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January, 2021:

The Evolution of this Vegan

If you told me 20 years ago that I was going to be a devoted vegan, I probably would have laughed. And the reason would have been simple: animal products taste good.

  • Burgers are delicious.
  • Pizza is awesome.
  • Cheesecake can be so good, it’s “orgasmic.”

I’ve never been opposed to veganism; I just didn’t think it was something I would want to do. As a student at Oregon State University, I learned a lot of the basics merely by being around people who were vegan. When “The L Word” came out, two of our friends were roommates and they got Showtime. Every Sunday, we’d all come over to watch it, and everyone had to either bring a dollar to offset their cable bill or vegan snack.

Omnivore to Vegetarian

I love documentaries, and a few years ago, I started watching films about food including, Food Inc., and it churned my stomach to see how factory farming works in the United States. The conditions in which these animals are raised and killed are despicable. I agree with the saying that if more people knew how factory farm animals lived and died, they couldn’t eat them.

After seeing a number of these films, I didn’t feel comfortable eating meat, knowing what I knew about how farm animals went from birth to packages of meat in the store. I thought fish didn’t have feelings, so I decided it was ok to still eat them. When I learned that that wasn’t true, I gave up fish.

Going Vegan

It was actually Dog by Dog, documentary movie about dog breeding that made me think, “If I’m not ok with any animal suffering, then I need to give up dairy and eggs.” I was deluding myself into thinking it was ok to eat these because an animal didn’t die for my meal, but often still live horrible lives. If I wanted to have integrity around this issue, then I needed to be vegan. One thing that I can do is vote with my wallet and lessen the demand for animal products.

I let myself finish the animal products I had in my house, and started looking for vegan replacements. I had already switched out the meat in my diet for more grains and legumes. I replaced the half and half in my coffee with vanilla almond milk. I bought vegan butter. I was grateful to see that my favorite soup base also has vegan varieties. I bought vegan cookbooks and searched the internet for new recipes.  

I am sensitive to soy, so I eat mostly low soy and soy-free products. Sometimes that limits my options for vegan products, but that’s something I mostly encounter when I’m looking into meat-replacement products, which is something I rarely do. The only meat substitute I buy with any regularity is Trader Joe’s Hi-Protein Veggie Burger patties, which are made with pea protein.  

This was the day I knew I never wanted to eat a beef burger again.

Caveats and Exceptions

I used to have caveats or make exceptions to being vegan. Early on in my journey towards veganism, I use to eat animal products if they were from a certified humane source. My justification was that these animals were well-treated and had a good life before they became my lunch. That worked for my for a while, until I spent a day volunteering at Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary, cuddling Adorabull, a newborn calf who was brought to the farm after being abandoned in a ditch. He was sick little guy, and as I stroked his head, I knew I never wanted a beef burger again.

Apparently, others who have visited the farm sanctuary have come away with similar thoughts about changing their diets. Aimee doesn’t tell anyone who visits what they should or shouldn’t eat. Merely being with the animals inspires some people to re-think what they eat.

I also used to have an exception when I traveled and I would shift to vegetarianism if it wasn’t convenient to be vegan. I don’t give myself that out anymore. When I go to a restaurant, if there isn’t a vegan option, I look at the menu as a list of ingredients and make my own meal or I end up ordering a bunch of sides instead of an entrée. Thankfully it’s become easier to find all-vegan restaurants or restaurants with plenty of vegan options.

Committing to Full Veganism

It’s actually not hard to be vegan. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast and add in vanilla protein powder, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sliced banana. For lunch and dinner, a common meal for me is rice, beans, and a vegetable or I meal prep soup over the weekend. I’m on a lentil soup kick right now. Between meals I like to have fruit, dried fruit, veggie sticks, almonds, pretzels, and/or chips. It’s rare if I’m craving something that there isn’t a vegan option or something that is “close enough.”

Being vegan has been great for helping me avoid a lot of junk food. It’s easy to say no to things like cookies in the office, or when I get pizza now, it’s just crust, sauce, and veggies, which is much healthier than what I used to order.

