A Happier 2017 – Month Four

It’s May already, and I can’t believe how fast the year is going. As we age, seasons become smaller and smaller percentages of our lives, but I’m still learning how true “blink and you’ll miss it” really is. That said, I’m a bit late in my April recap of my monthly goals:

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. Fail. For good reason: I finally went to a hand doctor…two, in fact. The first one told me to brace it, stop doing planks/pushups, and no more guitar/mandolin. He also mentioned “arthritis” and some other scary things, so I stopped. However, the second doctor believes it to be either a bad sprain or perhaps a cyst. He also mentioned rest and a brace, but none of the scarier stuff. So I’m still resting, but I should be back to playing soon enough. 

Pay off my student loan. No new degrees = no new loans!

Write 2 blog posts per week. Oops. BUT! And this is a big BUT! I’ve been getting paid to write elsewhere! Hooray! I’ve completed much more than the equivalent of 2 posts per week, and I’ve gotten paid for it. So I’ll let this one slide.

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. DONE and DONE! Yosemite was not at all what I expected it to be, but I’m glad to now have a better understanding of both authors and their contributions to the natural world in the US.

Leave my corporate job. Guess what?? SIX WEEKS TIL D-DAY! And by that, I mean Departure Day!! That’s right, we got an offer on the house, and it’s time to make our adventure dreams happen. But shhh…I haven’t put my notice in just yet. 

Hike the Long Trail. We’ll get to the trailhead at the MA border in about 7 weeks. SEVEN WEEKS!! I just ordered an extra pair of socks and a pair of crocs. This is actually happening!!

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Done, but I’ll have to pay for my retainers next month. I don’t currently love my smile, but at least I don’t have to worry about the fake parts falling out anymore because there aren’t any more fake parts. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I’m…struggling with this one a bit. When I’m bored, I often seek noise, and I’ve been bored often in the office. However, I don’t miss Facebook at all, and at home, I’ve been pouring myself into my freelance work. So, while I haven’t been particularly good at sitting still, I have continued to cut down on the “noise” and seek more enlightening pursuits.

Read 12 books (one per month). Eleven down. That means I read 4 books in the month of April, so maybe that’s another reason why I felt I didn’t have too much downtime. I finally read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. I should probably find something uplifting to read soon, or my brain will be full of hard-luck stories.

Do a guided meditation once per week. I think I did this – perhaps I missed one week, but I’ve been pretty consistently doing them before my piano students. It’s a good transition between the office and teaching. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. Done, with a surprise letter to a former bandmate whom I miss dearly. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I should just take this off the list. I know I won’t be doing it this month, and I won’t be doing it in the coming months. But – and this is important – I’m taking more time to be happy in general. I’m focusing more on what matters (sleep, reading, writing, fitness, cooking) across the board rather than trying to squeeze everything into 60 minutes once per week. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Look at me go! Travis turned 40 this month, and we celebrated in tasty, yet responsible manners. We both enjoy the taste of GOOD whisky, wine, and beer, but as we age, we’ve noticed the effects becoming more pronounced and less fun to deal with. Hitting up a brewery or a winery for a tasting has become an effective way to enjoy the flavors without going overboard. 

Based on the above answers, looks like I’ll have to write about our upcoming grand plans soon… 🙂

Natural versus Safe

This is going to be short since I have a lesson to teach, but it’s been on my mind for a while. As I’ve mentioned in various previous posts, not everything natural is safe and not everything created by science and technology is bad.

Case in point: lead. Lead is a completely earth-made, naturally occurring element that happens to be very toxic to people. People still managed to line their water pipes with it and slather it on their faces for centuries. We’ve just now begun to ban it from our cosmetics (which is rather scary it’s taken so long).

I definitely support living a more healthy lifestyle, which in many cases does mean adopting the use of more natural materials in daily life. But I’m also thankful science and technology have come up with ways to extract surfactants from plants to make soap so I don’t have to stand in the hot sun with ashes, urine, and/or animal fat trying to make lye soap.

I think it’s good to be somewhat flexible with goals like this. Trying to live more naturally in a modern society isn’t always easy, and it’s also not always practical nor healthy to go completely in one direction (toothpaste doesn’t occur in nature but it’s important for one’s dental health). My goal is health. I’ve seen family members who didn’t take care of their health suffer for it, many times painfully and for years, and I don’t want that for myself.

