One Month At A Time

Going Vegan! At Long Last!

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Ben&jerry

Walk (and by walk, I mean walk slowly or maybe skip entirely), don’t run toward this stuff.

I was so excited when I heard Ben & Jerry’s was doing a non-dairy line.

I wanted to try it. I ranted and raged when I couldn’t get it. I sent emails to their headquarters complaining that my neighborhood store wasn’t part of their distribution chain. I wanted to have vegan ice cream that was just like the real thing, and I thought, if anybody could pull it off, it had to be to Ben & Jerry’s.

Yeah, about that…

This stuff is sweet, but kind of thin. It is reminiscent in taste to grocery store brand ice milk. It’s not remotely as creamy or as rich as the regular stuff. The brownie chunks taste ok, but have the grainy texture of the inside of an old, foam pillow.

It’s like diet vegan ice cream for people who hate themselves a little.

Honestly, they should have skipped the almond milk and gone with cashew milk, which does taste good in vegan ice cream. I had a pint from the SO Delicious company a few weeks ago, and it was pretty fantastic.

This was not great.

I don’t like it, and don’t see myself buying more –or, really, any of Ben & Jerry’s other products. If Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy frozen desserts are all made with almond milk, they’re all going to have the same base problem, regardless of whatever flavors they jam into the carton.

I am so disappointed.

I bought this stuff at Target, if you want to give it a shot.

Going Vegan! Tamarack

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I was sorting through my options at the grille at Tamarack and not finding much when an attendant approached.

“If you need any help, let me know,” she said, cheerfully.

I raised my hand slowly, indicating that I had questions.

“I’m a vegan,” I told her.

She laughed. I was hilarious, but when I didn’t laugh with her, she asked, “Are you serious?”

“Yep,” I told her. “I’m a vegan, and I’m having some trouble figuring out what to get here.”

She stared at the menu, started looking, too, and began asking me the usual questions: Do you eat cheese? Do you eat eggs? Do you drink milk? What about fish?

I shook my head.

On its face, stopping at Tamarack for lunch sounded like such a good idea. I wanted to check for something that might be Virginia Diner peanuts (the best peanuts ever), take a look at the art (always, I’m looking for a story), and get a bite to eat. I was coming back from Virginia, hadn’t really had the heart to wade into a chain restaurant and try to find something that wasn’t a handful of iceberg lettuce sprinkled with Styrofoam-like carrot slivers.

Bon Apetit, loser. Want a plain baked potato and an ice water to go with that?

Dining out as a vegan can be rough, but Tamarack seemed promising.

With the artsy, tourist-y nature of the facility getting a reasonable vegan meal seemed like a pretty safe bet. While vegans probably don’t roll through every day, they’re bound to happen along occasionally. Surely, they had a black bean burger tucked away in the freezer, maybe a festive citrus salad with nuts or even grilled eggplant?

That would have been great, but nope.

What they had was a collection of sides, most of which looked like they were probably cooked with butter or pork or deep-fried. While I’m not overly fussy about meat contamination, I worked in restaurants enough to know that cross pollination between fryers is pretty common. I didn’t want cheese or chicken in my French fries –and also, I can get French fries at your better gas stations.

Dining out is supposed to be a little special. At least, dining out at someplace like Tamarack, I thought, was supposed to be special.

Finally, I said, “You know, I’m just going to go with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the Kids’ menu and maybe get a salad.”

Helpfully, she added that the vinaigrette was safe.

tamarack
Unofficially, the vegan option at Tamarack.

It wasn’t bad. The peanut butter was room temperature instead of ice cold and clotted. I got the sandwich on my choice of bread, which was wheat. The salad, while nothing to write home about, was at least a step up from the bagged and tagged stuff you see at your lower tier fast food places.

On the plus side, the fountain drinks came with free refills (I had two cokes), and the little restaurant was located just across the way for The Greenbrier store. I got some peanuts there. They weren’t as good as the Virginia Diner peanuts, but they were pretty good. I had a couple of handfuls of those with lunch, too, and found two artists I kind of want to write about.

