Thursday, November 19, 2015

Finding Gratitude in Unexpected Places

I'm taking a tea break, in the midst of this busy morning, and reflecting on the importance of Gratitude. Sometimes when we're rushing around, tending to all the STUFF life throws at us every single day, trying to stay on top of everything we're responsible for, it can be hard to take a moment to stop, take a breath, and remember how Blessed and lucky we are. The chaos happening in the world right now really has me thinking about this even more than usual. I'm sitting here, going over my "to do" list for today, and while I grumble to myself about having to do this stuff, I'm realizing that each of the tasks before me is a Blessing in disguise.

1. Driving my kids to classes and activities, helping with schoolwork, etc... I'm so lucky to have a beautiful family, and so grateful that we've been able to arrange our lives so that I can be with them full time, homeschooling them, caring for them, providing them with what they need. I don't always do it well, but I'm thankful that I'm given the chance to try again, everyday, to do my best for them.

2. Housework... I have a warm, comfortable home, filled with busy, active children. I complain a lot about how much work it is to maintain my home and care for the people in it... but really, I'm SO lucky to have a nice house in a safe neighborhood. So many in the world do not. Again, I am Grateful.

3. Food Prep... Every parent knows the struggle of getting dinner on the table every night, as well as other meals, but... I'm Thankful that I'm able to provide healthy, wholesome meals for my family every day.

4. Community Service... There have been periods of time where we have really struggled, financially, and have not had much extra to share. Those have been hard times. Today, we'll be participating in a project to provide Care Packages to troops overseas, who are not with their families during the holiday season. I'm Grateful that I currently have enough resources that I can share a little bit with others.

5. Doctor appointment... I have an appointment today, because I am Blessed with good medical coverage, so that I can stay healthy, and get the care I need when I'm not.

6. Laundry... It's never-ending with a family this size, but yes, I'm even Grateful for laundry. It means that my family has plenty of warm clothing to keep them comfortable as the weather is getting colder.

Several studies have shown that people who regularly express Gratitude are happier than those who do not. This really makes a lot of sense to me! When I stop and take time to remind myself of all the good things I have in my life, and to share gratitude with the ones I love, I feel happier. This is something that I would like to make a daily habit, especially when those "poor me" feelings we all get from time to time come creeping in. I'm giving myself a Gratitude Challenge... each day I plan to write down some things I'm thankful for, and to express my Gratitude to my loved ones each day for the good they bring into my life. Will you join me in this challenge?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Journey Toward Health and Wellness

Once upon a time, I had been under the impression that if I was eating a whole food vegan diet, I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and be healthy. I exercised, though quite sporadically, and while I knew that I should be moving more, I figured I was still probably pretty healthy based on my diet alone.

I was wrong. 

One year ago, I went in for my annual physical, and found that in spite of my whole food vegan diet, I was the heaviest I'd ever been in my life. I spent a pretty good portion of my adult life in the underweight to low average range, but as I approached middle age, my weight started creeping up. Also, my cholesterol up to 206 and my triglycerides to 231! As a vegan! I couldn't imagine how this could be, with my relatively healthy lifestyle, but apparently genetics play a big role in this stuff, and genetics were not working in my favor. 

I had been promising myself for years that I would start working out more regularly and lose some weight. But, when it became more about my health than vanity, I finally began to make some real changes. I started making exercise a priority in my life. That has been a real challenge at times, as there always seems to be something "more important" that needs to be done. But a good friend of mine gave me some advice... she said to view exercise the same way you view brushing your teeth. It's not optional. It's something you must do as basic care for yourself. I began with walking more, and eventually stepped up my routine by adding weight training. I made the commitment to work out at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, no matter what else is going on. 

