Dear, Pepper

Dear Pepper,

I read this essay online.  You don’t know what an essay is, because you’re a dog, also you’re dead now, but that’s not why you don’t know.  You don’t know because dogs don’t really do essays.  Dogs are really more about that being loved and doted on life.  The lucky ones that is. Anyway, I read this essay that Cazzie David wrote about her dad Larry David, a very famous comedian where she talked about why she still lived at home at 23.  You can read the whole thing here, well you can’t because you don’t know how to read, and because you’re dead now (this bears repeating, because I’m teetering on the edge of un-reality by trying to convince myself that maybe, just maybe, you’re taking a nice long nap), but anyone else reading this letter can and should, in my opinion.  Because it’s heartbreaking and funny as hell and perfectly encapsulates the way us worriers fear deaths arrival. Anyway, it so reminded me of us.  To quote miss David “My dad sits on the couch almost every night watching a movie from the ‘40s.  I find old movies boring because of my age and advanced ADD, but I’ll gladly, for aforementioned reasons, sit next to him and watch him stare at the screen. He’ll say ‘It’s Saturday night.  Why don’t you go hang out with your friends? Go do something.’ I’ll tell him I can do that whenever, but how many more times am I going to be able to sit next to my dad as he watches a movie? He’ll reply ‘What are you talking about?  We do this every night.’ And I’ll think to myself ‘Yeah. Every night…until you die.’”

Do you even know how many Saturday nights I chose you instead of hanging out with my friends, miss Pep?  Of course you do, you were there snuggled up to me watching the Bachelor or Felicity or Planet Earth or or or.  And I’d feed you anything that wouldn’t kill you because you were such a good girl and I was such a bad girl. Oh boy.  Hold on just a second here, I gotta just wipe this wet stuff from my eyes and, oh, now it’s on the keyboard, dammit you’re not supposed to get electronics wet.  I know you probably don’t know that either, but it’s true, ok? I don’t know, maybe you need to know these things wherever you are. After all, who’s looking out for you now?  

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You had an interesting start in life and even though you were homeless for the first 6 years of it, I know you were a happy dog eating pizza scraps and other street goodies. Sorry you had to make the switch to dog food when you came home with me. I know it was confusing to be your homeless humans companion for all those years, but she found out she was very sick and made the loving choice to pass you on to Yolanda, who never intended to keep you. It was the lowest point in my life, having just gone through the most painful relationship. You were gonna be my revenge pup, ha! But you were so special Pep-a-step, I know it took awhile for me to come along. I’ll always be grateful for your grace as you got passed off from temporary home to temporary home; you settled in with me almost overnight, and this is our love story:

Pepperoni and cheese: I totally understand now why people believe in some magical place they like to call heaven.  Because when we lose someone we love we have no choice but to believe they’ve gone somewhere better. It’s simply too much that you really might just be a sack of bones sitting in a beautiful mahogany box on my desk.  I don’t mean to be grim, but science promises that’s what’s happening here and the only thing keeping me from going back on antidepressants is the idea that you are being stroked and belly rubbed and ogled and cooed at whilst being fed steak that happens to have never harmed any animals (that hope is for me, not you).  Your arthritic hobble was v v bad in the end there and the only thought I can tolerate is that you’re prancing through a field of raw meat and snowflakes somewhere.

Paprika, can we just take a minute and reminisce about everything we experienced together and how we stretched time?  

  • Three cross country road trips.

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  • We hiked The Grand Canyon.

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  • We slept together in like a million different motels.

  • We swam in oceans.

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  • We swam in lakes.

  • We swam in pools and chilled on blow up flotation thingys.  You popped one with your toenail and scared yourself silly.

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  • We even took a shower together once because, well I don’t remember why, do you?  There was a reason I’m sure of it.

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  • We went to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree…remember that time it was so hot you couldn’t walk on the asphalt without burning your toes so Yassine had to squirt his water bottle on your feet every step you took?

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  • We went to San Diego.

  • We dressed up as famous duos for Halloween, which was always a bit awkward when I had to leave you (and therefore half my costume) home.

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  • We went to the dog park but you major hated that shit, so we always left shortly after arriving, but not before you cutely policed the other doggos.

  • We hiked all over LA

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  • We eventually found our favorite hiking spot in Highland Park.  Ya know! I just remembered I have pictures from that day. It was the first day I remarked at your modeling skills and what a beautiful dog you were.  I had just bought my fancy Canon 6D and requested you continue to jump into the lake so I could practice taking action shots. I was fairly unsuccessful, but you certainly slept well that night.  

  • We stayed with SO MANY FRIENDS: Hanne, Chloe, Travis, Danny, Kali, Eryn, Kate, Mom and Dad, Ari and Alex, Anthony, Devin, Audrey and the list goes on.

  • We snoozed in the sunlit living room of Kate and Dana’s upstate New York cabin.

  • We drove to Vegas together (ugh).

  • You came on The Vegan Road Trip with us.

  • We shared a popsicle (this was the moment you forgave me for going to South America without you for two months).

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  • We slept under the stars together.

  • On the couch together.

  • In several different beds together.

  • You followed me all over this damn country and you were so happy to do it.

  • You ate at dozens of restaurants with me.

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  • We smuggled you into grandma and grandpas apartment.

  • We went to Dewey beach.

  • We took a ferry to Fire Island.

  • We hung out in East Hampton.

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  • We got to know a lot of families and for two whole years you got to come to work with me everyday.

  • You became an overnight sensation when @thedogist shared your pictures and your story on instagram. Over 150,000 likes and 1000+ comments praising you, and you remained humble the whole time.

  • We survived bed bugs together.

  • And having a rescue rabbit Salty Buns in our 400 sq/ft apartment (I don’t think he was your favorite, but I’ll always be grateful that you were so gracious about having him around.  Thank you for not eating him).

  • We protected each other.  (Remember when you got in front of me when that big dog started approaching on our hike and he attacked you and you had to get tubes in your belly and lots of stitches and pain meds?  And then remember that other time when a dog started charging you and this time I tried to protect you and wound up breaking my thumb in the process?)  I think it’s obvious we would have done anything for each other.  Right after you died my beautiful and loving friends tried to console me by saying “...but you gave her such a good life…” and I’m like, I fucking know, but does she know she gave me the best life?  Does she?  Do you Pepanopoulos?  

And now what I really can’t believe is this:  

  • When coming home, I’m never going to hear the tap-tap-tap shuffle of your feet getting up from right in front of the door where you would sleep and wait for me.  Side note: When you first came into my life I asked my neighbors at Larissa if you ever barked because I had never heard you make a peep, and I thought this was weird.  They said yes, once a day, when the mailman came. I thought that was so hilariously unreasonable of you, until one day when I was home sick, sleeping in bed, and there you were sleeping peacefully under the mail chute along the door, when BOOM a bunch of mail came crashing on your sleeping head.  And then I heard it. It was such a precious sound. One. Single. Determined. WOOF!

  • I’m never going to feel your head nudge.  That infamous Pep-a-step head nudge that was so charming and demanding.  

  • I’m never going to smell that breath again.  That rotten, something-died-in-your-old-lady-mouth smell, and, as it turns out, I’m just as sad to let go of the less favorable along with the good stuff.  In fact, I’d do anything to have you under foot, where you loved to be more than anywhere on the planet. I’d literally rather be in the ER because I tripped over your belly and face planted the side of a hot stove.  

  • I’m never going to see you eat snow again.  Do you know this was one of the things that brought me the most joy, was watching you c-h-e-w snow?  I know how much you loved it, you little LA dog, can you imagine if you went your whole life and never met snow?  I’m so glad that I could gift you such a magical thing. Thank you, Eryn, for letting us find a dog friendly cabin in Big Bear to celebrate your 30th birthday.  It was Pepper’s first time in the snow. And I’ll never forget it.

  • I ain’t gonna feel the weight of your head in my lap, which is where you liked to rest, or your paw on my leg.  You were the most awkward “sitter,” what was up with that by the way?

Death is hardest on the living, my sweet girl.  You’re probably glad to hear that I know that, because all you ever wanted was for me to be happy and to feel loved.  You made me so happy and you made me feel so loved.  I wish I could hold you and have you forever.  I wish that all dogs lived to be 200 and humans lived to be 200 plus 1 day because I’d never want you to have to be without me and I’ve done enough work on myself to tolerate 24 hours of utter loneliness.  All I ever wanted was to protect you from harm and discomfort and pain and the lack of companionship. And I did. But you didn’t speak English, which was like, super frustrating sometimes. You did, however,  teach me other ways to communicate and you had the most soulful eyes. I could always find the answer deep in your dirty windowed, cloudy-blue, kind rainstorm eyes. But if only you could nod or say yes, mama, I know how much I changed your life.  Well, I think that would be comforting. It’s not that I think you didn’t feel my love, it’s just your absence has left me insatiable. Because I crave your presence deep within my bones and there’s no undo button, no waking up from a lonely dream.  I can smell you as I type this. I can feel the fuzzy part of your upper lip just under your nose. I know, I know, it was annoying that I always wanted to rub that part of your face, but you’re such a peach for letting me do it. And your velvety soft ears, I wanted to keep them.  The vet told me it would be next level creepy to keep your ears. After sobbing and turning your body over to her, I agreed. Begrudgingly.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I want my fellow animal lovers and pet owners to know that it was easy to make the decision to let you go.  Because we did that thing where we looked deeply and with great focus into each other’s eyes and you “told” me it was time. You signaled you were tired and that you needed to just rest.  You thought I didn’t need you anymore because I had Jason and you loved him too, so much. So you were okay leaving me with him. I know it doesn’t matter, we all pass on, but I didn’t stop needing you and I never will.  The last year I’ve leaned into your memory many times over. The ones we love never really leave, their presence in our lives simply shifts. Life, of course, is a capital A asshole from time to time, reminding me you were never mine to have.  Just to love. So I had to put my big girl pants on and I had to muster the courage. I will always be grateful that I was with you. That I got to hold you and comfort you and tell you “You’re such a good girl” as you suffered through your last night.   I wish we could have eaten a pint of vegan ice cream together for our last hurrah, but you weren’t up for it. Another sign. I’m sorry I got frustrated with you that night. I was just really scared, because I knew in my guts I needed to start saying my goodbyes.  

