Monday, October 28, 2013

Choosing to Make a Difference, By Choice

Choosing to Make a Difference, By Choice:
 Shopping for a Healthier, Kinder, and More Humane World

One of the simplest and easiest ways to make a difference is by shopping, or, more specifically, the choices we make while shopping.  And, as most people shop nearly every day, or at least a few times a week, the difference we can make is huge. 

In one small but very important act, we can promote healthy living, compassionate treatment of animals, energy conservation, equality among people all around the world, and even raise money for our favorite charities. 

Essentially, in this act we are exercising our power of choice, a very important aspect of our freedom.  A more popular phrase for this is “consumer buying power”.  This basically states that as consumers (shoppers) we are shaping the market, as companies track what is being purchased.

Why, then, do so many people relent to practice this power of choice?

Honestly, I think most people don’t realize we have this power, or at least the power to communicate our beliefs and support our causes by our product choices.  For example, did you know that in just choosing one brand of coffee over another, you can also make the choice to endorse the rights of small farmers, reject the use of pesticides in food, and promote a charity!? 

Others, like my former self, may choose to ignore the facts as it is often both easier and cheaper to do so. 

However, despite the effort (which really is quite minimal) I have taken much enjoyment out of my new shopping habits.  I not only feel like I am making a difference (as miniscule as it may seem at times) but feel healthier and happier too.

To help you out on your journey of being a conscientious and kind consumer, I’m going to give you some of my favorite examples.  Before I do that though, I do want to make two notes:

1)      This is a very brief list.  If you really want to learn more, I suggest you read “Making Kinds Choices” by Ingrid Newkirk.  (My book review is one of the first in 2013: )

2)      I did not make all these changes at once.  It was a gradual progression.  Doing it all at once would be great, but may be overwhelming.  If so, just start with one and then slowly work some of the other suggestions in. 

And now, here are some of my tips for making a difference by your shopping choices:

Food: Buy Organic and Fair Trade When Possible

If you’ve been keeping up to date and staying informed on healthy eating, you probably already know you should be buying organic, or mostly organic, produce.  I’d also recommend buying as much organic anything as possible, from tortilla chips to coffee.  And seriously, if you really want to be healthy, by organic! 

But the benefits of buying organic goes beyond our well-being, it’s also like signing a petition to help others eat and feel better too.

By buying organic, we are saying no to pesticides and other harmful chemicals that make people sick and cause disease.  We are telling the companies that grow and make those products that we don’t want them, and instead are promoting small organic farms (that also usually use less energy and create less waste) and companies that only put the best ingredients in their food.  And, the as we keep putting our vote in for organic products, companies will take notice and produce more, for less cost.  I know it seems like your weekly or bi-weekly (+) grocery trips seems very small in the grand scheme of things, but that trip and the organic foods in your cart does count.  Even in the short time I’ve shifted to buying organic, I’ve seen a price drop in some items.  However, the biggest proof that people’s organic shopping trips have been making a difference is the growing number whole food stores and weekly farmer’s markets popping up around the country. 

I’ve really gotten picky about my coffee in the past year (especially as I read more articles on why I should be avoiding caffeine…maybe one day, just not right now).  I’m not talking about the taste either…if you start talking to me about different roasts and flavors, I’ll probably give you a blank stare.  What I mean is that I won’t buy coffee unless it is organic and Fair Trade certified.  Coincidently, it also happens to taste better, with my taste scale range going from bad, good, better, best, but that’s not the point.  Anyway, since I’ve already talked about the organic part, I’ll skip right to Fair Trade.

When we buy Fair Trade products, we are promoting better working and trading conditions in developing nations, resulting in both greater sustainability and higher wages of workers.  If I can buy food for myself that I already have on my list, while promoting a good cause, then by all means I am going to do so.  Plus, buying Fair Trade coffee, agave, etc. is about the same amount as buying the same products that aren’t Fair Trade. 

Furthermore, there are also a lot of food companies out there that are tied to specific charities and causes.  Lately, I’ve been buying a lot of Endangered Species dark chocolate bars as gifts, with 10% going to endangered animals, making them a bit more meaningful.

To some this section up: Eat Good, Feel Good, Do Good!

