Shifting Your Focus

One of the main things I have been trying to cultivate this year is a stronger ability to focus on the positive. Now that I’ve learned the mind is like a muscle and can be strengthened with the repetition of exercises I have been using this knowledge to improve my life. Whether we set a conscious intention to do so or not, our minds are always doing these exercises. It’s up to us to decide what we want our experience in this life to be. The things you focus on and the habits and patterns you repeat each day make your brain “stronger” in these areas. It’s important that we spend our time nurturing positive mental states rather than dwelling and feeding negative ones.

Before I knew what I do now about the way our brains work, I thought I was basically in the passenger seat when it came to my reactions to different things. I thought that my genetic code and my past experiences left me basically no choice in the way I felt and experienced the world around me. I used to roll my eyes at those overly positive, happy people that would say things like, “You have to make yourself happy, you can make your own happiness. You can love yourself.” It seemed utterly impossible to me. I always thought it just didn’t feel right. Why should I pretend I’m happy if I’m not?

Now I see (and have also experienced) that there is actually power in “pretending” for awhile.  It’s actually more like practicing. And don’t get me wrong I’m still practicing every day. What I didn’t understand before and what I feel I need to share to help other people like me understand is that it gets easier. At first it may seem dishonest, but what you are doing is creating and strengthening new pathways in your brain. It can be quite difficult, especially if you have very strong negative pathways your brain has been using for most of your life.

However, I think that it’s a good thing even beginning to notice when I am practicing negative self-talk and catastrophizing a situation. Now even when those thoughts inevitably come up I’m able to distance myself from them somehow. I try not to buy in to those thoughts. I keep myself from being caught in that current and spiraling deeper into that harmful cycle. More importantly I’m learning to nip those thoughts in the bud and use them as a signal that I need to be there for myself in those moments. I see myself struggling and I know that instead of allowing myself to wallow, I need to comfort myself. It’s a moment to take a deep breath and think about what it is you’re wanting from the world in that moment, the lack of which is causing you distress, then give it to yourself. Because you already have the potential for all of it in your amazing brain. All the confidence, all the beauty, all the love, all the creativity, all the abundance, all the gratitude, all the happiness. They are all yours to create. All you need to do is practice them. It’s just like learning a new language. You just have to keep practicing.

This year when I catch myself thinking things like: I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’m fat. I’m lazy. I’m worthless. I’m unloved. I’m unhappy. I’m going to stop and instead change that dialogue to: I’m grateful. I’m safe. I’m beautiful. I’m intelligent. I am loved. I am enough. I’m strong. I am happy. Gratitude has been one of the areas I’ve been focusing on a lot and it’s incredible how much easier it has gotten to notice little things to be grateful for in ordinary things like the sun’s warmth on my skin or catching sight of a cute squirrel in my yard. I can find something to be grateful for even in awful things, like a chance to start again, or a new direction, or an important reminder.

A few really bad things happened to me yesterday and I’ve been very down on myself because of them. I can see myself falling back into familiar patterns. I’m not worried though, because now it’s so much easier to get back up and brush myself off and love myself anyway. In 2019 I want to get even better at being there for myself and giving compassion and love to the world. I hope that we can all do that together.

Let’s keep practicing ♥

Free Vegan Resources

Even after six years of veganism I am still finding new and exciting additions to my bountiful collection of resources. This past week I have stumbled upon two that I just can’t help but share with everyone I can. The first one I found accidentally as I was looking into details of The China Study by T. Colin Campbell for a co-worker of mine. This individual despite being certified in nutrition and fitness training for some reason believes that cholesterol does not make someone any more likely to get heart disease!

This continues to astound me so I suggested he read The China Study because despite not having read it myself, I knew that it was the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and strongly advocated for a whole foods, plant-based diet. After only a few simple searches I was able to discover that there is a PDF of the entire book available for free online! Click the link to check it out. While I doubt my coworker will take the time to read it, I have been reading it myself, and have learned a lot so far. Although years of arguments with non-vegans has taught me that solid evidence and facts and peer reviewed research is still never enough to convince someone of something they are determined to deny, it is still a helpful tool to have if you do happen to find someone who is interested. It makes it even more accessible when you can find this type of information for free from such a credible source.

