Veganuary

Today is the last of VeganuaryIt’s the first time I’ve tried it, mostly out of curiosity. I’ve never considered going vegan as, I admit, I’m not a fan of some of vegan staple food/ingredients, such as soy milk or, even worse- coconut and coconut based products, yuck….. However, as I don’t eat meat and fish/seafood anyway and cut down on dairy products few months ago for health reasons, I got more and more curious about trying out vegan diet.

This is how it went….

  • whoever said that vegan food is boring, has never tried these dishes:
Falafels in homemade roasted vegetables sauce, served with spelt,vermicelli and sun-dried tomatoes with lemon millet with cashew nuts. Yum 🙂
Vegan sausages and veggies breakfast ciabatta
One of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked and tasted: red lentils and lemon soup- double yum 😀
Some simple veggie stir-fry
  • Or those puds:
Vegan chocolate mousse – went down really well with my non-desert eating friends 😀
Chocolate Banana Cake in a Mug 🙂
Bakewell Tart in a Mug– yum!
  • I’m glad I tried vegan cheese, but I won’t be buying it again I think, although I thought it was better than I’d expected. I didn’t miss cheese too much, I have to say
  • Soy based fruit yoghurts are really nice- plain ones, not so much as they’re too sweet for my liking. But if anyone knows a brand that produces plain, savoury yoghurt, please let me know!
  • Soy latte and cappuccino, again, are better than I’d thought, although I prefer coffee with some cow milk. However, I’m not giving up yet and going to experiment with rice milk
  • Talking about plant-based ‘milk’- I like one brand of soy milk, I enjoy rice one (although I mix it with soy as it’s a bit too sweet), I like hemp milk. Oat, not to mention coconut, don’t agree with me so much
  • I’m getting more and more fascinated with  vegan cooking  and vegan baking. I would’ve never thought that vegan baking can be so easy and fun!
  • I feel I’ve helped the planet, especially animals,  even more by going vegan for a month
  • I’ve learnt to pay more attention to food labels. However, I had a little accident once… When I cooked my red lentils and lemon soup, I added some vegetable stock. I never looked at the label, because I’d have never thought that veggie stock contains milk! At least this brand did. But why a veggie stock requires milk, I have no idea! So yes, I had one, unintentional slip up during Veganuary, nevertheless I think I’ve done really well 😀
  • I’ve learnt to eat dark chocolate
  • I’ve lost some weight without even trying and despite feeling more snacky than usually!

There are, however, still issues that I don’t fully understand- some not necessarily strictly related to vegan diet.  For example, I’m not entirely sure why some vegetarian/vegan products are called ‘milk’, ‘cheese’, ‘chicken’ and so on…The only reason that this happens is perhaps trying to make some kind of links to products and tastes that people are used to. My vegan housemate seems to agree with me. Are there any other reasons?

Another thought I’d had during this month was what about veganism in other parts of the world, i.e. would it be possible to go vegan in those areas of the planet where it’s difficult to grow crops, fruits and veg? Or countries where people don’t overuse natural resources or kill animals to over-indulge, like , well, most of Western countries do, but to survive? How about nomadic tribes? I have lots of questions, but not a lot of answers yet…. However, I’d like to continue to learn more about philosophy behind the movement, which I’m pleased to say, seems to be catching on. I’m not rushing into gorging on cheese and other milk products as off tomorrow. But I am curious to see how my taste buds changed… So, although at the moment I’m not committing myself to be a 100% vegan to the rest of my life, I’ll carry on my Veganuary adventure as long as I can. And I’ll definitely be trying more vegan recipes 🙂

To my brother

I always wanted to have a brother. I don’t know why but I did. So when I was 5 (and a bit) years old  and my little brother made his appearance into this world, I was absolutely thrilled! Soon after I realised though that actually I’d wanted an older brother, but even at such young age I understood I wasn’t going to happen, so I settled for what life threw at me.

