Our Vegan Life

Food, Family, and Fun

Archive for the category “Family”

Love is for All

Vegan or not, anyone with a pet understands that they are a part of your family. We adopted our precious beagle/foxhound rescue dog, Abby, on April 9, 2001 (almost 2 years after we were married). She was our first child, and she was present when we brought both our daughter and our son home after their births. In October we found out that Abby had a large, malignant tumor in her spleen. She went through surgery to remove the tumor and her spleen, but it soon became evident that the cancer had spread to her blood, and there was nothing more to do for her but keep her comfortable and shower her with love. On December 27th, Abby left this world, surrounded by the love of her family. Although she is not present in our home, she will always be present in our memories and in our hearts.

Our last day with Abby

Our last day with Abby

On April 9, 2001, we gave Abby a gift…a forever home where she would be safe and loved. And so in the midst of our grief, we decided the best gift we could give to honor her memory would be to provide a safe and loving home for another rescue dog in need.

On December 28th, we went to Kyle’s New Hope Animal Rescue and met “Pepper Ann.” It was love at first sight. She immediately clicked with every member of our family, and she filled just enough of that gaping hole in our hearts. We brought her home, and named her Zoe, which means “life.” (Standard protocol for this animal rescue provides the potential adoptees at least a 7 day trial period to determine whether or not the pet and family are a good fit for one another. We took 6 days, even though we really only needed 1.) On January 3rd, we officially adopted her, giving her a forever home where she will always be safe and loved.


When Abby died in our arms, we prayed over her the Metta Mantra of loving-kindness: “May you be strong and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May you be filled with loving-kindness and be happy.” We adopted Zoe because we want the same for her. And we are vegan because we want the same for all living beings.

Happiness, health, and peace are not only for our pets. All animals want the same and all animals deserve the same. Why would I treat my pets like family while allowing cows or pigs or chickens or turkeys (or any other animal) to be slaughtered in the name of “food”? The Metta Mantra is actually broader than “you” or “me.” The entirety of the mantra actually includes “all” : “May all be strong and healthy, peaceful and at ease. May all be filled with loving-kindness and be happy.” And so my prayer is that all living beings, whether human or animal, pets or livestock, will be treated as family.

Raising Vegan Children: 5 Tips for Raising Little Plant Eaters


Our family began the journey into a plant based diet when our daughter was 6 months old and we were thinking about going vegan and were faced with whether or not to introduce dairy products to her.  Given our dairy allergy history and some of the research we were doing at the time around a vegan diet, we decided to take the step and we have been on this journey ever since.  Of course, it is one thing for me and my wife to follow such a diet, but it is an entirely other thing to raise kids on such a diet in a world that seems so counter to the idea.  To be sure, we had no intentions of making our kid the odd person out or for her to be ridiculed by her peers.  We were making the best decisions for our health, the environment, and keeping it all connected to our strong belief in the power of non violence as a philosophy.  I would say that over all, our journey over the last 8 years has been largely positive and enriching, but certainly not without our fair share of challenges.  We are not perfect parents.  We do not have all the answers and certainly do not see ourselves as better than other parents or people on other diets.  But, I can say that we have learned some things in the process.  I can say that we have worked hard in being prepared, honest, vulnerable, and as faithful as we can.  In this light, here are 5 tips for those parents out there who are thinking of raising your children on a plant based diet, or simply just want to get more fruits and veggies into their meals.

1)  Offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables…..yes, they will eat them.  I have heard many people argue that when it comes to feeding children that they will only gravitate to the sweets and will not eat any vegetables or fruits.  In my experience, this is just not true.  Sure, who doesn’t like a sweet or two, but given how addictive white refined and processed sugars are, such foods are hardly the bastion of healthy eating.  Our kids may not like every vegetable we put on their plate….Lord knows, my kids do not (Isa loves collards and kale, but will not touch green bell peppers).  But, I believe that the more fresh veggies and fruits you offer the greater the possibility that one of these will stick with your children.

2)  Recognize that every child is different….and that this is a good thing.  We have two children and it is incredibly clear that when it comes to their eating habits that they are vastly different children.  While we cannot make 4 different meals for 4 different people in our homes, we also have found that when we offer something that does well for both of our children that this opens up doors for creativity in our food habits.  We made eggless egg salad recently and our son loved it and our daughter wouldn’t touch it.  We just have come to the conclusion that there will be meals like this where one likes it and the other does not and so we adapt.  My son could eat tacos or chili for every meal, but when we eat some other soups, stews, or something with black eyed peas, then we know that our daughter is more likely to eat these than our son.  We try to find ways to let the tastes of our children dictate our meal planning and this is a good thing because it makes things very versatile and our eating habits fresh.

