Friday, August 25, 2017

How love (and food) helped me to make friends with my mortal enemy - the ocean


My kids-sized, red and navy beach towel is wrapped around my shoulders.   My hair, which was once in braids has been undone by the ocean waves and is plastered down on my face and neck.  I shift uncomfortably on a small, gray, beach towel that feels as though it's been washed too many times without fabric softener.  I grimace when I move, because the gritty, yellow sand feels like it's taking my skin off "down there."  I want to lift my butt cheek off of the towel and empty the sand out of my bathing suit, but I'm just too cold to move.  I look around for my mom but I don't see her.

She must have gone to the bathrooms down the beach.

I can't feel my hands, so I cup them over my lips and nose and blow in them to create some warmth.  Without making any obvious movements, I look over to my right to make sure that I haven't aroused the curiosity of my stepfather, Kenny.  But he seems to be occupied by a game of catch with his brother, Paul and his cousin Emerson a few yards away.  Satisfied that he's not checking for me at that moment, I turn my attention to back to my blue fingertips.  Just then, my step-cousin, Jay Jay, comes running up from the waves, screaming with delight.  He rushes over to me and sprays me in the face with chunks of sand as he skids to a stop in front of my towel, his bathing trunks dripping the 50 degree ocean water on to my bare feet.

"Come on Laura," he implores, "what are you doing out? Come back in the water."

I'm shivering too hard to speak.  I shake my head furiously and mouth the word "no."

Jay leans in closer toward my face.  His expression is one of genuine confusion.  He places one of his ice cold hands on my arm.

"What's wrong?  You don't want to go back in?"

"I'm frreeeezzzing," I say finally.  "Its too, too, too cold."

"What's too cold, the water?"

I nod again.  I'm irritated with his wide-eyed innocent act about the temperature of this water.  All summer long,  I try to stay as far as possible from that ice bath they call the ocean and each day we're at the beach, little Jay Jay runs around trying to pretend like the ocean is something we both like.

"Laura, Laur," Aunt Becky's voice reminds me of the syrup Jay Jay pooled all over his blueberry pancakes that morning.

"Do you mind going back in with Jay Jay? He was really looking forward to you guys getting to play in the ocean today."

I squint up her, unable to really see her face against the sun.

"Sorry, Aunt Becky.  I'm too cold."

"I know you guys are in The Cape for another couple of weeks, Laur.  But you know we're leaving tomorrow.  Jay Jay starts 2nd grade next week,  (she reaches down lovingly and pats his wet, curly head) so today is our last day."

I suck my teeth and look down at my numb, frost bitten, water-wrinkled toes.

I wish I was leaving tomorrow.  I hate it here.

"I already did go in with him." My voice is almost inaudible against the crash of the waves and the din of the other families chattering excitedly on all of the other beach blankets.

I glare over Jay Jay's way and lift my head so they can both hear me.

"I went in once, Jay -- just like we agreed."

"You were in like 5 minutes!" Jay Jay's voice is just short of a screech.  The noise catches the attention of Kenny, who tosses the football away and plods over to the three of us.

I keep staring at my toes and shake my head again. I feel my insides stealing for the inevitable stand-off.

"I'm not going back in," I say under my breath.

"You will go in with Jay Jay," says Kenny.  The impatience in his voice is visceral.  I literally dig in my heels as he tries to grab the edge of my towel with a jerky motion.    "They're going back to New Jersey tomorrow," he says nudging me hard in the back with his knee so that I'm forced to move forward.  "It's their last day at The Cape."

Panic starts to boil so quickly in my stomach that it feels like a cramp.  Seized with desperation, I whip my head around, looking for my mom again, but don't see her.  Finally I look at him with what I hope is a pitiful look.  Just to be sure, I poke out my lower lip.

"But I'm freezing. And I already went in."

"Didn't I just said that you're going in?"  This time there's a definite warning in his voice.  I look over at Aunt Becky to see if she's heard it too.  But she is just staring at Jay Jay, who dancing around in a circle like he has to pee.

"Come on Laura!  Come in the water! Come on Laura.  Come in the water," he chants.

My goose fleshed skin sings as Kenny strips the towel completely from my shoulders.  I feel like I've just been thrust naked into an ice storm.  Slowly I get up, keeping my arms crossed over my stomach to quell the ache and to keep from being completely exposed to what feel like arctic crosswinds coming off of the ocean.

"Yay!"  Jay Jay raises his arms in triumph. "Thank you, Kenny!" he beams at my stepfather. "Thank you, Laura!"

I hate him.  I hate all of them.

The break is colder than I remember.  I steel myself against the surf as each, 6-Ft, foamy whitecap whips itself agains my 70-pound frame and tries to take me under.  I spend every second I'm in there fighting being taken in above my thighs, jumping up every few moments to avoid being splashed above my bikini bottoms.  My feet and ankles grow numb within seconds.  My teeth are chattering uncontrollably.