I want you to know everything I do in this life moving forward will be in your honor.  You taught to me to be brave, to stay close to the ones you love, to lean on the people who lift you up when you feel low.  You taught me exactly how to angle your head so that you can best soak in the sun. I wonder if people are sick of hearing about our love story, but that sounds like a their problem, not an our problem, right Pep?  You came around and showed me that soul mates exist.  For me in the form of a soft, blue-ish, no tailed babe named Pepper.  I hope you’ve been resting in peace. Maybe what I really mean is that I hope you dance the night away you luscious queen, and enjoy all the chocolate.  Nothin’ can hurt you now. Thank you for your love, I will think of you everyday for the rest of my life. Your death shattered my heart in a million pieces leaving an unmistakable hole.  I’ve been told over time it will heal and close up, but I believe every time our hearts break it always leaves a mark, and that’s just how the light gets in.

I love you baby girl, to the moon and back and as Dana reminded me “we will all hang out on the other side, yo.”  Until then…

I love you.

I love you.

Thank you.

Yours (always yours),

Alex

P.S. You were loved by everyone who ever had the good luck of meeting you.

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Joshua Tree, CA.

I love living in New York, and I've grown up a lot in the past three years of living as an adult here.  But?  And?  California is a pretty ideal place to visit or even live, to be honest, and I know having lived there myself for quite some time.  It's predictable (even in all of its environmental unpleasantries), it's sunny and warm (nearly 100% of the time), it's beautiful, it's got beaches, mountains, and city vibes.  Quality of life and ease of day-to-day living is high, especially if you're a veggie like me.  I spent ten years living in my delightful Los Angeles bubble of like...actual food o p t i o n s.  Admittedly, the so-many-choices-what-to-do thing was a bit much for my tried and true dry salad, hold the everything option I had become so accustomed to.  The veg movement really has come a long way, hasn't it?  Having been the only vegetarian in my house (and now vegan) since the age of 7, I had to learn fast how to:

Not starve

Remain polite at dinner parties.  A good example would be "Oh this dry lettuce is tremendous where did you get it?  Is it organic?  It tastes like fucking gold."  Okay, not exactly.  Instead I might have coughed up something like  "Ya know I'm not really feeling that great, and I don't have much of an appetite, so this salad is perfect.  Thank you."  I never wanted to hurt my hosts feelings and I definitely never wanted to make it seem like being a vegetarian was difficult.  Because future me knew it couldn't be easier.  

Develop a palate for vegetarian foods I didn't like, because God forbid I'm also a picky eater on top of it.  You don't like olives?  Can you even afford that?

Just say I was allergic to meat so as to avoid any conflict or discomfort, especially if I was feeling defensive or feisty. 

Learn to escape the maddening claim in retort to my stated vegetarianism "It's just chicken,"

or

"You can pick out the bacon bits."

But in Silverlake, the Los Angeles neighborhood I lived in at the time, had the restaurant Flore, where I could get a tempeh reuben.  Or Mowhawk Bendwhere I could enjoy vegan pizza or a fried green tomato po'boy (AT THE SAME TIME that my friends enjoyed some non-vegan options).  Or Sage Organic Bistro, where I can get truly stuffed on a jackfruit "pulled pork" bbq sandwich or hearts of palm ceviche.  P.S. this list simply scratches the surface of the ever expanding vegan restaurant options out west.  It's like a vegan fucking mecca.   

Joshua Tree?

Not exactly the vegan mecca that LA is, although the concept is not at all lost on this rustic, desert town, which boasts its fair share of my favorite kind, the hippie kind.  Originally Jason and I were flying out for a 5 year wedding anniversary celebration, but some of the plans got funky and that part of the trip was cancelled.  We decided to go anyway.

And I am so glad, because it was fu#$&*! awesome.  I'd been to Joshua Tree many times before but this time we had nothing to do.  No one to see.  Nowhere to be.  We made up our adventure as we went, and it was s-w-e-l-l.  

Day 1:  We flew into Palm Springs International Airport because it was somehow cheaper and HOLY SHIT, if I never have to fly into LAX again it'll be too soon.  Even if it's a little extra I highly recommend it.  What you save in dollars flying to LA you lose in sanity and time.  You choose what matters more, I totally get it.  The drive to Hicksville Trailer Palace, where we stayed the first two nights, was about an hour through Yucca Valley and we were cutting it close to the final cut off time for checking in.  Jessica greeted us with a brief tour, some basic rules (there really aren't many), tossed us our keys to the Fifi trailer (more on that in a minute) and a little pillbox stuffed with marijuana cuz CALIFORNIA FOR THE WIN! 

A quick word on the Fifi:  um, it's amazing?  The end.  And you need to go.  A longer word: Hicksville was created by a filmmaker from Los Angeles who wanted to create a unique space where artists could escape to get inspiration and work in a quiet, private place.  Then he decided to open it up to the public in 2010.  Everything is on the super-down-low; you don't get the address until your about thirty minutes away when they request that you call a particular number which was emailed to you the day before.  It's super neat-o and weird and nothing captures the essence and magic of the place better than this article right here.  Also, the whole place runs entirely on solar panels.  #veganfortheplanet

Day 2:  After climbing around our tiny, yet hilariously stimulating trailer with a couple of coronas the night before we woke up what seemed like eighteen hours later and shuffled to the Keurig machines which took credit cards, cost $2 a coffee, and was dispensed into the random, non-matching mug of your choice obtained from the communal outdoor kitchen cabinets.  We shuffled sleepily back to the Fifi, shielding our eyes from the blinding desert sun, a definite relief from the whipping 20 mph winds that welcomed us to California the previous evening. Inside, we comfortably squished our toes in the purple shag carpet whilst sipping our coffee in style, cuz wigs?

It was hard to get movin' because of the acid trippin' location we woke up in, but two things got us in our rental car:

1) HANGER

2) Our friend KK had just been in JT three weeks prior and she left us a surprise to find with a clue and some GPS coordinates:

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I once was part of an ocean far away. I cleaned the sea for all to see. I hang now so gracefully from this Yucca, in front of a vegan restaurant you’ll be sure to see. look for the farmers market sign, I am near.

Oh my GAWD perf!  We can kill two birds with one stone (but oh my GAWD I would never) and find our present after going to this vegan restaurant!  Yesssssss.  We arrived at the restaurant and alas!  I'd been here before, and now I'm getting excited because if memory* served me it was delicious (*memory served me).  The place is called Natural Sisters Cafe and I ordered The World of Flavors salad, small, and it was ENORMOUS.  Great bang for your buck.  We met a sweet little lady named Stella and her mama Sarah.  We chatted for awhile and baby's been vegan her whole tiny life.  Not only that, they were from upstate New York and had been on the road traveling all across the US living my dream life.  You can check out their journey on instagram here.  

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Next we moved onto to find our amazing new treasure and much to our dismay it had been blown away.  We searched long and hard and when we couldn't find it, KK told us what we were looking for: a piece of coral she found floating in the waters of Hawaii while surfing.  The local tattoo parlor said they had the craziest winds over the past week and he'd be surprised if a tiny treasure would have stayed in its right place.  We decided, with nothing to do, that we would take a drive and get lost.  Turns out we got lost all the way up the mountain in Big Bear (a three hour drive) - we went from the desert up to the snowcapped mountains and back down again to JT.  Roundtrip 5 hours, and Big Bear was way less vegan friendly.  Fortunately, I still had my monster salad leftovers to munch on.  It was time to move on, and by movin' on I do of course mean movin' on back to that sweet ass trailer park.  I mean, it's exhausting sleeping 100 hours and sitting for 5 more in the car.  

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First we stopped at Walmart to food shop, because we were gonna grill and hang with some buddies we made at the trailer.  We got kumquats, salad stuff, tofu, veggie sausages, chips and salsa and liquor drinks for our chilly fire-side hot tubbin' later that night.  Hey Walmart!  Good job on the vegan selection...but maybe more veg options and fewer guns?  K, please and thanks.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot TO SHOW YOU THE TRAILER PALACE!

 

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We made salad, played mini golf, did some archery with Trump as a target (yugely great fun) and started drinking 

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E

A

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The rest of the night was a blur.  But I suspect it was a very good time.  I do have some proof that we played music from the juke box, there was a christmas-ly lit dome thing to add even more color to the black desert night sky, and that the mood was just as special at night as it was by day.  We even met a lion dog the next day and spent some more time in our cute AF little home.  Are you sick of these pictures yet?  Cool, here's some more:

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You're probably wondering if we ever actually entered Joshua Tree Park and the answer is HELL YES, but first we switched locations and reluctantly moved into our private little cabin about twenty minutes away courtesy of Thunderbird Lodge and stayed in the shell house.  Basically the exact opposite vibe of Hicksville, but equally special.  Quiet, lazy, beautiful starry skies, king size bed, bear foot claw tub, backgammon, wood burning stove/fireplace, scrabble and lots of open kitchen space.  Outside there was a grill and other found objects strewn about (this sort of artistic habit of homeowners in JT is one of my favorites: junkyard lawn ornamenting).  Believe it or not, we headed back to Walmart for more fix-ins because Jason and I were quite enjoying cozying up together and staying warm inside while listening to the thrashing winds blow through all the seashell chimes hanging outside. 

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After we settled and grocery shopped for dinner and breakfast the following morning, we decided to head to Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, a kitschy western inspired bar and restaurant with a pool table and proper music venue in the back.  This place draws in some of LA's best indie musicians.  Not many vegan options, but our waitress was real friendly and helped me make some modifications so I could enjoy a hearty (and healthy) burrito type bowl with brown rice and beans and avocado, etc...  After that we walked through "town" and stopped in the local shops, saw some caged hens and hoped they were happy and free, and then we made our way back "home."  