I’m not going to swear off using the microwave, but I have said goodbye to commercial deodorants, soaps, makeup, makeup removers, many home/bathroom cleaners, cologne, and more because I can make my own. I choose not to eat fast food because I prefer whole, natural, and unprocessed foods (except pizza. Give me ALLLLL the pizza. And ice cream, although I do often make my own vegan “nice” cream these days). I prefer to dress in sustainable, comfortable fabrics and try my best to shop from manufacturers who don’t mistreat people nor the planet.

But I’m not perfect. I bought a wedding dress because of how it looked, not who made it. I ordered my niece a game on Amazon for her birthday instead of making something.

It’s okay not to be perfect on the quest for a healthier life.

Science and technology are not the enemy. Perfection is.

If a Millennial travels and doesn’t Instagram it, did it really happen?

No, really. We’ve all heard someone say “pics or it didn’t happen” about something. In this age where we carry cameras in our pockets, travel has become a key target, especially among millennials.

I try to take photos whilst traveling to remind myself of the places I saw and the people I met. When I look at the pictures months or years later they really help jog my memory and bring back stories that would have otherwise been buried. I like turning the pages of printed photo albums and remembering that those moments were real.

That said, I’ve tried to take fewer pictures as I’ve explored more. The ocean may not look exactly the same everywhere, but it’s blue and made of water. I don’t need to take 25 shots of the ocean every time I see it. If the weather is particularly unusual or the landscape surrounding the ocean is unique, yes, definitely. Even better if the photo includes people (either people I’ve just met or those I’m traveling with) as that’s when the pictures truly stop time forever: seeing a day, a moment, a person exactly as it was.

With social media, we now see everyone’s photos all the time. Moments don’t stop. They just keep piling up. People are booking vacations just to get a photograph of a particular location because they saw it on Instagram. While it’s great people are exploring more of this beautiful world, it’s not great when travelers aren’t earth-conscious or respectful of others. Ecosystems are suffering from an influx of human activity which they cannot handle. Economies are booming from tourism and yet the residents are still living without basic necessities. All this, just to get a better Instagram photo than someone else?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel. But maybe we should put some thought into our goals and reasons for traveling. Posting a cool pic on social media isn’t really well-thought-out criteria for selecting a travel destination (nor the best use of one’s time, in my personal opinion).  What matters to do? Do you have a list somewhere of things you’d like to accomplish and places you’d like to see? Focus on that. Take pictures and don’t worry about posting them on social media. Stop following people whose posts “give you wanderlust” and choose your own adventure. Seriously, unsubscribe. We’re pummeled with messages about the next coolest destination and the most beautiful locations. Let it go. Those do not have to be your adventures.

It is entirely possible to travel to really awesome places without taking the whole world with you in your pocket. You may find you’re able to enjoy it more because you’re more focused on the moment than the perfect filter for the frame. Don’t travel somewhere because everybody else is. Travel if you want to, where you want to, when you want to. Your adventures are real, whether posted on social media or not. Share your life and adventures with people in real life instead of “sharing” with a screen. I guarantee your grandma will love looking at a photo album and hearing your stories and she won’t care whether it’s the most beautiful picture of the Pacific Ocean she’s ever seen. She cares that you enjoyed yourself and your life is richer because you went somewhere new.

Try traveling and not posting all your pictures. You’ll like it, I promise.

Maybe She’s Born With It

I stopped wearing nail polish almost a year and a half ago. The last time I painted my nails was for my interview with my current job. I recently threw away the last of my nail polish colors and nail polish remover and it felt good to unload some “stuff” that has some questionable ingredients and smells pretty strongly.

I stopped getting my eyebrows done at the same time. I got them threaded for the same interview, and maybe once after, but then I stopped. My brows have always been thin and light so all they really needed was a bit of shaping. I loved the salon near my last apartment in New York and would visit them about once every six weeks as a mini luxury, but in my new town I found few salons offered threading and the price was much steeper. It wasn’t worth it to me. I could handle the small amount of shaping my sparse brows needed and forego the time and effort.

I very rarely (1-2x/year) get a glaze put in the bottom part of my hair to help old dyed color blend in with my natural color while I grow it out. I haven’t full-on dyed my hair in over three years. I loved the darker color and how it looked against my skin, but wasn’t a fan of the waste and questionable chemicals I was always using. Also, it’s not cheap to dye thick hair that you can literally tuck into your pants. Plus, I think the grays I’m getting look kind of cool. I love seeing older women with long, beautiful, silver hair, and I would be totally cool with that look as I age.

