Photo Challenge: Achievement

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It might not have been the New York City Marathon, but last year I completed my first 5k run. Even though I’m now a personal trainer, I still struggle with running. It’s more psychological than anything else. I have the attention span of a three year old, so getting me to stay on a treadmill or do any endurance training is a challenge. Although running 5k is not so difficult, training for the 5k was an achievement for me. I’m determined to keep going with my running, and I hope to one day be able to tell you all that I’ve completed my first 10k, half-marathon, who knows maybe even a marathon.

Click here to join in with this week’s photo challenge.

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Plant-Based Pause No 40: Take a Deep Breath

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.’ – Indira Gandhi

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If you’ve been following this series of posts from the start of the year, by now you’re possibly living a plant-based lifestyle. Making ethically led, environmentally friendly decisions that impact humans and other beings as little as possible will be ‘normal’ to you. You might think it crazy that you ever ate meat and dairy, or you might be horrified by the amount of waste that you used to create.

You may also be feeling frustrated by other people’s actions. When I see people making the same mistakes that I used to I get angry and annoyed. I want to scream out loud and tell them that what they are doing is not only jeopardising their own health, but it is slowly killing the planet and all other beings on it. However, I also know that doing that is futile and I will only be accused of trying to convert everyone. So, instead I take a deep breath and remind myself that I once lived like them too. I take a deep breath and try to be patient. I take a deep breath and share my knowledge in a way that I hope is inoffensive. I take a deep breath and remember that we’re all still learning.

I take a deep breath every time I hear someone make a joke about how they ‘need’ meat.
I take a deep breath when people make wisecracks about my vegan food.
I take a deep breath when I see yet another colleague throw yet another disposable plastic cup in the rubbish bin.
I take a deep breath when I’m told it’s natural for us to eat animals.
I take a deep breath when omnivores tell me they don’t want to know how animals make it to their plate.
I take a deep breath when people ask me where I get protein from.

I’m sure I have a lot more deep breaths ahead of me. I also know we can make this world a better one, one deep breath at a time.

Plant-Based Pause No 17: Don’t Beat Yourself Up

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. ‘ – Robert F. Kennedy

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As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And while we’re talking in clichés, here’s another one – nobody’s perfect. With the best will in the world, no matter how committed you are to living a plant-based lifestyle and doing the right thing, even the best of us slip up at times. At the age of fourteen, when I turned vegetarian for good, I accidentally ate a scotch egg because it didn’t occur to me that it contained sausage meat.

Making a radical change in your life such as converting to a plant-based diet isn’t easy, especially when it goes against everything you’ve ever been taught about the world and what most other people believe. Like I did, you might slip up and eat something you vowed never to again. Or, you might just one day find yourself somewhere with no plant-based options available and no pre-prepared snacks to hand, and think ‘screw it, I’ll just eat the cheese omelette’. If, or when, it happens, my advice it to deal with it, learn from the experience and move on. Kicking yourself afterwards only makes you weaker for the next challenge. I don’t live a completely plant-based, carbon-neutral life, but I do the best that I can in the modern world that I live.

Plant-Based Pause No 12: My Kids Won’t Eat Plant-Based Food

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘You put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car.’ – Harvey Diamond

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I have to start with a disclaimer here. I’m not a parent, nor do I claim to have any idea what it is like to raise a child. However, I do know that we, as adults, have a habit of telling children what they will and will not do before they’ve had the chance to make their own decision. I used to work with children, and I have been guilty of this myself many times.

Although I eat plant-based, I spend quite a lot of time with my godchildren who do not. At first, I made an DSC_0460effort to make sure that there were always meat options available to them, especially when we went camping. I soon learnt, though, not to bother. Apart from the odd burger off the barbeque, out of everything they had offered to them, both my godchildren chose to eat my vegan food instead. (Mental note: pack more vegan food for the next camping trip!)

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and go plant-based, don’t get disheartened if it takes a while for your children to come around. Children become addicted to the ‘drug’ of convenience and processed foods as easily as adults do. Give them a chance to discover things for themselves, though, and you’ll be amazed at how they can adapt.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the best ways to get children into plant-based food is to allow them to grow their own. My nephew proudly sends me regular photo updates of what he’s growing in his garden, and previous birthday presents for my godson have included plant seeds and fruit trees. Not having your own garden is no excuse, either. I volunteer in my local community garden, and every Saturday in the summer it is full of local kids who want to learn more about growing food and have a go.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out Vedged Out. Somer is a mum who converted her whole family to a plant-based diet, the dog included. Not only is she inspirational and full of lots of great information and product recommendations, she also posts the most delicious vegan recipes.

