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My First Blog Post

Wellness

The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.

— Merriam-Webster

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been chasing wellness most of my adult life in some way. It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a physical therapist. I wanted to also help others feel well, and it’s not always about medicine. I’ve also been some version of vegetarian my entire adult life, finally making the full jump to vegan over two years ago.

What exactly does it mean, though, to feel well? One could argue that there are many facets to wellness. It’s not just about your physical well-being, but also social, spiritual, emotional, and environmental factors. If one of these is off, you feel unsettled. And sometimes it’s challenging to figure out which one of these elements is the culprit.

We tend to focus on physical wellness, right? What’s my cholesterol? How many medications do I rely on to stay healthy? How can I better manage my chronic diseases? How can I achieve and maintain a healthy weight?  How can I keep up with my kids?

I know I asked myself these questions when I first began my own wellness journey. I was overweight after having 2 kids, dealing with persistent pain, and wearing the largest size clothes in my life. Not exactly great for my emotional wellness! Does this story sound familiar?

So I began with a goal. My goal was to lose weight. 30 lbs to be exact. I started making use of my YMCA membership and used the food and activity tracker myfitnesspal to reach my goal. It took me about a year to lose the weight, but I knew I wanted to keep working toward better fitness. I was already bored with gym equipment.

In the lobby of my local YMCA, I saw a flyer for a local 5k, the Ashland Harvest Run held every October. Running 3.1 miles seemed like a daunting, yet achievable task. The best way to reach a goal is to break it down into smaller ones. I worked toward running a mile without stopping, then 2 miles. And then it was race day. I ran/walked the entire thing, finishing in the middle of the pack! It was so exciting… the whole race experience, meeting my goal, and performing better than I expected. I officially caught the running bug that day. A friend of mine convinced me to join the Sports Backers/YMCA 10k training team, and this is where I met one of my best friends. She would convince me that I was capable of even more… the marathon. A few training teams later, we have a solid crew of running sisters… sole sisters… and my life is exponentially better because of them! So great for my social wellness! I have now completed 6 marathons. I’m currently training for number 7, the Marine Corps Marathon. I’m also now a coach with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team with Pink Nation.  

What other crazy do I do, you ask? Well, my journey inspired my husband to find his tribe, too, and he started like me at our local YMCA. He eventually found his way to CrossFit, and he is now a level 1 trainer. I told him I would never try CrossFit unless he opened his own gym. In July of 2017, I had to eat my words, because he started a box with some business partners! He has even competed at the Masters level with some success, placing first in the Festivus games and third in the SuperFit games in 2018. We have since left this business endeavor, but Ralph is working out at a new box and focusing on being an athlete for a bit.

I enjoy the new challenges of CrossFit. Everyone is good at something in the box. Maybe you can’t do handstands, but you can lift weight! Maybe I can’t lift as much as you, but I can do pistol squats! The day I climbed that rope for the first time… well, I felt like Shalane Flannagan crossing the finish line of the NYC marathon! But the best part about CrossFit? It’s been great for our marriage.

I’m also spending some time fostering my creativity. I’ve recently launched a tie-dye shirt business, and I am dabbling in turning my favorite quotes into mixed media art. I hope to sell these at some point as well.

So, here I am. A 44 year old mother of two, married to a talented CrossFit coach, working as a physical therapist, 6 time marathoner, Vegan, artist, and sometimes CrossFit athlete. This sounds more impressive on paper than it really is. This is just me, chasing wellness.

Through this blog, I hope you find inspiration in your own journey. I plan to share with you recipes, running stories and tips, CrossFit stories, vegan tips, nutrition information, fitness clothing reviews, vegan food reviews, a bit of art, and fun features of living in Richmond! Thanks for reading!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

The Pollening

In Virginia, we have a series of sub seasons before we really get into the full swing of the weather we are actually supposed to be experiencing. Spring is no exception. We’ve got early spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter, etc… and our current season? The pollening. It sounds like a campy horror movie. 

Pollen season always happens so suddenly, right? I mean, we see the slow transformation from the bleak that is winter. We see that the landscape is beginning to brighten. But it still seems like out of nowhere, all the pine trees decided it was time to reproduce! My favorite local meteorologist, at least, blames this surge of yellow on the pines. 

Ugh. This stuff is everywhere. Fine, yellow silt covering our cars, being inhaled, coating our clothes. It’s as if Mother Nature has cast a yellow filter on our world. Clouds of the stuff waft up from the trees into the breeze, landing on all the surfaces. Light rain brings rivers of pollen that collect in swirling divots. A friend had to brush off the pollen from my scrubs the other day when I sat on a bench outside with one of my patients. And even though we were only out there for about 30 minutes, the stuff had gotten all over my patient’s shoes, too! No surface is off limits, it seems.

One of my favorite stories from Longwood was from the spring semester that I took botany. Now, I only had to take this one plant class for my biology degree since I was in the pre-PT track, but it was certainly memorable. Dr. Scott was our professor, and he was, in true tenured professor form, what one would call eccentric. He was certainly old enough to be considering retirement, and looked like a really nice grandpa. Sure, he was a square on the outside, but once he spoke, he was just, well, different. 

During one of our labs in the spring semester, we went outside on an especially beautiful day. Dr. Scott took in a deep breath, let out an audible sigh, and exclaimed, “You smell that kids? That’s plant sex!” Oy. What a way to make a bunch of college kids feel uncomfortable and silly all at the same time! We erupted into giggles and exasperated groans. 

Would not recommend opening a window during pollenation season…

Over the weekend, my daughter opened a window in our house. I kind of forgot about it. But after seeing all the yellow film on my car, I went to look and see if any of the pollen had made it through the screen indoors. Indeed, there was a fine coating on the floor. I should know to not open a window during tree fornication season! Oh, well. Nothing a swiffer couldn’t handle!