What am I getting at here? This isn’t just a list of “stuff Sarah doesn’t do anymore.” It’s about making conscious decisions when it comes to what I put in, on, and around what my body. Choosing how to spend my money and time. Learning to love myself just as I naturally am.

That last one is pretty huge.

I spent my childhood wishing I had green eyes, black hair, and pale skin. Instead, I had light golden brown (my stylist considers it blond) hair, blueish eyes, and yellowish skin.

Then I discovered hair dye and staying indoors, and my eye color fully developed into – surprise! – green. I spent my 20s black-haired, pale, and green-eyed. I was thrilled to finally look the way I’d wanted to look my whole life. People saw me the way I wanted to see myself. I projected confidence and happiness…until I’d visit friends or family and realize I’d forgotten to bring my makeup, or my un-dyed roots got out of control. I loved feeling “pretty” but I was still insecure with my “mask.”

Once I started weaning myself off the mask, starting with the hair dye, it snowballed into a slow unveiling of confidence in my true self. It helped to have an extremely supportive partner who prefers me to not wear makeup (nor anything unnatural) and actually means it. He doesn’t mean he prefers the no-makeup look, he genuinely doesn’t like makeup (or hair dye, or nail polish, or cologne, etc).

The hair dye, nail polish, and eyebrows were small in comparison to the makeup. I never wore much makeup to begin with. I only wore foundation/powder for photos or special events. My daily routine included eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, and lip stain. Over the last two years, while I learned more about the ingredients in cosmetics, I started to get “lazy” and cut out the eye shadow. Down to the liner, mascara, and lip stain, but I wasn’t happy with the way my eyes looked with the liner. Some colors were too dark and others made my eyes red so I’d look like I was crying. Finally, I cut out the liner too – down to just mascara and lip stain.

About six months ago I decided to try a “safer” mascara and see if I liked it. I’d recently purchased reusable cotton rounds for witch hazel/makeup removing purposes. On the first day of wear, when I tried to remove the mascara at the end of the day, it stained the cotton rounds (permanently, although it wasn’t waterproof mascara) and was so hard to remove, I lost a couple eyelashes. Sadly, the “safer” mascara had an unintended effect: instead of choosing a safer mascara, I ended up choosing not to wear any at all. It’s been sitting in my (now-tiny) makeup bag for special occasions only. I’ve now worn eye makeup exactly twice in 2017, both for professional events.

I still wear lip stain as I feel that pop of color does really brighten my face, but I’ve switched to a handmade tube from Etsy with natural, recognizable ingredients. It gives me more of a natural flush than a vivid lip, and that’s okay with me. It helps me look a bit more alive as my lips are naturally super-pale. I feel, at least in professional settings, it’s important to look like I respect my appearance and take time to look professional, and it’s perfect. I don’t feel like I need to look like anybody else, but I don’t want to look unkempt or sloppy simply because I’m choosing a more natural lifestyle.

That said, last weekend was one of the two occasions on which I wore makeup. When I looked in the mirror my eyes seemed red and I felt like I was made up for photos or the stage. Although it was barely any makeup (eyeliner and mascara) I felt I looked much different, and not necessarily better – what a change in perspective!

Over the last few years, I’ve learned to love myself for who I am, to appreciate my appearance as well as what’s within my flesh-and-bone walls. Taking off the mask has allowed me to see more of myself and gain strength. I now focus more on what’s important to me to do, and less on how I look whilst doing it.

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it comes from a box, or a tube, or a salon, or a brush, or a wand, or a bottle.

Maybe it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.

A Happier 2017 – Month Three

Another month is behind us already! I know as you get older time seems to pass by faster. It makes sense logically: when you’re five years old, a single summer takes up a massive portion of your time on earth. When you’re 30, 65, 80, a single summer is just a short blip of time out of the many seasons you’ve experienced. And I’m now officially a year older, as I turned 33 last Friday. In keeping up with my monthly tradition, here’s a recap of how I did on my goals throughout the month of March:

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. Fail. I didn’t pick it up once this month. My wrist is still bothering me but that’s not really a good excuse as I’ve managed to play both guitar and piano. Maybe it’s because I moved the case to the side of my piano where it’s partially hidden by a curtain and I sometimes forget it’s there. But I think there’s a bit more to it (as you’ll see in a few paragraphs).

