Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Loving animals

I remember one day many years ago I was volunteering at a farmed animal sanctuary and during one of the tours a guest told me that they loved animals. My response, with a big smile and loving heart, was that if we love animals the best thing we can do for them is to not eat them.

Not eating animals seems totally radical to many people. In our part of the country animal production is a big part of the economy. Agriculture law and even how some wildlife is treated is based on the economic value of animal production.

There has been a change though. And the change is mainly around how we think about animals. Moving away from animals as products and moving towards animals as sentient creatures, as living beings that feel pain and fear. Even people I have met who still eat animals say that they do not want to be part of animal suffering.

It can be overwhelming to be a meat eater and consider veganism. It can look not only radical, but almost impossible. How on earth could I ever give up cheese? I smile as I write this as giving up cheese seems to be what is on many people's minds when even thinking about becoming vegan. Although I haven't had cow's cheese in 17 years, I think the vegan cheeses these days are delicious. Great flavor and texture without the cruelty.

The how part in becoming vegan is rather simple although I could write several blog posts about it. I started with one animal, pigs. Then cows, then chickens. I thought that process would take a long time. In my path it took a couple of weeks. And that was before I had access to the internet. The internet is filled with information on veganism, recipes, fitness and nutrition ideas that will help anyone as they consider a plant-based life.

Some people take a giant step and one day decide they are vegan. Others take smaller steps, a little bit longer of a process. When thinking of animals and animal suffering, any type of action towards veganism is good.

In my time being vegan, and having met many vegans (the vast majority of whom were not raised vegan, rather made a choice to become vegan), I have come to realize that those people who become vegan for the animal's sake, because they do not want to be part of the inherent cruelty towards animals, find it easy to not only become vegan but to live an incredibly new life they would have never imagined as vegan.

Last night Mike made chunky chipotle mashed potato empanadas accompanied with steamed Swiss chard for dinner and while I was enjoying the incredible flavors I mentally added to my list of things I eat today thanks to fellow vegans who showed my a wonderful new path towards culinary delight. 

And it all began because I love animals.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What is sexy? Body image in our gay, vegan world.

It was the summer of 1995. I was single and living in Norfolk, VA. My summer tan was rocking and I was looking good. I was headed to Richmond for the weekend with a friend, and had to find something sexy to wear to the club. I am laughing hard while writing this as what I bought is something I would never wear now. I went with a pair of overalls but not your ordinary farmer guy overalls. These were overalls that were shorts, not long pants. Oh yeah, I was not messing around.

Off to Richmond we went. My outfit rocked. I felt sexy. So sexy that I didn't wear a tshirt underneath.

So sexy.

It wasn't always that way.

I was 29 when I first wore a tank top in public. Just before that was the first time I would go shirtless at a beach. I would take my shirt off to swim, but if I wasn't swimming, I had the shirt on.

I was skinny. In the Navy guys would call me the Ethiopian poster child. When I got sober I weighed all of 138 pounds and was the same height I am today at 197 pounds (6'3"). Body shame was ingrained in every ounce of my being.

Little by little the my body shame went away. Once in a while it returns, but for just brief moments. The funny thing about that is one day I can feel good about my body and the very next day I can feel some type of negativity about my body. Of course overnight my body had not changed! I realized long ago that the way I feel about my body is probably the way I feel about myself as a person. If I can learn to love myself then I could probably become comfortable with my body.

These days I am very comfortable with my body. In the summer time I rarely wear a shirt, and I love driving home from work in summer afternoons shirtless and listening to dance music. I work out, swim and play racquetball but I do all of those things to be healthy, not so my body might look perfect to others.

I find sexiness in compassion. I find it in kindness. I can see a guy being loving to his girlfriend and find sexiness in that. It isn't always about the looks. Don't get me wrong, I think Adam Levine is very sexy, as well as a handful of other guys I have posted on Pinterest. You will notice that many of these guys are doing incredible things in this world, a big part of what makes them sexy.

