5 Vegan Foods I Can’t Live Without

When I became vegan, I tried countless new foods that I wouldn’t have tried if I still ate meat. Being vegan for 6 years, I’ve tried so many different foods and I can’t wait to try more. So here I’ve compiled a list of 5 vegan foods I can’t live without.

1. Unsweetened Almond Milk

I cannot live without almond milk. I used to drink a lot of milk before I went vegan. I grew up having a glass of milk with almost every meal. I’ve tried different types of plant milks and I’m willing to try more but for now, almond milk is my go-to choice. It’s also much more affordable than some of the other plant milks.

2. Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter

Most peanut butters are naturally vegan, but a lot of brands like Jif and Skippy contain mono and diglycerides which are animal fats that help blend the peanut butter. Mono and diglycerides are also found in lots of breads. But getting back to peanut butter, I’ve fallen in love with Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter which only contains peanuts and less than 1% of salt.

3. Tofu

For those who don’t know, tofu is made from soy beans. It’s also known as bean curd, which you’ll see on a lot of Chinese food restaurant menus. I never tried tofu until I became vegan and it’s honestly one of my favorite vegan staples. My favorite is the extra firm tofu, since it’s one the most versatile types.

4. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a great supplement that is used a lot in vegan cooking. Unlike traditional yeast, nutritional yeast undergoes a heating and drying process that renders it inactive. Nutritional yeast is used for many “cheesy” vegan recipes because of it’s taste. It’s also loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein. I also love to sprinkle this on my freshly popped popcorn.

5. Bananas

I’m sure most vegans would agree how important bananas are to a vegan diet. Bananas can be frozen and blended up into “nice” cream. Ripe bananas are great for banana bread and many other baking recipes. Of course, they’re also great on their own.

Well, there you have it. 5 vegan foods I cannot live without. Hopefully this list helps anyone who is looking to become vegan. To my fellow vegans, what are some foods you can’t live without?

-Toniann

Navigating Through a Tumultuous Relationship

One of my first blogs last year, I talked about toxic people. It’s easy to cut toxic people out of your life, but not if its family. Sadly, I have many toxic family members as I’m sure most people do. But I’ve put up with shit out of loyalty to my family.

I am struggling as I’m writing this. I’m really not sure if I should be talking about this or not.

I’m fighting with this decision to blog because the tumultuous relationship I’m referring, to is with my mother. And I’m terrified she might read this.

Throughout my life with my mother, things weren’t always difficult, I have plenty of great memories with her. But I feel like there are so many more bad memories. Maybe that’s just because those are much more painful.

My mother, like my father was, is an alcoholic. She has struggled with alcoholism for what feels like my whole life. Like most addicts, she downplays the role that alcohol has in her life and doesn’t believe she has a problem.

My mother has suffered from depression on and off throughout my life, even though she never got a diagnosis from a doctor. And I know her struggle with depression and alcohol go hand-in-hand. Her depression got so bad when I was a child that she hadn’t left our apartment for years. People in our neighborhood actually believed she was dead. As a young child, I remember her telling me…

“…I should just kill myself.”

I remember pleading with her not to leave me, that I needed her. And even though we don’t have the best relationship, I’m glad she didn’t commit suicide like she had wanted to countless times.

Her struggle with alcoholism got worse when I was around 12 years old. I suspect she had been mixing prescription pills with alcohol but I can’t be certain. I remember her hallucinating and my father had to take her to the hospital. She had alcoholic hepatitis which caused jaundice. She went into the hospital the day of my first period, so that day will always stay with me. I didn’t have my mother at such an important stage in my young life.

She was in the hospital for days, I can’t recall how long, but I do remember the doctor talking to us. My godmother was there, and the doctor had said if she starts drinking again, she will die. She seemed sincere when she said she never wanted to drink again. I was hopeful for the future.

But she went back to drinking. It wasn’t long after she got out of the hospital. I remember we were at our neighbors house and she had poured my mom a beer. I yelled and reminded her that the doctor said she’ll die if she drinks again. She brushed it off like nothing and took a big gulp. I ran back across the hall to our apartment crying because I really believed that my mother was going to die. And she couldn’t have cared less.