Plant-Based Pause No 8: Harness All That Extra Energy

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.’ – Henry David Thoreau

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One side-effect of eating plant-based is that you will have more energy. A lot more energy. This is a good thing, as long as you know how to harness it. If not, you’ll end up sat in the corner rocking back and forth like a polar bear in a zoo.

If you’re the kind of person who has sat on the sofa for years, swearing to start that new exercise regime next week but unable to find the motivation, by eating plant-based you’ll have all the motivation you need. Since becoming a plant-based vegetarian, I want to do something active almost every day. I climb at the indoor climbing wall twice a week, I go to exercise classes such as step and spin, and on top of that I make it to the gym a few times a week as well. I even managed to complete a 5k race last year, something I never thought I’d do. So there’s no more excuses, harness all that plant power and get going.

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Plant-Based Pause No 7: Eating Plant-Based Prevents Disease

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance.’ – Hippocrates

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Every year, we spend billions on treating diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As a species, we seem to have grown to accept this as our fate. We assume that a certain percentage of us will fall victim to these terrible conditions, and there is nothing we can do about it. Rather than simply treating the symptoms of such diseases as a bandaid measure, however, I believe that they can be tackled from the source.

The doctors and other healthcare professionals who pioneered the plant-based movement did so after realising that people who lived in rural areas of the world, where animal products were not eaten due to lack of availability, were much less likely to develop cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. City dwellers who ate a typical western diet, however, suffered more from these diseases of affluence.

Handily, in the early 1970s, Chou EnLai, the then premier of China, conducted a nationwide survey that would prove this theory. After discovering that he himself was dying of cancer, Chou EnLai wanted to understand more about the disease and how it affected his country. They compared death rates for different types of cancer over 2,400 counties and inlcuding 880 million (96%) of China’s citizens. The China Study provided T. Colin Campbell and his scientific team with vital information about how eating plant-based can help us all to lead longer, healthier lives.

Every day, more and more evidence emerges to prove that living plant-based is better for us. Apart from a few exceptions, animal-based foods contain a lot more fat than plant-based foods, and higher fat intake increases the chances of developing cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Just as animal protein contains things that we don’t need, plant protein contains things that we do. Antioxidants, for example, protect our bodies and are exclusively found in plants.

You only need to browse the Forks Over Knives website to find lots of testimonials from plant-based vegetarians who have used their diet to overcome diseases, leading healthier lives and coming off their conventional modern medication. Unfortunately, though, that is not enough evidence for a lot of people. My mum has Type 2 diabetes. She argues with me every time she sees me that eating plant-based is not a solution. I’ve challenged her to prove me wrong. All it will take is 5 weeks. After that time, if she’s not feeling better and off her medication then I’ll admit defeat. So far, she hasn’t taken me up on the challenge.

YMCA Sleep Easy Challenge 2013

One of the most basic human rights is to have somewhere safe and stable to live, yet homelessness continues to be one of the worst social problems in Britain today.

On a personal level, I’ve only had to sleep rough (not by choice) on one occasion. Back in 2002, I was working at a summer camp in New York State. During a night out in Lake George, and on impulse, myself and two colleagues decided to skip our curfew and stay out and party. We assumed we would be able to rent a motel room for the night, but unfortunately we were mistaken. We walked to every hotel and motel we were aware of in the whole town, but nowhere could we find a bed for the night. We got so desperate that, in tears, I begged one hotel manager to let us pay him to sleep on his office floor. I think he almost gave in, but unfortunately said he couldn’t let us stay at his establishment. With no other choice, we slept on the side of the road. Unfortunately, we made a rookie mistake. We chose to wait out the night on a road running alongside a park. It was only when the sun came up the next morning that we realised the whole area was covered in dew and we were soaked. I was lucky, though. I had enough money in my pocket to go and buy some breakfast whilst we waited for our bus, and once we returned to camp I was able to have a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed.

