Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'll Take 20, Please

When people find out I'm vegan there are usually two main responses:

"Oh, no. My best friend's second cousin's great great aunt was vegan. She died. Like super died. A horrible, painful, meat-free death."

or

"Ew. I could never do that. I don't even like salad. Plus, I basically bleed cheese."

Honestly, I can't blame them. I remember my little sister and I fighting over the last squirt of canned cheese when we were younger. I remember cringing at the word tofu or soy milk. I remember wondering if vegans were the same as hippies, and if so, did they have to wear bras. The jury is still out on this one. I vote no bras, if it ever comes up.

But then I began to search for answers. You see, I started taking blood pressure meds when I was 19. NINETEEN YEARS OLD. Every day, I would have to pop a pill in order to keep my blood pressure manageable. I was pissed. Yes, I was in a wheelchair and I had plenty of health issues, but I just felt like there must be SOMETHING I could do to fix this without having to rely on medications. I watched a ton of documentaries. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Forks Over Knives. And finally, Vegucated. Each one showed me a different piece of the puzzle and led me to understand that going vegan was the best thing I could do for my body, my environment, and all the innocent animals in corporate dairy, egg, chicken, and slaughter houses. I feel that shifting from a diet to a plant-based lifestyle, I was doing the least amount of harm that I could. It was almost a spiritual awakening, really.

I finally have control over my life and my imprint on the world. That's a very powerful thing. But not only does it feel great to know I am making thoughtful decisions, but there is some DELICIOUS food out there that is completely plant-based! 

I had the honor of receiving this bad boy for review from Alternative Baking Company, Inc. 


They are located in Sacramento, CA and have ALL VEGAN COOKIES. They now even have a line of Gluten-Free cookies! You can order them online at alternativebaking.com. 

This cookie was TO DIE FOR. It was moist, about half an inch thick, with huge dark chocolate chunks. 

My score:
Texture- 9
Taste- 10
Appearance- 9
Freshness- 7

I loved the softness of the center of the cookie. It was a melt-in-your-mouth delight. The only thing that I would change would be smaller chocolate chunks. While there are a decent amount of chocolate chunks, they are slightly too big to be evenly dispersed in the cookie. That being said, I could still eat like 20.



My omnivore friend, Chelsea also got roped into helping me out with this review!

Chelsea's Omni Score:
Texture- 8
Taste- 10
Appearance- 10
Freshness- 8.5

Chelsea said, "I honestly couldn't tell it was vegan. It tastes just like a delicious f***ing cookie!"





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Create Your Own Label

"Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals."
-Oscar Wilde

According to Merriam-Webster, society is 'a voluntary association of individuals for common ends." Me? I see two issues with this. One, being a part of society has never been voluntary. You don't get to chose whether or not to be a part of the wheel that is already spinning. The only thing you get to chose is if you will keep spinning towards the cliff, or if you will come together with like-minded individuals and turn that wheel toward safety.

Secondly, in my opinion, the common end we seek is to live and live happily. The issue is, the way each individual wants to seek that end is vastly different. Most people just follow the same footsteps of their parents and other leaders in their community. They nurture their minds solely with the opinions and ideals of the people who's beliefs are based on the people from THEIR past. Many times, this has gone on for generations, causing a cycle of the same decisions, same mistakes, and same end. People end up being almost brainwashed by passions of the past, with ideas so watered-down that they lose any meaning of what was once behind them. Sure, sometimes they find happiness, but can you truly own that happiness if it belonged to someone else years ago? Are you truly happy just because someone convinced you that you are?

While some choose to follow, there are some who step out of that clone factory and create a path of their own. I would like to think that I am one of those people.

Raised in a small town in Texas, it's hard to be an individual sometimes. You see, the society in which I live has a lot of rules and expectations that I have never identified with.

Look, I'm not going to lie. Being in a wheelchair definitely has it's perks. (Can you say parking?) However, it is not without its struggles. The largest, and sometimes most hilarious struggle would have to be society's assumptions about people in wheelchairs. For example, let us revisit one of my first dates with my now-husband. Drae planned out the whole day and I was so excited to spend all Saturday with my super hot new boyfriend. ;) When we arrived at our first stop, a local museum, we were stopped by an older man who worked at the museum and offered to hold the door open for us. But, before he wrapped his hand around the door handle, he placed his hands on his knees and bent down to be eye level with me. 