15 minutes later, I'm allowed to return to the shore because Jay has stepped on razor clam shell in the surf and cut his foot.


"I told you we should have gone out further, Laura," he says between tearful hiccups.   Aunt Becky is wrapping him up in a large, downy-looking, towel that smells fresh from the dryer.

"And I told you I wasn't going in above my knees," I say angrily.

"Hey!" the syrup is gone from Becky's voice.  "You two cut it out!  Jay, let me see your foot."

I settle back down onto my now ruined-with-sand-and-cold water beach towel.  I feel tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

I want to go home — not to the Cape house.  I want to go back to Cambridge.

"There you are!" The sound of my mother's voice looses a few of the waiting tears from my eyes.  I don't bother to wipe them from my cheeks.  I want her to see what "they've" done to me.

"Hey..." her voice softens when she sees my face.  She looks from me to Jay, who is now howling with pain as Becky sprays Bactine on the bottom of his foot.  "What happened here?  Why are you guys crying?"

"Jay, Jay cut his foot," I say dismissively, looking up at her.  "I just didn't want to go in, I told them but they made me..."

Suddenly I am silenced by the savory aroma coming from the small, overflowing, greasy, white bag that my mother has in her hand.

With a glance, I can see that she has tartar sauce and ketchup packs in her other hand.  I scramble to suck in the saliva that is edging out of my mouth before it hits my chin.

Fried clams....

"Who made you go in?"  My mom's face is full of concern as she glances nervously over toward Kenny.  I want to bask in her sympathy and the safety of her mommy-love but the fried clams have put me into a trance.  I find that my hands have dropped my soggy towel on their own and are now reaching up for the bag.

"Mommy! You got me clams!"

My mom laughs (that great laugh she has like she just can't help herself).  She hovers down and hands me the bag and the tartar sauce.

"I thought you'd be hungry after all the time in the ocean.  I drove over to the Clam Shack. I almost thought the Rambler wasn't going to make it back.  We might need to head back home early and take it to our garage to get checked out...."

Her voice fades away into the distance as I pop the first clam in my mouth.  Too late, I realize that I've forgotten to test it first with my tongue.


The clam sears the roof of my mouth but I don't care, I so grateful for the heat of it.  I shove another one in before I finish chewing, blowing out my cheeks and sucking in air dramatically to cool off the steamy bite.  The spicy, salty, unctuous crumble of the crisp batter and the briny, chewiness of the clams fill me with feeling that warms my whole body.  I want to leap off of my towel and dive head first into the bottom of my clam bag, absorbing all of its yumminess and warmth.  I smile broadly up at my mother and lean my cold, dripping, head against her bare leg.

*  *  *


The line at the first gas station is too long so we stop at the one near the beach.  Mumbling something about "OPEC," my dad gets out and wrestles the huge, deflated, orangey/red, whitewater raft out of the back of the car and walks in between the lines of cars with Florida license plates, dragging the raft behind him.

I lean out of the open window so that my stomach rests on the edge of the panel.  I am spellbound with anxious curiosity as my dad proceeds to fill the raft with the tire pump near the bathrooms.  A woman with bright orange lipstick walks by my dad wearing a cut off shorts and a tank top that reads, "Fort Myers: City of Palms."

Did they mean for the two palm trees to go right there?

My dad and I both turn for a moment to watch her walk by before looking back at the raft. I watch in amazement as the raft twists and grows — like a monster coming to life.  Soon the red, rubber is taut and shiny and the raft stands taller than he does.  I shout through the window at the top of my lungs.

"Come on Daddy!  Let's go!"

My dad laughs as he hoists the raft into the back of the station wagon and pushes it toward the front.

"We're 3 minutes away," he smiles as he slides behind the wheel.

It feels like it takes hours for my dad to unpack the car.  I wait impatiently while he spreads an old, faded bed spread down on the sand.  This is my second summer in a row down here in Florida with him.  I never knew that a beach could be so -- warm.  We'd been every day of the summer so far.

I start hopping up and down in place while I wait for him to carefully put his camera in a paper shopping bag (which he also places on the blanket) and then takes off his t-shirt, folds it and then places it into the bag on top of the camera.  I have already wiggled out of my shorts and am standing on the soft, white, warm sand with my arms outstretched towards him.

"Daddy!"  My voice cracks with impatient anguish.

Finally, he grabs the towline of the raft in one hand and grabs my hand in the other.  He looks down at me with a mischievous smile.

"Race you!"