IMG_7857
My brother on his Christening Day a looooong time ago…

I don’t remember having any major fights with my brother- somehow we always got on, were able to communicate , negotiate and play together. I think that actually me wanting him in my life was a key to our relationship being amicable and friendly since the very beginning. He would play with my dolls with me ( he’d pretend to be a girl too to get into a mood of whatever we were playing – sorry, Brother, secret is out now 😀 ), we would play with cars and building blocks… He was a bit of a copycat, this one was, but it wasn’t anything unusual I guess for a little boy wanting to copy his older and much wiser sister 😉

It was snowing here the other day…That snowy weather brought up memories of one winter holidays my brother and I had spent at our grandparents’ place in the countryside. When I was little I loved horses- I dreamt of having my own horses and stables, however that wasn’t possible when one is only in a primary school. So that winter I decided to build my own (snow) horse. Of course my brother wanted one too, so we built two horses standing next to each other. And , of course, mine was bigger- after all I was older! Our grandmother gave us thick plastic sheets, mats, blankets and what have you , so we could actually sit on our horses and gallop through the world 🙂 I showed my brother how to put a saddle on his horse, how to get on it, how to hold reins and how to clean the horse, making sure his snowy hooves were spotless.

The only bigger spat I remember I’d had with my brother was probably when I was 10 or 11 and we decided to cook breakfast for our parents. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I wanted to make pancakes, well, anyway, I needed a frying pan, which somehow my brother wanted to use as well and I wasn’t happy about it. One thing led to another and I ended up hitting my brother on the head with the frying pan! Well, although I was quite annoyed with him and wanted to hit him really hard, I didn’t as knew he’d be really in pain, so a frying pan bang on the head was more symbolic than an actual injury-causing one. Yet he went and grassed on me! I don’t remember if I’ve actually forgiven him…

There are plenty of anecdotes about my brother that I could tell , but it’d make it a really long post (plus we need to have some secrets left in the family! ) ,so I’ll just list three ‘classics’ :

  • he melted a plastic pot on the hob when he wanted to ‘cook’
  • he pushed a bit of mandarine peel up his nose at his birthday party (he might have been 4 or 5?) that he ended up at A&E
  • he used a recorder (luckily his!) as a plunger when a toilet got blocked.

Our childhood together was actually quite cool. Things changed some years later, when our family circumstances changed too, and we ended up living together and took responsibility not just for ourselves ( school, studies, work) , but also for running the house, looking after our dog, running important errands for one of our parent… During some challenges times we went through, we managed to build a really stable, well-run home for ourselves and we worked and lived very well together. I don’t think that even in my adult life I managed to achieve such a level of work-study-life balance with anyone else as I did with my brother. That was also the time when he would become a bit more outspoken and questioned and challenged me, yet still we could just work things out peacefully. For me those years of living together as young adults and dealing with whatever life had thrown at us were the most formative years of our relationship. That was the time when I felt most connected to him and felt this strong bond that no one can ever break.

Life went on, things inevitably changed… I left and started my life in another country. My brother suddenly grew up, finished studies, started working, met a girl, got married… Although we live on two different continents, miles apart, lead different lives, have  different political, social and religious views, I still claim that he’s the closest family member I have in my life. Despite differences, we are still able to talk, question, try to listen to each other…

When I look at my brother now, I’m in awe. I’m so proud of this young (cough cough) man who has grown into this wonderful, loving and caring person, a rock for his wife and his little son. It’s wonderful to see how he came out of his shell, embraced his life and basically how happy he has been 🙂

There is nothing more left to say now but:

      HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the best brother in the world!  I’m very proud of you and I wish you nothing but happiness now and for years to come 🙂 

 

( P.S. I might consider forgiving you for grassing on me, if you play your cards right 😉 )

 

 

 

 

 

Morning pages

I’ve come across ‘morning pages’ term a few times in my life, however I’ve never looked into it. Recently, however, a friend of mine asked me whether I’d ever tried them. She explained what they were and said she she’s been doing them with a bunch of other friends. I felt that it is something I’d like to have a go at.

