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Day 4 – I drank the Kool-Aid. No, wait, it was just water with cloves in it.

sunrise
Sunrise on the final day…

And did you know that water with cloves in it is super yummy? It has a nice little spice/tang to it. Never thought of that before, but I’ve really enjoyed it the whole time I was there. I even sometimes added some of my pomegranate flavoring (I know, I know, that stuff is probably horribly bad for me), but it tasted amazingly good when it was mixed with the tang of the cloves.

But to get more to the point.

I’m a vegetarian now.

No, I’m not joking.

Yes, it will last.

To be fair, the idea of becoming a vegetarian is possibly the fault of Ron John. No, not the surf shop, although that would be pretty damn funny. I fully place the blame on my ex-boss and his boy toy. (I just think it’s fun to call them Ron John, kind of like Brangilina…) Because of postings that I saw from them, I went down to eating meat once a day. And I was good with it, but I would sometimes eat meat twice a day, and then I’d go a few days without eating it at all. But it wasn’t a “thing.” It was an effort, and not necessarily anything I thought I’d go on with forever.

That last day of the retreat though, I went for my early morning walk, and I realized that while we’d been planning a big steak dinner to celebrate our anniversary and my coming back home, I had no urge to eat the steak. It was completely unattractive to me. I thought maybe I’d eat some mashed potatoes and whatever veg there was on the plate, but the streak…no. Just no.

crawfish
This craw fish clearly didn’t know I wasn’t a threat. When he saw me coming on the path, he tossed his little claw into the airs with a threatening “I’ll cut ya!” stance. (I wasn’t actually afraid of him, but I avoided him anyway.)

I text Patrick and asked him how he’d feel if we didn’t have steak, and, by the way, how did he feel about it if I was a vegetarian? Like from now on?

To his total credit, he didn’t bat an eye. I went into super reassurance mode – I wouldn’t stop him from eating meat, I didn’t want to force him to change, yadda yadda yadda. He was totally fine with it. If I didn’t eat meat, it didn’t bother him, and if that meant we’d have some meatless meals, then we’d have some meatless meals.

I talked to one of the hosts there to find out about going vegetarian, and she had some advice about proteins, how to break it to people that I wasn’t eating meat any more, and reassured me that, as long as it was in my heart, I’d stick with it. She even offered to do a little ceremony where I could make a promise and get a ring to help remember my feelings. That felt a bit overdone to me, but I could understand why it might help.

Getting in the car after packing up was like breaking some kind of spell. Getting my keys out of my purse, where they’d be sitting for days, waiting patiently. I hadn’t even thought of them. I didn’t want to go anywhere while I was there, and part of me worried that I had somehow forgotten to drive. But it was time to get in the Jeep and go home.

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten how to drive, and I never exceeded the speed limit on the way home. (Fact checking note: The speed limit, in fact, may have been exceeded on the way home.)

honey grove texas building
My favorite building in Honey Grove, Texas!

My Google-Fu on the drive had hit its weak spot. It didn’t take me home the same way I had gotten there, so some of the images I had hoped to capture on my camera didn’t show up. The drive was slightly faster, but not enough to make up for the lack of sightseeing. Boo, Google! Boo!

On the way home, I stopped at a Starbucks. My first since Friday. I are my sandwich and drank my coffee and wondered how it would feel to get back on Facebook. Part of me almost wished I could skip it forever – walk away from FB. But the lure of the connections were strong, plus it had started sending me nasty emails, reminding me that I had people “waiting” on me. Really, FB? Getting rather clingy there. It’s not attractive when you get like that.

But I logged in. Checked in on what I’d missed. Not a lot.

I was back to reality.

Oh, and, by the way, I’ve already booked a meditation retreat for the end of June. I’m ready to go!

(And if anyone has a good website or two with vegetarian meals, please share them with me!)

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Day 3 – It’s official. I’ve joined a cult.

The day began waaaay too early. Like 2 a.m. early. A massive thunderstorm was moving through, and it woke me up, which was actually for the best since I had fallen asleep with my computer plugged in. I assumed the ashram wasn’t much for surge protection, so I yanked the plug from the wall, turned over, and tried to get back to sleep.

spider bite on foot
Seriously, this was two days after the bite. It was so swollen I had to loosen my sandal to make it fit. Maybe not the best decision to ignore it, but now it’s gone down to a bruise. Whew.

My fear of bugs and the super-itchy bug bite on my foot kept me tossing and turning for a while.

When I did finally fall asleep again, I got woken up at 6 a.m. by the quacking of my duck alarm. I reset it for 7 a.m. and went back to sleep.