3)  Be Flexible!  Not only will there be times when your child does not like the food you have prepared, but there will come times everything you have planned in terms of diet will change.  Recently my wife and I have dabbled with a variety of meal plans from John McDougall and Happy Herbivore and we discovered very quickly that we have to be flexible in order for it to work.  In the Happy Herbivore plan, we had 5–7 meals in the course of a week that were wraps of some sort.  The kids (and the adults) got kind of tired of wraps by the end of the week.  So, near the end of the week we took out a meal or two and added some of our own.  Don’t worry, your kids will let you know when something isn’t working for them and if you can adjust and compromise, this will make things easier.  The more stringent and strict you are with sticking to certain foods the more likely your children will rebel or complain.  Compromise in small ways and with snacks and allow this flexibility to make room for your kids to have their own voice in the family meal planning.

4)  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!  We have found that the more we communicate with our children about our food habits the more likely they are to go along for the ride.  When we think there will be something we are eating that might seem strange, we talk about it ahead of time with them.  When our children will be going to a birthday party that will have non vegan food, we speak both with our children to let them know what their choices will be when they get there and we also speak with the parents of those throwing the party.  If we are invited to a home for a meal, we always like to communicate our needs as a family and also offer to provide food as a part of our visit.  It takes some of the stress off them.  Additionally, when it comes to school lunches and such, we communicate with our children about what is in their lunch box or if they are eating at school we communicate with them about what their options are.  When we have neglected to talk with our children about what we are eating or what they can expect when we go out to eat or at school, then it all too often ends in disastrous results.  Communicate often and communicate well and this will make the process easier.

5)  Most of all….treat your children as individuals.  We have found that the more we can include our children in the process of our food choices and the more we can treat them as individuals with their own desires and taste buds the better off our relationship to each other and food will be.  In the very early years it was quite easy to pretty much dictate what we will eat and what our diet will look like because they were hardly able to communicate or express their likes and dislikes.  But, now that our kids are older (3 and 7) and can fully express themselves in terms of their needs and desires for food, we have come to see them as equal participants in this process.  In fact, we try to include our kids as much as possible in cooking our food or in meal planning (Taking the kids to the grocery store, however, is another conversation altogether).  Treat your children as though their beliefs, feelings, and taste buds matter and are valuable, then this can go a long way in keeping them connected to a plant based diet.

….I am sure that there are at least 10 more of these tips, but these are some of the essentials that we have come to see over the past 7 years in our own vegan family life.

This article is a slightly edited version of its original posting on the One Whole Step blog. 

Valentine’s Day Fun!

(I know it’s been a few days since Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, we had a bit of sickness run through our family during V’Day week(end), so the post ended up being postponed. However, I didn’t want to omit it all together, so here it is……)

We don’t do a lot of lovey-dovey stuff in our house around Valentine’s Day. As a couple we have decided that it is more important to show our love for each other on a daily basis, through the little things, rather than spend a lot of money on each other to show our love one day each year. (This is not to say that it is bad to celebrate Valentine’s Day…we have nothing against it…it’s just not our chosen way of showing love to each other.)

However, I (Shannon) have grown to love every holiday just a little bit more since having children. I enjoy doing fun little things with the children around various holidays throughout the year. One of the things I remember my mom doing for me growing up was having a Valentine’s Day tea ready for me when I came home from school. It was such a nice, special surprise, and a way of her showing love to me through something we both enjoyed.

So….last year, I put together a Valentine’s tea for my daughter. And this year, I asked her if she would like to invite 3 friends to join her at our home for a Valentine’s Day Tea Party. (Incidentally, I made enough tea sandwiches and goodies to share at lunch with Chad and our little boy as well.)

I had such fun putting the party together. I planned it for at least a month…putting together the menu, making little trips to the dollar store here and there to put goody bags together for the girls, and then searching Pinterest for ideas for a craft for them to do.

Valentine's Day Tea Party!

Valentine’s Day Tea Party!