Look at all the pollen my Swiffer picked up!

Not only are the trees having fun, but most of the early season flowers that many would consider weeds are in bloom. These are the first foods for our pollinators. Is anyone else just a little more compassionate toward honey bees these days? I used to fear them. Now I try to just sit still and watch them do their thing. Pollen can be good, right?

For my friends in the northern hemisphere, where are you at with regard to spring? Is the pollen as bad where you are as it is here in Virginia? As much as the yellow stuff is annoying, it’s a sign of healthy trees and plants! So don’t fret. It’s just plant sex!

Just one of the color varieties of wild violets we have in my yard.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do love spring! I’m looking forward to putting in a garden soon. If the pollen is wreaking havoc on your allergies, hopefully the rain we got last night has cleared it out! I’m still waiting for my pollen headache to subside. But we should enjoy this time, as Virginia’s worst season will come later this summer… known as Hell’s Front Porch. I’m really not looking forward to that. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Power of the Marathon

Ultramarathons aside, in the world of running, the ultimate test of mental strength and physical fitness is the marathon. Why is running the marathon such a powerful testament to a person’s will and mental toughness? One reason: the pain. We’ll revisit this point in a bit. 

In my wildest dreams, 26.2 miles is a distance I never fathomed I could complete, especially as a new runner. I was the girl who got out of running the mile in gym class. I signed up for my first marathon training team with every intention of dropping to the half. But as I checked off each new distance PR, I started to envision crossing that finish line. I’m fairly certain my mother thought I would die running my first one. Now, I’ve run 8 of them. 

With one of my sole sisters, Sarah, after we ran our first marathon together, which happened to be the Richmond marathon in 2014.

On the first day training for my second marathon, our head coach of the Pink Nation, Blair Just, reminded us: only 1% of the world has ever run a marathon. Marathoners are exceptional. Blair would remind us each week to breathe, relax, and believe that we could do this. This is a mantra I share with my patients often. 

Many years ago, I worked with a patient who had suffered a stroke. She was a relatively young woman to have gone through this, and she was really struggling mentally. She was also a marathoner. I got to use that 1% line with her, reminding her of what a badass she was! If she can get through a marathon, she can do the work to recover from her stroke. She didn’t realize how small of a percentage of the population had actually tackled that distance! It became a mantra for her. Even if I wasn’t working with her that day, I’d catch her eye, and say, “ONE PERCENT” to her. She started to believe she could heal. She left inpatient rehab walking independently.

You can’t just decide one day that you’re going to run a marathon. This race takes planning, training, and discipline. My fall marathon training schedule begins 6 months before my race, and that’s assuming that I’ve kept up with a winter, off-season running routine. 

With my BFF and running partner, Patty, who convinced me that I could run the marathon!

I’ve found running to be hugely beneficial for many reasons. Other than my main means of maintaining my physical fitness, it’s my outlet for mental fitness as well. It’s my time to meditate when I run solo. It’s social time and possibly even a group counseling session when I run with friends. It’s also my way of generating endorphins. Have I ever felt a runner’s high? Yes. Yes, I have. It doesn’t happen every run, but they do happen from time to time! 

But running the marathon distance (or longer) brings its own special experiences, most notably with pain. Yes, the marathon is painful, both during and after the race. But greeting the pain during the race becomes expected, especially after running multiples. Typically this starts for me at about mile 17. If you’re familiar with the Richmond Marathon, this is along Main Street, where you are often greeted by drunk brunchers who will loudly chant your name to cheer you on. On the Marine Corps Marathon course, this is on the National Mall, where you have the distraction of the Smithsonian museums and the threat of the first gauntlet to keep you motivated. 

Even with these distractions, you must let that pain in, acknowledge it, and exist and persist despite it. We have other tools to help combat the pain of fatigued and spent muscles like replacing electrolytes, restoring glucose, taking walk breaks, or pausing to gently stretch, but these don’t take the pain away. You still must face the hurt to finish your race.

Regardless of the course, by the time you get to the final 10k, you just want to be done. Your legs are screaming. Your will is spent. You are questioning your sanity. You may or may not have made a deal with the universe pending your completion of this race. Most competitive marathoners will tell you that this is where the race really begins. I think the best part of the race is in the last couple of miles, because this is where the crowds are usually the biggest and loudest, and you know you will finish. 

With 3 of my friends after we all crossed the finish line of the Richmond marathon in 2015, my third marathon. This photo was taken by our 8k training team coach, Tammy Harrison, who happened to be at the finish line.

Overcoming the pain and crossing that finish line never ceases to amaze me. I experience a huge emotional release after every marathon. My Richmond races are the most special, always finding at least one person I know at the finish to award my medal. Sometimes my husband joins me for the last few miles of a Richmond race. But for all but one, I’ve cried. Not just a few tears, but a sobbing mess of ugly tears. One year, my husband captured video of me as I approached the finish, and you can clearly see me winding up to cry. Last year’s marathon was virtual, and I think I actually shouted expletives in jubilation rather than crying. 

Coaching the Richmond Marathon and supporting my team on the course in 2019, it was crazy to meet my runners near the finish and instantly know what mental space they were in, simply because I had been in all of them at one point or another in each of my own marathons. You can see it in their faces. You can hear it in their voices. You can see it in their gait. Whether injured, delirious and repeating mantras, focused and unaware of how close they were to finishing, or having the best race of their lives, I had been there and knew what to do. Part advisor, part cheerleader, part dealer of salt tabs and band-aids, part medical professional: that was me. Serving in that role was so much fun! Especially watching my runners approach that finish line. I was so happy to witness them realize their dreams! 

