I still haven't totally processed this, but Chris and I will be spending a considerable chunk of next month in Italy. In fact, we leave next week--which feels even further from comprehension.
Our stay will take us through Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan, plus a week in a villa on a farm. We're planning to spend a little time seeing some sights and a whole lot of time sitting in piazzas and getting gloriously lost as we wander and explore. During our villa stay, we'll relax and take a few day trips. Also--one of the most exciting parts--we will have a kitchen in our apartment. You didn't really think I'd go almost a month without cooking, did you?
I've heard so many great things about how Italy handles gluten-free and am hearing positive things about vegan dining there as well. I'd love to hear from you, though. If you've been to Italy, what are your tips for eating GF and/or veg? Did you find it easy or difficult? Any specific restaurants that shouldn't be missed? Also, if you have any non-food travel tips, opinions on must-see attractions, or insider advice about out-of-the-way gems, please leave them below as well.
Many ideas crossed my mind as potential rewards for completing our 21-Day Challenge. They ranged from treating myself to a juice cleanse or a spa treatment to purchasing a new piece of jewelry or splurging on clothing from one of my favorite shops. Ultimately, I decided on something more permanent, something that would honor my yoga practice and also serve as a symbol of my commitment to a vegan lifestyle.
On Saturday night, for the first time in almost eight years, I got a new tattoo.
Chris and I finished our 21-Day Challenge this past Saturday. Just as with my first challenge, there were no fireworks or confetti canons to celebrate our victory. Instead, we were left with something so much better than any grand salute could have provided. We experienced a real, fundamental change in the way each of us approaches and feels about incorporating physical activity into our lives.
I said before that taking on a challenge is great because it eliminates excuses and creates an environment where there is accountability—where in a sense, you have to do whatever it is that you’ve committed to, regardless of circumstance. It does something bigger than that, though.
I woke up on Sunday morning tired in the way that makes your head swim and fills your belly with nausea. I was anticipating a fairly relaxed weekend, but, as uncertain family plans suddenly got the green light, every span of downtime from Friday on became filled with prep work. Those early Sunday hours were no exception.
I dragged myself into the kitchen and began slicing eggplant, a high flame heating the cast iron grill pan on the stove behind me. I was certain that it was only a matter of time before I would cut or burn myself; such things usually happen when I’m working in the kitchen at minimized capacity. I was also certain that the work ahead of me was going to take hours—hours that I didn’t have.
Day 15 of 21: I still had to make it to Pilates (there weren’t any early enough yoga classes) before heading out to spend the holiday with the fam.
By some small miracle, I managed to neither cut nor burn myself. With a little help from the hubby, not only did the eggplant get grilled, but I finished all the remaining prep work for the pizzas I would be contributing to Easter dinner. And I may have smelled of smoke (a drawback to grilling indoors), but I made it to Pilates.
(Gluten-free, vegan pizza for Easter--a special request from my grandmother-in-law, Ma. Photo courtesy of my husband.)
They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. There is also a “they” that disagrees, believing that it takes much longer. Whatever the day to habit timeline may actually be, I think that, when you’re looking at making a lifestyle change, 21 days is a pretty solid place to start.
Twenty-one days is three weeks, which, to my mind, is long enough to feel as though you’ve done something, while still being moderate enough as to not be overwhelming. You’re not committing an entire month, but it’s no weekend foray either—which is why I really love the idea of a 21-Day Challenge.
Last November, the yoga studio that I had been spottily attending sent out an email proposing a challenge: twenty-one consecutive days of yoga (and/or Pilates) beginning the day after Thanksgiving. There was no reward—no free class, no t-shirt—just your name on a blackboard near the shoe cubbies stating your commitment for all to see.
I decided to take it on.
(Names other than my own have been hidden to protect the identities of innocent yogis.)
“Many bloggers have recently adopted a vegetarian, vegan or whole foods way of eating. I would love to know if you’ve experienced the same since changing. Before I went whole foods, I never really had any digestive issues. Now, a small deviation into junk can easily trigger something nasty.”
Nearly six months ago, I set down a path to lose weight and feel better. While my goals soon began to shift and led me to where I am today (veganism), I learned a lot about how challenging and frustrating weight loss can be. It was humbling.
I learned that the most difficult aspect of weight loss is the psychological. Self-judgment, disappointment, and frustration are key players in the struggle, but the team captain, the tyrant driving all the others, is expectation. Expectations over how much and how fast will drive you crazy…if you let them.
A while back, I said that “weight loss looks more like a craggy, downward-sloping mountain range than a slide.” I wasn’t just crafting similes. It’s true.
This is a snapshot of 4 weeks of my own weight loss.
Last weekend, Chris and I took a day trip out to a castle on Long Island. Yes, I said a castle. On Long Island. Oheka Castle--one of many extravagant mansions built in the early 1900s by the wealthy elite on what is known as Long Island's Gold Coast.
We first learned about the Gold Coast mansions on a fun show called Off Limits, where the host takes you to places that are otherwise, well, off limits. See, most of these mansions have been long abandoned and fallen into severe disrepair (or, as the guide said repeatedly during our tour of Oheka, "despair") and are not accessible to the public. After Oheka's days as a privately-owned luxury retreat, a stint as a retirement home for sanitation workers, and a couple decades as a military academy, it too fell into disrepair. Fortunately the 115,000 square foot castle (the second largest private residence in the U.S.) was bought up in the 80's and has been in the process of being restored ever since; it's presently about 70% complete.
My birthday cake this year, from my sweet husband.
We were watching Iron Chef America. The battle was tilapia and the fish were presented swimming in tanks. The chefs scrambled to scoop as many as they could handle, rushing them over to their stations to begin “breaking them down.” The commentators chuckled over the chaos ensuing as the competitors struggled with their secret ingredient. Suddenly one of the fish wriggled free and began flopping across the floor, away, away, as the chef chased after. My breath caught and I hardly realized I was speaking aloud.
“He just wants to live.”
It was such an involuntary reaction that I wasn’t immediately sure what it meant or how to place it. I’m pretty sure Chris thought I was joking. I thought I might be joking too, but there was a kernel of truth to what I said that left me feeling unsettled.
I’ve been avoiding speaking with specificity here about the changes that I’ve made in my life over the past few months. I needed time to understand them better for myself first, and, if I’m totally honest, part of me has been nervous about how some of my choices will impact things in this space. My food has changed. It’s still delicious, and in a lot of ways better really, but it has definitely changed along with me.
It was at the end of September when I finally decided I’d had enough of feeling awful. I was tired all the time, I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and, more than feeling heavy, I felt swollen. Inflamed. My fingers were like sausages and my joints resisted when I bent them. It was impossible to take my rings off to do the dishes without first sticking my hand in the freezer to reduce the swelling, and even then it was difficult to force them over my knuckles.
Something told me it was more than just the extra weight. Something in my body felt wrong.