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Finding Balance

29 Dec

I haven’t been posting on this blog for a few months because I end this year a little more tentative than I began. In the beginning of Autumn this year, my dear son and hubby decided on “no more nuts”. This was followed by “no more raw smoothies”. Then “no more raw salads”. In other words, NO MORE RAW ANYTHING.

Gah, had I pushed them too far?

So, I started cooking more and more veggies: in soups, with dressing, steamed, boiled, baked, etc. And, I discovered that my family actually have increased their intake of veggies this way. Dead broccoli is the new fave around here and mushroom miso soup. Surprise, surprise – I even lost a few pounds without all the added fats from nuts.

Cooked to death Broccoli.  Boil till the broccoli breaks apart.  Dress with orange juice or balsamic vinegar, sea salt and olive oil.

Cooked to death Broccoli: boil till the broccoli breaks apart, dress with a mixture of orange juice or balsamic vinegar, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. My son loves it!

But I’m still a firm believer in RAW, so I slowly but surely added back some old faves after a month or two. Without complaints, we are all enjoying raw fruit puddings for breakfast again, Japanese and Kale salads for pre-meals and lots of coconut smoothies. We are not quite as raw as I would like, but dare I say I have found a new kind of “balance”?

I don’t know how RAW families do it. How do they function in society? How do they enjoy being with family and friends who don’t eat the way they do? How do their kids relate to other kids in the community? My big guess is that they don’t… not really in the same capacity we do. My second guess is that husband and wife have to agree on diet and nutrition principles to make it work for the family. My third guess is that the parents have to impose and work hard to ingrain these beliefs at home (unless the children have allergies and sickness that inhibit their diets). I cannot imagine regular kids not wanting what other mainstream kids can have – unless they don’t have much of a relationship with other kids, and therefore have no knowledge base of what goes on “on the other side”.

My husband recently bought some Maine root beer, a package of cereal and a carton of soy milk. My son’s hoarding some Vegan candy canes and has a new obsession with gum (it was hard finding one he isn’t allergic to).

Our Xmas Experiment: will Santa prefer the processed candy the restaurant gave you or will he prefer the homemade Vegan cookies we baked?

Our Xmas Experiment: will Santa prefer the processed candy the restaurant gave you or will he prefer the homemade Vegan cookies we baked from scratch? We discovered that Santa prefers homemade cookies to processed candy… and even left a small bit behind.

As a Mama, it is hard to let go of control – especially in the kitchen. But this year, I found more peace and happiness at the dining table by relinquishing more control over my family’s diet. I still buy the groceries, prepare and cook our food. I still educate my family on food matters. But at the end of the day, I let go and allow them the freedom to choose what they want to eat.

A little discouraged one day, I asked my husband and son separately if they wanted to branch out from our Vegan diet, they both said “NO”. Are you sure? “YES!” Both look forward to their fave homemade organic and Vegan cooked foods: Mulligatawny Soup, Shepherd’s Pie, Japanese Buckwheat Noodles, Popcorn and Chocolate Chip Cookies. But I notice they too have their fave raw foods. My son was sick recently and only wanted to eat fruit. He prefers to start each day with bananas and he asks for fresh raw coconut milk almost everyday. He will eat a huge bowl of romaine lettuce. My hubby can drink a quart of green smoothie during a meal and he will keep going back for more salad.

I offer my family healthy food, I empower them with current food knowledge, and I model good eating habits. Then, I let go in peace.

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30 Lessons this Raw Vegan Mama Learned from Traveling and Dining Out with Omnivore Loved Ones

4 Mar

In the last 6 months alone, it seems like my family and I have traveled non-stop to be with friends and extended family.  These days, I feel like I am a bit of a pro when traveling with and dining out with loved ones who happen to be non-Raw Omnivores. 

I wish I could tell you we did wonderfully: I ate 100% Raw Vegan Foods and my family kept up their 50% Raw Vegan diet. But we did not.

What we did a lot of instead was, what I call, nutritional compromising. Why?  Well, believe it or not, for harmony’s sake.  We love our friends and family dearly and being together with them means a lot to us.  We didn’t want to alienate anyone… or ourselves.