Together we both run toward the ocean as fast as we can.  My heart is beating out of my chest and I want to stop, but the full-of-air raft bouncing on the sand behind us gives me a thrill like we are being chased.  I scream at the top of my lungs for no reason as my dad slows down at the water's edge.  While he keeps going, I come to a full stop in the wet sand before the waves hit my feet.  My dad keeps running in, making several large splashes before diving in head first.  I watch amazed and frightened as the raft line in his hand acts like a floating device, pulling him back to the surface.  His afro flattens as he pops out of the water, framing his face with S-shaped squiggles.

"Come on!" he says, waving me in. "It's really warm, like 80-degrees."

I take a tentative step forward and gasp as a wave rushes over my toes.  My eyes are squinched shut and every muscle in my body is tense and I brace myself for the inevitable, unpleasant chill of my old enemy — the ocean. 

"It's not that freezing Cape Cod water," shouts my dad.  "Fort Myers is on the gulf of Mexico. Warm water, white sand..."

It's not cold.  It's not cold.  It's not cold! Get in!

I splash toward him at full speed, collapsing in to his arms once I get within range.  He holds the raft steady while I climb into it.  I slip around the inside of the raft like a fresh caught mackerel on the fishing boat deck.  I'm giggling uncontrollably as I start pinging off the sides like I'm the ball in a pinball machine.

He peeks over the side and me with a funny face as though he's confused by my giggle fit.

"Uhhh, what's so funny in here?" he smiles.

"Daddy!  Let's go!" I shout.

"Oh, are you ready?"



My dad's arm muscles pop as he turns toward the waves and runs out as far as he can before he dives in and swims, towing me in the raft after him.  Once we've passed the break, he surfaces, taking in big gulps of air.  He nods at me and turns the raft around while he treads water.  Suddenly, before I can steady myself, a wave picks the raft up and carries me toward the shore at top speed.  I scream with fear and delight as the raft gets tossed around like a toy.  Finally, thoroughly soaked and hoarse from screaming, I end up on the sand.  My dad has been swimming underwater behind the raft, he surfaces beside me with a concerned look.


My mouth is full of water.  I sputter a little and turn towards him with my arms out.


He lifts me out of the raft and hugs me close, careful to make sure he holds on to the raft's towline at the same time.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

I cough two or three times before I can answer him.  My water-slicked arms are clasped around his neck and my long legs dangle into the raft at our feet.  I look at him in the eyes with a pained expression before breaking into the widest grin I can manage between sputters.


Later that day, I am sitting at my dad's kitchen table watching him make dinner.  The setting sun paints the room a brilliant orangish pink and makes  the sand on my dad's brown arms  glimmer with hundreds of rainbow flecks.  I'm fascinated by his muscles as he tears the iceberg lettuce for our shrimp salads.  Still sandy myself, I wiggle around in my bathing suit and shorts at the table like I'm being eaten by fire ants.

"Daddy!  I'm starving!"

My dad laughs and pulls several large, pink shrimp from a container and throws them into the salad bowl with firm, red tomatoes and the lettuce.  My mouth actually waters as he gets the mayonnaise jar out of the refrigerator and picks up a table spoon.

Finally, our fresh shrimp salad is ready to eat.  He places a large bowl in front of me and I attack it without a word.  The first bite of buttery, tender shrimp causes me to close my eyes and pause mid-chew.  The lettuce is crisp and fresh.  The tomatoes are so firm and red they could be eaten like apples.  My dad and I both eat silently, faces down in our bowls until they are empty.  He looks up at me with a smile as I stuff the last bite in my mouth.

"More?" he says

"Yes!" I nod, still chewing.  "Please Daddy!"

*  *  *

Costa Rica, 2012

"You're doing great, Honey,"

I try to scowl over towards Scottie and lose my balance on the surf board.  I laugh as I fall because I land with a thud onto the sand.  My surf instructor walks over and offers me his hand.  I look back over at Scottie as I accept it.

This man has got to know how much I love him.  He's got me out here learning to surf!

Scottie walks over to me and kisses my cheek, asking Emmanuel if he thinks I'm ready to try it in the water.

"Be patient with her man," Scottie says in a confidential tone.  "She hasn't spent too much time in the ocean."

"Yes, I have!" I protest.  I grew up in the ocean - We had a house in Cape Cod and I spent summers in with my dad in Ft. Myers and Ft. Lauderdale.

"Excuse me," said Scottie.  "She's right.  What I meant is that she hasn't spent much time in the ocean as an adult."

"Oh," I fight the usual flash of irritation that consumes me when he's right.  I can feel my mouth setting into a straight line. I avoid looking either of them in the eye.

Emmanuel's brown eyes grow big with disbelief.  He looks from me to Scottie and back.

"But you guys live in Cali, right?  You don't surf?"

Scottie laughs and puts his hand on his shoulder.

"I surf," he says.  "She most definitely does not."

