Why I’m Eating A Carnivore Keto Diet

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a journalist from The Guardian about eating carnivore and a ketogenic diet.

Just why would someone do it?

First of all, I just want to say that I don’t believe in “mocking vegans” and mentioned this during my phone interview with the journalist, despite my admiration for Dr. Shawn Baker, who I think has a vital message to share in regards to red meat and saturated fat.  I have many friends who are vegans and vegetarians, and like religion (I grew up Jehovah’s Witness; not one anymore), I respect people’s beliefs. In fact, I actually went with a vegan friend to a restaurant with an all-vegan menu a few months ago and simply fasted, sipping unsweetened iced tea, focusing on our conversation and friendship instead.

Yet at the same time, I’m also beginning to believe (along with my husband who was vegetarian for over fifteen years and now eats carnivore keto too) that a plant-based diet may not be as healthy and sustainable as we have all been led to believe. My husband, Darrell, who is now in remission from cancer (using the ketogenic diet in conjunction with chemo and radiation), is the one who suggested trying the carnivore diet after we read up on Dr. Georgia Ede’s work. We were also inspired by Danny Vega (and his Fat-Fueled Family), Amber O’Hearn, and Shawn Baker. (Darrell is constantly telling me I should read a book he believes wholeheartedly in: The Vegetarian Myth  by Lierre Keith.)

The second thing I want to mention, and also told the reporter during our phone interview, is that I’m just beginning my experiment eating carnivore, now over three months in. I’m not even certain if I want to do this for the rest of my life. It’s just a self-experiment. And I’m also making it my own, not completely following it in the way long-time zero carb and carnivore folks have been doing it (e.g., I add MCT oil to my coffee, track my fasting glucose, blood ketones and GKI  and also drink wine and whiskey from time to time.)

I also told her that I’m still learning everyday about eating this way, and pretty far away from an expert or someone with long-term lived experience like Kelly HoganAmber O’Hearn, or Charlene Andersen who have all been successfully eating carnivore for over a decade. There’s also Mikhaila Peterson who has successfully used carnivore for mental health.

But the main reason I’m choosing to eat a carnivore and keto diet is because of my mental health, for bipolar disorder. It’s funny how easy it’s been to tell people I eat keto for prediabetes, how it helped with (my husband’s) cancer — all true — but I’ve been so afraid to come out about using the ketogenic diet for bipolar. There is so much stigma attached to bipolar disorder that is unnecessary!

In my twenties, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder after I mentioned to the psychiatrist I briefly saw that my sister had been diagnosed with Type 1. The psychiatrist I had been seeing for my anxiety and depression, who had me on SSRIs, suddenly switched me to an anti-convulsant instead. Imagine my surprise when I realized my friend who has epileptic seizures took the same prescription drug I was taking: Neurontin!

In my thirties, while doing a MFA program in Fiction and Creative Writing, I almost dropped out before also being diagnosed with ADHD and Social Anxiety. (I couldn’t, for the life of me, focus on doing assignments turned in on time, and freaked out having to do literary readings in front of other people, often running into class late, and leaving as soon as the bell ended to avoid any social interactions with anybody.)

I went through a series of configuration of meds, always involving an anti-convulsant, like Neurontin or Oxcarbazapine. I was put on Adderall for my ADHD. As a new mom in grad school, I also faced post-partum depression. But the anxiety I faced was crippling, despite the meds, and I would quickly oscillate from anxiety to depression, and back. What did help some was cognitive behaviorial therapy (CBT) that used mindfulness and meditation rather than medication alone.

But then I began seeing a nutritionist who happened to be one of the parents in my son’s elementary school class in Oakland, CA. She introduced me to Sally Fallon’s book that emphasized whole foods and healthy animal fats. We began an elimination diet to take out sugar and flour. I discovered Paleo and Primal eating, falling in love with Robb Wolf, Marc Sisson, Melissa Joulwan and Michelle Tam’s books for recipes. I began to feel better and my therapist and psychiatrist  saw the positive changes. In fact, they both decided I was merely “on the spectrum of Type 2 Bipolar Disorder,” prone to hypomania but nothing debilitating enough to put my own life (or that of others) in danger.

