Career, shoulder

Mental Muscles

Hey friends,

I wanted to write today about one of my favorite concepts. I strive to integrate this throughout working with my band students, who constantly are in a place where they have to learn something new all the time.

Learning an instrument is hard, in different ways to different students. Sometimes it’s about learning how to listen. Sometimes it’s about re-shaping what the face does. Sometimes a student has difficulty with reading notation. Sometimes everything is in place, but playing in front of a teacher is really scary.

There is ego involved with something so liquid as music. Success at something one time does not guarantee success a second time. Student musicians constantly experience potential embarrassment.

These difficulties are all normal and okay. We work through them.


What happens if we’re comfortable all the time? Maybe I’m sitting on the couch, mindlessly playing a game on my phone with the TV on cartoons (this may or may not be something I do every morning). My body is using minimal energy, just resting. There is no challenge to the muscles and no growth in strength. There is no progress.

The same thing happens with the mind, and this where my anecdote of the day comes in. Because I haven’t been working – I’ve been on disability leave for six weeks and still have six more weeks to go. And that’s a big deal to me.

Something you should know about me – I’m an introvert. That is a part of my personality that I am very aware of. (Introverts tend to be very aware that they’re introverts. Many of the most charismatic educators I’ve ever learned from have confided to me about their introversion.)

And I have a natural inclination to be shy. This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. My career (talking to students and adults) has lent itself very well as a stage to my explicit practice of social skills. I love talking to people. But I get nervous if there are problems – they are uncomfortable. It has taken me years of work to get to a place where I can talk to people as freely as I do about issues at work.

This takes work and maintenance. Just like anyone with a hot muscle-y bod, if I don’t do the work it takes to maintain those mental muscles, the skills deflate.

My Own Discomfort

I am approaching six weeks into recovery from a major shoulder surgery. Before the surgery, I was bendy-bendy-bendy. I could twist and contort both of my arms in all directions. I could bring my clasped hands over my head from the back to the front. I could lick my elbow.

So imagine my surprise today, in physical therapy, when I was asked to bring my arms forward and up, and then out and up, and I could only begrudgingly go about halfway.

It’s supposed to go all the way up!
One reluctant thumb up for this exercise…

I am embarrassed to say that this hurt my ego a little bit. I thought I was so great because I used to be able to do so much before. I thought, because I had worked so hard to stay strong before the surgery, that it wouldn’t take so long to regain my range of motion or strength as my protocol suggested.

I was so wrong and that was truly the uncomfortable part. It hurt like needles in my shoulder and like daggers in my mind. No way am I anywhere near ready to resume the activity level required to do my job at the present moment.

I was mean to my therapist. I questioned what he was having me do. He assured me that he was following the protocol outlined by my doctor. I am embarrassed that I didn’t trust him for a second and I plan on apologizing next time.


One of my favorite professional development talks I ever went to was a session called “Mindfulness, Discomfort, and Growth.” It was geared toward teaching GATE kids, but I firmly believe that students and humans of all needs can extract value from taking a mental inventory of any uncomfortable moment. (The presenter was Dave Mochel, by the way.)

I loved it when he said, “The best two times to practice mindfulness are when things are going really well, and when they aren’t.” When I got home from PT this morning, I immediately prepared my dog for a walk and prepared my brain to feel some feelings. Years ago, I would have felt hopeless about my situation and cried on the couch. (This is still a valid thing to do, but I’ve gone through this process so many times I’ve learned how to streamline it/save it for later.)

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I immersed myself mentally into every aspect of how I felt. My arm already aches. It will hurt more tomorrow. I will plan on breathing through the physical pain that I know is in my future. I will probably do a drug.

There is also mental discomfort. I regret that I gave my therapist attitude. I retraced the steps that prompted that behavior. I realized that some of my mental/social muscles (usually exercised at work) have weakened. I will work on mending that important relationship.

Through mindfulness I can figure out the source of our discomfort, and create a plan to either fix it or work through it. And there is growth. It’s my most powerful tool.



Shoulder Status: After 5 Weeks

Hey guys!

It’s been a few days. Being on disability is surprisingly busy. Here is how my life is going…

Actual Shoulder

My PT has been massaging the crap out of my scars. Last Tuesday, as he was massaging my shoulder, he said something to someone across the room and added something like “Stephanie here, smiling like a champion, but actually wincing because the pain is so intense.”

I said, “That’s true. That is not a lie.”

Next Thursday is my last day with the sling, but I’ve been increasing my up-and-down range of motion. I can get my hand slightly above my head with a straight arm. It’s not all the way up yet, but getting there.

I get pretty sore on those nights following PT. That is when sometimes I do have to go back and take a strong painkiller just so I can relax and go to sleep. Otherwise it’s pulsating and aching, as I simply lie on my back.

Today, as I was walking, a bee flew in my face and I reflexively swatted at it with my right hand. SO MUCH PAIN. I actually said out loud to no one, “Stupid reflexes! Why?!” Ugh.

