What I Wish I Knew When I Was 18: A Letter for My Cousin When She Graduated High School


You’ve always been like a younger sister to me (awwww). Lately, I haven’t really known you, and that’s okay. Everyone in life goes through stages, but it’s important to realize these stages end, and to allot grace for those you love to change and become the person they want to be. I know that you will always be there for me, and I for you. Nothing can change the connection we have, even if sometimes it is dim. I love you dearly. I wanted to get you something meaningful for your graduation. The transition into adulthood is a really tender time in our lives. But, mostly, it’s just that: change. And change is hard. Not to mention endlessly confusing. I know I still struggle with confronting the change into “adulthood” and “womanhood.” So... I decided to tell you all the things I wish someone had told me when I was eighteen. Take them for what you will, but know that they are true, and that it would have made a world of difference to me if I had recognized them before I did. There’s a difference between knowing something and understanding it. Read this and take what you will. But, one day, you’ll come back to it, and something will fall into place. Maybe that will happen a few times. All I can hope is to inspire you, and to prevent you from having to learn some things the hard way like I did. The really hard way. I love you, Sam.

Peanut butter and jelly is a meal. Okay, laugh, because I know I really talked this list up. This one is just as important as the ones below it! Feed your body. But, don’t get stuck in the mind game that is the “American meal”. Peanut butter and jelly constitutes dinner. As does a piece of toast and an apple. Or yogurt and pita bread (personal favorite). Anyway, you get the point, this is beyond peanut butter and jelly. Don’t do what people tell you to do just because it is portrayed as “just what you do.”

Parents have real problems, too. Seriously real problems, as I’m sure you know I recently was confronted with. What I mean, though, is recognize that your relationship with your parents is going to evolve. You are going to become more of equals, and they are going to relinquish some of their responsibilities in your life to you (yeah, paying for your own car insurance sucks). They aren’t doing it because they hate you, they’re doing it because it’s what is right for you. Respect them as adults, but always love them as parents.

Being a slut is okay. Yeah, we’re jumping all over the place, here. I don’t know how to make this sound classy, so I won’t. There comes a time in a woman’s life when she has to... well, sleep around (maybe not literally!....or maybe literally, that’s your choice). We’ve been taught to fear “sluthood” and to suppress our sexuality as women. Society likes to punish “slutty” women. (Clarity: slutty doesn’t mean you sleep with a bunch of guys, in our society slutty is transferred to any woman secure in her sexuality and acting on her desires--whether that even means actively sleeping with someone or not). Sometimes, you don’t want a relationship, and yet you end up in one. Casual dating leaves room for you to recognize that you can feel loved, and you can give love, without confusing yourself emotionally. That leaves room for growth and maybe nursing a bad break up. It also allows you to “come into your own” and know what you want and what you don’t want in a relationship (or in a partner). As long as you’re safe, educated, and honest about your intentions with yourself and those you are involved in, you allow for growth, healing, and liberation. Even if it’s never something you want for yourself, you may have to support a friend who chooses to take that path. Be okay with it. Don’t let society’s rules govern your judgement.

Having fun is more important than school. Yeah, college is preparing for a career, and furthering your learning of traditional education and of yourself...blah, blah, blah. But, really? It’s for fun and freedom. So, have fun. Skip a couple classes, take a couple easy ones, give yourself a break. Don’t waste your money, or anything silly, but emphasize the importance of having fun. Honestly, how can you be expected to keep your sanity while earning good grades if you don’t grant yourself permission for having fun and making mistakes? This really is the ideal time for it...

The right path is usually the hardest one. This one is pretty self explanatory. But, maybe it will shorten those 3 day long decision making periods where you don’t know what to do (okay, you pretty much know what to do, but don’t want to do it). Sometimes, you do what you have to do and it sucks. It’s hard. It tears you and other people apart. But, you know it’s for the best. It sounds so cliche, but, save yourself the agony of indecision, and go with your intuition--it’s always right.

