Minglewood Bake Shop: Vegan Restaurant Review

There’s nothing quite like the joy a vegan experiences when they visit an all vegan space! Remember my reference to the new vegan bakery in Carytown from my recent post about the rungries? This is the bakery I was talking about!

Minglewood Bake Shop is in the heart of Carytown in Richmond, VA. Carytown is known for its eclectic, artsy vibe, and features many unique, local restaurants. Located in the old Guitar Works building at 3337 Cary Street, the bakery is currently open 8-4 Monday through Thursday, 8-6 Friday through Sunday, and features indoor and outdoor seating with decor that pays homage to its prior tenant.

The indoor seating area at Minglewood. Notice the Guitar Works sign!

My older daughter was home from college, and my younger daughter had a flexible learning day. So on a seemingly random Monday, we decided to spend a few hours in Carytown. We ended up visiting the bakery as our last stop, and it was about 15 minutes before they closed. I was afraid we would miss out on getting any great treats, but as luck would have it, it seemed to be a great time to visit! 

Entering the store, we were greeted by the amazing smell of fresh brewed coffee as well as an enticing sweetness. We were excited that they had some of their goods half off! We chose a variety of cookies, brownies, coffee cake, a cupcake, and a cinnamon bun. Since it was our first visit, it was important to sample as many items as we could, you know, for research! My daughters also got iced nutella lattes (these were so good, I had to take a moment after that first sip). In addition to these sugary snacks, the bakers also make chick’n pot pies that have received great reviews! These do sell out fast, though!

An assortment of delicious sweet treats!

I have to say, everything we tried was super delicious. You couldn’t tell anything was vegan. They even make cakes and pies, so I’m hoping that I can get one of their cakes for my next birthday! If your dietary needs also require gluten-free and nut-free options, they make these, too! From what I’ve read, all of their baked goods use allergy friendly oat milk as their non-dairy milk. And they had several GF items, not just one or two. It’s always nice to have multiple options, right? 

The staff were all super friendly. You could tell that they genuinely care about their customers. In addition to their tasty bakery treats and coffee drinks, they have some pretty amazing general merchandise, including t-shirts and stickers. I bought a sticker that promptly went on my computer when I got home. I’m going back for a t-shirt with the same logo!

My new laptop decor!

I will definitely return! Minglewood has another fan. Please visit next time you’re in Richmond. It’s worth the special trip. Even if you’re not vegan, you will love their sweet treats!

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Do you love bakeries as much as I do? I’m so happy there is an all vegan one now in the RVA!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

For the Love of Books

I was a ravenous reader as a kid. I, of course, loved all of the Judy Blume books as a girl who grew up in the 80’s. I think I wore out my copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, which not only tackled the mysteries of puberty, but also of spirituality and religion. My parents knew I read books long after my bedtime, taking advantage of the light that spilled into my room from the hallway. But they never seemed to let me in on this knowledge. They instilled in me an appreciation for good bookstores. And they also never said no when I wanted to buy a book, something that I’ve tried to carry on with my own children. 

My love for books waned when reading became something that I had to do for school. I felt guilty reading for pleasure when there was so much assigned reading. If you ask my parents, they will blame my 9th grade English teacher, as his class marked my sudden drop in reading. He did seem to like my writing, however, even going so far as to comment, “Not bad, for a girl!” on one of my papers. This sparked one of the many times my parents were tremendous advocates for me in my school years. Many conferences later, this teacher was demoted from teaching advanced English. 

All through college, I also avoided reading for pleasure. There was so much reading to do as a scholar! I took my required literature classes, actually enjoying many of the assigned books, but read very little fiction otherwise. The most notable optional read during those years was Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lape, which helped me transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. 

But it wasn’t until my 30’s that I really started reading again. I guess all of those years of college and graduate school reading had to be purged from my system. Even now, though, I tend to gravitate toward books that are opportunities for learning. Whether it’s by an author with a different background than me, an autobiography, or commentary on social justice, most of my reading is either socially significant or non-fiction. 

I do appreciate some fiction, however. One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver, who often writes stories that push for social and environmental justice. Her book, The Poisonwood Bible, about a Christian missionary family, moved me to tears. It is among my favorite books of all time. I also loved her non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, chronicling her family’s year-long quest to produce all of their own food. Her story inspired me to keep a flock of chickens! And every now and then, I enjoy a good John Grisham novel. 

After the 2016 election, I found an intensified need to become more well read. I wanted to fill in the blanks of my literary education. My first book? The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The story of a takeover of America by fundamentalist Christians is practically tangible in these times. I’ve read several of her other novels now as well. My next was 1984 by George Orwell, showing the flaws of a government who constantly changes the narrative and gaslights its citizens. Also fairly realistic. I also read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time. Another great novel with lessons to learn about racial discrimination and social justice. 