Trashy Tales

I’ve been walking about 5 miles a day on average. Usually it’s just walking Luna, but every couple of days I go out and pick up trash on the sidewalks and streets near where I live. (I’ve learned that I can’t do both of these activities at once.)

There is a lot to be picked up. I live very close to two high schools and apparently they never learned about not littering in school.

Usually I use bags that other people have given to me when delivering stuff, or bags that our bread comes in. If there are no holes in the bag by the time I come home, I empty this trash into our kitchen garbage and use the bag again.

I’ve picked up some treasures. One time I found a very nice, fully intact Pyrex bowl. One time I found a whole 6-pack of small bottles of Mickey’s beer, lids and all. If I’d had the strength to bring them home and reuse them, I would have done so. But I put 5 of them in the recycling bins belonging to the neighboring apartment complex, and only brought one home to wash and reuse. They were lovely green bottles.

Most of what I find is food-related – small candy wrappers, bags that used to hold individually wrapped candy, fast food packaging, lids with straws, etc. I find a strangely large amount of drink bottle lids with no bottles attached. I find a lot of cigarettes and I wish I were diligent enough to pick them all up, but sadly I don’t.

The kids at the high schools would have no lack of work to do if anyone decided to clean up their campus as a senior project.


I was pleased to learn on Thursday that they found someone to teach music in my place while I’m gone. I’m truly relieved that my students will not be missing out for 3 months.

One of my projects is to downsize all the stuff I have, and I have a LOT of magazines. Music Educators’ Journal, Teaching Music and CMEA Magazines dating back to 2008. Do I ever read these? No. Are they full of valuable information relevant to my profession? Of course. The problem is, they don’t have the topics I need at my demand, and my job is very particular.

So I am cutting out articles that directly relate to my job in my district, and will be scanning them to put on a Google drive for myself and my colleagues. Then recycling the magazines. Shelf space achieved.

I have a long way to go with this, but I also have a long way to go before I can go back to work.

That’s about where I am. Stay tuned for a post about food soon. ๐Ÿ™‚


For the next part in this series, click here.


Shoulder Status: After 4 Weeks

Hey friends!

It has now been 31 days since my shoulder surgery. Overall I am feeling motivated and also a little overwhelmed.

The Scars

I have some pretty gnarly scar tissue. I guess they did open up my skin in four places and jam a camera all the way into my joint.

My PT has started massaging the scars after I do the exercises and it HURTS. Maybe more than most other things. I don’t know what more I can say about it. The only thing that hurts more is when I get startled and accidentally jerk my shoulder.

So sexy
From the back, ooo baby.

The Sling

I still have 11 more days with this thing. While it is a pain, I’ve actually been starting to sleep better on my back and left side. (Remember, my sling has my arm facing straight ahead, not across my body.) When I sleep on my left side, I still need a pillow to support my arm at the right angle. Often my shoulder aches in that position because it’s floating at the top of my body, not totally stable. The most stable way to sleep is on my back, but that can be hard if I want my comforter to cover me all the way. The weight of the blanket presses down on my hand, which stands straight up.

My sling has become pretty much a crumb and pet hair collector. When I’m finished with it I will give it a good vacuum and see if I can send it to be re-purposed.

With my arm this way, I still can’t drive. Even though it could seem like a loss of freedom I don’t think it really has to be. I can walk to the grocery store if I have to. I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at home, which brings me to…

My One-Arm Hobbies

Next week is when my school district goes back in session (I know, we have a long winter break!), and therefore my work friends will no longer be available to drive me around and hang out at any given time. No worries, though, I have acquired a few hobbies and activities I can do with one arm.

Blogging has been a nice way to chronicle this experience. As you may have noticed if you’ve perused this site before, I don’t only blog about how sexy my scars are. I like to write about all kinds of things. It’s been fun to explore other blogs and other people’s worlds through this platform.

Reading is the next thing I can do with one arm. I’m currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I’m about halfway through. I also read Wonder by R.J. Palacio – that was a much quicker read. I finished that one in about 3 days. I was thinking about getting a library card. Before I do, I want to read every book I have. This will be part of downsizing – If I read a book and want to read it again, I’ll keep it. If once was enough, I will donate it or maybe sell it on eBay.

Walking my dog has been a nice hobby. I usually give her a walk after my husband leaves for work, and before he comes home. Lately I’ve been trying to go for 5 miles of walking a day.

Not looking at my phone all day has been really helpful for my sleep. I’m trying to develop better habits about that. I go on my phone to communicate. I can go on my Chromebook for social media.

Two days ago, as a step toward my zero waste journey, I went outside with a bag and picked up trash. I walked around my neighborhood and filled the bag, got another, and filled another bag with stuff from a different part of the neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s because I live right by two high schools, by an apartment community, or some combination of those things, but there’s a lot of trash around.

