Eating vegan, one bite at a time… Part 1

People that know me are not surprised when they hear I am now eating straight up vegan. This is a little backstory on becoming vegan and Part 2 will focus on how we’re doing it, including victories and challenges alike. Its one thing to choose to be vegan, its an entirely different matter for a whole family to make the journey without failing miserably. This is a sketch of how we got this far.

When people find out I’m now vegan they are sometimes excited for me, sometimes amused, sometimes secretly annoyed and occasionally inspired and curious. I get a lot of questions about why, how and do I intend to keep it up. The mindset for me is not about keeping it up, it’s about intentionally choosing a lifestyle. Talking openly about it and sharing with you is a fantastic way to explore it and sort out these things for myself on a deep level. I don’t have all the answers. I do however have some very strong thoughts and feelings about it, so know that if you choose to read on or chat with me about it. In today’s world I believe you have to be ready for a social challenge when you choose to quit eating animals and consuming animal products. This is at least partly due to us being bombarded with marketing to support large scale animal agriculture which leads back to the complex issue of money and politics. I’ve continued to be perplexed by all the conflicting information as I’ve pursued healthier choices. I was also intrigued to discover that it is not just about health and wellness. It is also about how animals are treated, the massive environmental impact including nearly inconceivable levels of resources to produce animals and animal-based products for human consumption. I’ve had to process this internally and now I am there with my decision. You should process this at your own pace so you can ultimately make a sustainable choice.

I spent two years as a vegetarian many moons ago in a time and place that it was completely counter-culture and difficult at best. It was in a small town in the south where the fixed mindset had a powerful grip. I survived just fine, but sadly went back to my omnivorous ways. Just under two years ago our youngest announced that she was going to be a vegetarian. We didn’t see it coming and assumed it had something to do with the chicken egg hatching experiment her teacher led them through. We convinced her to keep eating fish, mostly salmon, and eggs. We still thought she needed animal protein. She agreed to be a pescatarian and we laughed about how it would not last a month, haha! Six months later she was staging a full blown campaign recruiting the family to join her “pescatarian club”. She is very intuitive and insightful. Clearly, I was the low-hanging fruit and she kept reaching out to me. She finally went for the close. “Daddy? Do you care about animals? Do you like them and maybe even love them? Do you care about how they are treated? Do you think they deserve to live?  I know you do, so why do you eat them?” Sold. I became her first active club member and still thought it would fade away. Next thing I knew we ramped-up the campaign to go after the other half of the fam. That was about a year and a half ago. Brooke and our oldest became mostly pescatarian, but still ate some beef and bacon occasionally. I quickly developed vegan tendencies early in the experiment, but failed pitifully on my first couple attempts to make the switch. Brooke was not ready to focus her kitchen kung-fu on vegan, yet. I didn’t understand it well enough and wasn’t quite ready to flip that switch either. Fast forward to today. I am happily vegan and love exploring new options. Brooke is all in, and that is the key for us. One of the cool things we’re discovering is different ways to make so many of the things we thought we would have to give up. An example is the vegan whipped cream to go on the vegan pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It was delicious! It feels really healthy to eat this way and very empowering to say I choose to.

Before you get the idea I’m a tree-hugging granola eating hippie that is part of an offbeat subset of society at-large or that I grew up in suburban sprawl and just have a desire to be different, let me fill you in a little. I know the true meaning of “running around like a chicken with it’s head cutoff”. Not for the reason you might be thinking, but because I saw it when I was a kid. I’ve seen most every kind of animal I’ve eaten killed, and in some cases killed them myself. I’ve helped raise animals to be eaten and I’ve hunted and killed animals to eat. I was taught that this is how it is and how it is meant to be. I always tried to hide the fact that I thought it was repulsive and made me feel disgusting on many levels. I never once had to do it to live. I don’t think I ever threw up after pulling the trigger, releasing the arrow, swinging the hatchet or slicing with a sharp knife, at least not where anyone would see it happen. I tried to hide my feelings because the culture I was growing up with was not always kind to the weak. Being unable or unwilling to kill an animal to eat was not a sign of weakness, it was weakness itself. I had a will to survive, so I learned like others to kill and tear the meat from the bone. This happens on a massive global scale today to feed people and we use the innocuous term “harvesting” to make it less real. I also worked extremely hard in gardens and on farms. Why didn’t we just focus on the gardening and harvesting of plant-based foods? I know the resources required to produce animals for human consumption are far greater than required for plants. I now need a fraction of the plants, water and land necessary for the needless consumption of animals. That feels as right as rain to me.

We ate a lot of fresh whole food and farm raised beef, chicken and pork. We ate some of the typical animals hunted in the south like deer, we fished and even gigged and shot frogs for frog legs. We also went through times of eating a lot prepackaged food that was taking our society by storm. It made it easy to spend less time producing and preparing food, so my family could work more. Because apparently we needed to spend more time working. Before I was old enough to be on my own my family relationships with one another fractured in all directions. We had no foundation and I suppose the years ahead finding my way is how I ended up questioning everything I learned early in life, even how I was taught to eat. I believe the world could be a better place if we pursue experiential living over convenience, balance over power, health and happiness over money, love over war, feeding the hungry over gluttony and natural beauty over control.

I’ve had a bit of a fascination with endurance, possibly because I felt like I had to have it to survive some difficult personal challenges and threats I faced throughout my early life. As I grew older, I started running just because I wanted to. Then I got a nice touring bicycle from my uncle and learned to ride for miles. My latest endurance endeavors are typically on a paddleboard. This has me putting the nutritional aspects of veganism to the test as I push to be as strong and healthy as I can without being a fully dedicated athlete. I also happen to be genetically predisposed to Type II Diabetes. So if there are problems with sustaining a full immersion into veganism I assure you I will uncover them on a relentless pursuit to live a lifestyle of health, wellness, love and peace.