For the food, I prepared two different type of heart-shaped tea sandwiches (cucumber with herbed vegan cream cheese, and sunbutter and raspberry jelly), heart shaped brownies, and a coconut yogurt parfait with strawberries and raspberries and topped with unsweetened coconut shavings.

the food

sandwiches and brownies



In addition to the food, the girls had a selection of berry teas to choose from: raspberry tea or a mixed berry tea. These teas were differentiated by the color of the heart tag on the tea bag. Raspberry tea had a pink heart tag and mixed berry had a red heart tag. The tags were attached by sewing them to the tea bag.

tea bags with sparkly heart tags

tea bags with sparkly heart tags

Each girl received a crown and a goody bag filled with stickers, bubbles (the kind used at weddings), a ring pop, and 2 heart-shaped bracelets of varying colors.

goody bags

goody bags

In my research for the tea party, I came across a fun craft idea for the girls to do after the tea party. Each girl received 2 smooth stones (from my personal collection), along with glue and a variety of colorful glitter with which to decorate their stones.

glitter rock valentines

glitter rock valentines

The end result of the craft and the tea party was a table full of glue and glitter and lots of smiles.

Herbed Cream Cheese and Cucumber Sandwiches

1 pkg Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

dried dill

Spike seasoning

Combine ingredients to taste and spread on pre-cut bread. Add 1-2 thin slices of cucumber for small sandwiches or more slices for larger sandwiches. Serve.

German Chocolate Brownies

  • 3/4 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/16 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 2 Tbsp non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut)

Combine ingredient in food processor and process until well mixed. Press into small square pan and cut into squares or with cookie cutter.


  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon raw agave or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cacao powder

Combine ingredients in bowl and spread on top of brownies. Enjoy!

Old and New

Happy New Year! I know it’s been a while since we have blogged…and November and December would have been such great food blogging months, since that’s what most of us do a lot of during those two months. We have had quite a bit going on over the past couple of months, so we wanted to share some highlights with you as well as share some plans for the New Year.


On November 3rd, I (Shannon) ran my first 5K.

After finishing my 1st 5K!

After finishing my 1st 5K!

I did not grow up an athletic person by any means, but as a 30-something year old I have learned that my metabolism requires it of me. Chad is a runner, and our 7 year old daughter enjoys it as well.  In May, Chad ran his first half marathon, and our daughter and I “ran” (jogged some/walked some) the “Kids’ Marathon” (1 mile).  That was the beginning of my relationship with running. After the 1 mile race in May, I slowly began training for a 5K. I had 3 goals: (1) to finish, (2) to run/jog the entire time (no walking), (3) to finish in under 40 minutes. I accomplished every one of the goals, finishing in just over 37 minutes (I don’t remember the exact seconds)!


On November 9th, we celebrated our daughter’s 7th birthday! (Well, her party was actually on the 10th.) We had just moved to a new house a couple of weeks before, so our home was in no condition to host a party. However, we had been spending a lot of time back and forth between our house and Home Depot. On one of our trips there, I noticed a sign that read, “Ask us about our birthday parties.” So I did. As it turns out, Home Depot had just started providing a party room for children’s birthday parties. They provide tables, chairs, and table cloths, as well as the activity, a small building project for all of the children to put together. All we have to do is bring the food and any extra decorations we might want. Our daughter was excited about it at first, and then she wasn’t sure, because there were other thematic party ideas she was also interested in.  In the end, she was glad she decided to go for it, because it was a huge success! Everyone had a blast!

The food table

The food table

We kept the food pretty simple, just some veggies and pita chips with hummus and a fruit salad, which both kids and parents enjoyed very much.

Simple snacks: veggies and hummus, and a fruit salad

Simple snacks: veggies and hummus, and a fruit salad

Our daughter said she wanted carrot cake for her birthday cake, but she was concerned that a friend of hers doesn’t like carrots, so I made both carrot cake and chocolate cake cupcakes……

vegan cupcakes: chocolate with "butter" cream icing and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, and carrot cake with "butter" cream frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon

vegan cupcakes: chocolate with “butter” cream icing and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, and carrot cake with “butter” cream frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon

And it’s a good thing I made both kinds of cupcakes, because despite the fact that she insisted on carrot cake, she apparently did not remember what carrot cake tasted like, and decided after taking a bite that she in fact doesn’t like carrot cake anymore. Oh well…We had not cut into her big birthday cake yet, so we were able to share it at church the next day.

The birthday cake: Carrot Cake with "Butter" Cream Frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon, with fun/funky candles

The birthday cake: Carrot Cake with “Butter” Cream Frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon, with fun/funky candles

Since the birthday girl had been a little uncertain about whether or not to have the party at Home Depot, we spiced it up a bit with decorations that were more suited to her likes….like a pink rock star pinata!

rock star guitar pinata (filled with left-over Halloween treats)!

rock star guitar pinata (filled with left-over Halloween treats)!