It has been a weirdly meditative process to go around and pick up trash. It feels bad because it’s there – some other human in this world decided that leaving their trash there was okay. But it feels better when I pick it up, and it’s no longer on the ground.

I hung up a poster on my neighborhood bulletin board inviting others to pick up trash with me. It feels nice to take some responsibility for my surroundings. What happens if nobody shows up? There will still be one person going around picking up trash.

My one-arm artistic facility is minimal. :/

An unexpected side effect of this activity: squatting down to pick something up off the ground has left my gluteus muscles a little sore. Obviously this is how I will be getting my booty muscles back.

Outside of those everyday things, I’ve been doing a lot of little projects around the house: Sending late wedding photos and Christmas presents, turning my husband’s old undershirts into rags, sorting out the piles of stuff in the kitchen, getting rid of magazines I don’t need.

I spent one day making care kits for homeless shelters and people on the street. I reused bags to contain sample snacks I’ve received in the mail, sample soaps and lotions, washcloths, feminine products (I just got reusable ones in the mail yesterday!), socks and gloves, band-aids, plastic silverware, napkins, and cleansing cloths. These are things that I know could be used by someone but I don’t need them in my house anymore. I really hope they end up helping someone.

Sleepy dog not included

So, that’s about where I am right now. Future projects? I have a photo project in mind for my brass chamber music workshop I will be compiling for soon. I would like to find a use or a project for the wine corks we always accumulate. And I need to figure out how to better organize this blog for new visitors. There is much to be done, but I need to go at my own pace. The most important reason I’m taking this time off from work is to heal myself.

What are some healing activities you like to incorporate into your day?


For the next part in this series, click here.


Vegan Cashew Coffee Creamer

Welcome to my first recipe post!

My recipe post philosophy: Recipe first, dumb story later.


1/2 cup cashews, raw and unsalted
1 cup (plus some more) water
Anything else you like – I used a splash of maple syrup just to add some “complexity.” Some recipes call for a pinch of sea salt. Whatever floats your boat.


  1. Submerge the cashews in water and soak for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the cashews and place in a high-speed blender.
  3. Add 1 cup of water, plus any extras.
  4. Blend on the highest setting for a few minutes. If the mixture looks grainy, add a tablespoon more of water.
  5. You have a choice here: You can use a nut milk bag or cloth napkin to squeeze out the liquid into another container. With the cashew dregs left on the napkin, you can scrape them off back into the blender, add more water, and blend again. OR, you can just enjoy as is. There may be a grainy texture to it but it will still be tasty and get the job done.
  6. Place liquid into a container that will confuse your husband and roommate.
“Uhh, I think something weird may have happened to your matรฉ.”

Cool Story:

My go-to creamer since giving up dairy has been the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s. I’ve loved it soooo much, but since I’ve been looking to reduce my waste I knew the time had finally come to consider making my own creamer.

Plus, those additives manufacturers put in creamers to make them shelf-stable can become really detrimental over time. (I’m looking at you, carrageenan.)

A lot of creamer recipes call for coconut oil or coconut milk, but the truth is, neither of those ingredients is a whole plant food. And yes, I do consume those things on occasion if there’s nothing else available, but coffee is an every day beverage for me, and I’m not comfortable putting so much saturated fat in something I drink every day – especially when I can make this instead.

I’m excited to keep this recipe in my weekly routine because of how cost-effective it will be. One pint of the Trader Joe’s soy creamer is about $2.25, and I used about one per week. Over a year, that’s $117.

A 40-ounce tub of cashews from Costco, while not waste-free, is one recyclable plastic container as opposed to 52 non-recyclable Tetra-paks. It costs $21.99. It will make 19 batches of this recipe, which is about a pint if you use the extra water like I did. You would buy about 3 (or exactly 2.73) tubs to make this recipe every week for the course of a year. That is an annual cost of $60.18: a savings of almost $57!

57 extra dollars could buy a lot of something, or one pretty nice thing. If you drink creamy coffee every morning like I do, this is the cost-effective way to do it.

One thing I will say is that the appearance of the creamer in the coffee is not perfectly smooth, especially if you don’t shake it up a bit before pouring. It may look grainy. Consider if that’s really a problem for you. If it were milk or something unfamiliar, I’d be worried if my creamer looked like that. But since you saw everything that went into the blender, and you know it’s just tiny chunks of cashew, you should assume it’s perfectly safe. Just stir it up and enjoy!

Please let me know if you try this, and what you think!

“Enlarged to show texture”



My New Year’s Resolution 2018

I spent a lot more time thinking through these personal goals that this post got really long. I think I’ll just discuss my New Year’s Resolution briefly here and then give it its own post.

My New Year’s resolution for 2018: Be a more conscious consumer.

By “conscious,” I mean my first focus is going to be on reducing my impact on the earth’s resources by NOT partaking (as much as I reasonably can) in products that can’t be re-used, composted, or repurposed, or in products that take a lot of resources to make. (Hence my specific goal of not buying any clothes.)