My experience in America is what inspired me to take part in the Cardiff YMCA Sleep Easy Challenge 2013 on Friday night. Over 100 of us slept rough in a city centre car park to raise awareness of homelessness in Wales and to raise much needed money to fund an emergency room at the YMCA hostel.

I was so determined to take part in the Sleep Easy Challenge this year that I would have gone along on my own, but I’m very pleased to say that my good friend Geri volunteered to come with me. We arrived just after 8pm, and joined in the scramble for cardboard to make our beds. This is only the second year that the event has taken place in Cardiff, and the organisers weren’t expecting so many people to turn up. Two of the car park staff were up and down in the lift for over an hour, trying to bring up as much cardboard as possible with one bin between them.

There was a really great atmosphere in the car park, a sense of community as everyone came together to support each other through the night. At around 10pm, the good old Welsh weather demonstrated what it is known for as the wind started to pick up and howled through the car park. Geri and I tried to make our area as comfortable as we could.

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Thirty minutes after this photo was taken, the rain started to pour. It came in horizontally through the wire mesh that you can see behind me, and dripped from the ceiling. Our sleeping bags got wet, and the cardboard that we’d put up behind us in an attempt to protect us from the weather turned into a soggy pile of pulp. I found the driest spot I could, buried myself in my sleeping bag and willed myself to fall asleep. Surprisingly, I did manage to sleep for a few hours. Again, though, I’m one of the lucky ones. At 5am I was able to drive home, put my damp sleeping bag in the washing machine, have a hot shower and get into my warm bed. I can’t imagine having to sleep in that sleeping bag in a wet car park the next night, and the next night, and the next night…

I’m proud to say that I raised £145 for YMCA. I also had the added bonus of sharing a great experience with a bunch of fantastic people. The hope is that the Sleep Easy Challenge will get bigger and bigger every year. How great would it be if they could one day fill the whole car park with fundraisers?

Hidden talents

A few weeks ago I told you about a new activity I tried – pottery! This week I went to collect the pieces that I made in the workshop, all ready after the tutor had fired and glazed them for us. As promised, here is a photo of the finished product.

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OK, I’m no sculptor, but they turned out better than I expected!

Rainy Sunday

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One of my big things this year is to do more. I don’t want to run myself into the ground, but I do want to get involved in as many community activities as possible. I’ve got lots of exciting events coming up over the next few weeks that I can’t wait to tell you about.

Yesterday, I ventured into a Cardiff neighbourhood that I hadn’t really been to before and visited one of our local community gardens. Projects like the community garden are perfect for people like me. I really want to learn about growing my own food, but no plant will live longer than a few days in my damp, mouldy, one-bedroom apartment. Yesterday I helped to plant some daffodils, which will hopefully be blooming ready for St Davids Day at the beginning of March, but generally there isn’t too much to be done in the garden at the moment. I’m really looking forward to when the weather gets nicer and I can get stuck in to some of the fantastic projects they have planned.

Take a step towards using fewer tissues

I’m all about making small changes, ‘or steps’, in my life towards being more environmentally aware. I’ve made a small change this week that is so glaringly obvious, it has literally been right under my nose, that I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before. Inspiration hit me whilst reading about how we can all help in small, but important, ways towards climate change on the Chasing Ice website. One piece of advice is to use cloths instead of paper towels. Although I try and use washable cloths whenever possible in my kitchen, my gaze immediately fell on the roll of kitchen paper that I had on the side. The most frequent thing I use the paper towels for are to blow my nose. It then occurred to me that I have packs of pocket tissues everywhere, in all my bags, in case I ever need them. I’m so careful to use as few paper towels as possible at work, so why don’t I think the same way when I’m blowing my nose? When I was a child I never used a disposable tissue to blow my nose. My Dad always had a cotton handkerchief on him ( a clean one mind), and one of my most frequent childhood memories is of him holding them to my nose in a desperate attempt to stop the unbelievable amount of snot that my it produced. When I got a bit older, my surrogate grandmother (long story) even made me my own handkerchiefs out of scraps of material with my initials embroidered onto the corner.

I don’t remember the point at which I stopped using my handkerchiefs and switched to disposable tissues, but this week I am making the pledge to switch back. I’ve bought some plain white handkerchiefs to get me going, but maybe one day I’ll get creative and make my own with my initials on.

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