Best of 2009 Challenge: Catch-up 2

Finally, I’m posting the remainder of the days I needed to catch up on. Here are December 7th through 12th from the blog challenge prompts….



Blog find of the year. That gem of a blog you can’t believe you didn’t know about until this year.

In 2009, I discovered a number of great blogs, so I can’t really single out one particular one over the others. There are two though that I visit very regularly these days and really enjoy. Those are, Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen and Procrastinating Writer.

Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen is a recipe blog for vegans (and those who love veg food). Lots of low-fat and lower calorie recipes are posted each week by author/cook Susan. A great resource for those wanting to eat well, but watch the calories (I still count calories to this day).

Procrastinating Writers is a blog for writers, especially those who tend to veer off track and allow their mind to wander into other things instead of that blank paper sitting in front of them (or blank screen as the case may be). Great motivating and inspirational info posted all the time here, I especially enjoyed the site during NaNoWriMo, which is when I discovered it.

Moment of peace. An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

Ah yes, I look forward to this each and every week. My moment of solitude takes place on Sundays. This is the one day of the week where I can sleep in, with no worries of having to be any place at a particular designated time or worrying about that pesky alarm clock buzzing me awake. Sundays are my day of rest both mentally and physically.

Mentally, I allow myself to relax at that time and let all the worries of the previous days and of those upcoming to drift away, as though they were aboard a canoe in calm waters. Ideally, my surroundings during this time are calm and positive. Of course, for now, this means that my real “me time” or “moment of peace” takes place out of the home. Maybe in 2010, this will change once I am back in my own place.

Physically, I work out my body. This means I go out for long walk/runs allowing myself to not only get in some cardio exercise, but to breath in the outdoors. There is nothing like being outside on a beautiful sunny day, just taking it all in. I love how it makes me feel, relaxed.

Challenge. Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?

My challenge of 2009 was to be back in a place that I never planned to be back to, and survive. As silly as that sounds, that was sort of the big challenge for me. Of course, entering the year 2009 as an unemployed individual, was a challenge in and of itself. I had never not been employed, at least not since I was in high school. That situation, along with having to move back home with my parents was my challenge. I was grateful that they were and are there for me when I need them, but moving back home after being out on your own is not the same. Things are quite different when you come back and are your own person. Nothing seems or is quite the same at home. While I never felt unwelcome, I have gone through my share of unhappy and uncomfortable moments being back this year. I went from optimistic job seeker and thinking all would be great soon, to depressed and not caring about anything…then, back to happy again. A mental and emotional ride of an adventure (if you can call it that J ).

In the end though, I feel as though it has been a learning experience for me. I have learned a lot, and while I love my family to pieces, I cannot wait to be back living on my own in 2010 back in my favorite place, Asheville.

Album of the year. What’s rocking your world?

Pearl Jam’s new album, Backspacer is probably my favorite of the year. It is the only full album I paid for a download of on iTunes in 2009. Other artists I have enjoyed, but not their entire album. It’s a great album full of music you can listen to in the car while you drive, or is great for adding to your workout mix. I have added a number of the album’s songs to my walk/run mixes.

The best place. A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?

People have these? Ha, seriously, I don’t really have one best or favorite place. If the location is serene and allows me to sit and write, I am usually happy and content with it. That might be a coffee shop, or a bookstore for me. Also, I enjoy places that I can photograph and feel my creativity pumping. These days, I am more into the outdoors than ever before in my life, so outdoor locations are great.

The only place I have found myself returning to as of late is Celebration. This is a quaint little community near Walt Disney World. It has beautiful scenery and oddly enough, reminds me somewhat of North Carolina in a way. I like how I can go there to merely wander around, check out the Sunday farmer’s market or take a long stroll on their hiking path. Celebration is a relaxing place to spend a few hours or day in just “vegging out.”

New food. You’re now in love with Lebanese food and you didn’t even know what it was in January of this year.

Indian food. Finally bought some and tried it late this year and I am in love. Well, I’m in love with matter tofu at least. I only wish I would have allowed myself to be more open and have tried this culture’s food sooner. I really have been missing out on some good food. Becoming vegan has really helped me open myself to try new things which is nice because I am beginning to have new favorite meals to add to my weekly “menu” for lunches and dinners.

Christmas Eve Baking Adventure

Christmas Eve this year marked my first adventure into vegan baking. For a few weeks prior, I had gone through multiple cookbooks and online recipes in search of ideas of what I might bake for the family. After several possibilities, I decided upon a Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Fudge Brownies.

