Journey to the Center of the Earth – Part V

We’re about halfway through this series about my recent trip to Iceland–kick it off here first!

After a long day of traveling, we awoke in our rental in Hellnar to see what exactly the landscape had in store for us. We had driven there at night so we really had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, we had a nice view of the Snæfellsjökull glacier behind us, and a view of the water in front of us.

It is important that I stress just how tiny Hellnar is. There is a restaurant. There is a hotel. There is a church (more on that in a minute). That’s about it–no gas station, no grocery store. Below you have a sense of the isolation. To the left are the houses where our rental home was located, and truthfully, there weren’t very many homes in the area beyond these. To the right, hiding in the clouds, the glacier.

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The sun rolled in and out with the clouds all day, so we got to see a lot of sun rays fighting their way through the clouds.

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We didn’t have much of a plan, so we decided to drive around the peninsula. First, we tried to stop for coffee, but the one restaurant in town was not open yet. We had learned during our trip that almost nothing opens before 10:00 am.

We set out to drive to the other side of the peninsula and then turn around once we hit Olafsvik. Along the way, we came across information about a notorious serial killer. As a true murderino (hiiiiiii), I was thrilled.

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Next we came across this beautiful overlook. Hearing the waves crashing and standing above the walls where they hit was so peaceful. It reminded me of the sound we fell asleep listening to in the beach house on our honeymoon, the waves lapping rhythmically along the rocks.

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We also came upon a cave (which I actually crawled into!), a crater, and stunning vistas of the Snæfellsjökull glacier from all sorts of different angles as we essentially circled around it all day.

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My FitBit tells me that climbing to the top of this hill where the crater could be viewed was the equivalent of 36 flights of stairs. We were tired! You can just make out the glacier way out in the distance, too.

We took a different route home once we hit Olafsvik, which was mostly gravel. Then, thank goodness the restaurant in town was open, we stopped for a coffee to warm up and relax.

And then I took about 300 pictures of this church. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I freaking loved this church. There was a light on but as far as we could tell, nobody was inside, and it might not even be in use anymore. There was a creepy little cemetery that we tried to get to but there were fences all around it. Bummer!

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We got home and started to pack up as we knew we had to be out of the house very early for a big drive the next morning. Let me just say, the staircase in this house was the bane of my existence. I cannot even fathom the types of injuries that could occur if this staircase is ever paired with beer.

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After we checked out of this house, we stayed at Icelandair Hotels for the remainder of our time in Iceland. The areas we were going were too remote, and we didn’t see any rentals listed on VRBO. As for the two houses we stayed in, I have to say kudos to Icelandic architecture. The siding of their buildings seems to be made of some sort of aluminum, and the insulation must be top-notch as we hardly needed to turn on the furnace at all. It was unlike home in the U.S.–we didn’t come across any buildings that had central air. I was skeptical that the wall units would keep the buildings warm, but with good craftsmanship, I guess that’s less of a concern!

Stay tuned for our visit to the West Fjords, where we saw the famous “necropants,” and Akureyri, where we went whale watching!

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Part IV

Welcome back to a series about my recent trip to Iceland. Just tuning in? Start here!

The next day, we set out to tour the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a 4-6 hour driving loop from Reykjavik to Gullfoss and back again. It is one of the most popular tourist activities due to its scenic beauty. The day started out overcast and foggy, but in true Icelandic fashion, we saw plenty of sunshine, too.

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It is no wonder that Iceland has so many stories about trolls–this is exactly the type of landscape you’d expect to see one.

One of our stops was Geysir, or rather, a geyser park where Geysir and other more active geysers can be found. Most of them were relatively quiet, giving off just enough eerie smoke and bubbles to keep you mystified and intrigued. Like the Blue Lagoon, the smell takes some getting used to, but soon enough you barely notice it.

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The most active in the area was Strokkur, which we were able to see erupt a number of times during our visit. There is signage posted warning the public to beware of the boiling hot eruptions, which occur about every 6-10 minutes.

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Next up, we paid a visit to Gullfoss. There is an upper viewing area as well as a lower viewing area, and we explored both.

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It is absolutely awe-inspiring to find yourself in a place of such beauty and isolation. So many times on this trip, we felt that we had reached the end of the line on this planet. This is a place of midnight sun in the summer and total darkness in the winter–a place for soul-searching, introspection, and a place that inspires total gratitude for our Earth.