When we got back we made dinner, played games, took a soak in the tub, and made sandwiches and packed lunches for our hike through Joshua Tree the next day.  It was a very restful night so when we woke up early the next morning, we made our breakfast of vegan yogurt, fresh berries and vegan granola!

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Needless to say, we left Joshua Tree quite begrudgingly.  It was a time warp, an actual vacation.  Four days that felt like ten.  We were refreshed, muscles relaxed and regenerated, souls revived.  We couldn't stop the adventure SO WE DIDN'T.  On our drive back to Palm Springs International Airport, we took the scenic route back through JT national park and made our first detour to Cholla Cactus Garden before making our way to the Painted Desert near PS, went on an extraordinary hike up, up, up and caught a glimpse of the Salton Sea.   

It was a magical way to end the trip before boarding our red eye back to life, back to reality.  See you next time, you slice of magic.  Joshua, my Tree, you are a special place, and a part of me will always long for you.  ***** (Those are five stars, now GO!)

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Shout out to this lil lizard who totally posed for me before jetting out of sight.  #lizardwhisperer

Shout out to this lil lizard who totally posed for me before jetting out of sight.  #lizardwhisperer

I. Am. An. Actor.

Dear Artists,

What I’m thinking and/or wanting to say.

What I’m actually saying out loud.

I was at a bachelorette party in Breckenridge, Colorado last month celebrating my best friends upcoming nuptials.  It was the dopest group of chicks, and I couldn’t have concocted a better getaway if I’d tried.  We were on the most intense overnight white water rafting trip.  I’m talking female bonding to the max!  There were six of us…half of us actors.  Side note:  Can we just stick with actors and not make the gender differentiation?  I mean we don’t call female doctors doctresses.  We don’t call female lawyers lawyerettes.  We don’t call female boxers boxerinas. Ya know?  

There were about 15 groups, 8 to a boat.  Since we were only 6, we had a couple that joined us on our boat.  Our plus two weren’t exactly, the greatest people I’ve ever met, to be diplomatic.  But, they also weren’t the worst.  They were just regular, quiet, slightly passive-aggressive people.  I was in the front of the boat with them (lucky me!) and made sure to say dick and vagina as many times as I could naturally incorporate it into conversation.  Let’s just say we didn’t become better friends by the end of the trip or anything.  At one point, we pulled off the river for a snack break.  Our river guides were unbelievable…y good looking.  And charming, and smart, and kept us safe, energized and in tune with the water.  As they were preparing our delicious spread, the river rats (us) splayed out on the abandoned train tracks to soak up the rays and dry our icy wet suits and warm our chilled bones.  It was during this time that I became uncomfortable.  Is there a rock under my back?  What the hell is that?  Oh!  It’s the sound of my “new friend” insulting my real friend; my actor friend.  Went something like this:

Jag off:  So what do you guys all do?  (Oooh…this one’s my favorite)*

Friend 1:  Well, she’s a stylist.  She works for MAC (the make-up company).  She’s a super-model (sorry boys, she’s spoken for, I already tried to date her myself). And us three?  Well, we’re all actors. 

Jag off:  Actors?  Really?

Friend 1:  (quizzically) Yup?!

Jag off:  So… (wait for it…) have you guys made it yet? 

Friend 1: (like the bad ass she is)…. Well I’m here on a Tuesday, so I’m gonna go with yeah.  Pretty much. 

Followed by words of wisdom from….

Friend 2:  Dude, I bought a condo in the middle of Manhattan at 22.  That answer your question?  You dumb bitch. 

Now I realize I’m being a little harsh.  It wasn’t my new ‘not friends’ fault entirely.  I don’t necessarily know that she was intentionally trying to insult anyone.  But this question has become so empty.  It’s been added to the litany of inane and meaningless questions we are conditioned to ask, but don’t really care to have honestly answered.  And you know what I’m thinking?  I’m thinking we’re asking the wrong questions. 

I was recently at a wedding and someone at the other end of the long table leaned over, looking right at me (oh no, oh no, oh no!  I totally know what’s coming.  God damn it can’t I just get wasted and pile drive this cake into my mouth) and asked me that obligatory question no one wants to answer, so why the fuck do we ask it:

What do you do?

To which I replied, “I don’t think that’s what you really mean to ask, but I’ll try to answer you”

I do being a sister and a daughter.

I do some photography.

I write a food blog.

I’m a vegan cook/baker.

I’m a mom to a dog.

I do acting in TV and movies when I’m lucky.

I used to wait tables for a long time and I actually really loved it (sometimes).

I do Mary Jane for funsies.

I do Christmas at my folks.

I do animal rights activism. 

I do charity.

I mentor a not so little anymore girl through the Catholic Big Brother Big Sister program (I’m technically Jewish, though not religious, and chose this mentoring group because they were in much greater need of mentors than some of the other groups)

I’m a friend.  (This is my favorite thing I get to do…Friends in fact, say I’m excellent at it).

I do work in a twelve-step program.

I do reading books for fun.  I’m almost finished with Half the Sky, a beautiful book about female oppression, and can’t wait to start Man’s Search for Meaning.

I sang in a band for a while and learned how to play some instruments.

I. Do. So. Many. Things. And together ALL OF THEM SHAPE ME.  

Photo by Lori Cardille

I’m an actor.  For the record, it took me exactly 37 minutes to look at that statement typed out on my computer without cringing.  Over the course of that time it was erased, re-written, revised, re-stated, re-erased, and then finally I surrendered and what came out was this:

I’m an actor.

Gonna just let that one hang for a second…

 

 

 

 

 

It’s so uncomfortable for me, and so many of you, as I well know, to confidently call myself an actor.  We like to qualify it so no one challenges us:  aspiring actor (don’t worry, I know my life has no meaning and I’m just a wayward, hapless fool), working actor (probably as a glorified extra on a terrible soap opera), out of work actor (waitress), struggling actor (hi, Prozac!), successful actor (this one’s my favorite, too.  So many favorites*), dramatic actor (no I don’t do commercials, I studied Shakespeare, jerk and I still owe like 50 grand for my classical fuck all training), stage actor (please God someone take me seriously), film actor (I can say that since I was in a horror movie right?  And of course by horror movie, I do mean torture porn), washed up actor, has been actor, B-list, C-list, D-list actor.

We good here?

Hi, I went to fucking drama school.  I am skilled at this craft whether I get constant professional/paid practice or not (Oh boy, here comes Santa Claus with a sleigh full of rage and fear based entitlement).  I have spent ten years and THOUSANDS of dollars on my business, whether it’s new pictures, updating my reel, creating my own projects just so I don’t kill myself because I could no longer feel my creative pulse, acting classes, commercial voice over classes, animation voice over classes, looks like I have another reel to create, writing classes, improv groups, teaching drama to kids, therapy, camera, sound and lighting equipment to put myself on tape for producers out of state.  Please stop making me feel++ like I need to be boxed in a category of “how’s all that going for you?”  Please don’t treat me like my entire life’s work means diddly-squat unless you recognize my face or know my name.  Basically don’t decide if you like my clothes (me) after you see the tag says free people.  I don’t need to be branded.  I want to be seen.  Truly seen.  Nobody puts baby in a corner+

Except, well for me.  I put baby in the corner.  The very behavior I’m describing as cringe-worthy is something I do ALL THE TIME to myself and other actors.  I used to hate myself for it, but now it makes so much sense to me.  Now, I understand it. 

See, I think I’m protecting myself by making myself so small.  Self-deprecation, aside from sometimes being hilarious, can also be wildly damaging to ones self-esteem.  You get so used to shitting all over yourself just to save face that you actually wind up hating yourself eventually.  Whoops!  Now I’m a self-loathing piece of shit.  Little me would be so disappointed.  Actually, little me would just probably give big me a hug and say, “You’re okay.  Don’t ever change…”**

Now imagine my fear after booking my first significant TV job in over two years and trying to share it with people.  TWO YEARS.  (Significant: when your characters name is Jessica and not stupid hooker, girl one, or dumb blonde to the left)  The very things I’m asking you not to do, I did.  On the plane to my new job:

Seat mate:  So are you coming home or leaving home?

Me:  Leaving home! 

Seat mate:  Vacation?

Me:  No.  Work!  (Yessss, he’s gonna ask me what for and than BLAMO I’m a star bitch. Wait.  No.  Ugh!  You’re doing it.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t overinflate.  This is literally the smallest part EVER.  Who cares?!  It’s practically not even happening).

Seat mate:  Cool, what do you do?

Me:  Oh, uh… (Yay!  No!  Yay!  No!  Ahhhhh!!! I hate to love myself and I love to hate myself.  Quickly, quickly now… he stopped speaking like thirty whole seconds ago…it’s TIME!  Speak woman!)  I’m an actor!  (Oof, overdid it.  Def overdid it there).

 Seat mate:  Wow seriously?  That’s so cool.  Can I have your autograph?  I’ve never met a real actor.

Me:  (No. He. Did. Not. You could get more on ebay for my tit sweat than my fucking autograph dude.  Truuuust me)  Um…are you serious?

Seat mate:  Yeah. 

Me:  (Oh my god this is terrible.  Why does this feel so embarrassing?  And fraudulent? Oh, I know!  Better make a joke at my own expense…works like a Xanax every time) Well, I don’t do this very often but since you asked nicely.  (Good one, Alex, you sound tre important). Last time I gave someone my autograph it’s because they thought I was Fergie.*** 

Seat mate:  Thanks!  Ya know…just in case you become famous.

Me: (Easy, A.  Easy.  You know he didn’t mean it like THAT.  He’s just excited because he thinks you’re cool for all the wrong reasons.  Roll with it).  Riiiiight.  Just in case. 

Ear buds go in (international for … we’re done here now).  And I can hear him chuckle as he looks at my signature on his resume (don’t you like…need to give that to someone one day so they give you a job? Please don’t go telling them someone famous signed it.  Then we’ll all look like assholes).

Seat mate:  (to himself) So cool.