"Wow!" says Emmanuel turning toward me with a look of quiet astonishment.  Then as if he's just remembered that he's my surf instructor, he snaps his fingers and points to me.

"So what do you think?  You ready to get out on some waves?"

I gulp and look toward the emerald green water.  The waves are calm, almost non existent.  Emmanuel has assured me that the water is warm "like bath water."  I look over toward Scott and nod.

"Are you coming out with me, Hon?"

Scott shakes his head.  "I can't really surf over here, Hon.  There aren't any waves."  He points about a quarter mile down the beach with the short board that he's rented for the day.  "Emmanuel says I can catch a break over there."

I squint and adjust my eyes so that I can see the 15 or 20 surfers on their boards where he points.  They look like ants to me, or floating heads...

But I don't want to surf without you!

"Okay," I say with false cheeriness.  "I guess I'm ready then."

Emmanuel grabs up our boards and starts walking toward the water.  I turn to face Scottie and kiss him goodbye.

Maybe forever...

"I'm not leaving you yet, Hon" says Scott.  He's holding me close to him.  I can smell the sweet, zinc scent of sun screen on his skin.  His breath smells faintly like the dark, Costa Rican coffee we'd had in the car on the way over.

"But I'm gonna grab some shots of you surfing first," he says picking up his camera.


"Good," I smile, kissing him on the lips.  "Make sure you get me once I stand up!"

I'm happy to find that it's not too hard to get in.  The water is warm, not as warm as the gulf of Mexico, but it's more than fine.  In no time I'm up to my shoulders.  Emmanuel, who is long and brown glides like a seal out into the waves.  I lay down on my board and paddle behind him as fast as I can, trying to keep up.

I'm out of breath by the time we get to where we're going.  He spins me around on my board so that I'm facing the beach and coaches me through the first wave.

"All right now, wait for it, wait for it - Go! Go! Pop up NOW!"

Where's Scottie?  I don't see him.

Throughout the first half hour, I'm off the board far more than I'm on it.  After my thirteenth or fourteenth dunk under the waves, my topknot has come undone and I've swallowed so much water that I feel it my sloshing around in my stomach.  My soaking wet rash guard is sticking to my skin and the light breeze that has started to blow causes me to cross my arms across my chest while I'm sitting up on the board waiting for waves.  Soon, my teeth begin to chatter a little and I get that familiar ache and panicky feeling in my stomach.

Where's Scottie?  

"Maybe I should go in for a while," I say, trying to sound casual.

Plus I'm starving...

 I look toward the shore, hoping to see someone selling tamales, but instead I see my Scottie waving at me from the beach.

There he is! 

I can't see the expression on his face, but his body looks positively celebratory.  He's jumping up and down with his arms raised above his head.

"Whoo hoo, Honey!" he yells.  "I''m so proud of you!  You're doing great!!"

He thinks I'm doing great?  Maybe he didn't see me drowning out here...

But something about his excitement brings up an unexpected wave of emotion and I feel the familiar sting of tears behind my eyes.

He's so happy that I'm out here.  He's... proud of me.

"Ready to get out now?" says Emmanuel reaching for my board. "I'll carry your board in for you."

"No, not yet," I say thoughtfully, still looking at Scottie.  "I think I'll go for the rest of the hour."

For the next 45 minutes I concentrate on giving myself over to the warm waves.

Flow with the wave — don't fight it.   Don't be scared.

By my second or third attempt,  when Emmanuel says, "POP UP NOW!"  I find that I can get up and balance longer than ever.   My rides to the shore begin to remind me of those moments on the raft with my dad all those years ago.  Thirty minutes later, when I've tumbled off and taken a particularly forceful header into the ocean, Emmanuel swims over with a sense of urgency and grabs my elbow, careful to untangle my ankle line at same time.

"Are you okay?" he says.  "That was a quite a fall."

I'm coughing and trying to get my legs underneath me.  I nod my head, but it's a second before I can answer him.

"Again!" I say with a smile.

As we are exiting the water with our boards, I feel giddy with the rush of my experience in the water.    I can't wait to tell Scottie how great it was.

"Thank you so much Emmanuel," I say giving him a hug.

"Great job," he says giving me a high five.  "You were really surfing out there!"

Scottie comes walking up to us, looking at me as though I've just won a surf contest.

"Honey!" He throws a towel around my shoulders and hugs me close to him.

"You saw me, Hon?!"

"Honey, you were amazing! Did you like it?"

I'm nodding yes and kiss him.  I just about to tell him how it reminded me of this raft rides in Ft. Myers, when I'm suddenly assaulted by the most gorgeous smell.  I look around frantically for the source and see two paper plates covered with aluminum foil sitting on our beach towel.

I point numbly to the plates and look up at him with excitement.

"What's that, Hon?"