Once I got home from work on Christmas Eve, I began to get my ingredients and cooking tools and such in order and ready to go. The cinnamon coffee cake would be made first, as this was the most important baked good of the two. You see, my family has a tradition of having a birthday cake for baby Jesus every Christmas. In the past, my mom had always baked something, or in busier years, picked up a cake from the local bakery for the occasion. 2009 not only marked my first year vegan baking, but my first year actually baking the cake solo. I was excited about doing it, and rearing to go.

In all honesty, I’m not a very experienced cook or baker. I am slowly but surely working on improving this, but still very new to it all. Now that I am a vegan, cooking is starting to become more of a regular part of my life, as it is much easier (and more affordable, not to mention healthier) to make your own meals. That all said, I knew it would take me longer than most to get things put together and into the oven to bake. So, I took this into account when I embarked upon the baking task.

Once I got everything out and ready to prepare, I think I surprised myself at how easy it all started to come together. The cinnamon coffee cake I was making was a recipe from Compassionate Cook’s Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking cookbook. I have really enjoyed her podcast and had been anxious to make something out of her baking book for awhile. The Cinnamon Coffee Cake won me over, as I am a huge fan of anything cinnamon as is the rest of the family (not so sure they love it as much as I do, but they do love cinnamon). In no time, I had the batter made and was whisking it together. The recipe has two parts, the batter itself for the cake and the crumbly cinnamon topping. The topping I admit took me longer than the cake batter did. I ended up making up two batches of it, as it didn’t seem to cover the cake like it should. Not sure if that was my fault or if it had to do with that I had to use a larger pan… either way, once I got enough topping made, I put it atop the cake batter and into the oven. Admittedly, I feared what the pre-baked cake looked like. Made me wonder if I really messed up and did something more wrong than simply the topping.

Trying not to worry too much about the coffee cake, I let it bake and moved on to the brownies. These proved to be much easier to make. I got the batter for these together and mixed in no time. This brownie recipe was one that utilized a banana, semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are very bad to have around, as munching upon them tends to occur while baking and then even later on… 🙂 ) and cocoa powder. Once I had everything mixed up, I poured the mixture into a pan and put it in the oven as I removed the coffee cake. To my great surprise, the finished coffee cake looked good! I was pleased that it didn’t appear to be the disaster I feared it was when I had put it into the oven to bake. Of course, the true test would be Christmas morning, but in the meanwhile, I felt better about my baking of it seeing the finished product.

Once the brownies were finished baking about twenty minutes later, my evening of “slaving” over a hot oven was over. I did the remainder of the dishes and clean up of the kitchen and went to bed looking forward to the taste test of the foods the next day.

Christmas morning came and I gathered with the family with my cinnamon coffee cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. A few minutes later, everyone took a piece of cake and I awaited the verdict of the tasters. I was happy to hear everyone eating away and offering up compliments on the cake. They loved it. This was the best thing I could have hoped for. I was relieved and grateful for the kind words. Later, after Christmas dinner had been eaten, the brownies were presented. They too were enjoyed by everyone.

My Christmas baking adventure ending up being a great success and I already look forward to baking for upcoming birthdays in 2010. And, I know my baking will only get better and easier in the future the more I do it.

Life as a vegan

I’ve now been a vegan for just over a month, after having been a vegetarian for a month. My original choice to go vegetarian was a health-related one. Originally, I felt that cutting out meat and eating more veggies would be beneficial to my health and was the next level, so to speak in my healthy living journey. Only way I can explain it is that I felt that it was the right way to go for me. I believe that you need to follow your heart on things and that is just what going veg was for me.

After about two to three weeks of being a vegetarian and still eating eggs and drinking dairy products, I began to do more research about the vegan lifestyle. While I was happy with the fact that I was no longer eating meat, I wanted to learn more. I have friends who are vegan, so I of course already had a general idea of what the lifestyle consisted of, but it was just a basic knowledge. Also, one of those friends told me that while it was great that I had gone vegetarian, that I should read about the production of dairy and eggs. She said that I would be surprised at what I would learn. My friend was very right. I learned that “free-range” eggs are not necessarily so free. I believed that these chickens were allowed to run around “free” on farms and generally be as happy as they could be. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. While the government does regulate the free-range and organic labeling on food, there are many loopholes in the regulations. The same goes for milk and the cows. These loopholes are used by many an egg or milk producer. This means that the treatment of grass fed cows may not be any different than that of the corn fed ones. This sad reality made me really think. Did I want to contribute to this? Or, did I want to stand up and do what was right?

