Sick Day Recap and MY NEW HOUSE!

I know things have been quiet again around here so I figured I would use my unplanned sick day to show my blog some TLC.  Hopefully, this is just a cold but to take precaution I took the day off from work leaving me with the time to finally reflect on the past few weeks. I’ve been insanely busy and things aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Last week, I closed on my very first home! I am so excited to have a place to call my own and to finally be putting equity into a place rather than just renting my life away.
I’d been toying with the idea of buying a house but I really didn’t think that it would be a possibility for me for a long time. Especially since I’m starting graduate school this summer and I really didn’t want to live very far from work/school. The market in the area that I wanted was either way out of my price range or not up to my standards of living. But luckily, I found the perfect little townhouse tucked away about a block from where I currently live. I still can’t believe how perfect it is for me, or that I’ve committed to making such a large purchase.

I spent the last weekend at my house cleaning and starting to paint the place. A few of my friends came over to help me which really made the process go by a lot faster (and much more fun). On Sunday, I headed back to the house bright and early to work on the second coat in one of the bedrooms before meeting up with my family for Mother’s Day. Joe and his friends rented out Skybar for the afternoon and the moms really appreciated hanging out. After dinner, we headed back to my brother’s house where I spent the evening playing basketball and football with my brothers. For once in my life, I actually outplayed them! David swears it was “because he played soccer all morning.” Excuses, excuses.

Working on the second coat of paint!

My brothers, my niece, and I after playing some football.

All that activity must have caught up with me though because yesterday I woke up with an extremely stuffy nose and my throat, which had been sore all day Sunday, was still pretty sore. I suffered through work but was able to leave early to go to the doctor’s. I was a little worried I was going to get septic again. I never found time to blog about my post-Africa experience but I got extremely sick and ended up in the ER with a fever of 104 when I came home. Luckily, they never found anything seriously wrong and chopped it up to a cold/UTI/exhaustion from traveling. So far, this cold has been a walk in the park in comparison to that. For now though, I’ve been alternating between lying in bed and on the couch with tea and water and soup by my side. Fingers crossed that I’m back to myself tomorrow because I had planned to spend another Saturday working on my house this weekend!

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Sunday Funday!

Last weekend was absolutely beautiful. I’m so happy that warm weather and sunshine have finally showed up around here. Since this week was Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, Charlottesville celebrated its annual Tom Tom festival. Friday, I spent the evening hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law chasing my niece around Lee Park. There was live music and of course local brews.

On Saturday, I woke up early and snuck in a quick workout at 9Round before hitting up the Farmer’s Market with a few of my old coworkers. I had to work at the vineyard at one so I said goodbye to them and headed out of town to work for a few hours. I could get used to this late afternoon shift, it gave me enough time to enjoy my whole Saturday while also making some money. I brought home a box of wine to share with my parents and my father started a fire in the backyard for us to sit around. I also snuck in a s’mores because we had the supplies and what’s a fire without marshmallows?


I’ve been watching High Carb Hannah on YouTube and she’s started a cycling challenge for herself. I’ve always wanted to get into bicycling since its so popular around here but I find myself making excuses all the time. My mother happens to have a very nice bike that she rarely uses and since we’re the same size, I asked to borrow it. On Sunday morning I woke up early again to get a ride in since I really didn’t want to be anywhere near cars and I figured there wouldn’t be too many people on the road. I biked to a local park and got a lot of practice in on some pretty mild (for Charlottesville at least) hills. I started to get bored doing the same thing over and over so when I was confident enough, I headed back onto the street to Cville Coffee. I stopped for about half an hour and had a cappacino before finally heading home. When I checked the time, I realized I had been gone for two hours and discovered I had gone over 9 miles. Not bad for my first workout.


I spent the rest of the day running errands and snuck in a quick trip to Costco to load up on some much needed produce. I bought a HUGE container of oranges and lemons as well as a bag of kale and made some green juice. I can’t believe how easy and cheap it was compared to buying a fresh juice from the store. I will definitely be doing that more often.