Cry. Scream. Throw a temper tantrum. Not for the drama of it, but for the sheer relief. Show your emotions. Let them come up when they come up, allow space for them, and then do what you will with them. It’ll save you so much pain and time down the road...

Get some of those coasters that test for date rape drugs. Okay, I’m paranoid. But, I really don’t want you to get gang banged. (I’m not saying this because I got gang banged, I’m only saying this because I’m pretty much crazy about being prepared... maybe this is just a place holder for a deeper lesson of being prepared... yes, I totally meant to do that...)

It’s okay to need and want. I can’t wrap this one up neatly because it’s something I’m still learning. Express what you need, and express what you want. You are worth it. You are just as important as any other person out there, so don’t sacrifice yourself out of fear. Speaking of which...

Don’t let fear hold you back. Within reason... listen to your intuition about not walking down that dark creepy path at 3am. If you feel hesitation about something you really feel a pull to do, ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t scared. Yeah. It’s powerful stuff.

Friends and partners shape who you are but don’t let them become your identity. Every person you interact with helps to mold you. "We viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever showed the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.” You have to take what you want/need from each person, without letting it enter your foundation. You must build your foundation for and by yourself. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself holding on to someone from 6 years ago, because without them, you’re just not quite sure who you are... (yes, I am speaking from experience).

It’s true: you really won’t get over your “first love”. And it sucks endlessly because they always have that pull on you, until you decide to not let them. As long as you’re not letting it interfere with your other relationships, keep them around if they’re a good friend. But, be honest with yourself. Hooking up with three guys in quick succession won’t heal that pain, so just face it when it happens.

It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to be confused. Don’t obsess over not knowing where you’re going, who you will be there with, who or what you will be... It’s okay to just not know any of it. People ask you endlessly at this age what you want to study, be, do for a living, where you want to live, etc, etc. Be okay with saying “I don’t know!” It’s okay. Trust that the path will present itself. Even when you do make a plan, it doesn’t ever work out the way you think it will, and that’s okay. It may hurt, but that’s okay. Don’t fight the current:)

When it comes down to it, family: blood and chosen, are the only people who will always be there for you no matter what. You can choose your family. There are those people you instantly connect with, and there are those people you labor endlessly over building a wonderful relationship with. Anyone can become your family, and you have the ability to choose who you are going to surround yourself with. People will come into your life for specific purposes, and float out just as easily as they came in, and some people will just appear, and be a permanent addition to your journey. Respect those people the way you respect your family, and don’t take them for granted. Recognize that people will come into your life who will seem so wonderful, that you’ll get caught up in the whirlwind of them. Eventually, they can leave, betray you, hurt you, or just float away. Don’t let them replace your family: appreciate that your family will never, ever leave you.

Know what your values are and stick to them. At the end of the day you’ll feel better for standing up for what you believe in even if you lose people along the way. Don’t sacrifice that for anyone. People who are worth it will learn to compromise with you.

Be selfish. Do what you want because you want to do it. Don’t make choices based on what other people think is right for you, and what society says you have to do next. Think deeply about important decisions, seek advice from those you trust, but make sure you make that decision for you. It’s also okay to take some time for just yourself. Maybe you won’t talk to your best friend for two weeks, but it’s okay. Learn to listen to what your body tells you, because sometimes you just need what you need when you need it.

Be open and transparent. Let people see who you really are. This ties in to the fear one a little bit--don’t stop yourself from being true to yourself out of fear of what others may interpret it as. Transparency and integrity can gain you a lot of flack, but only because people are intimidated by your strength and candidness, or envious of their inability to show the same strengths. Either way, people will respect you. And most people will love and admire you intensely for it. It’s also a lot less work than reigning yourself in or maintaining this “idea” of who you are.