About a year ago, I saw this video by Merle O’Neal talking about why she went vegan, and her words embody a lot of why I went vegan, more than what I could put in a post.

When Your Kid Says They’re Non-Binary

A few weeks ago, I received a message from one of my classmates from high school that said her child recently came out to her and her husband as non-binary and said their pronouns are they/them. My friend asked how she can educate herself and what guidance I could offer for dealing with relatives who may be less accepting.

When I responded, I started with, “Oh geez – your life just got a lot more complicated, but in a good way.” I gave her my number and asked her to let her kid know that they have an Oggy Ruth that they can talk to if they need a non-binary grown-up to talk to who “gets it” in ways they’re afraid that others can’t understand. (Oggy is the title I chose since there isn’t a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle. It rhymes with “doggy.”)

This button is on my backpack.

There’s No One Way to be Non-Binary

If your child was assigned male a birth (AMAB) and they’re actually female or assigned female at birth (AFAB) and they’re actually male, the expected trajectory is more clear and can include a new name, new hairstyle, different clothes, hormones, and gender affirming surgery. If your child is non-binary, it’s best to follow their lead. Invite them to tell you what they need, whether it’s a new name, new hairstyle, or different clothes. They may want some specialty items like a chest binder, stand to pee (STP), or a packer. Ask your child about their thoughts about hormones or hormone blockers. (Hormone blockers didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I knew I was non-binary back then, I would have wanted them.) They may also want counseling. It’s not easy to navigate a binary-centric world as a non-binary person.

Ask your child what they need from the institutions in their life. They might need gender neutral bathrooms at school. Some schools won’t address a child by their new name unless you legally change it. Your child may want to have their birth certificate and/or driver’s license corrected. Hopefully, you live in a state where you have that option.

In regards to resources, I recommended Free Mom Hugs’ resource page. I love this organization, and this page has a wide variety of resources listed. I love seeing people in the audience at the Pride parade who wear t-shirts that say “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” I always try to stop and hug them.

Dealing with Less Than Accepting Relatives

As the parent, you are your child’s advocate. Ask your kid how they want to tell the relatives, and as long as it isn’t inappropriate, support it.

You may have to have a heart-to-heart with a relative if they are struggling to accept that your child is non-binary. They may have known your kid by a different name and pronouns for over 10 years, and adjusting to the new name and pronouns will be hard. Tell them it’s ok if they make mistakes, as long as they’re trying, and they correct themselves when it happens. Give them a chance to practice by talking about your non-binary child with them. (I have a co-worker who is working on using my correct pronouns. I’m tempted to tell him to talk about me with his family to practice.)

Note: I have a friend who has had a non-binary kid for years. She still occasionally refers to them by the wrong name or pronoun. It’s ok if you or your family doesn’t adapt overnight.

Your relative may have trouble wrapping their head around the idea that a person may not be male or female. That’s ok too. As long as they respect and accept that your child is telling the truth about who they are, I suspect your relative will be fine in the long run. Here’s my favorite video to share with people who are new to learning about what it means to be non-binary. (It’s also quite validating for me.)

Whether your child is a different gender or sexuality than what you originally expected (or both), assume there are going to be inappropriate questions. I tell people that it’s fine to ask me all their potentially inappropriate questions as long as their coming from a place of respect and curiosity. There may be times when it’s best to respond with, “I understand that you’re curious, but that’s a very personal question. My kid will talk about that if and when they decide they want to bring that topic up with you.”

Don’t be Afraid to Go into Mama/Papa Bear Mode

If you have a non-binary kid, there may be times when you need to go into full-on mama bear or papa bear mode on their behalf. It may be with your child’s school, doctor, a relative, or even the government. Going to bat for your kid validates their experience, even if you don’t get the outcome you want.

When your child tells you about a frustrating experience as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society, acknowledge it, even when you don’t understand why something is a big deal to them. Their feelings are valid, whatever they are. Hold space for your child so they have at least one place where it’s safe for them to be themselves and explore what their gender means to them.

Finding Faith

Shortly after Rosie passed away, I said the over/under for when I got another dog was six months. Who had 145 days?