But it didn’t stop there.  It was pulling out my script (which fancifully boasts my name in huge watermarked lettering across every page) in a café the way Tina Fey might do in a goddamn sitcom to draw attention to herself.  Only I was for real.  My self-esteem was so low that I couldn’t just be like - Yeah I have a job.  Sometimes I have different jobs that are a tiny bit less awesome or less well paid.  No big deal.  Truth is, this job will not change my life.  Back packing around South America?  Life changing.  Trying to save a baby bird that broke its wing last week?  Life changing.  Watching a dog give birth to ten puppies?  Life changing, man.  This TV job?  Pretty damn cool.  Not life changing (not yet, of course ; )

 And then if someone tried to downplay my job my ego would have a shit show!  I was a drug addict fiending for validation.  Like, if I had a baby I would have left her unfed to go find validation kind of addict.  It was so painful…all of these feelings smacking me in the face and being processed not before the job started, but right smack dab in the middle of shooting.  My first episode I couldn’t get out of my head.  I didn’t know how to take space, how to have a voice, how to be the person they probably thought they hired.  And so naturally, I returned to New York feeling like a failure. 

But it’s because I failed myself.  I abandoned Alex.  When they called me to ask me to come back for a second episode I burst into tears, manically declaring that I quit and I should be working at a fistula clinic somewhere in Africa doing something that actually makes a difference in the world instead of this dumb shit.

And then little Alex stopped by to check in on me (she has like…the most impeccable timing).  Hey!  What’s up?  Why so scared?  I think they like you, and so they want to have another play date with you.  Let’s go!  Can we please go?  We can do….whatever the hell this is….later.  I promise!  

      Little Alex (pictured left) with little Linda (Alex's mom, pictured right)

I wanted it for so long, and as soon as I got it, it wasn’t good enough.  And the next thing certainly won’t be good enough either.  And the next, and the next, and so on…. Until I become willing to break the cycle.  And that is hard, but totally doable. 

 So hear me, my dear beautiful artist friends… we have to love ourselves.  It’s okay to post pictures on social media of you in your dressing room or on the red carpet.  Do it!  Celebrate your success!  But here’s the thing… you’re okay to be your authentic self, too.  Facebook doesn’t have to be your highlight reel.  We don’t have to build everything up.  We don’t have to lie.  We’re allowed to be excited about jobs that are small in size, but still a huge source of fulfillment for us.  And there doesn’t have to be a reason why.  Excitement makes you happy.  And being happy makes you live longer.**** 

I will work harder not to judge you when you jump up and down about a callback.  The truth is, I envy your youthful optimism.  I vow not to shame you (even in my head) for thinking it’s a big deal that you booked a recurring role on a major TV show (even though it’s a co-star, and some episodes you only have one line).  I won’t do it to you, and I won’t do it to me either.  I’m just happy I get to play with you from time to time.  Grateful that the work we get to do (at least want to do) has been proven to bring people out of depression, shed light on stories that might not otherwise be heard or understood, and show, by example, that vulnerability is a rare and beautiful choice we can all make. 

And without further adieu, please let me introduce you to some of my wildly talented, and criminally underemployed artist friends.

Hanne Steen:  Hanne is a writer, and co-founder of Her Clay Heart, which she started with another insanely talented photographer friend Carla Richmond.  Go here and see their work.  Prepare to be inspired: www.herclayheart.com

Reuben Reynoso:  Reuben is a Los Angeles based photographer, specializing in under water/mermaid photography! What the fuck does that even mean?  Good question.  Go here to find out: www.reynosophotography.com

Katie Naylon:  Quite possibly one of the smartest and funniest women I know.  She wrote the movie “For a Good Time Call…” and inside her brain is the next generation of Judd Apatow films, but for women: https://twitter.com/itskatieanne

Kali Cook:  Kali is an LA based actor and writes and produces a lot of her own work!  Her film 40 Hours went to a bunch of film festivals and she keeps plugging away at it.  Her dedication to the craft is unwavering, and nothing short of impressive: www.kalicook.com

Kate Rogal:  Kate is an actor/writer, too.  She’s ALSO an insane visual artist for hire.  She specializes in PURE GENIUS and can do anything.  These days she’s really into beading portraits all by hand.  These brilliant pieces take up to thirty hours to make.  They are breathtaking: www.katesfreakart.com

Sarah Goodson:  Another writer.  And a deeply heart-felt one at that.  She is a babe and she’s gonna get a book deal any day know, as soon as the world knows what’s good for it... http://sarahaudacious.blogspot.com/

Chloe Lear Jackson:  Songstress of the night.  Bitch can sing, man.  Just listen here.  There are no words.  I’m pretty sure she has no idea what she’s got going on.  Not fully: http://www.chloelearjackson.com/talk.html

Sarah Wright:  I met Sarah filming a little movie and we played sisters.  Five years later, she still calls me sis.  Not only is she one of the most beautiful women I know, she’s also an incredible mother, friend and wife.  Another favorite actor friend to show off: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3080981/

Aimie Lovett:  Aimie was my band mate for three years.  She moved to LA from Texas to make an album.  She invited me into her band because I wanted a chance to grow musically in a safe environment.  She taught me, well…everything.  She is the reason I nurtured my musical inclinations.  And I play some instruments BECAUSE OF HER:  www.loretti.us                                                     

Anthony Carrigan:  Anthony is one of my best friends for twelve years.  He is an incredibly talented actor and worked a lot in the beginning of his career.  He faced a lot of adversity because of his alopecia.  Then he decided to stop trying to cover it up.  A year and a half ago he finally shaved his head and hasn’t stopped working since:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/alexisnedd/gothams-anthony-carrigan-talks-acting-alopecia-and-learning

Tim Rock:  Tim is just comfortable with who he is and what he has to offer in the most gracious yet unapologetic way.  He was my writing partner for a little while and we made some funny shit together.  I think so, anyway.  If you haven’t hired him yet, you should: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1511992/

Tarina Szemzo:  My first real friend in this world.  We learned to love signing together.  I steered in the direction of acting, but she kept singing and writing music and singing and taking over the world with her sultry voice.  What a beautiful gift she has.  Take a listen if you want to soothe your soul…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd5t7d7rcDw

Graham Outerbridge:  Quite literally (and not literally in the way hipsters love to misuse the word, but like…actually literally) the funniest person I know.  His actors essence screams hapless romantic that you love to love.  When he’s on screen you feel so many things.  Joy, laughter, compassion, awkwardness that you hate to love, and he’s handsome to boot!  Hire him, too!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKYObqo2bus

Dan Amboyer:  I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with Dan and to say he’s of the finest caliber of actors is an understatement.  But it’s his positive attitude and strength of character that make him a force to be reckoned with:  http://www.danamboyer.com/

Kimberly Leemans:  I just met Kim on set!  We are both in a new city, on a new show working to build our resumes.  I was instantly drawn to this woman, and it’s no surprise!  Our lifestyles are so similar!  In the last year we have both traveled solo around different parts of the world in an effort to recharge our souls, we both shot a documentary/unscripted series about our passion for living sustainable and cruelty free lives, and neither is afraid to boast about our habit of reading self-help books:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKbC6RMiGVE

Sara Jean Ford:  Sara is a mom, a friend, and OF THE MOST TALENTED BROADWAY STARS ON THE PLANET (I can hear her blushing 2,000 miles away).  She played Christine in Phantom on Broadway and stole hearts.  She stole my heart when I heard her humming in the shower as she rehearsed a heart felt musical gift for our dear friends wedding reception.  She is also a voice teacher, and an excellent one at that.  Check her out:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR16jRHa80Q

Believe it or not, this list is only a SELECT FEW of my friends who make beautiful and varying art.  (Still there’s Kersti Bryan, Matt Gould, Darcy Yellin, Griffin Matthews, Blake Griffin, Ian Alda, Andreas Riter, Madeline Bleu, Jessie Barr, Josh Fingerhut, Jessie Schneiderman, Dana Ashbrook, JJ Kee, Tory Shulman, Greg Sims, Megan Rosati, Marissa Lesch, and the list goes on and on and on…..)

 

 

 

 

* And by favorite, I mean fuck you.

* And again by favorite, I mean fuck you. 

+ If you don’t know what movie this is from that’s a damn shame and/or you were born after 1990.

** …Your outfit, because it’s fabulous!

++ Uh, uh!  No one can make you do anything.

*** True story, yo.  Only it was twelve Czech schoolboys and they swarmed me; didn’t leave happy until I had scribbled Fergie on all their notebooks.  

****This has to be true, right?

 

A Simple Life

Back in LA, homeless and jobless (which PS, is actually super funsies), I find myself carefully settling back into “real” life.  Which is not to say that standing on top a small mountain in Torres del Paine, in southern Chile wondering whether the wind will blow me away from the spot where my trusty feet, toes curled in faith that they would not fail me now, gripped fearlessly at security.  It’s not to say that wasn’t real life.

I'm also not suggesting that the early morning boat rides through the Tapiche Reserve in the Amazon Rainforest with the pink dolphins and the eerie calmness of the river wasn’t real life.  That was very real.  I still remember the smell of the heat, kind of real.

Or the time I woke up to an earthquake, only this time I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, I was in Chile.  I’m not saying that wasn’t real either.

Or, or, or…

D’ya see what I’m getting at?

It’s just that that part of my life was so temporary. Is always. So temporary. And my life in L.A., it seems, continues on with measured consistency; old faithful – like grandma’s choco-chip cookie recipe – the same every time.

I have no job; I know I said that already, but it means I have all this time. Plenty of time, say, to go to my storage unit and grab some things I need, like…clothes?

But every time I grab my keys, ready to go, something stops me. I chocked it up to laziness, but I realized it was something more. I’ve had the same small suitcase of essentials for the last two months, and never once did I need anything more.  Want?  Oh yes.  I wanted those pants that made my butt look awesome, but oh well!  I guess I have to wear my jeans or my stupid stretch pants and deal with it.  And yes, I definitely wanted a pair of shoes that weren’t hiking boots or flip flops, ya know I wanted to look good, but I didn’t have cute shoes, so I wore what I had.  And I’ll tell you what…after some time, I kind of stopped wanting for those things, because when you spend some time in a place where people are grateful just to have shoes at all (because the purpose of shoes in most of the world is to protect your feet, not to get noticed) you sort of feel great living a minimalist life.