Next focus will be on supporting necessary products that support sustainability.

When I’ve obtained as much information as I need, we will be investing in some kind of tool that will help us compost our food waste.


I grew up in a small town. In a forest. In the 90’s, when every year the whole school would gather in the cafeteria and watch that video with the dinosaurs singing “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!”

Recycle Rex is kinda proud that stupid song was stuck in my head for 20 years.

One of the first rules I learned at school was “Don’t litter.” Any kind of store besides the local grocery store was about 12 miles down the hill. I did not grow up consuming a lot. I didn’t even realize that I lived my life exceptionally close to the natural world.

I went to college in a town that shared very environment-focused views. I walked everywhere. I brought my own grocery bags with me (10 years before they even made that law!). I re-used plastic produce bags and bought my kitchen supplies at a thrift store.

Then when I moved to this larger town where I currently live, with more amenities, and started making money, I started to lose it. I fell into the consumerism pit. I bought nice clothes for work. I bought so many craft supplies. (I paid off my car!) I started clicking on advertisements on Facebook and getting the things. No, Stephanie. It’s a trap!

Sometimes the silliest things can bring you back to your original principles. Luckily I know some people in the world who really hold themselves to that which we should all strive for – a life where our existence as an individual and species makes as small of an impact as possible so others (human and not) can share the space. And I saw a video about straws and how devastating they are for the wildlife in our oceans.

And then I saw a video about microplastics. (That link isn’t the video I saw, but it explains some of it.) Basically, when we throw away synthetic textiles they don’t decompose. But as those polyester jumpsuits in the landfill start to come apart over time, tiny synthetic particles get washed away into…you guessed it…our oceans. Microscopic organisms eat the particles, bigger organisms consume those and collect more particles over their lifetimes, and the particles accumulate more as we go up the food chain.

And that’s when I became horrified.

Watching “Planet Earth II” hit the nail in the coffin for me. Now there’s no way I’m not going to do everything I possibly can to reduce my personal impact.

“Zero Waste”

A childhood friend of mine is part of the Zero Waste movement – a movement where individuals reduce, reduce, reduce, then reuse, then recycle (or compost), in that order, with a goal of sending as little waste into the landfill as possible.

I’ve been checking out a number of Zero Waste blogs and Youtube videos. It’s very doable but requires a bit of work in the beginning. I’m excited to make this part of my life. I find the name “Zero Waste” a bit deceptive – it really is just about taking steps toward “Minimal Waste.”

I’m going to share some of the steps I’ve been taking and plan to take to reach this goal. (I created a very comprehensive checklist for my house – If you’d like me to share this let me know!)


One very big way I plan to reduce my impact this year is to not buy any clothes. New or used. I don’t need any new clothes, especially after buying all those clothes for my surgery recovery time. It takes a huge amount of natural and human resources to produce new clothing, and again can we mention the synthetic fibers in the ocean? So this year, no new clothes.

I bought one pair of flats last month for work and those are the only new shoes I will have this year. I bought some fancy secondhand sunglasses off of eBay and I’m pretty sure I’m set for life there.

I will reduce my purchasing of new craft supplies for work. I have all the supplies I will need, for several years probably, to write nice notes for my students on fancy paper.

I’m switching all of my bills to electronic statements. I took my name off the mailing list for junk mail.


So, that closet full of clothes? I don’t wear them all. I plan to actually repurpose some of them into produce bags for myself and maybe others if my sewing skills are up to par. Brian’s old ratty undershirts are going to be rags for when the kitties have an accident.

We got two lovely sets of cotton napkins for our wedding, which have already proven not only great for traditional napkin purposes, but for tea towel purposes.

Anything that comes in a jar will be repurposed to hold raw ingredients. I plan to reuse spice jars for spice mixes. Later I will buy spices in bulk.

I’ve been using my own water bottle for years! (It’s a plastic Camelbak, unfortunately.) I like the straw for drinking water while driving…but if I lose it I’ll replace it with a steel one.

I’ve been baking oil-free muffins in silicone baking cups for months. They are amazing!

I have invested in reusable feminine pads. Unfortunately they didn’t arrive in time for me to try them, so it’s one last cycle with conventional protection. My remaining feminine products will be donated to a local shelter.

Still to Do

SO much. Including establishing a compost system, figuring out a routine for buying in bulk in our town which is a bulk bin desert, and creating little car kits for eating out. There is a lot to be desired about how we handle our pet waste.

It seems overwhelming to move toward this lifestyle, but I think we can check something new off the list fairly often. Every check is a step that reduces our impact. Everything we do is important and we have to acknowledge the small steps we take. I’ll be updating on this regularly.

Have a lovely day!



Status: Recovery Day 21


It’s a little dreary out to walk the dog right now (only 60 degrees, I’ve become such a wimp) so I thought I would update my friends and family on how my shoulder recovery is going.

If you are new to this saga of my life, I had labrum repair surgery on December 15th, 21 days ago. I’m at the 3 week mark! I will put links at the bottom of this page if you want the full previous context of my experience.