My original plan had been to wake up at 6 and take a nice long, relaxing walk, shower, and head to mantras and breakfast (with more super yummy chai tea!). But with the rain coming out of the heavens at bullet velocity, I thought staying in my bed and getting a bit extra sleep might be a better option.

At 7, I woke up again and realized I didn’t have the urge to immediately check Facebook or my email. For the first time since I couldn’t remember when. My FB craving was subsiding, although I was still automatically and unthinkingly flipping to it on my phone, but I’d still managed to avoid actually opening it since I had checked in at lunch on Friday afternoon.

I climbed out of bed and decided to run through a quick shower, hopefully a more successful one than on day two.

Aaaaaand I got stopped at the end of the hallway again.

More spiders.

In front of each bathroom door.

Like they were taunting me.

I froze and made some sort of unintelligible sound, which alerted another person near me of the spiders’ presence.

She apparently was not a complete arachnaphobe.

She held them at bay while I dashed into one of the bathrooms – the good one! – and took a fast shower.

I re-read the sign next to the mirror. (I read that sign a lot.)

One of the instructions on the list, all about maintaining the bathroom and the purpose of the ashram, told us to look in the mirror and say “I love you.” I couldn’t do it without wanting to giggle hysterically, so I changed it up a little, and I instead would, after my shower or after washing my hands – point a finger at the mirror and say, “Who loves ya, babe?” Does that count?

The day went too quickly. I spent it reading, writing, drawing, and mostly just enjoying the quiet and peace. I kept realizing I’d be going home the next day, and yet I still hadn’t mastered the greeting of Jai Siddhatma. Maybe on the next trip. Yes, I was already thinking of my next trip.

turtle in the grass
No, I didn’t think about eating this turtle. I just saw him on my walk after the rain and thought he was cute.

Our group had dwindled by lunch, and the hosts, who had previously eaten nearby but not at our tables, came and joined us for food. One of them talked a lot about vegetarianism and how it had come to her. She talked about “eating the suffering” of the animals. Plants, she said, only had one sense – touch – and so they didn’t suffer as much as animals who had all five senses. But when we ate any food, she said, we ate the suffering of it. So if we ate plants, we would not consume as much suffering.

Maybe that sounds corny. I don’t know. But it made sense to me. I kept thinking about it. I had already begun reducing meat in my life – going down to meat one or less time a day – but what if I did more? I hadn’t had a headache since showing up, and I felt good, better than I had in a long time. And I hadn’t eaten meat or craved it at all since I’d gotten there. Maybe…

colored pencils
The most amazingly cute little colored pencils in the universe. With a normal size pencil next to them for scale.

One truly awesome thing happened in the afternoon – my shower savior had borrowed my colored pencils because a friend had given her some for the trip. But they were miniature pencils. Super, super miniature. And while she liked them, she couldn’t use them without her hand cramping. So she asked to borrow my pencils (which were full size), and I happily handed them over because I also had thin colored Sharpies with me. Well, she liked my pencils so much, and I liked her minis so much, that she traded them with me! Super score! She was thrilled, I was thrilled, and now I have cool cool cool colored pencils!

At dinner, we found out that one of the hosts who was in training to be a monk was going to be teaching a free meditation class. It was his first teaching opportunity, and we were all invited.

I’d already been in the yoga/meditation building, and it was an awesome place.

The meditation class was just as awesome. I know it was his first one, and he was nervous, but he was sincere and knowledgeable. I had wondered a bit about how it would go since, when he does the mantras, his voice is always slightly off from the group, but when he was leading the meditation, he seemed more focused, and his voice was relaxing and right on track.

He spoke to us, got us breathing, and then told us to meditate for 20 minutes.

I shifted once – my foot was still bothering me from the bug bite – and only a few minutes after I shifted back, he started moving us out of it.

I had just meditated for 20 minutes! Twenty minutes! How had that happened? Where had the time gone? In the past, when I’d meditated, I’d spent most of it trying to meditate. This time, I thought I had actually achieved it. It was an amazing feeling, and I went back to the ashram feeling refreshed.

Now, I hate to be judgmental and bitchy…no, wait, I don’t. But still. There was one chick at the retreat who was doing a water cleanse. A serious, serious water cleanse. She had done a 20 day water cleanse last year, and had returned to do a 30 days one. Yes, you read that right. Thirty days with only water. We never saw her. She stayed in her room, came out to shower, brush her teeth, get water. That was it. Otherwise, you didn’t even know she was there.