"Aren't you a pretty girl," He squealed in a sickly-sweet baby voice. "Pretty, pretty girl." 

I seriously thought he was going to pinch my cheeks and give me a lollipop. Now that I think about it, after living through that mortifying experience, it would have been nice to get a lollipop out of it. My first reaction: oh my god, can someone hold my skin? I would like to crawl out of it now. Great, now Drae is probably super embarrassed that he is dating someone that people assume must be talked to like a child. Awesome.

My embarrassment was short-lived though because immediately when we got inside, Drae and I looked at each other and busted out laughing. We both knew the man meant no harm, plus, the experience was like a free tour through the museum of hilarious works of ignorance. If truth be told, this wasn't the first time someone assumed I was on a lower intellectual level than others. It definitely wasn't the last. But, just because my husband and I find these small moments of ignorance highly entertaining, it still doesn't make it right. This is just one of society's expectations. Upon first glance, many people that come in contact with handicapped people automatically assume that they experience mental disabilities as well. While for me, this assumption has been used as a challenge to prove my true intellectual ability, for others it may destroy their self-confidence. 

Another way that society's expectations could potentially destroy individuality is through the use of gender roles. 

Men must be:
  • Strong
  • Tough
  • Emotionless
  • Protecting
  • Dirty
  • Insensitive
  • Aggressive
  • Dominant
Women must be:
  • Fragile
  • Weak
  • Overly emotional
  • Protected
  • Clean
  • Overly sensitive
  • Passive
  • Submissive
Who would want to be with either one of these? Every man must be a smelly ball of rage? Every woman must be a blubbering sack of tears? Seems like a dream couple to me...

Instead of trying to smash people into one category or the other, I think we should appreciate the people who encompass the positive aspects of HUMANITY, not gender.

I want (and luckily have found) someone who is:

  • Kind
  • Nurturing
  • Sympathetic
  • Courageous
  • Unique
  • Honest
  • Determined
  • Open-Minded
I challenge you today to step outside the labels that society has tried to thrust upon you and create your own label- YOU.



It's not about coming together as one unidentifiable mass of faceless drones, it's about letting our individuality change the perpetual wheel into a spinning palette of color.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don't Be Afraid to Find New Love in Life

"Give your heart then change your mind. You're allowed to do it. 'Cause God knows it's been done to you, and somehow you got through it."

-John Mayer
In July of 2011 I was a wreck. I had just quit the WORST job I'd ever had at a call center. I was a ball of nerves, not knowing when I would find another job. I was 20 years old, my husband was working part time, and I was terrified that we wouldn't be able to pay our bills. I made it my full-time duty to do nothing but apply for jobs. I composed the fanciest resume I could assemble and spread it faster than Ebola (too soon?).

Then, it happened. I got a call from the PERFECT job. A Dermatology clinic offering full-time office work in the insurance department. So I sent my nicest, professional clothes with my husband on his way to the laundromat. I immediately began rehearsing the answers to common interview questions. I was going to nail this interview. It was as if my life depended on it, and in all honesty, at that point I felt that it did.

The interview went fantastic. The managers and doctor were so nice and they seemed to be willing to trust a 20-year-old with some major responsibility, which was a first when it came to other office interviews. 

I remember asking, "So, do you know when applicants will be told who was selected for the position."

"Oh you'll -er, they- will find out today. For sure."

Luckily, I had parked a good distance from the building, because the moment the car door closed I did the most passionate victory dance of my life. There was far too much jiggle involved for human consumption, let me just say that. 

My phone was glued to my hand. I swear I didn't even eat that day. I just stared at my phone. After two hours, it rang, and I was in such an odd combination of anxiety and excitement that I almost forgot how to answer. My verbal skills came back quickly though, just in time for me to accept the job.