Last Doctor’s Visit

I went in for my 2-week follow up last week and was disappointed to learn that I am actually supposed to have my sling on for 6 weeks, not the 4 weeks my original work note had said. You guys. I don’t have a regular sling that holds my forearm across my body. I have an immobilizer with a wedge-shaped pillow that keeps my right arm facing straight ahead all day and night.


So that was disappointing to find out.

I also got my stitches out. They put steri-strips over the scars, which the assistant said would “come off on their own.” But last night I decided to just peel them off, because it had been 6 days.

Starting PT

With my stitches out I was able to start physical therapy this week. I was visiting this same facility frequently before my surgery, before I was able to get an MRI and was just trying to figure out the source of my pain. They know me there.

I came in Tuesday morning and my therapist said, “So, cartwheels and push-ups today?” Heh heh heh…I wish.

This set of exercises, of course, was very different from what I was doing before the surgery. Before it was a lot of strengthening and stability exercises. Now it’s just getting used to the feeling of using it again – letting it hang, curling my arms, climbing up the finger ladder and using the pulley to reach a little higher.

It felt weird that I could only get my elbow as high as my chin. My shoulder feels so different – like moving it at the wrong angle could dislocate it again. I guess that’s why I have to stay in the sling for so long.

Daily Life

I have relinquished a lot of freedom in my life by only having use of one arm. I can’t drive with my sling. Luckily I have a great husband and good friends who can take me places. My husband just had a lot of days off in the past few weeks, so it’s been nice to spend some extra time with him.

I get approached a lot by people in public now. Many people will ask, “Rotator cuff surgery?” (no) or “Who did your procedure?” or smile and say “I remember those days!” I find that people at check out stands, in making polite conversation, will ask what happened. I promise a lot of people, it looks much worse than it is. (Though maybe it’s just as bad as it looks? I don’t know.)

I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be pregnant.

I’ve been using my Chromebook a lot to write blog entries and read other people’s blogs. I’m liking this routine, peeking into other people’s worlds. I’ve also been reading a few books like I said I would. I’m preparing to go “zero waste” and making plans for how I’m going to live my life when I have my independence back.

I’m still walking my Loon dog once or twice per day. Usually I will walk about 3-5 miles a day total. It’s important to me that I move around as often as I’m able.

I have done two, beginning-level, YouTube spin classes on the exercise bike. Those are challenging and I’m glad to get even more of a lower body workout. I can’t do it all the way because I’m wary of standing up with only one hand to grab the handlebars. Still, it’s a good aerobic workout in a situation where I can only move one arm.

I really, really miss cooking my own meals. Brian is a good cook, but he doesn’t always want to cook. And those days we get take-out, which creates a lot of trash and is expensive. I bought a lot of pre-cut veggies from Trader Joe’s so I can cook some meals with one hand. I know it’s a lot of packaging waste, but I can’t cut or hold something down that’s being cut with my right arm. So for now, it’s take-out, leftovers, smoothies, veggie burgers, and sauteed pre-cut vegetables.

Bathing is getting easier. With my stitches out I can shower like normal, and I have washed my own hair (with one hand) twice. I was starting to get a rash in my armpit area, so I applied hydro-cortisone cream on it for a few days and made sure my arms were completely dry after bathing, before I got dressed. That seemed to help a lot.

I can’t put my hair up at all unless I contort my neck at a crazy angle. Something I didn’t realize – boys do not know how to tie ponytails. I asked my husband to tie my hair up and it felt like a kindergartner was playing with my hair! I know what I will teach my future son.

I am pretty much a pro at buttoning my jeans with one hand now. I got tired of feeling like I was always in pajamas.


It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.

Some nights I’m like, “I will probably sleep really well tonight!” But most nights I do not.

The evening after my first PT session, my 40-pound heeler dog jumped on the couch and practically sat on my bad shoulder. It was so painful I decided to break out one of the hard core painkillers from right after surgery. I slept well that night!

I have taken to occasionally smoking the wacky tobacky before bed. The stuff we have is not particularly strong but it helps a little bit.

I’ve had vivid dreams almost every night since the surgery. It’s like my brain has been processing every possible awkward or uncomfortable situation I could ever have and making me live through it. Last night I dreamed that I was teaching the ukulele to my music teacher colleagues, and we were using ukuleles from my schools. But they were dirty and in cruddy condition. Why did my dream self let those ukuleles look so bad?

Honestly, though, this week I’ve had an easier time sleeping through the night. I think exercising more helps a lot, which is why I was excited to get that bike.

That is about it for where I am. If you’ll excuse me, I must walk my doggy. Thanks for reading!


To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I prepared for my surgery and recovery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here. ๐Ÿ™‚ Woo!

For the next part in this series, click here.

Lifestyle, Veganism

On My Veganniversary

Good evening friends,

Today for me marks the anniversary of a surprising doctor’s visit. She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your cholesterol. It’s high.”

