Be YO Self
I'm far from perfect as you can plainly see...

I'm far from perfect as you can plainly see...

Let go of the desire to be anything but your truest self.
... But I gotta be me...

... But I gotta be me...

... I just gotta be me, goofy faces and all!  Photos courtesy of  Miaou Photography

... I just gotta be me, goofy faces and all!

Photos courtesy of Miaou Photography

Society keeps trying to tell us “just be yourself”? While at the same time meaning... “just be someone else”... confusing right? I feel ya.

We've all heard it. “Just be yourself”.

A little background...

I was taking a nap the other day and while I was starting to fall asleep, my mind wandered onto the subject of authenticity... and what does that really mean? Immediately I jumped up, headed to my laptop and decided I need to write down everything on my mind in that moment...

I began to think about how other people perceive me, the ways they describe me and the judgements we all make.

I've been told a lot of things, some are positive, others are funny, others have been downright hurtful.

  • I've been told I'm a “hipster”, an “activist”, a “girly girl”.
  • I've been told that I’m super smart, the human encyclopedia, or dictionary. I'm almost too nerdy to function.
  • I've been told that I'm strong willed and opinionated.
  • I've been told I’m too sensitive, overly concerned about the welfare of other people, animals and the planet. I'm a bleeding heart.
  • I've been told my sneezes sound like mice exploding, rodents fighting or miniature laser battles (squeak, pieeeew pieeew pieeeeew).
  • I've been told I make baby pterodactyl noises, I’m the clumsiest person in the world, that I make funny faces, that my laugh is contagious and I have a terrible sense of direction.
  • I've been compared to Jessica Day (Zoey Deschanel's character on the show “New Girl”), Sometimes I like to sing or dance or make funny voices for no real reason.
  • I've been called "Ned Flanders"... that one took me by surprise!
  • I've been called names, I've been victimized, I’ve been demoralized.

I could go on...

When I think about all of these statements, I know deep down that I just wouldn't be me without any of them. Each joyous moment, each painful challenge and each quirky trait has made me who I am today. It is what it is, I am who I am, and I accept that.

But acceptance and pride in one's uniqueness doesn't come easy in a world that tells us how we should look, what we should wear, how we should eat, and who we should be.

The dictionary defines authenticity as “not false or imitation, true to one's own spirit or character”.

How do we become true to our own spirit or character, how do we achieve a place of “not false”?

I believe these are the steps that helped me achieve a place of authenticity:

  1. Forgiveness: Forgiveness is not about excusing, it's about letting go so you can find peace. Before you can move forward, you must make peace with your past. Many years ago I began to forgive, I forgave my bullies, I forgave my ex's, but the most challenging thing to do is to forgive yourself. I still occasionally struggle with this one, regret is a powerful emotion. When I catch myself dwelling on a “mistake” I remind myself “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time”. Doing your best is all you can do.

  2. Accept: Each day accept a part of yourself without resistance. One at a time, embrace your “flaws” and “quirks”. There was a time I found sneezing in public to be horrifyingly embarrassing. Now I laugh and shrug it off... I know my sneeze is “unconventional” but generally it makes others laugh, so I now see it as a gift.
  3. Find Your Voice: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Just find your voice and speak your truth. Talk about your thoughts, feelings and ideas in a constructive way, but don't hide them.

  4. Be Vulnerable: Because as Brene Brown writes “Authenticity is a collection of choices we have to make everyday. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” We cannot let our true selves be seen unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

  5. Let Go: Let go of the desire to be anything but your truest self. Your truest self is the most beautiful expression of you. 

These are the lessons I have found to be most helpful. I strive everyday to do what feels good and right to me. I of course take outside influences into consideration, but ultimately, if it doesn't feel right, I don't take it on board. This is how I stay true to myself, this is how I embrace my authenticity.

I challenge you to forgive, accept, find your voice, be vulnerable, and let go of the desire to be anything but you. I know you can do it, cuz you're awesome like that!