Thrown together in a matter of minutes, this was delicious!
Thrown together in a matter of minutes, this was delicious!

 

A few of recent inspirations and resources:

The Rich Roll Podcast – “With over 7 million downloads, one of the world’s most highly acclaimed podcasts.”

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau – “My mission is to inspire people to live according to their own values of compassion and wellness, to change how we regard and treat animals, & to debunk myths about vegan eating, nutrition, and health.”

Cowspiracy – “The film that environmental organizations don’t want you to see!”

“Laughing Lily” on the Appalachian Trail

Note from my dad… One of the most fantastic experiences I’ve had this year was planning and doing a 4 day section-hike on the Appalachian Trail with our oldest daughter and my trail buddy “Laughing Lily”. Without a doubt this involved some risks, but also potential for big rewards. I got lucky because we now have a special bond as a result of our AT experience. I’m really stoked to help her share her story. Trust me when I say we could both go on and on about it. Maybe this will inspire others to take on challenges that may also lead to new and exciting paths of self discovery. So relax for a minute letting your mind wander off to the natural beauty of the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina while you feel the tempo of a backpacking hike along this precious trail as she fills you in on this epic trip from her perspective. Open your mind to the sensation of the cool mountain breezes of the Appalachian that come and go adding to the breadth of  spending time in nature away from your daily routine. This is one secret to how we grow rich in life and with much gratitude we want to share it with you…

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Hi. My trail name is Laughing Lily and I am 11 years old. About a week ago I went on a four day expedition with my dad on the Appalachian Trail. We left for Hot Springs, NC at 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning and that was way too early for me. Hot Springs is a very cool little mountain town. We went to Bluff Mountain Outfitters where my dad had made plans to get a shuttle down to the Pigeon River to start our hike. We had planned time for lunch and they suggested we walk down to The Take Out. It was really good! When we got done we went back the store to meet a lady to shuttle us to our starting point. Her name was Ruth and she was really nice.

Ruth, our friendly driver
Ruth, our friendly driver

When we got there Ruth gave us tips about plantain and jewelweed to help with bug bites, stings and things like that. As soon as we started we were going up hill with these really, really steep stairs. Yay!! We eventually got to a fork in the trail and one way went uphill in the woods and the other just went to the gravel road. So went up that hill on a path that looked well worn, but it just kind of disappeared after about a half mile. Very annoying. My backpack already felt heavy so my dad carried it back down the path. Ahh, sudden relief! We finally walked up the road to the Standing Bear Hostel where we learned we had to backtrack down the road about .8 mi. By the way, we had already walked about .7 mi. down that way looking for the trail along the road, twice. I was about to scream! When we got to the trail we had to go back uphill …and my dad was still carrying my pack. Then it started pouring rain so we had to stop to put rain jackets on ourselves, and our packs. I got soaked and was really sweaty in my rain jacket. Yay! I couldn’t believe I said I would do this and we were just getting started. We had only made it about halfway to Painter Branch where we planned to camp and I was ready to start crying because my feet hurt and I was really hungry. We walked about another mile in the rain until finally it stopped. I took my pack back from my dad because I wanted to be strong and I wanted to carry my own pack for the rest of the trip. We kept going and it was still uphill. I finally dropped to my knees practically crying. “No!!” I struggled and caught up to my dad to get some water. We finally got to the campsites. It had rained so much everything was soaked we couldn’t start a fire. Dang it! We had red lentil rotini (that needed salt, but was still pretty good) and freeze dried fire roasted veggies. Dessert was freeze dried apple crisp and it was sooo good, yummy!! My dad and I worked together planning all the food we would need and we nailed it!

Dad let me sleep late and I did not get up until 9:20 a.m., because I need beauty sleep. We didn’t get started on the trail until almost noon. Then we had to hike up Snowbird Mountain which I found to be brutal. Of course we started uphill and I was already struggling again. It was way too hot and my pack was really heavy even though my dad tried to make it lighter. We stopped frequently because I got thirsty so much and needed snack breaks too. We took our packs off every time we stopped. Ahhhh!! I wanted to stop, a lot. We found a walking stick for me that day and it came home with me. My dad got one he really liked on the way in, but left it when we were trying to find the trail on the other side of the road. So he got another one. Mine was awesome because it kept me from falling on my face a million times. After hiking uphill a long way we met someone who told us we were almost to the top. Yay! Sure enough we got there and the view was beautiful and breathtaking after being deep in the woods all day. All you could see was mountains. Then we got a little further and turned around to take it all in. That is when we spotted a USO (Unidentified Stationary Object). It was really weird to see it there in the middle of nowhere. We thought maybe it was some kind of weather observation thing, but turns out it’s some kind aviation tower used to help with navigation. It will always be a USO to us. We kept going and went back down into the woods. We found a magical place like the kind where fairies live, really. It was just off the trail and there was a spring running through the middle of it. There were two trees where dad set up our Eno hammocks so I could take my shoes off and get some good rest. It was so nice and I took a nap after lunch. My dad didn’t mind and said he thought it was a good idea. I was really happy because I roasted chicken flavor ramen. Mmmm! Later we got to a shelter, but it was full. My dad got stung by a bee and I didn’t like it much there after that. So while we refilled water at the spring I convinced my dad we should keep going. He had to repack some things and left his sleeping pad and a pair of wet shorts behind. Uh oh. We made the tough climb over Hawk’s Roost and down to Brown Gap to stay for the night. Yes, we did it! The next morning, some nice hikers brought dad’s sleeping pad and made him really happy!