I was so surprised to hear that at the time. I had been a vegetarian since 2005, the day after I graduated high school. But the truth was, I still ate eggs for breakfast every morning. And cheese with a few meals a week. And put half and half in my coffee.

I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” The doctor, also a vegetarian, suggested a plant based protein powder for breakfast instead of eggs.

I chewed on that information for awhile. And I used the protein powder for awhile. I started to think about why I stopped eating animals in the first place. I thought about how much I had wanted to give up all animal products, but I knew so little in 2005 about what a plant-based lifestyle was.

I made a plan to “eat plant based two meals a day.” That escalated quickly to veganism. Quickly, like within two days. Because, I figured, if I’m going to eat in a way that’s health promoting and reduces suffering in the world (the latter of which eventually far outweighed the former), why only partake 2/3rds of the time? Why only do the best thing most of the time when you can easily and happily do the best thing all the time?

Starting Out

What had stopped me from taking the full leap to veganism in 2005? Lack of education. When I was a kid, in college grocery shopping for the first time, I had no idea legumes could be a cheap and easy staple. I looked at packages of vegan cheese and thought, “That’s so much more expensive than cow milk cheese!” I just didn’t know.

This time, as a 29-year-old woman with a job and an Amazon Prime membership, I knew what I wanted. I did not want a diet full of processed food. I wanted something that would support my active lifestyle and keep me healthy for as long as possible. So I typed in the search engine, “Vegan whole food cookbook.”

(And quickly learned that the term was “Whole foods plant based.”)

I bought an embarrassing number of cookbooks. Some of them were way over my head with the amount of work the recipes required. Some of them called for ingredients that were already in my house! (I gravitated toward those ones.) I liked “Forks Over Knives” for the simplicity in their recipes. I loved “Oh She Glows” because it helped me branch out when I wanted something more impressive.

I read “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Twice. I learned about food that has been shown to be health promoting through science.

I changed what I bought at the grocery store. Beans of some sort are always on the list. Instead of two eggs for breakfast every morning, it was now overnight oats with berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded wheat cereal, cinnamon and walnuts. Replaced 1/2 and 1/2 with the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s, easiest switch ever. I warmed back up to grains like rice, quinoa and barley, which I had mistakenly dismissed under the influence of my keto and paleo friends. Nutritional yeast, which I had loved in my days at Humboldt but slowly phased out when my partner expressed a distaste for it, came back with a fierce yellow vengeance. Instead of any oil for cooking, vegetable broth became my jam.

I got better at bringing my lunch to work. Unconsciously I had started relying on a bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks to eat for lunch in between sites. It became easy to bring last night’s leftovers to work because I would throw just about everything in the fridge into my dinners.

I experimented a lot but also had healthful fallbacks. I’ve developed a love for creating food.

My mom and stepdad gave up meat and dairy this summer. I relished in an opportunity to put together a vegan Thanksgiving for them. It was truly the least stressful Thanksgiving I’d ever had.

My Thanksgiving plate, complete with Tofurky on my husband’s request
I made a friggen’ vegan pumpkin pie from scratch!

Beyond Plant-Based

Inevitably I ran into the awkward situation of saying I was vegan while wearing leather shoes. They were thick-soled black Mary Janes, shoes that I had bought before I went vegan. Shoes that I wore to work nearly daily. (Extra shame points for being a vegetarian so long and still partaking in this.)

I came to realize there was more to be done in this journey to be less of a burden on the world. I donated my jackets that had down feathers. I switched my leather purse I’d purchased in a thrift store for a nylon bag. I realized it wouldn’t be practical to donate my leather shoes because I needed them for work, so my plan is to use my shoes until they become unusable, and not buy any leather in the future.

I thought about toiletries. I changed to a more ethically produced soap that isn’t tested on animals. I switched to a natural deodorant. I’m still trying to find the right hair products for me, but you can bet when I find the one it will have that starry bunny logo on it.

This is the logo to look for!

The Hardest Parts

For me, by far the hardest part about going vegan has been my fear of judgement from non-vegans. I try to have a thick skin and stick to my guns and research but I’m a really sensitive person and care about what people think. For that reason, I generally avoid mentioning veganism unless it comes up.

I don’t like when people say sorry for eating meat in front of me. My lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be the source of your sorrow, and now you’ve shined the awkward spotlight on me. I’m still brainstorming better ways to respond to this behavior.

The restaurants in my area are not incredibly vegan-friendly. The one a few towns up that is, sells mostly salads and smoothies. (No thanks, for $8 I can make my own at home, plus 3 more for my friends.) Dining out is a chore and I generally try to avoid it if I can. I much prefer to cook a nice meal for others. I want to open friends’ eyes to the fact that vegan food can be nourishing, filling, and delicious.

