Mindfulness Monday: Five Breaths (& a Tribute)

Today’s Mindfulness Monday post is also a tribute post to my friend Mikhail, who passed away a week ago in a men’s federal prison in Virginia.  I was connected to Mikhail through a transformative justice organization called Write to Win, which connects LGBTQ prisoners with LGBTQ and allied activist correspondents on the outside. Mikhail, who was a two-spirit-identified (he&she pronouns) bisexual prisoner, and I had been writing for just under a year. Mikhail wrote to me a lot about politics (he was an anarchist), cats (he loved cats and we drew pictures of cats to each others in most of our exchanges!), relationships (she had been in love five times), and mental health (he struggled with depression). I looked forward to Mikhail’s letters in my mailbox very much.

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some of Mikhail’s letters. we signed off with “solidarity + rage + love”

About three months ago, Mikhail’s letters got shorter. He explained that he had become very ill and didn’t have as much energy to write. The doctors, he told me, didn’t know what was wrong. He was hoping they would be moving him to a medical facility, and asked me to always double check the government Inmate Locator website to see if I should send the letters to a different address. Each month I checked, and each month he was still in the federal prison in Virginia.

On Friday night, I sat down to respond to Mikhail’s last letter, which was dated July 4th. After writing a few pages, I folded the letter, sealed it in an envelope, and went online to double-check the address. But this time, under Mikhail’s name was not an address, but the following: “Deceased: 7/11/2015.”

My heart stopped; and then it beat rapidly. I re-read the screen over and over to try to make sense of it. Deceased. Mikhail had died. She had asked to be relocated for more effective medical attention, the prison did not provide her that medical attention (they eventually approved the transfer, but just never actually transferred him), and he died. At 40 years old. In a federal prison in Virginia. Two years before he was going to be released.

I have experienced a number of deaths in the past few years, but this one felt heavy in a distinct and challenging way. Unlike the other people in my life who have passed away, I didn’t have any other friends or family who knew Mikhail. I had no one to call. No one to cry with. No one who would know what it would be like to miss the idiosyncrasies of this truly lovely human. I felt very alone in my grief. And sick with the thought of how alone Mikhail must’ve felt in his last days.

I curled up on my floor and held my kitty close to me and cried. I told Diesel how much Mikhail loved cats and how she always asked about him in her letters. Realizing how long it had been since Mikhail had been able to pet a cat, I told Diesel, through tears, “I am so so lucky I get to snuggle you right now.” At that point, my tears turned to sobs.

In an effort to calm my crying, I started taking deep breaths. Inhale…..Exhale….Inhale….Exhale… I remembered that I had written to Mikhail about breathing exercises too. She had asked if I had any advice for yoga or meditation techniques that could help combat his depression and anxiety. Breath work was the first thing that came to mind. I told him a few basic breathing exercises and practices that might be useful: the so hum mantra exercise, the 2-4 count breath, and the Five Breaths practice.

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I don’t remember where I first learned about the Five Breaths practice, but it’s something I have found to be pretty powerful when I remember to do it. All it entails is this: pause after noticing something that you’re grateful for and take five deep breaths. That’s it.

The thing about feeling grateful is that, like all feelings, it can be really fleeting; the five breaths practices cements that gratitude feeling deep in your body. It forces you to sit with the sensation of appreciation. Ideally, you can find a way to incorporate this into your life on a daily basis, which will usually result in breathing after pretty simple occurrences. For example, once coming home from work I saw a traffic jam going the other direction. I felt really grateful not to be stuck in that traffic jam (which does not mean I was glad the other people were stuck in it, of course!), and I took five deep breaths as I drove to the yoga class that I would, because of my non-traffic jam route, arrive at on time. Another time, I took five deep breaths after a particularly good day of teaching at the college where I work, reminding me to sit with how lucky I am for the job I have. And then, on Friday, I took five deep breaths, sitting simultaneously both in the pain of loss and also in the simple gratitude of being able to have a kitty to hold with my sorrow.