For the activity, our daughter was able to choose ahead of time from a selection of building projects.  She selected a tulip box, so all of the children got to use wood glue and hammers and nails to put a box together. They even got to paint them! And Home Depot threw in some bulbs as a bonus surprise!

Birthday party activity: tulip boxes

Birthday party activity: tulip boxes

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!


Of course, any recap of November and December wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of holiday foods!

This year, we spent Thanksgiving Day with my parents in Indianapolis and then drove to Illinois to visit with Chad’s family. So on Thanksgiving Day, I prepared a meal at my parents’ house. We had Tofurky with roasted vegetables, garlic rosemary mashed potatoes (with sweet and yellow potatoes), and green beans, along with a gluten free vegan chocolate pie.

Tofurky with roasted vegetables

Tofurky with roasted vegetables

chocolate pie

chocolate pie

And the following day with Chad’s family, we had leftovers.

I got a little crafty this year, too. My children have a felt board where they can use felt cut-outs to make stories or designs. Since I knew we would be spending some time in the car over the holidays, I put together 2 gallon-size zip lock bags with travel felt boards. One was a “build your own snowman” and the other was a “build your own Christmas tree,” but instead of carrying the bulky felt board in the car with us, I included a large piece of sandpaper in each bag. It was perfect for traveling, as well as for carrying in the diaper bag for an extra activity in case of bored children….and sometimes they even take the pieces out and play with it at home on the big felt board.

Solstice Bread

Solstice Bread

A couple of years ago, we started celebrating the cycles of the seasons, so each year during Summer and Winter Solstice I make “Solstice Bread” (an adaptation of Beltane Spiral Goddess Bread in the book  Circle Round). It is a delicious slightly sweet, yeast bread that I shape in the form of a sun spiral. I make it over many hours the day before Solstice, and then we eat it for breakfast in the morning. So on the morning of the Winter Solstice, we shared “Solstice Bread” for breakfast, and welcomed the rebirth of the Sun.

Solstice Bread

  • 1 Tbsp dry yeast (1 yeast packet)
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • pinch sugar
  • 8 Tbsp Earth Balance buttery spread, softened
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • equivalent of 3 eggs
  • 1 c dairy free milk
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • pinch salt
  • 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 c flour

Combine the yeast and water, sprinkle with pinch of sugar, and let set until foamy. Cream together with the Earth Balance, sugar, egg substitute, milk, orange zest, yeast mixture, and salt. Mix in first 3 cups of flour 1 cup at a time, first with a whisk and then with a wooden spoon. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time until the mixture if too stiff to beat. Turn out onto a flat surface dusted with flour and knead, adding flour until dough is silky and barely dry. Continue kneading a few minutes.

Put dough in lightly oiled bowl, turn dough over and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until 80% doubled in size. Punch down and divide loaf into two parts, one about 70% of the dough, the other about 30%.

Roll larger part of the dough into a coil about 2 inches in diameter. On a lightly oiled cookie sheet, wind the long coil into a spiral. Tear off smaller pieces from the smaller piece of dough and form into triangular shapes, attaching them around the outer edges of the spiral to form the flames coming out of the sun.  Cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm place. Let rise until almost doubled.

Bake for about 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven or until done. When the loaf is still warm, spread glaze over it.

Move the bread carefully, as the sections may separate. (Slide it onto its serving piece).

Glaze:  2 Tbsp melted butter + 1/2 c powdered sugar. Whip until blended. Spread on warm bread.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had completed my first attempt at canning. I started with apple butter and apple pumpkin butter, and then I decided to continue with some other foods. I ended up canning homemade spaghetti sauce and Milanese Tomato Soup (soup recipe from The Great American Detox Diet). Chad’s siblings have had babies in the past year, so we put together baskets with soup and sauce along with appropriate accompaniments, so they will have quick ready-made homemade meals for those days when they are just too busy to make anything. We also gave pumpkin apple butter to my sister and brother-in-law, and gave my parents canned Milanese Tomato Soup, canned spaghetti sauce, along with some meals we had frozen for them (chili, gumbo, Ethiopian cabbage stew, and minestrone soup). It was a vegan food-gifted holiday for us.

A day or two after Christmas, we had our first snow of the year….


snow play

snow play

…and with the first snow of the year, came not only lots of fun for the kids, but also the first snow cream of the year!

snow cream

snow cream

Snow cream is a long standing tradition in my family. I’ve been making it with my mom for as long as I can remember. It’s such an easy recipe, and such a fun family tradition to pass on to our kids!