On the course of the Richmond Marathon in 2019. This is on the Lee Bridge around mile 16. Photo courtesy of Eric Nachman, who took the selfie! The Pink Nation asked Kelly (grey hat) and Lisa (cowboy emblem) to join as as coaches for 2020.

The marathon is so much more than a race. It’s a teacher of discipline, resilience, and determination. The quest to complete this goal teaches you how to focus. It teaches you how to have a relationship with pain. The rituals of training bring calm and centering to an otherwise hectic life. Training for this race builds communities. Running these races also teaches you so much about the cities in which you run. 

Mentally, whenever things get tough, I remind myself that I have run not one, but multiple marathons. To choose to put myself through the pain of the race is one thing. To choose to do it again is quite another. I’m either incredibly brave and persistent, or incredibly stupid. You decide. But the brain has a funny way of making you forget how bad the pain gets, just like childbirth. One thing is certain, however. I am part of the ONE PERCENT. And no one can take that away from me. That’s the power of the marathon. 

Have you considered running a marathon? Trust me. If I can do this, so can you. You, too, can be a part of the one percent. With working toward any goal, help is always helpful. In Richmond, we have the resources of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team to guide us. If running this distance is a dream of yours, I encourage you to find a local running group to train with. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

My Evolution to Vegan

I’ve picked up quite a few followers since I began this blog journey, and I realized that not all of you know the story of why I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It was initially just my diet, but now includes what I wear, what I use for grooming products, and sometimes even the types of businesses I support.

My journey toward veganism really began as a child. When I was about 9, I remember eating at Quincy’s steakhouse and getting really sick after. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning or a stomach bug, but I did associate getting violently ill with eating those steak tips. I think the last time I actually ordered a steak in a restaurant was to celebrate graduating from high school. We had dinner at The Trellis, which was once a super fancy restaurant in Williamsburg. My best friend at the time was with us, and I knew she really wanted to order the steak, so I did, too, so she wouldn’t feel guilty about ordering the most expensive meal on the menu. 

The book that started it all for me.

By my second semester of college, I became more curious about being vegetarian. I was dating a boy who had been lactose-ovose until he joined the military. He said it was nearly impossible to make it through boot camp and not eat meat. My favorite musician was also vegetarian. So I started reading books about it, and picked up Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. It’s a fascinating book. I learned how much industrial animal agriculture was harming the planet. Did you know, for example, that it takes 11 lbs of grain to produce 1 lb of beef? That’s crazy inefficient. And she wrote the first edition in 1971. 

After reading that book, I went pescatarian. That was in 1993. I haven’t had red meat or pork since, but I did add chicken back to my diet in 1996. I graduated college early, and I had a semester off before starting graduate school. I worked full time in the mall, and Chick-fil-A was a weakness for me. It actually took a while to adjust to eating that complex protein again. My body just wasn’t used to it anymore. 

So, I considered myself semi-vegetarian for a number of years. This lifestyle was pretty easy. But some interesting things started happening in my thirties. I developed a shellfish allergy, unfortunately. And I’m not really a big fan of fish unless it’s deep fried. So, I was forced to give up seafood. And my husband, who became a crossfit addict, was deeply into eating paleo and counting macros. It seemed like ALL we ate was chicken. I felt conflicted between raising my own flock of chickens and then sitting to dinner and eating the relative of a creature I cared for and loved. So, in 2015, I went lactose-ovose. It was an easy choice for me, and then my husband could have whatever meat he wanted for dinner. 

My last two chickens, Eggo and Ebony

But in 2017, I started seeing a functional medicine chiropractor. I know… why is a physical therapist seeing the enemy? (Yes, it’s true… generally there is competition for similar patients with chiropractors and physical therapists.) But I went to one of his lectures at our local organic market, Ellwood Thompson, and I was impressed by what he had to say about managing chronic inflammation. My asthma definitely fell under this category, and the repeated use of steroids from bronchitis 2-3 times a year and its impact on training for races was getting old. With his help, he led me to transitioning to a vegan diet and finally getting my body’s inflammation under control. 

The test that convinced me was some kind of voodoo magic trick he played involving holding extracts on my abdomen and then performing a manual muscle test on my arms. Dairy was like kryptonite. I thought the test was bullshit, but I decided to give up dairy for a few weeks anyway, and then see what happened when I eventually added it back. 

5 weeks later, my family and I attended a family wedding. There was absolutely nothing there that was remotely vegan, but plenty to build a vegetarian meal. So, I ate all the cheesy, buttery things, and the cake. It was delicious, but my stomach was very clear that it was unhappy. And that was that. I haven’t had dairy or eggs since that day. 

It hasn’t always been easy to eat this way, but it gets easier as more people join the vegan movement. Challenges include cooking meals for my omnivorous family. My husband will never give up meat, so to keep the peace, I do cook meat for them. I really wish they would join me on this vegan journey, but I don’t think they ever will. I make lots of what I call “bridge” meals, for example: pasta with two sauces available, burrito bowls, stir fry, or Mediterranean bowls. Lots of veggies and sides with protein choices to suit everyone. And then there are some nights I really just cook for me, and many more that I really only cook for my family.

Maybe cooking for my omnivorous family makes me a fake vegan, but I don’t feel like I have any other choice. I also share this so that others that think it might be impossible to choose a plant based lifestyle may realize that it might be possible to do so in harmony with others in their family that may not do so.

Changing my wardrobe is another story. I did give up using any of my leather items, giving them to my girls or my non-vegan friends. Finding shoes can be especially tricky for the bargain hunter that I am, but occasionally I find suitable items, including some accidentally vegan Doc Marten’s. 