I trained diligently for the first week and was astonished by how much I loved what I was doing. I had finally found, what I thought at the time, was my career for life. I went from Insurance clerk to Insurance Coordinator. And for a long time I was content with this. 

But then it changed. Actually, I changed.

As I grew up and learned more about what I felt was my life purpose, I realized that I couldn't stay at the job forever. Although it was a job that I enjoyed and I was pretty darn good at it, I realized I had grown as much as I could grow there. I wanted a fresh taste of life, learning, and a new journey to mastery. I wanted to get out and have a bigger impact on lives while I had the chance. 

Now, starting December 3rd, I get my shot at it. I begin my new job at a local substance abuse support center. I am absolutely overjoyed! I have decided that my goal is to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. Can you imagine the impact I could have on people?! Just the thought of helping someone cope with the struggles of addiction is exhilarating! Step one of accomplishing this goal is getting my associates degree, which, turns out will be more expensive than I hoped. According to FAFSA, I am not eligible for grants and my "Estimated Family Contribution" is way higher than I could ever pay out of pocket, so I am going to be forced to take out loans. Which, in all honesty, is really scary to me. Sure it's risky...

But you have to take risks to truly live.

You see, when I started at the dermatology clinic, it was absolutely PERFECT for where I was in my life at the time. But, my life has evolved and and so has my attitude, my mind, and my goals. And even though I, at one time, gave my heart to that job, my heart's needs have changed and it's time to move on.

And that's ok.

Don't ever think that you are forever indebted to any situation, job, or relationship simply because at one point it was everything you needed or wanted in life. You don't have to spend the rest of your life 'paying off' the happiness that you received from things or people. You have a right to be happy today. 


Find happiness even if it means saying goodbye to something that once helped you achieve it in the past. 




Saturday, November 1, 2014

Think happy. Be happy.


"Our life always expresses the 

result of our dominant thoughts."

-Soren Kierkegaard

The other morning my bed seemed extra comfortable and no matter how many of my alarms went off, I just couldn't will myself out of bed. So, I ended up being dragged (figuratively and literally) out of bed by my husband, ten minutes before I had to be out the door and on my way to work. Immediately, when I saw the time constraint, I started scrambling around, frustrated at myself. Then as I was frantically slamming my makeup around, trying to slap any semblance of a work-appropriate look onto my face, Leia (my dog) became enticed by the tizzy I was in and decided to jump up at me. I ended up stabbing myself in the eye with a mascara brush and shoved the dog away, pouting. I somehow managed to fly out the door and make it to work on time, but as far as I was concerned, this day was already ruined. On top of all this, I remembered I was on a deadline at work. 

I remember rolling up to my computer thinking, "How am I going to finish all this today? There's no way. And on an empty stomach... ugh. I can't believe I forgot my breakfast too. Five o'clock can't come soon enough. Today is going to be awful." 

And it was. 

However, it wasn't awful because I accidentally slept in, nor was it awful because I stabbed myself with mascara, although that really freakin' hurt! It was awful because I had convinced myself it was. All of these little things that I was getting so worked up about were not life-altering occurrences. They were minor inconveniences, at best. But because I had it in my mind that this was the worst day ever, I saw every minor mishap as an attack on my person. 

There was no water in the dispenser in the break-room? That was obviously the universe sending me a message that it didn't care if I died of dehydration. 
Receiving twelve calls from people asking me to fix their mistakes? That HAD to be the universe punishing me for pouting this morning. 
Having to wait 10 extra minutes because my husband had to work a little longer before picking me up? What a cruel injustice from the powers that be.

Do you see how toxic thoughts like that can be? I went from experiencing almost laughable offenses, to somehow building them up into towering demons bent on destroying me. And with that, I destroyed my entire day. 

Oh, how different my day would have been if I had viewed things differently:
There was no water in the dispenser in the break-room? It's almost lunch time, I can pick up a bottle of water then. I've been wanting some Fiji water, anyways. 

Receiving twelve calls from people asking me to fix their mistakes? It feels good to be needed. I'm glad people see me as someone they can call to help them out.
Having to wait 10 extra minutes because my husband had to work a little longer before picking me up? Hey that's extra money on his paycheck! And the fresh air feels great!