"Um, they call it 'Casado,' I think."  He looks over at Emmanuel for confirmation.  "I got them from a guy down the beach."

"Si," Emmanuel smiles.  "A Casado is usually rice and black beans and maybe plantain and a..."

"Yeah!" Says Scottie.  "That's exactly what it is, rice beans, plantain and pork chop."

I've already popped the aluminum foil off and am sitting on the blanket,  looking around for a fork and napkin as I breath in the heavenly smell.

"Um, did you get forks, Hon?"

Scottie laughs and joins me on the towel as he hands me a fork.

"Here you go, Hon."

The fluffy rice produces a steam cloud when I stick my fork into it.  The creamy, dark, black beans make a gravy that cause me to smile.  The plantains are so sweet and soft that they almost melt in my mouth.  I lean over and rest my head on Scottie's shoulder.

"Thank you, Honey. I was so hungry."

"Thank you, Honey" he says looking deliberately into my eyes.  "I know your history with the ocean and I know this was really big deal for you. Thank you for doing this, Hon.  Thank you for trying surfing today."

I was inspired to write this blog by my fellow writer and blogger, Riva di Paola-Lombardi, who wrote this gorgeous piece, "Living in Motion," on her experience with water as a child.  Please check it out if you get a chance (it's a really quick read!)

Do you have your own love/hate affair with the water or the ocean?  Please leave it for me in the comments.  I'd love to hear your story!

Friday, August 11, 2017

How can you tell if someone is a vegan?

I can feel my breasts bouncing around wildly under my thin, cloth gown.  I glance over to the two men in lab coats standing with their arms folded to my left.  I want to place one of my arms under my breasts to keep them from flailing about, but they've told me to keep my arms in "L-shape" fast-walking motion.

They do this all day long.  They're not worried about your boobs.

"Turn it up a little," said Dr. Kivowitz, without a hint of a smile.


The ultrasound technician walks over and adjusts my treadmill.  Suddenly the air is filled with a loud, urgent-sounding whirring noise.  I take in a big gulp of air and try to fill my lungs down to my stomach like they'd instructed me to do earlier.  My legs are going so fast that I'm not sure that I'll be able to keep it up.  I picture the opening montage of the Six Million Dollar Man where Steve Austin runs on the treadmill from zero to sixty in under 2 seconds, causing TVs across America to blur and wave in the wake of his superhuman speed.


Both men move closer to the monitor next to me, nodding their heads along with my heart beat-display on the screen. Suddenly it feels like my lungs are filled with ice.  I don't know if I can take in a full breath.

No wonder they call this a "stress test!" I'm SOOOO out of shape!  I'm going to have to jump off! 

"Now!"Dr. Kivowitz's voiced booms out over the whine of the treadmill.

Thank God.

Dr Kivowitz moves dramatically aside as the technician turns the treadmill off and gently holds my left arm while he guides me down.  I am led quickly to an exam table in the next room where my gown is thrown aside so the he can get right up to my chest with his ultra sound wand.  EKG wires attached to adhesive buttons now surround both of my boobs (which are now completely exposed, but neither of them seem to care).  I can see my heart trying to leap out of my chest. I want to avoid their stern faces so I look up towards the ceiling and try to look unfazed.

The technician is silent for what seems an eternity.  My doctor stands back and watches a screen that's just out my line of sight.  The technician calls out a few numbers.  I hold my breath and try to hear the tone and inflection in my doctor's response.  Their voices are clinical, neither alarming nor encouraging.  I remain on tipped on my side (not the best position for my bare boobs) and wait for a verdict.

"Get dressed," he says finally, planting his feet in front of me while he reads the printout that the technician handed him.  His face conveys zero emotion.

Why do those two words kind of make me feel like some floozy street-walker from one of those old, black and white movies?

"Get dressed, Toots!  Go on -- get your clothes on.  My wife will be here any minute!"

"I'll meet you in my office,"  he says.

This time there's a gentleness to his voice.  I'm left alone to clumsily re-tie my open-back gown.

*  *  *

"Your heart looks great," he says, once I've sat in the big, leather armchair opposite his desk. "I don't see any cause for concern."

I am surprised to find tears springing into my eyes.

I guess somewhere inside I was worried that I would get different news...

"Oh good," I say gratefully.  "So, I'm all clear?"

"Well," he says picking up my chart, "not quite.  You do have some tiny specks of plaque in your carotid artery."

"Oh?" I feel the skin on my chest getting tight.  I take in a deep breath.  Suddenly, I can actually hear the blood drumming through the large vein on the right side of my neck.   I clasp my hands together in front of me and try not to look so petrified.

"It's not much now," he says waving his hand dismissively.  "But in 20, 30 years, this could cause you some problems."

In 20 years I'll be 70.  I don't want to have stroke when I'm 70.  I don't EVER want to have a stroke!

