Dear Middle School Me:

First of all, I would like to say how valuable you are. The world has been changed because you are in it. But I’ll get to that later. 
You should know what will happen in 8th grade. You are so innocent, and you let others think for you. You will become friends with different people and, unbeknownst to you, you will be betrayed…MULTIPLE times. There will be so much backstabbing that rumors will begin to fly around that you are a lesbian. Back in 1992 in rural Indiana, that was NOT a cool thing. Oh yeah, and everyone thinks you’re anorexic. And you know how small towns are. They take that crap and run with it. So, for pretty much the whole year, at least the whole last semester, there will be mean girls and guys who will make you the butt of their jokes, all because one girl got upset with another girl. 
I wish I could say it didn’t have any lasting effects. I wish I could tell you that I no longer feel awkward and insecure. I do feel less of this. But I’m 36 years old, and it hasn’t gone away completely. However, I think it might be a good thing I still have some of this residual effect. See, one thing I know now that I wish I knew then is that everyone else felt/feels the same way. So, when another female is mean to me or says something that cuts deep (people still think I’m anorexic. Do I need to throw a steak down my pie hole every time I see you?? Woman, please, I eat more than my husband half the time. Note, I said my husband, not my wife, because I am straight!), I want to help her because I understand how she is feeling. If you can, take these feelings of insecurity and self loathing and put them to good use.
Second, I want to tell you that your life influences others right now more than you can ever realize. People actually look up to you! I know, you’re like, “who?” The obvious: your cousins, your friends in choir and band. The not so obvious: random people who pass you in the hall at school, those in class who wish they knew that answer you knew, etc…See, other people are watching you (and everyone else) because they are trying to find themselves; when they see something they like, they try and become more like that. 
A couple side notes. Your hair is awesome. People aren’t looking at those ugly glasses or the hand-me-down clothes. Guys think you are good looking. They are just too scared to admit it. And just because Sarah what’s-her-name has the same red plaid overalls as you does not make you second best to her.
I wish I could change that prayer you prayed. The one where you asked God to let you fall asleep and never wake up again. You are so loved and so needed. More than you will EVER know. You have babies of your own. Two girls. You mean the world to them. And when a good looking guy named Louis asks to walk you home one night at college, say YES! He’s the answer to that other prayer you prayed last year. You know the one.ūüôā  
Last, but not least, stay true to the friends who are true to you. You have no idea how your lives will intertwine later in life. What if one of your friends you meet in middle school becomes sick? Really sick? And you’re the only one that can save her? You say, yeah right. Well, it happens 18 years later. She is now a teacher, and since her life was saved, she is currently changing the lives of some kids who have it HARD. It’s a domino effect, and you are a CRITICAL piece. 
See what I mean about being valuable, worthy, life changing? Laugh a little more. Play music more. Journal more. Complain less. Hang out with the people that make you feel good about yourself. Relax. You turn out better than ok. :) 

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Post Surgey

I am home! What an incredible journey I have been on. I can’t say I would like to relive it, but I would do it all over again if I had to. The surgery went well. I had to stay in the hospital longer because of vomiting. So they performed a scan on my abdomen to make sure everything was ok. What they found was that my remaining liver had already regenerated 80%, something the surgeon had never seen before. They all agreed that was the reason for my nausea, that I wasn’t on a solid diet yet. Personally, I believe my liver regenerated so fast because of my plant based diet, and the grace of God.

The doctors said that my liver was not enough for Laura’s body, who was far worse than they all thought. But because of my donation to her, she was able to get to the top of the national transplant list (which would have never happened if she hadn’t been a transplant patient) and receive a full sized liver. So my donated liver went to pathology for research as to why some livers regenerate so quickly.

Laura is recovering. She is now out of the hospital! Things haven’t gone as smoothly as planned, but the good news is her body seems to be accepting her new organ and slowly getting back to normal.

Speaking of normal, I am so ready to get back to that! For now, I am just happy to be home with my husband and girls and to spend a quiet Christmas building back my strength.