Except for her roommate.

Crazy water-cleanse girl had opted to have a roommate.

But she was crazy. The water-cleanser, that is. She didn’t want her roommate to turn on the light, make noise, or, well, exist.

My take on it is simple – get your own room then! Yes, I know it costs more, but if the cleanse is something so intensely private or if its makes you that super sensitive and cranky, then you need to be alone. But, no, she had a roommate.

And her roommate didn’t want to room with her if she could help it.

I invited her to use the spare bed in my room. Even though I had a single, each room had two beds in it.

And that’s how I wound up spending most of the night with a queer* feminist slam poet (who, btw, is awesome!) in the spare bed. To make matters weird, when I woke up at 6:30, she was gone. I had to wonder what I had done to chase her away. I half didn’t want to ask, but after a walk, shower, and mantras, I asked her over breakfast (super yummy oatmeal with fresh cut fruit) if I had snored too loud or done something weird to chase her away. She reassured me that it was the spare bed – there were no sheets, and the mattress cover bothered her enough that she went back to her room. So hopefully she was telling the truth and I hadn’t been muttering some crazy ass shit in my sleep. It could happen.

*I wanted to note that this was her personal word choice for her sexual identification. I would not presume to call her queer otherwise.

(I’ve been told that apparently I’m mocking this too much…people are asking me if I actually enjoyed it. My response is simple: it was life changing. Honestly and truly. I loved it. It was unbelievably special to me. However, who the hell can take anything that seriously? If you’re looking for something serious, then you’ve come to the wrong place. There are very few things that I take too seriously…)

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Day One at the Ashram: Wait, we were supposed to bring our own towels?

It began at home, obviously. I woke up to an awesome breakfast of bacon and eggs. Bacon because I was going to be going three days without meat, and I felt like I should gird my loins. Which, after I write it, sounds really, really bad, like some sort of breakfast meat underwear. Ew.

So I ate my bacon (that sounds better, right?), and then it was road trip time. Once I’d packed. I’d left it to the absolute last minute, as I often do, but luckily I didn’t need too much for the trip, and I had a nice long list to follow.

Thinking that the journey should be its own reward, or some crap like that, I ignored Google’s suggested route and took the side roads through nowhere.

And I mean nowhere.

I hadn’t realize how many little country roads – with speeds ranging from 30 to 75 – I’d be traveling down. Most of them were nearly identical when it came down to it. I’d either be passing abandoned, decrepit, broken down, burned down, “no trespassing” houses, barns, and building, or I’d be passing things that just..well, defied easy classification. I couldn’t tell if they were flea markets, tent cities, or just hoarders who had spilled out of their homes and trailers.

Part of that problem was because of the weather. It rained. And rained. And rained. And rained.

It went from so heavy I couldn’t see, the cars around me were doing 30, and there had to be a good two inches of water on the road to a light drizzle. I almost preferred the heavily rain because, as I had discovered upon setting out, the Jeep was out of washer fluid, and so when it was just drizzling, the windshield got dirty.

For a while there, the road was further slowed down because, while the rain had – a rare instance for the drive so far – stopped, there was half a house up ahead. I couldn’t tell if it was the left or right side. Then it pulled off to reunite with the other half house. Everyone picked up speed…and then slammed on their brakes as the rain began again.

Going slow had some advantages, though. I quickly learned that NE Texas is the cemetery capital of, well, probably the universe. I lost track of the number of cemeteries I drove past. Even with my backwoods, twisty, turning driving path, there were more cemeteries than there were turns. In a lot of cases, I would have bet that there were more people in the cemeteries than the towns I was driving through. They ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand. One claimed to have a population of 777 on their sign, but I think that they just made up the number for the symmetry of it.

And then I got lost. Okay, to be fair, I got lost four times. But only one really mattered, and that was when I was in one of the little funky – and scary – towns along the way, not more than 10 miles from my destination.

It was kind of an awesome town, and if I hadn’t been lost in it, I would have enjoyed it. The houses were old, and half were restored but half were falling down. There was a leather shop that advertised motorcycle gear. It was funky with a capital funk. But when I took a wrong turn, my phone’s GPS decided that I had entered a black hole, and it pretended not to see me anymore. I had to keep twisting and turning down roads, including one that led me past some public housing that had what looked like a guard house, complete with dog chained in the front yard, at the end of it.

Then I arrived. Town’s population: 199.

path 1I followed what I thought was the right trail to parking, went to grab another gulp of water, and turned to find a blonde guy, dressed all in white, sporting a pony tail and lots of tattoos, looking in my car window. It was a cult!