Pay off my student loan. Obviously this is still done, although I’m still awaiting my payoff letter. Still haven’t received an official payoff letter although I did receive a request to “write my story” about how I paid off my student debt early. I totally wrote my story.

Write 2 blog posts per week. Look at me go! This makes my 9th post for the month. I thought I was slacking off but turns out a few recipes and some shorter posts really rounded out the imagined gaps.

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. “Silent Spring” has been read! Muir’s “The Yosemite” is staring at me from the coffee table right now. I don’t think I selected well for my first book of his. I adore the way he writes but having never been to Yosemite it’s a bit difficult for me to imagine everything he describes. I’ve actually looked up images of the places on Google to get the proper breathtaking feeling his words alone should give me. That said, I’m going to press on and complete it. I read through those physics books when I was 29…this will be easy.

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. BUT: I got my first TWO freelance clients and a handful of potential clients. I am STOKED! All it took was a little courage…and a LOT of time and patience. I believe this point is the real reason behind my lack of mandolin practice: I spent HOURS this month crafting profiles on freelance sites, bookmarking the top freelance writing job boards, applying for projects, and finally, WRITING AND GETTING PAID FOR IT!! HOORAY!!! So I can now say I’m heading in the right direction on this one.

Hike the Long Trail. Still gainfully employed and also, weather. Soon. 

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Still done, and more trays keep coming. I can’t wait to see my smile when I’m done…I will need to pay for retainers when that dally finally comes.

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. Overall I’m doing okay with this one. I don’t miss Facebook nearly as much as I thought I would. I’ve started using Reddit to help find clients and homestead ideas instead of brainless memes. (Here’s what I did: I went through my subscribed subreddits and unsubscribed to anything I never visited. Then I looked for subreddits that would actually add value to my life: homesteading, camping and hiking, wedding planning, recipe planning, freelance writing, and subscribed to those instead. Now my homepage is a list of interesting points of view, pretty wedding dresses, delicious healthy food, and potential clients. Score!)

Read 12 books (one per month). Seven down. I finished Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” along with JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” last month. Both interesting reads. I should write about them.

Do a guided meditation once per week. I did a couple, but definitely not every week this month. It was a strange month as Travis had his surgery and I didn’t go to work as usual for a whole week. Then some students were sick so I used the extra time to write instead of meditate. That said, I DID get in touch with my therapist and have had Skype therapy sessions each week. They’ve been helping me process some things that don’t directly impact my day-to-day life but have been indirectly impacting how I feel. They’ve also helped me get back to the right mindset and remember how to reframe situations that happen to be less than ideal. I won’t be needing weekly sessions going forward but will probably touch base on a monthly basis, just to make sure I’m taking the best care of myself.

Write one handwritten letter per month. Done, but barely. A dear friend and I send each other bracelets when we travel and my bracelet for her from Hawaii had been sitting on my counter for four months. Sorry, Linda. I hope you like it.

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. Nope, nope, nope. But all is not lost as I’ve done a great job ensuring I read and work out almost every single day anyway. I just haven’t given it a name and hit “start” on my stopwatch app. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Hooray and go me! I had a beer with lunch today. I had a beer with dinner last weekend. I drank a bottle of red wine – over the course of an entire WEEK, one (properly-sized) glass per evening. It now feels much more like a treat to enjoy a drink instead of “something you do.” I truly enjoy wine and beer, but, as with all my other treats, all in moderation. I know it’s a terrible idea to come home from a bad day and dive into a box of cookies (homemade or not), and thus I also know it’s a terrible idea to dive into a bottle of wine. We all do it sometimes, but I’ve definitely started to look at drinking as a bit of a reward to celebrate instead of a background activity to dull the mind. And that said, I’ve been sleeping pretty well too. I picked up a Somnilight reading lamp  and it’s AWESOME! I love reading at night now and I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep. I want to get all their lamps now…and even the glasses. Who knew using a different reading lamp right before bed would actually help me stay asleep? I think I look less tired in my eyes now too. Thank you, Somnilight!