I wanted to write this blog post to let those who struggle with body image know that I can totally relate, and that the person they are is much more important than the body they inhabit.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Powerful words

We all have been there. Someone says something to us and it stings. Perhaps that was their intent, perhaps not. In this age of online communication it's difficult to figure out what someone "really meant" sometimes.

In many more cases, we can communicate face to face with individuals and have a little more power in how our conversation is received. Facial expression, hand gestures, whether we are smiling or not.

I wanted to write about the power of the spoken world because of a few conversations Mike and I have involved in, particularly in the vegan part of our community. It surprises me still that people will be on the verge of meeting us and will attempt to sum our entire existence up in a matter of minutes. We should do this. Have we thought of this? Why spend so much time on that? It's actually amazing that more often we find ourselves meeting people who really don't want to get to know us, or actually converse, yet want to immediately tell us what they think we should be doing.

I'm not sure if this is because we have this blog, because of our blog name, or because we try to be so open. The god thing is that we are not going anywhere. We are firmly and confidently rooted in the vegan community. What concerns me is how people who are just getting to know us as a community feel.

Are we a welcoming community? Or are we a judgmental community? I like to think that we are welcoming, that after all we represent the voices of the millions who cannot speak. We are their voice. Especially for those of us who are vegan for the animals.

Our blog is about building bridges, being a voice for the voiceless and spreading the message of love, compassion and equality. Those messages can easily get diluted if we spend more time talking or writing about what you should be doing than how we can all work together.

It's not always easy. The other day Mike and I just sat while someone we had just met shared their opinion. She didn't even know us!

And then there are the instances where we and our readers (I know this because of what our readers share with us) receive the wrath of people who don't want to open their minds or hearts to why we are vegan and how we believe in not wanting to harm any sentient being.

As I recently wrote to a reader, "it's important to not cross the line from being a queer vegan to becoming a queer vegan asshole while responding to hateful or disrespectful words".

Our words are powerful. In the same time frame that I am writing about I saw someone that has completely judged me for being gay. I don't want to be their best friend but I can approach them with kindness and say hi. I did. They smiled and engaged in conversation with me. They know that their judgment of gay people is unacceptable to me and that is what matters to me.

My goal is to use my spoken words to spread love, compassion and tolerance. To open minds. To be that voice for all of those sentient beings that suffer. I definitely do not want my words to harm others.

Thank you for reading. I really appreciate those who read our blog, support our blog and engage with us!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Another Meatless Monday

One of the best ways Mike and I have found to promote veganism is to make delicious vegan dishes for folks and share them. We both make it a habit of bringing in wonderful vegan creations to work and our home is typically filled with people on holidays, not all of whom are vegan. Mike's Thanksgiving dinners have become so popular with friends who are not vegan that we have seen them incorporate more vegan dishes into their world.

And it doesn't have to stop there. All over the world organizations, charities and now even towns and cities promote veganism by supporting Meatless Mondays. We have had a lot of fun with this by asking our readers to support Meatless Mondays wherever they live. Some have had dinner parties where they only invited friends who are not vegan, some have asked their local restaurant to create Meatless Monday vegan specials and some have created potlucks to invite friends and neighbors.

The premise is simple: ask people who are not vegan to not consume meat and animal products for one day. It's a simple request, and we have learned that it becomes much easier when followed by lots of support and options.

Imagine if everyone who read this blog post created some type of Meatless Monday event, whether it was small dinner party at home or a community-wide event? One of my dreams is to have our city (Lakewood, CO) promote Meatless Mondays and have dozens and dozens of restaurants in the city create Meatless Monday specials. Monday is typically a slower night for restaurants so this whole idea could not only benefit those trying a vegan meal but also benefit the local economy by having more and more people visit their local restaurant to enjoy a vegan special.

The Meatless Monday is certainly taking off. Last year I read a New York Times article which was about the town of Aspen, Colorado supporting the Meatless Monday idea! Social media is filled with groups promoting the idea, and also offering great recipes for those wanting to try something at home. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with several delicious recipe options on Mondays!

Let's do it. I invite all of you to think of a great idea to promote Meatless Monday. We will keep you posted on our ideas, as well as what we hear from readers. Let us know how it goes. If a restaurant supports your efforts, tell us. If you tried a new recipe and invited friends for dinner, what was it?