I continue to be a consumer of books that challenge me. Sometimes I will find the need to read a book immediately, and thus seek the title in a local bookstore or online, but I do love bargain book hunting and gathering. This most often occurs at the local thrift stores where I scour the racks for one dollar paperbacks. Living in a college town, sometimes students dump their textbooks there rather than sell them back. I’ve found some really interesting titles this way! I’m also a fan of the big Second and Charles used/new bookstore in town. It’s been a pretty reliable source for coveted titles. 

My most recent thrifting adventure led me to two books I would never buy at a traditional bookstore. I found both Omarosa’s book and John Bolton’s books about their time in 45’s White House. These will be revealing, for sure!

I’m also buying up good copies of frequently banned books. If (and likely when) things in my county begin to get bad as far as banning books is concerned, I will help supply a library of frequently banned titles. 

Just a few frequently banned titles in my personal collection.

At one time, I organized my books by the color of the spine. I mean, aren’t design magazines with libraries decorated like this fabulous? But as my collection grew, this became extremely impractical. So now, my books are categorized by type, then alphabetically by author. Yeah. Kind of like a real library. I’ve also got stacks of books on the floor waiting for a new home. And each of my daughters have their own little libraries in their rooms. 

Do I have way more books than I need? Eh. That depends on who you ask. (Don’t ask my husband!) Do I want to keep all of them? Absolutely. Because I will find the time to read them all one day. I do know that I will forever be a scholar, and I truly appreciate the power of a book to change the world. 

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I think one of the most fundamental ways to effect change in your life on a spiritual level is to read a book that opens your mind to new ideas and world views. If you can’t afford to travel and experience a culture different from yours, the next best thing is to read a book about it. 

What just finished:

Read Until You Understand by Farah Jasmine Griffin

A college professor’s study of Black life and literature, organized by theme. I’ve found it very insightful. Part autobiographical, the author carefully intertwines stories of her personal life experiences to significant pieces of literature written by Black authors. Published late 2021 and checked out from my local library. It was a featured new release. 

What will I read next? Maybe one of my recent finds by Roxanne Gay in honor of Women’s Month.

Are you reading anything great right now? Have you ever read a book that changed your world? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Path Narrows

Well, isn’t this an accurate statement right now? I saw this sign while on a run the other day. I’ve probably seen it 100 times, as it marks the boardwalk of a favorite trail, but that day, it spoke to me. 

Who else is feeling helpless in an increasingly hostile world? We are being led to collectively make choices that we never thought we would have to make, especially our leaders around the world. We are going down a path of no return. An uncertain place with fewer and fewer of them, as the options are steadily being stripped away by a madman dictator. 

Who knows how this unprovoked war will progress. How long will we sit back and observe the bombing of civilian areas, schools, hospitals, and power plants of Ukraine? How long will we bear witness to attempted acquisition of a sovereign nation? I am less and less hopeful that the remaining Western world can avoid a military conflict with Russia. 

My dad was a history major. He’s still a huge student of history, and the one thing he has repeated to me many times over the years is that the sole goal of Russia is the complete destruction of America. I always hoped that this couldn’t be, growing up in the era to witness the dismantling of the Soviet Union, but now this makes me wonder, what is the real reasoning behind the invasion of Ukraine? Because the reasons given don’t make sense. What was the reasoning behind meddling in our 2016 election? It was seemingly to help elect another like-minded authoritarian. And what a mess that brought us. 

Both the former US president and Russia’s president claim to be devout Christians, fighting for a world full of virtue and old family values. Both are being praised by American evangelicals. I read an article that proposed that religion is one reason for the invasion, as Kyiv is the Jerusalem of the Russian Orthodox Church. It proposes some pretty radical theories that perhaps aren’t too far fetched, and were echoed by the author Casey Michel in an interview on NPR last week.

As the world becomes more progressive and democratic, choking out hate and injustice, it’s as if these final flames of white supremacy are making one last go of destroying a new, hopeful world. But now it’s beginning to feel like they might win. As the Christian Nationalist movement gains momentum in the US, I am more fearful than ever of the world that will remain for my children once my body has left this earth. I naively thought that these people, these thoughts were not mainstream. I deeply wish they would go back into hiding. 

I find it increasingly challenging to go on with my daily life knowing what horrible injustices are being carried out both domestically and on the other side of the world. The rise of Christian Nationalistic ideals is no longer fringe. These ideals are being written into law, most notably in Texas, with strict anti-choice laws, anti-CRT legislation, and now anti-transgender laws on the books. Other states have taken notice and are, sadly, following suit. I suppose the systemic rules in place to suppress people of color were not enough. Diluting voting rights, restricting reproductive rights, and denying rights to the LGBTQ community were next. Even in my own county, a symbolic gesture of equality proposed by the school board is now slated to be “studied” by a far right Christian group. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? We are sliding backwards. So very far backwards.