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The Day Before Surgery

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Here I am, a day before surgery, in a Chicago hotel room on a rainy and cold Tuesday. My friend is fighting for her life. Tomorrow, her fight will become an all out attack against a disease that is trying to steal her from her family.
The rain has put me in a mood that combines the gravity of the situation with a sense of fresh hope. I have no control over what happens tomorrow or in the coming days. And, yes, I’m scared. The what-ifs are still there, creeping into my mind spontaneously. But my prayers are not ceasing, and that keeps the what-ifs from taking over.
I still believe that anyone would do the same thing if they were a match. And my part in this transplant is very little compared to the fight Laura has. However I do appreciate the love and support and encouragement from family, friends, and people I don’t even know. I am completely floored and blown away by the tangible kindness of so many. It’s this kind of love that kept the new church going back in the days of Acts, when converting to Christianity could have meant death. This is what church is. It’s not a building or a denomination. It’s love. A selfless love that gives freely without reserve. It’s giving hope to things that can’t be seen by actions that can be seen. Laura’s struggle stinks. And I know I’m not going to enjoy the next few weeks. But our struggles point to so much good in the world. This life does not promise complacency. But it can promise a love that knows no boundaries if we let it.

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Donate Life

Well, I’ve determined I’m not so good at the whole blogging thing. Which was probably obvious from the start since I am rarely in front of a computer screen. I thought I would share, however, what has been going on in my life. Most of the people reading this probably already know and have been involved somehow in my experiences, but here it is anyway.

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When I was in the 7th grade, I met a classmate¬†named Laura. We spent the rest of our childhood years together, and “best friends” status happened quickly. Our friendship was truly unique, although I am just now realizing how special it really was. One thing I learned from Laura was what grace meant. She has this way of forgiving without reserve or condition. It’s funny, because, we even tried to start a singing group with the word grace in it when we were kids, and she always said she was going to name her daughter, if she ever had one, Grace. So not only does she love the word, she also practiced it so many times with me and my not-so-perfect way of treating my friends.

Laura and I grew apart a bit once high school ended. We attended the same college but didn’t really hang out in¬†the same crowds. Not that there was any animosity between us, it is just what happened. We got married, had babies¬†(she had a daughter named Grace, of course), found jobs, etc…Ironically, my college roommate landed a teaching job in the exact same elementary school, the exact same grade as Laura’s job. They soon became friends as well, and as a result, Laura and I were back in touch.

Right about that time, Laura was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease that attacks the bile ducts. Liver transplant is the only known cure. A year later, she was diagnosed with melanoma. The doctors removed the cancer along with some positive lymph nodes, and she has had no cancer spots come back since. However, because of the melanoma diagnosis, she has had difficulty finding someone to perform her liver transplant, and she was denied a cadaver transplant (when someone dies and donates organs). Her doctors sent her to Chicago, where they perform live donor transplants (from a living person who volunteers to donate organs).

In the meantime, I was going through my own changes, my diet and health being the biggest. My health improved drastically when I switched from a typical, healthy American diet to a whole foods, plant based diet. While I was transitioning to this diet, I became pre-diabetic (diabetes runs rampant¬†in my family). More determined than ever, and after days of research, I went completely vegan, eating whole foods, little to no oil, and low glycemic. I haven’t had a problem since, and my tests all come back normal.

Well, our lives collided on the phone last May, after Laura was telling me about being referred to Chicago. Laura has 3 sisters and a very supportive family. Surely one of them would be a donor match for her and would ideally donate a liver. Her two sisters that were matches are struggling for their health as well and cannot donate. One sister is going through her own nightmare of melanoma.

I’ve spent a lot of time on my knees in prayer for my dear friend. Tears falling down my face, pleading with God that He save her so that she can be a mommy to her little girl, a wife to a very loving husband, a light to the rest of the world as she already is. When I found out I was a match, how could I not live out my faith that God would heal her? So, this Wednesday, November 12th, I will donate 60% of my liver to her.