I cannot say I was very much OK with all the nutritional compromising in the past few months… but I met Perry the other day who made me feel a whole lot better.  He sold me a bottle of E3Live.  I asked him if he was Raw Vegan.  He said he used to be.  “Why?” I asked.  He said, his mother had cancer when he was growing up and foods were designated as BAD or GOOD, ALLOWED or NOT ALLOWED.  So Young Perry rebelled. He would go behind his mother’s back, steal her money and buy the foods that were verboten at their house.  Needless to say, he thought it was a good idea that I allow my son some slack. 

Here is what I learned while traveling with Omnivore loved ones:

Our Travel Food Bag

I always have fruit (bananas, oranges, apples) and salad for everyone. I also always have some cooked Vegan foods for the boys. Hopefully we can recycle the plastic containers.

1. I always pack my family’s meals for road trips and national/international flights. Unfortunately, the food lasts only about 8 hours and after that we have to make do with what we are given or find at the other end of our trip.

Vegan Meals up in the friendly skies: include preservatives, coloring and a bunch of other stuff we wouldn't normally eat. But - this is the best option we have when we run out of food.

2. On planes, we request either the Raw (not always available and this tends to be fruit or cut carrot and celery sticks) or Vegan (although some are cooked with many processed Vegan ingredients) options for flights.

3. Clearly, our family’s highly raw/unprocessed Vegan diet tends to go down the drain pretty much from the get-go.

I love this old photo of my son snuggling with his step-grandmother. In the first 5 minutes after they met, it was clear they had already bonded so wonderfully.

4. We want to spend time and create strong bonds with our extended family and friends while traveling/visiting with them.

5. But, this means mealtimes more often than not emphasize non-raw and non-vegan foods.

6. We tend to eat out at mainstream restaurants a whole lot while traveling with others.

7. We have lengthy and careful discussions with servers about our family’s food preferences and allergies before ordering. It seems to us that waiters, on the whole, are not trained well on matters relating to Veganism or food allergies.  Neither are they made aware of the repercussions of food allergies. Sometimes, the problem may be that they don’t properly convey diner’s requests to chefs in their kitchens.  So, we like to take our time in our communication with them.

8. Raw Vegans are not the best for diners with nut and maple/agave allergies.  After talking very carefully to servers about our son’s allergies, my son has had very bad vomiting spells after eating/drinking something at Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco and Quintessence in NYC.  Needless to say, we are not going back to these 2 places to eat.  I can, however, recommend The Farm in the Philippines, Good Life Café in South Carolina and Pure Food and Wine in NYC.

9. We tend to eat what our host provides.  “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do!” Right?  As guests, we are really at the mercy of our host, especially when they want to treat us all the time and/or we are in a foreign country.

10. I have discovered that food allergies are difficult for others to understand.

11. The concept of Raw Vegan foods are even harder for many to grasp.  I have had, many a time, cheese and bread on my “all Raw Vegan” salad or been offered regular hummus with cooked chickpeas.

12. Requests for Gluten- and Vegan-free food is akin to speaking a foreign language.

My son kept asking for the white bread served at most mainstream restaurants. Having said 'no' so many times (due to allergies), I finally ordered some wonderful Rice Bruschetta at a Vegan restaurant we visited towards the end of one of our trips. My son was extremely happy. So was I for having found a half-raw, half-cooked meal for him too!

13. My son will want to eat what others are eating: i.e. the cooked or processed refined foods.

14. A loved one recently baked 6 loaves of maple syrup white wheat bread while we visited her for 2 weeks – even after I asked her to please stop at the first loaf.  The breads just kept appearing though, which my son gladly ate and I tried to stop.  She was thrilled of course to watch my son devour her bread. On the other hand, I was focused on his rashes (c/o maple sugar).

15. This Mama will compromise only to a certain extent.

Using a handheld immersion blender in a plastic tub while traveling to make a lamb's lettuce smoothie for my family

16. If a kitchen and/or appliances are available, I supplement our family’s meals with fresh fruit for breakfast and fresh juices or green smoothies before a meal (that is if we have access to appliances and/or a kitchen).