Searching for a Dog and Finding Faith

About three months after Rosie passed away, I was ready to start looking for my next basset hound. The Arizona Basset Hound Rescue didn’t have any hounds available for adoption, so I expanded my search to include my local animal control, basset rescues in southern California, Craigslist ads across the entire southwestern U.S. I was even looking as far as St. Louis, Missouri because the humane society there took in 55 dogs (mostly bassets) from a bad breeder situation.

I spent way too much time on Petfinder, looking at adult and senior basset hounds. I wanted a dog that was past the puppy stage and deep into the lay-on-the-big-pillow-all-day stage. One day, a listing was added for a seven year-old basset named Faith at Priceless Pets in Chino Hills, CA, but there was no picture. I contacted the organization who had her and asked for a photo. This is what they sent.

They say every basset has a hidden heart in their fur. Faith’s is clearly on the top of her head.

I knew she was my dog. They said she was sweet and small, like a miniature basset hound. She was only 33 pounds. (For comparison, Rosie was between 57 and 68 pounds.) I put in an application, and shortly thereafter, I received the email that I was approved to adopt.

The rules of this rescue are first come, first serve. You can’t reserve a pet. The next time they were going to be open for adoptions was Wednesday, December 30, 2020, at noon, so I made plans to take the day off and drive out to California.

Leap of Faith – for a Dog

Chino Hills is about five hours away from Phoenix. Now, I’m not a fan of road trips in general, but the idea of driving five hours for the possibility of adopting a dog did not phase me. I was oddly calm the whole drive out.

I arrived at the rescue at 11:45am, and there were already six people in line outside the door. I prayed that no one ahead of me was there for Faith. When it opened, they only let in a few people at a time, because of COVID. When an animal was adopted, one of the workers would pop their head out of the door and announce that that particular pet was no longer available. By the time I made it to the front of the line, there were at least ten people behind me.

When I made it into the door, the clerk asked if I was interested in a particular dog. When I said, “Faith,” they said, “Did you drive from a long way?” The clerks couldn’t believe that someone drove five hours for the chance to adopt a dog.

The clerk showed me to Faith’s kennel. I sat on her bed and she laid next to me. I pet her while the clerk tended to other would-be adopters. There was no doubt that she was coming home with me that day. She was so small – bony to be exact. She felt like she needed to gain at least five, if not ten pounds.

Taken inside Faith’s kennel

When the clerk came back to check on us, I got up to finish the paperwork to make the adoption official. As I left her kennel, Faith tried to follow me out, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. About ten minutes later, we walked out together, hooman and hound.

Saving Faith

I don’t know much about Faith’s history. She was rescued from Tijuana where she was used for breeding. Now, I want her to live the comfortable life she deserves as a distinguished older lady. I gave her the middle name Helen, after my grandmother.

I put Rosie’s sweater on Faith for a walk on a chilly morning. It’s huge on her!

It’s been about two weeks since her adoption, and the focus has mostly been on her medical care. When I adopted Faith, they told me she had tested positive for a tick-borne illness and gave me her antibiotics. I noticed she was drinking a lot of water, so I took her to our vet to be evaluated. The next day the vet called with the results – Faith was in renal failure and I needed to take her to the emergency room immediately.

It had only been five days after her adoption, and I had to hospitalize my new baby. As the tech carried her into the hospital, I hoped she knew I wasn’t abandoning her. After two days of fluids and medication, she was ready to come home again, with even more medication. The tech said she hadn’t seen Faith so energetic than when she realized I was back.

Faith is so small, she can lay on my lap at work.

Yesterday, we got even more medical news – Faith has tapeworms and giardia. Now, she’s on a dewormer and more antibiotics. On one hand I think, this poor dog cannot catch a break, but on the other I’m so grateful that I got her out of there. Most rescues only do a basic medical overview and spay/neuter before making a pet available for adoption, and when you adopt, you take the pet as-is. I knew the risk when I adopted Faith, and I have no regrets. On the contrary, I’m so grateful that I can give her the love and care that she needs.