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The next incredible resource that I came across this week is perfect for those that hold the mistaken perception that veganism is expensive and difficult to manage. I was looking for a free plant-based meal and workout plan in order to help me get out of the plateau I have reached in my fitness journey. While I have yet to find exactly what I was looking for, I did find an incredible vegan meal plan that could greatly benefit others. I hadn’t ever even heard of the website Plant-Based on a Budget before. It would be a wonderful resource for anyone dipping their toes into a vegan diet. This site gives you a full month of meals including recipes and shopping lists all for free! (There are some you can pay for, but the link is to the free version.) You are even able to choose a plan based on how many people you need to feed. I could hardly believe something so helpful had been right under my nose this whole time.

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I have shared both of these websites on my Facebook page in the hopes that those too timid to attempt a vegan diet before will be emboldened by this new information. I have certainly grown a lot since I first transitioned to this lifestyle. Instead of flaring up arguments with aggressive, impassioned proclamations, I’ve learned to just live by example and share information in an open and compassionate way in the hopes that those who are ready will find it helpful. I’ve learned that there is always more to learn and discover even six years in.

I am continuously inspired by the ever-progressing availability and amount of information there is about veganism. Things have changes so much since I began this journey. Each day the choice becomes easier and easier for others to make. I truly believe that the only possible future for humanity is a vegan one. I hope we all get to see it.

Vegan Grocery Haul

There is a common misconception that veganism is expensive. In this post I wanted to address that myth. It is certainly true that veganism can be expensive, but so can any type of diet. People seem to have a hard time imagining what vegans eat. Many think that their diets mainly consist of tofu and faux meats and cheeses which are usually quite pricey. Not many people realize that the staple foods in an average vegans diet are some of the cheapest foods you can buy: rice, beans, potatoes, and fresh or frozen fruits and veggies.

Just in case anyone is curious, I decided to show you all what a normal trip to the grocery store results in for an average low-income vegan like myself. All of the food in the photo to follow was under $45 at my local Kroger grocery store. I didn’t actually buy rice this time, but that’s because I always have that. The spices to season all of your delicious vegetable dishes can be a bit expensive in the beginning, but they are only a rare purchase as they last for a long time.

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In case you can’t make it out in the photo, here is a list of everything pictured:

  1. Watermelon
  2. Pineapple (x20
  3. Potato (x20
  4. Green onion bunch (x2)
  5. Cucumber
  6. Celery hearts
  7. Dark brown sugar
  8. Blueberries (1lb)
  9. Zucchini
  10. Avocado
  11. Red pepper
  12. Green pepper
  13. Radishes (3 bags)
  14. Frozen corn
  15. Broccoli (2 crowns)
  16. Tomatoes (3 Roma)
  17. Sugar snap peas
  18. Spinach
  19. Cilantro
  20. Kale
  21. Veggie stir-fry kit
  22. Dried apricots
  23. Cabbage
  24. Tamari
  25. Beet and ginger bean dip
  26. Mediterranean pickles
  27. Garbanzo Beans
  28. Kidney Beans
  29. Vegetarian refried beans
  30. Kombucha

That’s 30 wonderful plant-based foods for less than $45! I want to help spread the message that veganism can be easy, accessible and affordable. It takes a little practice. You learn how to shop with the season and benefit from bargain bins. But there is no reason that someone should hold themselves back from living a more compassionate and healthy lifestyle because of their income.

I hope that this can be an inspiring example to some of you out there that have held onto the false notion that veganism is simply too expensive to consider. If a 24-year-old, single, social worker can do it, so can you!

 

March: A Month of Minimalism

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For awhile now I have been extremely interested in the idea of a minimalist lifestyle. My parents both have the tendency to hoard random items they will probably never need or have the urge to look at again. My mother has always baffled me with her massive stacks of old magazines. She would also say that she “wanted to look at them someday when she retired.” (She’s been retired for two years now and hasn’t touched them.) My father has filled a good portion of the yard with broken down old cars “in case he needs the spare parts someday.” With my background in psychology I know the potential being raised in this environment could have on me. I am always hyper vigilant of when I am accumulating too many unnecessary items.

I have always been a person that finds comfort in neat and orderly spaces. If my coffee table begins to get cluttered or the dishes start to pile up it has a noticeable effect on my mood and anxiety level. I always feel so light and refreshed after cleaning and organizing my home. When I realized that there was a popular trend known as minimalism, I was immediately interested.