Someone shared this on Facebook and made me LOL!

17. If a kitchen is available and if possible, we eat ‘in’ as much as we can and I end up a Mama in the Kitchen with no holiday.  But, I can’t complain!  We minimize allergies this way.

18. You cannot simply trust labels.  My son has even reacted to packaged Raw Vegan foods we have purchased while traveling to which, according to ingredients on labels, he isn’t allergic.

19. On every trip these past few months, my son has had some type of allergy, despite our efforts.  He has been very mucus-y on the plane home twice.

20. Raw Vegan food options are not always available when eating with family and friends…or they are harder to come by when traveling or sanitation is an issue in certain countries. When eating at mainstream restaurants or at people’s homes sometimes simply boiled, steamed or stir fried veggies are the best and only options.  In many health food stores in big cities, Raw Vegan Foods usually means a lot of packaged dehydrated foods… exactly the foods we try to avoid.

21. Raw Vegan food does not win over many people.  Some of my loved ones returned home to eat SPAM with white rice after a beautiful lunch at The Farm, Philippines.

22.  I, on the other hand, will have some type of food sensitivity after eating at a Raw Vegan restaurant: headaches, swelling or bloating from an excess of agave syrup, soy products, or nuts.

Juice Bars are worth it! Here in SAF London

23. To minimize allergies or sensitivities, we order simply at Raw Food Restaurants: an abundance of green juices (not smoothies) or simple Salads, and avoid other foods altogether (unless the server/chef can be 100% clear on the ingredients used).

The food was so delicious, I made sure I bought their cookbook as soon as we got home!

Food For Thought in Covent Garden will win over Omnivores anytime for taste and bang for buck! Just be prepared for small spaces and a communal-type feel.

24. Cooked Vegan foods, on the other hand, have been the best way for us to introduce family and friends to the Vegan diet. My mother gave us a cooked Vegan party when we visited her.  My friends thought they would have to lug their families to McDonald’s afterwards – but they admitted to loving the food by my Vegan Chef cousin!  They all had second helpings of the healthy mains and the desserts!  And no trip to McDonald’s afterwards!

I got an "That doesn't look very good at all!" comment for my salad here.

25. Prepare yourself for negative comments from loved ones about your food. Yes, even those who say they understand and would love to be Raw Vegan. I have had an ugly grimace directed at my food with a “I would NOT like to eat that!”, “is that all?”, “how do you get your protein?”, “yuck! how do you eat that!” And all in front of my son too, who takes it all in.

26. People somehow forget about your family’s diet and lifestyle choice, no matter how close they are to you.  I have had a platter of Steak placed under our noses blatantly at dinner with a smile and a “here, you will love this”; baked pastry treats full of syrup, butter and refined flour placed in front of my son while he, as most kids will, drools; salmon offered to us which they know was my son’s favourite fish before our kitchen turned Vegan.

27. The good outweigh the bad.  What is important is that we are surrounded by people we love and who love us back.

28. By the end of the trip, I am always itching to return to my own kitchen, I can’t wait to shop at my own local health food store and I can’t wait to eat healthier food.

29. After returning home, it is always just a little harder to get my son to eat as healthily as he used to.  And I am OK with this too because after traveling for the past 6 months, I know in a day or two, he’ll be asking for his fave smoothie and his fave kale salad!

30. And at the end of the day, I love what traveling does for our family.

Mama’s Emotional Health Affects The Whole Family

12 Aug

“If you really want to be outrageous, be ethical.

If you want to go against the grain, be kindhearted.

If you want to live on your own terms, breaking out from expectations and external demands, practice love.

To be free, to be different, to be bold, be compassionate.”

~ Sharon Salzberg ~

I believe that our emotional health impacts our overall health, our family’s health and the health of humanity.

Mama & Child: My artist friend painted this for us when our son was born.

THE POWER OF MOTHER ON HER FAMILY

I remember a few months ago, a Facebook question was posed:

“What does the word “mother” mean to you? How about “power”? How does it feel to put those two words into the same sentence? What IS the true power of mothers?”