I knew, when recommending this exercise to Mikhail, that she would have far fewer things to be grateful for than I did. But, in spite of her depression and her circumstances, she did find some reasons to breathe: she found moments of joy with some of his fellow inmates, in reading, and in working on the prison newsletter.

I want to live in a world where everyone has plentiful reasons to perform breaths of gratitude. I want to live in a world where everyone has access to quality healthcare. I want to live in a world where gender non-conforming people are treated with dignity. I want to live in a world where human beings aren’t subjected to going through activist pen pal services in order to have human connections. And, I want to live in a world without prisons.

This week, I invite you to practice the Five Breaths exercise. Take a moment to pause when you feel grateful. Sit with it. Breathe into it. Let it sink into your skin and your blood and bones. Let it vibrate through your veins. Be the gratitude.

And maybe, if you’re open to it, send some of those breaths up and out in memory of my friend, Mikhail…..a person who deserved many more breaths than she got to take.

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Friday Five!

[Note: I accidentally pressed “publish” on the draft of this post before it was finished, so if you get email updates of my posts, you probably saw a really weird half-done version of this in your inbox. Apologies! #bloggerfail]

Okay, now that that’s out of the way….Happy Friday! This week has been okay. Some good stuff, some not so good stuff, and also one of those weeks that seemed to pass both very quickly and very slowly, simultaneously. I think it’s partly because I’ve been very busy, but also not felt very productive. Maybe it’s all that new moon in Cancer energy making me feel too many feelings to get shit done more effectively. Who knows.

Anyway, I did get this gorgeous picture of Diesel, my most-handsome boycat:

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MOST HANDSOME.

And now, four things from the webz + a list of stuff from the week that made me happy!

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21-Day Meditation Experience 

So, one thing that’s been helping me get through the not-so-good parts of the week is the calm I’ve been gaining from the daily meditations I’ve been practicing through this program that’s put on by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. This is a free program that provides daily 15-20 minute meditations (and pre-meditation discussions), and this summer’s theme is “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude.” This is the third of the Oprah & Deepak meditation experiences I’ve done, and so far this one might be my favorite. There is still time to start the challenge today and receive all the meditations (they last for five days after they are first posted, and Day One was on Monday). I started a pretty solid meditation practice before I left for England, but lost track of it a bit while I was there, so I’m glad to be back on a regular routine with it.

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6 Things a Woman with Depression Wants You to Know

I really appreciate this article by Jillian Capewell, a woman who lives with clinical depression. Capewell acknowledges that, “[m]ental illness isn’t something anyone quite “figures out,'” but that throughout the years she has picked up some wisdom on the subject that might be helpful for people who are struggling with depression themselves, or for those of us who have people in our lives who struggle with it. I’ve mostly only struggled with “really-emotionally-difficult-life-happenings depression,” but am close with people who live with clinical depression. And so I was grateful for this list for my own toolbox and also to be a better ally to my friends who battle with this all the time. Capewell’s six things include: being aware that not everyone is going take medication; that depression can make you flaky; depressed people aren’t faking it; depressed people can handle boundaries with friends; that “really-emotionally-difficult-life-happenings depression” isn’t the same as clinical depression; & to treat depressed friends pretty much the same way you treated them before you knew they were depressed. She expands on each of these really thoughtfully, so it’s definitely worth a read!

Mindfulness: Capitalism’s New Favorite Tool for Maintaining the Status Quo

Clearly I am a fan of mindfulness practices, but this article from AlterNet describes the ways in which giant corporations are exploiting the practice to make a more productive workforce and further the project of capitalist inequality. I think it’s an important thing to discuss anything that is exploited for oppressive purposes (hay, yoga!), but I also think we shouldn’t be so quick to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Thoughts?