Snow Cream

  • snow
  • vanilla
  • dairy free milk
  • sugar

In a large mixing bowl, gather snow from a clean, undisturbed location. Scrape off the top layer, lifting the middle layer of clean snow and placing it in the bowl, until bowl is full. (Note: snow will reduces in size, so fill the large bowl entirely.) Add sugar and vanilla to taste. Add dairy free milk according to desired texture. Serve immediately for best results. You may also put it in the freezer, but it will need to thaw out a bit before serving it.

On New Year’s Eve, we had a New Year’s Party with our best friends and their kids, who we more often refer to as “The Godfamily” because we are the Godparents to one another’s children. They recently moved from being over 2 hours from us to being just about 2 minutes from us, which we are all loving! So on New Year’s Eve, we put together a little New Year’s party, snack foods, dancing, and counting down the New Year….at around 7:00PM…Yes, that’s right, 7:00PM, because that’s what happens when you have small children.


So here we are now in 2013…What are your resolutions?

Chad and I have each made our own very complimentary resolutions. I have decided to make mini-resolutions throughout the year. I personally think it’s easier to keep short-term resolutions rather than committing to do something all at once for 365 days. It’s kind of akin to the idea of taking something “one day at a time.”  That said, I have committed (along with some friends – we even have a group on Facebook) to give up processed/refined sugar from January 2nd – April 27th (my birthday). At that point, I will evaluate and determine whether it is something I want to continue or if I want to do something else….or both. Let me clarify what I mean by “no sugar.” For me, this means that I will do my best to refrain from “sweets” made with processed or refined sugar. I will, however, continue to eat fruit and naturally sweetened foods. I also recognize that there is sugar in a lot of foods, so occasionally sugar may inadvertently sneak it’s way into my diet, but I am going to do my best to avoid it without beating myself up or driving myself insane.

Chad has committed to conserve. For him this means conserving time, money, food, and such. So we will be asking ourselves the hard questions of whether or not we really “need” something before we buy it or eat it, work toward better use of time…we’ve even initiated Family Game Night (by request of our daughter). I think this idea of conservation is very relevant to being a vegan family. In a consumer culture, it is easy to get swept up in “stuff” and forget about the larger ramifications of our actions or our consumption to the rest of life on earth. As vegans, we think about ingredients in things, and we have curbside recycling, but perhaps the true reduction of harm comes from reduction of consumption. Eat less to feed more. Use less to share more.

One other thing we want to try to work on this year is keeping up with this blog on a more regular basis. We are going to try to share more recipes and life lessons more regularly than we have done lately. We’re not making any specific time-centered promises (like a daily blog or a weekly blog), but we are committing to at least be more regular with our blogging.

Happy New Year! We’ll talk to you again soon!

The Cat in the Hat Goes Vegan

Ok so maybe the Cat in the Hat isn’t really vegan…He is a cat after all. And Dr. Suess’ characters weren’t exactly known for their veganism. I seem to recall a “roast beast” mentioned in The Grinch That Stole Christmas…but in our household you are far more likely to see roast beets than roast beast. However, one of our son’s favorite characters is the Cat in the Hat, who he calls “Go-Go” (from the theme song of PBS’s “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That”), so when planning his 2nd birthday party, our minds almost immediately went to Dr. Suess (Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar was a close 2nd, because he also loves caterpillars and butterflies). With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Suess’ first children’s book, fortunately there were plenty of ideas floating around on the internet (especially Pinterest).

Here are some photos and ideas to share from our son’s Dr. Suess themed 2nd birthday party…


Shannon’s mom, “Nana,” is an artist, so we requested her artistic skills in preparing for one of the games, Pin the Hat on the Cat. Nana drew the Cat and the cut-out hats. We added some poster putty to the backs and voila…a homemade game was made! Blindfolds were optional, much based on age, but everyone got a dizzy spin around.

Our son and his friend playing “Pin the Hat on the Cat.”

We found a link with a pdf file of this next game, “1 fish 2 fish” online, so we printed it out, put clear contact paper on it, and Shannon had already made homemade goldfish crackers for the party (with the help of a crafty friend who made the goldfish shaped cracker cutter). There are 6 goldfish bowls numbered 1-6 on each page. Each child counts out the number of crackers indicated on the bowl and places them “in” the bowl. The children at our party ranged from ages 2-6, so this was a bit of an advanced learning game for some, easy for others, and just right for those in the middle. In the end everyone won, because they got to eat the goldfish crackers! Also, each child got to keep her or his game page and a bag of goldfish crackers to take home.

Our daughter taking her turn playing 1 fish 2 fish with homemade vegan goldfish crackers.