I stumbled upon a video on Youtube a few days ago laying out the framework for a 30-day minimalism challenge. That is why I decided that this month was going to be my first calculated attempt at downsizing my possessions. So far I have gone through my bags, wallets, clothes, shoes, and beauty products. It isn’t even the end of the first week and already I have thrown away and donated a ridiculous amount of stuff. And I feel so good!

Just the thought of having less is so liberating to me. Eventually I plan on buying a tiny house and owning even less than I will at the end of this month. There is just something so pleasing about not being physically and emotionally attached to so many different objects. It is also satisfying to know that the few items that remain are actually very special and important to me. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this month turns out. I am excited to someday live a life free from attachment, embracing each new moment and having more time to spend experiencing and cherishing my life rather than being buried under things.

Wish me luck! 

Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥

 

Promoting Loving-Kindness & Mindfulness Instead of Veganism

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When I first became vegan I was extremely motivated to push others to become vegan as well. I did this by sharing the unbelievable information that I had been exposing myself to. I shared videos, scholarly articles, statistics, quotes, and powerful personal statements about my transformation and new perspectives regarding animal agriculture and carnism. It is even the reason I began this blog. I was certain that if others only knew about the things I had learned that they would have no choice but to eliminate meat and dairy from their diets in order to alleviate their cognitive dissonance between being a good person and participating in the ending of innocent lives.

I quickly became disheartened and emotionally exhausted in this fight. I couldn’t believe the backlash I received. So many people felt attacked and angered by what I thought were straight forward facts. I got into argument after argument with people online desperately trying to change their minds or at least the minds of those reading the exchange. Yet, I never really felt as though I was getting anywhere even though some of my more open minded friends did contact me and tell me that they were inspired to transition to veganism because of me. I was continuously being eaten up inside by my own resentments and disgust with humanity for all the atrocities it refused to acknowledge.

As this strenuous and emotional effort began to overwhelm me, I had to reevaluate my actions in order to preserve my sanity and emotional wellbeing. I felt immense guilt about not putting enough energy into fighting for the animals of this earth that I dearly loved. I just didn’t know how I could make a difference on their behalf. I turned to working on myself through mindfulness and meditation. These practices have recently led me to a powerful realization.

Instead of directly encouraging others to accept that their current lifestyle includes cruelty and that they need to change, I’ve decided to take a different approach. I remember watching a video by Gary Yourofsky where he explained that it didn’t matter how aggressive or gentle you were with your activism. People would listen to you when they were ready. So how can we get others ready to listen?

I think that by promoting the practice of loving-kindness and meditation that inevitably veganism will follow. This approach now seems much more logical to me. No one wants to be told that the way they are currently living and have been living for their whole lives is wrong. It is a natural reaction to become defensive and try to justify ourselves in some way. I can still remember not long ago being on this side of the argument myself. If someone is ready to change they may listen. Otherwise you are only creating a wider division and more tension between these opposing perspectives.

I used to believe that the facts were all that were needed. But after so many conflicts I realized that you can find studies to backup whatever you wish to believe. It can be incredibly difficult to decipher which studies are funded by those with vested interests and which have flawed methodology, etc. So rather than trying to force change, I want to try something different.

I want to give people the tools they need to be strong enough and loving enough to make changes on their own. Unlike directly promoting veganism, encouraging others to practice loving kindness and mindfulness does not create the same violent reaction and need for defensive tactics. People can easily become interested in these practices for their innate ability to improve all of our lives. More and more people are discovering the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, and loving-kindness meditation. I believe that veganism is the natural response to the shift in consciousness these practices cultivate. It, at the very least, creates the right awareness to allow others to become ready to receive the message of veganism.

By promoting these ancient and beautiful heart opening exercises, I am able to contribute to the movement without destroying myself in the process. I hope that more vegans will begin to adopt this peaceful approach and accept that most people cannot be swayed by hard facts and aggression. Rather they are swayed by the example we all can set by living lives of tranquility and compassion. The energy you emit is the energy that you will receive back from the world around you. Let’s let go of our anger and anguish at the injustices others are perpetrating and instead embrace all that is with an attitude of acceptance and loving awareness. Let’s show others what our world can be if we all just open our hearts to the possibilities.