Tomato Summer Salad

This salad from My Whole Food Life is simple, summery, and sounds very refreshing. It’s basically just tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and parsley with a very simple dressing. If it wasn’t summer, I don’t think I’d be quite as excited about it, but the taste of farm-fresh cucumbers and tomatoes are SO GOOD. I plan to get to the farmer’s market and make this posthaste.  Tomato-Summer-Salad-My-Whole-Food-Life

Stuff from the Week that Made Me Happy

more progress on my tattoo; singing along to this album with my artist during the tattoo session (& having all the nostalgia!); happy hours with new & old friends; all the yoga; getting so much post-Sculpt class student love & appreciation; sunshine & a break in the humidity; supportive long-distance pals; feeding hungry friends; making plans for what is shaping up to be an epically fun August; this hilariously accurate buzzfeed list on cat ownership; my lady blogger sisters; Notes from the Universe; & finding spaces of real acceptance that, for now, things are just as they should be.

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What made you happy this week? xoxo

Friday Five!

Hello! It’s been a busy week, so I’m just going to jump right in….

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…four things from the internet + a list of things that made me happy this week!

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Be a Great Ally to Fat Folks by Getting Neutral About Food

Love this post from Bevin at Queer Fat Femme about how to think and talk about our own and other people’s food choices. How many times have you or someone you know said something about how “bad” you’re/they’re being, or spouted that deeply telling plea, “Don’t judge me!” right before eating something that has been deemed un-clean food? Bevin reminds us that placing value on food choices perpetuates body-shaming culture: “I think the best thing we can do, as fat folks and folks working in solidarity with us, is to refuse to participate in the system of body currency perpetuated by society. A system of body currency, where certain bodies are privileged over other bodies, creates competition, body hatred, feelings of never being enough, endless fear about body change. Body currency doesn’t just affect fat folks, it affects folks with any non-normative body–people of color, older people (we are literally all aging), disabled folks (we are literally all only temporarily able bodied), trans* folks, etc.” Instead of attaching shame to yours or others food choices, Bevin suggests saying out-loud, things like, “Cultivating a culture of food enjoyment is really important to me. I would love to enjoy this delicious food instead of assigning value to it!” Yes!

Starting Over at Thirtysomething

Welp, this advice column on Autostraddle was all the feelings for me this week. I have referenced, vaguely, how life has been challenging for me the past two years. Things got worse before they (kind of) started to get better almost exactly at the moment I turned 30. Although there’s a lot going right in my life, a bunch of shit also went very wrong (or at least…off my intended course). And having to start from scratch in certain areas of your life feels especially weighty at this age society tells us is the point that you should actually have your shit together. What happens when your shit is the opposite of together and you are 30? Well, a change in perspective would help, to start. Crystal writes, “…remember that adulthood isn’t about having a relationship and a mortgage. It can mean lots of different things to different people but I think it’s mostly about taking control and responsibility for your life — no matter what that life looks like. Having a failed relationship and building furniture with Allen keys has no correlation to your maturity and ability to be good at life. You’re doing the best with what you have, and I hope it’s not long before you can start to feel proud of it.” The whole thing is great and worth a read. I found it very comforting. <3

I, Racist

Tired of me linking to articles about racism? Guess who else is tired? People of color who are victims of racism every.single.day. This is another excellent article that reveals an important truth about the challenges of talking to white people about racism: “White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.” Please read the whole thing and share with others. We can’t stay silent. People are dying.

Healthy Creamy Broccoli Salad

I’m not sure if this is a Midwest thing or not, but growing up, creamy broccoli salad was a staple at picnics and other summer gatherings. It included broccoli, raisins, some crunchy add-ins, and was covered in a thick creamy mayonnaise-based sauce. I never liked mayonnaise even before I was vegan, so I was not a big fan of it, but I do love the sounds of this vegan version from Ceara’s Kitchen, which uses avocado and dijon as main ingredients for the sauce. Sounds like a great dish to bring to a summer potluck!