On Thursdays I Wear Dresses

I figured it was appropriate to write about my Thursday sartorial choices as it’s Thursday today. I’ve written about my progress toward minimalism, including reducing my wardrobe to more of a uniform. I’ve actually made great strides with my closet this year. Nearly every top I own is now blue and bottoms are black or gray. I have a couple oddballs I owned prior to the cleanout, but anything I purchase new must fit into those basic parameters.

Why?

It ensures my clothes all work well together and can be worn a variety of ways. Once I pared everything down it made me want to wear what I loved more frequently – after all, I bought these items for a reason. I was able to release many of those “just in case” items I’d work perhaps once or twice in the previous two years. I’ve decided if I own something, I need to use it. Gone are the days of saving something “for a special occasion.” As the saying goes, you don’t need an occasion to open that fancy bottle of wine: opening the bottle is the occasion. And so it became with my wardrobe.

I’m not an overtly feminine lady but I really love dresses. I think they’re beautiful and easy to wear. Sadly, since I’ve been working in male-dominated industries for the past decade, many of my pretty dresses simply sat in my closet.

Once I reduced the amount of proper work pants in my wardrobe, I found myself looking at my dresses – in particular, two basic black dresses that have stood the test of time and yet were rarely let out of the closet. I decided I was going to take them each for a spin, male-dominated workplace be damned. I was concerned about unwanted attention in the beginning but have (quite thankfully) found it not to be an issue (though perhaps that’s owed more to my decision to forego most makeup and heels these days).

As I shrank out of my dress pants (thanks Invisalign…more on that unending process later) I found I had only three pairs that fit. Thursday rolled around and I would turn to a dress. At first this was unplanned but as the weeks passed I began to look forward to my Dress Thursdays.

  • First, it shakes up my blue-and-gray pants ensemble. Second, I feel a little extra feminine. Third, we have casual Fridays so it’s fun to dress up right before dressing down. And perhaps the biggest benefit for me is mental: I’m not in love with my current job, so this gives me something to look forward to toward the end of the week, when it’s too early to think about the weekend but the days have begun to grow long. When I don my dress (or skirt) Thursday morning, I know the weekend is coming and the routine helps to propel me through the last 16 hours.

Do you have any wardrobe routines? Would you ever consider one?

I Got My First Client!

It’s been a surprisingly productive week! Although last week was pretty quiet  due to Travis’s surgery, I spent a lot of time looking into freelance writing gigs while I was home with him.

And…crickets. Not a single thing came through. It hasn’t been too long, but I figured the freelance world probably moves pretty quickly. I’d keep on keepin’ on and submit proposals as I could.

Then, yesterday morning, I got not one, but TWO projects, in the span of a couple hours! I wanted to jump out of my chair and dance around, but I was at my corporate job, so I just texted Travis with a ton of smiley-face emojis.

Last night, after a glorious first run in the beautiful spring weather, I got to business on the first project – editing business documents. I delivered before bedtime and was paid before I arrived at my job this morning. WOOHOO!!

At the moment, I’m taking a quick break from copywriting on project #2. It’ll probably be delivered tonight unless I feel I want to revise it with fresh eyes tomorrow.

AND – on top of those already-great developments – I was invited to cover an event in NYC this weekend for my previous employer. I’m stoked to be back in the fold and to be able to spend some time connecting with other musicians and music educators. I’ve been talking with them for a while about how we could work something out, and although I’m terribly impatient, keeping those lines of communication open is finally paying off.

Speaking of paying off, I ran some numbers and found I could cover my current bills working just forty hours per MONTH as a freelance writer/musician/teacher. It’s all starting to (very slowly) seem feasible now. Baby steps – but life is too short and too precious to not spend it doing what you love.

Don’t give up your daydream.

Parenting Isn’t For Me

I know I just wrote about being kind to children – and absolutely everything in that post still applies. This post isn’t about that – it’s about how I know parenting isn’t for me.

Travis had surgery last week – it was planned and he’s recovering on schedule, thank goodness, so all is well – which rendered him nearly incapacitated for most of the week. Thankfully, the weather cooperated (if you can call it that) with a winter storm, so although I missed days of work, the weather would have kept me home anyway.

That said, although we prepared for the surgery by making a massive batch of soup, making the bed as comfortable as possible, and renting a slew of DVDs from our local library, his recovery has shown me time and again I’m not cut out for parenting. I know, I know, people often say it’s completely different when you have a child, when it’s your own, etc, and while I think that’s super awesome (and I’m secretly very thankful as this isn’t easy), I’m glad I won’t be finding out firsthand.