Peanut Butter- In the picture you can read the label of the peanut butter jar, but it is made with just peanuts and salt.  There is absolutely NO PALM OIL!  The use of palm oil has recently been highlighted among animal rights activist, as the people who harvest the crop do so with no regards to the apes living there.  They are not only taking away their home, but also injuring them in the process.
Meat & Animal Products- It is beyond this blog get into this topic.  What I will say is that America’s consumption of meat has led to huge energy costs on the environment, and many farmers who do keep animals for food do some in VERY inhumane ways.  I suggest only buying animal products that are organic, grass fed, and free-range (but double check the company as “free-range” can be used very loosely). Going vegetarian, or vegan (it’s easier than you think!), a few times a week makes for a great start.  For more information, check out Sandi’s blog at the link below:
Personal Care: Buy Natural and Cruelty-Free


To start off with, many personal care products are made with harsh chemical that could be deadly if consumed in large amounts.  So why would anyone ever want to put that on their body? 

And how do we know those ingredients in those products are harmful or deadly?  Because they are tested on innocent animals who are harmed or die in the process.  And why would anyone want to kill an innocent animal, especially when we have ready available alternatives?

(Again, it’s probably a lack of or resistance to knowledge.  But now you know.  Too late to turn back!)

Lucky for us, we can reap double the benefits when we decide to be compassionate consumers.  Many grocery stores now carry at least a small selection of cruelty free products.  I even found my Tom’s brand deodorant in my local Acme!  On the back label of these products you will usually find a small picture of a bunny with the words “cruelty free”, though I do have a few products that just have the statement “Not Tested on Animals”.   Plus, all (at least almost all) of the cruelty free products are also made with natural ingredients, meaning you’re not putting any chemicals onto your body.
For a great list of cruelty free companies click on the link below:

Household Products: Again, Buy with the Bunny

This one is pretty similar to the above.  Most household cleaning products, from glass cleaners to laundry soap, are both heavily laden with chemicals and are tested on animals.  I look back with horror on how I used to clean my shower.  After spraying the cleaning product, I used to step in the shower to clean it, and then take a shower, breathing in many harmful chemicals.  As bathrooms are pretty tiny in general, I may as well have locked myself in a gas chamber. 

But, just like the personal care products, natural and cruelty free cleaning products are becoming easier, and cheaper, to find.  Sometimes, they even come with a 3rd and sometimes 4th bonus.  My current laundry detergent, for example, on requires a small amount of solution per load, making it a much greener alternative.  A lot of the companies are also tied in with an environmental cause or charity as well.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the natural products I’ve used are just as effective, if not more effective, than the other chemical ridden products.  And I much prefer my hair smelling like mint or coconut then some fake, toxic smell.

Not ironically, you can probably see a trend in that the products that are better for us are also better for the world.

Note:  You can make many household cleaning products yourself, often with ingredients you already have in your home.  Most are a simple combination of water, baking soda, vinegar, and lemon.

Clothes, Jewelry, and Accessories: Make a Statement!

Yes, we can be fashionable and make a difference too!  When we wear clothes, jewelry, and accessories that are earth friendly, Fair Trade, or from companies that practice social responsibility we are not only make a style statement, but a statement that we are caring and socially responsible individuals.

I’m going to break down my picture to make the explanation a little simpler.

·         The jewelry and navy purse are Fair Trade, or bought in a developing county.  I love being able to tell people that my necklace is from Africa and my bracelet is from Nepal!  They are very unique pieces too, which definitely represents me.  Yes, someone else’s jewelry may be more expensive, but it probably means much less.  For more information of Fair Trade, please scroll back up to the food section.
·         My Mountain Hardware Effusion Hooded Jacket and my Patagonia Recycled Sling Bag are two of my favorite pieces, and both from companies that practice social responsibility.  They not only care about the environment, but practice it in how they make their products.  I’m not going to say the name of the other big, very popular, competing outdoor sports company with the initials NF, but while it does some pretty cool things for good causes, it stops when it comes to making some of their products.  More specifically, the way it gets the feathers for their down jackets is quite inhumane.  The other main thing to look out for in this area is wool.  Most sheep are harmed in the process of being sheered.  There is no need for this, especially when there are great synthetic materials out there.  (Admittedly, I do have a few pairs of SmartWool socks for winter, but they state that there practices are humane.)
·         Finally, we have my Vertical Runner arm sleeves…some of you may be rolling your eyes, but I didn’t put them in their as any kind of promotion.  Honestly, they don’t need it from me.  And that’s because of HOW they do their business.  For one, they treat their employees fairly and with respect.  I know this not simply from being in the store, but because there are so many employees who have worked in the store for years and could easily leave if they wanted to.  Second, as a small business they are proof that when we buy from the community we give back to the community.  They are constantly donating items and money to various races in the area, as well as making contributions to our trail systems. 