I should have known the depths of white supremacy when I encountered a rather ridiculous man at the Virginia State Fair in 2012. I had visited the DNC’s booth, proudly wearing my Obama/Biden campaign button. This man, who worked for a local pest control company and was wearing his uniform, was giving someone a hard time about the election. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. He caused quite a scene, screaming that I was an instrument of Satan and going to hell for voting for Obama. Wow. I’ve never been called an instrument of Satan before. But I do know who I won’t be calling for any pest control issues.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back to 2008, to a time when I really believed that our country was, at last, moving in the right direction. A time when it seemed the path was wide open and full of optimism for a better world. I still remember being moved to tears as I stood in line to vote in that election. I mean, the line went out of the school and well into the parking lot! People were excited to participate in the process. So many of us looked at each other, smiling, grateful for the possibility of change. 

Who knew that the backlash in the end would be so swift, so damaging, so reversing, so dark, it would make your head spin. It’s as if the very light of hope was extinguished by hate with the election of our last president. In the midst of his darkness, the cockroaches of society were allowed to emerge, multiplying in droves, their virus of Christian nationalism and white supremacy spreading uncontrollably, their voices magnified by outlets like Fox News and perhaps even the local pastor. 

I don’t know this America. Many of you do, whether you’ve been a victim of it, or a participant. I was blissfully protected from so much of this awfulness in my life until recently. Now I understand that it was always there, just in hiding. How appalling that these views seem so mainstream now. I don’t know how to reconcile the existence of these views in this world. I thought history had taught us better. Many new leaders in America know this, and no longer want our children to learn the truth, editing curriculum in our classrooms. 

The path is narrowing, indeed. It seems that the good things are being squeezed out as we are being forced down this trail of uncertainty, with forces of evil guiding, not goodness and light. 

I have to have hope that we can fight this, that we can be the good. We can be the light. We can still channel the voice of just, progressive leaders. We can forge a new path where human rights are honored, where true equality is law, where religion doesn’t dictate legislation, where corporate greed doesn’t buy politicians, where everyone feels safe walking in their neighborhood, where love and respect rules, and where we are free from power hungry authoritarianism. But we have to work together. Let’s change our path. 

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What is happening in Ukraine could happen anywhere. Any time an authoritarian leader is ignored and emboldened with power, the result can be bleak. And we can all become refugees in an instant. How are you managing under the stress of this crisis?

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

A Case of the Rungries

It’s mile 8 of my “only 12” mile long run. As my running partner and I are turning the corner on completing this journey, I realize I’ve exhausted all of my stories for the week. We’ve delved into deeper, philosophical conversation. We’ve shared lots of laughs this run, and maybe even a few tears. We are way past the point of runner’s high. I’m questioning why drop back runs are so challenging. And then it strikes: hunger. 

My oatmeal with peanut butter that I had for breakfast is long gone. There’s no food at the SAG’s for this short run. And my Sport Beans meant to replace expended glucose are just not cutting it anymore. I begin to fantasize about all of the food I will eat when I’m done with my run. “Wait?,” I ask myself. “What’s that smell?” Clearly, one of the houses we just passed has just prepared a breakfast of champions. Sigh. 

This goes on periodically for 4 more miles as we run through the neighborhoods in the Fan, everyone finally waking up on a leisurely Sunday morning, even though we’ve been running since daylight broke. It gets a bit worse when we run through Carytown, an eclectic part of Richmond with lots of cool places to eat. I’m a bit envious of the brunchers waiting for tables. I spotted the new vegan bakery nearby. “Maybe I’ll go get breakfast after this run!,” I think to myself. 

Between the amazing smells wafting into the streets from the numerous houses and multiple restaurants we have passed, I also take a mental inventory of what I have to eat at home, trying to visualize the fridge in my mind. None of those options I recall from my fridge seem especially appealing at the moment. But I know what I should NOT do: under no circumstances should I go to the grocery store, unfed, on my way home from my run. Nope. 

With our run finished, I get to my car. I eat my protein bar, as unappealing as it is, although I did stash it in my car to satiate an immediate need for food. But my body craves salt, and this is a flavor that was definitely not fulfilled by my chocolate covered vegan protein bar. Sigh. I convince myself that since I’ve eaten something, it will be safe now to stop at the store. You know. Just in case. I’m sure my family needs something from the grocery. I text them. 

I get a few affirming responses. With a game plan, I make it through the store. Somehow, my cart ends up loaded with all kinds of snacks. I don’t know how they got there, but it all seems good. They do come home with me. There may or may not be an open bag of potato chips already, my travel companion in the passenger’s seat.