So, not exactly a rousing success.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard great things about Sheetz. More later.

Let There Be Yoga! Back to the mat

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After about 11 days off, I finally got back to yoga.

I really hadn’t meant to be away for so long –and I started feeling it.

It wasn’t that I felt my joints stiffening up or that I started feeling weaker. I felt anxious, agitated.

One of the things I got out of yoga in March was an hour several times a week where I was forced to get out of my head, forced to step away from the job.

I am not complaining about what I do. I like what I do, but sometimes there’s a lot to get done, a lot of different people trying to get my attention, and a lot of things to cover –and I have a real problem with editing my day. Sometimes, every story feels too good to pass up, and I will bite off more than I can chew.

The best part about the yoga was it’s really hard to think about community theater, handguns, distilleries, or “Mountain Stage” when you’re going through a series of sun salutations and just trying to keep up with the teachers instructions.

And afterwards, I felt great, I felt refreshed –though, occasionally, a little sore in weird places.

I missed that, too.

So, I took a Yin Express class, taught by Traci Levine, a gentler class than I thought I wanted, but it was the only class I could fit into my week.With the gun series moving forward, it’s been kind of a monster.

It was more restorative than challenging –restorative tends to indicate meditative or slower paced, but it turned out that it gave me exactly what I needed.

I felt awesome afterwards.

So, I’m back on the mat, interested to see where it takes me, and looking for different kinds of classes to try.

Send me invites, and I’ll try to fit it in.

Also, I’ll take some pictures. Even I’m getting tired of the gnome.

Going Vegan: Vegan Cheese!

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Over and over I’ve heard from people about going vegan, “I would, but I could never give up cheese.”

I completely understand. One of my favorite things when I was out shopping was to hit the cheese aisle at Celebrity Kroger’s or look through the cold case at the Wine and Cheese shop at the Capitol Market. There were always a dozen tasty (if pricey) options, and more often than not, I walked away with $15 worth of creamy Latverian goat cheese –or about a quarter pound.

It was good stuff. I remember cheese, even if I don’t particularly crave it these days.

Still, I miss having the occasional grilled cheese sandwich, and would like to have a pizza sometime that isn’t just carpeted by mushrooms, peppers, and olive.

That seems a lot more possible than I would have expected.

ChaoCheeseLG
Honestly, it’s amazing.

Eric Eyre brought me a package of this stuff and told me to give it a try. It was hands down awesome, tasted pretty much like the stuff made with milk –and it melted. So, this weekend, I made a portabello mushroom burger (yes, those are edible) with lettuce, peppers, veganese (yes, it’s a thing), and a slice of CHAO cheese.

I nearly wept. It was that good.

Looking around, CHAO is available at Healthy Life Market for about five bucks a package (I think), but you can probably find it anyplace that sells a lot of vegan/vegatarian food items (Pretty much a couple of Kroger stores and Walmart).

I’m going to be buying more of this.

Let There Be Yoga! Brother, can you spare a mat.

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The Elk Community and Education Center is a re-purposed elementary school, nestled away from the main road, and hidden back behind a bank and a Dairy Queen. It acts as the local senior activity center. They serve breakfast, offer a few classes, and a group of old men meet most days to shoot pool, which is probably as good a thing for them to do, and cheaper than sucking down bitter, lukewarm coffee at a burger joint.

Tuesday nights, they have a yoga class. Some nights, the class is oversaw, unofficially, by a man named Bruce, who isn’t licensed to teach yoga, but has practiced it for years.

Terry, who helps run the center, explained, “He’s been everywhere. He’s been to the ashrams in India. He knows his stuff.”

Bruce was in California this week, however.

So, what we had was a television, a VCR, and an old beginners yoga tape that looked like it came from the waning days of the Clinton administration.

Terry apologized for the low-tech, low-rent situation. They would love to have an actual instructor.

“But there’s no money.”

We did the best we could with what we had. A half dozen of us practiced poses while standing on mats and bathroom towels, but without the benefit of props like straps, blocks, or bolsters.