I have to add that you really have to be careful when purchasing with some companies, as you can probably tell from the middle bullet point.  Many corporations are attached to great charities and causes, even having special events where employees donate their time to local non-profits.  Unfortunately, some of these companies practices clash with those ideals.  For example, McDonalds is attached to Ronald McDonald House Charities, providing amazing services to sick children and their families.  At the same time, McDonald’s is also influencing childhood (and adult) obesity, essentially causing sickness and disease.  In cases like this, it’s better to donate straight to the charity or one with a similar cause. 

Final Words:  Worried About Price?

For the most part, I can find many of the above products for a relatively inexpensive cost.  With that, there have been a few times where my grocery bill has made me want to cry.  For that reason Food Babe has put together some great tips on her blog, from coupons to suggestions on what to buy to keep your budget intact:

Second, with some products, you may just have to remember what you are buying is of high quality.  Patagonia products even have a lifetime guarantee!

Last, just remember that what you’re buying is making a difference.  Now, that’s not an excuse to go out and buy a ton of stuff, just a helpful reminder when you’re staring at $2.49 of sugary peanut butter, versus the $4.99 of organic peanut butter, or the $7.99 jar of almond butter (or even $12.99 if you really want to get up there).

On the flip side, when you throw things a way, see if you can "reduce, reuse, or recycle"!
I had to add a picture of my recycling bin and my new compost!

Buy conscientiously, buy compassionately, make a difference.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Running through Heaven & hell

Running through Heaven & hell:
My account of running through Heaven and hell, and finding God in both.

[Before I continue on, I’d like to clarify a few things as I don’t want to offend or dissuade anyone from reading.  First, I am going to use “God” in reference to our Creator or Higher Power.  Unlike some things, this is simply the name that stuck with me from my Catholic upbringing.  I don’t care what you use: Allah, Yahweh, Azna, Universe, Creator, or Mother Earth, whatever.  As long as it works for you, the name you choose doesn’t really matter.  In addition, I will go back and forth between He/Him and She/Her. With that, I always hesitate to talk about God.  While I myself consider myself spiritual, I don’t consider myself exactly religious.  Plus, I think when a lot of people talk about God, it comes as too preachy for most of us (or at least automatically assumed as that way).  My goal here isn’t to convert anyone to believe in any different way of thinking.  This blog is simply an account of my running and exploration in reconnecting with my Higher Power.]

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heave of hell, a hell of Heaven.” – John Milton

            As Steve and I first walked the streets of Telluride, Colorado I texted my sister “I think I died…”  Without missing a beat, she replied back “…and went to Heaven?” “Exactly” I said.  I was surrounded by mountains colored in majestic purples, pinks, and blues.  A mile or two away, I could make out a waterfall falling in between two of these beautiful and massive structures.  It had just rained, so the air was fresh and sweet.  The sun was peeking out of the clouds, creating a mist around the place, and making the town sparkle. 

My only complaint?  It was a bit cold.  I’m not a fan of cold.  However, I remembered to bring a few warm jackets and didn’t even mind the chill as Steve and I walked around and took the gondola up the mountain.

As we walked around more the next morning, I was delighted to see dogs walking around everywhere, many even off leash.  I knew all dogs went to Heaven. 

I felt blessed to be able to experience such a beautiful place. I knew I was seeing beauty that not everyone gets to, at least not on this earth.

The next day was the Telluride Mountain Run, with the course taking the runners through the mountains circumnavigating the city.  The morning was sunny with only a slight child. 

We instantly climbed. I was instantly out of breath, both from the sheer slop and length of the climb, but also from the views.  As we reached the top of our first mountain at around 13,000 ft and finally made the turn downhill (yay, I could run!) I held in my gasp.  Only in my wildest dreams could I imagine so much beauty.  I was looking down into green valleys, crystal blue lakes, and orange, pink, and purple wild flowers.  All were untouched from human hands. 

To be honest, I almost cried.  I was witnessing Heaven, and it was overwhelming.

I thought to myself that it was impossible to witness this and not believe in God.  I felt so small, yet I felt Her power and could feel Her presence surrounding me, comforting me.  As I breathed everything in, I felt stronger, happier, and content. 

I wish I could have bottled that moment. 


Fast forward a few hours and another steep climb, a lightning storm, and a mix of sleet, snow, and rain later. 

Despite being back down to around 8 or 9,000 feet, I was running through a cold rain and I was freezing.  The garbage bag I had over me did little to shield me and I was soaked to the core.  I didn’t know where I was, having missed the 25 mile age station and having no one around.  I had no idea how much farther I had to go until I reached an aid station, a road, a car, or anyone who could help me.  I feared I was on the verge of hypothermia.  This was not fun. 