Once home, I remember that I have leftovers from last night’s visit to the Thai restaurant as I put away the groceries that somehow cost way more than I’d planned. The salty goodness of Thai food sounds fantastic! The perpetual question: do I eat first, or shower first? The meal wins. 

I shower. I nap. My rumbling, already empty stomach awakens me. I look at my Garmin and note the step count from this morning’s run and grocery trip. I get up and wander into the kitchen, searching for something to satisfy the rungires. And then I’m just a runner. Standing in the pantry. Asking it to provide an amazing snack. For some reason, the Ritz crackers are speaking to me. I take a sleeve, planning to eat just a few. Before I know it, I’ve had a snackcident. The entire sleeve is consumed. Sigh. 

I go back to the kitchen. I decided to cook something delicious and somewhat healthy for dinner in a quest for redemption from my snackcident. And finally, after eating a home cooked meal, my rungries are mostly cured. Until my next long run…

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This story is based on actual events that have occurred in real life. If you’re a runner, you know! I’m becoming reacquainted with these sensations as my mileage ramps up with training for half marathon races in the next 2 months. 

Do you get ravenous during and after your long runs? What’s your favorite after run snack? My fellow Pink Nation coaches know I love my potato chips! I’d love to hear about your favorites!

Hoping this story provides a smidgen of comic relief in our uncertain world right now.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

The Power of a Hero

When I was little, I desperately wanted a hero; someone who could rescue me from sadness, from shame, from worry about all of my young life’s traumas. 

As a teenager, I often sought a hero in the form of a boyfriend. After all, don’t the movies tell you that a knight in shining armor will rescue you from the tower in which you are trapped? When the adults in my life failed me, this was seemingly my last hope. It took some time and perspective to realize I could be my own hero.

Of course, the world is full of everyday heroes. Firemen. Doctors. Nurses. Teachers. Social workers. Normal people helping others. People whose calling in life is to make the world a better place. People who bring hope and decency when we least expect it.

In movements of social justice, we have witnessed many heroes. Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk… These are a few names that come to mind. Hearing their stories, learning about their selfless acts to help others, is heartwarming. In today’s world, it doesn’t even make sense that the injustices they fought to correct even existed. But in many ways, those systems still persist, although in much more covert ways. But without these heroes, we wouldn’t have progressed to the world we have now. 

I know what heroes don’t do. Heroes don’t create and support legislation that violates human rights. Heroes don’t leave their country when the people they are supposed to lead are without power, cold, and suffering. Heroes understand the need for the separation of church and state. Heroes don’t give in to the whims of corporations at the cost of their constituents, for example, price gouging electricity during a winter storm, for their political gain. Heroes would understand the benefit of understanding the full impact of our history and the importance of learning from our past mistakes, however ugly it may be. Heroes don’t fear the voices of authors in helping others understand varying perspectives of the human experience. 

Looking at the conflict in Ukraine, we see President Zelensky taking up arms, staying with his people, to fight Russia any way he can. That’s a leader. He’s a hero. He is inspiring his people to do whatever it takes to protect their sovereignty. A hero like this is rare in today’s world. Let’s hope the power of a hero prevails over the power of villains. 

May we all have a hero in our lives, advocating for goodness to prevail over evil. 

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I realize that there is much disparity in the focus and assistance to Ukraine that is not necessarily given to other areas of conflict in non-European areas of the world. It’s not fair, and there is so much more to say about this. There is, of course, also disparity in my own country in how people are treated. 

Human rights should not be determined by your wealth, gender, religion, sexual identity, or skin color. To deny rights or place favor based on any of these factors means that you think some people are less than human. 

I am hoping for a resolution of the conflict in Ukraine and the unprovoked violence inflicted on their people by an authoritarian neighbor. We should have learned long ago about the injustices brought by colonialism and imperialism. This is why we need to continue to learn history. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

I Need a Little Patience

My world has been lacking in one area especially as of late. My patience has been wearing thin. 

Maybe it’s just because in my role as a healthcare provider, I spend so much of my day exhibiting extraordinary patience. So when it’s time to enter the “real world,” it seems I have none left for the folks I encounter, especially when they are inconsiderate. I find that I can’t drive anywhere or even go to the grocery store without someone making me mad. 

Maybe it’s because my world was briefly turned upside down with my own family’s health crisis while we were worried about my husband. 

Maybe it’s because the collective stress from this pandemic is just exhausting, especially with the most recent surge in Covid cases, even though it is finally abating. But even so, I’m holding my breath for the next new variant. I can’t seem to let my guard down. 

Maybe it’s because some of my loved ones have been duped by misinformation and still won’t get vaccinated. I continue to worry that the next variant will be the one to infect them and take them from me. 