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We stopped for a margarita and some vegan tacos from TacoBarinn back in Reykjavik before hitting the road and heading to our next destination–Hellnar, in the Snaefellsnes peninsula. We got to see a bustling Reykjavik, admire some street art, and make friends with a couple of kitties before waving goodbye to the city and heading for more remote destinations.

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The drive to Hellnar took us about two and a half hours–we arrived around 10 p.m. that night. It was our one and only clear night, so I hung my head out the window and admired the sky. We may not have seen the Northern Lights, but I did get to wish upon a shooting star that night.

Stay tuned for more about our trip!

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Part III

Welcome back to this multi-part series about my recent travels to Iceland. Check out part I & part II here!

Our original plans for the next day included a trip to the “Golden Circle,” but due to extremely heavy rainfall, we opted against that 4-6 hour drive (and had great weather conditions the next day for it) and decided instead to bum around Reykjavik.

A trip back to Kaffi Vinyl had us sipping some vegan swiss mochas to warm up before braving the rain and wind for our walk to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like: a penis museum. Even before deciding to make this trip to Iceland, we had stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix about the founder, Sigurður Hjartarson’s, quest to complete his mammalian collection with a human specimen. Naturally, we had to pay a visit, as we typically tend to seek out bizarre museum collections wherever we travel (protip: check out the Museum of Jurassic Technology for a strange afternoon in L.A.!)

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We saw some, uh, interesting things.

We then popped over to the Hallgrímskirkja church, which boasts a look-out tower of sorts to see a full 360 degree view of Reykjavik from the tallest building in the city. You can take an elevator up, but to get the full experience, you then have to walk a few flights of stairs up to the tower look-out–which is unprotected from the elements, so if it’s hailing sideways, you might only get to look out of one side.

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For a late lunch, we checked out Islenska Flatbakan, which was somewhat outside of the city and offered vegan breadsticks and vegan pizza. The server took her Icelandic menus back and brought us menus in English after interacting with us to seat us. We ordered a vegan dessert pizza for “take away” and checked out a local grocery store afterwards, Bonus, to stock up on some vegan snacks for the remainder of our trip.

Grocery shopping in Iceland is kind of a full-contact sport. For the Icelanders being such a friendly people, it was quite shocking whenever we found ourselves in a grocery or convenience store to see the frantic nature, the chaos, and the occasional pushing and shoving (which I was victim to at least twice during our trip). But, after considerable time spent in the store, we emerged with quite a few vegan items–including a soy yogurt from France, rice milk, and a couple of frozen vegan items. The produce section was dismal but we did pick up some oranges and bananas. Liquor is not sold in grocery stores in Iceland, we were told at the check-out station, and the cashier and gentleman behind us in line helped us to locate the nearest liquor store–Vinbudin.

The rain was getting heavier and heavier, so we decided to call it a day after that and head back to the house, to relax and listen to the rain and wind rustling through the mountains outside. It wasn’t a bad way to end a day.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow, including our trip through the Golden Circle! Geysers, waterfalls, and lava fields, oh my!

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Part II

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One of the many horse farms we drove past during our stay.

Welcome back to my Iceland series – please check out the first post here!

After catching up on some much-needed sleep, we set out for an excursion the next morning–horseback riding over lava fields near Reykjavik. When we arrived we were instructed to find helmets and strongly advised to choose the optional rain gear due to the weather forecast. The skies were partly sunny but Icelandic weather can turn on a dime, we were warned. Neither my husband nor I had ever ridden horses before, so we were each put in the “beginners” group. Both of our horses were beautiful and white, but mine was a much smaller horse compared to the horse assigned to my 6’3″ husband. We watched a short video with general instructions and then were left to our own devices to mount our horses.

Icelandic horses, we learned, are actually technically ponies–but they are never called ponies because they are not bred specifically to be small the way ponies are bred. In spite of the smallness of my horse, it took me four tries to successfully mount him. He and I never really bonded; he seemed very independent and uninterested in my cues. He went faster only when the other horses around him went faster, he stopped when he wanted to stop, he repeatedly pulled against the reins and nearly bucked me off of him at least three times, and during a 5-minute downpour, he physically turned 180 degrees and blocked the remainder of the path until the rain let up. It was an experience, to say the least. The scenery was absolutely beautiful–I regretted not bringing my camera along for the ride. The lava fields were covered with moss, the trees were full of yellow and orange autumn leaves, and the sun peeked out from the clouds. It was here that we saw our first rainbow of the trip. It was an absolutely beautiful morning!