Saturday we hoped to go 16 miles, but ended up going 10 miles instead. Yay!! In the middle at about 6 miles was Max Patch and it was really beautiful all around. My dad and I wish we had stayed up there longer. But we were still set on 16 miles, ugh!!, so we kept going pretty fast. Plus it was really windy so I didn’t want to stay up there and fall off! Not really possible, but I was uneasy thinking a storm might be coming. Max Patch is a bald meaning there are not trees at all and it’s really open. There is a parking lot you can drive to so you don’t have to hike 11ish miles to get there from where we started. We went 2 more miles before we stopped to have tuna sandwiches for lunch. My dad always looked for a “perfect spot” to stop to eat or rest! We ended up camping at Walnut Mountain shelter which was packed. I thought it was 4 miles from the shelter where we had lunch, but it was really 4. 5 miles. That may not sound like a big difference, but believe me when 2.5 miles of it is uphill and you’re carrying your own pack it is a lot. We stopped like fifty times. It’s true. We made friends while setting up camp up there and there was a nice mountain breeze. The sunset was really amazing. Yay! Now I was really happy. One of our new friends gave us some fuel because we realized we didn’t have enough. Thank you! Dinner was smoked three bean chili and Thai curry. Dessert was raspberry crumble and it was so delicious! Everything tastes so good when you are as hungry as we were.

Daddy-O & Laughing Lily, Sunset at Walnut Mtn Shelter
Daddy-O & Laughing Lily, Sunset at Walnut Mtn Shelter

Sunday morning we had watery half cooked oatmeal that was terrible and disgusting, so not everything tasted good. My dad made me eat it anyway since we had a big day. The other thing he did that I didn’t like was start talking about what to do if he lost consciousness or couldn’t keep walking. He had a really bad infection in his leg from some kind of weird bite or injury of some sort. It was totally swollen and disgusting. Fortunately I didn’t have to leave him in the woods and find my own way until I could use a cell phone. Yay! For lunch I had cold ramen that my dad set up in the morning so we wouldn’t have to cook it later. It was really good. Seriously, it was. I don’t know what my dad ate and didn’t really care as long as he had food that wasn’t my ramen. I got to take another nap in my hammock which made me really happy. I had been helping my dad with the map and knew we had 13 miles to get back to  our car that was in a parking lot at the trail. My dad said I was really good with the map and it helped a lot so he could focus on other things so we could survive. After lunch we saw a sign that said Hot Springs was 6.6 miles. We were talking about how happy we were and I teared up knowing our trip was ending. Suddenly my dad’s smile faded away and he stopped completely still. Then I looked in the same direction and saw it. A black bear walking across the trail. AHHHH!! I was screaming, in my head. I put a firm hand on my whistle and my knife (better to be safe than sorry). The bear put his nose up in the air to sniff. Dad pointed out that the breeze was carrying our scent and we just had lunch, uh oh! We walked back very slowly and started putting bug repellent, or bear repellent as I like to call it, on our hands and face to cover any food smells. I was terrified. He finally started going uphill and went away, but with every rustle of leaves or sound for the rest of the hike I put a firm hand on my whistle and knife. We only saw two other hikers earlier that day that were together and it seemed we were pretty much alone. Then we started to run out of water. Nooooo!! I screamed, again in my head, because it was hot and I was really thirsty. We kept drinking water, but I was thinking please help me find water before I get dehydrated, which I knew would be dangerous! We were getting a little worried that we had missed a spring near a shelter that was on the map. We started into a long tree tunnel and I wished silently with all my heart we would see a sign for the shelter and water. When we emerged my dream came true! I was so excited. We drank an entire liter as soon as we got it and took more than enough to make it 3.3  more miles to Hot Springs. I couldn’t believe we were so close and it was really ending. 1.5 miles of that was uphill and I whined in my head, ugh!! More? On the way we could see other Blue Ridge mountains and it was so pretty. We really were about to finish our trip.

The closer we got to the end, the hotter it got because we were going into a valley and the industrial age was not in our favor. We saw big buildings, parking lots, roads and lots of cars and loud motorcycles. The farther down we went the harder it got to stay standing. My dad thinks he kicked every single root and rock on that section of the trail. If I didn’t have my walking stick from Snowbird I would have bitten the dust a billion times. Don’t judge. When I saw our car I cried tears of joy and pain. Really, I did. Maybe my dad did a little too. We smelled really bad so we washed up a little and put on clean clothes for the long ride back home. We stopped for a whole bunch of snacks on the way. We could not stop talking about our experiences all the way back and how I planned to sleep for a week when I got back to my own bed.

My trail name is Laughing Lily and I just hiked 33 1/2 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

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Carla Takes on Chattajack 31

Now that the SUP season is winding down, we are planning a revival of sorts with our blog. With uncanny timing, our friend Carla Maxson asked if I would read her thoughts on her goal-crushing completion of the epic Chattajack 31 mile SUP Kayak paddle race through the Tennessee Gorge, and help her post it “somewhere.”  Well, I’ve got just the place!

Allow me to offer a bit of a prologue.  When we first met Carla, she had purchased her own board, been on a few SUP outings, attended a couple of SUP Yoga classes and practically panicked at the sight of boat wake.  To see her power across the finish line at the last buoy of Chattajack was such an inspirational sight.  We’ve been fortunate enough to see her strength, skill and confidence grow in this sport as a direct result of following her passion and not giving up.  Without really knowing it, Carla pushed us to figure out how to best establish and grow a community of paddlers, whether they needed to rent boards and gear or not,  just because they wanted to be a part of the stoke.  She did this by just showing up at one of our  reservation SUP basics classes with her own board and gear and saying “OK, where are we paddling?”  We weren’t sure how to answer, and then scrambled to add a couple casual community paddle times  to our schedule each week! Thank you Carla for your commitment to the stoke, the vibe and the SUP family!  We are so proud of you!! Below is her story about approaching Chattajack. What she did not mention is that her dad passed away during the time her endurance training needed to peak. We asked her if she was sure could do it and she said with determination she was going to try, no matter what. She has never entered or completed an endurance event and has been striving for better health. Watching her approach the water and finish with confidence was truly remarkable.  