 

Why a Plant Based Diet Worked For Me

I believe it is important to note, that while no diet can cure an autoimmune condition, one can live symptom free the majority of the time. A plant based diet didn't work for me simply because It excluded animal products. It worked for me because I started eating highly alkalizing, whole, organic and plant based foods. While it is becoming easier and easier to be vegan in today's society, it remains challenging to be a whole foods vegan. 

The idea of transitioning to a plant based diet should challenge you to eat more fruits and vegetables. With an ever increasing number of vegan and gluten free foods popping up on grocery store shelves, it can be enticing to reach for the convenient option. However, beware of nutrition "buzzwords". The words "vegan" and "gluten free" are not synonymous with health. All packaged and processed foods can contain harmful ingredients. (I will address some of these ingredients in future posts.)

Be a savvy consumer, and don't fall victim to the hype. Selling "health foods" has become a billion dollar a year industry. Remember that the healthiest foods are the ones that have gone through the least amount of processing to make it to your table. These foods, the ones free of additives, dyes and preservatives are the one's that will support your body's natural healing processes. 

Celebrating World Vegan Day With Strawberry Blonde

All Photos Courtesy of Miaou Photography

What's a Celebration Without Cake?

Yeah, what is a celebration without cake? Well, it's a little less magical if you ask me, or the hundreds of thousands of Canadians living with dietary restrictions; whether they be allergies, cultural, ethical or otherwise, food restrictions make life a little less sweet.

For Eric and me, being gluten free vegans has made it challenging to find tasty accessible treats. However, we need not look any further - Strawberry Blonde Bakery, here in Ottawa, has rekindled our love of baked goods once more!

In celebration of World Vegan Day, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jacqui and Claire, owners and masterminds behind Strawberry Blonde. We had a wonderful time getting to know one another, sharing stories and laughs over cups of tea.

 

A Little Background

I just didn't feel like it was contributing anything meaningful to the world” - Jacqui

Jacqui worked in television in Toronto but was feeling disenfranchised so she decided to go to baking school. She had recently became vegan and decided to look into vegan baking and even entertained the idea of one day owning a vegan bakery. It was at this time that she also discovered a growing demand for gluten free baked goods.

Claire attended Carleton University for a Bachelor of Social Work which she “hated” so she quickly began to focus more on her new found interest in baking.

Claire was also diagnosed as sensitive to gluten (she was misdiagnosed with Celiac Disease initially):

I am very sensitive to gluten, but I can tolerate spelt alright.” - Claire

The two (now) vegans met when they started working at Rainbow Foods with a drive toward something greater.

I really wanted to do something that was meaningful” - Jacqui

Both had an interest in opening their own bakeries and it was Claire that suggested they join forces. Jacqui was hesitant at first but was quickly won over by a Queen Elizabeth cake that Claire had made.

Then she made the Queen Elizabeth cake for a function at Rainbow and I was like - ‘This is the greatest thing I have ever eaten in my life! I need to make this woman my business partner rather than my competitor’…” - Jacqui

After selling their goodies at the local Christmas Farmer’s Market, the owners of Rainbow Foods happily supported Jacqui and Claire’s new endeavour by selling their products in store. Soon after, Herb & Spice picked up their products as well, and interest in their vegan, gluten-free, nut-free baked goods began to snowball.

So we quit Rainbow, and the owner's came to us and said we could use their kitchen downstairs.” - Jacqui

Things took off to a point where the ladies began to focus on the baking full time, which meant leaving their jobs at Rainbow Foods. Luckily, the owners continued to happily support Jacqui and Claire and offered them the use of a kitchen space for only cost.

Soon the demand for Jacqui and Claire's treats required a bigger space which lead them to their current location at 114B Grange Avenue.

The Kitchen at Rainbow was so small, I don't know how we didn't kill eachother.” -Jacqui

Came close a couple of times. (laughs)" - Claire

Ingredients Matter

For their ingredients Jacqui and Claire try to make sure everything is organic whenever possible but the need for gluten-free, nut-free, egg and dairy free always takes priority. That being said, their coconut milk and soy products are always organic.

One way or another, they try to source their ingredients for flours from Jamestown Mill in Aylmer.

