Choose Wisely

July 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

vegan breakfast, vegan brunch

I woke up this morning thinking about breakfast and destiny. What on earth do these two things have in common? Well, read along.

This week has been pretty tough. I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but as my friend told me last night, it’s probably going to be tough for a very long time. I think she is right…

We spent last week in DC. I’m proud to say my dad has received numerous honors and recognition for the work he did, a true testament to his hard work and dedication to Orlando. Last week was a tribute event put on by several travel and tourism organizations to honor my dad. I was nervous the entire week leading up to it. I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel to go through all these public testimonials again. Certainly it was hard enough the first time.

While I did tear up at numerous times, overall the event was just beautiful. Not only did the steering committee completely outdo themselves in putting on a lovely event, but the testimonials were amazing. Having been several weeks removed from his death, I was able to listen this time and actually absorb what was being said. At the funeral, everything was a fog. I really can’t remember much of it at all. Plus I had time to talk to people and everyone said the same thing: “Your dad was truly special. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to _____.” Stories abounded regarding dad’s generosity. His desire to help others succeed and be their best selves.

I had to speak again, as I did at the funeral. While I wrote a completely new piece for this event, I kept one thing I had in the original – my dad’s life lesson to my sister and I: Choose Wisely.

That was it. That was the message that he pounded into our heads day in and day out. I used to find it silly that he would always ask me, “Now Vanessa, what’s my motto? What will you always remember I said when I’m gone?” And on queue, I’d say “Choose wisely” and roll my eyes. How thankful I am now that he was always making sure we knew the lesson he most wanted us to learn. As I said last week:

“My dad felt that if you chose wisely, you could live an incredible life and realize your full potential. He chose wisely every single day:

He chose the best life partner.

He chose to live each day to the fullest.

He chose to never say “I can’t” and always say “I can”

He chose to dream and create what others said couldn’t be done.

He chose to embrace challenge.

He chose to greet life with a smile.

He chose to always put his family first.

I hope that my dad’s life will serve as inspiration to others. I hope that you whom he called friends and colleagues will never forget his zest for life. I hope that you will remember that he was a man of ideas – that this is a life where we are supposed to dream big and go for it – as he would say, ‘Why not?'”

As I was thinking of what to say for this event and crafting those words, I spent a lot of time thinking about destiny. What is our destiny? What life will we choose to live? What I will choose and where I will go is still unknown. But in light of everything, I want to make sure I’m the one making choices. Not just drifting by aimlessly.

So, you’re probably wondering what breakfast has to do with this? Well, I woke up this morning feeling pretty good, ready to start the day. This isn’t something that has happened often in the past 58 days so it was cause for a little celebration – waffles to be exact. I’ve yet to make waffles since turning vegan so this was my first shot. I found this recipe. (Although these were a bit too dense for my liking, Luis loved them and cleaned his plate. That’s a banana sauce of sorts on top in case you’re wondering. Just bananas, a little brown sugar and coconut oil on top the stove. Yum!)

I promise this story is all coming together! Breakfast makes me feel optimistic. There’s something about starting the day with a little indulgence and eating lazily, sipping coffee while the minutes tick by without a care in the world. As I ate, I recalled writing about French Toast on my blog here. I re-read this post and could not believe that in it was my dad’s motto: Choose Wisely!

As I read it, I could feel the hope and excitement I had at the start of 2011. How optimistic everything looked when now much in my world seems dim and grey. I could feel the conviction of my words.

Don’t be scared. Go for it. Do it.

Re-reading that post, I felt a little piece of myself returned. A little scrap of hope to hang on to. I remembered a stronger self. And how funny that today would have been so different if I had not woken and thought of waffles…if I’d not eaten those waffles and in turn thought of my french toast post…if I’d not read those words full of conviction and strength.

I guess sometimes to find inspiration we just need to celebrate, even if it’s just a batch of waffles. You never know what may be revealed…

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When there are just no words

May 24, 2012 § 11 Comments

The past few weeks have been a total blur. My dad…my vibrant, healthy, happy, optimistic, energetic dad, passed away out of the blue on the evening of May 4, three days before my birthday. What started as a birthday weekend celebration ended in none other than a perfect nightmare. Forty-five minutes after siting down to a special dinner with my husband, I found myself sitting in a cold, beige private waiting room at the hospital – trying to comfort my mom, telling her that dad would be OK. How could he not? He was the healthiest 61 year old I knew. Heck, he had just completed his challenge of 1,000 pushups on his 61st birthday a few months prior – correction, in typical Gary Sain fashion, he exceeded his goal and did 1200! And he had so much living left to do…