The Last Leg

For the third and final part of our trip we traveled to Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls. As one of the 7 Natural Wonders, the falls are the tallest in the world. While admittedly there really wasn’t much to do in the town besides visit the falls, it was worth it to see such a beautiful sight. We also got to relax in the National Park and I squeezed in a game drive the night we got to the lodge. Just a few hours north of our stay in Hoedspruit, the scenery was abundantly green and luscious.
   
    
  

This tree was 1700 years old!
  
The day we visited the falls we also perused a local market and I got my first taste at haggling for goods (it’s a skill I’m not very good at) and we also took a boat ride on the Zambezi River. Technically, I can say I’ve also been to Zambia but since we never got off the boat and onto land, it was totally legal. 

   
  
Although a quick stay, I am glad we stopped here. Zimbabwe is a country I doubt I’ll ever travel to again (although I never imagined I would make it to Africa in the first place so who knows). Although I have spent time in some of the poorest parts of America (looking at you Appalachia) even these towns seem luxurious in comparison. Where we stayed in Zimbabwe, it wasn’t uncommon to see people living on the side of the road- and this was in a tourist area. By the time our stay in Victoria Falls was over, I was happy to finally be heading home to America. With the journey back came a renewed sense of gratitude for everything I have in life. However, I will admit, when our final plane out of Johannesburg took of for the States, I shed a few tears thinking about how much I would miss Hoedspruit and Cape Town.  

Before the beginning of this journey I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been pushed out of my comfort zone so much- even though I really didn’t have much to complain about given the nature of our trip. I am so proud of myself for doing something out of the ordinary for me and I was lucky to have one of my best friends as a travel companion. We traveled surprisingly well together knowing when to give each other space to get acclimated to our new surroundings everywhere we went. 

Now that I am fully settled in back at home (with more big changes soon to come), I’m happy to have the memories from this trip to fall back on. I’ve decided that my next big vacation will probably be here in the states as there are a few things on my bucket list that I haven’t gotten around to (more specifically: Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Jackson Hole as well as a few cities I would love to explore). I’m sure these trips will happen eventually but for now my bank account needs to recover. 

South Africa Part Two

After what I thought was the most incredible three days of my life, Abby and I departed Cape Town hopeful that the next part of our journey would at least be a lot of fun. We had no idea that the second part of our trip could be even better than our time in Cape Town. We stayed at the Jackalberry Lodge in Thornybush Private Game Reserve which is right next to the famous Kruger National Park. We went on a game drive every morning and evening to explore the reserve and try to find the Big Five. 

The Big Five are named as such because they are considered the five most dangerous animals to humans when encountered on land. They include: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and cape buffalo. Apparently the group that came just days before us were unable to spot all of the animals because they spent a long time searching for leopards and were unable to find them. We were lucky enough to find one on our first drive! 

 It was hard to see how dangerous some of these animals are when they’re relaxing. All the sleeping cats we saw reminded me of my kitty at home-although I doubt they would want to cuddle with me like Reggie does. Things were much more intense however when we found a male leapord on a hunt a few days later. You could feel the tension as he stalked a warthog from afar. We also saw an incredible number of elephants, cape buffalo and rhino-both black AND white. I couldn’t believe that we saw both types of rhinos in the wild! At one point, our car went off roading (one of the benefits of staying at a private reserve rather than going into the National Park) and we found ourselves in the bush surrounded on all sides by elephants! They came so close to our car we could probably have touched them and went about their business eating.  

An adolescent leopard resting after her dinner.
      
This guy decided to take a bath right on the road.
 

The final animal we saw (and my personal favorite) was of course, the lion. Growing up The Lion King was my favorite movie and in college, my best friend bought me tickets to see it on Broadway for my birthday. I actually cried at the surprise and to this day it is one of the best presents I’ve ever recieved. I’m not quite sure why I’ve always loved lions but I think there is something so beautiful about an animal at the top of the food chain that is also so playful and social with its family members. 