Quitting drinking was difficult for my mother since my father was also struggling with the same addiction. Alcoholism is something both my parents fought with. My father lost his battle 4 years ago and I know my mother will eventually lose hers too. Losing my father was hard for all of us, but especially for my mom. This has caused her depression, and thus her alcoholism, to get worse.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m done fighting. Alcohol will always win. For a long time, I was angry and bitter about my parents “choice” to drink. But I know that addiction is a disease. And as long as my mother doesn’t want help, I cannot help her. It still stings of course, because alcoholism has negatively shaped our relationship.

The only thing I can do is be there for her as much as possible. I have come to terms with the fact that she probably won’t be around for much longer because of her addiction. It doesn’t make it easier. I try to take it one day at a time. Some days are more difficult than others. But I am really trying to maintain a good relationship with my mother.

I love my mother with all my heart. I wish so much that my love was enough for her to quit drinking for good, but life doesn’t work that way. I wish things were easier, I wish I could help her, and I wish she could be happy.

-Toniann

20 Things You Might Not Know About Me

Well everyone, its been 7 months since I started my blog. For those of you who have been here since the beginning, you have no idea how much I appreciate you. And for those who are new to my blog, I hope you are enjoying my posts. So I figured I would post 20 things you might not know about me.

  1. I have no middle name. Both of my brothers do, but I guess my parents figured since my first name was already two names, I wouldn’t need another one.
  2. My dream is to open up my own fitness center. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that fitness is my passion and I used to be a group fitness instructor.
  3. Green is my favorite color.
  4. My favorite book series is Harry Potter. I grew up reading the books, and I remember being so excited when the next book was published. I’ve even gotten my daughter into the books, and got her the first illustrated book last Christmas.
  5. My favorite show is Friends. I’m currently watching season 2 as I sit here typing.
  6. I love playing video games. I wouldn’t call myself a gamer per se, but at the moment I am obsessed with a new game called Stardew Valley. I like a wide variety of games, and my husband and I love to play together.
  7. My favorite meal is a burger, fries and a milkshake. Vegan of course.
  8. I played with Barbie dolls until I was 13. I can’t be the only one right?
  9. I have 4 tattoos and look forward to getting more.
  10. I used to have a belly button ring and tongue ring. Pregnancy has wrecked my stomach and my tongue piercing has since healed.
  11. My favorite beer is Guiness stout.
  12. I used to smoke cigarettes. I took up vaping to help quit and in a drunken emergency have smoked a few cigarettes. But its not a habit anymore.
  13. I LOVE horror movies. I grew up watching them and I still love watching them; even though I can’t watch alone.
  14. I have a certificate in plant-based nutrition.
  15. I’ve never traveled outside of the United States. It’s definitely happening in the next few years. We’ve been making traveling more of a priority and I’m ecstatic.
  16. I love naps and sleep in general. If humans didn’t need sleep, that would be awesome, but we do, and I love it.
  17. I’m really into true crime. I’m currently watching Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda.
  18. I love Disney. I grew up watching Disney movies and I love going to the Disney parks.
  19. I love wine. I’m not as fancy as I’d like to be but I’ve done a few wine tastings and can’t wait to do more.
  20. I wanted to be a stunt woman. Back when I was a young teenager, I totally wanted to be a stunt woman. I thought they were the most badass people on the planet and never got enough credit. But I changed my mind once I realized I didn’t actually want to break all the bones in my body.

Well, there you have it: 20 things you probably didn’t know about me. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had writing it. What are some things people don’t know about you that they might be surprised to find out about? Comment below and let me know!

Back in 2004, when I still wanted to be a stunt woman.

-Toniann

Terrible or Terrific Two’s?

My youngest daughter Emilia turned two almost two months ago and we’ve currently hit the “terrible” stage. She literally just had a meltdown because I didn’t put her favorite show on the tv. It’s little things like that that have BIG reactions.