And this was my only real fear about returning to L.A.  I wasn’t afraid of having no guaranteed income – I had faith it would come.  I wasn’t afraid of not having an apartment to come home to, because I have incredibly loving and supportive friends who are here for me while I look for my new home.  I was, however, afraid of that all too familiar L.A. culture getting to me.  Now, please understand I do not blame Los Angeles.  I used to.  Ohhhh how I used to blame the shit out of this town for making me hate myself for a litany of reasons:

Not skinny enough
Not pretty enough
Not enough make-up
Too much make-up
Should I get Botox?  What age am I supposed to start getting Botox?  We’re all getting Botox right?
Not talented enough
Smart enough
Funny enough

Jesus.  It’s exhausting as you can see to keep up with the concept of being “enough,” when the reality, and I’ve said it before, is that YOU ARE ENOUGH.  And so am I, in case anyone was wondering.  Our collective lives have inherent meaning, because we are human beings with a fu*&^$% pulse for crying out loud!  When are we going to embrace the beauty that is our uniqueness and our differences?

Hopefully in my lifetime.

But since I already started to feel my number one character defect (perfectionism and people pleasing) shedding naturally like scales on a fish, I wanted to hold on to that feeling.  I wasn’t about to let all that spiritual growth go because I feel like wearing something different today.

Crickets.

But I do.  I really want to wear something different today.  I want to go to my storage unit, like a kid in a candy store, and go to town.  I wanna go get high off of what’s mine, what can’t be taken away from me, because I own all that shit.  It belongs to me.

And look, I really like clothes.  I like expressing myself through fashion and how I do my hair and my nails, and no I don’t think that makes me a bad person.

So where’s the balance?  How do I stop living in excess, while maintaining my desire to express myself?

For starters…maybe I trade in my old suitcase for a new suitcase worth of things.  I don’t need all 30 pairs of pants that I own right now in this moment.  I need one or two.  Actually I need one, and I’d like two so I can exercise the luxury that is choice.  And every time I choose exactly which pants I will wear I will stop and practice gratitude for having so much.  For never being without.

It wasn’t just my trip to South America that got me thinking about all of this.  While shooting our documentary, The Vegan Road Trip, a really nice couple in Omaha, NE let us cook for them.  These are the folks with the chickens, so I was pretty much in love and ready to move in.  When they asked me what I needed to cook they warned me: “We’re minimalists so we pretty much only have two of everything.  One for each of us.”

“Wow.  That’s so cool.  What happens when you have dinner parties?” I asked, wild with curiosity?

“We don’t really have dinner parties.”

“And if you did?”  I pressed.

“Actually, a friend of ours was so tired of coming over and having no plate to eat from, he bought us two extra plates, so now we have four!”  She said proudly.

I chuckled.  Like, actually.  Because I thought it was really sweet.  A little extreme for me, but that’s because I am a collector.  Of clothes, kitchen equipment, art, photography, books, you name it!  So a minimalist life is hard for me to relate to.  But I really liked the concept, and I couldn’t help but think about my travels and how most people live that way because they have no other choice.

And then a light bulb went off!

I couldn’t help but wonder if my fear of getting rid of my “stuff” was just like people’s fear of giving up meat.  Or leather.  Or cheese.  I mean it’s all so good, and life is so hard.  We deserve to indulge these luxuries, no?  I was starting to relate to my meat-eating brethren.

We know we can give these things up; alternatively, we prefer to be grateful that we don’t have to and call ourselves the lucky ones.  But in effect, what we are really doing is turning a blind eye.  And if you’re okay with that, then….well, okay!  (I’m not gonna judge you because I do so many things immensely imperfectly).  But if you’re not okay with it, I encourage you to start letting go of some of the attachments you’ve formed to the things that aren’t good for you, the environment, the animals, and ultimately the world.

In my last post I shared that I was willing to give up palm oil that wasn’t sustainably or ethically sourced.  For more information visit: http://www.rspo.org/  - I've known for awhile that I should just cut the stuff out of my diet entirely, especially given my ethical reasons for being a vegan, but holy hell, I didn’t want to.  Palm oil is in EVERYTHING.  And I use it in almost everything I bake.  It’s like, crucial, yo.  But I was just in a tizzy, because I knew giving it up would mean hours of research, probably having to buy the “better solution product” from Canada and pay double to amount for shipping, not to mention if I run out?  Can’t just run to the store anymore….  But again, I remembered I have the freedom of choice to live in this world and make as small an imprint as possible.

So will I?

Will you?

And most importantly, at least in my humble vegan opinion, can we be kind to ourselves and to one another as we make room for these changes?  Instead of passing judgment, can we support each other as we find alternatives?  Can we stop hating each for being hypocrites or imperfect?  Because I really don’t think that tactic is working.  For more on THAT check out my homie, The Vegan Strategist at:  http://veganstrategist.org/

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep

I think day 5, in Omaha, was my favorite. Because someone we cooked for had chickens.

No wait day 6 in Denver with @ohladycakes was my favorite - I still can't believe one of my vegan baking blogger idols let me cook with her ... Wait for it ... In her kitchen!

Oh shit, but then there was day 7 in Boulder when we got to meet and interview Dara, creator of Raw Balls, a raw, vegan, gluten and soy free dessert. More like AMAZEBALLS.

I guess it's no longer "my favorite" when I can't pick just one. And I really can't. Hear me loud when I say the people I have met on this road trip, and I mean ALL of them, have made this experience deeply meaningful to me and my crew.  I have to say, when knocking on people's doors I kind of expected more people to say "um... No you canNOT come into my house and cook for me you freaky hippie." So imagine my surprise when Susan, wife and mom of three, got wind of what we were doing and contacted my producing partner with such enthusiasm we couldn't resist showing up at her door in Centennial, CO.

"Please help us. We WANT to eat better, we do a PRETTY good job during the day, and then we're all so busy and tired at the end of the day, we just ruin it all by eating out every night," Susan explained.

"And for the love of God, someone teach me how to vegan bake.  I fail every time."

Jiggawhat?

Um. Yes please. Vegan baking is my jam. Everybody shut up and let's get shoppin'.

And so we did. We decided to make an easy peasy chickpea "tuna" salad sandwich (at first they weren't sold - my favorite kind of subject) and vegan cupcakes in a jar.

#tbt to when I made said cupcakes for the first time. Please also note that this was the first time I baked for my friends and they suggested I may have a talent for this vegan baking game.

Well, well, well. Fun doesn't even begin to describe our day. Immediately upon arriving back at the house, Skylar (Susan's 21 year old son) started doling out aprons for everyone. And We. Looked. Like studs.

What I loved so much about Susan (particularly as it pertains to our documentary and what we're trying to say) was her imperfection.

T.O. (Time. Out  for those who aren't up to snuff).

I would like to be very clear that this last statement is anything but a judgement. And this is my point: imperfection is not only a part of being human, it's what makes us unique and wonderful.  So when I say what I loved most about Susan is her imperfection, I ask you to trust that I mean LOVE. This woman volunteers for PETA, secretly puts on documentaries about animal abuse and the sad realities of factory farming in the hopes that one will catch the attention of her husband Greg (which it has).  She is a vegetarian, AND she is also willing to admit that she can't give up cheese (or rather she's afraid she can't); that she refuses to eat eggs, but can manage to stomach it if it's in a cupcake or other baked good. This is someone who isn't a vegan, but wants to do her best. She would LIKE to bake only vegan things she just needed a pinch of help, a little sprinkle of inspiration, a dash of guidance. And without any reservation she reached out and asked for help. So, no. We were not willing to leave Colorado without swinging by.

I was able to give them some helpful tips about lunch and dinner:

The mock tuna salad is so easy to make, and if you make a shit ton you can put it in some Tupperware and have leftovers for the whole week.

Don't feel like eating the same sandwich everyday?  No problem. Here are some other things you can do instead:

Take the "tuna" stuffing, scoop the pit out of an avocado, now stuff it. Enjoy.

You can also use butter lettuce or romaine and make a lettuce wrap for a low carb version of this treat.

Anyway, who cares about stupid lunch. Let's get back to those yummy ass cupcakes!  After we went shopping, I asked Susan to make her go-to, non-vegan cupcakes while Ashley (her daughter) and husband Greg helped me make the vegan yummies. It was just the right amount of cooks in the kitchen where lots of laughing, learning, and playing ensued. After about an hour (let's be honest, we took our time enjoying each other's company) both cupcakes were ready. And the results were perfectly imperfect; wonderfully rad, if you will.

Oh you will?  Ya know, I'm really starting to have a crush on you.

Everyone liked the vegan ones more than that delicious shit from a box (and homegirl ain't even playin' - the fact that I am committed to never having Duncan Hines funfetti cake mix again is mildly tragic). Success!

(Phew. I was a widdle bit nerbous).

Sidenote: a brief tangent while we take a look at my own imperfection. While preparing to cook for this family I kept telling people it was okay if they didn't like something, they just had to be honest so we could make something else. The last thing I wanted was to leave everybody with a bad taste in their mouth. (Oh, punderful!)

But let's get real people. That was really the second to last thing I wanted. The LAST last thing I wanted was to fail at impressing these people. Sad, I know. But also really human. So I decided to try and have faith in myself, and I'm glad I did because they were quite pleased with everything I cooked for them. And they were an integral part of the process, so they should feel confident when they take on the challenge themselves.

Back to the cupcakes. We decided to change up the recipe a bit. The frosting called for 1/2 a cup of earth balance buttery spread and 1/2 a cup of vegetable shortening.  I could see something was bothering Susan when I whipped out the earth balance.

"What?"

"Well, I know it's hypocritical because I'm not a vegan, but..."

And before she could finish I knew exactly what she was gonna say next.

"Palm oil"  I sighed.

"Well, it's just that PETA doesn't approve earth balance butter, I just learned that myself" she said shyly as if not to offend me.

And she was right. If you use palm oil that doesn't specifically state it was sustainably and ethically sourced then you are partaking in the destruction of the rainforest and most importantly for me, the murder (ps I just spent ten minutes trying to find a less dramatic way of putting it, but let's just call it what it is) of monkeys.