I had a little bit of an advantage. While I haven’t learned enough to be useful to anybody else, I did know how to adjust into most of the poses, and felt fairly confident I was getting them right. I understood what the television guru was talking about when he started explaining about the breath and controlling it.

I don’t know about anybody else.

What was a little heartbreaking was the people who came out were earnest. It was a humble community program in a center that caters to older people, the kind of people who might really benefit from the stretches, the strength training, and even the mental exercises that yoga offers.

There’s just no money to hire someone to teach, and not much of an incentive to get someone to take the center on. Building a class of even low or non-paying students wouldn’t be instant. It would take time and a lot of patience.

To me, it seems like their problems with their community center and yoga seem like a metaphor for the entire state of West Virginia. There’s some decent space to work with, some people interested in doing some kind of work, but little means to attract the investment or energy to try to make it work.

I’d love to help them. I’m not sure how.

Maybe I’ll have some ideas after next month.

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I’m working on some meaningful things to write about yoga. The trick with this is that there are few pictures. I keep bringing a camera, but it’s hard to take photos when you’re doing downward facing dog. Basically, you’re not shooting anything anyone wants to see in a family friendly newspaper. I could let the instructor shoot photos, but imagine that might interfere with teaching the class.

Also, I’m pretty sure the paper wouldn’t pay them for the pictures.

In any case, what I can talk about is where we are with classes. At this point, at The Folded Leaf, I’ve taken Basic Hatha, Yin, Gentle Yoga, Basic Vinyasa, Saturday Early Bird and the potluck community yoga class, which varies according to the instructor I think, but is probably generally sort of gentle.

The goal is by the end of this month to give hot Vinyasa and Hot yoga a shot, but I’ve also got to fit in some classes at the YMCA and at the Elkview Community Center –that’s my neighborhood yoga.

I actually meant to go to Elkview Community Center last week, which, according to the web, is about six minutes from my house.

It’s also conveniently located near a Dairy Queen, which would have mattered a lot more a few months ago, but I didn’t know this when I went out looking for the community center last Tuesday. Nope, I just glanced at the screen on my laptop, grabbed my purple mat, and dragged my 10 year-old to try some local yoga.

If things went well, we could stop and get the boy a cone. I might try one of the Orange Julius things. I’ve read some of them are vegan, which is probably mostly wishful thinking. The only place less vegan sounding than a Dairy Queen is a Lonestar Steakhouse.

Luckily, things went very badly.

Ten minutes into the drive, I started swearing and openly wondering where I’d missed my turn.

The kid, meanwhile, stared out the window at the passing landscape wistfully while I ranted about the $#@%* internet and then Elkview.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten turned around while looking for something in the vicinity of Elkview. For me, the place is like the Bermuda Triangle. I’ve lived near Elkview for years, but have no idea where anything is. At Christmas, we missed making cards with the Cub Scouts because I drove us around for half an hour before finally giving up and going home. Holiday team and craft building exercises would be damned, I said.

Afterwards, there was quite a bit of grumbling then, along with eventual apologies for once again screwing up Scout night.

The kid just sighed and said, “It’s OK.”

So, we drove around until, fed up, I plugged in the GPS and the preceded to guesstimate the address.

That went not-so-well, too, and took me halfway to Clendenin until I drove back toward Elkview and looked the address up on my phone. From there, it only took a minute to find the place, but we were half an hour late.

So, no local yoga. We went home, where I sulked while he watched cartoons.

But tonight, I’m going. I got my directions. I know how to get there. I’m bringing the kid. There may be a frozen treat afterwards, if not for me, then for him.

I can do this.

Let There Be Yoga! A little late…

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It’s taken a little while to get started with blogging about yoga month –actually, about as long as it took me to find my yoga mat, which was dumped in the back of a closet and needed to washed a bit.

It may be that my cat took offense with it at some point.

Also, it’s taken me some time to find a thread worth blogging about.

Things I’ve learned, so far, about going to yoga class.