On the food table, we included a copy of the Dr. Suess book “Happy Birthday to You!” for guests to write a note for the birthday boy. Also on the food table were Hat Pizzas, 1 Fish 2 Fish Crackers, Strawberry Banana Fruit Hat Kabobs, and of course cake…lots and lots of cake.

The food table

Hat Pizzas: dough + sauce + Yves brand vegan pepperoni cut in half + Daiya brand mozzarella shreds

Strawberry Banana Hat Kabobs

1 fish 2 fish, red fish blue fish: homemade vegan goldfish crackers (Shannon tried to color some red and some blue, but they turned out more blue green and salmon colored – LOL!)

a sample plate of the food

Chad’s mom is an amazing baker! She actually runs a business out of her home, baking cakes and cupcakes for people in her community. So it’s pretty much a given that Grandma will be making the cakes for birthdays in our house, and we have never been disappointed. Her cakes are not only delicious, but their super cute! For our son’s birthday, she made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese (Tofutti brand vegan cream cheese) icing.

Birthday cake and cupcakes!

The decorations were made by placing 2 Dr. Suess character foam stickers back to back around a toothpick, and Shannon found the Cat in the Hat cake topper with candles online (but couldn’t find it again to include the link…sorry).

The birthday cake!


Shannon is by no means a sewer. She openly admits that her sewing skills typically end at sewing on buttons. But when she saw this idea for a library book bag, she just had to try it, and despite a few thread tangling mishaps, she was pretty proud of the end result. It was made by cutting out the hat shape in red and white strips of felt, and then loop stitching it onto a canvas tote bag. Then with a fabric marker, she hand wrote the Dr. Suess quote, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Since Dr. Suess was a children’s author, what better party favor than a library book bag for the children to take with them and fill with books a their local library! We also filled the bag with some fun Dr. Suess inspired items: a Dr. Suess character coloring/activity pad, crayons, Dr. Suess character foam finger puppets, and Cat in the Hat bookmarks.

Party favors: Dr. Suess/Cat in the Hat library tote bag filled with goodies


We think those t-shirts with the sewn on ties are super cute, so when gathering items for the big day, Shannon started looking for a Cat in the Hat tie t-shirt. Lo and behold, she found one at an etsy shop. The super cute Cat in the Hat tie shirt that our son is wearing in the pictures below was purchased at Bella’s Sweet Boutique. (We’ve ordered other items from her since then, and she’s always been super helpful and accommodating. She even made a special order for us as a gift for someone.)

Birthday boy!

A Dr. Suess birthday party wouldn’t be complete without a Hat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of our birthday boy with it on, but here’s one of Chad wearing the big red and white striped hat.

Chad sporting the Cat’s Hat with our little girl


Shannon helping the birthday boy blow out his birthday candles. He ended up blowing out one and she blew out one.

The birthday boy eating his cupcake with big sister showing the Cat in the Hat cake topper.

Is Breastmilk Vegan?

Today marks the end of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), a time to bring awareness to breastfeeding throughout the world. And so with breastfeeding on the mind, this seemed like a good time to address a question I have been asked on more than one occasion: “Is breastmilk vegan?”

This question may have crossed your mind, too, or perhaps this seems like an obvious answer. In actuality, the answer is a little more complicated than a “yes” or “no.”

The simplest answer, and the answer that probably most vegans would agree upon is an overwhelming, “Yes!” However, there are other, more strict vegans, who might answer that breastmilk is only vegan if the lactating mother follows a vegan diet. Both answers are actually right, and regardless of which answer one might lean toward, I think both parties would overwhelmingly agree that “Breast is best!

But I think what most people are really getting at when they ask, “Is breastmilk vegan?” is a confusion about the abstinence of the consumption of dairy products by vegans. There is an assumption that if vegans do not consume “milk” then we must be opposed to the milk of any lactating mother, animal or human. And so let me clear up this misunderstanding….

Cow milk is actually vegan, even by the most strict vegan standards…when it is consumed as nature intended. That is, cows are by nature herbivores. They are vegan. And cow milk is actually breastmilk, which nature intended to feed to baby cows. Udders are called udders to make humans feel more comfortable drinking the breastmilk of another species. Really, udders are just multiple nipples, and what comes out of them is breastmilk…breastmilk intended for the cow’s baby, not for humans. (The same goes for goats or any other animal whose milk humans may choose to consume.) And that is why vegans don’t drink the milk of another species. It’s not intended for us. (Well, that is part 1 of why vegans don’t drink the milk of another species. Part 2 is another conversation.)