In that moment I had a choice: would I rather be one step closer to being a part of the solution or making a guaranteed perfect cupcake?

The former. These days, it's always the former.

So we did a little experimenting. And while it took a minute to finagle the recipe - with a little patience and some faith - I'd say we nailed it.

I was feeling feisty.  I know!

"Susan. I have a challenge for you."

"Uh-oh."

"If you give up cheese for three months, I'll give up earth balance and all other non sustainably and ethically sourced palm oil forever."

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

"Okay, I'll do it." She said nervously, and with great hesitance.

"I don't make promises I can't keep, so I'm glad you held me accountable my new friend" I told her. "Because this is an important, albeit bold promise."

"Me either" she smiled.

Too bad the road trip is ending in just a few days. Things are really starting to get fun.

But first we have one last stop...

VEGAS!

(Which is vegans without the 'n')

And one of pepper. Because she's so damn cute and because I can. Ta Ta for now!

Working Hard or Hardly Working

After months of planning and hard work the vegan road trip is officially on the road and the experience has been a lot of things:

Profound
Fun
Stressful
Fear inducing
Challenging
Cause for surrender of expectation
Eye opening
Fascinating

Let me elaborate. As some of you already know the months leading up to summer proved rather difficult, in a good way, as I faced a lot of change. I was in a brand new relationship, I moved out of the apartment I lived in for 6 years, I risked losing my job by leaving for South America for two months, and my dog was unwell, but we didn't know why. Lots of things out of my control, but one thought lived strong in my gut underneath the weight of all the fear: this is my life, and these are my choices. Though I was scared, I felt a lot of excitement at the same time.

South America was life changing. Armed with nothing but faith in myself and faith in something bigger than me, I realized I was being asked to take care of myself when, in a foreign country; I:

1.) Was forced to accept and deal with the end of that new relationship - which was very sad and disappointing for me.

2.) Had to take care of myself and learn how to ask for help from strangers when I was very sick somewhere in the middle of a remote part of Bolivia.

3.) Found myself in some of the most physically challenging outdoor adventures, most of which my body was wildly underprepared for. (Sidenote: I survived/conquered all of them, so if I can, you can too)

I found myself thinking many times "GODDAMMIT, this is supposed to be a vacation! This trip is so hard, AND what the fuck did I get myself into?!"  'Working hard, but hardly working' became my motto.

When I arrived home to my parent's place in DC, I have to admit I struggled adjusting and fitting back into my own life. I felt like that puzzle piece that fits in with some effort; except the picture doesn't match, so you know it's the wrong one and you need to keep looking. I knew I was changed, I knew there was no going back to the way I felt...behaved... worried... stressed before my trip. I mean, I got myself from the southernmost tip of Chile to the Peruvian Amazon on my own dime, and with my blonde hair and my bad Spanish. I was a badass motherfucker.

Right?

The next few days I spent welcoming my phenomenal crew from L.A. and we spent our time leading up to the actual drive buying groceries, hard drives, testing sound equipment, drinking, partying with family in celebration of my dads 69th birthday, playing Cards Against Humanity, and sneaking in some time for rest before the long drive.

Vegan blueberry pie for dad.

Birthday dinner.

The birthday boy hamming it up.

Vegan Mac and cheese, asparagus, tomato and cucumber salad with my grandma's secret dressing.

Chris (producer of The Vegan Road Trip) and me working hard...

...and then hardly working.

The first couple days we mostly spent driving, therefore not a lot of shooting occurred and I was starting to feel anxious. "We're not doing what we planned!  We need to start knocking on people's doors."  Actually, we were doing exactly what we planned. We never intended to shoot the first two days because we needed to get to Omaha by a certain date as we had a reservation at Modern Love (modernloveomaha.com) - Isa Moskowitz's new vegan restaurant, the opening of which has been highly anticipated by vegans and non-vegans alike, all over the world. Literally.

"What's happening to me?" I thought. "Why are your panties in such a twist? Relax, you're a new person, remember?  A badass motherfucker."  Even still, the feeling was familiar... but it was different. It wasn't debilitating this time, it was just kind of there. Like a bad habit I was about to indulge in, even though I knew better. But I still found myself searching for security wherever I could find it. "I know! Now would be a good time to contact my employers and tell them I want to come back to work." (When I left, though I knew I was risking losing my job, I had an expectation that they would have me back, seeing as I was a loyal worker and I was good at my job. I didn't want to go back to work there - and for no other reason except that I knew deep inside it was time to move on. But I was scared. So I went running to mommy, thumb in my mouth, hoping for reassurance. I wanted my blankie. Instead I got this:

"Alex,
FYI: I checked in with Person X and Person Y to discuss this issue.

At this time the scheduled shifts that you had previously worked are filled. As are the morning shifts across the week and the servers are doing quite well with them. It would not be fair for me to take them away after they have worked so hard this summer to do good work. The times that we need coverage on from time to time is not during the mornings but in the afternoon and evening. Would you like me to let you know if anything changes?

Best,
Person Z"

Ego. Blow. But instantly, and with no hard feelings whatsoever, because if I'm being honest, he's right - It would not be fair to give me my job back given these circumstances - the fear was lifted. Dunno why. Dunno how. I have this hunch it was that "something bigger" I always talk about that swooped in just in time to remind me I have a choice. I could see the end of my relationship, my current state of homelessness, and my lack of a job one of two ways:

1) Terrifyingly life ending.

OR

2) Complete and utter freedom. I could reinvent myself. I could move to another country. I could find a thrilling new job and live in a part of LA I never before would have known to love. And mostly importantly I could start dating myself again. I spent some time before this last relationship doing that and you know what?  I think I was starting to fall in love ;)

Very quickly I realized my life before South America was hardly working for me. And I was working extremely hard chasing happiness, fulfillment, success, approval and status.

Yesterday proved very fruitful for The Vegan Road Trip. We finally got to knocking on people's doors and people were so kind and receptive - even when we were turned down. We even knocked on Warren Buffets door, but he said he wasn't hungry ;) In the morning we cooked pancakes for a young family and in the evening we cooked breakfast for dinner for a beautiful couple!  Both houses chock full of animals. The couple even had their own chickens!  So instead of eating chicken for dinner, we ate our cruelty free meal WITH the chicken (the way it should be).

Now that we're in our groove all the hard work feels fun and easy and exciting and I am reminded that THIS is living. So as I sit in the passenger seat with my sound guy driving and my pooch resting in the back seat I am finally able to surrender. Turning it over, because I am not in charge.  I only have control over one thing and that's whether I choose to trust that I will be taken care of, as I have always been.

Keep the faith mis amigos - sometimes it's all we have.

A Recipe for Disaster

Today marks my last day in South America.

Big sigh.

Of sadness, relief, overwhelming gratitude, and excitement for what's next...

The Vegan Road Trip!

We finally begin our journey across the US on August 13th, after months and months of planning. We have our crew, our equipment, our ideas and our passion packed up and ready to go. I am so blessed and honored to be working with such amazing artists, and I am forever grateful to my hundreds of supporters - this was not possible without each of you.

As I'm sitting here in the airport in Lima, Peru waiting for my flight, I can't help but reflect on the last six weeks. All the people I've met, the incredible scenes, the animals; all of the intense trekking my body supported me through - and how each of these experiences have changed me.  We think people and experiences change us in small or big ways, but having allowed myself to walk through the fear of stepping outside of my busy life and taking pause to really look around me, it became so clear to me that every encounter is both big AND small. Might I expound on this for a moment?

Oh.... thanks.

See, that man I really loved who left (there have been a handful in my lifetime) - he was so important because he taught me how to love, right? Perhaps he was more important than the other "smaller" personal run-ins over the course of my life, or dare I say the most important?  Maybe. But that's a choice I made. That was my perception in my small, busy bubble. One of the most beautiful gifts of traveling alone, is that it forces you to be present: no one to take care of you, no one to split the decision-making load, no one to watch your bags when you need to just quickly run to the bathroom at the airport.  When you are in the present moment with such feverish consistence, something in your body and your spirit shifts.

I cannot tell you the number of times I sat across from someone, with a smirk wondering "Why you?  Why I am here with you, now?  What are you going to teach me, and how can I be of service to you my new friend?" I had this thought while climbing the Salkantay Mountain, talking to myself, muttering expletives in between gasping for air, "Why did you DO this to yourself, Alex? Are you insane...You can't do this!"

Then I remembered this book I had just read, called "Wild," by Cheryl Strayed.  A woman hikes the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast of the United States, her life a shambles, looking for answers. My mom gave me the book months ago and begged me to read it. I didn't, and then for some reason I threw it in my bag just before my trip, and finished it in Bolivia just as I started my trek. Coincidence?  Maybe, or maybe it was no small encounter that the book found it's way into my life exactly when I needed it.

I'm telling you this, reader, because this goes for the good, the bad and the ugly. I think we try so hard to find meaning in everything because if we can't find it then surely we've:

Wasted our time
Regressed
Lost our way
Failed

You see where I'm going with this...

I was looking forward to the last part of this trip. From Lima, I would fly to Iquitos where I was sure to be enchanted by a magical floating village of colorful shanties on the Amazon, and where I would trek into the jungle to see the most amazing wildlife. My doctor at the Healthy Travelers Clinic promised it was a worthwhile stop, and since I have a tendency to trust everyone at their word, my imagination began to run wild.

Well, the fantasy and the reality were two different stories. Upon arriving in Iquitos, and at my hostel, I was greeted by the owner, Katoo, who was... a character. Think Captain Ron, only Brazilian and not a drunk, just a little...weird.  Not weird bad, just...a little weird. After an hour, he convinced my new French buddy and me to travel with a small group into The Tapiche Reserve - some land he owned deep, DEEP in the Amazon jungle.  Katoo had moved from Brazil to Iquitos four years ago, after winning a substantial prize from the UN to develop a program in partnership with the local community of loggers and hunters. In exchange for work, the locals, agreed not to hunt or cut down trees during their stay on the reserve.