Now that sounds like a much better day!

Don't be a victim to your own thoughts. There are enough obstacles in the world without having to put up a fight against your own psyche. Be your own hero by shaping your thoughts into positivity. 


When you only try and harness light in 

your mind, you shine brighter. Always.






Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Things I Learned From Daryl Dixon (Spoiler Alert)

So I just binge watched The Walking Dead and am finally caught up to the rest of the world. And, yes. I love Daryl.

I just think, of all the characters in the show, his is the best. Not just because he is a "good guy" or even because he's a bad ass. But because as you watch, you see his character grow. You see Daryl become the hero he was meant to be. He is a hardcore walker slayer with a soft heart that crumbles at the thought of someone getting hurt. He is incorruptible, even though he has been surrounded by corruption his entire life. 

I know most people don't watch The Walking Dead because of its reality. But, I do. And of all the characters, Daryl is the most authentic. 

Daryl teaches you not only how to be a sick zombie slayer, but to be a better person? Don't believe me? Read on!

1. Family is first. No matter what.
Daryl's brother Merle was a jerk. Yes, I am aware this is the understatement of the century. But jerk was the nicest adjective I could use. Not only was Merle a slimy, perverted, foul-mouthed, drug user. He also betrayed the "group" multiple times. He never made decisions to help his brother or the rest of the group. Merle only made decision for Merle. Still, at the end of the day, when Merle is sent away from the prison, Daryl is right there with him. Daryl had FINALLY found his brother again. And he is willing to risk his life to make sure he has his back. Daryl knows that Merle is a ticking time-bomb, but he has to give him a chance. Why? Because that's his brother. And to Daryl, family is above all else. 

It's important to remember that when the world is caving in, the only stronghold you may have of your past normalcy are those people with whom you experienced it. Those bonds are forever.



2. Family doesn't always mean you are related.
Now, I told you Merle was a jerk. I meant in. Like, remember when he kidnapped Michonne? Daryl vows to go after Merle alone. He doesn't want Rick or any of the others at the prison to risk their lives because his brother went nuts. He tells Rick, "You're family too." In a sense, Rick was more family that Daryl ever experience with Merle. Rick cared. Rick listened. Rick protected. While Merle may have been blood relation, Rick would always be family to Daryl.

If you can find more truth, love, and companionship with ANYONE, that makes them family forever.



3. You don't always have to share your opinion.
While Daryl is one of the most important characters on The Walking Dead, he really doesn't have many lines. He observes. He tracks. He listens. While he does have an opinion on some major decisions within the group, he sometimes seems to clam up. Is that because he doesn't care? No. It means he is thoughtful enough to realize that he DOESN'T truly have all the answers. And he can't really make an informed decision until he collects more information by, you guessed it, observing!

Sometimes, it's best just to zip your lip. If you don't have all of the available information, how can you really have a strong opinion about something? Don't be pushover who never speaks up- but don't be so quick to scream the loudest if what you're saying has no facts behind it.



4. If you know someone is wiser than you, it's okay to let them hold the reigns.
Multiple times throughout the series, Daryl assures people that they can trust Rick.
"He's done alright by me."
or
"Rick has honor."
Daryl respects and admires Rick. He knows Rick makes mistakes sometimes, but he also knows that at the end of the day, Rick is a good, intelligent man. It's OK to not be the ringleader all the time. When it comes to going on runs, Daryl takes the reigns- because that's what he knows.

Like Daryl, you should be confident to take control in areas you know. But, if someone else is wiser than you, it's acceptable to let them guide you. 



5. Don't count on getting debts repaid.
Daryl does a lot of things for almost EVERYONE on the show. He is willing to kill walkers, go on runs, hunt, track, a myriad of treks. He is even willing to do some totally unnecessary things- like going on a run looking for booze so Beth can have her first drink. Even though he is willing to do all of these things, he NEVER asks anyone for anything. And it's not like he's sitting against a dead walker pouting about it. He doesn't want anything in return.