Her sister is playing with a toy she wants to play with:

Tears.

When she’s hungry (which is pretty much every hour now):

Tears and screams. But I’m the same way so…

And god help you if she’s tired and hungry because she will scream, cry and throw her little fists at anyone who bothers her.

Honestly, its difficult to manage to say the least. I try very much to keep a cool head because a strong reaction from me only makes things worse. It’s this balance between maintaining boundaries with her (i.e. no hitting) and pacifying her (i.e. let her play with the toy). Her being as cute as she is, it’s hard not to just give in all the time.

Most days I feel stressed and anxious to the point where I want to pull my hair out.

But there are such great moments throughout the day. She’s doing countless things she couldn’t do even a month ago.

She’s talking more, she sings and dances. She loves to cuddle with everyone (provided she’s fed and well-rested). We have conversations and she’s starting to understand more and more. She’s in the process of being potty trained, which I was not ready for AT ALL. She loves to play games and she is so silly. Her personality is really shining through now.

Singing “Let it Go” with her sister.

So yes, two’s are tough and I know from experience that three will be more strenuous, but it’s also terrific. It’s honestly the most fun age. With all the new things she’s doing, I can’t help but be amazed and proud. She knows what she wants, and definitely what she does not want and will tell you so. Emilia is totally my sour patch kid. She is a little firecracker and I hope that her strong-willed personality will never leave her.

-Toniann

My Traumatic Birth Experience

I got pregnant with my first daughter at 20 years old. Back then, I thought I was grown, but looking back, I realize how naïve I was. The birth of my daughter was one of the most frightening experiences I ever had.

My whole pregnancy was wonderful, no complications at all. If I was tired, I would nap. I never had any pain, even during my last trimester. All I had was horrible heartburn. I didn’t even realize that my gas pains were actually Braxton-Hicks contractions until I was in the hospital getting induced.

My husband, my mother and I went to my final 40 week appointment and it was there that my doctor told me that she wanted to induce labor later that night. I was 1cm dilated for the last four weeks, which was normal. I had hoped to go into labor naturally, but she had explained that there might be complications if we wait longer. I don’t recall exactly what, but I trusted her. This was my first pregnancy and I was young, so as much as I didn’t want to be induced, I believed my doctor knew best.

Later that night, we all drove to the hospital. I was so excited and nervous that I was finally going to meet my baby girl. When we arrived, I changed into a hospital gown and my stomach was strapped with a contraction monitor. My doctor then gave me Pitocin to induce labor.

And we waited.

My contractions started to get stronger and stronger after a few hours. Labor was progressing, very slowly. I wasn’t sure how much longer labor would be and I knew the pain would only get worse, so I asked for an epidural.

It was the middle of the night when the anesthesiologist came into my room. His hair was disheveled and he looked like he had just been woken up out of his sleep. He told my husband and mother that they were not allowed in the room with me and they left.

I had seen a video on how an epidural is performed and I was fucking scared.

I sat off the side of the hospital bed with my nurse in front of me. She gave me a pillow and told me to hunch over. The anesthesiologist warned me not to move and he gave me a small shot to numb the area. But it didn’t work. He started to poke at my back and I felt everything. He told me to stop moving and I apologized but I couldn’t help but wince at the pain. He poked me more than once and at one point said that my “vertebrae were really close together.”

I remember this going on for some time, and I started to get cold sweats and I felt nauseous because I was in so much pain. I looked up at my nurse and told her, “I feel like I’m going to vomit.” It was then that my nurse yelled at the anesthesiologist:

“Can’t you see she’s in pain? Give her some more numbing.”

I got a second shot of numbing and I felt my body finally relax. The epidural was in and I laid back in bed and felt my pain melt away.

Later, my doctor popped my water bag to try and help speed things along. She saw meconium, which is the baby’s first poop, so she flushed my womb. And we waited some more.

I got some sleep and in the morning my doctor came to check me again. I was 6cm dilated. I thought to myself, “great, we’re making some progress.” But my doctor told me I wasn’t progressing quickly enough, and she was having an operating room prepped for me to have a C-section.