Thank you so much for reading!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Back to work!

My time being unemployed came to an end this week! As I had written about in another blog, this past Monday I started my new job at an agency that serve youth experiencing homelessness. It is an amazing gig and I am thrilled (and feel privileged) to be working there.

The week flew by and I just realized this morning that I had not written a blog post all week! Yikes! I have learned that the first rule of blogging is to be consistent in ones posts. It's not tat easy being brand new in a job, and I even more excited to be back in my blog world as there is so much going on!

First things first. My "Can you spare 47 minutes?" blog post in celebration of my 47th birthday ended up supporting so many awesome things. Dozens of our readers wrote me telling me what they would do during their 47 minutes. So much volunteering! I am truly grateful as this is how we all make the world a better place for living beings.

Mike and I celebrated my birthday with friends at our favorite restaurant, Linger. Dinner was amazing as usual and then the server brought our this beautiful birthday cake and so the celebration continued! Dear friends, delish food and a wonderful environment for a celebration. Who could ask for anything more.

The month I experienced being unemployed wasn't always easy. I am fortunate that I had many options, an incredible support system and quickly was interviewing. I know it's not that way for everyone and I have a much deeper understanding of what it's like for people who are unemployed and searching for a job. One thing we can all do is to reach out and support them. Take them to lunch. Remind them that we are on their side.

And so my journey continues and I am fortunate to share all of this in the blog world. I love our blog, and I love all of those who read it, support it and engage in conversation (and sometimes debate!) around it.

Thank you for reading! More to come!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Can you spare 47 minutes?

Many years ago, in anticipation of gifts and cash that I knew were headed my way for my birthday, I asked family and friends to donate to their local animal shelter or local HIV/AIDS organization rather than gift me anything. I have been thrilled to hear of all of the groups doing great work around the country receiving donations and in fact many of those same family and friends ask for the same thing now.

This year for my birthday I was thinking of the same thing. Now with this blog, and being connected to even more amazing people who want to change the world, I have thought of something different. And to be honest with you I am going to be 47 and asking someone to donate $47.00 is a little different than asking them to donate $25.00.

So this year I am asking people do donate 47 minutes. Everyone is busy, I know. And as I have written many times, 47 minutes can change the world. Will you donate 47 minutes of your day in the coming week to make someones day? To be a voice for the voiceless? To change the world for someone?

I am sure that many who read our blog already donate their time, so the thought process on what to do shouldn't take very long. Here are some ideas just in case:

Walk a dog at your local animal shelter.

Play with a cat at your local animal shelter.

Make a vegan pie for your neighbor.

Read a book at your local elementary school.

Bring vegan muffins or brownies to the staff at your favorite local non-profit.

Drop off dinner at a friends house.

Call someone you love who you haven't spoken to in a long time.

Write a letter to someone serving time in prison.

Go to your local highway intersection and clean up the trash.

Serve a meal at your local homeless shelter.

Gather used blankets from your neighbors and donate them to your local animal sanctuary.

Take a platter of baked deliciousness to the USO Welcome Center at your local airport.

Write a letter to an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

 Whew. I should stop. As I write, my wheels are turning and I am imagining all who read this stepping out of their busy, maybe hectic lives and taking 47 minutes in service of others.

You don't have to do this alone. Do something with a group of friends. I promise you that your action will not only make someones day, but add a ton of cheer to your day as well!

Thank you for reading and thank you for being so amazingly supportive of our blog!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Another gay teen suicide

It happened January 19th. A loving young man named Jaden Bell hung himself in La Grande, Oregon. On a playground. He was 15.

I haven't been able to find that much information on Jaden. I read an article about a candlelight vigil attended by over 200 before he was taken off of life support. Many fellow high school students described him as loving and compassionate.

There was also talk of Jaden being bullied. One article said that he had begged his parents to allow him to be home schooled and that he had recently asked school administrators for help.

I keep thinking of how much this world needs another loving and compassionate person.