In the article it’s mentioned that the carnivore diet helped me to come off my bipolar meds. That isn’t true. I mentioned in my interview that in 2012, I was able to ramp off all medications after simply reducing my flour and sugar intake, following a ancestral/paleo/primal way of eating. The psychiatrist I saw (not in my insurance plan, unfortunately) suggested that I eliminate flour and sugar out of my diet to see if that helped — and help it did!

I wasn’t the type of person you hear about with bipolar disorder who rushed out and had sex with strangers, abused massive drugs, gambled or was constantly suicidal. My biggest problem was saying “yes” to everyone, filling up my life constantly with people (despite having social anxiety; go figure!). Another problem was I amassed quite a bit of e-courses on my hard drive and books I never got to reading on our shelves. I was also terrible with spending money, having become bankrupt by my early twenties. And when I taught English at a community college, I was so anxious, I had to take a beta-blocker from time to time just to face my thirty or so students, always waiting to the last minute to grade essays.

In December 2014 when my husband found out he had cancer, a friend told us about the keto diet, about the possibility of starving the cancer cells from glucose, and we immediately jumped in full force. By then, my general practitioner had warned that with my blood tests were climbing to “prediabetes” levels, and told me I should eat better and move more. I immediately gravitated to eating keto when I read about the potential benefits for people with Central Nervous Disorders (CNS), such as bipolar disorder and ADHD. Recently I read that cancer researcher Dominic D’Agostino believes the keto diet is the first line of defense for people with cancer, as well as those inflicted with CNS and neurological disorders

As someone who can easily go from Spongebob to Squidward (or for you older folks: Winnie-the-Pooh to Eeyore) within the space of an hour or a day,  it’s not easy to battle day-to-day mood swings. And I know it’s not easy for my family members as well.

Everyone noticed, including my friends, when I simply switched to a regular keto diet, how less anxious and depressed I was, compared to how I used to be, back when I was eating a SAD (Standard American Diet) way life, filled with high carbs (mostly refined carbohydrates), pasta, bread, cakes, cookies, pizza. I used to think of myself as a foodie, someone who valued what some of my friends would call, “bougie” foods, searching for high-starred Yelp and Zagat reviews, chasing high-end food trucks, salivating to the Food Network Channel while binging on high-carb, high-sugar foods.

Can A Ketogenic Diet Help Bipolar Disorder?

I love Dr. Georgia Ede, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and her work around mental health and ketogenic diets, a subject close to my heart. In this video, Irish engineer Ivor Cummins interviews Dr Ede about how a keto diet can help with bipolar disorder, seizure disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. They discuss vegetables—how healthy are they really?

“A ketogenic diet seems to stabilize brain cell chemistry. In particular, lowers intracellular sodium…and that is also the way a lot of the mood stabilizing medications that we prescribe work for bipolar disorder. So there’s a lot of similarity between BP and seizure disorders, in terms of the underlying mechanism. The meds prescribed for BP disorder as well as seizure disorders—many of these are the same medications.”

Now I know firsthand that keto works. Not only in bringing down my prediabetes (HbA1C from 5.8% to 5.2%) and help with shrinking my husband’s tumor during his cancer, my moods began to improve even more. I ramped off ALL meds in 2012, including asthma meds (like my steroid inhaler and Prednisone for all the coughing that took forever to disappear after colds I don’t get anymore). And to this day (today, as I write this, I turned 46 years old), I have never felt better, more optimistic about our future moving from a house into a RV, about spending time with my family and loved ones–feeling younger and happier than ever!

Now keto-adapted since August 2017 (I half-assed a keto-ish, paleo-ish diet since December 2014), my husband and I decided to try this carnivore keto approach, but adding in the keto and paleo/primal elements we care about, such as MCT oil (with its anti-convulsant properties), grass-fed and pastured meat and eggs, raw cheeses (when we can find them), tracking our ketones, fasting glucose, and GKI (Glucose Ketones Index).