We should all try and be selfless like that. Shove that tiny voice down that whispers, "Maybe they will pay me back for this later." If you aren't willing to give or serve graciously without expecting a reward, don't even bother. Give and serve without expectations. 



6. Letting people in is scary, but rewarding.
It is perfectly clear that Daryl isn't one for sharing his back-story. But, it is evident he has a huge heart. For example, when he and Beth are in the shack with the moonshine they begin sharing little details about themselves. Beth asks Daryl if he has ever been to jail and Daryl gets EXTREMELY offended. He starts breaking glasses and screaming about her misjudgment. But, once he collects himself he realizes something. He realizes the only reason these incorrect assumptions have been made is because he never talked about himself. With anyone. He never let anyone in. So, after his meltdown, he gives us a tiny glimpse at his back-story. And you can see he visibly appears happier. Lighter, even.

Sometimes, we get weighed down by the heaviness in our hearts. We all have tragedy and we all have darkness. But if we never share that burden with another person, we are wearing down on ourselves. Let some of your darkness escape to make room for the light that comes from having a relationship with another!



7. Always have hope.
This pretty much sums it up... when Sophia was missing, Daryl went to Carol and said this:

"It's a Cherokee Rose. The story is that when American soldiers were moving Indians off their land on the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee mothers were grieving and crying so much 'cause they were losing their little ones along the way from exposure and disease and starvation. A lot of them just disappeared. So the elders, they said a prayer; asked for a sign to uplift the mothers' spirits, give them strength and hope. The next day this rose started to grow where the mothers' tears fell. I'm not fool enough to think there's any flowers blooming for my brother. But I believe this one bloomed for your little girl."

The world was literally being eaten alive, and Daryl still found a beautiful sign that hope exists. There is always a "Cherokee Rose" in every situation. Don't give up.



8. Sometimes you have to walk away from those you love.
Okay, okay. Sorry, guys. Back to Merle.  Remember when Daryl left Merle to head back to the prison? There was no doubt that Daryl loved Merle. But, after awhile Merle's reckless toxicity was beginning to wear on Daryl. At that point, he knew that Merle was strong enough to survive on his own (after all he had been doing it for about a year already). But Daryl also knew that by being with Merle instead of at the prison, he was essentially putting a lot of lives at risk. Who else would be able to track as well as he did? Who else could make a solo run into a busy town with nothing but a hunting knife, a bow, and 3 arrows? Who else would risk their lives day after day (and get shot in the process) to find a little girl that everyone else had given up on? No one. No one but Daryl.

He was tired of being disrespected and mistreated by Merle, too. Which is what led him to say, "I may be the one walking away, but you're the one who's leaving."

Loyalty is important, yes. But there comes a time when you have to evaluate all relationships. Even those with people you truly love. If it is toxic, dangerous, and reckless, it's time to get out. And that's okay. I'm not saying shut out that person forever. What I'm saying is, you have to be brave enough to draw the line somewhere. Your happiness, at the end of the day, only depends on you. Are you happy with all the relationships in your life?



9. You are not where you came from.
Daryl was raised by the same family as Merle. So, you would think their morals would be really similar. But, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Daryl didn't become a victim of his upbringing like Merle did. He didn't become a product of a rough youth. He emerged from that, used the survival skills he was forced to acquire, and made something of himself. He made himself the hero.

Don't ever for a second think that you have nothing to offer because of where you came from.



10. Crossbows are awesome.

'nuff said.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Time

Time is a shadow, always one step behind.
She whispers her lie, "I will always be here."
Until you don't see her when the sun turns you blind.
Even in darkness, she sits at the foot of your bed.
But how do you sleep when her breath smells like summer?
And she gently coaxes her fingers through the hair on your head.
People told you she's fleeting, but you turned a deaf ear.
Still, you empty your closet. You shackle her ankles inside.
Promptly at dawn you share tea with her, year after year.
But still, there is one day that starts just like the last,
Only you wake to find your closet is an empty prison cell.
You have no future, no present, you are left only with the past.
Your blindness and deafness left you crippled with fear.
And what did you do with your moments with Time?
Somehow, you forgot the true reason she was here.

Jennifer Benfield
10/18/2014