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Stuff from the Week that Made Me Happy 

yoga & sculpt & starting a new yoga training for hot-style yoga; fun hangs with friends, especially cooking dinner for lovely gentleman who indulged my desire to play that fun game where you write a sentence, then pass the paper to the person next to you who draws a picture of the sentence, then the next person writes a sentence, and so on…do you know that game? it’s so fun, we had a blast :); meeting a rad new colleague who was just hired in my department! looks like i have a new Lefty feminist lady friend to share wine and research with!; the healing that comes from empathy, compassion, and understanding; this video; this band; realizing that my support network in boston is bigger and stronger than i thought, and feeling grateful for that; kitten snuggles; iced tea; the inside and outside warmth of hot sun on my bare shoulders; &my femme-as-fuck 5 inch platform red sandals that make me feel more like myself than any other shoes I own. <3

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What made you happy this week? xoxoxo

 

Friday Five!

Happy Friday, readers! It took me a few days to adjust from the jet lag, but after taking all the yoga classes, making/consuming all the smoothies, and having all the kitten snuggles, I think I’m pretty much fully re-adjusted to my Boston life. It feels the same, but different. Between a month abroad, and the new moon on Wednesday, I am feeling a lot of transformative juju, and I think the rest of this summer is going to provide some positive and necessary changes.

Here is a picture I took in London. I loved a lot of the street art there, and these fluorescent Power to the People signs were the best things ever:

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And now, four things from the internet + a list of stuff from the week that made me happy!

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On Veganism, Eating Disorder Recovery, and “No” Foods

In case you missed the latest of Gena’s beautiful essays, I highly recommend checking this one out. It tackles the very real dilemma of the idea of food restriction (or “no” foods) that confront those of us who are both vegan and in eating disorder recovery. How can we heal from eating disorder mentality (if it is indeed an ED related to food restriction and “bad” foods) if part of our entire way of life, as vegans, is dedicated to eliminating entire food groups? I feel lucky that the way I view not eating meat and dairy feels very different mentally than not eating, say, sugar or fat (or whatever else I was deciding was “bad” for me at the time). But that’s not the case for everyone, and so many ED specialists try to counsel patients into practicing a sort of lack of attachment to food, as a way to stop obsessing about it. Gena pushes back on that; she writes: “I…dislike any suggestion that food should be without meaning or importance, even if it’s offered for the sake of overcoming the anxieties and fears of an ED. For one thing, food isn’t meaningless or without importance. It is profoundly important to all of mankind, because we are creatures with rich inner lives and complex feelings and a tapestry of culture in addition to the fact that we have bodies, and those bodies have nutritional demands. The fact that food is meaningful to us is evidenced in our rich culinary traditions, in the importance we place on gathering at a table and breaking bread, in our rich legacy of cookbooks and recipes. I went on a date once with a man who told me that if there were a fullness pill, he’d take it, because he had a busy life and considered eating to be a strain on his schedule. But such individuals really are few and far between. I challenge most anyone to say that food is just food, or just fuel. And it strikes me as especially unrealistic to think that anyone who has struggled with an ED would be able to make such a claim. For most of us, food is meaningful and important. The question is, can we channel that meaning into positive, healthful, and self-loving directions?” I recommend reading the whole article if this is something you or someone you know has struggled with.

7 LGBT Issues That Matter More Than Marriage

This is just a friendly reminder that although it’s important and significant and generally pretty wonderful that marriage equality is now the law of the US land, that there are things to organize for beyond marriage. I have assigned this helpful Buzzfeed piece in classes before, and I think now more than ever is a time to remind our movements that the recent SCOTUS decision will not help ameliorate the things that impact the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, like homelessness, lack of health care access, disporportionate prison and policing, suicide, racial violence, etc. I’m stoked to party at more weddings, but let’s keep fighting for justice and liberation, yeah?! <3

6 Steps You Can Take to Start Healing from Trauma

This piece from CarmenLeah Ascensio provides a thoughtful, informed, and important list of ways we can take care of ourselves after traumatic experiences, no matter how long ago they happened. I’ve vaguely mentioned on here that I was recently diagnosed with PTSD and so the subject of trauma has become something I have been literally incapable of ignoring during my healing and recovery process. Lists like these are very welcome additions to my toolbox of coping mechanisms.