Maybe it’s because we are in the midst of ongoing political unrest, with the rise of nationalism even trickling down to the local school board. In parts of the country, like my county, we see very visible support of these nationistic efforts in the form of political signs that litter our roadways and even the flying of black American flags. The possible death of our democracy is an ever present threat in the background, and we feel powerless to effect repair.

One of the dozens of signs of this type in my county. This one is in response to the removal of Confederate names from one of our high schools and a middle school.

Maybe it’s because in my own efforts to mitigate the ridiculous nature of my ultra conservative neighbors, my attempts to reach out to the leaders in my county with regard to mask wearing in schools, in support of learning real history, in support of LBGTQ students, and with my lack of support for book banning seem wasted. Not one of my carefully worded emails received a response from the school board or board of supervisors. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  

Maybe it’s because a war has begun on the other side of the world, as Russia invades Ukraine. Waking up to the full extent of what is happening there is unfathomable. My kids have resigned themselves to the possibility that WWIII has begun. And why are evangelicals and ultra conservatives in support of Russia? What’s the connection? Of course, the US will get involved. Ukraine is a nation full of resources. 

Maybe it’s because I get about 80 calls a day that are silenced and get punted to voicemail, most of which don’t leave a message, all of which get blocked, but yet keep finding ways to call me. So frustrating.

Maybe it’s the never ending stream of videos documenting the temper tantrums of the Karens of our country when they don’t get what they think they are entitled. 

Maybe it’s because we all feel stress and trauma right now, and when we are out among each other in public, no one can tolerate the slightest bullshit. 

As my stress unravels, the thought occurs to me that maybe I’m not actually a good person after all. Does reacting to someone else’s bad behavior make me the bad person? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Are we both wrong? Or does it even matter? 

There are days where I just feel like a colossal pain in the ass; a huge annoyance to society. Days where I should probably just stay at home, sparing everyone from my bad attitude. I hate reacting to stupidity. I hate feeling this way. My tolerance for “peopling” is very limited right now. Overreacting seems to be the norm, and I’m as guilty as everyone else. These collective, repetitive, minor crimes against humanity are exhausting. It makes me reluctant to go out in public at all. I’m sure many of you can relate. We all seem to be on edge. But wow, do I need some patience. 

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs is:

It’s so easy to laugh,

It’s so easy to hate.

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.

-The Smiths

I really need to take these words to heart. This is so easy to do for my patients. They are vulnerable. Perhaps the people I encounter in the “real world” are, too. But I become immediately abrasive when someone bristles toward me. It didn’t used to be this way. 

It seems my strength to be gentle and kind is lacking in a world where everyone else seems to have given up on the concepts of compassion and respect for their fellow humans. A world that capitalism has created to make people believe that if you fail, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough, not because the system is rigged. A world where people are fooled into believing that some people are better than others. A world where crimes against humanity are so common, that we just let the minor ones slide, each chipping away at the norms of decency. A world where dictators feel emboldened to take what they think is theirs, whether that’s human rights or an entire country.

There’s only so many layers of stress a person can sustain. You can be the kindest, sweetest soul, but eventually the collective weight of these burdensome layers under which we are buried will leave little light left to illuminate this dark world in which we have to survive. We either get angry or give up. We either choose to react, negatively or positively, to the stress, or we become so paralyzed by our overwhelming sense of powerlessness to effect change that apathy wins.

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I know. Here I go again with these dark posts. Today, we are all waking up to the news that Russia has invaded Ukraine. My soul feels heavy. I’m not much on prayer these days, but I sincerely hope that the situation there improves soon. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine.

I think many of us find ourselves in a place of darkness and frustration lately, and sometimes it helps to know that you are not alone in these feelings. If you are here, too, I’m sending you a giant virtual hug. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

For The Love of the Back of the Pack Runner

You know us. We make you feel good as you pass us on the race course. We are the ones who get the most money out of our race fees. We are still persisting, even after most spectators have gone home, and sometimes after all of the post-race food is gone. We run at a “sexy pace.” We are where the party’s at. We are the back of the pack runners.

So why am I at the back of the pack? I have asthma. I shouldn’t be a runner. I was the kid in gym class who did everything I could to get out of running the mile. (Many thanks to my gymnastics coach who wrote an excuse for me!) And yet, I somehow became a runner despite my initial dislike for this activity that once seemed like a punishment. I’m sure my middle school gym teacher (who rolled her eyes at the letter from my gymnastics coach) would be shocked at my evolution into not only a multiple marathon finisher, but an ultramarathoner. 

When I started running, I did try to work on gaining speed and improving overall. But now that I’ve been at this for 10 years and with lungs that are not just asthmatic, but also survived a presumptive case of Covid early in the pandemic, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will forever be at the back of the pack. That’s ok, though. I’m in excellent company. 