In fact, humans are actually the only species that consume another species’ breastmilk. So the next time you see a mother breastfeeding her child and you (or someone around you) comments (or thinks) that it’s somehow “gross” or “weird” (or insert other derogatory comment), look at that glass of milk in your hand or that carton of milk in your refrigerator, and remember this image…..

And so to finally answer the question…Yes, breastmilk is vegan…but only for the species for whom that milk was intended.

a mother cow breastfeeding her baby

Me breastfeeding (and babywearing) my sleepy 2 year old son in the dairy aisle of the grocery store.

If You Give a Vegan a Hot Dog…..

If you give a vegan a hot dog….

she will NOT ask for another.

She will ask for a soda and some ginger mint tea, and she will spend the afternoon curled up in bed with a tummy ache.

This is what happened to our 6 year old daughter this week.

This week she completed Kindergarten. On their last day, they had Field Day, a day full of fun and games and races, a dunk tank, snow cones, a bounce house, and more! We told her that we would try to get there a little early to pick her up so we could see all the fun things she was doing and maybe even watch her in a race. When we got there, however, we were told that her class was in the cafeteria having lunch.

For the record, she was in morning Kindergarten and so she typically has lunch at home, but we had been told that there was a possibility that they might be having hot dogs, so if we wanted to send her with a vegan hot dog just in case that would be fine. Well, we forgot to send her with a vegan hot dog (since we don’t normally keep processed faux meat in our house), so Shannon’s first thought when we heard they were in the cafeteria was, “Oh no! She’s being left out!” If only that were true….

When we arrived in the cafeteria, Shannon went over to where our daughter was sitting, and seeing her eating a hot dog, immediately asked, “What are you eating?” Our sweet, innocent daughter replied, “A hot dog.”  Shannon: “But it’s not vegan, sweetie.”  Daughter: (worried, sad look on her face) “I didn’t know.”  Shannon: (taking the last 2 bites of hot dog out of her hand) “It’s ok. I’m not mad. You didn’t know it was meat.”  And then Shannon proceeded to walk over to the teacher with the remainder of the hot dog in hand and a stern look on her face, and said, “My daughter was eating this.”

The teacher was very apologetic, and said she hadn’t gotten over to her table yet to check her lunch bag and didn’t know the cafeteria staff had put a hot dog in her bag. In all fairness, it was rather chaotic in the cafeteria, and we know that there was no malicious intent on their part, and no irreparable damage was done (not like giving our son a peanut butter sandwich), so Shannon didn’t totally ream her out, and yet the point was made. She simply said, “Well, I told [my daughter] I wasn’t mad at her. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know.”

We assured our daughter over and over and over that we were not angry with her, and we discussed the lesson we learned about not assuming food is vegan, and also how we might all be more careful in the future. (1) She will always ask, “Is it vegan?” (2) We will remember to send a substitution any time there is even a possibility of special food being served (although this is less likely to be an issue with her in the future, since she will always have a lunch packed for her from 1st grade on), and (3) In preparation for when our (peanut-allergic) son enters school in a few years, we will definitely have more conversations with the school about being more conscious and careful about food.

Speaking of consciousness…As Shannon strapped her into her car seat, our daughter asked, “What animal did I eat?” Despite the mistake, she wanted to be conscious of the “friend” she had unknowingly consumed. 

So, if you give a vegan a hot dog, the first day, she will get a tummy ache….

But the next day, she will have a tummy ache and be cranky.

We anticipated that our daughter would have some digestive problems after eating meat, but what we had not considered were the mood swings and emotional impact it would have on her. If you’re going to accidentally eat meat, hot dogs are not the purest form of meat, and public school cafeteria hot dogs are undoubtedly some of the lowest quality available. I’m quite sure our daughter did not consume a free range, grass fed, all beef hot dog. Rather, she more likely ate a variety of unknown animal parts (possibly from a variety of animal sources), pumped full of chemicals and hormones, and God only knows what else.

And so when our sweet natured daughter suddenly manifested signs of what can only be described as monster behavior the day after eating this totally foreign substance to her body, it occurred to us that there was going to be more of a problem than simply digestive issues. Meat in and of itself was foreign to her body, but having eaten something overly processed and full of hormones and chemicals, she had eaten something entirely foreign to her body, and it was impacting not only her digestive tract, but every part of her being, including her brain. This incident caused us to question whether we truly realize the impact food has on our entire being.

If you give a vegan a hot dog, she’ll have a tummy ache, and mood swings…

But if you give her love and whole foods, she’ll be just fine.