This question just spoke to me and I immediately responded:

“I feel as a mother, I have the power to influence my family’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health for the better… and for the worse… So I would like to make sure I use my power intelligently, proactively and deliberately.”

As I typed my comment on my computer, I thought:

– physical health (check)

– mental health (when my son’s not driving me crazy, check)

– spiritual health (check, but if tied to emotional health, maybe not), and

– emotional health (hmmm…. definitely cannot check, big fat red X).

WHEN MAMA’S NOT HAPPY, NOBODY’S HAPPY

What? Here I am, the advocate in my family for a healthier lifestyle. Sure I was emphasizing healthy foods, but I was totally disregarding emotional health. I knew that emotional stress could wreak havoc on one’s physical health, but in all honesty, I didn’t want to face the fact that I was causing ill health in my family.

Admittedly, I was influencing my family’s emotional health for the worse. You see, for the past 7 years, I have hated my mother-in-law. When we were in the same room, the tension was almost unbearable, for me, my mother-in-law, my husband, my parents. And, I’m sure my young son felt it too.

It wasn’t always like this though. Before getting married, my mother-in-law was a friend, a good friend. And the words ‘good’ and ‘friend’ can’t even begin to describe the bond we had had from the very beginning. Let’s just say, if I didn’t have a mother, she would have been the woman I would have loved to be mine. But after I married her only son, things changed. I don’t know how it all got out of hand, but it did and it was ugly.

EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL STRESS ON THE BODY

At the height of my rage, the emotional stress was so intense my heart would pound and race, my teeth would chatter uncontrollably, my whole body would shake and, in the summer, I would feel so cold. Not a picture of health, is it?!? I don’t know about you, but food doesn’t affect my body as traumatically as anger or hatred does.

According to the American Institution of Stress, emotional stress affects our immune system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and other organs, “hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown.”

Yes, I was poisoning my own body. And at the same time, I was bringing my family’s emotional health down with me.

FEAR IS POISON

I had thought that taking the time and the energy to forgive my mother-in-law, freely accept her for all she is and just letting go of the hurts between us would be extremely difficult for me. I thought taking the time to intelligently, proactively or deliberately try to heal our relationship would completely drain me. I thought it would expose my ego’s vulnerabilities to her, which I was too eager to protect. So I just completely ignored her instead, which just added to her pain… and mine.

THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM IS ME

I was watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with my son a few weeks ago and loved the song Truly Scrumptious. We would youtube it and watch it a few times a day. I don’t know why the song grabbed my attention so intensely, but it did. And the more I watched it, the more I envisioned my mother-in-law’s face on Truly’s. It was a bizarre experience, but all of a sudden, it moved me to see my mother-in-law in a whole different light. I saw a woman’s utmost joy expressed in the company of the children, the love she gave to them freely, her total present state of mind while she was with them and her sensitive bond with the children. Suddenly, I saw all the positives in my mother-in-law, where I once saw only negatives.

In my epiphany, I realized that the burden of the past 7 years continued to weigh down on me, because of no one else but me. It was I who needed to change my attitude, my behavior and my subjective point of view. As Thich Naht Hanh says,

“When some persons cause me to suffer… I should ask if I myself, in fact, may be one of the causes and conditions which makes them what they are.”

HEALING

For the past 3 weeks, my mother-in-law and I have had the most open, the most energizing, the most rewarding and the most loving experience we have ever shared together. What seemed like an irreparable relationship has been healed. Now, when I communicate with her, my heart jumps for joy, my whole body is energized and I feel warm all over. I can talk to my husband and my son about her with love and joy. Gone is the tension, the heaviness, the fear, the anger, the hatred, the suffering, the poison.

I feel emotionally healthier, physically lighter and spiritually lifted. I know my family has felt the change too. I am blessed with a mother-in-law who kept her door and heart open, ready and waiting for my return. Her kindness, forgiveness and love for me has taught me in turn how to love and how to live. Through my mother-in-law, I am beginning to really understand what it means to be a Mother and how to use the power we have as mothers to influence our family for the better.