After 1 Year

Now I feel like I don’t have to work so hard to navigate this lifestyle. I can put together any kind of meal. I’m not afraid to ask if something is dairy-free. I feel supported by my loved ones and enjoy seeing the changes they have made in their lives, too. I look forward to enjoying a lifetime of veganism. There are still challenges when it comes to people who are less educated about the horrors of factory farming and what it takes to get animal products to the table. I still struggle to find the right words when people sincerely ask me “Why are you vegan?” But I’m working on those things. It’s always a process.

I haven’t followed up with my bloodwork yet. I’d be interested to see if it’s changed since last January.

Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to share! See you next time.



My SMART Goals for 2018

Hey friends! Get your ponchos because you are in the splash zone of one of my teaching tools and it’s about to get drippy in here.

In this seventh year of my teaching career, I’ve started structuring my units and content around the goals of the students. And while it’s easy as a 5th grade beginning band student to say your goal for two weeks from now (or one year from now) is to “be better at the trumpet,” you may feel overwhelmed about the process of creating an action plan unless your goal includes these criteria:

  • Is it Specific? What about your trumpet playing do you want to improve? Maybe range? Articulation? Breath support? Endurance? Tone (the answer to this one is always)?
  • Is it Measureable? How will you know if something is better? Can you put it up to a metronome and measure how fast you’re playing that passage? Can you play a note for 10 seconds longer than you could before?
  • Is it Achievable? No, young student, you will probably not be able to play the Haydn concerto two weeks from now. But you will probably be able to expand your range by two whole steps if you worked on it!
  • Is it Results-based? I visualize an improved version of myself doing the thing I’d like to achieve with my goal. It has to be something you can attach to an end result.
  • Is it Time-bound? This one, in my opinion, is the MOST important when you are first starting to set SMART goals. Even if you fail to achieve the first goal you set, at the end of your time frame you now have new information about what you need to change and how long it will take for you to try again next time. Couldn’t get that passage up to 120 BPM, but could get it to 90 from a starting place of 78? Okay, next goal will be 108. (A little more than what they achieved next time because they now know the route to get there.)

So that’s my format with goal-setting that I use with my students. I give them space to discuss as a group what their goals as a whole band will be, and then they have some time to journal about what their personal goals should be as well. And what if they don’t reach the goals they set? This is okay in my class. Failure to reach a SMART goal is not really failure. It’s just a way to inform what our next goal should be. This takes the bad, “I’m not good enough for this,” personal feeling out of it and focuses students on the tasks.

This year I have a few personal goals and a New Year’s Resolution to reduce the amount of waste I produce as a consumer. For this post, I will be sharing my personal goals for the year.

My Personal Goals for 2018

Physical Fitness

The context of this is that I went into this year having just had a major shoulder surgery. Before my shoulder became such an issue, I was exploring my limits as a runner. I had finished two half marathon races and seen improved results (and physical feelings after) between the two. I also was practicing yoga 2-3 times per week, strong practices, in a studio environment and was frequently exploring those limits as well.

Of course having to keep my shoulder immobile for 6 weeks is going to put a damper on my fitness regime. So here are my physical fitness goals for this year:

  • Run a half marathon race in the fall (October or November) with a time of 2 hours 30 minutes. A half marathon (13.1 miles) is a familiar distance for me and this is all about getting close to where I was. My first half marathon time was 2:26, and the second was 2:15, so I’m giving myself plenty of buffer room. I’m walking about 3-5 miles per day right now. Obviously I can’t run until my sling is off Jan. 25, but once that’s off I plan to start small. (1 mile at a time in the beginning…that seems like such a small distance but will probably feel much longer when I start back up.)
  • Resume a regular yoga practice of 2-3 times per week, gentle enough to protect my shoulder but strong enough to strengthen my other muscle groups, by June. The 6 month mark after my December 15th surgery is when, according to my PT plan, I should be able to “resume all activities.” So if I follow through with the plan and follow all protocol I should be okay.

It’s important to know that when you’re working with a time frame as long as a year, there might be a need to adjust your goals as you find yourself getting closer faster or slower than you expected. You go with what feels good to you. You will probably not stick to your goal if your routine feels like torture, or if you don’t find it challenging enough.

Financial Goals

I’m going to be candid about my financial context: 7 years after finishing schooling, I’m finally starting to feel like paying off my 8 outstanding student loans is achievable. All of my loans are currently less than $5,000, most are between $1-2k. I have paid off 2 of them completely (once when I got a substantial tax return, and again when I got overlapping paychecks from a change of employment). It feels GOOD.

