not one of those people that claims you can eat vegan and forego other treatment and beat cancer, though. And while some of the studies he referenced were old, there is significant evidence that a vegan diet could stave off cancer better than a standard American diet. I’ve read about these studies before but hadn’t remembered them until I started listening to the podcast interview.

I’m one of those people who thinks that anything that won’t hurt you is worth trying. I’ve also eaten vegan and vegetarian before and for the past several months I had quit buying beef at the grocery store, figuring that if I couldn’t stop driving 90 miles a day for work, I could cut back on my beef consumption, thus limiting contributions to greenhouse gas productions. It didn’t take much to convince me to go full vegan and by the time I left work, I reached my threshold.

And that’s how, on August 8th sometime between noon and 4:30, I became vegan. Even as I warm up my delicious tofu and refried bean burrito, I know I won’t be perfect. There’s that little bit of fish still in the fridge that I don’t want to go to waste. And navigating in-law politics at Thanksgiving dinner will be annoying. And how I will miss eggs! But on the other hand, I’m not really much of a foodie and fueling my body with things that will contribute to my overall health and longevity is much more appealing than a fast food cheeseburger. And if it helps ensure that I don’t hear the word “precancerous” for a long time, that’s all the better.

21 Days to Resilience, Post 2: Hope

The second chapter of 21 Days to Resilience deals with hope. Dr. Montminy discusses how hope relates to resilience. She notes that hope motivates people to act and that to feel hope, a person must believe in his/her own agency. Hope is related to feelings of self-worth and it has been shown to increase performance, health and emotional intelligence.

To me, hope seems like a topic that is worth more than the few pages and handful of tools that Montminy devotes to it. As with the habits, chapter, however, the tools she suggests are a good start.

The first tool in the chapter is a quiz to “take stock” of your own level of hope. Just five yes-or-no questions long, this quiz ranked me on the “less hopeful” side of the scale. It was followed by some open ended questions designed to help the reader identify their biggest challenges, overcome roadblocks and plot a course forward. These questions can definitely help the reader identify a challenge, reflect on how they are feeling about the challenge and move forward. They are big questions and I haven’t fully worked through them yet.

The other tools Dr. Montminy outlines for strengthening hope include building social connections, visualization, vision boards, and achieving goals. First, she recommends listing “three people you wish you kept in better touch with” and defining how you will increase your communication with them. This one is important for me, especially since my best friend moved away. I decided I will go to book club in August, mail a package to a friend, and text my brother every day.

In the section on visualizing, Montminy describes a specific visualization technique that is related to something Gretchen Rubin discusses in her Happier podcast that she calls, “making the opposite argument.” Both tools involve changing the way you think about a situation, but making yourself come up with concrete evidence to support the opposite argument seems more convincing to me than to visualize a more positive outcome.

Just as Montminy provides a different take on visualization, she also puts a spin on creating a vision board. She argues that instead of using nice images from magazines, you should use images and sayings that are part of your life. She urges the reader to, “Find hope within what you’ve created for yourself, within your world.” and to display these images prominently. As I reflected on this tool, the idea that we are already the person we want to be drifted into my imagination. As some point down the road, I may consider creating a Shutterfly book based on this idea.

The last tool that the author outlines is setting attainable goals. She notes, “Nothing builds home more than reaching goals and moving on to the next.” I am going to focus on five attainable goals that have clear completion points from my 40 by 40 to try to finish during the month of August. These are:

  1. Finish rug
  2. Clear out bedside table
  3. Hem pants
  4. Read one book
  5. Complete vacation photo album

These tools and the coverage of the topic of hope seem pretty scant but I think they are good starting points. In the last paragraph, the author urges the reader, “If you have lost all hope, find something to believe in to help you move through the emptiness.” I’ve found that a daily Bible verse reading often helps me focus in on a topic so for the month of August, I’m reading verses that relate to hope. It is easy to find lists on Pinterest and that is where I found my list of hope-related verses.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” – Barack Obama

 

Easy Summer Millet Salad

The state of my kitchen is a pretty good indicator of my mental health. If I’m feeling good, I use stuff up and keep things pretty tidy. If I’m feeling low, a lot of fresh produce gets composted and my dishes pile up. One thing that really gives me a mood boost is pulling together a recipe from the ingredients we have on hand.

I had been meaning to make a millet salad to take in my work lunches. Lately I’ve really been loving a grain salad over spinach with a protein thrown on top. We had some millet in the pantry so I had planned to make a lemon chickpea millet salad I found online. But I procrastinated because last week we had a lot of lunch meetings and I managed my way through without preparing anything.

