Numerology: Age is Just a Number

A friend recently confessed to me that she is beginning to feel anxiety about the turn of her next birthday. I’m sure this is something many people can relate to, or at the very least, we have that one relative that wears out the (terrible) joke that she’s “Turning 29… again!” My friend admitted to feeling anxious, lost in a job that’s not ideal, a lack of creative fulfillment and a general feeling of What Am I Doing With My Life.

But here’s the twist: She’s only turning 25.

I tried to help her as much as possible – I never felt weird about turning 25, and on the contrary, I’ve heard only wonderful things about how wonderful 30+ is. However, my twenties have been a rollercoaster to say the least, and I’m really only halfway through them.

I remember when I graduated from college (the first time, ha!) and felt a deep, deadening pressure because suddenly I was supposed to: support myself, find a “good job”, maybe get married (all of my friends were!), and try to be AN ADULT while having no money, unfortunate roommate situations and mediocre self-esteem, at best.

While I was 25 I hit a plateau – In school, but working a dead-end job that sucked all the life and creativity out of me, a devastating failed relationship, concern about my worth as a person capable of making anything of myself. (Why do we seek out articles and information about people in our age group who SKY ROCKET to the top of their industry, then compare ourselves to them? Why do we tell ourselves that being anything less than THE BEST WRITER/ARTIST/MUSICIAN/BLAH BLAH BLAH makes us and our work inconsequential?)

26 – year of change. Everything. All of it. It has been needed for a long time.

And now… still 26, later though, and the future shines more bright than ever. Personal interests and passions have paved paths to career opportunities that I feel like I’d been grasping at for years. All of sudden, it felt like someone placed them kindly on my lap. “Here, Jaime, you’d be good at this.” All the hours/days/weeks agonizing because my Monster.com resumes weren’t getting responses. And now look? Things fall into place. Somehow. That is what I’ve learned.

When I look onto my next milestone birthday – 30 – I don’t look at it like a fearful end to my youth. Rather, for the first time in my life it is merely a mile marker to keep me on track for what I’d have like to accomplished by then. (This coming from someone that NEVER set goals because I felt like I would end up disappointed!)

It’s not about beating yourself up if you don’t meet your goals, it’s about recognizing that cultivating greatness is a process and the end result can be a few years off, something to look forward to rather than dread. But there is room to leave things unknown, and it’s essential we do, since we don’t actually know what’s going to happen.

I have more than 3 more years until 30. I’d like to write a book. Start a business. Maybe be a mom. Give myself time to c a l m   d o w n and explore what I want, need and feel, to make adjustments both in lifestyle and mental clarity to process new beginnings and weird endings (that will happen, constantly, every day!) as they come.

Birthdays can be treated like most days – like every day – and used as a chance for a fresh start, and a moment to reflect on how far we’ve already come. Wanting more for ourselves and our lives does NOT mean all we’ve done ’til now is a failure.. And that old cliche is true, as much as we’d like to cringe or roll our eyes: all of our experiences have lead us to RIGHT NOW. Let’s be thankful for them, and use them as tools for growth.

We still have so many more chances.


Jaime in the Sky With Diamonds?

Engagement rings seem to be the topic of conversation these days. (Calm down! Just talking in general!) As much as I like glamour and flashy things, I don’t quite thing I’m a diamond sort of girl. While discussing the alternatives to diamonds, I was informed that the diamond mining industry can be a pretty horrible thing!

Before I continue, let me add this DISCLAIMER: In NO WAY is my intent to demean the value and priceless worth of anyone with a diamond engagement ring. Just posting food for thought.

Here’s an excerpt about “conflict diamonds”:

Conflict diamonds are not just a public-relations problem. About one in every ten gem diamonds, it has been estimated, is smuggled from four African nations—Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola—that feed money to a large black market. Some of the profits go to criminal gangs, some to brutal ruling regimes, some to outright terrorists. And the stones are mined under oppressive conditions for the smallest of wages, using methods that damage the countryside.


In the past I had done searches on engagement rings (just lookin!) and found websites for “conflict-free diamond rings”, though I admit I didn’t understand what it meant. Brilliant Earth is at the forefront of conflict-free diamond jewelry, or they at least have the best marketing. They make a promise to socially and environmentally responsible mining – Diamonds have a guarantee to be carefully tracked to ensure no (or little) environmental devastation and that citizens and workers are treated fairly.

In the other side, you have economies boosted by the sales of diamonds. But at what price?

This is a new topic for me – I am sharing the tiny bit of information I’ve researched, and hope if you have any information about the diamond industry, for or against, you’ll supply it in the comments!