Katoo is deeply passionate about protecting wildlife in the rainforest. Even his t-shirt proclaimed: "We don't catch wildlife."  One of his biggest gripes with the tourist industry in Iquitos is the zoo, or animal sanctuary culture, where animals are held captive so that "Rich white people can come and hold them and get a picture for their mantle."  (Roughly his words, not mine). I can respect this, I thought. I say animals are not food or clothes, he says animals are not toys. I'm thinking we are on the same page. How cool. What a "big" thing that our paths are crossing.

Now, I should mention there was a girl from Poland I met on the plane. She was so excited to get to Iquitos where she would be volunteering for a month at a place called Pilpintuwasi, a butterfly farm - host to many other animals too. When she shared this with Katoo, he basically told her she was participating in an animal Nazi regime. In one instant, he crushed this girl's hopes, but she was strong and I witnessed a wildly unproductive, defensive, heart wrenching argument ensue. For twenty minutes they danced in heated circles around the topic of animal rights: two self proclaimed animal activists arguing against each other with no purpose or end-goal except to be right. It's not that I couldn't relate, but for once in my life I didn't get involved because this "small" encounter was solidifying my new understanding of effective change: acceptance.  We must accept people for who they are. We don't have to agree, but pointing fingers and blaming is just never gonna work. So you have to ask yourself: "What do I really want here? Do I want to be right or do I want be heard?"  As in really heard. Which means I have to be willing to hear others no matter how much I may disagree with their opinions or even values.

My trip to the reserve involved a ten hour boat ride into the jungle. It was intense, a bit scary, beautiful, and fucking "butt crack" hot, to steal a phrase from a friend.

Let's just say my trip into the wilderness didn't make me want to be a vegan any less. It only opened my heart more to these animals who I believe are not here for me to do what I want with; they are my bros and my homies, my furry friends, my greatest teachers.

(This is Tortuga. He's about 50).

(This was my bed for a couple nights.  And boy was it the best sleep of my life: Dear Santa, I've been good this year. Please endow me with a hammock. Love, Alex.)

Before my trip I made my vegan diet very clear to Katoo and he did an almost perfect job making sure I had totally vegan eats; there seemed to be a mutual respect. At dinner one night though, he stated rather abruptly, "I have no problem eating animals."  SCREEEECH. Now, this was obvious to me as I had been witnessing his intake of meat at each meal, but putting it to words seemed confusing and odd to me. Not to mention, my ears were getting hot - a little something my body does in reaction to feelings of rage. My first thought: "Fuck you man. You're a hypocrite." My second thought: "God you are seriously weird." My third thought: "What a douche bag. Good luck with your mission, you confused small minded punk."

Then I remembered the twenty minute ping pong debate from days earlier that went nowhere. Believe me, I wanted to rail at him. I wanted to tell him he had no idea what he was talking about when he exclaimed, "I know where my meat comes from." (even though he eats meat at restaurants, and therefore definitely does NOT know where it comes from). I wanted to scream that he was part of the problem, not the solution, and he should just quit life.  I know, I got mean, but I was angry, and I almost couldn't contain myself. I went to my hammock and took a breather. As I swung lazily and peacefully, I remembered my mission statement for the Vegan Road Trip: "I don't want to change your mind, I just want to cook you dinner."

Well I couldn't cook him dinner, and I had been wise enough not to engage him in a useless argument, and then all of a sudden I had this epiphany: I don't have the answer. I need more time.

And that's OKAY. I'm not perfect, and it's not my responsibility to save the world. As long as I am practicing my ever expanding principles, I am affecting change. I can be a brave example of change just by being deeply committed to my own values and sharing my beliefs with people who want to really hear me. And ya know what?  Katoo's mission - his life work - it also has deep meaning and value. He, too, is imperfect and that is also okay. It has to be, or else we will all be running around like chickens with no heads.

Moral of the story?  Do your best. Be honest. Accept responsibility where you need to, and most of all: try to love as much as you can and do as little harm to the world in the process.

And don't don't forget to stay tuned for the Vegan Road Trip... We will be sharing tons of pictures and stories from the road!

Bolivian Blues?

It's funny how we think something is difficult, and then "WHAM!"... I'll show you difficult. Such was my experience going from Chile to Bolivia as a vegan.  Chucha! (Shit!) I left Santiago with vegan empanadas literally coming out of my pocket. Man, I would love to have been mugged that night... "No really, I have NO money, it's just a bunch of empanadas, I swear!"

Give me a minute, as my mouth waters in remembrance of these tasty, flaky treats. Mmmm... Real food.

Okay, I'm back. Exiting Chile was nothing less than a shit show. Border control was a small building with an epic line. "Boy, I'm getting hungry! No problem - I'll be eating soon enough," I thought!  Good thing I told the tour company for my 3 day jeep trek to Salar de Uyuni (salt flats, geysers, pink and green lagoons, hot springs amidst the Andean mountains) about my special vegan diet. Conversation went like this, verbatim (albeit, I was speaking excellent Spanglish, which I've omitted to help you better understand how it went down):

ME: "Oh, and one more thing. I'm a vegan. Do I need to bring my own food?"

AGENT: "No es problema. Vegetariana."

ME:  "No, actually I'm a vegan. Sorry. Er... I know it's complicated. No meat... But, also no eggs, no milk, no butter, no cheese. No animal."

(Pause)

AGENT: "No es problema."

ME: "Are you sure? It's sort of always a problem."

AGENT: "No es problema."

In case your Spanish is worse than mine... Everything was "no problem."  I dreamt of vegan empanadas as I stood in line waiting to get my passport stamped.

After driving a bit, we got out for some breakfast/Bolivian mud hut immigration business. Needless to say, breakfast was not vegan. Ravenously, I began to unwrap my 22nd Clif Bar of my trip, which like a genius, I decided to pack in the event of an emergency. (FYI, I've justified at least one cliff bar emergency every day so far).  Okay, no big deal. Surely lunch and dinner will be better...

I feel that now is a good time to mention some details of the trip: Lonely Planet describes this excursion as "...worth a visit!" though "...none of the travel companies get glowing reviews."  I went with a company called Cordillera because of the advertisement on their office door which exclaimed, proudly: "No deaths since 2008!"  In this remote part of the Bolivian desert, we were meant to expect the following: extremely high altitudes, sub-zero weather, basic accommodations is a laughable understatement - so no heat was just one example of what made the term roughing it seem more than appropriate.  A safe and comfortable way to ascend into high altitudes is no more than 300 meters a day. Well, in four hours, we went from 2500 meters to 4900 meters. What the fuck are meters?!?  I know, being American is annoying for this reason, because we are the one of the few people in the world who don't use the metric system. All you need to know is that it's HIGH... and this little piggy got sick. I don't mean a little headache; I mean puking, dizzy, trouble breathing, crazy fever (remember no heat), headache -- the works. I was scared, and in retrospect it's a good thing I was too sick to eat, because there wasn't anything FOR me to eat. Salar de Uyuni will be remembered as the best diet of my life.  On the third day when I could finally keep food down, this is what they had for me:

Cooked, but now cold carrots and string beans? Pasta, boiled potatoes, and ketchup. It was the most delicious gross food I've ever had -- I was kind of starving.

Bus strikes in Uyuni made it impossible/dangerous to arrive in the town we expected. Our group of eleven pooled together euros, soles, pounds, dollars, pesos, and bolivianos and somehow convinced them to drive us to Oruro... A kind of charming shit hole a couple hours closer to La Paz, where most of us were headed to next anyway. Once in Oruro the group decided to get pizza. (Can't win, I thought). So, I ordered a most delicious cheese-less pizza, which I assure you, even though I asked, was not vegan. A vegan knows, but not eating was no longer an option.

I'll admit, La Paz turned out to be one of my favorite parts of this trip so far, and although I was desperate for a kitchen, (no hostels in Bolivia seemed to have any) I was getting better at this whole "ordering" thing.  If I had to guess, I'd say 75% of the "vegan" food I ordered was actually vegan. Sigh.... we do our best in this world, Alex. After lunch in La Paz, we headed to the Witches' Market where I couldn't help at guffaw at the prices of all these amazing goodies. I mean, shit was practically free. Everywhere, handmade alpaca sweaters. I was freezing and I wanted one. Bad. My new Spanish speaking friend asked the nice lady in one of the shops if the llamas were harmed in order to make these fine digs. She assured us that not only were the animals not harmed, they were combed very carefully to get the best of their coats.   I couldn't help but notice the llama fetuses for sale behind her.  Shiver.  Happily I trotted off in my cruelty free hoodie.

As the safety of Bolivia was questionable*, we decided to continue on as a group, though now we were down to 6.  Copacabana here we come!

Again, eating 100% vegan was not something I was ever gonna be able to be certain of, no matter how many times I asked. Also, in this small beach town, restaurants are known for having terrible service, as there is only ever one person working and they are doing everything: serving, taking orders, making drinks, bussing, running dishes, dish washing - they're probably cooking the damn food, too. EXCEPT... there was one notable restaurant called La Orilla. This restaurant came highly recommended by Trip Advisor, and it's no surprise - this place was packed. And just like the other restaurants: one guy. Only THIS guy was a pro, and the fact that he spoke perfect English was a major plus for me. I had fajitas, and I was assured (this time the assurance actually felt like it meant something) my food was completely animal free. And my God it was so good!

The next day we left this quaint and beautiful gem for Cusco, Peru.  Hopefully I have better luck there, though I was NOT sad to discover this vegan treat for the bus ride (giant popped sweet corn -- comparable to kettle corn, only not really).

*Turns out Bolivia is perfectly safe so long as you don't act like an idiot. Stay in groups, don't get wasted and get in an unmarked taxi, don't walk alone down alleys at 3am, etc...