What are ‘morning pages’? 

‘Morning pages’ is a kind of writing exercise, created by a poet, filmmaker, writer and creativity guru, Julia Cameron.

She explains:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

So I had a go.

Few days ago I started writing my morning pages and I really like them! It’s been an interesting and powerful experience so far. My morning pages have taken me through a labyrinth of feelings and myriad of emotions, which I never knew were still buried deep inside me. Well, I didn’t know the extend of it.IMG_7431.jpgI’ve cried, I’ve felt sorrow, pain and sadness. I’ve felt anger and fear. I’ve felt guilt. I’ve felt relief and that I belong. But most importantly, I’ve started feeling connected with myself within. I miss this feeling of connectedness. It’s something I haven’t felt for a while now, but the one I’ve been longing for most. I believe it’ll happen more often over time, with some patience, gentle perseverance, silence, stillness, non-judgement and meditation. At the moment I feel I’ve been learning acceptance of all those feelings and thoughts that have been arising. Those I’m not a big fan of have seemed to be best teachers: I’ve been learning to accept my humanity. My plan now is to continue to write my morning pages and observe what arises.

Have you ever tried ‘morning pages’? Has it been a useful experience for you?

 

The Point of Return

 

         ”   When you come to a major turning point, just for a  moment, your whole world stands still . “

 

you like coming home

returning to the light

celebrating your life

in the company of your friends

 

let nature take its course

just as the earth

in the depths of winter

at the time of the solstice

stops for a moment

before turning

making its journey back toward the sun

you too have arrived at a place

where you can begin the journey

back to where you belong

it’s a cause for celebration

 

/The Little Book of Changes/

 

Son of a…gun

 

I  grew up in a country where carrying guns is unheard of and it’s simply illegal. I only saw guns on TV or heard of them on the radio. In my head they’ve always belonged to armed forces, not individuals. The whole gun thing had been something I couldn’t really fathom. Until the 6th January 2017….

Ok, it’s untrue- I still can’t fathom this gun thing…. But on the 6th of January 2017 I had my first closer encounter with guns as  I got caught up in Ft Lauderdale crisis.

I was one of the lucky ones though- nobody shot at me. Yet it was the first time that guns, or rather someone misusing a gun, directly impacted my life.

Havana airport. Nothing too exciting, just a bit nervous about my check- in  process as my airlines only checked me for my flight to Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) rather than all the way to Boston and I only had less than 2 hours between the flights. First time it happened to me. Boarded the plane ok-and it appeared I got ‘upgraded’ to the seats at the front of the plane! Flight was ok, no delays. As we landed in FLL we were told we needed to wait about 10 mins for a gate allocation.  I was getting  a bit worried due to my connection situation, plus a guy  who had been kind enough to have checked my next flight details for me on his mobile told me the flight wasn’t showing on my airline’s website! Worrying…And then we were told that the delay was caused by a  gunman in Terminal 2!  We got to the gate, but  were told that we couldn’t deplane , although the gunman had been arrested and taken to custody- there were concerns that there might be another one. No flights were allowed to fly in or out of the airport at the moment.  So there  I was, waiting.  Some time later I saw people being evacuated on the tarmac. I have to say, I didn’t like the idea of being there, so exposed, especially as there was no news regarding whether there was the second gunman or not. Then I saw those people on the tarmac suddenly started  running, what looked like in panic, in all directions! This, understandably, caused some upset and anxiety amongst the passengers. Several minutes later the door to our aircraft opened and two police officers with big guns barged in ,pointed their guns first towards the crew members who had opened the door for them, then towards the passengers and started shouting  :’ Nobody move, put your hands up, everybody keep your hands up’!  I wasn’t sure for a moment whether it was a joke, a film or what…Definitely not a reality as I know it: never in my life had I had a gun pointed towards me. But I slowly raised my hands up, feeling  as if someone was totally taking the mick out of me. Then they shouted ;’Ok, you’re safe’ and they told the crew to keep the door shut. After they left, a lot of passengers started to cry and panic. Three women sitting behind me appeared very anxious and cried. I turned to them. I checked how they were doing- they said they were scared. At that point we heard about 5 people dead, 8 wounded, with a potential second gunman running around .One of the women asked if I was scared -I said I was ok. I felt  surprisingly really calm. Really. I noticed I don’t panic in difficult situations. And I think it’s good- at least it was then. I didn’t want to sound what could have been potentially perceived as arrogant , but I wanted to be truthful to how I felt and said:

‘No, I’m not. And I’ll tell you why. I think we’re in the safest place possible now. We’re not at the terminal, we’re not exposed on the tarmac. We’re on this plane, the door is closed- it must be considered a safe place as they evacuated people  from the terminal and let them come on board.”

I don’t remember my exact words and what else I said after that. I turned around again and sat in my seat. And…I meditated.   I had pictures appearing in my mind, questions raised and feelings to observe.

‘What is someone started shooting at our plane now?”

‘ Can bullets go through a plane wall?” “They can probably go through a plane window”.

“What if the next person with a gun that barges through the plane door isn’t a police officer but a gunman wanting to shoot people randomly?”

I realised that there was nothing I could do about it though. I was stuck on the plane, I couldn’t go anywhere, I was trapped for I don’t know how long. So…I accepted. I even accepted the fact , no matter how rational or irrational it was at that time, that someone can just shoot me dead today. I couldn’t do anything about it. And  I was amazed how calm and accepting I was.

When I arised from my meditation , I also realised that I couldn’t contact my brother as I couldn’t connect to the airport wifi and I was aware that time was ticking and he would be worried – if he was watching TV or something. But again, I couldn’t do anything about it and had to accept that he may potentially be very worried now. However, hours later , Customs and Border Protection offices entered the plane and announced something in Spanish. I was waiting for announcement in English , but no, there was none! They just left. But I could understand some and , looking around the plane and seeing people getting their bags ready, I was now sure it was time to leave the plane. It was around 4.45 pm and by then I’d kissed my flight to Boston good bye – actually I did long time ago ( my plan landed around 1.30 pm)

So I took my suitcase – was so glad I only had a hand luggage with me! – and left the plane. As I left, my priority was to contact my brother. Luckily I managed to connect to wifi and,  ignoring all the ‘No mobile phones ‘ signs , I rang my brother. As I was listening to the ringing tone, I noticed I started shaking a little bit and I had the realisation that I was no longer on the plane, but stepped out on the terminal , I didn’t feel so safe anymore. Logic was telling me I was ok as CBP wouldn’t have let people out , but at that point my body was reacting differently. My brother picked up the phone and very cheerfully (!) said ‘Hi, so you landed? I’d be leaving in about ten minutes to pick you up!’. I was stunned. And speechless for a short moment. Then I said: ‘ Hmmmmmm…I’m in Ft Lauderdale. Didn’t you hear what’d happened?’ . And he said ‘no. I was busy, didn’t put TV on.” I felt relieved that he hadn’t got a clue! I brought him up to speed. I noticed that as I was telling him the story, my voice started trembling and I felt rather emotional and close to crying. I believe the emotions caught up with me. I didn’t cry though as I couldn’t afford to do it at that point- I felt it would be a long night for me, I needed to stay calm and collected.

As I was talking to my brother on the phone, there were further announcements via speakers about no rooms being available anywhere downstairs at the moment, so we would be processed and kept upstairs for the time being. Few moments later there was another announcement :

“ Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic and remain where you are- in about 5 minutes there will be controlled explosion of suspected package. Please remain where you are.”