Ingredients that are environmentally conscientious and ethically sourced are also key concerns:

The other issue with coconut milk is that some companies buy coconuts from places where they use monkeys to pick them...We make sure to use Native Forest for our coconut milk, because they don't do that...We use Earth Balance which does contain palm oil, but it is ethically sourced.” - Jacqui

Products aka The TREATS

What did I say was my new favourite the other day?” - Jacqui

Jacqui’s (current) favourite treat at the shop is their scones (of which there are many delectable flavours to choose).

Claire admits that the Power Cookies are addictive. Jacqui agrees, as she usually starts her day with one and adds “they’re probably our best seller”. Although still a baked treat, the Power Cookies offer good nutritional value being packed with dried fruits, oats, coconut and seeds, and they’re sweetened only with molasses and agave.

...there's a new nanaimo cookies and cream bar that is phenomenal, but I can only eat half because it's so decadent. It doesn't help that I put vanilla ice cream on top (laughs)” - Claire

I actually love the bread, It's so flavourful and satisfying. Although it is not fluffy like conventional bread, It toasts up really well and I have been enjoying it with a variety of toast toppings, to be featured in a future post. -Kara

Recipe Development and Testing

Claire is really the mastermind behind most of the products.” - Jacqui

Recipe development used to be split 50-50 between Jacqui and Claire, but as time went on, they’ve slipped into their roles of business management and recipe planner respectively.

As such, Jacqui is usually the one who suggests new recipe ideas (usually to mimic something she can’t eat because of dietary restrictions) and Claire figures out how to make it a reality.

Claire will usually work out the recipe at home in her kitchen and once she feels she’s made progress, she’ll bring it into the bakery to test with her coworkers.

We don't want anything to go out the door unless it's tastes great.” - Jacqui

In Retrospect

Rob a bank - Get more money” (laughs) - Claire

I asked Jacqui and Claire if there was anything they’d change in retrospect or if there was any advice they’d offer to their younger selves. Claire mentioned that she would tell her younger self to stress less as “everything usually works out anyway” especially when “ you have a great business partner to lean on”.

Both agreed that patience was key as running a business is a learning process.

Jacqui added that they were fortunate to get a loan from Futurpreneur (Canadian Youth Business Foundation) which required a business plan, but that business plans need to be fluid because of the surprises business ownership often brings.

Strawberry Blonde turns 3

One of the things we wanted when we started the business was to create a community and give back” - Jacqui

Strawberry Blonde recently celebrated it’s third anniversary. As they’re now in a position to give back, to honour the occasion, the bakery held a doughnut eating competition to fundraise in support of Refuge RR; an animal sanctuary for domestic, wild and farm animals in Alexandria Ontario (close to Claire’s hometown).

Other businesses in the community eagerly contributed prizes to the cause as well and as a result the bakery managed to raise just over $1500 for Refuge RR!

It was really fun, but I looked at the photos after and all the contestants looked like they might be sick (laughs).” -Claire

Work - Life Balance

That's what's so great about having a business partner...if we had done this alone, the business would have flopped by now. Thankfully, there is always someone else to take over when one of us can't be around.” - Jacqui

Both ladies admit to being workaholics but recent circumstances in both of their lives have forced them to slow down and step back (a little).

In the first year of the business, Claire had a brain bleed, which really forced her to step back and focus on her personal health. Jacqui ribs her for “only” working 40 hours a week now as opposed to the 80 hours that she used to put in.

I am fortunate to have a great business partner here, I'm lucky to have her in my life.” -Claire

Jacqui recently had a baby which, naturally, requires her to focus outside of the business as well.

Do What you Love, Love What You Do

I always thought it was more important to like the people you work with...That way you’re going to enjoy going to work more.” - Jacqui

Working with one of your best pals is always fun.” - Claire

Jacqui and Claire are good friends and appreciate that they’re like minded. Kitchens, in general, are tight spaces which can easily turn into pressure cookers, luckily, their employees are good team players.