THINGS I like THURSDAY!

The Nest Magazine – For those of you still in mourning over the death of the long-gone Budget Living magazine and the more recently, hard to comprehend demise of Domino magazine (R.I.P. forever!), be sure to seek out The Nest. Okay, it’s a younger sister to The Knot wedding magazine, and if there’s anything can be called a flaw, it’s that The Nest assumes you are fresh in the beginnings of a heterosexual marriage… BUT. It’s full of tips about home decor and design (everything, even the stuff that’s not my particular taste, is still NICE), easy but impressive recipes (not all vegan, of course, but there are ways to veganize most things!), and a general cheeriness targeted and hip, young people. But not in a pretentious way. It’s filling the void that has been left for a wonderful, creative lifestyle magazine since many are sinking due to the rise of, uh… internet blogs. Ahem.

Colleen / Vegan Treats Hook-up – Upon picking up some  extra work at my old bookstore job (health insurance for only $14/week!), I met my new pal Colleen. We realized that our circles of friends from years past were, in fact, the same circles, and we have likely met 8 years ago and just don’t recall. Anyhow, aside from the fact that she’s a clever graphic designer and a smart, refreshingly spunky lady, her sister just got a job at VEGAN TREATS. That means Colleen is constantly hooked up with donuts, caramel walnut brownies, and goodies like this huge T-rex-sized coconut glazed treat. I feel like she’s a drug supplier, but the drugs are coated in pink sprinkles.

Onion Goggles – I was introduced to these when I was cooking with my client Christa. She looked around the room, tucked her hand into a kitchen drawer, and said with hesitance, “Don’t think I’m crazy… These look stupid but they really work….” and pulled out a pair of these bad boys. WOW. Revolutionary. They do make you look like a mad scientist crossed with a scuba diver, but I say EMBRACE it!!! I can’t wait to get a pair so I don’t run away from the food processor, mascara dripping and burning my eyeballs. Like, I just want to make some salsa, not impair my vision.

Bumble Bars – These were recently on sale at the health food store, so I picked up one in the chai flavor. I was expecting a hard, teeth-hurting bar akin to the honey and sesame seed candies usually found in bulk bins. But au contraire. Instead I got a soft, chewy and wonderfully delicious snack. And gluten-free, vegan and organic means food makes tasty treats for everybody! The chai flavor was awesome, as I’m sure you can imagine. Watch out for other flavors like lemon, cherry chocolate and pineapple coconut.

FREE TRIP TO FLORIDA! – No, I’m not kidding! My boyfriend went to a networking event for work and seriously won the GRAND PRIZE which is a trip to Florida!!! You know what this means? MERMAIDS. Weeki Wachee Springs, you are a beautiful place of nostalgic kitsch and I am going to sneak into the water, turn into a mermaid once and for all, then frolic with manatees and eat cabbages with them.  Oh my gosh.

I went here when I was about 10 years old, and it was a dreamland. I’m beyond excited that I get to go back. I can still recite the ENTIRE “Little Mermaid” show, word for word, because we bought the cassette tape and I played it over and over on the drive home (oh yes, drive – Florida to Pennsylvania, my friends). Sorry, Mom!  I’m going to absolutely freak out and hopefully make a little video of me having sea turtle induced heart attacks and trying on fins.

When Things Fall Apart.

Over the duration of the past week, I have witnessed many of my close friends and coworkers express deep pain, sadness and depression. From a selfish perspective, this is a hard thing to witness. I want to be able to help them, to fix them, to tie everything up in a bow and say “Look, all better!” I hate the helplessness that comes with knowing you can’t do anything to directly ease the minds and hearts of loved ones. You can be there for them (which is always greatly appreciated and maybe in the end, the most important and generous act), but this doesn’t take away the immediate hurt.

(“The Telephone is Ringing” – photo by Marty Desilets)

I know what it is to be so far away from feeling like a worthwhile person, able of doing any good and instead seeming to only cause destruction and inflict hurt on others. I think this especially hard because we are inherently good people. (How can someone “good” do something so “bad”? What kind of monster am I!?) This makes it hard to want to reach out to people because if we are already feeling so miserable about ourselves, or have acted in ways that have caused others to think and feel badly of us, we don’t want to add more people to that mix.