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Hi!  I want to tell everybody about my quest to Chattajack 2015. I first saw paddle boarding in Florida 4 years ago and really wanted to do it.   I came home to TN and started looking it up on the internet.  In Sept I found SUP Yoga with Liz and went about 4 times.   I could not paddle very well,  but I loved yoga on the board.   At the end of that first season I met Kayla, she helped me one afternoon and I was hooked.   That winter I researched everything I could about paddle boarding and finally bought a 12 foot surf-style paddle board from a website.  As soon as the weather cooperated in the Spring, I went out every Sunday I could.  I promised my mom I would never go by myself (and I have not) so I needed to find people to paddle with.  I brought a second board so someone could go with me.  

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The next summer I started paddling with Soulshine SUP and was out with them when ever I could find someone going out on the water.  I was really slow so I sold my surf style board and bought a recreation race/touring board and discovered I really liked to  do long distances.   My friends were training and getting ready for Chattajack and I was out there training with them, but I was still afraid to do it.   I offered to go to Chattajack 2014 to volunteer and  to sherpa  for David and Brooke and watch their girls Lily and Paisley.  We had a blast!  At that point I knew I was going to do it this year.  Well my year of training started with a lot turmoil.  My dad,  who had been battling cancer for 8 years, was told the wasn’t much more they could do.   We were given the opportunity to try a research  program and go to Nashville for treatment every other Tuesday.  We did that from Nov till June. In between I was out on the water when I could be and my dad was right there with me every night.   When I was late getting off the water I would call and tell him I was off the water and then call him when I got home.  Even when he was not feeling good and coughing he stayed up to make sure I got home in one piece.  In June he just got sicker and sicker and there was nothing else they could really do for him so they placed him on hospice. He still encouraged me to go paddling.  In between working,  helping my Mom and Dad I paddled.  I paddled a least twice a week or more if I could find someone to paddle with me.  My Dad died on Oct 2nd  at peace at home.  IMG_1945

 After the funeral,  I was on the water again and training for Chattajack and paddling hard for my Twinkie.  (the latest 100/100 Challenge, for those who aren’t familiar!)  I decided once again to upgrade to a faster board, and now ride a Jimmy Lewis Stiletto.   I made it to Chattajack and paddled the most miles I ever paddled and in a good time for me.  7 hours 44 minutes!  My Twinkie is 15  miles short due to this stupid rainy weather, and now I have to go back to work.

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I have so many people to thank for being able to do this.   First Chris, for  paddling with me and encouraging me the whole 32.5 miles and not letting me quit.  David and Brooke,  Lily and Paisley,  Donna F.,  Allison,  Heather and many more. Especially  my Mom and Dad. I love you Dad.  Thanks for listening.   ~ Carla

 *special thanks to Dianne Blakenbaker for allowing us to share her photo at the top of this post,  and for taking some amazing shots at Chattajack this year.  Her capture of Carla at the finish was perfect!  You can see more of the day through her lens on her website.  

Leave no trace, take only memories

Getting back into backpacking after many years is one thing… getting back into it and leading my 11 year old daughter at the same time for over 33 miles across a section of the Appalachian Trail for 4 days is entirely a different matter!

More pics at the very bottom!

Ready to hike our first steps, Waterville Rd
Hard to read, but we know we have 33 1/2 miles to go!
Hard to read, but we know we have 33 1/2 miles to go!
Believe it or not, the food was great. Dinner at Painter Branch
Believe it or not, the food was great. Dinner at Painter Branch

 

 

 

 

 

 

After many years of trekking through the woods, across the water and through natural and unnatural spaces, this is the first time I chose not to pick up at least some trash left by others. This picked at me like little thorns, because since I became environmentally aware many years ago, I have chosen to pay for some of my own sins by cleaning up after others, with seemingly thoughtless and careless behavior. This time, I had other priorities and concerns on my mind, if not a lot of other weight on my back. I had committed to getting our oldest daughter home safely and at least relatively on schedule after an epic outdoor challenge. Leave no trace practices

Please, Leave No Trace

 

If you can pack it in, you can pack it out!

Thursday morning we drove to Hot Springs, NC and the home of Bluff Mountain Outfitters where cool people that are very welcoming, at least if you have a healthy respect for the AT and their quaint little mountain town. These guys hooked us up with Ruth, the old school hippie originally from Yonkers, NY. She’s shaped her existence around the mountains of NC for the past 17 year and helped us frame up our approach to this somewhat daunting journey, including a quick tutorial on Jewel Weed and Plantain, which we put to good use over the next few days. We left my car at an AT parking area and she drove us with our packs down to Waterville Rd near the Pigeon River and I-40 to be dropped off and continue our adventure on foot. For the next few days it was up to us to survive without the luxuries of daily life and whatever we could carry. On the trail we came to know Hot Springs as the “Promised Land”. We came to fully appreciate this token name on our final day and final decent into what now appeared a mecca of civilization, that not only included the sound of cars and Harleys roaring through the hills, but also the radiating heat of a paved Hwy 25 that was the trail of warm bread crumbs back home to our own beds out of reach of the bears, where we could even take food to bed if we choose.