We warmed up with complementary coffee after the ride and then headed out for our first real meal since arriving in Iceland. We packed a number of snacks and found a vegan wrap at Keflavik, which shocked us–but nothing compares to a hot meal, especially after a frigid morning riding horses and getting soaked in a torrential downpour! We headed to the only fully-vegan restaurant in all of Reykjavik – Kaffi Vinyl. First, we came across our first stray kitty on a stoop marked with address “5”–so we referred to her as Five. We missed our cats terribly and this one was more than happy to enjoy some love and affection from us. There are many strays in Reykjavik, but they are well-cared for, well-fed, and extremely friendly. They often sneak into shops and even people’s homes when their windows are open for shelter from the unpredictable weather. Five seemed to be in extremely good shape.

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After a parking SNAFU (parking meters not accepting foreign credit cards, us having not exchanged any currency and needing to find an ATM…), we finally parked and arrived at our destination. The Icelandic dining experience was an interesting one. Unlike America, waitstaff do not work for tips and tipping is not expected (though it is not discouraged, either, if you have an exceptional dining experience and wish to show your gratitude–we noticed the tip jars were usually filled with American dollars, which is a testament to the American dining culture). At Kaffi Vinyl, we ordered at a counter and then sat in the cafe waiting for our food to be brought to us. We were never presented with a bill in Iceland–at some establishments, you order and pay beforehand, and at others, the expectation is that you return to the counter to pay once you are finished, which was actually quite nice. There are few things worse than waiting for a bill when you are in a rush.

The customers seemed mostly to be locals, and I enjoyed eavesdropping on conversations I couldn’t understand. Thankfully, the menu on the chalkboard was entirely in English–I ordered the lasagna and my husband ordered a barbecue sandwich made with “oumph,” a mock-meat soy protein similar in texture to chicken. Dining in Iceland, I will say, is not cheap. For two meals, two beers, and two desserts, we paid nearly $80 USD, and on average when we dined out, we paid anywhere between $65 and $130, with the variance mostly dependent on how many drinks we ordered. Even at Subway, a veggie sandwich was $12 USD.

It was good to cozy up and fill up with Icelandic draft beers and enjoy the ambiance.

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Later that day, we had reservations for the Blue Lagoon, which was the part of the trip that I will admit, I was the least excited about, and seemed to be the part that my friends and family were the most interested in (it is, after all, Iceland’s most well-known tourist attraction). After a long day of driving, riding, and still not being quite adjusted to the 5-hour time difference, I found the dip in the lagoon to exceed my expectations. The water is filled with minerals, like silica, and parts of the lagoon are much warmer than others. There is a swim-up bar, mineral face masks (which we did not use), and is surrounded by black lava rocks. Parts of the lagoon floor are sandy and other parts are quite rocky–so watch your step!

The water appears as a vibrant blue due to the reflection of the sunlight and the sky, but is actually milky white. The water can do extensive damage to hair, so I did everything in my power to avoid dipping my hair in it. They also offer free conditioner and require patrons to shower before entering the lagoon to keep the water is clean as possible, though the geothermal water of the lagoon does completely renew itself every 40 hours. This was one of the parts of the trip where the cultural differences between America and Europe were most apparent–the locker room was filled with more naked people than I have seen in my life. For the modest, there were individual shower stalls and even changing rooms with closed doors–but the vast majority of women did not bother with these options. I also opted to wear my contacts on this day because the water can do damage to prescription glasses. Since I did not have a waterproof case, I did not bring my phone or my camera with me either–though they did sell waterproof phone cases at the swim-up bar.

We arrived home around 9:00 pm that night and promptly fell asleep. It was an exhausting day–but the good kind of exhausting.

Stay tuned for more about my trip in the coming days!

 

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Part 1

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Welcome to part 1 of a series about my recent travels to Iceland, the ultimate land of whimsy and wonder. As cliche as it sounds, it is truly a place that has to be experienced to be believed–pictures don’t do it justice, and you wouldn’t believe the wind until you were trying to open (or close!) a door against it. The country is known for its extremes and is playfully referred to as “the land of fire and ice.” In fact, the volcano Katla has been threatening to erupt since the 1960s, and its seismic activity was hotly discussed in the media in the days leading up to our arrival. (Thankfully, it did not erupt during our stay.)