I would be down in the operating room in 30 minutes.

Holy shit.

I didn’t speak up because I truly believed she had my best intentions in mind.

We went down to the operating room and my husband was the only one allowed to be with me. The put a big blue curtain up under my chest so we couldn’t see anything. And then they started.

I remember a lot of pulling and tugging. They even pressed down on the top of my stomach to get my daughter out. I know the used forceps to get her head out because she had a bruise later on. Finally her head was out, and she cried right away.

And then I cried. I cried this huge sigh of relief that she was finally here, and that she was okay. They told my husband to look over to see her and I remember asking him if she had a lot of hair, which she did. And I asked if she really was a girl, which she was. She was 8 lbs 9oz, my big beautiful girl.

They gave her her bath right in the room, dressed her and my husband went with our daughter to the nursery while they closed me up.

Jonathan and baby Isabella in the nursery.

And I was all alone.

I was surrounded by so many hospital staff but it was like I wasn’t even there. No one asked me how I was feeling, if I was okay or not.

I remember feeling freezing cold and exhausted. My job was done, I had my baby, and I was tired. So I closed my eyes to try and go to sleep and I heard my own voice in my head scream:

“Don’t go to sleep! Open your eyes!”

So I did. I opened my eyes wide and kept myself from going to sleep. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized what had happened.

I was brought back to my room and my epidural was removed. I had a heated blanket on me because I was freezing cold. I tried to go to sleep but the pain started to creep in. My incision felt like it was on fire and the damn heated blanket was not helping. I rang for my nurse and told her I was in excruciating pain. She gave me morphine, which felt like a heat wave all over my body. I still felt some of the pain but I was relaxed enough to get some sleep.

Later that day, my new nurse came to my room and asked me how I was feeling. I told her I was really tired, but I had attributed that to the fact that I just had a baby. She had told me that I had lost a lot of blood and kept asking me if I was sure I was okay. I told her yes and brushed it off. But my husband told me later that when he looked over the curtain after our daughter was born, it looked like a horror movie. All he saw was my body there, open and surrounded by an enormous amount of blood.

And I realized why I heard my voice in the operating room, yelling at me not to go to sleep. I probably wouldn’t have woken up had I kept my eyes closed.

It’s unnerving to think back to what I went through over 8 years ago. The pain that I went through before, during and after my daughters birth still haunts me. I had a huge bruise on my back after giving birth that my mother pointed out and she saw four distinct holes where the anesthesiologist had attempted to put that giant needle. I still have pain in my spine where he performed my epidural.

Despite all that I went through, I would do it all again for my daughter. She is the biggest gift I never knew I needed.

My Isabella

To all you mamas who have had a traumatic birth experience, I know your pain. I know how it feels to have your baby born, and suddenly you don’t exist anymore. I know a lot of you have had it much worse than I have, and I’m sorry. Having a baby should be the most magical time of our lives. I wish it was always like that.

Stay strong mamas, you got this.

-Toniann

How One Song Brought me Back to the Past

Since my father passed away over 4 years ago, my brothers and I have gotten into the habit of sending each other songs that he used to listen to.

My father probably had over a hundred cassettes, many of them mixed tapes that he had made over the years. He had such a wide interest in different kinds of music. My father would listen to classical, rock from the 70s-80s, 50s pop music, and so much more. I have a station on my Pandora music app with some of my dads music and it goes from “Hasta Ayer” by Marc Anthony to “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis.

My father played the trumpet growing up and he later taught my two brothers how to play. They would practice everyday after school. I’m sure they’ve forgotten how to play now, but who knows. Music was just a big deal to him, and now it is to us.

Since my father listened to so many songs while we were growing up, we don’t remember all of them. But whenever each of us come across a song that he used to listen to, we send it to one another. It’s a nice way to remember our father.

Last week, my brother Chris sent me one song that I had completely forgotten about. It was the 1972 song Go All The Way by Raspberries. I clicked to play the song, and after about 10 seconds into the song, I was brought right back to my childhood living room. There was my father, sitting in front of his stereo, listening to this song and singing along.