 

Ruth, our friendly driver
Ruth, our friendly driver
Jewel Weed
Jewel Weed
Mile 0
Mile 0

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Laughing Lily” had no idea exactly what she had committed to and would not have believed she could accomplish it, even with my help if she did fully understand the challenge before taking it on. We crossed about seven peaks that challenged us both.  Each day our mileage increased. Sequentially we did 3, 8, 10 and 13 miles. The first six miles or so have an elevation gain of about 2800 feet. Fortunately our plan was to do three miles and setup camp at Painter Branch. That was a good plan. Her pack was too heavy and I carried both for the steeper climb, although she insisted on taking it back and finishing with it. It was no walk in the park for either one of us. I progressively took on more weight each day to give her some relief that would help her finish successfully. I’m still hurting days later.

Day two was big since we had to cross Snowbird Mountain at the start and it seemed there was nothing easy about it as we settled into the challenge of this adventure. We slept in and got a lazy start after a tasty breakfast. We wanted to make it to Max Patch, but that was flat out unrealistic. As we came down Snowbird we decided to stay at Groundhog Creek Shelter in Deep Gap and replenish our water supply. There were a couple guys that came in just before us and made it clear they had take the last two spots in the shelter. It was an uncomfortable vibe for us when they moved in and started unpacking at the table right where I had unpacked a couple wet items and now everything was getting mixed up. My daughter was already uneasy about the bees in a post and when I got stung on the ankle she suddenly found the motivation to push about two and half more miles across Hawk’s Roost! I really couldn’t believe it, but she was determined and I decided she had it in her to make it before burning the rest of our daylight. In my haste to gather my things I left my sleeping pad, which a cool guy from Sparta, Tennessee was kind enough to bring to me the next morning. I was extremely grateful for this act of kindness. The next day we were glad we had put that climb in the rearview mirror.

Max Patch is a beautiful place and all the more so because you’ve been so deep in the trees that it feels amazing to stand atop a bald mountain with the wind ripping. We loved this place and wish we had stayed longer, but we pressed on. We spent the last part of our ten mile day climbing relentlessly toward Walnut Mountain shelter which turned out to be our favorite camp site. There were a fair number of people there and a couple noisy ones, but the sunset and mountain breeze could not be beat! We both agreed our food was good and turns out we nailed the quantity too. She was over the oatmeal mix I had for breakfast (oats, coconut oil, hempseed, flax, cinnamon, cocoa powder and raw honey), especially the last morning when I ran out of fuel and it was sort of warmish, but not really. Hey, I had to have at least one coffee to finish strong. Her favorite dinner was an Uncle Ben’s rice mix and packet of salmon. We both love, love, love the Mountain House apple crisp and raspberry crumble desserts! Don’t hit the trail without these and a graham cracker to add on top.

By the last day I struggled to hide the fact that I was struggling. The mysterious “snake bite” or whatever I picked up the second day (I think) was growing more infected and swollen. I was thankful to stay alert and able to put one foot in front of the other over the ensuing miles and undulating elevation changes. Rocks and roots became my relentless nemesis threatening the bane of my sanity and existence. I had to keep my daughter engaged, motivated and safe after all. I was also thankful to be alert and strong when we came up on a bear. There was no real threat to us, but the times I’ve seen bears in the wild, I’ve never been 100% convinced that I couldn’t be attacked. This time it was different. I quickly and quietly reminded and coached her on how we would handle a bear encounter. She kept her composure extremely well and the close encounter ended without any real threat of a problem!

Mostly I took lots of risks beyond what a reasonable dad would have done in order to help her become a more confident person in a world full of challenges that we don’t even know we’re capable of managing with confidence. Maybe I went too far, but maybe she is more confident today than she was last week. Thankfully, she came home safe and healthy too. We were both fatigued and sore, but I was the only one that needed to see my doc when we got home. I am deeply grateful to have had this experience with my daughter and I pray it was meaningful for her as well. I left the AT with a memory of a lifetime because we did it together. Much love and respect to Laughing Lily. Sincerely, Daddy-O!

Props to peeps that helped bring our adventure to life…

Brooke, wife to Daddy-O and Mom to Laughing Lily: Without a doubt, the absolute key to success with this trip was the unwavering support we get at home. I can’t think of any one person that does more to make sure we get to do more of what we want and need to do. She is our rock and we missed her dearly on the trail. I know she so wanted to be right there with us and when our youngest is ready, we’ll be ready!

Cumberland Transit in Nashville, TN: gave Laughing Lily and I the original inspiration to do this section hike and outfitted us with a high quality pack that made it possible for me to carry so much of the load, and for that Mountain House Apple Crisp & Raspberry Crumble, yum!

Bluff Mountain Outfitters in Hot Springs, NC: Located literally on the AT as it makes it’s way through the promised land, these guys lined up the shuttle, bailed me out on a water filter situation, sent us to the right place for a tasty pre-hike lunch, have a great shop and are just all around cool people.

MPOWER Fitness Institute in Nashville, TN: I would not have been prepared physically to take on the immense challenge of carrying all that weigh up and down the mountains had I not done every sled push, lunge, squat, etc. with these guys. The nutritional consults and therapeutic massage visits all played to my favor for success. I also can’t imagine anyone else being more concerned and better equipped to clear up the nasty little infection that was spreading in my leg. These guys keep me healthy on so many levels! (full disclosure, we have a business relationship with MPOWER, for good reason!)

Osprey: It was not lost on me that I had what may be the best backpack on the market for our trip. Thanks to Cumberland Transit for fitting me with the Atmos 65 AG, this thing is so tricked out compared to my old pack that seemed so cool all those years ago. This is one rock solid company y’all!

Appalachian Trail Conservancy: To help ensure consistent management practices along the roughly 2,180 miles of the Trail, we provide a number of resources for volunteer leaders, agencies and others, including a library of A.T. management policies and other reference materials. Wow!

Dad & Daughter Adventures

I saw this happening through the window yesterday, and had to capture the moment.

David & Lily  have been preparing for this particular adventure for a while now, and to finally see this long legged girl with a full pack on her back, ready for a section hike on the Appalachian Trail, well yes.  I got a little teary!