My 100% man made materials Doc Marten’s

Physically, I really appreciate not getting sick as often. I wish I could say I’ve lost weight. Initially, I did, but the past year of relative inactivity and fewer trips to the gym due to the pandemic, despite maintaining cardio activity, have taken their toll. I’ve put on 10 lbs in a year. 

Emotionally, the longer I’ve vegan, the more compassion I develop for animals and other humans. I really hate seeing the chicken trucks that make their way to the Tyson processing plant near us. It’s so sad to see them crowded in those cages, freezing cold or blazing hot. I wonder if they are scared. I think about the chickens I cared for, how different their personalities were and how they greeted me when I got home. I don’t regret giving up chicken at all. I never regretted giving up beef or pork. Cows actually cry waiting to be slaughtered. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. 

Following a chicken truck home from work one day. I had to take a picture when we stopped.

There are a plethora of documentaries available on streaming networks, books, and websites that can educate you on the benefits of plant based eating, the facts about the industrial animal agriculture industry, and the environmental impact of our diet choices. I recommend:

  • The Game Changers
    • Great documentary about plant based eating, athletics, and performance.
  • Food, Inc.
    • Very good intro into the dark side of animal agriculture.
  • Fast Food Nation
    • This is the movie based on the novel of the same name. It reveals the connection between industrial animal agriculture, human cruelty, and capitalism.
  • Diet for a Small Planet 
    • This is the book that started it all for me. Lots of information about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture and the basics about plant based eating.
  • The China Study book and website
    • This is a great book, although you must tease out the real information from the author’s praise of himself. The website is very comprehensive with lots of useful resources, including a link to the documentary about the study. 
  • Forks over Knives
    • The cleanest philosophy of plant based eating, Forks over Knives has a cookbook as well, teaching you how to cook without oils, etc. I do not go to such extremes, but the website is a great resource. 

I hope you will check out at least one of the videos. It’s so revealing to see how your food is produced. When we are removed from the process of slaughter, eating meat becomes seemingly benign. But the truth is much darker.

I often say I went vegetarian for the animals and vegan for my health. I may have an MS in physical therapy, but I’m by no means a nutritional expert. In fact, I’ve started the process of working with a registered dietician to see how I can improve my diet. I know some of my new found weight issues are from the pandemic. And, let’s face it, in the beginning I was eating terribly. But as I enter serious perimenopausal years, some things definitely need to change!

Clearly, I understand that not everyone wants to live the way I do. I don’t shame my family into living my lifestyle. But I do love when they taste some of the things I make that are vegan, and they like them. Baby steps. 

Are you curious about living a plant based lifestyle? Do you enjoy meatless meals? Do you want more strategies on living in harmony with your omnivorous family? Have you seen any of the above resources I linked, and, if so, what did you think about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Gift of Vaccination!

The best part about being fully vaccinated is that you can visit your loved ones and actually hug each other! I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on January 4th. My parents were finally both two weeks past their second dose last week! Since my dad has medical issues, we’ve been extra careful about visiting. 

Visiting with my mom and dad today!

After working every day last week plus Easter Sunday, I was grateful for a day off. I volunteered to work Easter so that my colleagues who go to church or who have littles who look forward to the Easter Bunny could celebrate.

I texted my mom to see if they would be up for a visit today, and they were! So I made the hour drive to Tidewater. I haven’t seen them since December when my daughter and I delivered their cat we adopted for them for Christmas, which was masked, socially distanced, and brief. That visit seems like it was forever ago!

I’m happy to report that Lacey the cat has settled in nicely. You may remember that she was adopted from the Richmond Animal League, which is also where my dog, Ellie was adopted! She’s such a beautiful kitty! And, wow, does she know her food routine. She started asking for her afternoon meal an hour ahead of time!

Pretty girl, Lacey! She is a rescue from the Richmond Animal League.

It was really nice to visit with my parents, share a meal in a restaurant, and have some real discussions about life, church, etc. It’s been way too long. 

As this pandemic continues to spread, it’s imperative that as more people qualify to get vaccinated, everyone takes advantage of their opportunity. Variants don’t have as much of a chance to develop if most of the population is immune. Currently, just over 18% of the US population is fully vaccinated. Right now, we need to stay ahead of the virus. The sooner we achieve herd immunity, the sooner life will get back to normal. Don’t throw away your shot!

Have you been fully vaccinated? Has this opened some doors for you socially? Do you feel safer when out in the community? Do you support the idea of a “vaccine passport?” I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

The Power of Pain

Pain. The 7th vital sign. It’s our body’s way of warning us about danger and disease. When working with my patients, it’s a question I always ask: Do you have any pain right now? As clinicians, we utilize multiple pain scales to objectively rate this subjective symptom. It’s such an important question, I’ve even learned how to ask in Spanish.

This knowledge came in handy one day when I worked a post-op unit at the hospital. There was a Spanish-speaking patient on my list, and the translator lines were down. I know enough Spanish to get by, and I was at least able to ask her how much pain she was in, and to teach her nurse how to as well. It was definitely 10/10. Her nurse was then able to give her pain meds, and later that day, that patient was getting up and walking with ease. 

Acute pain like we experience post-operatively is one thing. We typically know what caused it, and know there is a timeline for healing when this symptom will resolve. Some of us even voluntarily put ourselves through painful experiences like childbirth or running a marathon. And some of us are even addicted to post-workout pain that lets us know we really pushed ourselves in the gym. But chronic pain is a different story altogether. 