Most people who eat carnivore or keto tend to use it to lose weight–which is great. But Darrell and I are doing it mainly for cancer, bipolar disorder, and prediabetes. The weight loss, newfound energy to work out, better body composition, higher energy and libido, mental clarity, have all been giant bonuses–icing on the cake! I’ve really found that when you eat in a way to have better physical and mental health–and not for weight loss–the weight comes off more easily. It’s not a diet. It’s just a way of life!

Others Who Have Successfully Used Keto for Bipolar Disorder

Others With Bipolar Disorder

As I mentioned, the fear about coming out about bipolar disorder is beyond scary. I worry about all the stigmas that come with it. Yet I know deep down that I have been–and still am–a loving, responsible, whole human being. And throughout history there have been many people who are (or had been) inflicted with bipolar disorder. Here are some just off the top of my head (and many of these people are/were conventionally successful):

Before Deciding To Chuck Your Meds to Implement Keto, Read This First

People who are currently taking meds for bipolar disorder and are considering eating a keto diet, should read this important advice from Dr. Georgia Ede:

This is another great article I recently came across on general mental health and the use of low-carb diets from a trusted source:

A Mindset Shift: The Difference One Little Letter Can Make

A Mindset Shift: What a Difference One Letter Can Make

It’s amazing how easily you can make a mindset shift simply by changing the ‘o’ to an ‘e’ in the phrases: “I’ve GOT to” to “I GET to.”

As ‘a glass is half empty type of person’ my entire life, I find myself needing to remember this on a daily basis.

Lately, with our recent move from our house to an RV, I’ve been struggling with going into this default mode; namely, looking at life via a negative lens. But doing this exercise allows me to quickly shift from despair and overwhelm to a more grateful and positive existence, which is what I’m perpetually aiming for, not wanting to be overruled by stress.

So here’s an example of a simple mindset shift I’ve decided to make:

  • I’ve got to make this work!  becomes ==>  I GET to live this life!
  • I’ve got to eat better!  becomes ==>  I GET to eat delicious keto food that fuels my brain and body, especially because I love the mental clarity, increased energy, and improved moods when I eat this way.
  • I’ve got to exercise!  becomes ==> I GET to sweat and I know it feels damn good when I do, especially afterwards during cool down. And I get to listen to, and feel fired up by, my favorite podcasts and music. Not only that, I love knowing that exercise lowers my insulin resistance and fasting glucose, drives up my ketones which is good prevention for cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimers. And it increases my chances for longevity, so more time on this planet to spend with my loved ones.
  • I’ve got to write that novel!  becomes ==>  I GET to write a novel that I haven’t seen out there in the world before, creating a fictional coming-of-age story about a young Asian American girl growing up Jehovah’s Witness who is faced with an emergency blood transfusion, afraid she’ll lose her chance at eternal life, all the while grappling with religion, racism, mental health issues, and her undeniable feelings for her best friend Rachel.
  • I’ve got to work!  becomes ==> I GET to work with awesome clients aligned with my values to help them write and edit content, from web copy and newsletters to social media and blog posts.
  • I’ve got to be a better parent!  becomes ==> I GET to spend even more quality time with my middle-school-aged kid, learning as I go, striving to be better, to practice patience, grateful for this opportunity of a lifetime to travel in a RV with my kid and husband, both of us teaching him–as best we know–about the world around us so as to leave him a better person on this earth.

To be quite honest, since we said good-bye to our house of ten years in Berkeley, CA last Thursday (April 5, 2018) to drive to Denver, CO to begin our new #RVLife, I’ve been in a state of shock, battling mild depression. It’s easy for someone like me to fall into a state of despair, which is why I am a person who constantly needs to surround myself with positivity, with supports in the form of inspirational and motivational quotes, podcasts, books, friends, even the virtual community on Instagram which I love.