Camping June 08 041Camping June 08 140

 

Because in my mind she is still this little girl, super happy to be with her Daddy on her first real camping trip, in her Cinderella swimsuit!  This was exactly 7 years ago!

 

 

I unearthed this video today, in a fit of nostalgia…

 

Oh my!  Looking back at 4 year old Lily makes it even harder to believe we have a big tall grown 6th grader living with us now!

These are the pictures they sent from their start on the trail today.  11390111_10206720162343981_3355064495696387529_n 11391090_10206720162503985_1034927105840588805_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what Soulshine Vibe is all about.  We are in love with adventure, we want to share adventures with our girls, and we want to inspire others to embrace adventures too.  We are striving to live a life of wellness and balance.  There is so much to see and do, and in a blink it will all be different. Take advantage of the time you have today to get out there and enjoy it.  Make memories.  Embarrass your kids with sweet videos.  Love each other with all your hearts.  Do stuff!  Let your soul shine! And please share your stories with us!

 

 

Help Save The Monarchs!

Our Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency  is among the organizations launching a campaign to save Monarch butterflies from extinction.  TWRA is working with the National Wildlife Federation, Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF), Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen), Mississippi River Corridor (MRC) and The Nature Conservancy and partnering with Roundstone Native Seed Company in an effort to save the butterflies.

The population of Monarch butterflies has decreased almost 90 percent in just the last 20 years, according to this article, due in part to “severe weather changes, deforestation in Mexico and reduced acreage of protected Midwest farm land under the USDA Farm Bill.”  Another source I found adds to  that list “the use of herbicide and genetically engineered crops such as corn and soybeans.  The genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to the Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which is a potent killer of the milkweed. The milkweed also happens to be Monarch caterpillar’s only food and without that it is difficult for the species to grow or survive.”

TWRA is offering to supply seed packets containing a mix of native, nectar-producing flowering plants and milkweeds to anyone who will plant them in their gardens or flower boxes.  I called Monday and was able to leave a message for Pandy English in the TWRA Environmental Services Division at (615) 781-6643.  I got a call back yesterday for my address and they’ll begin mailing the seed packets early next week.

I’m sharing here in hopes that you, your neighborhood association or community group will help with this campaign as well.  When I spoke with Pandy’s assistant yesterday I asked how many seed packets they hope to share, she answered “as many as people will ask for!”

And really, who doesn’t love a butterfly garden in the summertime?

Carolina Cup, a Grom’s perspective

We’d like to introduce the voice of our daughter Lily to the Soulshine Vibe blog.  Of course we think she’s an amazing 11 year old kid; she loves to SUP, swim, hike, run and read.  She’s growing taller before our very eyes, and will not be in this “Grom” category for long!  The Urban Dictionary defines “grom” as a young surfer, usually under the age of 15.  We hear the term used in the SUP world too.  Lily raced in her first Carolina Cup this year, and we’d love to share her perspective with you.  Kids are the future of this sport you know!

Everything else in this post will be in Lily’s words:

I had the opportunity of a lifetime to paddle in the 2015 Carolina Cup, the biggest SUP race on the East coast.  I paddled my 9’4 Boardworks Sirena in a group of kids mainly on race boards.  Even though I did not win first, second or even third place, I still had an awesome time.

This year my Mom’s family decided to all come visit my uncle who lives in Wilmington and watch while   me and my Mom & Dad raced also.  On Friday before the races we played an epic Bocce Ball tournament on the beach.  My parents were out on the water, so I played on a team with my Aunt Heather and my Grandmother and Uncle Adam played against us.  This was the final match.  It was so close, we had a 10-9 lead and then this happened…

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We were the blue team :(
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Oh nooooooo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now back to SUP!  I spent Saturday during the big races of the Carolina Cup handing out race medals to everyone who finished.  I was in a great spot to see all the racers coming in, which was pretty cool.

Do you know who this is?

I paddled with Danny Ching!!
I paddled with Danny Ching!!
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SUP Clinic, yep I’m soaking wet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I got to do a clinic with Danny Ching!!! He was very nice and had a lot of great tips.  It was all fun and games until I fell in to the water, which was really cold, not to mention the cold temps, gray sky and ripping wind! Did I mention we were trying to paddle on one foot?!  All in all it was really fun.  Thanks so much Danny Ching and also Annabel Anderson!  It’s cool that pros take the time to work with the kids too.

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Danny Ching AND Annabel Anderson got on the water with us!  I watched them both get first place in the super hard Graveyard Race!

And then it was time to race.  I’ve never started a race when I wasn’t already standing on my board, so that was new.  The horn blew and I jumped on and began to paddle fast. It was pretty crowded, and like I said all the other kids were on race boards.  All of a sudden BOOM! I was so upset when my precious baby Sirena was rammed by another board!  It felt like she must have a hole the size of Texas!  I beat myself up over it, even though it wasn’t my fault.  There is now a Soulshine SUP sticker over the hole, so water stays out while I wait for my Dad to fix it.  He promises its just part of SUP life!  I’m thinking I need a kids race board!

Because I just might decide to paddle the Harbor Island race next year!

 

Divide and Conquer and Everybody Wins!

In our pursuit to do it all, we are often faced with the reality that we can’t.  Not really.  As far as I know, we still haven’t figured out how to be in 2 places at the same time, however much we might wish we could.  Being active in life provides us with many opportunities to jump in with both feet, or bow out gracefully.  Of course we like to be together and we haul the family whenever we can, but gratefully David & I have options to divide and conquer if need be.  We are both willing to hold down the fort while the other snags an adventure, so long as we know we’ll trade places soon enough.  Last week we did both in the same day!