Chopped Kale Salad + Creamy Almond Ginger Dressing 

Well, this beautiful salad from Edible Perspective is basically all the things that I love in a bowl. Kale, radishes, mushrooms, avocado, cabbage, asparagus, and zucchini create the luscious base for the delicious-sounding almond ginger dressing. I love salads all year round, but this crispy goodness sounds especially perfect for this hot July weather. Nom.

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Stuff from the Week that Made Me Happy

as much as I loved being England, I was happy that my week started off by landing back in the states!; (that said, it also made me happy this week to reflect on all the great memories from the trip); SMOOTHIES made me happy this week, along with all the other food I have been consuming that I had not been able to eat while abroad (mostly just lots of kale and turmeric :)); hot summer weather; yoga & sculpt; being reunited with my handsomest boycat and getting allllll the snuggles; dinners with friends; a very relaxing and restorative ladies pool day; phone calls & Skype calls; planning fun things to do with a certain upcoming British visitor;  LaCroix (it’s so refreshing, guys); this cat video; & a real sense of optimism that things/my perspective are shifting for the better. <3

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What made you happy this week? xoxo

Mindfulness Monday: Leave Things Better than You Found Them

Hello from the USA! I have returned from my month-long sojourn to the UK and although I had many great experiences there, I am eager to get back to my routine here in the States. Although I feel like I did a lot of growing and transforming during my time abroad, I also lost some of my practices that had been really helpful for me the past few months, including being really intentional about mindfulness exercises. So I didn’t want to waste anytime getting back to my Mindfulness Monday posts!

This week’s intention—-“leave things better than you found them”—- was the last practice in the How to Train a Wild Elephant book I’ve been working from. It, to me, is one of the most profound mindfulness exercises in which we can engage.

Life can be kind of shit. From national tragedies in Charleston to personal tragedies in our own lives, there is a lot of heavy, sad, awful shit in our world. I don’t know, for certain, what the meaning of life is or what our purpose is, but I do have a hunch that the universe would appreciate it if we tried to do things with and in our life that made the world a little bit less shit. And leaving things better than you found them is one way to do that.

This practice can take many forms, and I find that it’s good to start small. Since setting this intention, I’ve been particularly mindful about picking up random trash (wildly common on vacant coffee shop tables), doing dishes in other people’s homes when I visit, and turning off lights after leaving a room. This can also be applied to humans (and other animals). It can mean finding a way to (non-creepily and non-lookism-promotingly) compliment someone, sincerely thanking someone, or sincerely apologizing to someone.

The leaving people thing better than you found them is certainly a more arduous task. The trash you pick up off a coffee table can’t hurt your feelings, but humans can. And so leaving people better than we found/met them means finding ways to practice intentional, relational mindfulness in a serious and deep way. It means forgiveness, empathy, and compassion. I don’t always succeed at this. It’s impossible to go through life without being hurt or hurting someone you know and love. But if we keep this intention in mind, we can spend our everyday working to repair hurts and heal wounds, and using past experiences to become more adept at practicing loving-kindness in the future.

I think one reason I love both my jobs (teaching yoga and teaching college) is that I get to see actual evidence of leaving people better—(or at least happier or somehow transformed in a positive way)—than I found them. This sometimes comes in the form of a student telling me they felt deeply connected to a reading I assigned, or telling me how much it helps to have a professor they feel comfortable talking to. In yoga, I get to see sweaty, smiling faces leave the studio. I get to give head and neck massages to people in savasana (students (myself included when i’m the student) love it!). I sometimes feel literally high after teaching a yoga or sculpt class, partly because it feels so awesome to have just led people through something that I know is so good for their mind/body/spirit! I love that feeling so much!