When we think of people who have chronic pain, society has painted a picture of someone who is lazy, drug seeking, and entirely unpleasant. Am I right? I hate that term. I prefer to use the phrase persistent pain. I think that’s more accurate. When I encounter patients with these issues, I have this conversation with them, and we rephrase it. This type of pain requires a skilled clinician to get to the root of the problem, not merely a bunch of band-aids to cover it up or healthcare providers to write you off as crazy simply because they haven’t found the cause. 

There is a spiritual component to pain, though, especially persistent pain. When pain begins to rule your world, it can really affect you emotionally. When you go to bed thinking about pain, wake up with it, get poor sleep because of it, and then it keeps you from doing the things you enjoy, the cumulative stress is detrimental to your quality of life. This is especially true if you seek help for managing your pain, and it seems that no one wants to take the time to listen. You can begin to feel hopeless. 

I really didn’t fully grasp the spiritual component of persistent pain until I experienced this myself. After dealing with abdominal pain and bloating for a couple of years, enduring multiple tests that cost thousands of dollars out of pocket, and seeking help from multiple doctors, I finally figured out the root of my pain after meeting a new friend. She had experienced the same exact issues. It was her IUD. The light bulb went off for me. This little device my OB-GYN had convinced me to get was causing inflammation and pain. I sought help from my doctor, and she refused to remove it. When I found a doctor who would, my pain went away almost immediately. I audibly gasped the moment it was no longer a part of my body, the relief was that immediate and noticeable. 

It took a couple more months for the pain to completely subside, but the benefit to my mental health was significant. For the first time in three years, I had hope. I had a doctor who listened and respected me. And I could finally take control of my life and my health. That moment sparked the beginning of my fitness journey that made me a marathoner. I am so grateful. I wish I had not experienced this, but it helps me relate better to my patients who live with persistent pain. 

Not everyone with persistent pain is so lucky to find such a simple solution or to so easily find a doctor who will listen. The emotional burden of the pain can become overwhelming. I have two stories about persistent pain with regard to my clinical practice as a physical therapist, and both are equally sad.

Several years ago, I evaluated a patient who had been to the ER several times for severe back pain. Reading the notes, it was clear that he was written off as a drug seeker, even when he also reported weakness and difficulty walking. Each time, he was sent home with the advice to take ibuprofen. His last visit, another symptom had developed: he had lost control of his bowel and bladder. This, my friends, is cauda equina syndrome, and is a medical emergency. This means that there is an impingement of the lower spinal nerves impairing these functions. Finally, more substantial testing was performed. He had a spinal tumor. My evaluation revealed that he had lost all sensory and motor function of his legs. I was as kind as I could be to him, but my powers were limited. I assured him he would get the help he needs. Writing his note, I cried. And I felt so angry that no one took him seriously. This man was also Black. I am certain this impacted his care initially. I still wonder what his outcome was.

I treated another patient who was injured at work. Mysteriously, they “lost the tape” that showed what happened. Workman’s comp and her employer decided she was exaggerating her symptoms, and demanded that she return to work, failing to allow her to seek proper medical care. She was only allowed to see the doctor they sent her to. Finally, she got a second opinion outside the approved work network. She had a back injury that required surgery. And since her care was delayed by months, her life was impacted significantly, as her rehab would be long and difficult. I sensed her mistrust, her fear, her anger, and I had the patience to ask and let her tell her story. I hugged her and let her cry about it. And I got counseling added to her care plan. She was also Black. I know this impacted her initial care. 

It makes me angry that certain populations are written off when they try to seek help with pain. This includes non-whites and women. Somehow, many of us get lumped in a bunch who just want opiates and attention. Sigh. This only compounds the stress experienced when dealing with persistent pain. 

However, even my own father wasn’t spared from the “pain is all in your head” narrative. When I was in grad school, he was in a freak accident where a truck pulled down a sign, falling onto his car and him. He was checked out in the ER, but they failed to determine what was causing his left shoulder pain. Even at his follow up appointment with his primary care doctor, he was told he was simply stressed out and needed to relax. A few days later, while on a mini vacation in rural North Carolina per doctor’s orders, he became very ill. The accident actually caused his spleen to rupture, and it made him septic. He spent two weeks in the ICU. Left shoulder pain is a hallmark pain referral pattern of a ruptured spleen. The ER doctor should have known. This phenomenon was even described in my orthopedic differential diagnosis textbook. 

This photo is a part of a series I took for work when I practiced in a long term care facility.

Pain is also an expected consequence of aging as our joints deteriorate and muscle mass decreases. My patients with osteoarthritis are well acquainted with the companion of pain. The goal with these folks is to give them tools to manage it, and it’s a task best made multifaceted, controlled medically with topical, injected, and oral medications, and through exercise and movement to strengthen the muscles around the joints and reduce stiffness. When all else fails, there is typically a surgical solution.

But there are multiple other conditions that cause pain that have no definitive cure. For these people, they also must learn to live with the companion of pain and inflammation. They have no choice. We just help them manage as best as we can.

In other parts of my practice, I actually have the power to alleviate pain. Besides prescribing exercises and providing manual skills to help, I also have other tools to use. TENS can be very powerful in temporarily alleviating persistent post-herpetic pain and muscular pain. And I’ve found that taping can help with a multitude of issues, from helping support a flacid post-stroke shoulder that is subluxing to relieving stress to a fellow runner’s calf muscles. It brings me great joy to relieve pain.

Persistent pain is a companion no one wants. As a constant burden, it begins to overwhelm your world, and weighs heavy on one’s mental health. Compounding on this is the journey in finding a resolution to the pain, seeking the help of medical professionals who will listen. As a physical therapist, there have been many times that my skills have been able to help in this process. Having experienced this myself helps me to relate to these patients better, and it brings me much joy to alleviate pain. I certainly hope that none of you have ever had to deal with persistent pain, but if you do, don’t lose hope. Find someone who will listen and help. 