This past weekend my parents came into town and brought some garden-fresh produce. After they left, I was sitting on my couch thinking about how to use everything up before it went bad. Initially I was thinking about making a pasta salad, since I scored a couple boxes of pasta on sale for fifty-five cents. Then the idea to make a summer millet salad hit me. I hopped up and started pulling ingredients out of the pantry, fridge and freezer and started boiling some water for the millet. Here is a rough recipe for my easy summer millet salad.

1 cup millet
2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs — I picked some thyme, basil, parsley and chives from my garden.
1 can chickpeas
1 cup frozen corn
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup vinaigrette dressing (more or less to taste)

Bring water to a boil. Add millet and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.

Cool millet slightly and mix in the remaining ingredients. (I used up some Wishbone brand basil dressing and then mixed together some balsamic, olive oil and Italian dressing mix.)

You could serve this as a side dish, but I am eating it as part of a bigger salad for lunch. My lunch mix includes about 2 cups of spinach, chopped cucumber, a generous scoop of millet salad, some black olives and either a couple canned sardines or some fresh mozzarella.

40 before 40: Week One Update

I’ve been easing into improving my habits and reaching my goals on about half the things in my “40 before 40” list. Here is an update on how I’m doing…

  1. Write 40 blog posts. Not counting this post, my blog post count is 2 down, 38 to go.
  2. Hike/walk/run 40 miles. In deciding to set this goal at 40 miles, I knew I was making it easy on myself. In reality, I hope to exceed this, but I also want to take it slow to prevent any injury. This week I’ve walked three mornings for 30 minutes. This usually adds up to about 1.4 or 1.5 miles but I am only counting the whole miles, which means I’m at 3 with 37 to go.
  3. Cook 40 new recipes. This week I made red beans and rice for dinner, cornmeal mush with strawberries for breakfast, and I prepped a millet salad for this week’s lunches. That makes 3 down and 37 to go. 
  4. Declutter 40 items. I’ve been working on clearing out my magazine stash. If I count each magazine, I’m already up to 6 items, but since I probably have 40 magazines in my nightstand basket, I’m just going to count them all as one item.
  5. Do a 40 day social media detox. I haven’t really started working on this, but I have outlined some strategies to make this a lasting habit rather than a gimmick that I’m done with after 40 days. 
  6. Go 40 days without alcohol. My bff is moving away tomorrow so we’ve had some going away functions with drinks. I’m officially up to Day 3 with 37 to go.
  7. Go 40 days without caffeine. I’ve started cutting back on my morning coffee so that I don’t suffer withdrawal headaches. This week, I’ve gone from unlimited coffee (typically my only source of caffeine) to 8 ounces of coffee in the morning.
  8. Go 40 days without sugar. I picked up The Case against Sugar on a trip to the bookstore this week. I’ve only gotten into the introduction, but I hope this book will help motivate me toward accomplishing this goal.
  9. Clear the magazine rack. I’m down 6 magazines with a lots to go. I could do this really quickly and pitch them all in the recycling bin at once, but that seems almost sacrilegious to me. 
  10. Take things to Clothes Mentor. Clothes Mentor is a consignment store for gently used clothing. I called the store to find out what hours they buy clothes. The next step is to check the tags on the clothes I want to get rid of to make sure they will take those brands. My instinct is to wait until I’ve cleaned out every closet to take one huge pile of clothes, but it is more likely that I will complete this task if I go as soon as I have a few items to take.
  11. Make vacation photo album. I’ve transferred all the pictures from my phone and our camera to my laptop and I’ve chose a Shutterfly theme for the photo album. We received a Shutterfly coupon in the mail this week so my goal is to complete this before the coupon expires. 
  12. Finish rag rug. I have worked on this pretty consistently throughout the week. I’m surprised to note that I’m almost finished with it.
  13. Read five books. I think I’m currently reading five books all at once. They include 21 Days to Resilience, Getting Things Done, The Case against Sugar, Rez Life, and a re-read of Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me?. But it doesn’t actually count until I finish one.
  14. Exercise 3 times each week. I should’ve been more specific and said “strength train 3 times each week.” I’ve identified some body-weight exercises for my shoulders, abs and butt and I am working on slowly increasing the repetitions. My strategy is to do three days on separated by one rest day. So far so good.
  15. Stop using my iPhone an hour before bed. I’ve done this one day. The key is to use my other alarm clock but first I have to figure out how to damper the volume of the alarm because it is super loud and my husband always jumps when it goes off.
  16. Incorporate GTD. I’ve been reading a little of this every day and am really striving to do better with the collecting and processing steps.
  17. Work through 21 Days to Resilience. I’ve completed Day One.
  18. Stay under my grocery budget. I set my grocery budget at $400/month. That is an average of what we’ve spent over the last four months. I’m well within budget and hope to decrease my budget slowly as I pay more attention to what we’re spending at the grocery store. 
  19. Journal every day. Check.
  20. Do daily Bible study. I try to identify a verse for every day at the beginning of the month. With our recent vacation, I was woefully behind, but I’m caught up and moving forward. 