Last year, I got married, we combined incomes into one bank account, we got a roommate whose rent check goes directly into savings, and we got a new car. So lots of financial activity going on in my life. Still, the thing that by far has the most interest to pay off and is the stupidest thing to have hanging over my head is that student loan debt. So with that in mind, here are my financial goals for this year:

  • Pay off at least one student loan. Okay, so it’s a specific debt, measurable because when it’s paid it will be gone, results-based because it’s about getting rid of it, time-bound because I will do it by the end of this year. But how will I achieve this? Maybe this next one will help –
  • Don’t buy any clothes. This should be the easiest one. It’s a goal achieved by NOT doing something. Same goes for sunglasses, jewelry, and probably shoes. I may make an exception for running shoes if my current pair wears out.
    I’d love to be a person who is so organized I could say “I’ll take the money I saved from not buying clothes and put it towards this other thing!” But I don’t buy clothes unless I’m in a place where I don’t need a clothing budget. Therefore, I have no idea how much I spent on clothes last year. I judge myself often for this quality of my character. I’m working on it.
  • Put money aside (specific amount I will keep private) for a big summer adventure. One of my best friends is getting married this summer, and I am the maid of honor! So I’m going to be traveling for awhile.
  • Start saving for a new clarinet this fall. My clarinet I’ve had since 2005 broke last summer. Like, the wood cracked and the repair cost is more than the value of the actual clarinet. I’m heartbroken as playing chamber music is a really big part of my life. But here is an opportunity to become a better musician with a better tool. And until then, I have my trumpet.

Professional Goals

I’m basically taking a gap year in the middle of the school year – I worked for 4 months, will be on disability for 3 months, and will be back at work for only 3 months. So my professional goals for the remainder of this school year?

  • Stay calm and take at least 2 weeks to assess the progress students have made in my absence. I will breathe. I will reinforce behavior expectations I set at the beginning of the year. I will remember that kids are only human and it’s easy to forget the small stuff in band. I will be candid about mistakes when I make them in front of the students.
  • Reduce clutter in the context of my unusual teaching situation. Actually organize the file box that lives in my trunk. Keep the original music parts in a folder in the file box and do not accidentally give them to students. Only bring materials I will absolutely need to my classroom situation.
  • Brainstorm and memorize at least 3 activities students can do in the inevitable situation that some kid’s valve gets stuck and I have to fix it right then and there.
  • Figure out a better classroom system for teaching clarinet players to play over the break. What will the other kids be doing at that time???

I know, my job is very specific.

Staying SMART

It would be irresponsible for me to say, “This is how you create a SMART goal and these are mine!” And then for me to leave the post without giving you any ideas or tools for staying accountable to your goals.

I have to admit that this part is very challenging for me as a person. I reach out in a thousand directions and don’t often follow through with every route I explore. Everyone has different methods of self-monitoring that work for them. Here are some things that work for me:

  • Google Calendar. (Or a paper calendar!!! Or a planner!) There are probably a thousand easier ways to keep track of your time-bound goals, but looking at a calendar helps me the most. I use the reminder feature constantly to remind myself to do my shoulder exercises, to help process how many days I did this or that or the other, keep track of what lesson I taught the third grade classes last week, and (VERY important since I am an itinerant teacher) where to be.
    I only went to the wrong school once so far this school year!
    A thing I do that helps me immensely: I color code my time commitments. Each school is its own color, doctor appointments are lavender, social plans are orange, music ensembles are dark purple, and I think volunteer things are yellow. When I start running again, I think they will be “Flamingo” colored.
  • Mint. I love this app. You can keep track of all your money-related accounts, your credit card, student loan debts, savings, etc. They inform you of your credit score (which for me has risen 250 points since using this tool). They have a tool you can use to help fund your financial goals – a specific “Goals” tool. They also categorize your expenses for you. (Maybe I could find out how much I spent on clothes last year after all…)
  • The 8,000 health tracker apps out there. Yeah, if you have a smart phone, there aren’t any excuses if you plan on achieving your goals. I use Runkeeper because they have good half marathon plans. I will take the workouts they schedule for me and jot them in my Google Calendar so I know when I’m done teaching that day, “Oh, I have to go home and run 4 miles.” Or if I have the foresight to look the day before, “Oh, I should bring my running clothes with me so I can run 4 miles before I get home.”
    I don’t feel a big need to track my food intake, but I’ve heard good things about Chron-o-meter if that’s a goal for you. Shop around for apps that will help you achieve your goals!
  • A journal or notebook. If one of your goals is to limit your screen time (which I’m having trouble with lately) you may consider using a notebook or journal to help keep track of your goal progress. There are a plethora of ways you can do this. Some ideas:
    • Give each goal its own page or group of pages.
    • Write down specific action steps for each goal.
    • When you’ve worked on one action step, record what you did to get there. And maybe, how did it feel? What did you learn? How might you approach this differently next time? What failed? What felt comfortable or uncomfortable? (Sorry, my teacher is showing.)
  • Friends. Share your goals with your friends. Do it. Do it! Share your progress. Share your failures. The more you talk about your goals to the people close to you, the more presence they will have in your everyday life. Your friends will be curious and ask about your progress. Your friends will hold you accountable. Your friends may even feel empowered to work with you toward their own, similar goals. A mutually beneficial friendship. What better thing is there?

I hope this post has been helpful for you in your journey. What did I miss? What have you done that’s worked for you? Please share in the comments! And have a lovely week.