Later I told Sandi and Steve “I feel like I’ve been to Heaven and hell in the same day, only hell isn’t hot, it’s freezing.” 

I had visions of myself curling up under a tree, letting the cold overtake me.  But I couldn’t “give up”…not just for myself, but for all my loved ones who could care less if I finished a race.  I just wanted to see them and be there for them.

So instead, I ran as quickly as I could, hoping my movement would generate some heat.  I started pleading with God “Just get me to the aid station, just get me inside someone’s car.”  After still seeing no signs of life I begged “10 more minutes” thinking that’s all I had left as I sprinted (at least that’s what it felt like) down the trail. 

I remembered back to before the start of the race when I had joked as trail runners often do “even if I die up there, at least I’ll be in Heaven”.  I realized it then that it wasn’t true.  Heaven wasn’t simply a place.  More important was who I was with, and I wanted to be with my family and friends again. 

Finally, I saw the white tent.  I raced up to my angels, the volunteers, and informed them of my decision “I need to drop.”  They asked if I was sure.  I was at mile 31 with only 8 more miles left.  But I knew God had help up his promise to get me there, and I had to hold on to my promise to live my best life.  Purple lipped and shivering, I said “I’m sure” holding out my wrist with my RoadID with both Steve’s and Sandi’s numbers so he could call one of them to pick me up.  An angel led me to her car and turned on the heat. 

With what seemed barely to be 10 minutes, I saw my sister’s car roll up the hill, missing her awards ceremony (she won 3rd female) to get me.  If I wasn’t still shaking uncontrollably I would have ran out to hug her in my delight.  Driving back to the hotel for a warm shower, I was happy.  I had survived, I was with my sister, and later Steve (he got caught in a snowstorm on top of the mountain and had to turn back with another runner). 

It wasn’t until after my hot shower and my limbs unthawed that my mind began to play tricks on me, with the pain of regret fully kicking in the next day.  I had never planned to have a DNF on my resume.  Did this mean I was weak?  What would others think?  (“That silly girl from Ohio, did she really think she could come out here and finish?)

Classic ego talk. 

Why was I now negating what I had known with certainty before?  I had stopped the race as not to risk life, to see the faces of my loved ones. (Yes, I know this sounds dramatic, it sounds dramatic to me too as I sit in the comfort of my house with the bright fall sun shining through the windows.) I realized that this time, I was about to put myself in hell, simply by listening to my negative thoughts.

I had been there before.  I did not want to go back.

Knowing my thoughts, emotions, and actions were under my control, I did my best shrug off my negative thoughts and harness positive energy.  I still had a few days left to explore Colorado with my sister and my boyfriend.  Those days were mine to make most of. 

It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t perfect.  But it was a step in the right direction and far from the destruction I may have cause myself years ago. 

Upon reflection, I realized one of my own great truths: While I can put myself through hell on earth, I can also make it my Heaven- my place of wonder, beauty, and love. 

Recently, I have come upon the teachings of Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg who spoke on Heaven and hell.  He taught that on a continuum, hell was simply the part of the creation farthest away from the Lord and Heaven as closest to the Lord.  Furthermore, he said “human beings themselves choose hell by consistently choosing to act selfishly or cruelly toward others.” (

I considered my Heaven, what it was, and what it was not. 

Despite my love of valleys, mountains, rivers, and all the beautiful places I have ever been to, Heaven was not merely a place.  I could, if I had to, live without those beautiful views. 

What my Heaven includes, however, is that powerful sense of being and spirit in those amazing places.  It is that sense of both oneness and belonging that connects me with the world.  And with that belonging is the love and compassion that I can only truly and fully feel when I am around others. 

In more simple terms, my family and friends, all the people have loved, love, and will love that makes me complete.  Without them I would have no Heaven.

The last step is getting my thoughts in alignment with light and energy that surrounds me.  When I run, I have the time and space to think about these things.  The trail gives me added inspiration as I get to breathe with nature and learn from its mountains and valleys. 

While I have a ways to go in conquering my thoughts, I realize what a blessed life I have.  I am lucky in so many ways.  Every day, I am one stride closer to Heaven.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lessons From a Puppy

Lessons from a Puppy


Meet Annabell, aka, Piddles.

Annabell is an 8 month old Black Lab mix.

Like almost any puppy, Annabell is extremely lovable, so cute she could make your hear melt, and very energetic.

AND, like most puppies, she “piddles” everywhere (hence the nickname). 

The problem is, however, her accidents inside the house have not gotten any better despite weeks of training.  Everyday, there is a new spot on the carpet to clean.