Training for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021

I’m doing my first full Ironman race in 229 days – Ironman Mont Tremblant in Canada. I was supposed to do it last year, but the race was cancelled, and we all got deferred to this year.

I’ve never done heroin, but this is what I say every time I pay for something expensive related to my race.

What is the Ironman?

The Ironman is a triathlon, composed of the following distances:

  • 2.4-mile (open water) swim, then a
  • 112-mile bike, followed by a
  • 26.2 (full marathon) run,

All in under 17 hours.

The race starts at 7am, and you must finish before midnight to be an official Ironman.

Why Are You Doing This?

I learned a long time ago that if I don’t have a race or other athletic event on my calendar, I will not be motivated to work out.

I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to do something I’ve never done before. Races like this take dedication and mental toughness to get through not just race day but also the training to prepare for the race.

In 2017, I hired David Roher to help me train to complete my first marathon. During Mile 20 of the race, even though every part of my body hurt, I knew I wanted to do more marathons. I knew David did triathlons and coached triathletes, so I expanded my training in the off season to include swimming and biking as cross-training. Within months, I was signing up for my first sprint triathlon. About 30 seconds into that race, I knew triathlons were for me. I did the Half Ironman in 2019, and after that went well, I signed up for a full Ironman.

Are You Following a Program, Have a Coach, or Creating Your Own Thing?

Coach David is overseeing my training. Every Sunday, I get a text from him with my workouts for the week. Most weeks, I have two swim workouts, two bike workouts (one on the stationary trainer, one outside), two run workouts, and a rest day. I also have strength work that I do three times a week and stretches that I do every day. 

In addition to this, I also go to physical therapy once a week. I’ve been having long-term issues with my hips and back. My physical therapist is also an Ironman, which is helpful, because she has a greater understanding of my goals as well.

How Many Hours Are You Spending Training, Prepping, and Planning?

Oh geez. Right now, my shortest cardio workout is about 28 minutes (1,500-yard swim), and my longest is about 3 hours (48-mile bike ride). My strength workout is probably around an hour each time. Stretching takes around 30 minutes each day. A physical therapy session can last over 2 hours with all my exercises.  

In addition to all of this, there are other activities like checking on airline ticket prices for the race, bike maintenance, and replacing gear when it wears out like running shoes, workout clothes, and swim goggles.

In terms of diet, I mostly try to eat healthy, avoid excessive sugar, salt, and white flour. I also try to make sure I have enough protein in my diet, which might require more planning since I’m vegan.

Triathlon Shoes: Flip flops for the pool, bike shoes that clip in to my pedals, and running shoes.

What Will be the Longest Training Workout/Brick in Your Ramp Up?

That will be up to Coach David. In passing, he’s mentioned a 50-miles bike ride/5-mile run and a 100-mile bike ride/3.1-mile run.

I’m also planning to fly back East to do a 3.1-mile open water swim with my coach and the rest of the “Jewish Swim Club” in the Atlantic Ocean. During the race, I’ll be able to remind myself that swimming 2.4 miles is easier than swimming a 5k.

What Are You Most Looking Forward to Related to This Race?

So much. I’m excited to be an athlete who is capable of completing an Ironman race. Every time I can go faster, go farther, or see more muscle developing, it’s exciting.

What’s especially exciting about this race is the fact that I’ll be doing it with my coach and almost all of his other triathletes. There’s a strong sense of family and camaraderie in this group.

What Are You Least Looking Forward To?

My race is in August in Canada, but most of my training will be in Arizona. My longest workouts will be in June and July, when the low for the day can be in the high 80s. We’ll have to be careful to make sure I don’t overheat. On my long workout days, I may have to start at 2am or 3am to beat the heat.

Are You Practicing Peeing on the Bike or While Running?

To date, I haven’t needed to use the bathroom during a race. I’ve heard this is a thing. I even heard from another triathlete who was peed on by another racer while they were both on bikes. That must have happened while one was passing the other, because Ironman has strict rules about maintaining a minimum distance from other cyclists unless you’re passing.

Are You Going to Get the Tattoo?

Oh yes! I’m looking forward to getting the classic “M-Dot” tattoo.