"Okay," I croak.  I clear my throat.  "So, what do I do?"

"Well," he says decidedly.  "I want you to take some preventative action NOW."

Preventative action?? Sh%$!  He wants to put me on medication!  I REALLY do NOT want to go on medication.

"I'd like for you to start eating less animal products," he says calmly.  "Stay away from red meat, egg yolks and cheese made from cow's milk.  Try to eat more vegetables than anything.  In fact, as much as possible, try to eat a plant-based diet."

No medication?!  YES!!! And I can TOTALLY do less animal products. This will be a cinch!!

"And that's all?" I ask.  I can hear the smile in my voice.  He smiles too.

"For now," he says cautiously.  "Let's see you back again in six months and see how your cholesterol and blood pressure are -- we'll also do another echocardiogram in the spring.  Then we'll see if we need to put you on any medication. But for now, like I said — really try to eat more of a plant-based diet."

*  *  *

"I've always said I should be a vegetarian," I say to Scott excitedly as I'm driving home.  "I could never kill anything.  In fact, I can't even eat any meat unless its disguised — like a cutlet.  I can't eat anything with moving parts."

"I know, Hon." He says patiently.  "I'm the one who cuts the chicken off the bone for you while you look away from the plate, remember?"

"I know, aren't you the sweetest? But I think this won't be a big deal for me.  There are so many vegan restaurants, food products, even vegan ice cream parlors.  This is the golden age of vegan!  I mean, I couldn't have picked a better time to do this, you know?"

"So," he says flatly.  "That's it? You're going vegan?"

"I mean, yeah.  Maybe not today, but my goal is to get animal-product free within this year."

 "Wow,"  He says.  "Are you on your way home now?"

"I'm going to straight to Whole Foods!" I hear my voice scaling up. "They have a whole vegan foods section!  I can buy all of my groceries for the rest of the week!"

"Okay," he says again.  I am curious about the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

He doesn't really understand why this is so great!

"Okay, I'll see you soon, Hon!"

My small shopping cart is full by the time I go to check-out.  I have 6-different kinds of vegan cheese, vegan sausage, vegan mayonnaise, vegan chorizo, vegan hot dogs, tofu and seitan (a vegan protein substitute made from wheat gluten — not the guy with horns from the underworld).  I have quinoa, couscous and farro.  I have zucchini, kale, olives and avocados.

I have vegan, sprouted wheat bread that has to stay refrigerated because its ALIVE.

I burst into the kitchen from the garage with two full grocery bags.  Immediately I know something is wrong.  I smell it even before I see him.

Scottie is making chicken meatballs with red sauce!

The smell awakens an unfamiliar panic in my stomach.  I force a smile on to my face as I unpack basically every item from the vegan section onto our kitchen counter.

"I got hungry so I made some dinner," says Scott as he sprinkles parmesan cheese on the salad he's just finished chopping.  "I've made enough for you if you want."

"No, I'm really excited to eat some of this vegan food," I say with a flash of irritation.

I put my groceries away and then slice open two vegan hot dogs, stuffing them with vegan "pepper jack" cheese and put them in my toaster oven.  I then toast two pieces of pieces of vegan sprouted bread and slather them both with vegan mayonnaise.  When the toaster oven "dings," I pull out the hot dogs and wrap them up in the mayonnaise-bread.

"Those look good," says Scott, dragging a fork-speared meatball through the red sauce on the bottom of his pasta bowl.  "Hot dogs, huh?"

I shrug, not wanting to meet his curious gaze.

I take a big bite of the "hot dog" as soon as I sit down at the table.  I freeze mid-chew -- all at once, I become very conscious of the look on my face.

This "cheese" doesn't taste at all like cheese and the hot dog is rubbery and its still cold in the middle.

"How is it?" asks Scott innocently, stuffing a forkful of salad into his mouth.

I hate him

"Pretty good," say.  Taking great effort to swallow normally.  "I think I'm going to try and make a tofu scramble for breakfast."

"Sounds good Hon," he says with a wink.

*  *  *

"How can you tell if someone's a vegan?"

I'm sitting with my friend, Victoria at the vegan, Mexican restaurant, Gracias Madre.  Victoria is the picture perfect California vegan.  Her blond hair is pulled back into a ponytail.  She wears a white, ribbed tank top, loose fitting pants and mala beads around her neck.  Her make-up-free face is dewy with a healthy, vibrant glow.  She and her husband, Tamal, have one of the most successful yoga studios in the country and she's created her own brand called, Nourishment Now. You can you look up Nourishment Now on Youtube and Instagram and see how she makes all of these amazing vegan recipes for her family.  Victoria and I have been friends since my kids were little, since before their son was born.  I love and admire how she's chosen to live her life.  Victoria always makes me presents of yummy vegan desserts that I would swear are full of lard and white sugar.  And although she's never once pushed me to embrace her lifestyle for myself, she's always left the door open for me to explore.