The Great Zoo Controversy: A Practice in Vegan Parenting

There are a couple of distinctions when classifying vegans. There are dietary vegans and there are ethical vegans. Dietary vegans do not consume animal products or by-products as a part of their diet, but may not necessarily draw the line on wearing leather or using animal ingredients in household products, etc. Ethical vegans not only abstain from consuming animal products or by-products in their diets, but also in clothing, household products, etc. However, even within these categories, there are differences in opinion on some matters, such as the use of animals for entertainment.

Most vegans will agree that circuses with their caged or chained up animals who are poked and prodded (and otherwise mistreated) in order to train them to jump through hoops and do other tricks for our amusement is most certainly not vegan. However, for some vegans, the entertainment aspect of a zoo is not quite so clear cut. With all of their alleged emphasis on “conservation” efforts, on the surface zoos seem to be at least attempting to take care of animals. And this, I think, is why zoos have become a bit of a gray area for some vegans.

For me (Shannon), deep down I think I have always felt a little uneasy about zoos…even before I became a vegan. I remember feeling sorry for the large cats pacing back and forth in their confined spaces, the penguins staring at the backdrop behind them almost as if wondering why they couldn’t get past the wall to reach the beautiful picture that was there, and wondering how miserable the polar bears must be in the summer heat when their natural habitat was an icy cold climate.

(The bear on the left, I call the “performance bear.” It walked around and dove into the pool, swimming around, and generally giving a good show. The one on the right just lay there panting. I almost wondered if the “performance bear” was born in captivity and if the other bear was brought there from its arctic climate, knowing the difference between “home” and where it is living.)

As parents, we have had many conversations about whether or not to take our children to the zoo or to let them go on zoo trips if their school was going. When Isa was very small (before we became vegan), we took her (she slept through most of the trip). We took her again when she was a year old, because I had heard that the local zoo had revamped their penguin exhibit. So we went, because I had always thought the penguin exhibits are the most depressing due to the extreme difference in space between their natural habitat and what I can only describe as the zoo “box.” They did have more space than most zoos, but it was still significantly less than their natural surroundings. Since then, we decided that we would not personally take our children to the zoo, but if their school class went on a field trip that they could go as long as one of us was available to go with them.

A few weeks ago, we received a permission slip from our 6 year old daughter’s Kindergarten class, requesting permission that we allow her to go to the zoo. We discussed it again, and looked at our calendars, and agreed that I (with our 21 month old son in tow) would go with her. Thus began the preparation. How does a vegan parent express to her child why animals living in a zoo habitat are simply not the ideal situation for any animal, while also allowing her child to enjoy the wonders of nature? This was the task I was faced with while preparing my daughter for what she calls her “first zoo trip” (since she was too young to remember the other trips).

After some thought, I came up with the following idea:

  • Ask child to choose 1-2 animals she is most interested in that she may see at the zoo
  • Use the internet or library books to look up information and photos of those animals in their natural habitats, and discuss what your child notices about the animals in their natural habitat.
  • Have child draw a picture of the animals in their natural habitat.
  • Ask child to notice the difference between the animals in their natural habitat and what she sees at the zoo.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Have child draw a picture of the animals in their zoo habitat.
  • Discuss the difference between the 2 pictures.

Our daughter chose polar bears and penguins as her focus animals. She chose to draw the penguins. Here is her picture of a penguin in its natural habitat.

(The penguin is jumping from an icy mountain in to the water.)

Today was the zoo trip. Our daughter (and 21 month old son) enjoyed seeing the animals in real life as opposed to in a picture, and at the same time, our daughter was able to express the difference. She understands that they don’t have enough space and their climates are different. There are other conversations to be had with her regarding zoos (and other “entertainment” topics) as she gets older, but for now, she has made an age-appropriate observation. Below is a photo of the penguins we saw today.

Her homework for class tonight was to draw a picture and write a sentence about something she learned at the zoo. Here is what she drew and wrote.

(Her sentence: “A penguin’s natural habitat is bigger than a zoo habitat.”)

There are two sides to the picture. On the left is a penguin in its natural habitat. On the right side is a penguin (and penguin baby) in the zoo habitat. My daughter told me that the penguin on the left is larger because its habitat is larger, and the penguin on the right is small because its habitat is smaller. She also said that the penguin in the zoo habitat has a painting behind it.

Raising vegan children in a non-vegan world (there’s a book already written by that title) is a complicated process and practice. Not all parents, vegan or non-vegan, will agree with our decision, but for the time being this is how our vegan family chose to approach the great vegan controversy of the zoo.

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