1-If you have to change clothes between yoga and work, it’s better to do it at the studio. The choice is to stand in your sock feet in a little room that mostly sees nicely dressed yoga practitioners, but also happens to have a toilet, or stand in your sock feet inside a men’s room stall used by dozens of workers, some of whom aren’t all that concerned about aim.

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Choose the yoga studio bathroom. It’s nicer and doesn’t smell like old sardines.

2- Show up early, not because class will start early, but because the older ladies like to talk and pretty much all of them remind you of your Aunt Joyce. Also, some of them are following my progress, and it’s cool to get a high five from a 74-year-old lady who is more flexible than you.

3-Do not try to compete with Chelsea. Just don’t. You’ll break your spine. And try not to stare. Chelsea could probably kill you. You be you. Let Chelsea be the yoga queen.

4-The music inside the yoga studio is one part Indian Ashram, one part New Age mood music, and two parts stuff leftover stuff from some unnamed Pink Floyd album.

floyd

Namaste, you crazy diamond. Namaste.

5-Sarah at Sarah’s Bakery will always encourage you with your yoga practice. Nothing in her store is vegan, except maybe the bottled water. The baked goods, however, are really pretty and smell amazing.

You should buy something anyway. I’m a vegan, and I buy stuff every week from Sarah, usually on Wednesdays. Whatever I buy, I give to my coworkers, who are happy to have the sweets, which I can really do nothing with.

6-Don’t eat before yoga class. Sure, you’re stomach will grumble, but it’s better than spending 45 minutes fighting the urge to throw up. Downward dog will make you want to throw up. Have a little juice before, if you want, but save the sandwich for after.

7-Yoga pants come in a wide variety of colors, hues, and designs. I will not be buying any. Sweat pants are fine with me, but it’s important not to wear a shirt that fits and isn’t too loose, because that sucker will slide right up to your neck when you’re doing downward facing dog (a troublesome position, truly).

Apologies for the show, folks –and no, that isn’t a scar, it’s a birthmark.

Going Vegan: Another Vegan Potluck

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So, we have another vegan potluck at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (520 Kanawha Blvd. W.) today (March 6). The eating gets started around 6:30 p.m. You don’t have to be a vegan to come eat. You don’t even have to be a Unitarian. They’re OK with just about anybody.

Probably, you shouldn’t bring your leftovers from a recent Critter Dinner or your Mom’s meatloaf. Save that for lunch tomorrow with your co-workers. They’ll love you for it.

Anyway, something to do. No pressure.

Improv: Getting to Know You -Craig Snider

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This is another of The Fearless Fools. There are still a couple left in the box. We’ll finish these off before we stretch into the new month of stuff.

 

Name: Craig Snider

Age: 36

Hometown: Volga, WV

Occupation: Receptionist/writer/editor/TBD

craig
Craig is to the left of the creature in red that will haunt your dreams.

 

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

I spend most of my time either reading, writing, watching television, or quietly ruminating on life’s mysteries, or as a friend of mine calls his process, “have a Big Think.”

 

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

My friend and mentor, Steve Goff told me he was going to start doing improv workshops, and asked if I’d help. I had always loved Whose Line, so I was eager to assist. After several of his workshops were a success, he said he had been approached to put together a team, and asked if I’d help with auditions. I later learned I had made the team.

 

What was your first workshop or show like?

Our first Fools show left a huge impression on me. I have never been a performer, unless you count class clown, but being on stage, essentially playing make-believe was like nothing I had ever done before. I get nervous if I’m doing a play, or if I have to speak in front of people, but not when I’m doing improv. I have never had any problem making a fool of myself. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and probably many others won’t either, for good or bad.

 

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

As Steve Goff helped us learn the art of improv, he brought us a DVD called, “Trust us…,” which was a documentary about TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, two improvisers who have a two-man, 60 minute improv show. They create an entire comedic drama, complete with characters they each take turns playing, and by the end, you never second-guess the reality they’ve created. It is a brilliant combination of acting and improv that had our whole team captivated. We still refer to that video often, and have even created improv warm-ups we call a “TJ and Dave.”

 

What’s the best part about what you do?