Preparing for this has not been easy! It is difficult to convince doctors and nurses that my diet must remain the same during this process. I am convinced that my recovery process will be much quicker if I remain whole foods, plant based, but I regret that many doctors don’t see its importance.

If you would like to know more or or help us in this endeavor, please visit www.tobytuff.org. Or like our Facebook page, Toby Tuff.

I’m going to try to keep up with blogging my experiences. I will have to stay in Chicago for a couple weeks recovering, so I will have some down time. Prayers are much appreciated for Laura and me.

Thanks for reading!

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Confessions of a skinny girl

Picture me. A freshman in high school. 5’7″, 110 pounds of skin and bones. My gym teacher the year before didn’t expect much out of me. Which was fine because I could have cared less about chin ups and curls and any kind of ball sport that he thought made an athlete. Because that’s the only kind of athlete that existed in his mind. He told me once that I was the type of girl who would rather have my nose in a book than to be physically active. While I agreed with him on the reading part, I didn’t bother to tell him I had been dancing for 6 years.

My mom once said during this time of my life, when all my friends were blossoming into the flowers of adolescence, that I would bloom too by the time high school was done. Well, I love my mom more than anything, but folks, she was wrong this time! When I entered college I was 5’7″, 110 pounds. When I got married, I weighed in at 110 pounds. I carried both my babies to full term, and they were healthy. After each baby, I went right back to my 110 pound weight. During this time, I ate whatever I wanted. Junk food, healthy food, and a whole lot of potato chips. Now I am plant based and eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. I currently weigh…wait for it…108 pounds.

Do you hate me yet? Do you want to punch me? Do you think I need to eat more, that I’m unhealthy, that it’s just not normal? Will you call me a twig, laugh, and jokingly say you hate me? Am I part of the problem that everyone talks about, part of the media that portrays skinny women as beautiful? Go ahead, say it all. Get it off your chest. Will you tell me that my body mass index considers me underweight, and I should get medical attention?

Done? Good. Now will you please move on? Don’t try to make your insecurities become my problem. Oh and I’m not judging by any means. I am just as insecure as you are. Or at least I was once.

You know how you sometimes fish for compliments from someone because you are feeling low and want someone to encourage you? Many times that doesn’t work does it? We’ve all been there, don’t deny it!! We expect the other person to read our minds and make us feel better, and expectations are usually not met. That’s insecurity. And it’s the same insecurity that brings people to say to me, “I’d be that skinny too if I starved myself.” Or, “don’t talk to me about wanting to build more muscle, you have nothing to complain about.” Or “real men like a woman with curves.” Or better yet, “real women have curves.” Really?! So, I am not real to you? I don’t have a soul, flesh or blood? My husband doesn’t like me because I don’t weigh enough? You think I don’t eat?!!! I can’t talk to you about my own personal work out goals after listening to yours? When I was in high school, I actually overheard two boys talking about me in a very inappropriate manner. I won’t tell you exactly what was said, but the gist of it was that my skinny body would never be able to handle what they had to dish out.

While I have many choice words for men, I want to speak to my own gender right now. Ladies, find your dignity. You do not need to say these things, because, as you may have already realized, it doesn’t make you feel prettier in the end. You cannot find your beauty in someone else’s flaws, or should I say, your preconceived flaws. I will be just as skinny tomorrow as I was yesterday. You can’t change that. You can change the words you say, the looks you give, even the food you eat and how often you work out.

I know I’m going to get a few people telling me, “you just don’t get it. You’ve never walked in my shoes. You’ve never had to worry about trying to lose weight, and do everything right and it still doesn’t work.” You are absolutely right. I have no idea what that is like. I do know what it is like to be insecure and to feel judged on a daily basis by my appearance. So let’s put all the words away and just listen to each other. And for all my skinny girls out there, your man knows how to hold you just fine, and you are real, in case you were worried about being a figment of your own imagination.

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Starting out plant based

These past 2 weeks I have had multiple people ask me how to start a whole foods, plant based diet. Truth is, I have no idea how you do it. I will just tell you a few tips that helped me.