From Jaden's mother: “The next time you are thinking of being unkind to someone, think to yourself, if that person was a member of your family, would you want them treated like that?” Don’t treat them like that.” 

There is so much unkindness in this world. 

I have written about bullying and hatred and being kind. This morning, as I think about Jaden  walking to that playground, I don't know what else to write.

Well, maybe just some reminders:

We have the power to speak out against hatred and bullying.

We have the power to speak out against hate speech, regardless of who it is coming from.

We have the power to love one another.

Thank you for reading. Think about Jaden today.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cooking out of my comfort zone

Mike and I have a joke for what most of my meals were like before we got together. My typical dinner was a veggie burger or burrito with tater tots. It was just me so no need to go crazy. I also would make beans and rice once in a while, with instant rice of course. And on a crazy day I might add spinach or kale just to make it a little more nutritious. We refer to this as "a Dan meal". Whenever one of us doesn't want to cook and we really don't want to go out, Mike will say "let's have a Dan meal".

Over the years I have gotten a lot more comfortable in the kitchen. Mike is the main cook in the family but I certainly enjoy it. I also have found that I love to bake.

The other day I was on Twitter and someone I follow had posted a recipe for an African Peanut Stew. I had always wanted to try this type of stew and I had the whole day. What the heck, I thought. The recipe didn't seem too difficult, and we had most of the ingredients in the kitchen. The process to make the stew seemed lengthy, but not too complicated.

Off to the market I went to fetch the ingredients we did not have. When I got home I re-read the recipe and also read all of the comments so I would be as informed as possible while making this.

I seldom take a recipe off of a blog or recipe website and make it. I have thought about it many and usually give up before long.

Not this time. I had the ingredients, I brought my lap top into the kitchen, the dogs were settled, my Colombian Vallenato music was playing and I was good to go.

The recipe ended up being a lot easier to follow than I had first thought. Speaking with folks who have made a lot of recipes from blogs I realized that this is often the case.

Mike was on his way home and it was time to do the finishing touches. I did those and then set the table, lit a candle and I was good to go.

Dinner came out perfectly. It was delicious on many levels. So many flavors. A great comfort meal.

Lesson learned. Getting out of my comfort zone is easy, fun and delicious! Try it. Grab an online recipe and run with it. Let me know how it goes!

Here is the recipe if you would like to try it:

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The 17 year vegan

This past January was my 17th anniversary of becoming vegan.

The final step for me was Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream. I had one more pint of it and then was ready.

For vegans, the world was completely different from today. For starters, there was no vegan Amy's mac-n-cheese. There was no Eat Pastry cookie dough and no Mercy for Animals. No vegan food blogs and no cool kale tshirts. There might have been some type of vegetarian festival happening somewhere but certainly not in my part of Virginia. (In fact, there was an annual animal conference in Norfolk, VA!)

The cowards who abuse and torture animals were still pretty much free to do so. It's only been in very recent times that felony charges have been brought against workers in the animal production world for cruelty to animals.

My reasons for becoming vegan were not radical, although many thought my decision to become vegan was radical. I simply had learned enough about what happens to animals that made me realize that I did not want to be part of anything that involved harming another living being. My thought process became one that surrounded the idea that every action I took would be one that would do as least harm as possible to other living beings.

I asked a lot of questions. I went to a lot of potlucks. I read a lot of books. Believe it or not, there was no internet (in my life at least) at that time. My learning about how to be a healthy vegan came from interacting with healthy vegans.

It's not perfect. And it grows. The vegan I am today is different from the vegan I was back in January of 1996. I know that although Pepsi and potato chips are vegan, I don't want to consume them all of the time. I have learned that veganism is a path, and my path of veganism does not have to look exactly like yours. I have learned that people go vegan for different reasons, and those that remain vegan for the most part are those who chose veganism because of the animals. I have learned that my veganism threatens other people, even though it really doesn't have to. And one of the big things I have learned, and experienced, is that becoming vegan is like becoming reborn in the food world. I have enjoyed so many different types of foods that I doubt I would have even considered trying had I not become vegan. The African Peanut Stew I made the other night is a great example.