It is still hard for me at times when I begin to dwell on the immense amount of suffering our fellow earthlings are experiencing every day. But I don’t want to add more anger, despair, and aggression into our world. I want to fill the space around me with love and light, encouraging others to do the same.

The task before us to save our earth is daunting. But we cannot allow ourselves to dwell on the negative. We must continue to fill ourselves with hope, contentment, and gratitude. Others will reach this realization when they are ready. Let us help them prepare. Let us teach the world through example. We can only truly try to improve ourselves. And in this way we can change the world.

Sending you all my abundant love and encouragement. ♥

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An Entire Year of Love

 

Last Thursday marked the anniversary of the day I adopted my sweet, sweet Sybil. I can hardly believe that a little over a year ago this perfect soul was surrendered to the animal shelter to face the possibility of her death. My heart aches to imagine what would have happened to Sybil if I had not decided to adopt her on that freezing, snowy night. Bringing Sybil home with me was one of the best decisions I have ever made in this life. I have never known such buoyant and blissful love as the love I share with my two fur-children.

Even though this post is a bit late, I still thought it was important to add my voice to the chorus of others advocating for shelter animals. Please, please, PLEASE do not purchase a dog or cat from a store or breeder when you could save the life of an equally worthy animal instead. It never ceases to amaze me that some people will spend hundreds of dollars to buy a puppy just for it’s breed (especially given that purebred dogs are destined to suffer from medical complications in old age due to the egregious level of inbreeding it took to produce them.)

I also wanted to bring up the seriousness of the commitment you are making when you decide to welcome an animal into your home whether purchased or adopted. When I got Sybil, I had no idea what type of personality she would have. Even though I got to spend time with her at the shelter, it’s hard to get to know a dog when they are in such a strange environment. Not to mention the descriptions of the dogs’ dispositions the shelter provides are often far from accurate. She was frozen in fear the entire meeting and was even too scared to sniff my hand when I offered it to her. After that, I knew that I couldn’t bear to leave her in that place. When I put that sweet, plump angel in my car that evening I made the commitment to love her and provide a good life for her no matter what the future had in store.

After having Sybil for a few weeks, I became even more certain that we were destined for one another. Sybil suffers from severe anxiety just like I do. She is always fearful towards new people, other dogs, and new places/situations. Due to her immense fear, Sybil can become rather aggressive. She will easily get into a fight with another dog if not watched closely until they are comfortable with one another. Yet even then, she is too afraid to play with other dogs, mistaking their playfulness for aggression. Thankfully she has never bitten a person, but her loud barks don’t make her very popular with the kiddos (or anyone for that matter). Whenever I take Sybil for a car ride or take her to a friend’s house, she can never seem to relax. She will shiver and whimper nearly the entire time. After experiencing these quirks first hand, I became even more glad that I was the one that saved Sybil from the pound that day. I knew that many people would simply return a dog who was so difficult. Most people find her utterly annoying. But I adore her for even her flaws and no matter what happened once Sybil came home with me, there was nothing that could have made me abandon her.

An adopted pet is no different than a child in my eyes. Regardless of disposition of your child (adopted or not) in no way determines your duty to care and provide for them. It would be inconceivable for someone to give up their child because they misbehave. The same standard should be applied to other sentient dependents as well.

One day I hope that humanity realizes that other animals are just as worthy of love, freedom, and happiness as human beings are. I love my babies as much as any other mother loves hers. What a beautiful world we would live in if everyone shared such unconditional love for the most innocent among us. I look forward to many more years of boundless love with my most cherished companions. Thank you, Sybil, for being a part of my life and for all the love you give.

Adopt Don’t Shop ♥

Bullet Journal Spread: December

I have definitely lost a bit of motivation regarding my bujo this month since it’s about to be a brand new year. I am more eager to begin my bujo for 2018 and make the first pen marks in my Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. This is the brand I most often seen being used for bullet journaling. They are a bit pricey so I wanted to make sure I was going to follow through with the habit before investing my money in a fancy journal. After a very productive year of journaling (in a notebook that was not necessarily sturdy enough to handle it), I am confident it is worth the money.

Even though it’s basically half-way through the month already, I wanted to go ahead and show you guys my bujo spread for December. I hope you like it!

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The photos in the last week of my November spread do not belong to me. I found them on Tumblr as I often do to jazz up a weekly spread if I’m feeling anxious rather than excited about coming up with something to doodle.