I get to be a kid again. I always played make-believe, and there were always strange characters and voices in my head when I was young. Possible psychosis, or future skill? Either way, all through my life, I spent most of my time trying to entertain myself or others by being silly. As we grow up, it becomes harder and harder to find venues for that type of outlet without being shut up in a rubber room. With improv, I get to do that again. It is a liberating and cathartic experience.

 

What’s the hardest part?

For me personally, it has being trying to deconstruct improv from an artistic standpoint, how to improve and make my game better. I can’t afford to go to Second-City, or have one of the fantastic teachers from Unplanned Comedy or Steel-City Improv come down. At least not until my one man show about the bubonic plague takes off. So, in the meantime, I find myself just trying to be a cosmic improv sponge, and I hope the universe will send me the knowledge I need.

 

What’s (almost) always funny?

As far as improv is concerned, it is when the performers are completely invested in the reality they’ve created, and they aren’t TRYING to be funny. That is the surest way to kill an improv scene. It is hard to just let go of the comedic instincts that tell you to go for the punchline. It is a very zen experience to just trust in your scene partner and see where you end up.

 

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

It is absolutely vital to get some kind of guidance. Go see other teams perform and talk to them afterward about their process. Take a class, and join a group. Just jump in and say, yes.

 

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

Depends on the context. Hanging out at the bar? Rip off. House party? Rip off. Seeing a comedy show? Recommended. Monday morning staff meeting? Absolutely essential.

 

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

Personally, I think if Santa Claus would stop feeding his unicorns high octane fiber, we would have less methane, and global warming wouldn’t be an issue.

 

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

Why do you always look like you are staring into the sun?

 

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

I think prisoners are just misunderstood, and need a big hug. And an improv show.

 

How good is your spelling?

Perfekt.

 

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

If you want to save money, don’t spend any. If you want to save time, stop doing other stuff.

 

Have you ever been to Ohio?

Cleveland rocks.

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Here’s another one of The Fearless Fools.
I kind of regret that I didn’t get a chance to talk with them during my month of Improv –that just means I need to do a different story about the group when the opportunity comes a-knockin’ again. From their Facebook page, it looks like they kill.
Name: Matt Tolliver
Age: 32
Hometown:French Creek, WV
Occupation: School Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor
matt tolliver
What’s your life like outside of comedy?
Most of my time consists of working as a school counselor at Skyview Elementary School in Morgantown. I meet with kids for individual and group counseling as well as teaching classroom guidance lessons to whole classes. My main focus is on conflict resolution and teaching kids appropriate social skills.
How did you get started in Improv/Comedy? As a child at 4-H camp, we would have to come up with skits during the nightly council circles. Though there was no “formal” training, that was when I first experienced entertaining others without a script and having to use my imagination to create characters for short sketches.
What was your first workshop or show like?
Stressful, but a type of stress or pressure that challenged me with the reward of laughter and applause from the audience.
In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?
Robin Williams was the master of improv comedy. His ability to instantaneously create characters and jokes was awe-inspiring.
What’s the best part about what you do?
With a day job dealing with people’s social and emotional problems, it can be very overwhelming to take that on. Improv allows me to explore my creative side and let my mind be free.
What’s the hardest part?
Trying to stay in character when my fellow players or myself say or do something that completely catches you off guard.
What’s (almost) always funny?
Typically anything that my Kindergarten students tell me
Advice for someone who might want to do Improv? I feel like everyone has to improvise many times every day when it comes to making decisions. Some times we have to conventrate hard on those decisions, and some times it’s so fast that we don’t even realize it. Improv comedy is in that space of opening your mind and not overly concentrating.
Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?
Rip off
Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?
I want to believe in unicorns…it’s a thin, blurry line of believing and wanting to
If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?
Do you ever get to drive the cars on The Price is Right?
Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?
Depending on the prison and crime. Are we talking federal penitentiary or a low security prison? If I could get my doctorate for free…sign me up!
How good is your spelling? How did I do on this questionnaire?
Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers? Don’t take our private student loans, unless absolutely necessary!
Have you ever been to Ohio?
Yes…it was flat and underwhelming