None of the experiences I mentioned occurred in my current practice setting. Have you ever experienced persistent pain? How did you manage? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Spring is Really Here!

As I begin to write this, I’m listening to the sound of howling wind, awaiting another round of thunderstorms in Richmond, VA, our first taste of the season. Most of us were also awakened Sunday morning by thunder, lightning, and driving rain, much to the dismay of my poor dog. She doesn’t have panic attacks, but she is overly concerned and needs lots of reassurance during a storm. 

It’s officially shorts running weather in VA!

I’m normally a Sunday long run day girl, but with the predicted weather, my BFF and I chose to run Saturday instead. It was a good call! Our run Saturday was lovely, with temps in the upper 40’s to start and with excellent company, but earlier runs this week have been HOT! I really struggled with a 3 mile run in 70 degree temps with 75% humidity. If this is any indication of what my summer training will be like, I’m in trouble! 

Another tradition in the warmer months? Day trips to Charlottesville. Carter Mountain sent out the email that they were open, so my girls and I decided to make the journey, enjoying the views and some cider. Bold Rock for me, non-alcoholic for them, of course! Then we headed into town, grabbing a socially distanced, semi-outdoor late lunch, and then exploring some thrift stores. 

The views are what makes Carter Mountain so great! You can also pick peaches and apples in season, and they have great food, too!

My family is making progress with immunizations. My older daughter, who works in a grocery store on her breaks from college and teaches Spanish at the elementary school level,  received her first dose of the covid-19 vaccine this weekend! My parents are officially past their immune building period after receiving both doses of the Covid vaccine. I hope to take a day trip to visit with them on my next day off! And my in-laws have completed their series as well. 

We had another beautiful day in the RVA today. The world is definitely getting greener, buds are blooming, and cars are yellow. I wanted to run today, but, alas, work and family schedules did not align. Tomorrow will be better!

The feature photo is our peach tree in bloom. Is spring beginning in earnest where you live? Are the longer days helping your mental health? Are you enjoying warmer temperatures and some outdoor activities? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Mass Shootings are as American as Apple Pie

Here we go again. When will enough be enough? Who has to die at the hands of yet another hysterical gunman to make the issue of gun control something that our lawmakers are actually willing to tackle? Or are we going to keep throwing our hands up, saying, “It is what it is. Can’t stop bad guys with guns. Sending thoughts and prayers.” It’s the American merry-go-round of nightmares, and no one can get off the ride. 

When returning to “normal” life in the US means 2 mass shootings in as many weeks, one of which was racially motivated and perhaps even stoked by religious “counseling” for the shooter’s sexual fetishes. The police had the nerve to excuse the Atlanta shooter’s behavior on having a “bad day.” Wow. I can’t think of a single time that I had a bad day, but felt the panacea for it was to go shoot a bunch of people with guns. It’s as if the police had more empathy for the shooter than the 8 people he murdered. Both the Atlanta and Boulder shooters had a history of mental illness but were legally allowed to buy their AR-15’s. We seriously need to rethink who is guiding our legislative bodies. 

Yes, I know. The Second Amendment. Blah, blah, blah. But our constitution was written in the time of black powder packing muskets, not AR-15’s. I don’t think our Founding Fathers envisioned such a destructive tool being unleashed on the masses so frequently, nor could they have imagined that in 2021, there would be more guns than people in the US.. The AR-15 is not a toy for the savvy gun enthusiast. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a symbol of power.

Gun enthusiasm and limits in gun control in the US are closely tied to the Christian Nationalist movement. This movement is also tied to white supremacy, limitations in reproductive rights for women, and pushing for integration of church teachings and whitewashing history into our public schools. There are some churches who even give away guns as prizes. I don’t know when gun ownership became symbolic of one’s faith in Jesus, but something needs to change. 

In Boulder, Colorado, the NRA forced a rescinding of their ban on assault rifles just days before the shooting in the grocery store that killed 10 people, allowing the shooter to purchase his AR-15 just four days prior to his rampage. 

American Flag flying on the course of the One City Marathon in Newport News, VA in 2020.

America: where you can’t go to school, the movies, church, an outdoor concert, or even the grocery store without needing to be vigilant. My kids have never known a world without shooter drills. Their first time going through one of these was traumatizing. Watching TV last night, I found it disturbing that one of the news magazines ran a segment about how to protect yourself in the grocery store in case of a shooting incident. Hiding behind shelves, peeking around corners, seeking exits when you enter a store, defending yourself with glass jars? When did this become normal? And, sadly, this is what people see when they envision America. 

Sure, sure. We also have a massive mental health crisis in this country, but no one is really addressing that, either. There’s still a stigma surrounding mental health care. Those in crisis are more likely to get “help” from a police officer and are 16 times more likely to get shot than the average encounter with police. We should send a mental healthcare professional instead. And even if you do seek help before it becomes critical, who can afford counseling that insurance doesn’t cover? There aren’t even enough available beds to help manage those in crisis. Our prison system is our back-up, and is composed of 15-20% inmates with severe mental health issues. As I mentioned earlier, both the Atlanta and Boulder shooters had documented mental health problems. Despite this fact, there were no regulations in place to stop either of them from being able to legally access a gun. 

We need sensible gun control laws. We need them now. Honestly, it’s more difficult to get a driver’s license or vote than it is to buy a gun in the US. Contact your state lawmakers and tell them you want change. Don’t know how to reach them? Find out here.