The air in Iceland is frigid, even at 45 degrees F, which I have been known to brave sans coat back home. I saw more rainbows on my ten-day trip in Iceland than I have seen in my entire life–even a rare, full rainbow, the kind that perfectly arches over a cloud, so large and so close that I couldn’t even get a photo of the whole thing in one take!

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Sadly, my husband and I were just two days too late for the magnificent Northern Lights display seen in Reykjavik at the end of September–so my hunt to see the aurora will continue. Fortunately, we saw so many insanely interesting things that it is impossible to be upset about missing the lights.

Our trip was at times exhausting, as we circled the perimeter of the island (the “ring road,” as locals call it, which was close to 25 hours of driving). We flew into Keflavik Int’l Airport and actually exited the plane on the tarmac upon arrival (when we left, we boarded a bus and were driven to the airplane, possibly due to the weather conditions and/or because it was dark out?). The area surrounding the airport was the most alien landscape I have ever encountered. The airport is located on the Reykjanes peninsula, which is covered in dark lava rocks–it is much flatter here than the majority of the rest of the island, and is sparsely populated (though, with a full country population of 330,000, that kind of goes without saying). The Blue Lagoon is not far from the airport, so there are strong smells of sulfur from the geothermal water in the area heading north to Reykjavik. It looked like a different planet–that is the best I can describe it. I didn’t even take any pictures of the area because to be honest, it was the least pretty of all the different terrains we came across.

From there, we drove up to the Reykjavik area (outside of Mossfellsbaer, which is north of the capital city) for our first three nights. The house we were staying at legitimately did not have an address, as we later discovered was actually fairly common. Icelanders get around mostly by landmarks (“turn left after the farm, turn right after the two freestanding mailboxes, follow the road until you think it ends and then keep going”)–even their mail sometimes lists directions and hand-drawn maps instead of an address!–and because of the slight variation of the English alphabet, it is difficult to search and find on Google Maps.

Luckily it was daylight when we were searching for the house, and a nice couple out for a stroll was happy to try to answer our questions about the mysterious whereabouts of the house. For a moment, we thought we’d been swindled, as the road sign listed houses  1-7, and our house, according to our VRBO reservation, was “8.” We finally discovered it hidden in some trees (trees–also a rarity in Iceland): a cute “A” frame home where the owners were inside with a pot of coffee and some sandwiches for us. I was surprised to be greeted personally like this! Suffice it to say, the sandwiches were not vegan, which I felt horrible about declining because I thought it was so kind of them to offer us food after we’d traveled overnight and not yet slept. Rather than explain with the language barrier (we later discovered that “vegan” and “vegetarian” are often mistakenly used interchangeably there), I opted to say we’d just eaten, which felt hugely rude to me. I also hadn’t slept for over 24 hours, so I was relieved when they didn’t insist we eat and eventually left us with the house.

My husband slept in the lofted bedroom and I, though exhausted, headed outside with my camera. The forecast for the duration of our trip called for rain, so I was not about to miss out on the partly sunny skies. I suited up in my hat and gloves and reveled in the peace of the nothingness around me–just water lapping at the beach and the sounds of strong wind gusts traveling through the mountains.

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Days 2 and 3 were full of adventure–horse-back riding over lava fields, a dip in the Blue Lagoon, stray cats in Reykjavik, and a tour of the Golden Circle. The constant pursuit of decent vegan food proved to be a bit of a challenge, too. Stay tuned!

 

Ways and Means

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I’ve been reflecting recently on the troubling end to a relationship I was in 12 years ago. I have been following this story and a rush of memories came flooding back. I have talked about this experience with a few trusted people and my therapist, but for the most part, I have made light of it. I tried to laugh it off, hurling names like “crazy” or “psychopath” in his direction in an attempt to minimize how terrifying the experience actually was for me. I am lucky that he never made good on any of his threats, but there is still that insidious “what if…?” thought pattern lurking in the back of my brain.

This is a story about ignoring the signs and of normalizing abhorrent behavior.

When I was just 12 years old, I met a guy in a chatroom named Chris. He said he was 16, so I lied and said I was also 16. I was told throughout my childhood that I was mature for my age and often lied about my age on the internet so I could talk with people that I felt were on my level. For years, he was on my buddylist (shout-out to AOL Instant Messenger!) and we would chat when we were both online–usually about nothing exciting. School, relationships. It was casual and friendly. Sometimes he would be a little bit flirtatious. We honestly didn’t have anything in common. It was just nice to be anonymous, to share hopes and dreams, to vent. I liked having someone I could always talk to.