  • Research. When I decide to do something, I almost always research it and become consumed with it before I dive right in. There are exceptions of course. Like when I decided a¬†bachelor’s degree in psychology would get me a job right out of college. Or when a backwards rollercoaster at King’s Island wouldn’t give me whiplash or make me throw up. I mean, seriously, if anyone knows what I’m talking about, it’s not even a big roller coaster. Never again. However, when it comes to things I am passionate about, I will try to know as much as possible, like when I decided to eat this way.
  • Be patient.¬†I started slow. I know others who dive right in, but I wasn’t able to do that, as much as I wanted to. I first started cooking “clean,” which means whole grains, cooking from scratch, no preservatives, no white sugar. If it was processed, it didn’t go on my plate. That helped me to clear out my pantry a bit. I then began substituting dairy and eggs in my baking and cooking because my kids had allergies, and I knew dairy was hurting my body because my doctor told me it was.
  • Focus on adding. Diets are restricting, and I didn’t want to live that way. I began adding plant based foods that are rich in proteins, calcium, iron (beans, seeds, nuts, dark leafy greens, etc.), and all the other nutrients we think we are missing if we don’t have meat or dairy. After a while, I realized I was getting everything I needed through plants, and meat and dairy were unnecessary. I actually feel freedom now, and the only time I wish I had a normal American diet is when I have to go out to eat. I would love to go out to eat and not have to worry about what they put into my food. It’s kind of difficult to find places in my neck of the woods that have a lot of options. There are a few choices, though, and it seems to be becoming more popular.
  • Think outside the dinner plate. Before PBD (plant based diet), I stressed the importance of lean meat, a starchy side, and a vegetable for dinner along with 3 servings of dairy a day. Isn’t this the way we are taught? After PBD, as long as I am eating a wide variety of foods I don’t think about that anymore. I just eat what sounds good.
  • Keep your pantry¬†plant based. If a¬†bag of Oreos shows up in my pantry, I will eat them.¬†I have no willpower.¬†Sometimes, I think, just one will¬†satisfy me, and then the rest can go to my husband. Ha!¬†Once one touches my lips, there is no going back.¬†However, I will say that with the exception of a few things (Oreos, for example), I don’t like the taste of some of my favorite junk food items anymore. Usually the ones that contain dairy make me feel gross.¬†And the high fat things make my stomach hurt.
  • Think rainbows and unicorn smiles. If your plate/fridge/pantry is full of color, then you are doing something right! And I just like referencing unicorns whenever possible.

Here is what I ate this last week:

  • Sunday: Leftovers
  • Monday: Quesadillas using homemade “refried” beans and cashew cheese with guacamole and black olives on top. My “refried” beans are 2 cups of pinto beans, 1 cup of salsa, and 1 1/2 tsps. of chili powder mixed in a food processor. No frying or oil needed.
  • Tuesday: Fettuccini Alfredo with stir fried zucchini and mushrooms. This recipe is what I used, and it was fantastic in my opinion. It was a bit runny, but I was in a hurry and didn’t wait for it to thicken up. I think I am going to try using this sauce as a base for some broccoli soup at some point.
  • Wednesday: Broccoli and rice casserole. The recipe I made will not be made again, I don’t think. Not even I liked it much, let along the rest of the family. I love this type of casserole, so I will have to keep trying to get it just right.
  • Thursday: Lentil burgers with multigrain hamburger buns and a side of green beans. These burgers by runner Scott Jurek is a go to recipe for me, as I usually have some in the freezer already, and they are¬†filling. I also made these buns for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t have all the flours they used available, but I found most of them at our health food store. The whole family liked the buns.
  • Friday: Spaghetti and salad. No explanation needed with that! And, even better, my wonderful sister-in-law fed me. Score!
  • Saturday: We got home late and I had very little in the fridge or prepared. So I diced the one lone¬†zucchini I had left, saut√©ed it with frozen¬†corn, black beans, and fake sour cream with some salt and cumin. I then added them to a quesadilla with¬†the last of my cashew¬†cheese and some avocado.