Honesty hurts at the time, but it hurts a lot less than days, weeks, or years of covering up for your inability to express it. When it comes down to it, honesty and openness will get you furthest in life. They will solidify, strengthen, and deepen your relationships faster than almost anything because honesty opens the door to trust. Trust, in turn, opens the door to further and deeper honesty, therefore forging connections that are nearly impossible to break. It’s much easier to tell the hard truth about something when it comes up, than to waste energy and time trying to make it into something it’s not, and sacrificing your relationships along the way.

Take risks. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in front of your aspirations. Leap into situations blindly (with discretion, of course, I’m not talking about danger, just opportunity) and see where it takes you. The moments that define you best are when you jump at an opportunity without giving yourself time to over analyze it. This shows your true intentions and desires, whether they be fleeting and fulfilling or deep seated and long lasting.

That’s all. Take what you will, but I hope you know that each and every thing I’ve said would have made a tremendous difference in my life had I recognized the truth of it when I was eighteen. I can only hope, as your family and your friend, to share my experiences and my wisdom with you to help make your journey just that much easier. I love you dearly.

“Don't forget what you've learned; all you give is returned / And if life seems absurd what you need is some laughter / And a season to sleep”

xoxo leanna


Coconut Flour Brownies (Primal/Paleo)

Primal Paleo brownies made with coconut flour
Ever since we started eating primally two months ago, all I've wanted to do is start baking. I love baking, and with an added challenge it's way more exciting. I've started doing a few recipes here and there just to get a feel for the alternative flours. So far I've made: almond meal cookies, almond meal biscuits, vegan chocolate nut butter cake balls, almond meal and coconut flour cobbler with apple/pear/blueberry, coconut flour banana bread, and coconut flour brownies. Huge successes: cookies and brownies. Great but need minor tweaking: biscuits, cake balls, and cobbler. Need a good deal of work: banana bread. I found out I prefer almond meal cookies over grain flour and refined sugar brownies. I now know I prefer primal coconut flour brownies over regular brownies, which is really exciting for me guys. Because I crave brownies more than basically any other baked good.

Yesterday I got really hyped up about primal baking. And proceeded to research/order a ridiculous amount of primal/gf/alternative baking flours/additives. So much for that budget, huh? Worth it. While researching, I came across a website that describes some of the grain free/gluten free flour options. There was a recipe for coconut flour brownies I wanted to try. I'm just so curious about the quirks of coconut flour. It's like a game, and never the same. It's so finicky! So I had to try making something else with it since my banana bread was more or less a wet mess without much banana flavor (better with honey!). I didn't really want to go with a random recipe that had no reviews on some slightly sketchy looking website about grain/gluten free living. I like reviews. I want to know that if I'm being lazy enough to start with a pre-existing recipe, at least I'm starting somewhere off the ground to make it worth it. I was really interested in this, because I love zucchini and have a lot of it right now, but I didn't have all the ingredients. Somewhere along the way, I felt drawn back to the original recipe, because the more I thought about it, the more it resembled, perfectly, the method of preparation my boss uses in her amazing brownie recipe. I'm so glad I did, it was perfect.

Primal Paleo brownies made with coconut flour

Primal Paleo brownies made with coconut flour

Coconut Flour Brownies (Primal, Gluten-free, Grain-free)
Source: original recipe

6 ½ oz good dark chocolate
4 1/2 oz butter (one stick + one tablespoon)
¾ cup granulated sweetener of choice
1/2 t vanilla extract*
2 eggs
6 T coconut flour
1/2 t sea salt*
1 c chopped walnuts/mix-ins

Preheat the oven to 320 degrees (yup).
Grease an 8x8 dish and line with parchment for easy removal.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a saucepan over low heat.
Remove from heat, let cool slightly (I transferred to a different bowl) and add sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking until light.
Stir in flour, salt, and walnuts.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until tester comes out mostly clean.
Cool in pan for at least 10-15 minutes, then lift the slab out by the parchment.
Cut into 16 squares and enjoy!
*Added to original recipe

Primal Paleo brownies made with coconut flour