"I don't know," she smiles.  "How can you tell if someone is a vegan?"

"Don't worry — they're going to FU@#in' tell you!" I laugh.

She waits a beat then laughs with me, revealing a two perfect rows of white teeth.

"It's so true," she laughs.  "Vegans will totally tell you everything about the way they eat the moment you meet them!"

"I'm not going to be like that," I say putting a piece of cauliflower dripping with cashew "cheese" into my mouth.  "I'll never wear it like a badge."

Victoria puts her fork down and looks at me with big eyes.

"Are you -- are you going vegan?!"

I look back at her with a look that says, "Duh!" as I extend my arms, indicating the restaurant around us.

"Uhh, yeah! Look at this yumminess," I say.  "I could eat this every day!"

"Well, this is huge," she says raising her sparkling clear water glass like she's toasting me.

"Yeah," I say.  "Well, it was either this or risk going on medication.  And I don't want to go on medication, so my doctor said I should try to eat less animal products."

"Less or none?" she asked.

"Well, he said less — but I'm really heading toward eating none."

"That's really great!  How long have you been, um, eating LESS?"

I look toward the ceiling so that I can calculate.

I saw Dr. Kivowitz in August, so what's that?  Four, five months?

"Almost six months!" I say (rounding up) proudly.

"Wow!" she said.  "And I'm just hearing about this now?"

"I wanted to try it on first.  See what it was like."


I open my mouth to regale her with more tales of how much I love vegan food and how I'm totally animal-product-free now, but I close my mouth again and take a breath.

I think about the containers of unopened vegan cheese and sausage that I had to throw out because I'd put off eating them for so long that they'd expired.  I think about the seitan that was too salty and the tofu that was too bland.  I think about the rubbery, tasteless hot dogs.  I think about the five-pounds that I'd gained as a result of eating copious amounts of cashews, quinoa, farro and couscous.  I think about how many chicken and sage Applegate sausages and egg whites I'd had for breakfast in the last few months because Scottie made "extra."  I think of how many of Miles's "snout to tail" meals I've eaten because he'd cooked yet another irresistible, Sunday, family dinner (How can I possibly say no to my carnivore son?).

Wait a second!  That's it!!  I can totally be a vegan.  I just need someone to cook for me! Maybe Victoria can cook for me!! Or maybe I just need to find a vegan restaurant that I absolutely LOVE and get all of my meals from there.  Does Veggie Grill deliver?

"Honestly, its harder than I thought," I say, pulling myself out of my revery.  "I thought the vegan hot dogs I bought from Whole Foods would taste, well more  -- like hot dogs.  I thought being a vegan would make me LOSE WEIGHT but I've gained five pounds from all those nuts and grains I've been eating.  And I hate having to cook for myself every day because no one else in my house eats the way I've been eating."

I look up sheepishly, expecting to see her face clouded with judgment.  Instead she is smiling kindly.

"It's a journey," she says, "you'll get there.  And I know what you mean about those hot dogs.  I don't buy too much pre-prepared vegan food.  I mostly make my own and it tastes SO good!  I  can give you some yummy, easy recipes."

Recipes?!  Can those come with a private chef?

"And I've brought you something too!" She continues.

She pulls out a rectangular, brown, recycled-material to-go box, tied with a pretty, white ribbon.

"Vegan chocolate mini-muffins -- your favorite!" She beams.

My stomach growls at the thought of the sweet, moist, dark chocolate muffins.  Last time she gave them to me, I devoured seven of them in the car on the way home.

"Yay!! Thank you!" I say, meaning it.  My eyes dancing with anticipation.

"I'll give you this recipe too," she says accepting my impulsive, grateful hug and kiss on the cheek.

"These are super easy to make. It's a quick bake."

Ugh - baking

 *  *  *

That night I dream that Scottie and I are eating dinner at Mastro's Steak House.  I can actually smell the savory, butteriness of the ribeye steak that comes to the table in the sizzling cast-iron pan.  I can feel the creamy, unctuous texture of the lobster macaroni and cheese against my tongue.  And before I can get a forkful of their signature, warm, butter cake into my mouth, I am rudely jolted awake by the sound of my iPhone alarm.

I walk into the kitchen, saying nothing as I observe Scottie cutting up fruit and heating up chicken breakfast sausages in coconut oil on the stove.

"Good morning!" he says looking at my expression.  "Everything ok?"

"Fine," I say, almost under my breath.  "You're making sausages again? I was going to make one of those vegan smoothies that Victoria sent me the recipe for."  I sound like a petulant five-year-old.