This week I’ve had to scrub the toilets, take out the trash, vacuum, do all the laundry, change the sheets, cook EVERY SINGLE MEAL (and this man eats a LOT), wash every single dish, play with the cat, draw baths and help Travis in/out of them, remind him to take his medication even when he didn’t want to, help him bandage his wounds, drive him to/from the hospital and subsequent doctors’ office visits, find out answers to surgery questions he asked, run errands for food or other necessities as requested, PUT ON HIS SOCKS FOR HIM, and – oh yeah – go to work myself.

To parents out there everywhere, my GOODNESS, thank you for dedicating your lives to doing this day in and day out, for about a decade or so, until your kids decide you’re only cool enough to drive them around for another eight years, and then dropping them off at college, and finally breathing. This is temporary for us, and it’ll be fine, but I couldn’t imagine doing all of this every single day, especially for a tiny human who wouldn’t understand any of it until much later. It felt like a very solitary existence – Travis up in the bedroom while I buzzed around the downstairs prepping food and cleaning. It felt like that cycle of prepping and cleaning never ended, and by the time everything was put up for the night I was exhausted. I didn’t have any “me” time – no time to read or journal or go for a walk or take a class or play music or anything I would have preferred over cooking and cleaning.

I couldn’t do it. I’m happy to take care of Travis now while he recovers but I personally wouldn’t be a good parent. I am far too selfish – which isn’t always a bad thing because I think it’s good to know yourself – and I am okay with that.

Parenting isn’t for me.

A Happier 2017 – Be Yourself

One of Rubin’s resounding messages in her book and blog is to “Be Gretchen” – meaning, of course, to be who YOU are at the core. Yesterday’s Page A Day calendar spelled it out with a bit more verbosity: “It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations.” (Bertrand Russell)

In our oversharing society it can be all to easy to mistake another’s goals, dreams, and visions for your own. Seeing a photo or reading a story about an amazing trip, location, or adventure can absolutely inspire us to want to recreate it – and that’s great! It’s good to learn more about the world around us. However, it’s important to focus on doing what you TRULY want to do. If all your friends are going to Cuba because it’s hip now, but you don’t speak Spanish and you’ve been dying to hike through Japan…then go to Japan, Instagram hashtags be damned.

And on a smaller scale, don’t waste your time reading books you don’t like.

Most of the time – I would say probably 92% of the time – I finish absolutely every book or movie I pick up. I strongly dislike leaving anything unfinished, regardless of whether I like the characters or storyline. I feel even if I disagree with an author or director, I’ll have something to discuss with others after the fact. However, I occasionally come across some I can’t get into, no matter how hard I try – this is coming from the woman who spent a considerable amount of time one year reading books on string theory and quantum physics just to attempt to grasp the theories.

Last night I was pumped to begin reading a book about the history of vegetarianism in America, especially since I’d just posted about my personal history of vegetarianism. I got comfy, opened the page, and dug in. The introduction alone put me off – an awful lot of references to religion and religious leaders. The author’s bio at the end of the intro confirmed a position as a professor of theology. Okay – it’s not my jam, but I can learn something from most people. I pressed on to Chapter 1.

It was the shortest chapter in the book and I couldn’t book it down fast enough. I made myself finish the chapter but I could do no more. The book touched on Pythagoras and a handful of other non-religion-based historical vegetarians, but the vast majority were Christian vegetarians. I have no problem with vegetarians of any faith (nor lack thereof), but I was expecting to read about how vegetarianism took shape with early settlers due to growing conditions and crops, not how early settlers came to America to escape religiously-based vegetarianism persecution. No thanks. I’d recently read Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression and was expecting something of similar quality and scope. Not so with the book on vegetarianism.

I put it down at the end of the chapter and returned it to the library this morning. I could have read it, but I gave myself permission to stop because it wasn’t enriching my life. I have other books on hand to dive into (John Muir, anyone?) and if I’m going to devote a few hours of my life to learning something, I’d like to enjoy the subject at hand.

Be yourself. Give yourself permission not to do what everyone else is doing. Give yourself permission to change your mind on something if you find it’s not to your liking – that’s the only way we can grow.