   
 
Someone asked our tour guide what his opinions were about the whole Cecil the Lion debacle that happened last year and his response was really interesting to me. He basically said that the story was sensationalized and that nobody in Africa actually cared about the lion. It reminded me of an article I read when the story first came out about how lions are terrors to Africans and how the local people hunt them because of how dangerous they are. Although the original story upset me, it was more upsetting because I find it just another example of American greed and excess. It was interesting, however, to hear how the backlash from established countries actually really hurt the tourism economy in several African countries due to the money they get from hunting excursions. 

 

The best guide and tracker team we could have asked for!
 
Another thing I found very interesting was the realization that race relations are still a very touchy subject. I didn’t notice it as much in Cape Town but I assume that is in part to the fact that it’s a city and we were in a tourist area for most of our time there. There were a few moments where I felt uncomfortable because someone made a remark that would be inappropriate in our culture (or at least I would be offended) but seemed completely normal there. It made me appreciate the fact that although we still have a lot of work to do here at home in that department, there are still many places in the world that are so much farther behind us in their race relations. It also makes me wish our country could set a better example so that others would be encouraged to catch up a little faster but that’s a topic for another day. 

Leaving Hoedspruit and the Jackalberry Lodge was the most difficult part of our trip. I hadn’t been outside in the wilderness in a long time and I had missed it so much. Every night we ate dinner under the stars and I loved seeing new constellations. It was pretty funny when more than one person insisted they saw the Little Dipper which isn’t a constellation you can see in the Southern Hemisphere. The only constellation we share is Orion but it was pretty cool to view it from another part of the world. 

You Thought I Abandoned You-April Fools!

I know its been a long time since I’ve been around but to be honest, March was pretty jam packed this year. I can’t believe that today is the 1st day of April and just three weeks ago I was in the most amazing country. It still feels like a dream which is partly why I haven’t posted about my experience yet. Writing it down means that its over and that I’m back to my usual routine.

To preserve the trip in my mind, I’ll post about each city we visited individually as we experienced too much to jam it all into one post and I have so many great pictures to share.

After a 17 hour flight to Johannesburg followed by another flight to Cape Town, Abby and I arrived just in time for bed on the first night. I woke up early the next morning and had coffee in the hotel cafe overlooking Table Bay. That was kind of my thing every morning and that view is one I’m already longing to see again. We took a helicopter tour of the bay and then Abby and I rented some bikes and explored.

On our second day we went to Franschhoek  which is the biggest wine producing area in South Africa. We went to two beautiful vineyards and sipped some delicious wines before heading home for the evening. We called it a night after having a quiet dinner at the hotel with the rest of our tour group.

On our third and final day in Cape Town, Abby and I took a Hop and Ride tour of the city and it was incredible! We stopped in Bo-Kaap where I found the cutest little spice shop and got some really cheap spices to take home with me. We also took some obligatory pictures in front of all the colored houses. The colored houses are especially beautiful when you know that they were originally painted by Africans who were freed from slavery and moved into the neighborhood. They were so excited to be free that they painted their houses in bright colors in celebration of their ability to wear whatever colors they wanted and to finally be able to express themselves.

We finished our stay in Cape Town with a dinner at Gold’s Restaurant which was an interactive dinner with traditional African dishes from throughout the continent.

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The view from our helicopter!

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Franschhoek
The first of two vineyards we stopped at in Franschhoek. 

Bo Kaap

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At the top of Table Mountain.

 

Africa
Getting our faces painted at dinner.

Cape Town was an incredible city and it kind of reminded me of San Francisco, California. Except much prettier (in my opinion) and a lot cheaper (I mean A LOT cheaper-but duh everything is outrageously expensive in Cali). I could’ve stayed in that city for weeks without becoming bored. It was also an incredible way to start my first adventure into a new country as everyone spoke English fluently and the city was vibrant and felt so safe during the daytime. When we got on our plane for the second leg of our journey we were both so sad to be leaving after only 3 days. Little did we know how incredible the second part of our trip would be.

More on that in my next post!