While we back of the pack runners may never be competitive, we sure do have fun! (well, most of the time!) We run for the joy of it. We run to burn off the crazy. We run to have an excuse to hang out with our favorite people, and even to meet new friends. We run for the experience of racing. We go on runcations. We run for the swag. We run to inspire others. But most of all, we run for us, just for the mere satisfaction of saying that we could do it. 

Even if we aren’t winning races, we are still achieving so much more than most people ever dare to attempt. That makes all of the joy of finishing that much sweeter. We are simply average runners who muster up the courage to do challenging things, which in my mind, makes us more than average humans. 

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The photo featured is of a few of my sole sisters and me, overlooking the James River in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. This was our costume for our annual Halloween run with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team in 2016. We were “the party in the back of the pack.”

Do you consider yourself a back of the pack runner? If you are speedy, what do you think of those of us who run races despite being slow? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Caregiving Conundrum

Finding yourself in the caregiving role as the leader of the village can be a bit overwhelming. For a while, you are in fight or flight, just trying to help your loved one survive. During any health crisis with a family member, I try to remain as objective as I can, using my professional knowledge of medical issues to the best of my understanding and my insight in navigating the hospital system to improve outcomes. But, to use a phrase my kids love, it hits different when the person in crisis is your husband, and you are the primary caregiver, not just playing a supporting role.

Eventually the magnitude of what is happening catches up to you. For me, this was on a run. Did I deserve to run? I don’t know. Did I need to run? Most definitely. And it was a difficult run, just because I had the time and space to process my emotions and experiences over the course of my husband’s illness thus far. I kept having to push down a mild panic attack, and I did shed a few tears during the time spent on my feet. 

I’m a very sensitive person, and sometimes memories attach themselves to songs or smells. For example, I can’t stand that stupid trampoline song that was popular a couple of years ago; I associate it with the unpleasant parts of being a home health practitioner during the height of the song’s popularity. Likewise, I can’t go into a Wawa bathroom without the smell of the air freshener taking me back to that anxious time, either, as it was my go-to safe rest stop. 

The most recent awkward smell? My deodorant. I picked up a new flavor of my favorite deodorant because it happened to be on clearance. I started using it Sunday, the day that my husband was admitted to the hospital. And it occurred to me on my way home from my run, smelling my own deodorant, that I will forever associate this new smell with this time in my life. I may have to chuck it before I’ve used it all. 

I know I need to take care of myself. I’ve given the lecture to many caregivers myself over the years, including my mom and my husband’s mom, as they navigate issues with my dad and my husband’s dad themselves. And yet I still feel guilty taking the time to do the things I need to do to maintain my mental health, including taking the time to run. 

But it’s funny how quickly your own needs go out the window when you are in caregiving mode. For example, Tuesday I ate breakfast at 8:30, before my run. At 3:00, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything else all day. The hospital cafeteria has slim pickings for a vegan. Monday’s lunch was veggie sushi and a hummus/pretzel pack, which was the exact meal that my best friend brought to me as we waited in the ER for a room the day before. Tuesday when I went, the main cafeteria was closed. Only pre-packaged food was available. The thought of a repeat of Sunday’s dinner and yesterday’s lunch made me want to cry. So a Subway sub with all the veggies, no cheese is what I got. It was less than exciting. 

There are some aspects of caregiving that are absolutely gratifying. Besides showing my husband how much I love him through my professional caregiving skills cultivated throughout my career, I am having so much fun telling each and every one of the members of his medical team all of the decisions he has made that have been detrimental to his health and led him to this point. It’s not often that I get to say, “I told you so.” It’s also not often that my husband gets to see how effortlessly I seem to navigate lines (like multiple IV’s, pulse oximeter, and telemetry wires), how well I can coordinate tidying and room and setup for transferring to a recliner or the bed while he’s using the bathroom, etc., or prove to him that there actually is a difference in your cardiopulmonary effort between different types of assistive devices. I am absolutely a colossal pain in his ass right now, but I also may actually be impressing him. 

That gratification aside, the rest has not been as fun. There is a bit of truth to the saying that ignorance is bliss. I know what we have been dealing with and just how close he came to death. But I think we have reached a turning point in his recovery. He actually came home yesterday. Maybe this time, my husband will trust that I do know what I’m talking about when I try to make him pay attention to his body. We shall see. 

For now, there are lots of new things to navigate. We have new toys, including a rolling walker and a knee scooter, both on loan (since he remains limited in weight bearing on his operated foot), a brand new pulse oximeter, and an incentive spirometer, as well as new medications (one of which costs a fortune). My husband will have to learn to slow down to keep his heart rate in a safe range as his body resorbs the clots. We will learn that it’s ok to accept help from friends. And he’s learned a valuable, humbling lesson: he is not invincible. 