We really wanted to create a space where people enjoyed coming to work, and like the people that they work with and where they get fairly treated. We try our best to make it a safe and positive work environment, and I'm pretty proud of us for doing that.” - Jacqui

Strawberry Blonde is a little bakery with a big heart. These lovely ladies are such an inspiration. I am so pleased that I got to spend the morning with them. If you are in the Ottawa area you can visit their shop at 114B Grange Ave. Ottawa, in Westboro.

...doing something that contributes to the world - as a vegan it's important...when they (kids with allergies) come into the store and their parents tell them they can eat anything - seeing their faces and how excited they get - that is probably my favourite thing. It's makes me cry almost every time. That's something that we're really proud of.” - Jacqui

I have provided a link to their website here.

If you'd like to learn more about Refuge RR or if you are interested in donating, you can find more info here. Please consider donating today. They could really use your help and what better way to celebrate World Vegan Day than by donating to an animal shelter or rescue near you?  

Kara-Lynn Garland
Who Am I?
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All photos courtesy of  Miaou Photography

All photos courtesy of Miaou Photography

Hi I'm Kara-Lynn,

Kara or K-L for short, and I am many things in this life, as most of us are. I am a woman, a vegan, a cat lover, a tree hugger, a hairstylist, a make up artist, a yogi, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and most recently, a blogger. 

If someone had told the 17 year old me that I would one day be a vegan nutritionist, I would have laughed wholeheartedly! As much as I wanted to be vegan at the time, my efforts were thwarted by my hatred of legumes and love of all things cheese and ice-cream. Actually, 17 year old me worked at a Dairy Queen franchise in my home town, and I probably gained 15 pounds that summer. I was no stranger to weight gain and other minor to moderate health challenges, with digestive issues, eczema, asthma, and budding allergies being at the forefront. I honestly don't remember a time in my youth where I didn't have "tummy troubles" as my mom called it. Although I would have bouts of extreme abdominal and joint pain (severe enough to render me in the emergency room) no doctor could seem to diagnose a problem. 

Fast forward a few years... after high school graduation I went to beauty school and became a hairstylist. I loved my career so much, and I still enjoy doing hair part time today. A good friend I met through work encouraged me to join a gym with her and talk to her dietitian. I agreed and almost immediately I saw results. Although I lost weight... I still never felt great. Those minor health problems persisted and I needed to find answers. Being the inquisitive person I am, naturally I began to research and experiment with food. After much trial and error, I found a diet that worked for me and my digestive health began to improve slightly. But alas a piece of the puzzle was still missing. 

In 2012, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. The pain I had been experiencing, had become a full blown autoimmune condition. For a moment, I felt like my life was over. I worried that this would mean the end of my career. As a hairstylist and make up artist, I had a physically demanding job, and I became obsessed with finding ways to lessen and manage my pain. It was through this quest for answers that I stumbled across a plant based diet. I was skeptical, but I knew I couldn't keep popping Advil and Aleve like candy... I fully committed to an anti-inflammatory vegan diet for 30 days and to my complete amazement I began to notice changes.

Throughout that first month I experimented with all kinds of vegetable dishes, I tried new legumes, I scoured blogs for recipes, and I even started sprouting! Within weeks my energy improved, I started shedding a few pounds and my pain improved so much, I started back to the gym, doing gentle exercise. I was convinced that the vegan life was the life for me! 

I knew my discoveries were not a coincidence, and yet I had to go through all these crazy trials and errors to find a path to healing. I became frustrated with our current healthcare system, and wondered why no one had told me that food could make such a difference in one's life... Like seriously, why isn't this common knowledge?! I knew I had to find a way to share my new found knowledge with the world!

Enter the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition... In September 2014 I set foot in my first nutrition class at CSNN, and I knew I was in the right place. I was so inspired by my instructors, I immediately started brainstorming about what I might do upon graduation. It was during my studies that my passion for not only our personal health, but also the health of our planet deepened and the Nomshell philosophy was born.  Upon graduating as valedictorian in the fall of 2016, I realized just how much I wanted to help others, and right away began to build this site. 

I am so pleased to be able to share my passion with all of you, I hope I can inspire you, empower you and help you on your own journey to wellness. 

Healing can be a long and winding road, but if we help one another, we just might all find our way. 

KL