I also tried Scott Jurek’s recipe for Adzuki running bars this week, and, oh my. They were chocolaty and gooey and tasty. Not as sweet as a brownie, but still good. Funny story, though. The recipe called for barley flour, so I¬†tried to make my own from pearled barley I had already, using my food processor. I had to do it outside because the noise was like I was trying to grind up rocks! After about 5 minutes of irritating the neighbors, I ended up with like a 1/4 cup of flour. So I gave up and bought some at the health food store.ūüôā

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Hope in action…plus my weekly menu

“Planting a garden is hope in action. As you pat the seeds into soft soil you hope they will grow. But maybe you also feel a little anxious.” These are the first words in a random library book I borrowed about starting a vegetable garden (Starter Vegetable Gardens by Barbara Pleasant). I am trying this year to grow SOMETHING. I’ve never been the best gardener. Every spring, I have this grandiose idea that I can build this beautiful sustainable vegetable garden with a border of luscious flowers and trellises of berries. As a kid, my family had a huge garden that lasted us for the entire year, and sometimes more, a giant strawberry patch, and a cherry tree. My parents are still eating cherries canned from our cherry tree 13 years ago.¬†I think, “I can do that,¬†sure, no problem.”¬†Well, the problem is I don’t live on acres¬†upon acres of land¬†like I did as a kid,¬†I have no desire to get up early in the morning to weed, and our ants and¬†wild bunnies are OUT OF CONTROL.¬†This¬†year, however, I am going to try a small strawberry¬†patch, some herbs, and maybe even a couple of vegetables.

Back to my quote.¬†A Bible verse¬†popped into my head. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 says, “6¬†I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7¬†So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8¬†The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9¬†For we are co-workers in God‚Äôs service; you are God‚Äôs field, God‚Äôs building.” So, moving away from the actual garden, I began to think more objectively.

Planting a seed is my job. It is my hope put into action. Not just with words, but the way I live my life. This is one reason I eat plant based. One reason I clean with homemade cleaners. One reason I try to reuse things as much as possible. My hope is that this country will be a little less sicker, a little more conscientious about where their food comes from, and a little more concerned about world issues, including hunger, deforestation and poverty. This is my hope put into action. How can I justify wanting the world to change if I just wait for it to do so? Something has to start with me.

Which leads¬†me to my weekly menu.¬†I’m still on a crazy tight budget, so there are no exciting recipes with exotic ingredients. I did try my¬†hand at homemade barbecue sauce. I¬†did this because my husband has a slight allergy to mustard seed, which is in a lot of barbecue sauces, and I¬†refuse to buy anything with high fructose corn syrup¬†in it.¬†I felt that my first try was successful!¬†

  • Monday: Black bean and rice burritos topped with avocado, salsa, and whatever other toppings we liked and could find around the house. Told you it would be exciting!
  • Tuesday: Tempeh sloppy joes with a side salad.¬†I¬†saut√©ed a small onion for about 7 minutes. While that was¬†cooking, I¬†grated a package of tempeh,¬†then added it to the¬†onions and cooked until the tempeh began to brown.¬†I added¬†enough barbecue sauce to make it nice and sloppy. Quickest and tastiest meal of the week!
  • Wednesday: Stir fry made with tofu, two packages of frozen mixed stir fry vegetables, topped with soy sauce, all on a bed of brown¬†rice.
  • Thursday: What I call ABC soup (so my kids will eat it), and homemade multigrain bread. The ABC soup is actually Bob’s Red Mill soup that I posted about here.
  • Friday: Hot dogs and macaroni and cheese with carrot sticks and black olives. I let my 2 year old pick a meal this week, and this is what she chose! I found uncured hot dogs (no one in the family will touch the soy dogs. Ew.). I used whole wheat macaroni. I gave her real cheese with it, and my other daughter likes a little Earth Balance butter and garlic salt on hers instead of cheese (she’s intolerant). I myself had leftover soup.
  • Saturday: Leftover night!

I’ll keep you posted on my garden adventures! Wish me luck!

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