Certainly the fear of gun violence is the fringe worry of many Americans, including school age children. The anxiety this can cause can really take a toll on our mental health and overall wellness. Do you think it’s time for sensible gun control laws in America? Do you think we need to improve access to mental health services? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Vegan Dilly Potato Salad

With spring beginning to come into full swing and vaccinations increasing,  I’m dreaming of the possibility of outdoor gatherings again. Whenever I think about potluck meals, I think of potato salad. 

If you are a fan of German potato salad, you will love this vinegar dressing based version.  I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like, but I especially enjoy a great potato salad. This one is a bit off tradition. It seems like a lot of vinegar, but it’s definitely more mellow than you think it might be! So, without further ado, I give you Dilly Potato Salad!

Basic ingredients for this recipe. I only used about 1/2 of this onion.

Ingredients:

  • 3# bag potatoes (Russet, yellow, or red all work well)
  • 1 Small/medium red onion, or ½ large
  • ¼ cup dill relish
  • 1 T dried dill weed (I like Litehouse brand)
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
  • ¼ cup olive oil, or 2 T olive oil and 1 T vegan mayo
  • 1 T whole grain or spicy mustard
  • 1 tsp Trader Joe’s onion salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Wash and peel potatoes. Note that if you are using yellow or red potatoes, these do not have to be peeled, especially if they are small. Just remove obvious eyes and bad spots. 
  2. Using a mandolin, slice into ¼ inch slices, or slice by hand. I typically slice with the mandolin until about ⅔ of the potato is sliced, then finish by hand to reduce the risk of slicing my fingers. 
  3. In a large soup pot, boil potatoes in enough water to cover potatoes. Salt water generously. Boil until potatoes are soft and break easily with a fork and when stirred, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. While potatoes are cooking, prepare the red onion. Leaving the root end intact, cut off the other end and peel the onion. Cut the onion into fourths, almost to the root. Use the mandolin to slice the red onion into 1/16 inch slices, or slice by hand.
  5. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove from heat, and drain. Return the potatoes to the pot and let sit.
  6. Make the dressing. Combine the vinegar, olive oil, mayo if using, dill weed, mustard, onion salt, and salt and pepper. Pour over the potatoes.
  7. Add the onions and dill relish to the potatoes.
  8. Mix well and allow to sit, lid on pot, until cool. Potatoes will break apart and absorb the dressing. Onions will “pickle” in the dressing alongside the warm potatoes. Refrigerate and enjoy!
Slicing the potatoes.
How to cut the onion for slicing on the mandolin.
The mandolin makes quick work of slicing the onions!
Bringing the potatoes to a boil.
Pouring the dressing over the hot potatoes and the sliced onions.
Finished potato salad!

If you try this salad, post about it on Instagram and tag me @annecreates. I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

The Power of Food

Our food choices are certainly a big part of how we identify as humans. Food can reflect our culture, our religion, and even our political leanings. Food can prove elusive when it’s not affordable or accessible. Food, or lack thereof, can cause disease. In extreme cases of food allergies, food can cause death. Beliefs about food can divide households. But food is also the backdrop for celebrations. And food can bring comfort. Preparing food can be a creative outlet. And food can be love.

Our relationship with food begins with the choices of our parents. One of the best examples I can think of is the debate about sweet tea or unsweet tea. If you are raised in the south in the US, you know tea is typically so sweet, it might as well be syrup. Well, my parents are both from the deep south, and my brother and I were raised drinking unsweet tea! What a scandal. We were certainly outliers among our friends in Virginia. But I’m grateful that my parents made this choice for me. My tastebuds were trained for less sugar.

A choice that wasn’t decided by my parents is my journey toward going vegan. It began as an 18 year old when I decided to go pescatarian. In 1993, this wasn’t as easy as you would think, especially when you relied on your college’s dining hall for sustenance. I haven’t had red meat or pork since. Later on in life, I went full vegetarian, finally transitioning to vegan when I discovered that dairy was a source of inflammation for me, contributing to my asthma symptoms. I haven’t had bronchitis since going vegan, and I used to get it 2-3 times a year. 

But having the distinction of “vegan” conjures different emotions for people. I used to work in an office where half of my colleagues were keto. We would have breakfast team meetings where our boss would buy huge platters of eggs, bacon, and sausage to share. If you’ve never been in close proximity to someone who is in ketosis, consider yourself blessed. The perfume of exuding ketones is less than pleasant. In this office, I was Anne, the vegan. It was definitely more of an eyeroll, almost a slur, with the inflection of the comment. I was definitely the weirdo of the office, and as you may have guessed, I didn’t stay long. Thus, the name of my blog was born. I flipped the derogatory comment into something positive. 

My mom’s potato soup, “veganized.”

I view fundamental food choices like I do religion. I choose to live vegan, which encompasses so much more than just food, but I try not to preach. I will certainly share my journey, why I choose to live this way, and the benefits this lifestyle has given me, but I respect the choices of others, even if they don’t respect mine. Life as a woman has trained me well to walk that fine line of trying to educate, but not offend. No one else in my house is vegan, but I’m pleased that my kids and my husband will taste many of the vegan meals I make, and I’ve even converted my husband to almond milk, which I never thought would happen! He needs to keep his paws off my Hippeas, though! 

Eating the “right” food can mean different things to different people, and opinions are so varied. Discussions can become quite contentious and divisive. What’s even more confusing is that there doesn’t seem to be any clear research asserting what these “right” foods are. When reading research, don’t overlook the fine print: who funded the study? This often guides the take on good vs. bad. 