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I particularly like how my goals and tracker page turned out this month. Sadly I have yet to fill anything in because I wanted to get a photo first in the natural light, forgetting that when I get home from work it is always pitch black now. Oh, the delightful fun of the winter months. I can’t wait for the sun to return to me.

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I tried to make the theme cozy winter bunnies, but all the red ended up giving this first weekly spread a more Valentine’s Day vibe. (Oops!)

This month I experimented with adding a positive affirmation to each week’s spread so I could practice replacing the negative thoughts I have throughout the day with something more loving. Whenever I catch myself in a loop of toxic thinking, I try to change this automatic dialogue into a more beneficial one. Repeating uplifting mantras in moments of stress and self-doubt really does do a lot to alter your mental state and view of the situation.

I hope that you are all having a splendid December so far! Also, to any of you that may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder like I am, don’t be too hard on yourself. It can seem hopeless when, after making steady progress, you find yourself sliding backwards into bad habits. Just know that you are doing your best, and progress is always sprinkled with periods of plateaus and slight regressions. Just keep moving forward, and I promise that your energy, your creativity, and your enthusiasm will return with the warm air, green scenery, and sunshine. Hang in there a bit longer and don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for still trying when things get hard. ♥

My Vegan Thanksgiving

Hello everyone! Sorry it has taken me so long to post this. I realize that at this point it is almost Christmas, but the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder have really started to kick in the past couple of weeks and I just haven’t gotten the motivation to post anything lately. But I figured with another hectic holiday meal looming on the horizon I might give everyone (including myself) a little inspiration to make a few delicious cruelty-free dishes to share with the ones you love.

Here is what my plate looked like on Thanksgiving this year:

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You may note that there is a big ol’ glass of plum wine. Sometimes you gotta self-medicate to have a pleasant evening with the family.

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I made a pumpkin roll that kind of turned into a pumpkin pile. But it was still super yummy!

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I ended up making waaay too many of these dark chocolate truffles because after I made the first batch I decided they were so delicious that there weren’t enough…

There were honestly too many sweets in general though. I got a little carried away by baking pumpkin cupcakes and blueberry muffins as well. My sister even made a vegan apple pie, which was absolutely perfect. Overall, the holiday was extremely pleasant, and I look forward to preparing another massive batch of goodies for Christmas! I hope that the end of the year is treating you all well. I plan on making a few other posts I’ve been thinking about before the new year gets here. ♥

 

Self-Care Week

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I’m not sure why, but I have been feeling more anxiety than usual lately. It could be the deadlines that come along with the holidays or just the lack of sunlight that always seems to make me feel blue. Whatever the cause, it has inspired me to declare this last week of November self-care week. I mean ,why wait around for Christmas when you can create your own festivities?

I plan to make this week all about soothing myself and letting myself recuperate from all the stressors in my life. I plan to practice positive and gentle self-talk this week. (Even though I’m posting this a day late and slept through all of my alarms this morning). I’m going to be extra kind to myself, because I deserve to be treated kindly. Sometimes this can be hard to remember, especially when you are suffering from anxiety and depression. It is important to slow down from time to time and just focus on your own mental, physical, and emotional health.

In order to do this I am going to give myself only the best this week. I am going to eat extra healthy. I’ve planned lots of meals of my favorite fresh veggies, fruits, and other whole foods. I’ve bought myself some special new teas to try. I will definitely be finding comfort in one of my favorites as well, which is vanilla chai tea made with a blend of water and cashew almond milk. This warm, delicious chai latte has all the pleasure of a fancy drink without the guilt of drinking your calories for the day. (Almond Breeze Cashew Milk has only 25 calories per cup!)

In addition to this I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and spend the evenings relaxing with some of my favorite video games: Harvest Moon: Animal Parade and the new Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. (Surprise, surprise. The vegan loves games that involve primarily animals.) I also plan to listen to soothing ambient music, light incense, and snuggle with my sweet fur children. I’m going to make myself yummy peanut butter oats with cinnamon and do yin yoga to stretch and soothe my tired muscles and mind.

I hope that you will all join me in this wonderful journey of replenishment. Set aside some time for yourself this week to experience the love you usually reserve for someone special, because there is no one more special than you! Please let me know in the comments if you decide to come along with me on this week-long self-love extravaganza and what kinds of things you are going to do to treat yourself.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Enjoy. ♥