Four years later, when I was actually 16, I had my heart broken. I had been in previous relationships, but this one was the longest yet and the one I was the most invested in thus far. I immediately turned to Chris, which would become my habit–jumping from one sinking ship into the nearest life raft available. At some point I had come clean to him about my age, so he knew by then that I was 16. He was 20. Looking back, so many alarm bells ring–why would a 20-year-old be interested in a 16-year-old? But at the time, I thought nothing of it. We were of the same maturity level, and I had just had my heart broken by a boy my own age. I was ready for something different. We agreed to meet in person.

This alone is a risky move. It was the early-2000s. I had seen enough pictures of him, and talked to him on the phone, and was fairly certain that he was who he said he was. But he could have easily not been.

I remember the night we met quite vividly. I left early and sat at a Noodles & Company to have dinner by myself. I needed to psyche myself up for this. Eventually I met with him at a nearby Home Depot parking lot. We drove around, and talked, and eventually parked and kissed for the first time. It was new and exciting, and I didn’t get the sense that he was unsafe. I might have even asked to see his license–to be sure he was the person and age he claimed. It was June, and our whirlwind summer romance began. The summer was full of sneaking around, lies (to my parents about my whereabouts), alcohol, and sex. We lived an hour and a half from each other, so we saw each other usually once a week. Eventually his license was revoked due to speeding tickets, so then it was on me to keep the relationship going–making the drive out every weekend, picking him up from work, driving him to the bank to cash his paycheck…

The lies started early, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The lies ranged from trivial things (where he was, his work schedule) to quite serious things (lying about having been tested for STDs when an ex-girlfriend of his had contracted herpes around the time that they’d been together). The last straw for me was when he lied about the amount of money he had spent on my Christmas gift. I felt so guilty for not liking the two necklaces he gifted me, and when he told me he spent $150, I felt even worse. That night, I felt guilted into having sex that–while consensual, in technical terms–I had felt obligated to have. When I learned the truth about the lie (each necklace had been $4.99, bringing us to a grand total of under $10), and connected the other lies, I decided to end things the next morning.

This was when the horrorshow began.

He threatened to kill himself, and then didn’t answer his phone for 4 days. I checked the internet daily for obituaries, thinking he had actually gone through with it, and feeling like it was my fault. On the fourth day, after possibly 100 attempted phone calls, dozens of voicemails, texts, and IMs to a signed-out account–he answered as if nothing had transpired. “Oh, I just didn’t want to talk to you,” he said.

The year was 2004, and MySpace was in full swing. After the suicide threat, he changed his default picture to a collage of pictures of me. It looks like a memorial. He changed all of the content on his profile in an effort to win me back, posting things like how much he loves me and how sorry he is and how much he misses me. I contacted him and asked him to please remove the pictures of me that he was posting without my permission (he wasn’t in any of the pictures, they had been snagged off my own MySpace page).

He started IMing with a close friend of mine. He was flirtatious, saying things like, “You were always the one friend of hers that I was the most attracted to.” His first motive seemed to be to make me feel jealous or hurt. But the conversations changed from being flirtatious to being extremely dark. My friend says that he spoke to her of killing me and storing my body in the trunk of his car. She stopped talking to him.

He contacted me to tell me that he had been cheating on me. Whether or not this is true or something he said in attempt to hurt me, I will never know.

He drove to my house without my permission on a day that I should have been at school, but had taken a sick day. He dropped off a letter and a necklace, urging me to give him another chance. I promptly called him on the phone and said that I’d like to send the necklace back, and that I think we should cease all contact with each other. He became violently angry on the phone, calling me names and saying how selfish I am for not sitting down with him to at least have coffee and talk when he had driven all this way to drop off such a generous gift.

He tallied up all the money he’d ever spent during our relationship and asked me to send my half. This included his phony doctor’s visit for his STD test, boxes of condoms, and loose change I’d borrowed to pay tolls when his license was revoked and I was doing all the driving.

Eight months later, when I was a freshman in college, I was still regularly getting phone calls from him. I never answered; I let them go to voicemail. The voicemails were abrasive. He would call me a cheater, a whore, a bitch, a slut, telling me that he’s doing so much better without me because he’s woken up to how awful I really was, telling me how much sex he’s having with girls that are so much hotter than me. I could usually hear his friends laughing in the background and egging him on. He even asked a friend to chat me up online, pretending to be interested in me, to see how “easy” I was.