Physical Changes Since Going Plant-Based

Now that I’ve truly committed to the Plant Based Journey, I feel like I should update on the physical changes I’ve experienced. I don’t have a crazy weight loss story or dramatic loss in inches from my body but I have experienced enough of a benefit that I can honestly say there’s no turning back now.

Getting personal with things, it’s been three cycles since I’ve started to change my diet and I’ve already noticed an improvement in many things. I came off hormonal birth control last May and switched over to the copper IUD. I will say, things got kinda wonky there for a bit. Between having cramps for the first time in years and having some of the heaviest periods imaginable I almost went back to my GYN to have it removed. I knew the first few cycles would be rough but I was persistent in waiting out the symptoms to see if things balanced out (I also just dreaded getting it out since it hurt putting it in). It took until December for me to get any kind of relief (conveniently around the time I started to completely revamp my diet….). Last month, I noticed my cycle was shorter, less heavy, and I only cramped for one day instead of three days like I had become accustomed to.

I also became used to breaking out the week before my period started. It was how I new my cycle was about to start but this month, I didn’t even get a blemish! In fact, my skin got even clearer the week before my period showed up and a friend of mine even commented on how great my skin looked (without makeup). I have the type of acne that forms painful cysts and scars for months on end. While I still have a few blemishes, my skin is very smooth and there haven’t been any new demons popping up (I hope I didn’t just jinx myself).

I also noticed that my energy levels are improving. The last few months before I started to eliminate animal products from my diet I would get exhausted on my period. It had gotten to a point where I was ready to call in sick from work. I’m not sure if I was anemic since I never actually went to the doctor to get my blood checked but I can say that last month my energy levels were so much better and I was at least able to make it through each day. This month, I was even able to do some light exercise the first few days and I was able to get in about 4 miles of walking on the worst day.

Speaking of healthy eating to help with menstruation, Dr. Greger posted this video last week on Fennel Seeds and ginger for menstrual cramps and PMS. I know its anecdotal but I have been incorporating ginger into my diet more…

Finally, and most importantly to me, my mood has dramatically increased over the last two months. I’ve written about my struggle with depression on this blog before and I’ve always been proud of myself for being able to manage things with mental exercises. I never really put a link to diet and my mood but I have noticed things being a lot better. I know my mood will always fluctuate to some degree and there were obviously precipitating factors to my depressive episodes in the past but anything I can do to keep myself in a healthy state is worth it to me.

 

Nacho “Cheez” Sauce

You guys. I have something amazing to share with you.

I’ve been incorporating more potatoes into my diet recently thanks to my favorite youtube vlogger High Carb Hannah. She’s doing a 30 day potato cleanse eating nothing but potato recipes and non starchy vegetables. While I haven’t gone completely potato based, I have been inspired to eat more spuds lately. I’ve been eating a lot of oven baked fries with dipping sauces and tonight I made this insane cheese-y deliciousness.

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There are a few recipes out there but I made mine based off of what I had on hand in my kitchen. I’m pretty excited about the results. So excited in fact, that I used an oven baked potato fry to wipe my Vitamix when I was done. And since my sauce is all veggies and no fat, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. In fact, I sat down for more.

Nacho “Cheez” Sauce:

3 chopped potatoes-I used 2 red potatoes and 1 gold potato

3/4 yellow onion diced

3 large carrots chopped

1 cup chopped sweet peppers

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon garlic

1 tablespoon chives

dash of cayenne pepper

sprinkle of salt (I added mine after I portioned it out so I could use less)

Boil all of the veggies in water. Place nutritional yeast and spices into Vitamix then add boiled veggies and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, you can add some of the potato water to thin it out. Add cayenne and salt to taste.

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Voila! Perfect, delicious sauce made before you have time to bake a potato. Obviously, this sauce does not have the same taste of cheese but if you’ve been plant based for more than a few weeks (or just never really liked processed cheese) you’ll go nuts over this stuff. I made enough to fill two mason jars full!

I’ve already decided that tomorrow I’ll be having a loaded baked potato with this stuff all over it topped with salsa. Is it bad that I’m drooling for tomorrow’s dinner already?