"Oh good!" he smiles, ignoring my obvious attempt to gain some sympathy.  "I'll take some smoothie too, Hon -- if you have extra."

Sure, what does he care?  Of course he'll take some too.  He's eating sausages and I'll bet he's having eggs with cheese as well.

"I don't know about this vegan thing," I say finally, setting my elbows on the counter and cupping my face with my hands.  "It seems so restrictive."

Scott laughs out loud. "Well, it is.  You're giving up a lot of the foods that you love.  But, Honey, I admire how hard you work at taking care of yourself, your workouts, tennis, how careful you are about what you eat.  You're doing amazing.  Maybe you don't want to try and just eliminate everything at once.  Maybe you ease into it."

"I didn't know it would be this hard, Hon.   But I really don't want to have to go on medication."
My voice is almost a whisper.  It's the second time I've uttered that sentence in 24-hours.

"Hey," he says gently chucking me under the chin.  "Maybe you should talk to your dad and see what he thinks."

"Yeah, maybe," I chew the side of my finger tip and look off into space.  "But I think I already know what he's going to say."

*  *  *


For the first time in a long time, I'm reluctant to be honest with my dad.  As a doctor himself, he had already peppered me with a bunch of questions when I told him about Dr. Kivowitz's echocardiogram findings.

"What was the systolic number?  What was your total cholesterol reading?  Your LDL?  Your HDL?" 

Having been a vegetarian all of my adult life and now a vegan for the past decade or so, my dad rejoiced in the news that I was finally going to have to "go vegan" (per the suggestion of my doctor/cardiologist).  But I hadn't yet had the heart to tell him that I wasn't EXACTLY, totally on board with complete and total veganism - YET.

"So, Daddy," I say finally.  "You know I'm trying not to eat meat..."

"Good!" he says interrupting me.  "Meat is poison."

"Yes, well," I continue.  "I was thinking about maybe doing no red meat, but still eating SOME chicken and turkey for a while."

"Chicken and Turkey are the WORST things you can eat!" His voice is deep with the seriousness of the message he is trying to convey.

"The worst?" My tone is one of disbelief.  "Really, worse than red meat?"

"THE WORST," he says emphatically.

"What about fish?  I eat only wild caught salmon and tuna..."

"FISH?!?" He says FISH as though I've suggested shooting heroin.

"Fish is MEAT, Laura.  Fish is the worst of all of them!"

I smile wryly and look at my phone.

"The worst, eh?  So no red meat, no poultry and definitely no fish."

"No POISON," he says dramatically.

"What about egg whites?"

"I take it back," he says.  "Eggs may be the worst thing that you can eat --  eggs and cheese."

"Not even feta or goat cheese?  My anti-aging OBGYN says those are the only cheeses I should eat."

"Look," he says, softening his voice.  "Do you want to be free of disease?  Free of illness, less susceptible to injury?  Live, healthier, longer?  Then the answer is stop POISONING yourself with meat.  Meat eaters get diseases and have heart attacks and strokes.  Those little specks of plaque that your doctor saw?  That can all be reversed if you cut out ALL animal products and start eating a plant-based diet.  You will not need to go on medication."

"Okay, thank you, Daddy. I hear you."

*  *  *

It's now been almost two-years since that fateful stress test and I've greatly eliminated the amount of animal products I eat on a daily basis.  My last echocardiogram was much better, showing a significant reduction in the "specks" and a completely clean heart scan.

When eating out, I LOVE a vegan restaurant (RFD, Sage, Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude, Crossroads, Stuff i Eat, Sun Cafe, even Veggie Grill) but I'll still eat the occasional spaghetti bolognese at Jon and Vinnys or carnitas taco from Guisados.

I do make small changes toward veganism wherever possible.  For instance: Scottie and I use a non-dairy coconut creamer in our coffee each morning; I use an olive oil spread on my sprouted wheat toast (instead of butter) and I ALWAYS get my Matcha green tea with almond or coconut milk. Scottie makes Victoria's zucchini "pasta" recipe for me (he spins zucchini on a special "spiralizor," making long, thin "pasta").  I eat bowls of this with vegan pesto or just garlic, olive oil and vegan "parmesan cheese"  (so, so good!!)

I have a freezer full of vegan ice cream and "Beyond Burgers" (which I saw on TV and found at Whole Foods). I eat these vegan burgers smothered in mushrooms, onions and melted Chai vegan cheese (Triple YUM!).  And of course, I make Victoria's famous smoothies almost every morning for breakfast (which is now a favorite of all of my friends).

I'm steady working toward a healthier, hopefully disease-free life.  I know my dad is right.  I know my doctor spoke the truth.  I'm just giving myself a little more time to get there.

 Please leave me your own"going vegan" story in the comments.  I'm really curious to hear how you did it (or how you attempted to do it). Thank you!