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My husband and I are new to navigating a health crisis with each other. This is so much different than helping our parents with issues. I’m so grateful to our friends and family who have reached out to help us during this time. Our healthcare team at the hospital was outstanding. And I’m grateful that my friends who work there stopped in to check on us. Our village is larger than I thought. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Worst. Super Bowl Party. Ever.

Actually, I don’t really care about the Super Bowl. But I did get to watch it. (Well, most of it, including the epic halftime show!) But it wasn’t from the comfort of my sofa. It was from a chair in the hospital, my husband next to me in a hospital bed.

So, he’s had some issues this summer, starting with stepping on a nail in the James river. That was in July. Since then, he’s been dealing with a wound that won’t heal. This was finally addressed with surgery last month to clean out the wound, which left him non weight bearing and on crutches awaiting the incision to heal. He had some significant calf pain the week after surgery, which we didn’t think much of, since his entire plantar fascia and moving into that achilles tendon were pretty pissed off most of the time we’ve been dealing with this wound. It just seemed like a continuation of the same. We were wrong, even though there were no other symptoms of DVT, like heat, redness, or swelling.

Oddly, the day of his follow up appointment with the surgeon, he woke up with chest pain. He thought it was intercostal pain (these are the tiny muscles between your ribs.) That evening, when it hadn’t subsided, I asked to take him to the ER, you know, just in case it was cardiac or a clot. He was adamant that he was not going back to any doctors. He was partly mad that he was given 2 more weeks on crutches. I worked Saturday, and when I got home, he was miserable. The answer to seeking medical care was still no. But by Sunday morning, he had enough. 

We returned to the urgent care who had managed his wound all summer. I think our visit was about 10 minutes total. With an elevated heart rate and his history, we were directed to the ER to rule out a pulmonary embolism, or PE, a blood clot in your lungs. I chose the level 1 trauma center affiliated with my own hospital. After checking off “chest pain” and “shortness of breath” as symptoms on the kiosk, it didn’t take long to get called into triage. I had a good idea of what tests they would run. 

A spiral CT scan with contrast was the most significant. It was just a few minutes upon his return from this test that the doctor came in to tell us the sobering news. He has a saddle pulmonary embolism, and that he would be admitted. I was thinking he may have a PE, but not one of this magnitude. This type has a mortality rate of 25%, straddling both sides of the lungs, thus the name “saddle.” This explains his elevated heart rate, his shortness of breath with minimal activity, and his chest pain. Sobering, indeed, to learn that you are not immortal. My husband is a pretty tough guy as a CrossFit athlete, so this news was tough to take.

The incidence of PE following surgery is fairly frequent. As a physical therapist, half of my job in the acute care setting is in early mobilization following surgery, simply to prevent deep venous thrombosis. These are blood clots that often form in your legs following a period of immobilization, like undergoing surgery, and then can potentially migrate to the lungs. My husband was up on crutches within hours of his surgery, but he spent a lot of time resting in a chair, as his job is sedentary. So, the perfect scenario for clots to form, unfortunately. The probable cause of his calf pain was the DVT. The relief from the calf pain was when part of the clot broke off and migrated to his lungs. The onset of symptoms of PE was when enough of his blood supply was cut off to cause problems.  

I’m kicking myself for not being more persistent in making him go to the doctor. But I know that it was really his choice to make, not mine. I can’t force a grown man to accept my tendency to panic and let my brain escalate to defcon 4 when I am confronted with medical issues in my loved ones. But, damn it, this was a case where I wanted to be wrong. 

Today is Valentine’s Day. And although it’s not the most romantic of days this year, I’m very grateful that I still have a valentine. It looks like we will be here in the hospital for a few days. 

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I hope your Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day have been less exciting than mine.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Banning Books Closes Minds

It’s 5:00 on a Friday afternoon. I’m wrapping up my documentation for the day, and I’m running later than anticipated. But before my frustration gets to me, I’m calmed by a welcome, yet unexpected sound. Over the loudspeaker of the nursing facility where I work, the cantor sings a song in Hebrew, welcoming the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. 

I loved my time working for Beth Sholom. And although I have moved on, my 10 years there, until the very end, were very happy. I have fond memories of befriending a building full of grandparents, many of them Jewish. My respect for the faith was solidified during my time there. I met several Holocaust survivors, with tattoos and all, and many others who fled Europe under less than ideal circumstances. I also learned first hand how instrumental the Thalhimer family, owners of the Richmond based department store of the same name, was in rescuing young Jews from certain genocide. 