Joking.

No, it was one of the guys who lives here, and he was helping me check in. He brought me into the main ashram, got me settled up with my bill, and then led me to the ashram I’d be staying in.

There were five people hanging around – two guys, three girls. All of them had their cell phones next to them. Two were friending each other on Facebook. I began to question how far away from everything I had gotten.

And then I learned that I was supposed to bring my own towel. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one, though, because they have them on request.

room 8After I settled into my room, I hung around a bit, then headed to mantra class.

Ah, mantra class.

On the plus side – they have cheat sheets! You don’t have to memorize anything, except the exact pronunciations. All the words are in front of you, along with their meanings. I’m totally planning on swiping one of the print outs to take home with me. The mantras are actually very cool, very relaxing, and very interesting.

After we did the mantras, which last about twenty minutes, then we ate dinner. Vegetarian.

And I learned a lot of stuff about the people I’d be bunking up with.

First, there was water cleanse girl. She’d been on the cleanse for almost 24 hours before she broke and decided that she was too hungry to keep doing it. She ate her dinner – a big dinner (rice, beans, veggies) – and remarked at how surprised she was that her stomach hadn’t shrunk after 24 hours without food. I pointed out that was only a day, and she’d already had a few handfuls of the trail mix (does that count as granola?) in the ashram.

Next up was the silent retreat girl. She hadn’t been silent so far. But she had the best of intentions to be silent sooner or later. She was straight out of a sorority, wearing a t-shirt from her sisters that said “I didn’t go to college to find a husband. I went to find my bridesmaids.” Go higher education! She also mentioned that she had some jerky in her room. Someone at the dinner table pointed out that you weren’t allowed to bring any meat on the premises. She said, “Oops. My life coach didn’t warn me not to bring it!”

Dinner ended, and I decided to explore the property a bit. It’s big. And pretty. When the road on the property ended, I head out onto the shoulder of the highway to reach the other entrance. I found a dead skunk. Its eye was staring up at me. And, yes, there was only one eye left. I didn’t say the dead skunk was all in one piece. Plus there were cigarette butts and a squished “Sutter Home” plastic bottle. Apparently the skunk had been having some sort of pathetic party by the side of the road.

ashramI headed to bed early – most people here apparently go to sleep at 10. It wasn’t until I was fully settled into bed, covered up and comfy, that I realized that there is a distinct lack of locks in the ashram. The bathroom doors have locks, yes, but I have a feeling that a feverish two-year old could bust those locks.

The locks aren’t really such a big problem. I don’t feel unsafe about anyone here, and the place is set well back, has gates and barbed wire (although I think that’s more to keep wildlife out), and is in this itty bitty town. But…zombies. The number of cemeteries around here tells me that if there is a zombie uprising, I’m going to be surrounded pretty quickly. How will I be able to protect myself if I can’t even lock the ashram? I’m just saying – if zombies do show up anytime before Monday afternoon, I might have a problem on my hands.

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Vegan? Vegetarian?

Showing angus steer at the Prince George's County fair.
Showing angus steer at the Prince George’s County fair.
USDA Photo by: Bill Tarpenning

Yeah, that’s never going to happen.

Here’s the thing – I almost wish it would.  Part of me wants to be a vegetarian.  I watch movies like Vegucated.  I read about famous people who are going to Twitter their vegan journey.  But then I watch a comedian like Jim Gaffigan, and he tells a joke that is me.  “I’m a vegetarian, but not a strict vegetarian. I eat beef and pork. And chicken. But not fish.”

Every time I say I want to go vegetarian, I forget.  I go to an Italian place and order a meatball sub.  I eat a few salads, and then crave a steak.  I can’t imagine eating tempeh or seitan or any of those other proteins that remind me of snot.  (Sure, I like tofu, when it’s fried…but I’m not sure that really is much healthier for me than any of the unhealthy “meat” options I like.)

And the biggest problem of them all – I’m not meant to be a vegetarian.  I’m a predator.  My eyes are in front.  I’m meant to hunt, and not just vegetables.  My teeth tell me I’m an omnivore.  They aren’t meant for just eating fruit and veg.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t pay attention to what I eat, and that I don’t try to always make sure I’m buying the most “friendly” food possible, but I just can’t imagine not eating meat.  Or eggs.  Or cheese.

So please, no hatred of my non-vegan ways.  I don’t buy furs.  But I buy leather.  I buy eggs from cage-free hens.  I refuse to eat veal.  But give me a steak any day.