Cumberland Transit is an awesome outfitter in Nashville that is working hard to offer adventure to the community, not just with the gear you can buy in their stores, but also outside their doors with grass roots meet up events like the recent Yoga, Coffee & Trail Run or Pint Night (benefitting Harpeth River Watershed Association, Southeastern Climbers Coalition, and Friends Of Warner Parks).   David & I were both vying for our own spot at this stop on the Roots Rated Road Tour.  When making my case for leaving him with all the mad-dash-to-school responsibilities, I was able to remind him he would be rewarded with beer and great company that night.  SOLD!

IMG_6879I arrived at the trailhead at 6:30 AM and was met with a fire, hot coffee and talk of adventure!  So glad I woke up early for this! After fueling up with a strong press of coffee, we split into 2 groups on the trails.  Despite my feelings that I was slowing my group down, they assured me they were just out there for the fun and company and we enjoyed a quick run around the Warner Loop in Percy Warner Park.  To be honest, I was running to get back for the yoga!

 

 

 

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Outdoor yoga is one of my favorite things.  Colleen led us in a wonderful post-run sequence, and I thoroughly enjoyed new perspectives among the leaves.  I’m not sure when you last spent time upside down in the woods, but I seriously encourage you to run (not walk) to the nearest park, yard or patch of grass and simply fold forward and look back between your legs.  Take a moment to notice your breath, release the tension in your neck, allow your head to be heavy and let any stress or thought that is not serving you spill out onto the ground.  Just this simple reset can change your perspective for the day.

Sometimes you need to break your routine to open up new places in your mind and in your relationships.  Sometimes you need to let someone else take over your responsibilities for a minute.  Maybe you’ll return to your routine with a fresh attitude or a bigger smile.  And while it may not be necessary to go out and find a group hosting a fire, brewing coffee and playing outside, it sure can be motivating!  We’ll be sure to let you know when the next event with Cumberland Transit is on the schedule!

11233083_10153185392055700_2131019245994524746_nAnd yes, I gladly took over the evening responsibilities of dinner, homework help and bedtime routines so that David could enjoy the Pint Night with great people.  And guess what he came home with besides a new Cumberland Transit/Roots Rated pint glass? A smile and a plan for our family to join a 12 mile paddle down the Green River in KY with our friends at Paddle Adventures Unlimited.  Everybody really does win!!

Beans in Disguise

Our youngest, big hearted, animal loving daughter declared herself a vegetarian at the precious age of 6.  This declaration happened to coincide with an incubator full of eggs beginning to hatch in her 1st grade classroom and an in depth class study on endangered animals.  She swears that had nothing to do with her decision, but was instead turned off by a story from a friend about a gruesome picture of a pig in a BBQ restaurant.  I still believe they all factored in and she has remained steadfast for over a year now, expanding a bit as a pescatarian, but not even looking twice at a chicken nugget or slice of pepperoni.  This strong willed young girl has also championed the cause with the rest of the family, and now I am the only one who will occasionally order a steak if we happen to be somewhere near meat.  Which is practically never.

Now just because P has become a pescatarian doesn’t mean she’s all in love with vegetables.  Or legumes. Especially not legumes.  Let’s be honest.  She’d love it if we let her eat peanut butter and chocolate hazelnut spread or blueberry breakfast bars morning,  noon and night.  So trying to be sure she gets the protein and vitamins she needs, and satisfying the pallets and nutritional needs of an entire family isn’t always easy.

So now that eternal question “what’s for dinner?” has become a bit more challenging to answer.  Thank goodness for the internet and sites like Pinterest, because I have managed to keep surprising my family with some tasty dishes that are not all pasta!   I’ll continue to write more posts on some of our favorite healthy pescatarian-friendly options that will hopefully help you answer that question and please your family too.  While I can’t remember the last time I followed a recipe down to the teaspoon, I have committed to documenting my tweaks so that I can share them with you.

I know, I was just talking about dinner, but today I’m starting with dessert!  I get a daily email from Tasty Kitchen that sometimes really piques my interest.  Last week a recipe for Fudgy Black Bean Brownies popped up and I couldn’t resist.  I already had all the ingredients on hand, and they looked super simple to put together.  Oh my, these are delicious! And the perfect way to sneak some bonus beans in! I only tweaked a little of this recipe by using a combination of almond meal and cashew meal ( I love the nutty flavor of cashew meal), threw in some ground hemp seed and flax, and I cut the sugar by half.  We really try to cut the sugar in most recipes.   I will experiment with raw honey next time.  The fact that I only used my food processor and a mini-muffin tin made me happy too!

yummy rich chocolatey goodness!
yummy rich chocolatey goodness!

I didn’t share the ingredients with P for a few days, initially on purpose, then I just forgot she didn’t know.  The look on her face, with brownie in her mouth, was priceless!  And by the way, she doesn’t believe me.  She is now calling these “baloney brownies!”

You can find the original recipe on Tasty Kitchen’s blog by clicking here.

My version is listed for you below:

Fudge Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients

  • 15 ounces, fluid Canned Black Beans, Drained And Rinsed
  • 9 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • ¼ cups Almond Flour
  • ¼ cups Cashew Meal
  • 1 Tablespoon Organic Hemp Seed, ground
  • 1 Tablespoon Organic Flax Meal
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • ⅛ teaspoons Salt
  • ½  cup Sugar
  • 1 whole Egg
  • 4 ounces, fluid Applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a food processor, blend black beans until they form into a smooth paste. You don’t want any chunks of black beans in your brownies.

Add in cocoa powder, almond & cashew meal,  hemp seed and flax meal, baking soda, and salt. Pulse the food processor a few more times to combine.

Add in sugar, egg, applesauce and vanilla. Run the food processor until everything is completely mixed together.