When it comes to leaving the world better than we found it, in a social justice sense, I think it’s important that we apply our individual mindfulness practice to structural-based organizing. This is not an easy task either, but I have come to believe that in order to do our best in the struggle for a collective better world, we must also have a practice of being better as individuals. Ghandi’s whole “be the change you wish to see in the world” thing is kind of legit, you know?

But maybe start small this week. Pick up trash. Eat something that leaves your tummy better than it felt the day before. Smile at someone, hug someone, be kinder than usual to someone you find who needs it. Plant flowers in some naked dirt. Maybe go to a meeting to organize a rally or a fundraiser, or read a book about something you feel passionate about fixing in some way.

Leaving things better than we found them is a way to practice active non-harming. It’s a way to not only not-harm but also heal, generate, transform. It’s a lovely practice and one I hope to become better and better at.

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What other ways can we leave things better than we found them? xoxo

England Adventures Part 3: Workouts!

I haven’t done a workout post in a while, and I especially love sharing fitness updates while I’m traveling because it means I am usually having to be creative and not relying on my yoga and sculpt classes at home. So I thought I’d take today’s post to give you a glimpse into the workouts I’ve been doing in England this month.

post-workout selfie.

post-workout selfie.

I have been very lucky to have a gym in the basement of the abbey. It’s fully stocked with treadmills, weight machines, and free weights.

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Running outside has been near impossible with the condition my left knee is in, but for whatever reason, doing 25 minutes on the treadmill about four-five times a week has been fine for me since I’ve been here. I find it to be a great warm-up to strength-focused HIIT work and/or yoga. I like doing interval running the most. I usually start at level 5, and then increase by .5 every minute until I’m up to level 8, then go back down to 5 and do it all over again. This kind of running appeals to me more than one steady pace both because it does more for your heart and also it’s less boring. :)

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When I’m done running, I generally spend some time with the free weights, or follow along to an exercise video on YouTube. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know some of my favorite YouTube trainers include Zuzana, Melissa Bender, and the PurelyTwins. But my new most favorite addition has been Christine Salus. I absolutely love her workouts (and her personality too!—which is sometimes a hard combination to find). This month I’ve enjoyed this tabata workout, this arm workout, and this 30 minute HIIT. When I have more time, I love her 45-60 minute long workouts.

I try to end my workouts with at least 15 minutes of yoga. I usually do my own routines with some pretty music in the background, but sometimes I watch yoga Youtube videos, like this one.

the gym has these nifty yoga mats with a helpful yoga pose guide. : )

the gym has these nifty yoga mats with a helpful yoga pose guide. : )

Being able to stick to a near-daily workout routine has been really helpful for my mental health. I had been struggling with feeling grounded even before coming here, so having that familiar consistency has been very helpful for me.

There are some days, however, that I don’t get to fit in a workout, which is something I struggle with both at home and while traveling. Taking rest days is a challenge for me. But I’m happy to say that I’ve made a lot more peace with it this past month. The days I haven’t been able to go to the gym have been the days that we leave early for big day trips to awesome places, like London, Stonehenge, and Bath. The idea of getting bent out of shape for not working out as I’m en route to supercool spots has, fortunately, seemed pretty foolish to me. My plan is to practice this kind of attitude toward rest days back at home as well!

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What workouts have you been doing lately? What do you like to do when you travel? xoxo

England Adventures Part 2: FOOD! (The Good, The Bad, The Resourceful)

Hello again from the UK! Because this started out as a food blog, I thought it would be a good idea to do a post dedicated to what I’ve been eating over here. Before I get to the actual food though, I want to take a moment to pause in gratitude for my current mental health around food and eating. I admittedly (and as it turns out, for good reason) had some anxiety about how I would eat over here. Although I’ve distanced myself from the worst of my disordered eating, as a vegan and as someone who likes to feel good (mentally/physically/emotionally/spiritually) after eating food, I inevitably practice  a large amount of control over my food choices. I have routines and emergency plans when I’m at home. I have smoothies or juice in the morning to ensure protein and greens, I have pre-packed snacks and lunches, I always know where to find the nearest Whole Foods (or equivalent). Agreeing to a live in England for a full month on a study abroad program, in which 80% of our food would be eaten on site in the rural campus cafeteria, meant throwing all of that control out of the window.