And I just started sobbing.

That memory of my dad was so vivid at that moment, and that song brought me right back. I’ve had certain songs bring back memories but nothing as strong as this one. Maybe it was because I had forgotten about it, I’m not really sure. This time was just different. And it made me miss my father so much more.

I’ve had smells bring back memories too: my father’s cologne, my mothers cooking, pinchos cooking in the city. It’s funny how certain sounds and smells can recall memories.

It’s bittersweet when the memories of my dad pop up in my head. My smile turns to tears because I wish he was still here. My father should have died an old man, he was too young. So much has happened since he passed away. And I just want to pick up the phone and call him, to hear his voice. I want to ask him advice about the girls and how he handled things with us when we were kids, knowing full well he wouldn’t remember. I want to sit with him and make him laugh, I was good at that.

I’m not sure where my dad is now, I don’t know if there is an afterlife. All I know is that when I die, hopefully a long, long, long, time from now, I’ll get to see him again.

I miss you like hell, Dad.

My father

-Toniann

My Fitness Journey: The Ups & Downs

My passion for fitness started way back in high school when I was on the wrestling team. The practices we had were so intense, it was normal for me to lose 2 pounds in those 2 hours, and I loved it. My junior year of high school, I took a class called Weight Training, which was basically lifting weights and our final exam was to create a workout routine for one week. I wanted to learn more about fitness and to study Exercise Science in college. I even got accepted to the University at Buffalo in New York. Unfortunately, I didn’t attend because I wanted to stay close to my high school boyfriend, who turned out to be a real shit head. I can’t say I regretted staying and going to school in the city, because it was there that I was reconnected with my now husband.

After dropping out of college, and being in love with the most wonderful guy in the world, I gained so much weight. My normal weight is around 130 pounds and I had gotten up to around 175 pounds in a year and a half.

And then I got pregnant.

So of course, I gained more weight but along the appropriate lines, according to my doctor. When I went in for my final prenatal appointment, I weighed 201 pounds. I was mortified that I got over 200 pounds, pregnant or not.

38 weeks pregnant, and yes, she grew more in the last 2 weeks.

About 6 months after my daughter was born, I decided I needed to start working out and get my shit together. I borrowed the P90X DVD set from my brother-in-law and got to work.

In 6 months I lost 25 pounds and my passion for fitness was reignited.

I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a Personal Trainer. So I studied and became a Certified Fitness Instructor through the International Sports Sciences Association. I started working as a Group Fitness Instructor at a local gym and I felt at home in front of a class.

2014, in the best shape of my life. Goals AF for me now.

But my father was diagnosed with cancer, and making many trips from Florida to New York meant I couldn’t dedicate myself to my clients, so I eventually left the gym. My workouts became sporadic and stopped altogether once my father passed away.

I didn’t study to renew my fitness certification either.

But after having my second daughter years later, I knew I wanted to get back to working out.

It took me a while to stay consistent, but I finally got my groove back.

I know it’s only going to get harder the older I get, so I’m making sure that I workout at least 6 days a week for at least an hour. I have so many days where I just don’t want to work out, but having a gym in my house certainly helps. I associate working out with brushing my teeth: I wouldn’t go a day without brushing my teeth and the same applies to hitting the gym.

Exercise is a form of self-care.

With my anxiety as bad as it is, I make sure more than ever to work out. I truly feel better after I work out. And even on those days where I’m so sore, I never regret working out. Even though I’m not at my “ideal” weight, I love the way my body looks now. And the amazing part about fitness for me is the journey. Realizing that not too long ago, I was unable to do one push-up to now doing 20 without stopping for a break.

It’s definitely been a roller coaster ride for me, from gaining almost 50 pounds and losing it, gaining and losing, and gaining and losing again. What a wild ride it’s been.

To anyone who is on their own fitness journey, I’ll tell you this: it doesn’t matter where anyone else is. As long as you commit to exercising everyday and eating healthier, you’ll reach your goals. It all starts with a single step.

-Toniann