Several times, I wanted to contact the police. I was scared. But my fear of being found out by my parents kept me silenced. My primary fear was having to admit to them that I’d been sneaking around with a guy I’d met on the internet who was nearly four years older than I was. My secondary fear was that they’d find a way to press charges against him for statutory rape, because I was 16 and he was 20. Even though I was afraid of him, I wanted to protect him because I knew I’d been a willing participant and consented to our relationship.

Years later, after things had cooled off, he friended me on Facebook and we exchanged a few private messages. We were cordial. It seemed he had moved on, and I had, too. About 10 minutes after I posted a photo album from my recent trip to Colorado, he made this status update: “What does it say about me that all of my exes have gotten fat? lol” I decided I’d had enough and I unfriended him on the spot. I thought I could forgive and forget and move on, but the last thing I needed or wanted to endure was further cyberbullying, which I’d already fallen victim to.

When I think back to his threats of killing me and storing my body in the trunk, it’s easy to say that he was just puffing up his chest and acting tough, just using his words as weapons. But I know that I was legitimately afraid, not just for my own life, but for my family and our pets. He knew where my parents lived. He had my address. Years later, when I saw that he’s been body-building (he was always tall and lanky), the stray thought crossed my mind: what if, after all these years, he’s going to come and find me so he can carry out the threats from 12 years ago?

I minimized, normalized, and accepted his behavior, even though my gut was telling me: this is not okay. He had shown me his true colors far sooner than the suicide threat, death threats, or abrasive voicemails, but I ignored them. I didn’t listen to what I knew. And I still fall into this trap even today.

It is so incredibly important that we listen to our intuition, that we stand up for ourselves, and that we ask for help when we need it. I am hesitant to post this because I think it’s very easy to say “well, this is an over-dramatized version of something; you’re still alive, he was just struggling with the break-up, what’s the problem?” The problem is complacency. The problem is I’ve gone 12 years never having aired this out. The problem is that women are threatened and murdered daily. The problem is that women are afraid to exert agency because this is a matter of life and death.

I can’t change the world we live in, but I can change how I interact with it.
And I’m done with silence. I’m done taking shit.

On comfort food, and being kind to your bad self.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an emotional eater. In fact, my relationship with food has been disordered from one extreme of the spectrum to the other.

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I very memorably went on my first diet the summer before 7th grade. I was 11, going on 12. No 11-year-old should be dieting or counting calories, but there I was, obsessively weighing myself, obsessively counting calories, obsessively exercising on some god awful piece of exercise machinery from a 90s informercial in our basement.

My body was changing because I was going through puberty, and though I was ashamed of my body (being the first girl in class to need a bra is its own unique brand of hell), it never occurred to me that I needed to lose weight. One day, my mother made an off-handed remark about how “there is nothing worse than a fat kid.” That was all it took; my summer transformation began, and it became all-encompassing. I cancelled plans and shied away from friends’ houses because I wouldn’t be able to control what was for dinner. I spent my summer eating salads, counting lettuce leaves down to the serving size. I ended up isolated and on my way to a new school. I instituted rules about calorie intake. I was a night owl, but calories for the next day started at midnight, so if I was up until 3 am and wanted a snack, I had to borrow from the next day’s calorie allotment. I couldn’t have been eating more than a thousand calories a day. I’m sure I was doing significant harm to my growing body. My mom, whose comment had at least partially inspired my diet craze, ended it just as easily by threatening to send me to a hospital for treatment of what she called “my anorexia” after I dropped 20 pounds in less than two months.

So I started eating pizza again, started going to slumber parties again, and I stopped actively trying to lose weight. But my issues with food never really went away, I just tucked them under the rug and tried to be normal, hiding my disordered eating in plain sight. I drank diet coke because it suppressed my appetite, aspartame be damned. I skipped breakfast and lunch entirely so I could eat whatever I wanted for dinner. I will admit that going vegetarian at age 14 was largely inspired by the reputation that vegetarians had for being skinnier (not healthier, I didn’t care about healthier).