Why I’m a Vegetarian

I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life and I’m often asked why. There’s a cute little story about how it all began, and I’ll follow it up with why I still am, after more than 20 years.

I grew up on a small farm in Maine. We had horses, rabbits, chickens, and a garden. I grew up eating meat but I never liked it very much, except for my grandmother’s delicious turkey soup. I didn’t like steaks or burgers at all. Once we got a flock of chickens I spent my afternoons playing in the yard with them. One chick in particular was my favorite – a beautiful Bantam hen I named Peeps because she was always making little peeping sounds. I’d come home from school, pick her up, climb the willow tree, and lounge in the branches, reading a book, with Peeps in the crook of my elbow. I would often give the chickens scraps of whatever I was eating. One day I made the connection between the fact chicken nuggets are made out of chickens – the very kind of chickens I was playing with each day. Chicken nuggets look nothing like living chickens – very few meat products resemble their roots – so although I’m somewhat embarrassed it took me so long to make the connection, I’m not surprised.

It took me about two months to completely give up meat and ensure my family respected my decision. I received cookbooks from my grandparents but my mother would continue to feed me chicken-and-rice baked dishes, telling me to “eat around the chicken,” although the entire thing was simmering in chicken broth. I remember during that time we visited a bison farm, and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed a burger. Bison was the most delicious red meat I had ever tasted, but a few minutes later when a bison approached the fence and let me pet his nose, I knew no matter how delicious it was, I wasn’t going to eat it again.

This was the mid-90s when vegetarianism among teenagers was quite popular, and I would be lying if I didn’t say the choice was also partly social. I had friends I respected and admired who were already staunch vegetarians and as we talked about their choices it made sense to me. So, the last meat I ate was bacon at my grandmother’s house – because it smelled so good the morning she cooked it during a visit that summer – and I gave it up after that.

These days my body can’t process meat. If I eat a soup made with chicken broth, or have a bite of a party dip with chopped chicken, or even eat veggies cooked on the same griddle as meat, I find myself in the throes of gastric distress within a few hours. People often don’t believe that when I first explain, but science proves that when one foregoes meat for long enough, the body stops creating the enzymes necessary with which to digest meat. It’s been more than 20 years – those enzymes are long gone. Should I ever choose to eat meat again I’d need to introduce it slowly and carefully.

I don’t think that’s going to happen. I fought with myself a couple years ago when I began traveling, especially to countries in which meat is extremely popular (especially South America). I wanted to be able to enjoy eating whatever the locals are eating without worrying about tummy troubles due to confusion over ingredients or shared cooking surfaces. I read recipes for meat dishes and considered ordering a chicken dish when I was in a restaurant.

And then I went to the grocery store and saw the meat products sitting in the coolers and I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take raw flesh and turn it into something edible. Today, I’m not only a vegetarian because I care about animals, but also because I care about my health, and – probably most importantly – because I don’t believe it is my place to take the life of another living being. Of course, the response to that is often, “plants are alive! Plants have feelings too!” Well, yes, that’s true. But I personally have no moral issue pulling a carrot from the ground and eating it.

I could not take the life of an animal – cow, chicken, turkey, goat, sheep, deer, mouse, caribou – with my own hands. I have absolutely no problem with people who choose to do so, and I actually believe strongly in the ability to hunt. I think hunting is a fantastic way to enjoy healthy, fresh meat with which to feed your family, and I much prefer hunting to the industrialized “agriculture” system on which this country currently runs. But I couldn’t do it myself – I don’t even kill spiders or bugs in the house. I put them in my hands and set them free outside. Who am I to decide who lives and dies?

I’m a vegetarian because I believe in treating life with respect – all life. I do my absolute best to never waste food: we freeze our vegetable scraps to create stock and have begun composting on a small scale in our condo. Unless food is clearly and truly spoiled I can find a way to use it or preserve it (soups are awesome for cleaning out the veggie drawer and even giving stale bread a new life). I’m respecting my body by feeding it what feels good. I’m respecting animals by not eating them. I’m respecting the planet as a whole by not supporting industrialized “farming” and not throwing food away.

My life as a vegetarian hasn’t always been healthy and wasn’t nearly always so easy, even for me, to understand. That’ll come in another post. It’s important to make an educated choice to become vegetarian. It’s not difficult but it does involve some effort in terms of nutrition – and that’s why I often offer recipes here too.