What transpired next was unthinkable. No one is ever prepared to hear of the death of a loved one. Certainly we’ve had our fair share of practice at this the past two years. Whether it is after a long painful battle with disease, or a sudden death without warning – the sting of loss is sharp and cuts deep. But there’s something about death without warning. It casts a shadow over your entire being, making you question everything you believe to be true. The finality of the unexpected leaves you feeling winded. Literally having to sit down just at the thought of it. I never could have imagined May 4 would have ended as it did – in one of the worst heart breaks ever. So many dreams were lost that night as we sat in the ER and said our goodbyes.

A flurry of friends and family came to our rescue. And wouldn’t you know I had to remain vegan through all of it! I explained to my neighbor how much I appreciated everyone’s support – but frankly after my uber healthy dad died unexpectedly – you couldn’t pay me to eat a piece of meat. You see, he was adopting my lifestyle – slowly but surely. I had convinced mom, and she in turn was convincing him. He had cut out all dairy and meat and the only real animal product he was eating was fish. One of the last emails I have from him was from two weeks before he died. I’d been pestering him to watch “Forks Over Knives”. He did and sent me this email:

“Just watched it…very good.

On my way to LA…Love Dad”

I was equally proud and devastated in the following days as people told me how he would refuse the Caesar dressing in favor of a vinaigrette or replace the steak with salmon. If only we’d adopted our vegan lifestyle a bit earlier. I know there are no guarantees, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought “If only…”

If only I’d answered his last call a few hours before he died…I was “too busy” finalizing a presentation.

If only I’d acted on my urge to have lunch with him earlier that day…

If only I’d said yes to go to the Boys and Girls Club dinner he was chairing that night, where he made his welcome speech only to leave the room for a glass of wine shortly thereafter and die instantly…

If only we’d adopted our vegan lifestyle earlier…maybe, just maybe things would be different?

I know these questions aren’t helpful or necessarily mentally healthy. But needless to say, my commitment to our diet was reaffirmed. I pleaded with my neighbor for plant based food – and our loving support system delivered.

When it was time to leave my mom’s and return to my home, I was met with mixed emotions. I couldn’t stay at my parents’ forever, 8 days was already too long to be away from my home and my husband, but staying there kept me connected. After I left and came home, I felt I was in another world. There weren’t memories of him everywhere I looked as there were in my parents’ home, and I missed that. But I was home and supposed to start to return to “normal” – we all were. It’s a strange feeling wanting things to go back to normal and not wanting them to at all because if they do, then he is really gone. It’s almost as though in grieving, he remains. But to go back, I didn’t want to…

We can never go back, we can only go forward. One day, one step at a time. So for me, after two weeks of take out I decided it was time to at least buy some healthy groceries. After the carb overload during the past few weeks of grief, I steered clear of the packaged goods aisles and went straight for the produce. I stocked up on fruits and veggies, nuts, almond milk, and coconut milk creamer – my comforts. For days I’d been nurturing my body with bountiful wraps and salads full of the necessary vitamins. I even managed to make a smoothie one day.

But yesterday… yesterday was hard. Really hard. Days 17, 18, and 19 seemed to be harder than days 1, 2, or 3 as odd as that sounds. And while I struggle to understand how to live with this grief and not let it overwhelm me, overtake my very core, I decided last night for dinner that a salad just wasn’t going to cut it. Nope, back to the carb aisle for me. There was no way around it – it was going to be a pasta night despite the veg-packed fridge. But I did have a lovely bunch of arugula beckoning me – calling me and saying, don’t waste me for a jar of salty tomato sauce – come on, get creative. As a salad was out, I tried to think of what I could do with this peppery arugula and finally decided on an arugula pesto. I’d never made it before but the fact that it had 2 cups packed arugula in it was a winner with me. The resulting pesto was creamy and comforting – just what I needed.

I loosely followed this recipe here. I cut the entire thing in half with the exception of the pine nuts and garlic and of course, omitted the cheese. The garlic may be a bit strong so you may like sticking with half if dividing the recipe – and half the recipe was plenty to generously coat a whole box of pasta. If you find the garlic is too strong though, a squeeze of lemon offers a nice freshness. At the end I realized I was out of olive oil – so I subbed grapeseed oil, which stood in just fine. Toss with pasta and peas.

If only life were as easy as this bowl of pasta…

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