Sharing is caring

The other night I was cooking in the kitchen of the hostel I was staying at in La Serena, Chile, which is about a 7 hour drive north of Santiago. (Sidenote:  nothing makes you feel 30 years young more than a youth hostel, ridden with teenagers and students in their early twenties.) I was making a sort of pasta concoction from the few vegan-friendly ingredients that I found in the grocery store: spiral pasta (the only vegan pasta, as the rest all contained huevos. Sorry, eggs), one tomato, an onion, and leftover vegan patties I had stocked up on when I was in Santiago. Unfortunately, I was bored by this totally uninspired meal plan, so I took a minute to remember why I made the choice to become a vegan in the first place. Oh yeah, because I'm a bad ass motherfucker with strong convictions and a dedication to my religion which is this: "Love all living things and harm no one."

Now, as you know, I am not a professional cook. I didn't go to culinary school, I only paid some attention to my mom in the kitchen as a child, and I've never worked in a restaurant kitchen or a bakery. However, I am a voracious reader of cookbooks and quickly developed a keen sense of experimentation. While this doesn't always turn out well, I am not afraid to get scientific with the spice cabinet. This habit of creating strange recipes developed as a direct result of my aversion to wastefulness; I learned to combine odd "stragglers," or leftover ingredients in that nights dinner. With this in mind, I happily began rummaging through the hostel kitchens "free bin!" Inside were several unmarked baggies of spices (or drugs, to be fair... Ya never know). Relying only on my nose, I picked a few that smelled "muy delicioso" and which I thought would compliment each other. There was a container of mustard and salt, "hmmm... I can work with this." Thankfully I found a non-stick pan, because the free bin did not contain any oil for sauteing the veggies.

While the pasta was cooking in its pot, I chopped the tomato, onion and veggie patty and threw them in my precious non-stick pan. Like a child in a candy store I collected my free-bin finds, and with playful abandon I began dumping, squirting, and sprinkling these mystery ingredients. After several minutes, I drained the pasta and mixed the "science experiment" in with the noodles. It looked okay and so I brought a big bowl and a single fork outside where my young twenty something friends were drinking pisco sours (a famous Chilean/Peruvian drink) and smoking cigarettes.

Now, one of the things I do NOT miss about being in my twenties and traveling is that I am not broke as shit. They all looked on hungrily, surprised that my "fancy" grub was vegan. One German kid asked shyly, in his thick accent: "I think I would like to try this thing."  One of my very consistent maternal instincts is the need to feed people and make sure everyone is happy and comfortable. With too much enthusiasm I thrust the bowl into his hands and watched eagerly as he ate. At first slowly, then a few giant spoonfuls before passing it on to his sister: "try this it's really very good."  "Yes I think I will," she agreed taking the bowl.  Eyes a bit wide, a French girl reached out anxiously, words escaping her, perhaps worried it might run out, "oh mon dieu. Ees very gooood."  Needless to say, I was tickled.

Traveling as a vegan isn't just a personal journey, it's a social mission. I don't think any of them are signing up for their last hamburger before turning in their meat cards, though I couldn't help but register not only their shock at how tasty a meatless meal was, but a totally vegan one at that. In that moment I remembered that sharing is not only caring, it's the most important human way to express my beliefs without alienating people. So what if they eat a hot dog for lunch the next day. That night in La Serena, with four strangers, we were all vegans, and therefore in some small way, responsible for pint sized change.  After all, now -- this moment -- it's all we have. Tomorrow is another day.

Speaking of, tomorrow I head to Salar de Uyuni on a three day 4wd trek, where accommodations and food are very basic.  And... I. Am. Nervous... About starving.  So off to the grocery store I went again, only now I am in a small pueblo town called San Pedro de Atacama (the most arid desert in the world - at least according to the sign posted at the towns entrance).  Ooh, these almacens (or little stores) are lookin' skim-pay.  Crackers. Yes please, I'll have a thousand. Vegan friendly cookies, yes I recognize you from Santiago and Patagonia. Check. Pack of nuts.  Do you have fifty?  Okay I'll take this one. Peanut butter. SCORE. A note about this precious spread: really REALLY hard to find in Chile so far. When I saw a tall jar of it, I literally drooled. It had this golden ray emanating from its center as if God was actually facilitating it's presence into my line of vision. I practically fell to my knees, and in terrible Spanish asked for one jar. Now remember, I had crackers, cookies, nuts, a giant jug of water and the peanut butter. Ding!  Well more like, tick tick, tap tap on the ancient looking calculator.  In Spanish  she said dryly: "That'll be 11,400 Chilean pesos."  So you understand, this translates to about $22 USD.  I knew instantly it was my beloved peanut butter. Oh no, please don't be the peanut butter. Maybe it's these saltines. Maybe they're like... Made of gold or some shit. No such luck. I could not in good conscience pay... Wait for it... $17 for a regular jar of peanut butter. Heartbroken I returned it to its proper home on the shelf. That lone jar of peanut butter - it was destined to be mine, I knew it. That's why there was only one left when I arrived at the sto-- forget it. Plain crackers it is.

My religion of sharing is caring was starting to haunt me: what if my trek mates want a cracker or a cookie?  Greedily I shoved my snacks into my pack and walked back to my hostel where I made an American sized lunch (American sized = disturbingly enormous) and ate it all. It might be my last real meal for several days. As I sat eating way past comfortable fullness, I couldn't help but ponder the concept of balance.  I am a giving person, often times to a fault. But it is a huge part of my nature that I can't deny. BUT... I also need to take care of my self (a more difficult task for me than for some). So I made a pact with myself in the interest of exercising balance: each of my compatriots on this next leg of my journey can each have one cookie, one cracker and one nut. I'm no good to anyone if I'm splayed out on the salt flats, licking the "ice" for sustenance because I gave away my only source of nutrition.  So yes - sharing IS caring. But giving all of your food (or all of your heart, time, etc...) leaves nothing left for beautiful, precious YOU. And also leaves nothing left to share.

How to be a traveling vegan

It's been almost a week since I last stepped foot in a Whole Foods. Oh, Whole Foods, you majestic and far away phenomenon. I promise never to take you for granted again. Who am I kidding?  I never took you for granted - every other charge on my credit card statement a tribute to your over-priced collection of perfection. But I am in a new place where the produce is less than stellar and the culture has no understanding of the words: sin carne (no meat).

I have spent the last seven days traversing different small towns in Patagonia, a region in the south of Chile. I arrived in Punta Arenas (this region is also known as Magallenas - as are the people in this part of Chile.  My understanding is that there are Chileans and there are Magallenas - Chile being enormous in length - it makes sense that there are so many sub-cultures).  So I arrived in a place that has been penned The End of the World. Literally. That's what they call it, and instantly I felt hungry. Oh my god, for sure I am gonna fucking starve. And it's so cold. And contrary to popular belief, a good cup of coffee doesn't exist outside of Colombia* I've been told.

At first I was lenient. This free toast with jam that they're offering me in my hostel is probably vegan... ish. Maybe?  My Spanish being very limited, and feeling embarrassed by this, I just turned a blind eye and made the decision that it was safe to eat.  When I finished my breakfast those first couple of mornings I couldn't help but wonder why I would be willing to dial down my staunch commitment to eating 100% animal free all for a piece of sub par toast (actually it was really good, though it turns out apricot jam will never be my favorite).  I mean, if I'm gonna say fuck it, shouldn't I at least be eating some epic Chilean delicacy and not this questionable piece of toast. I started to feel a little lame about it all, so I began investigating.  Here are some tips and tricks to help you stay strong while traveling as a vegan:

First, download the HappyCow app (iPhone: $2.99, Android: $2.49, Palm Pre: $.99, Nokia: FREE). It directs you to the nearest vegan friendly spots based on your current location. Depending on where you're traveling, don't be alarmed if it doesn't turn up any results.

Second, and possibly most important, DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.  Especially when traveling in countries known for their general resistance to vegetarianism.  Things like bread often have milk, eggs or butter or wait for it.... Animal fat. Yikes!  Blech. In fact, I picked up a pack of cookies at a grocery store to see what was in them just out of curiosity. Score!  The ingredients are also listed in English. Sugar, obviously. Milk, darn. Butter, okay I get it I can't eat these. Eggs, FINE! Beef fat....errrr... BEEF FAT?!  Um, just gross. Don't believe me?

Speaking of grocery stores. My third tip is this:  find one. And stock up. I found vegan friendly bread, peanut butter, jelly (without gelatin), vegan AND gluten free cookies. Pasta, lentils, sauces (all safe!)... Then find accommodations with a kitchen and cook for everyone. Help spread the word that vegan food is delicious by proving it. In fact, my new Australian friends were willing to make vegan dinner the other night at our hostel. We made a delicious tomato soup with penne, lentils and green peas.

We had so much left over, we decided to offer it to Mundo and his daughter Gabby (the owners of the hostel) - and they loved it. HA!  You just enjoyed a meat free meal, fools. Needless to say they invited us to cook for them the following night, where we enjoyed red bell peppers stuffed with lentils, rice, sautéed mushrooms and leeks, with a side of roasted vegetables.

Finally, don't hate yourself for not knowing the language of the country you're in.  However, I do advise that you be willing to learn, however imperfectly. Speak with confidence and don't be afraid of sounding stupid. You are not stupid, you're a stranger in a strange land and this is your temporary new residence. Try and make yourself at home. I've found that the following are the most important Spanish words for a vegan to know:

No - Hey, cool. You know that one already!
Sin - without
Carne - meat (sin carne, for example).
Pollo - chicken
Pescado - seafood, fish
Leche - milk
Huevos - eggs
Mantequilla - butter
Ah-nee-MAHL (animal) - animal
Queso - cheese

Now be mindful too of where you are. It's not always so easy to go on an all vegetable diet. Chile is okay, but as I move into Peru, raw fruits and vegetables aren't always safe to eat. The vegetables are washed in third world water (which often might be contaminated with bacteria) -unless you cook your veggies in boiling water, you could have some serious stomach trouble. One friend told me in Indonesia they called it Bali Belly. And that situation can turn a perfectly awesome trip into a shit show (literally).

A NOTE ABOUT ORDERING AT A RESTAURANT:
Often times menu items won't list all the ingredients. Be sure to remind your server: no mayo or butter or cheese. (In South America they don't list theses ingredients because they are staples in most sandwiches).

Happy travels, you adorable vegans.