I chose to stand up. I decided that I could not continue to eat eggs and dairy products and not feel dirty or bad about it. I chose to cease and desist putting anything containing these ingredients in my body anymore. I became a vegan. This in my mind was the one and only way for me to feel good about how I responded to the truth of the food industry and the treatment of animals. Now, I am in no way a perfect vegan. I do not believe there is one. Being a new vegan, I’m learning more and more everyday about the products I normally consume or use in my everyday life. Have I made mistakes and consumed animal products? Yes, I have. Not on purpose, but yes I have. But, once I learn that the product is not vegan friendly, I make sure that I don’t buy or consume it in the future. You live and learn, that is how it goes. Thirty years of eating meat and other animal products means that I am not going to be able to make the right choices right away or all the time. Once I know more; once I have educated myself more on what is okay to eat, I will make less mistakes. I will grow the longer I am a vegan.

A great thing about being a vegan is how calm I feel most of the time. I feel more relaxed than ever before. Whether this is because I have changed my mentality to be this way or whether it has to do with ridding my body of the poisons and artificial things found in animal products, I don’t know for sure. I like to think that it is both. Not consuming those things has helped me clear my head, thus allowing me to be calmer. That is how I see it. Also, I have decided to do all that I can to enjoy life. No, not everyday is great and happy, but it is what you make it. You can decide to not let things bother you more than they have to. You alone decide how to react to a situation. I’m working to be the calmer, happier individual that I have seen in others. I always admired that trait in those that possessed it. I saw this more in North Carolina. There’s just something about those mountains I think that makes one at peace with life. Well, that’s how I like to see it anyway.

December 17th – Word or phrase

A word that encapsulates your year. “2009 was _____.”

2009 was full of changes. Yeah, just can’t go with just one word there. This was a year that started off as a roller coaster of a ride and has continued to go through the ups and downs of the track along the way.

At the start of 2009, I was unemployed and in all honesty, desperate for work of some kind, anything. I had returned to Central Florida from the beautiful mountains and all I wanted was a paycheck every week or two that would pay the bills and help me get back on my own two feet. Thankfully, my prayers were answered not long after the New Year’s ball dropped. On February 2nd, I started my current call center job.

My weight loss journey was still at the forefront of my mind back in January. I had only just begun my weight loss about three months prior, so I still had a ways to go. By April and my birthday, I was close to where I hoped to be, but was seriously struggling with self-image issues. A great support system aided me in getting over that mountain of a challenge and by the summer, I was 70lbs lighter than I was when I began the journey to better health.

Creatively, I’ve gone through good and bad this year. Thanks to Debbie & Joe’s wedding last year, my excitement for photography had returned while I was still in Asheville. After getting my tax refund, I was able to purchase my first DSLR in late April. It quickly began my new “baby.” I was more than excited about showing it off to anyone who would listen to me ramble about it’s awesomeness. In early May, the camera came with me to Asheville for a quick in-and-out trip to collect the remainder of my belongings that another friend was holding for me in her basement. It was a good feeling walking around downtown Asheville with my new camera firmly in hand, even if it was only for a few hours that sunny Sunday afternoon.

Writing-wise, I’ve been through a number of highs and lows this year. When I first got back down to Florida, I told myself that it was a good time to really sit down and write. That I not only had a lot to write about, but that I need to utilize the free time I would now have until I found a job to do just that. Unfortunately, I did not do this. Instead, I found myself depressed and uninspired. I was waiting for inspiration to walk up to me and punch me in the nose. I now know that not only will inspiration not do this, but that I was naive to even think that it might happen in that way. Inspiration usually does not just jump out in front of your car in the road ahead waving its arms wildly. It comes as you are working and doing all that you can. You need to be open to inspiration, not just sitting there calling out its name. So, after months of excuses and not writing more than I absolutely had to, I had nothing but notebooks full of blank pages. Gradually, I got back on the writing wagon and got my butt in gear. While I had been writing prior to NaNoWriMo, it was this event in November that really got my writing ignited again. I now write something everyday again like I had been doing and I feel like I’m not that lazy, procrastinating writer that I was most of 2009.

Another big change in my life this year is that I went vegetarian in October. After having considered this option in the past, never did I seriously think I could or would do it. But, I decided to give it a go for health reasons. I felt that cutting out meat and making myself try new veggie meals would better my health and maybe help me lose the last few pounds that I had been trying to get rid of. After just a few weeks in, I then educated myself about the treatment of animals in regards to dairy cows and chickens, as I was still consuming milk and eggs. As soon as I took in the reality of how free-range was not the free-range I had believed it to be as well as considering my lactose-intolerance situation, I gave up anything animal derived. I am now a vegan. Admittingly, I am still working on the lifestyle part of being a vegan (getting rid of leather shoes and what have you), but I no longer eat anything that comes from an animal. I am happy about my choice to become vegan and feel better than ever for it. Definitely no regrets in the slightest.

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This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.