I grew up observing two extremes: my father was unabashedly gluttonous, and my mother exercised extreme, unwavering discipline. She baked cookies and cooked delicious meals, but I never saw her indulge. When one of her friends ate three of her oatmeal cookies in one sitting, I was stunned. Moms don’t eat like that! I thought. I never learned a healthy balance. I saw her skipping meals and saving calories for cocktails. I grew up in the era of Slimfast and Splenda and Fresca. It’s amazing our insides haven’t rotted out.

At my heaviest, I was 193 pounds. At my lightest, 126. I’ve been a lacto-vegetarian, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, an omnivore, a pescatarian, a vegan, a Weight Watcher, a Slimfaster, an anorexic, a binge-eater, a meal-skipper, a runner. I’ve been in control, out of control, obsessive, compulsive, a failure, a success, self-disciplined and whatever the opposite of self-disciplined is.

I was in a book club with other women with disordered eating. We read the book Women, Food and God. After a few months I fell away from everything I’d uncovered about myself and went back to old habits. (Old habits die hard.)

I’ve reached for starches, sweets and salts during times of duress. French fries. Cookies. Chinese food.

I’ve tried to believe in body positivity at both my best and my worst, my heaviest and my lightest, trying hard to believe that no matter my exterior, that I am good enough.

I’ve tracked every calorie I consume, and not. I’ve gotten through days without beating myself up for my food choices, and not.

And so, it is hard to celebrate success. I’ve lost 7 pounds, the healthy way. Changing my lifestyle but not obsessing. Allowing myself to indulge occasionally and moderately. Exercising, stretching, being kind to my body. It is hard to boast of that progress because I know what a slippery slope I’m on. I’ve lost weight and gained it back. This ain’t my first rodeo. I baked a chocolate pumpkin loaf yesterday and ate three slices of it today. It’s hard not to say to myself: what the fuck, dude, didn’t you JUST eat ice cream and oreos on Friday night?

I was given permission to hate myself, but I’ve never given myself permission to love myself. To treat myself well, with compassion and kindness, and in more ways than just this one.

And you know what? There’s a first time for everything.

 

 

 

Pumpkin Season.

Fall is my absolute favorite season. Sweater weather, pumpkin treats, Halloween–it doesn’t get any better. I anxiously await the end of summer every year; Chicago summers are extremely humid and I live for that first 70-degree day where the A/C goes off and the house opens up. We’re starting to get some of those gorgeous 70-degree days where the overnight low settles around 55-60.

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I’ve had a couple of cans of pumpkin in my pantry that I’ve been waiting to use. I didn’t want to jump the gun until we were well into September and on our way to those crisp autumn days–so I made a batch of pumpkin bread last weekend, and today, my favorite pumpkin muffin recipe.

Pumpkin packs a huge nutritional punch–this squash is a source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, fiber, and even contains more potassium per cup than bananas. I prefer sweet pumpkin treats to savory, but it is great in soups and ravioli, too. Nothing signifies the start of the season to me more than the smell of a pumpkiny treat baking in the oven on a weekend morning.

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To make the vegan version of this fall treat, you don’t need to rush to a specialty grocery store. Most of the ingredients will probably already be in your pantry. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup non-dairy milk–I used vanilla soy milk, but there are so many milks on the market now to choose from, some of which will add a little bit of extra flavor to the recipe. Hemp milk, for example, will add a nutty flavor to your muffins. I love coconut milk and soy milk for baking, but I have had plenty of success with almond and cashew, too. We switch off which milks we buy, so I will use whatever we have on hand. We try to choose milks that are absent of carrageenan, which is an emulsifying ingredient that, although comes from natural sources, has been shown to be particularly destructive to the digestive system in some people.

The recipe yielded 12 muffins for me, each one is a little under 250 calories. One muffin paired with coffee makes for a nice autumnal breakfast without too much indulgence. I’ll be pawning the rest of these off on my husband and coworkers.

Happy baking!

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The Best Pumpkin Muffins

by Isa Chandra

Makes 1 dozen muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup pureed pumpkin (Fresh or from a can; do not use     pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons molasses

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a twelve-muffin tin.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, soy milk, oil, and molasses. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix.

Fill the muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

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The Invisible Illness

Testing, 1 2 3.
*tap tap* Hello? Is this thing on?

I took a two-month sabbatical from this blog. “Sabbatical” sounds a lot more professional and planned than “I fucking dropped off the face of the earth, you guys.”

Life happened and even though I have a great friend who continually reminded me to write (shout-out to Maegan!), I couldn’t come up with inspiration, energy, or drive. So I’m going to talk frankly about the reasons why.