Spray mini-muffin tin with coconut spray oil (Trader Joe’s has a great one), spoon mixture into a mini muffin pan, filling each ¾ full. Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the brownies are set, pull away from the side of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let me know what you think!  Enjoy!

Spring Break and Garden of the Gods

 

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! -Sitting Bull

For the most part we tend to be a little loose with our travel plans. It doesn’t always work as well as we would like, but sometimes it allows us to see and do things we would otherwise miss by being overly pragmatic or practical in planning. Such is the case with planning a family spring break trip last week to pick up a puppy over three hours away. The real point of this post is not to tell about what we did as much as it is to encourage getting outdoors and exploring nature alongside the ordinary things we do.

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Garden of the Gods, First day of spring, feeling free in the open air

In this case it was a plan to pick up a puppy three hours from home. After talking through our options and the timing, we realized our family and its soon to be adopted member would be all the better if we allowed most of the break to be spent bonding, at home. So if we wanted to be practical about it, we would have made a pre-dawn launch to leave town on the big day and make a bee line home for late lunch and a nap. All in all that sounded very reasonable. The real issue was I couldn’t quit thinking about the big green area on the map which is the Shawnee National Forest. It was right next to the area where we were headed and I fixated on the fact that we might have some decent weather for camping and exploring. I’m always interested in the green and blue areas on a map. Given the fact that we were prepared to dedicate spring break to the adoption of an eight week old chocolate lab, I started praying for decent weather and a good campsite. I just assumed we would all be up for a spring camping trip to prepare for the likelihood of some restless nights ahead!

First night campsite, last night of winter!
First night campsite, last night of winter!

On paper it looked like we could stay in Redbud Campground at Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area on the western side of the big green area on the map. We knew nothing about the area and only hoped we were making a decent choice. We were a bit torn because we were more intrigued by the more northern and central area Garden of the Gods. We were juggling logistics because we had two nights and a 9am puppy pickup scheduled almost 2 hours from camp. Both areas seemed appealing, but we really wanted to see Garden of the Gods even though it was a bit further to drive for the early puppy pickup. There were no reservations, both primitive camping and unknown areas to us. We played around with how we might stay at Redbud, spend part of a day at Garden of the Gods and return to camp for dinner. As it turned out we were the only campers there and it got a little weird with the occasional car making the loop around the campsites during the wee hours. We’re not talking about a campground next to a highway where someone might pull off the road to drink some beers, we’re talking off the beaten path and down a gravel road for couple miles. That coupled with temps in the low 40s kept me alert most of the night making sure everyone was okay. The next morning after a little camp coffee (which always makes me think of Jerry Vandiver now! (http://paddlesongs.com/music) it was a short conversation that led to packing up and heading for Garden of the Gods in hopes to get a campsite. Our youngest had a morning chill and wanted to relive the warmth of our roaring fire the night before. She was also probably craving the fresh olive oil popcorn and dark chocolate s’mores that were pure awesomeness. When she did a sassy little dance on the picnic table about how good she is at getting what she wants, we iced the fire idea and went back to packing up.

Garden of the Gods entrance
Garden of the Gods entrance
Quality time
Quality time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor yoga
Outdoor yoga
Family camping y'all
Family camping y’all

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a good thing we headed out when we did because there were only three sites left when we rolled into the Pharaoh Campground around noon on the first day of spring. We picked what ended up being an awesome site with a super cool rock bluff connected to the Arch of the Gods. We even had a late night venture over to it and enjoyed the evening breeze as we took in the 320 million year old silhouetted sandstone rock formations and surrounding trees.

Happiness
Happiness

When we arrived we set up camp, enjoyed lunch, relaxed in the hammock a little and loosely plotted our afternoon adventures. On the drive we decided it was time to try geocaching. Our first attempt would be near the base of the Arch of the Gods. Our oldest stumbled across a cache on a recent trip to Fall Creek Falls and we were more intrigued than ever, and now it was time to try it out. We had a blast deciphering the clues and realizing that we were misinterpreting the exact location. Our oldest now technically has two geocache finds on the books. The cool thing about this one and the point to it was to get you to explore an area that is easy to pull off the side of the road and walk 100 feet or so to an amazing sandstone formation that turned out to be just below our campsite. We’re definitely doing lots more geocaching and feel it’s a great way to explore with kids as long as you are mindful of where you are and any safety concerns. Fun stuff!

Geocache find!
Geocache find!

In the afternoon we moved on to spend some time on the Observation Trail. The weather was truly amazing for first day of spring and we welcomed the sunshine after the cold night of camping. It was a busy area, but with good reason. It has a super easy path that is about a quarter mile loop. Along the way you have access to some easy bouldering and lovely views of the forest below. The rock formations are some of the most interesting and pronounced we’ve seen within a 3 hours-ish drive from Nashville. There are no safety rails on the rocks and you have to be particularly careful with kids and dogs. We spent some time standing up in the wind, closing our eyes and visualizing that we were gliding like the hawks over the people on the rocks below. It was cool way to help our kids appreciate the landscape and the great outdoors in general. We even met a big friendly male chocolate lab while exploring the rocks. The next morning was an early riser and an efficient effort to be on the road by 7:15am to meet our little “Lakely” and get her home so she could finally eat something, get to know her new surroundings and do some good quality napping. We all spent time bonding with her on the way home and could not have asked for a better experience adopting her to our family and us to be her pack. She is going to be one awesome dog that will surely have an affinity for people that smell of campfires, woods and dirt. No doubt you’ll see many more adventures with her pictured! dw

Lakely and me
Lakely and me
http://www.theshawneenationalforest.com/
http://www.theshawneenationalforest.com/home/recreation-areas/bell-smith-springs-recreation-area
http://www.theshawneenationalforest.com/home/shawnee-national-forest-trails/garden-of-the-Gods
https://www.geocaching.com/play
http://paddlesongs.com/music