(Photo by Marty Desilets, Hotel Bethlehem)

I remember on the night after one of my worst moments, a friend agreed to meet me for coffee and she said with so much sincerity “Please, please call me if that happens again.” We dubbed that moment and those feelings “going to the roof” (for reasons that are self-explanitory, I’m sure). While my friend couldn’t reach into my heart and mind and pull out the sick parts, her kindness and reassurance that someone is there if I ever need to “go to the roof” meant the world. It gave me a sense of belonging, and reminded me that even when time passes and those people we mutually care about are people we haven’t talked to in a while, we have huge impacts on the lives of others – and they want to be there to remind us of that in our darkest hours.

If you have a friend who needs your help, reach out. Even if it’s just to tell them “You are important to me and I am here for you no matter what.” You can’t imagine what those words mean when you have nothing else to grasp onto.

And if you are someone who feels sad and feels alone, please believe me – you aren’t. You touch the lives of people in positive ways you can’t comprehend. So many people’s lives are better simply because you are in them. Please believe me.

I’m an avid reader, and in searching for books to help me heal and understand my pain, I came across When Things Fall Apart by buddhist monk Pema Chodron. No matter your beliefs or religion (or lack thereof), I believe her compassionate wisdom rings true for all hearts that need healing, or even just a reminder that “things come together and things fall apart”.

Below I have included some passages of that book that have been particularly helpful:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Letting there be room for not-knowing is the most important thing of all.”

“Disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, anger jealousy and fear… They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.”

“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”

“Whatever occurs is neither the beginning or the end. The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others.

We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario of the worst person in the world, in the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.

Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, or throw a pot as a way of not facing whats happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face-to-face.”

“Now is the only time. How we relate to it creates the future. What we do accumulates: the future is the result of what we do right now.”

“The first noble truth is that when we feel suffering , it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move.

We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better ‘me’ who will one day emerge.  We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we’re not there. It’s better to take a straight look at our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence on our basic sanity arises.”

“We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up.”

“We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same.”

LAST NIGHT’S DINNER: Tofu Quiche!

This recipe is so simple – and best of all, you can give it whatever flavor you want!

This is the basis for ANY vegan quiche: 1 block tofu, 1/3 cup nondairy milk (I use soy), pie crust (homemade or vegan store bought).

After that, you can add anything you’d like – vegetables, faux-meat, curry powder, fresh herbs, daiya cheese or another vegan cheese, etc etc…. Once you make one of these, you’re going to want to play around. This is also a great way to use up the last bits of any fresh veggies you may have on hand. So have fun!

JAIME’S TOFU QUICHE

  • vegan pie crust
  • 1 block tofu, pressed
  • 1/3 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 12 0z. mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp. tamari sauce (more to “deglaze” the pan if needed)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp. tumeric
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the rest of the veggies, cut to size of your liking, and sautee until softened but still crisp.

Add dried basil and tumeric. Remove from heat. In a food processer, combine pressed tofu (just crumble it in) and soy milk. Blend until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine tofu mixture with the sauteed veggies.

At this point, add vegan cheese if you wish. I added about 1/3 cup nutritional yeast. Mix together.

Spread tofu mixture into the pie crust evenly.

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees, until the top is browned.

Let cool, and ENJOY!

*Note: Make sure, if you are using a non-disposable metal pie pan, you spray it first or oil it to prevent the crust from sticking.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

Things I Like Thursdays!

Let’s just get right into it:

Leap Soaps – I have a deep love with beautiful package design. I may have been seen caressing loaves of bread when Arnold Breads changed their packaging a few years back. Sometimes maybe I slam hard on the breaks when I see a beautifully designed billboard. If you are going to put something out there, make it nice to look at, right? Leap Soap Co. has done just that. Leap Soaps are certified organic, have luscious scents like lemongrass and lavender orange clove. Designs are from artist Charles Bloom. I want ’em.

Cassette Tape Catnip Toys – Since Pierogi has all this space to bat around things around, I’d rather the toys that scatter the floor be something pleasing to look at it (and not a fake mouse with stuffing pouring out. Ew.) These cassette tape catnip toys will make Pierogi the coolest, hippest nostalgic-ironic cat around. Toys are handmade with cotton, and stuffed with high-quality organic catnip. Kitty drugs never looked so cute! $5.99 for 2 cassettes, from The Upstairs Room via Etsy.

Put ‘Em Up, book by Sherri Brooks – I love pickles. I love ’em! Low in fat and calories, simple ingredients, naturally vegan. Unfortunately, GOOD pickles (crispy, fresh and with good flavor) cost a few dollars a jar or from a market. I have been saving up my glass containers to venture into the world of home pickling, and this is the book to help me to do it! Bright colors, and gorgeous design (look at the pages! so beautiful!) plus a ton of color photos and easy directions make this one a winner. First project: Spicy pickled green beans. $19.95,  Put ‘Em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide… by Sherri Brooks.