My mom and stepdad adopted Annabell from a work colleague of my mom’s a few months ago, saving her from going back to a shelter.  Like many people, I’m assuming her previous owners found out they did not have the time or energy to care for an energetic puppy.  (I say “save” because the likelihood of adoption decreases when a dog is brought back to a shelter). 

At my mom and stepdad’s house, Annabell receives all the love and food a dog could need.  She even has a doggy friend to look up to, in their 9 year old Black Lab Savannah (Savannah may act like she doesn’t like Annabell, but deep down I know she does).  It also helps that my mom is very patient, perhaps a virtue that grew stronger from raising 3 daughters.  In other words, my mom can calmly deal with all the destruction a puppy brings, in addition to all the love and joy.

So, with much patience, day after day my mom and stepdad scrub the carpet to clean up where Annabel has her accidents.  And, day after day, they wash the towel left in Annabell's crate where she stays while they are at work.  It has now become part of the routine.


If you are a dog owner, you know the last two sentences shouldn’t make sense.  Dogs never soil their own area, unless left alone for long periods of time (which Annabell is not).  Actually, Annabel can’t seem to hold it for more than an hour or two.  At the same time, my mom and stepdad can’t seem to keep her away from the water bowl either. 

Knowing something wasn’t quite right, they took Annabel to the vet and described her symptoms.  Soon after, she was scheduled for tests.

The results weren’t good. They found out Annabell has renal dysplasia, meaning she has an abnormal kidney formation.  The doctor told them she has 6 months to 1 year to live.  Besides feed here a special diet to slow the progression of the disease, there is nothing they can do…

Except love her.

Below is a video of 8 month old Annabell.  As you can see, she seems like any other puppy:  living life full speed ahead, always awaiting what’s next, and always eager for love. 
(*I apologize for the poor quality! **Annabell is 8 months old!)
In fact, you would never know Annabell was sick.  In truth, she probably doesn’t either.  But what difference does that make?

My mom and stepdad treat Annabell like any other puppy because she IS like any other puppy.  They don’t act sad or depressed around her because she is not sad or depressed.  They give her love and she exudes love. *

On the other hand, how many humans do you know that when the slightest conflict or illness arises, it’s like the end of the world?  We let the tiniest of things get to us and bring us down.  We sulk, we moan, we complain.  And that leads us too?  Yes, more sulking, moaning, and complaining.

But what if we were like Annabell?  What if, the next time some problem arose in our lives, we continued on as normal? What if we smiled, laughed, and lived adventurously, just the same?

What difference would that make?

(* I honestly believe a Higher Power put Annabell into the loving arms of my mom and stepdad.  With them, she is provided with a safe and loving home.  Not only are my mom and stepdad lucky to have Annabell, but she is lucky to have them.)

(An even worse recording by me, but shows Annabell's energy!)

***Annabell received her wings on January 25, 2014

For more lessons from a dog, check out my post on Pacer, my Australian Shepard, click on the following link:

Are You Running Too Many Miles? Learn From Your Emotional Cues Before Injury Occurs

Most people don’t know they are overtrained until 1) they end up injured or 2) the completely bomb in a race.  However, you don’t have to wait for the physical problems to occur.  A “better” (as in an earlier sign of detection) way to know if you might be running too many miles may be by examining your mood.

Running, like other form of exercise, releases endorphins that make you feel good.  Therefore, you should feel happy and energetic after a run.  On the other hand, when you overtrain this no longer holds true. You not only feel tired and sluggish, but irritable and moody.  These are symptoms of being overly stressed—that you are doing more than your body can recover from.  (And because your body is fighting so hard to recover its’ broken down muscles and sending any extra blood flowing there, even less is going to your brain.  Without the normal amount of blood flowing to the brain, it can’t function as normal either.) 

I used to feel that during my periods of high mileage, it was “normal” to feel irritable and tired.  I simply gave my boyfriend what I considered a fair warning by posting my running schedule for the month.

 While I can accept feeling a bit more tired here and there, it is definitely not normal to be irritable and moody, especially towards others.  Actually, there is NO excuse to be irritable or mean to others.  No training efforts are worth that.

So, if you find yourself feeling tired after your runs, or lethargic and moody over the course of a few days, it’s time to do one of two things:

1)      Review you sleeping habits, life stress, and nutritional stress. (Possibly you aren’t getting enough sleep, or your life stress or nutritional stress from eating unhealthy foods is in combat with your physical/exercise induced stress)




2)      You need to lower your mileage. 


Run Happy!