One of my patients was a woman who was recruited by Thalhimers to work in their downtown Richmond store in the late 1930’s. She eventually became the head of the bridal department there. I had no idea until hearing her story that this family did that. I later read the book Finding Thalhimers, written by the granddaughter of their last president, which detailed this venture. It’s another interesting aspect of the Holocaust. 

Visiting the Holocaust museum is another unique experience in Richmond. There is a survivor’s wall, and I personally know about half of the people featured on that wall. Jay Ipson, the founder of the museum, gave us a personal tour the first time I went. There is an exhibit there that is modeled after his family’s own hiding place, which was a root cellar. At one time, you could crawl in and experience it for yourself. Shocking that an entire family fit in that tiny space and hid all day. The museum itself is so thoughtfully presented; its exhibits also include a cattle car and accounts of other cases of genocide throughout the world.

My curiosity about the Jewish faith began in elementary school. My best friend was Jewish. Her family invited me to several special dinners, including Passover and a few nights for Hanukkah. I appreciated the fact that my parents, both Southern Baptists, my father with a graduate degree in theology, did not object to my exposure to another faith. 

It was during 4th or 5th grade that I read The Diary of Anne Frank. It was not assigned reading for school, but the copy I read did come from the library. Reading this opened up my mind to the atrocities committed during WWII and led me to further explore this topic. It helped me understand why we fought that war. I felt proud of my country for being a part of the liberation of the concentration camps. I also learned for the first time that the US had its own internment camps for Japanese residents, even those who were US citizens, during the war. It was shocking and troubling to learn my country could do something so horrible. But I’m glad that I learned the truth. It gives me an example to use when people try to argue that America could never do what Nazi Germany did. 

Through the years, I’ve read other books about the Holocaust, too. Night by Elie Weisel was very moving. It’s a book I think everyone should read. I always pick up a copy if I see it at Goodwill, just so I can pass it on to a friend who hasn’t yet read it. And, most recently, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, based on a true story.

All of these readings helped me gain a better understanding of what Jewish people endured during the war. They helped me gain perspective and empathy. And although much of what I read was uncomfortable, I’m better for having gained that insight. These are also among the books that are on the table to be banned across our nation. 

I’ve enjoyed many books that have been or are in danger of being banned, as have my teenage daughters. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate U Give, The Kite Runner, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings… the list is long. I didn’t have the opportunity to read books like these in school. I would have loved to have long discussions with my classmates and teachers about these. Instead, my curriculum included yawn worthy tales like The Old Man and the Sea and Wuthering Heights. (My apologies if you love these books!)

It’s astonishing that we learned about the rise of fascism, understood the pure evil of people who supported the most famous fascist of all, who is responsible for the Holocaust, and yet here we are, watching the same steps happen in the same movement in our own country in 2022. One of the first steps, as you likely know, was to narrow world views through book banning. This time, we are editing access to literature in the name of Christian Nationalism.

Banning books may seem innocuous. You may think that shielding children from learning opposing views, about non-Christian experiences, LGBTQ issues, or points of view from people of color will keep them innocent. But what this actually does is diminish their ability to fully understand the world. Developing empathy for others through reading about different cultures, true accounts of wrongs in this world, and other ideas brings compassion and understanding. Not exposing our children to these things makes it challenging for them to know what to do when faced with different opinions, resulting in perpetuating intolerance and hate, exactly what is on the rise in our nation right now. 

If I didn’t have the choice to read books like The Diary of Anne Frank in elementary school, I perhaps wouldn’t have developed the respect I have now for the Jewish faith or as deep an understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust. Reading that book changed the course of my life. It made me a better, more curious, more empathetic person, and this has carried over to my practice of physical therapy. 

Edited education is a handicap. If there are parents in this country who wish for their children to learn a restricted set of views, they can choose to enroll their children in private schools or home school. Our educators have degrees in teaching, many of them hold advanced degrees like our librarians, and they really do know what’s best for our children. I trust our teachers and librarians. You should, too. Tip lines to tattle on educators daring to challenge narrow views are appalling. Leave public education as it should be: a force for good in society. Keep editing education, and we may not have any teachers left. And leave the books alone. (Or don’t. Most kids will be more curious about the banned titles and want to read them in defiance.) I’m taking sides. Save the books. 

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

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The above is a letter I wrote to my county’s Board of Supervisors and the school board. My thoughts originally began as a post in recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day, and then I realized it was really about how reading The Diary of Anne Frank helped shape my life; a book that is notorious for being banned, and it evolved as I realized that there is a new push in my county to ban certain books. This letter was sent a few days ago, and I have yet to receive a response. Between these two entities, there are 14 members. The grumblings from far right conservatives in my county have grown from anti-mask and anti-vax to anti-CRT, and now to banning books. Is this happening where you live? I’d love to hear about it. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.