Lightlife Frozen Meals As much as I love cooking, sometimes I have nothing in the fridge and I have to run out the door to work, a meeting, etc… Thanks to Lightlife brand foods, getting a tasty and healthy meal in a few minutes just got easier. While there are other brans of frozen meals, I just can’t bring myself to spend over $4.00 on something I know I could make for under $2 a serving. Lightlife’s meals are ALL vegetarian (many, not all, are vegan so read labels!), and cost only $2.99 each, which doesn’t break the bank if I throw one or two in my shopping cart. $2.99

This week’ list  is short because I’m the busiest bee! Check back again for next Thursdays list.

You’re Going to Eat THAT?

Is it weird that the Food Network show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” is probably the LEAST veg-friendly food show, and I love it immensely?

Let me explain: I think there is something beautiful about the mission of the show, which is to unite people of different cultures through understanding their food and it’s personal meaning. Our concepts of “gross” are cultural. This is the same notion that says our concepts of how we treat animals is cultural. (Dogs are cute! Pigs are delicious! WHAT!?)

While I of course do NOT advocate eating animals, it is sometimes interesting to see how people in present-day have no idea what a factory farm is, a processing plant, a kill line, a veal crate, a gestation crate, why “free range” is deemed important (*please view the comments on this post to find a link and explanation of why that term doesn’t even mean much of anything, though!), etc… For many people in the world, the way they find and use animals for food (again, NOT advocating it) is something Americans read about in history books.

Do I like the idea of animals used for food? Nope. But I have a much, much bigger problem with animals used for food that are mass-produced, drugged, and forced to live uncomfortable lives in absolutely terrible unsanitary conditions. While factory farms are ever-increasing to supply meat to parts of the world that traditionally never had it, there are still many parts of the world that don’t have it – a “hamburger” doesn’t exist, essentially. Something to think about.

Another interesting aspect of food that Bizarre Food highlights is how various cultures use food and nutrition for health, wellness, and medicine. I’ve learned about some plant and root concoctions for relieving cold symptoms, coffee that is support to cleanse your body, and the way hand-mixing ingredients can be a form of meditation.

So, WHY IS THIS RELEVANT?

About two weeks ago I caught an episode of Bizarre foods that focused on what children eat in other countries. It was a child-friendly episode, as American kids would be filmed asking Andrew questions (“Whats the grossest thing you ever ate? What food did you hate as a kid?”) and he’d answer and then move on to a segment about how in some places, kids snack on bugs instead of potato chips.

BUT THEN.. The most wonderful point was made, as Andrew essentially said:

“Don’t you ever think that some of the stuff we eat in THIS country is a little weird? To kids across the globe, imagine what they would think if you explained a hot dog to them?

A hot dog, something so common it can be seen as symbolic of something “All American”, but it’s kind of scary when you think about it. Take for starters the shape and color. Pretty weird. Then consider that it’s made with a bunch of scrap parts of animals, and 25% of hot dog ingredients don’t have to be listed on the package!

We eat jello – that’s another All American snack. But jello is made from ground up bones of animals!”

ISN’T THAT A GREAT POINT!?

I wondered how many people munchin’ on hot dogs at that very moment took a second to think about that.  To me, this brought home the entire idea of cultural perceptions – we think eating hot dogs is NOT gross because we’ve done it forever. (And yet, TOFU scares some people? A little ol’ soybean? Really?)

A trailer/preview for a book by Author Melanie Joy that addresses this topic (warning: this may be disturbing, but it drives home this whole idea – I hope I don’t offend anyone!):

For me, as for many people who eat veg-diets, finding out about the horrors of factory farming and animal abuse (not to mention the tolls on the planet and health) was a shift in my perception of what food is.

In closing: I have so much respect for anybody that has identified their opinion because of self-education and firm reasons (even those opinions which are different from my own). Our concepts of food, health, wellness and compassion for animals are other issues to investigate, and then make choices we deem moral.

(A note: I tried to find ANY list of hot dog ingredients online and found nothing but generalities. However, TofuPups – vegan hot dogs – are only 60 calories each and you can pronounce and identify so many ingredients! Three cheers for dried tofu, beet powder and tomato pulp!)

(As per Google, here’s a cute little photo of a pup named Tofu!)

*I also want to state that I do not love my non-veg friends and family any less, or think anyone “bad” because they eat meat. Ideally, we could communicate our differences of opinion with respect and kindness and if not change our own minds, at least have a greater understanding for others. We are all on different paths within our journeys, and they are best traveled with a quest for knowledge and an open mind!