First things first: I wrote previously that I had been experiencing some ongoing health concerns. To be completely honest, they zapped me of my energy. I woke up one day in January with persistent hip pain (or, what I identified at the time as hip pain) and it never really went away. I fluctuated from bad days to worse days, and I’d have brief episodes where the pain seemed to disappear completely–but only for a few hours, or a day–or once, a weekend. I tried desperately to come up with answers. Was it my bed? Was it the position I was sleeping in? Was it my shoes? My gait? My diet?

I visited the doctor several times, had some blood tests, and was off on my merry way. They noticed inflammation markers in my blood. I ignored an order for physical therapy in March because I thought I could get better on my own and simultaneously, I thought something was so seriously wrong that I wanted an Xray or an MRI to check it out before I resumed activity.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get better on my own, and my Xray looked completely normal.

Finally my GP sent me to a rheumatologist and wrote a new order for PT. The physical therapist didn’t know what to do with me because nothing helped. The rheumatologist, very matter-of-factly, stated that I had a disorder in the seronegative spondyloarthropathy family, most likely, ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis (pronounced ank-kih-low-sing spon-dill-eye-tiss), or AS, is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, although other joints can become involved. It causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. In the most advanced cases (but not in all cases), this inflammation can lead to new bone formation on the spine, causing the spine to fuse in a fixed, immobile position, sometimes creating a forward-stooped posture. This forward curvature of the spine is called kyphosis.

…AS can also cause inflammation, pain and stiffness in other areas of the body such as the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels and small joints of the hands and feet. Sometimes the eyes can become involved (known as Iritis or Uveitis), and rarely, the lungs and heart can be affected.

…The hallmark feature of ankylosing spondylitis is the involvement of the sacroiliac (SI) joints during the progression of the disease, which are the joints at the base of the spine, where the spine joins the pelvis.

As it turned out, what I had been describing as “hip pain” was actually inflamed SI joints, which was why the pain spread from the right side of my hips to the left (there are two SI joints, connecting the pelvis to the spine on either side) and why my lower back was affected. It also explains a number of my other symptoms over the years: knee pain, shoulder pain, fatigue–just to name a few.

For a long time, I didn’t want to believe this diagnosis. I thought there had been a mistake. I thought, “maybe this pain will go away and never come back!” My hope was masking my denial. Still, the pain persisted, and my spirit flattened. I didn’t want to believe that the rest of my life could be potentially made up of episodes and remissions of a disease that can be boiled down to simply my own body mistakenly attacking itself.

Around this same time, I also started SSRI treatment to manage my anxiety and depression. I had some ups and downs with that, first feeling completely uninterested and unenthusiastic about life in general, and then mellowing out and plateauing. A lot of my anxiety and depression during this time was about my diagnosis, and how I could continue to be the person I wanted to be and work towards the goals I set out to accomplish with such a huge roadblock standing in my way.

I have spent several weekend days in bed trying everything. Anti-inflammatories (what’s up, Diclofenac!?), ice, heat, stretches, exercises, rest. Some days I didn’t know if my low energy was AS, or if it was depression. It’s likely that it was a lot of things, including AS and depression, but also: a general lack of fulfillment with my career, boredom, relationship struggles, sleep disturbances….

I’ve had a little bit of an upswing recently, which has afforded me an opportunity to breathe, contemplate, and plan. My pain has become more manageable; I have started low-impact exercise because remaining active is the number one most important thing to do with a condition like AS; I have continued SSRI treatment and therapy; I have overhauled my diet (gluten and soy are some of the biggest causes of inflammation, so I have considered adopting an elimination diet as well to see if that helps me feel even better); and, I have added in activities and routines that are solely meant to satisfy me. Nobody else. I started playing the piano again. I started reading voraciously. Most importantly, I try to make time to be by myself, so I can begin to repair the troubled relationship I have with myself. Self-love is not just a buzzword, you guys. It’s a real thing that every person should be working towards, especially if you’re anything like me–chronically insecure and self-loathing.

My veganism remains at the heart of it all. It is such an important value to me and we are looking to attend Chicago’s VeganMania in October. My husband and I are also currently planning a trip to Iceland for our one-year anniversary and I can’t wait to write all about it–the nature, the sights, the food, the people!

And at Maegan’s behest, I might just have to write an Ode to Broccoli, because broccoli is the best.

I’m glad to be back. 🙂