There would have been a time in my history when I may have found that lack of control too much to handle. Not being able to have green smoothie every morning may have led me to politely decline taking this job altogether. I am super fucking proud of myself for getting to the point where not being able to eat “Raechel-food” all the time is no longer a thing that would keep me from taking advantage of life adventures. At 30 years old I have gotten to a point where I can hang with acceptance over control. And so, I fit as many of my current favorite vegan bars-that-could-double-as-meals in my bag as I could, took a deep breath, and got on the plane.

As I suspected, the cafeteria food situation is subpar at best. There is a salad bar that, on a good day, is stocked with something other than ice berg lettuce (ps: did you know they call arugla “rocket” over here?), veggies, and avocado (yeah that’s like a twice a week staple, yay!). On a good day, the main course and sides will include a grain or veggie that is not covered in cheese. On a bad day, I was eating ice berg lettuce and tons of bread, something I almost never eat at home because I don’t feel very good when I eat it. A typical plate looked like this the first week:

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And my feeble attempt to make something “smoothie-like” involved stirring a protein powder pack in a cup of water and eating a piece of raw turmeric root. (I don’t recommend this):

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So when we made it to some surrounding towns, I made sure to scout out all the green juices and lovely UK vegan bars I could find!

2015-06-17 15.32.42I was so excited to find kale and veggie juice in ball and bar form! Upon discovering them in a health food store, I literally exclaimed out loud, “Oh my God, KALE BALLS, this solves everything!” #thingsweirdoveganssay

The best food of the trip has been, hands down, my weekend in Leeds where I got to enjoy both a vegan festival and incredibly delicious home cooked “lesbian curry” (named by the cook herself, don’t worry). The vegan fest was so huge and so fun. It was really neat to feel community with such like-spirits, 1,300 miles from home.

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At the vegan fest, I got an amazingly delicious green smoothie, bars to take to go, and had a bite of my friend Louie’s excellent sweet potato burger. Louie is someone I met when, back in America last month, I was planning for the class I’m teaching here. It is encouraged that the faculty take students to site visits to different places relevant to our class, so I reached out to various LGBT and racial justice orgs in England. Louie works for a really awesome youth organization that helps formerly incarcerated youth, and also founded an organization called Yorkshire Trans Support Network. He was full of helpful ideas for my class and has also ended up turning into a good friend. It’s been nice to have a social outlet away from the students (not that I don’t love my students!).

The lesbian curry was enjoyed at the home of some new friends I met through Louie. They used a visit from an American as an excuse to host a dinner party, and I was so happy to encourage that, because the food and the company were perfect. Seriously, this coconut sweet potato lentil curry was the best curry I’ve ever had. There was also vegan chocolate cake for dessert. So delicious!

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Here are some of the beverages I enjoyed in Leeds also:

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I have also found a secret way to make cafeteria dining more tolerable. I buy little hummus packets and baby kale–(no regular kale to be found anywhere; wtf England?)– when we take our weekly trips into the nearest city center, and add it to whatever is vegan/edible in the dining hall. I had a great baked potato/hummus/beet thing that was pretty solid:

2015-06-09 13.09.43And, of course, I am drinking LOTS of tea! (and this place even had a vegan cake for me to enjoy on the side! serving tea with some kind of sweet is a thing here):

2015-06-08 13.05.54

So, ya know, it could be better, but it could be worse. And the fact that sometimes I have to eat bread to fill up and that I don’t have a panic attack about it is REALLY EXCITING! Yay!

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How do you feel when you have to give up control over food during travel? xoxoox