Depending on our relationship with food, we can also feel guilty because of our “bad” food choices. Too many sweets? Gluttony. Too many fried foods? Fattening. And we can feel ashamed because we dared to indulge. I operate under the assumption that we all deserve a treat every now and then. However, we can sometimes develop unhealthy relationships with food, leading to habits that develop into eating disorders. “Bad” food choices are often also dictated by convenience. Why bother cooking at home when you can simply go through a drive-thru? But sometimes, we are forced to make “bad” food choices simply because, if you can’t afford “good” food, you choose what you have the means for, since cheap calories equals full bellies. 

Early last year, pre-pandemic, I was in line to buy groceries at Wal-Mart. There was a woman in front of me with two small children. She had carefully calculated her purchases, and she pulled out her EBT card to pay. The system rejected her choice of a small rotisserie chicken, something she had apparently been able to purchase before. New rules, apparently, deemed this choice a “luxury.” I bought it for her. It was a $5 chicken. I can’t imagine what she was feeling. Who in the government declared a pre-cooked chicken a luxury? She was grateful. For me, it was the cost of a fancy coffee. For this young mom? It was multiple meals. 

As much as food, or lack thereof, can divide us or make us feel shame, it can also unite us. It is the glue of celebrations. There’s always a party after a major life event, right? Cake for birthdays. Receptions for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and even funerals. We can learn about different cultures just by tasting the food associated with it. And for me, spotting another person in the grocery with vegan things? Always a quiet celebration. 

Does your family have a celebratory dinner or dessert that’s a favorite? Growing up, that dish was chicken and dumplings. My mom makes the best. And although I don’t eat these anymore, I still remember my mom boiling the chicken all day, mixing and rolling out the dough, and putting the dish together. It was a long process that she did with much love. This became our holiday meal instead of turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom also makes the best potato soup. It was comfort in a bowl when we were sick. A favorite from my husband’s family? My mother in law makes a pound cake that my husband loves. There are pictures of him as a toddler, sitting on the kitchen floor with a giant bowl of batter, eating it happily. 

So, getting back to another point: food is love. It is, quite simply, one of my love languages. Is it one of yours, too?  I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking. As a teenager, if I didn’t have somewhere to go on a weekend night, I baked. Now as a married adult, I am the cook. We typically only eat in a restaurant once or twice a week. I also tend to be the cook on big family vacations. I love to make cakes from scratch, my mom’s potato soup, and parts of celebratory meals. I enjoy that role so much, especially since there’s always someone else to clean the dishes! I also enjoy gardening, and that is its own special labor of love in growing your own food, something that I became reacquainted with during the pandemic.

My current favorite cake to bake: chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. All vegan, of course!

Clearly, food choices, at its most fundamental level, define us spiritually. Even if we can’t eat certain foods because of allergies, that still defines who we are in some way. Our relationship with food is a part of who we are as humans. Our choices can be beneficial or harmful. They can divide or unite us. They can reflect our culture. They can reflect our beliefs. They can bring us health or illness. They can be love. That’s the power of food. 

How does food help define you as a person? Does your family have special celebratory meals that bring everyone together? Do you passionately follow a unique diet? Do you grow your own food? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Race Recap: The Sports Backers Half Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the Sports Backers Half Marathon. We had beautiful weather! My best friend Patty convinced me to sign up a while ago, and, although our winter training did have a few hiccups, we managed to comfortably finish the half in about 3 hours. My PR is 2:21, but I haven’t been training nearly that fast lately. It is what it is. So, the goal was to stick together and simply have fun.

Patty and I running the course! Photo courtesy of Steve Yancey.

If you aren’t familiar with Sports Backers, they are a large non-profit in Richmond that puts on stellar races, most notably the Richmond Marathon in November and the Monument 10k in the spring. They know how to organize a race! The profits from events like these get funneled into community programs like Kids Run RVA and the Fitness Warriors to support their mission of promoting active and healthy lifestyles in the Richmond area. 

With the giant bike at Four Mile Park along the Virginia Capital Trail. Photo courtesy of Steve Yancey.

This race is new this year, and there was a marathon course and 5k as well. It roughly followed the course that Sports Backers used from Dorey Park along the Virginia Capital Trail last year for the Richmond Marathon races, as the format needed to change due to the pandemic. For this race, they kept the window when you could run to 3 days instead of a couple of weeks. They also tweaked the course a bit, which Patty and I really liked. There was an out and back that took you past Dorey Park that was tacked onto the end of last year’s race, but they made that part first this year. Mentally, that was better for me! They also had Nunn on the course!

Mile 12! The end was near…

As far as the weather is concerned, we couldn’t have asked for better. Yes, it was chilly at the start in the upper 30’s, but it warmed up pretty quickly, and was well into the 50’s at the end of our run. It was sunny, but with a nice, gentle breeze, and so whenever you started to feel hot, that breeze would come along and cool you down. 

Crossing the finish line! Photo courtesy of Steve Yancey.

Patty’s partner, Steve, joined us for the last 3ish miles of our run with their dog, Finn! Finn was adept at warning us about all the squirrels and enjoyed leading his pack! Steve also took some great pictures for us.

With Finn at the finish! Photo courtesy of Steve Yancey.

Overall, I think Sports Backers has made the best of the pandemic, creating fun virtual races, endurance challenges with teams, and adapting their live race formats to make some of these possible. Even though we didn’t have the big crowds to encourage us on the course, we did see lots of friends on our run! It was so nice to actually run a real race!

Later yesterday afternoon, I got to visit with my neighbor’s German Shepherd puppies! Mama had a litter of 11! Can you imagine? Anyway, they were absolutely precious! If you want to follow their adventures and soak up some adorableness, check out my neighbor’s blog, Shepherd Sight. I promise her content will lift your spirits!

Puppy snuggles are the best!

Have you run any virtual or modified races during the pandemic? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.