The plot was getting thicker and thicker. I updated my brother and told him that he could forget about me coming over tonight and that I’d keep him posted as things were developing from here.

And then I was just waiting for another couple of hours or so with hundreds of passengers, went through all the checks and then were sent to a room to leave ALL my belongings and then told to go outside the terminal where I joined I don’t know how many people out there. 

    

   

We were cordoned off by police and/or army (?) , so no one could go on the other side of the street at that point. I was looking at them and I felt more and more aware of the fact they all had guns. Big ones. I felt fear that I was outside and I felt that struggle inside me between ‘I’m exposed, I’m an easy target and I’m feeling vulnerable!’ vs. ‘You’re safe- if you weren’t they wouldn’t have let you go outside. They have guns, they’ll protect you.’ Guns. I looked at them a lot from a very short distance. I felt uneasy. I was thinking that if I were to piss those uniformed people off (which, of course , I wasn’t going to do!) , they could easily shoot me dead (which, of course, was a stupid thing to think as their job was to protect me!). But that was my thought process in that still surreal situation.

After few more hours outside, when we were finally allowed to go inside the terminal and collect our belongings, I faced few more hours of waiting to get on buses, which were to take us all from the terminal to Port Everglade. As I had no clue what it was , I spoke with some officials and I understood that it was in the ‘middle of nowhere’ , but I could take a taxi from there to a hotel. That wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but I thought” ‘Ok, I know the lingo, I have some $$$ in my pocket and a credit card, I’ll manage’. So I waited. And waited. Then waited a bit more. And it was pushing midnight where it really hit me: ‘I’ll be in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, in a city I don’t know , in a country where people can have GUNS’! That was the moment when the whole relationship between guns and killing people actually  sunk in! I decided I’d do everything NOT to leave the airport! I didn’t know how, but I was determined I wasn’t leaving. I was properly scared. For me at that time probability of being shot in the middle of the night in a city I didn’t know in a country that allowed carrying guns, was rather high!

Looking at all of it now, it’s easy to just say I was stupid and naive and I wasn’t even in direct danger- yeah, maybe. But then, when emotions were running high, when just few mere hours before somebody took lives of 5 innocent people with a gun he had been allowed to have, things were looking different to me.

I was lucky. The authorities, who seemed to have been changing their minds as time progressed, allowed us to stay inside the terminal! I found myself a lovely piece of floor just in front of my airline’s counters, so I could start sorting out my flight out of there first thing in the morning, and I had few hours sleep, using my hand luggage as a pillow.

I was lucky and although I never flew to Boston, I managed to get a flight to New York some 43 hours later instead. I spent those hours out of the terminal with some of the kindest, helpful and amazing people I’ve met in my life. I met some more in NY too, after my brother, sister-in-law and little nephew picked me up from La Guardia.

I was lucky that the only people who had pointed their guns at me where CBS officers.

And I am lucky I live in a country, where carrying guns is illegal.

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I still can’t wrapped my brain around the fact that people can carry guns . I just simply don’t get it. But it scares me when I hear about tragedies such as San BernardinoOrlando or the latest Las Vegas. My heart goes to all victims and their families.

It scares me that guns are legal and easily available to (almost) anyone. I don’t live in America and I don’t know all the ins and outs in relation to guns and gun laws, but I’m glad to hear that people seem to have now started asking questions and wanting to talk about gun control more.

I like travelling to America a lot and I so look forward to my next trip in just few weeks time. My family and my best friend live there and I always cherish my time in this great country.  But now I’m very aware of the fact that people are allowed to carry guns there.

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Here are some links to talks, articles and snippets of TV shows I’ve come across recently:

The Guardian: 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart

Jimmy Kimmel on Mass shooting in Las Vegas

Trevor Noah: It’s Time To Start Talking About Gun Control

Dan Gross: Why gun violence can’t be our new normal

Peter Van Uhm: Why I chose a gun

Dr. Gary Slutkin: Let’s treat violence like a contagious disease