21 Days to Resilience, Post 1: Habits

Chapter one of 21 Days to Resilience by Dr. Zelana Montminy prompts readers to consider their habits. An audit of my habits clearly shows that I spend way too much time looking at my iPhone. Much of my day involves staring at a screen and that is a habit I want to change. I use my iPhone to wake up, to distract from tedious tasks such as commuting, getting ready for the day and eating, and as a pacifier when I’m feeling bad or need to wind down for bed. In fact, I’ve actually started thinking of my phone as a pacifier. While it may distract me from feeling bad, it also allows me to avoid dealing with those feelings. It also distracts me from really engaging with the people and things around me and from the sparks of inspiration that occur when I’m marching through the boring parts of my day. (I’m looking at you, shower-time.)

Even before I did an audit of my habits, I knew my reliance on my iPhone was something I needed to change. My 40 before 40 goals are telling in that they not only include iPhone avoidance goals (a social media detox and a nightly iPhone curfew), but they also include positive goals I want to replace my iPhone habit with, such as regular exercise, journaling, home projects and reading.

The book encourages readers to introduce new cues that will assist with cultivating a good habit to replace those habits you want to change. One cue I identified to replace my habit of iPhone surfing after work with exercise, is to change into workout clothes as soon as I get home from work. Another cue I can implement, in order to replace my morning surfing with Bible study, is to use a different device for my alarm clock and keep my journal handy. Lastly, I’ve started packing a book in my work lunch bag to break my habit of web surfing during lunch and replace it with more reading.

Another tip Dr. Montminy is to change your environment. If your surroundings spark a bad habit, change your surroundings. This strategy worked for me when I quit smoking ten years ago. I took advantage of a long winter break from grad school to quit smoking. Because our digital devices are so pervasive and few places have instituted a “no cell phones” rule, changing my environment in order to discourage social media browsing is a little more difficult. That said, I plan to step away from my desk to eat lunch. I am also planning to park my cell phone in the office area that serves as a transition from the carport to the rest of the house when I get home. If I quit carrying my phone around with me when I get home, I will rely on it less as a boredom pacifier.

My plan to leave my phone in the office is an example of a hybrid between the “change your environment” strategy and the next strategy Dr. Montiminy outlines: removing the bad habit cue. Since I won’t have my cue (my phone) for social media browsing with me at all times, it makes it more difficult to engage with that bad habit.

This chapter is a good starting place for anyone who wants to do a quick  survey of their habits. If you really want to dig deeper into the topic, however, I recommend reading Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin dives deeply into multiple strategies for changing our habits.

40 before 40

Thirty-one weeks from today I will turn forty. I decided I wanted to fill the last days of my thirties with meaningful goals and cultivate habits to carry with me into the next decade. My list of forty goals ended up being divided into four categories, do 40 of…, go places, house projects and habits.

Here is my  list:

  1. Write 40 blog posts
  2. Hike/walk/run 40 miles
  3. Cook 40 new recipes
  4. Declutter 40 items
  5. Do a 40 day social media detox
  6. Go 40 days without alcohol
  7. Go 40 days without caffeine
  8. Go 40 days without sugar
  9. Meditate 40 days
  10. Create a 40 item wardrobe
  11. Watch a meteor shower
  12. Watch the eclipse
  13. Hike Rock Bridge State Park
  14. Hike Pinnacles Park
  15. Visit Austin
  16. Visit Great Basin National Park
  17. Visit Omaha
  18. Eat at Justus Drug Store
  19. Go to a museum
  20. Go to a library program
  21. Organize the basement closet
  22. Organize the space under my desk
  23. Clear the magazine rack
  24. Take things to Clothes Mentor
  25. Paint bedroom
  26. Refinish an Adirondack chair
  27. Make vacation photo album
  28. Make bedroom curtains
  29. Complete 4 mending projects
  30. Finish rag rug
  31. Read five books
  32. Change churches and attend regularly
  33. Exercise 3 times each week
  34. Stop using my iPhone an hour before bed
  35. Incorporate GTD
  36. Work through 21 Days to Resilience
  37. Work through the Minimalists’ 21 Days prompts
  38. Stay under my grocery budget
  39. Journal every day
  40. Do daily Bible study