I also started paying more attention to the calories I was consuming, and boy, was that a shock. Although everything I was eating was "healthy" I was eating a lot of really calorie-dense foods (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc) which were making my daily caloric intake higher than it needed to be. I began to practice some conscientious portion control, and experimented with Intermittent Fasting. There is a lot of information out there about IF, and lots of different ways to approach it. IF proponents say fasting for a part of each day or each week gives your digestive system a break, and can help with insulin resistance and inflammation. I wasn't sure this method would work for me, as I am someone who doesn't fast well... so I did a very modified approach, which involved not eating after 6 pm (which I almost never do anyway) and then just delaying my morning meal. This works out to 16-18 hours of fasting (a good chunk of which is sleep time) and 6-8 hours of eating normally.  During the waking fasting hours, I do drink lots of water with lemon, herbal tea and I do have my morning coffee. And, if I feel really hungry, I do eat something. The best thing about IF for me is that it's given me an increased awareness of my body's hunger cues. I no longer eat because it's time to eat, but instead when I feel genuinely hungry. This awareness has been life-changing for me. 

When I went back for my physical this year, I finally saw the results of all this effort. My weight is down nearly 15 pounds, I've lost 3 inches off my waist, my cholesterol has dropped from 206 to 155, and my triglycerides have gone from 231 to 88! I feel strong and healthy. Life is good.

The biggest lesson I've learned through all this is that there are no "quick fixes." The Internet is full of promises of "Get great abs in two weeks!" "Lose weight fast!"and the like, but in real life, getting healthy and fit is a process. It won't happen overnight. But in this world of instant gratification, it's easy to get discouraged when we don't see results right away. In my case, it took several months before I started to see any real changes. But the results over the course of nearly a year have been dramatic, and well worth the effort. I'm grateful for this wake-up call, and grateful that I've had the chance to turn my health around. I still have lots of room for improvement, but it's good to be on the right track. I'm excited to continue on this journey of health and wellness, and look forward to what the future holds.

BEFORE: 2014
146 lbs
Waist: 32 in
Cholesterol: 206
Triglycerides: 231

(not "after" because I'm still working!)
131 lbs
Waist: 29 in
Cholesterol: 155
Triglycerides: 88

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vegan Pumpkin Macaroni and "Cheese"

Back when we all still ate dairy, one of my favorite recipes for Autumn was a pumpkin mac-n-cheese. There were so many things to love about that recipe... it was warm, hearty and creamy, but also a bit healthier than straight up mac-n-cheese, due to the generous amount of squash in the sauce. When I started moving from vegetarian to vegan a few years ago, I began working on ways to adapt my favorite recipes to suit my new vegan ways. This fall, I finally got around to revamping this one, and I have to say, it's still every bit as delicious as the original recipe, but without the animal products.

Instead of the cheddar and cream called for in the original recipe, this adaptation uses my favorite cashew cheese spread as a base, along with some unsweetened nut milk. The cashew cheese can be made up ahead of time, and kept in the fridge until you need it. I usually make a batch each week to have available for spreading on sandwiches, using as a veggie dip, or making creamy sauces like this one. It will keep up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

As for the pumpkin, I like to use fresh roasted pumpkin, but you can use canned if you prefer. If you do use canned, you'll probably need to add a bit more nut milk, as it will be thicker than fresh. To roast your own, cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, then place it face down on a greased baking pan and bake at 350 until soft enough to stick a fork in easily. This will take about 45 minutes for an average size pumpkin... adjust accordingly if your pumpkin is larger or smaller. After you bake it, let it cool and scoop the pumpkin out of the skin.

And now for the recipe...

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz box of macaroni (you can use a gluten-free pasta, if you prefer)
1/2 cup cashew cheese
1-1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin
3/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I use almond, but you could use soy, hemp, whatever)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

While the pasta is cooking, add all the remaining ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until creamy, adding more milk if necessary to make a nice, creamy sauce. Transfer to a sauce pan, and heat through.When the pasta is done, drain it and add the sauce, stirring to coat. You can eat it just as is, or you can transfer to a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

served up with sauteed kale

If you have leftover cooked pumpkin after you make this, check out these ideas to use up what's left:

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal (vegan)
Creamy Pumpkin Soup (vegan)
Pumpkin Bread (vegan)