I learned that I can get along with pretty much anyone out there, that we all have more in common than not. I also learned that harsh words, judgements and unkind actions towards me are unacceptable. One does not have to agree with me or even like me, but I don't give permission to those people to treat me any less. This includes everyone. I am not a Focus on the Family type of vegan or activist, meaning that I am not going to attack you just because we disagree. I am also not going to simply shut up. 

So at 46 (very close to 47) I am just as excited to be vegan as I was when I was 29 (yes I was 29 at one time). I  can only imagine what the next 17 years will bring for veganism and for animals who are tortured, beaten and live in fear just to become food. Or those who live their entire lives in a cage so that humans feel better about the medicines they pump into their bodies. Or the animals who die every day just because some coward has the capacity to kill them, usually without any consequences.

Meanwhile, I will continue on a path of compassion, tolerance, love and bridge building. I will continue to try to be a voice for the voiceless, all of the voiceless. I will continue to learn. And I will definitely continue to engage other in this world of blogging.

Thank you for reading. Will you please pass the kale?

Monday, February 4, 2013

I got a job!

The day I was laid off was tough. Not money tough or fear tough or what am I going to do tough. It felt personal. No matter who said what, if felt like getting fired for not being good enough. I wasn't sure if I wanted to share all of that on my blog, of getting laid off and the process I was going through. Well, I did. I posted a blog post about losing my job and it became one of the most read, most commented on posts I have written.

The gift in that, beyond continuing to always use my blog as a way to help others, be a voice for the voiceless and build bridges, was that our blog readers were incredibly supportive of the process I was going through. For that I am beyond grateful and want to say thank you to all of you who wrote messages of support.

During my 22 days of being unemployed I learned a lot. I learned that there is a stereotype or even prejudice around the unemployed and that even folks who are unemployed don't like telling people that. I was having a wonderful conversation with this guy, and his whole interaction with me changed when I told him that I was unemployed. I was blown away.

My experience of being unemployed was short lived. I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for the huge amount of friends and colleagues who invited me to coffee or lunch, called to check in, told me about a job, helped with my resume and cover letters, gave a gift card of some kind or swung by the house with a hug and flowers. The support I got was incredible and I hope all of us can be as supportive whenever a friend loses their job.

On my 22nd day of being unemployed I accepted an offer at an agency in town that helps homeless teens. I am super excited and can't wait to start! I will continue in fundraising, which is what I love to do.

I hope to write an e book about searching for a job. I will keep you posted. I also made changes on my fundraising blog, adding links to job search websites in an effort to help folks still looking for a job.

Thank you!

And thank you for reading this!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chico the foster dog

 Mike and I have been fostering dogs from local shelters and rescue groups since we have been together. It is part of what we do to volunteer and to help dogs who might have a tough time being adopted at the shelter, especially those who have been abused, neglected or who are older.

And yes, we have had what they call a failed foster. Shadow, our beloved 18 year old cockapoo who passed away last year started out as a foster. Of course at 14, no one was seriously interested in adopting her so we did. That was one of the best decisions we ever made!

Last weekend we went to MaxFund to see if they needed any of the dogs to be fostered. A few minutes later we met Chico, an 8 year old Pekingese (mix?) who has one eye and is just the cutest. A few days later I went and picked him up and he became our latest foster dog.

He is laying on a doggie bed at my feet while I write this post. I am kind of surprised as he is filled with fear, as most of our fosters are when they arrive. But this morning he went outside and came back in without encouragement (or force!) from us and he even ate breakfast. Last night he jumped out of bed with me and instead of staying cowered under the kitchen table he jumped up on the couch and went back to sleep.

The process for a foster dog who is that frightened is a long one. And it is wonderful watching them get more and more comfortable in the home, and eventually be so comfortable that we can begin having people over who are interested in adopting them.

I have written many times about volunteering at a local shelter as part of taking small actions to make the world a better place for all living beings. Fostering an animal from your local shelter is a great thing to do that will definitely change the life of an animal who could really use your help.

Oh, and Chico needs a forever home! If you live in the Denver metro area and are interested in him please let me know!

Thank you for reading!