Today, while my husband and our kid went out to finalize RV preparations, I finally had some space (both mental and physical) to reflect, recharge, and reconnect with myself. I spent time writing, reconnected with my accountability buddy and good writing friend this morning (actually meditating again!), exercised by myself using the hotel gym, and spent some time reflecting in my bullet journal. I asked for time off from my clients to use this week to fully move into our new home (the RV). That’s something I haven’t done since last summer, so to have a week off just felt decadent!

I realized that my tendency to focus on the negative can easily be shifted with a change in mindset, which forces you to be grateful for what you GET to do, rather than what you HAVE (or GOT) to do.

Coupled with self-care — a focus on nutrition (currently a carnivore keto diet and intermittent fasting), exercise, meditation, and creativity — I’m back in that space of believing anything is possible.


Note: I can’t remember where I got this quote from. It might have come from that book I love: ESSENTIALISM. But I could be wrong…

How I Stayed Keto-Adapted on Vacation

Eating carbs on vacation while staying keto-adapted

Is it possible to stay keto-adapted on vacation?

For anyone who has been eating keto, it is pure joy to come back from a vacation and still be keto-adapted. In fact, our last vacation to Costa Rica started out with great intentions, but by the end of the trip, we had indulged in everything and completely fell off the wagon.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging on a vacation.

But what my husband and I both noticed was that every time we fell off the keto wagon due to indulgences related to travel or special occasions, it took a long time–sometimes, many months–for us to get on track again.

And because we’re both eating keto for our health, not just for weight loss, staying keto-adapted, as much as we can, is important to us. (My husband, now in remission from cancer–Oct 2018 will be three years–used keto specifically during his cancer from 2014 to 2016, as an adjunct to conventional treatment; I’m eating keto primarily for prediabetes and its impact on my mental health, namely anxiety and depression, and focus, having been diagnosed with Adult ADHD.)

So how did I manage to stay keto-adapted this time? Especially to a carb-laden destination full of temptations such as Taiwan?  As I have never accomplished this feat before on past vacations, I’ve decided to document what worked this time, in case I forget and need to jog my own memory.

First of all, what does it even mean to be keto-adapted (aka fat-adapted)? Dr. Stephen Phinney, who coined the term, “keto-adaptation” and wrote, along with Dr. Jeff Volek, the books,  The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, has a great article to learn more about the science behind it.

From Phinney and Volek’s The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living (p.22):

Keto-adaptation is a term coined by Steve Phinney in 1980 to describe the process in which human metabolism switches over to using almost exclusively fat for fuel (i.e., a combination of fat burned directly and as ketones derived from fat). While well studied and documented mainly in the context of starvation, ketone metabolism is not well-understood by most physicians (let alone nutritionists, dietitians, trainers, and athletes) as an approach to improve health and performance. This is primarily due to the emphasis in standard nutrition training placed on dietary carbohydrates as the preferred fuel for physical performance.

Basically, it’s when your body switches from being a sugar/glucose burner to a fat/ketone burner. It’s when you’ve been compliant with a ketogenic diet, keeping your carbs low, fats high, and protein moderate. And the cravings for carbs (sweets, bread, pasta) go away. You find yourself being able to go for hours without wanting to eat. This can take a while, about several weeks or so, if not longer. You’re also, depending on your metabolic state, able to get away with eating some carbs once in a while, and easily get back into ketosis. At least, that’s what I experienced during this recent vacation in Taiwan.

Even though I began eating a keto diet in December 2014, when we first began using keto for my husband’s cancer, I had always had trouble becoming keto-adapted because I had a half-assed approach to keto eating. What this means is that I’d get into ketosis for a few days, then go have a pizza (the kind with a wheat crust) when stressed out, then attempt once more, battling the keto flu all over again.

But even with my half-assed, lazy, version of keto, I ended up reducing my HbA1C from a prediabetes level of 5.8% to a more “normal” number of 5.2% within a year. So it shows that some keto eating is better than none. Even if it’s the kind of keto eating where you never become keto-adapted, like how I was until recently, finally keto-adapted from August 2017 until now (March 2018). Although I’ve been keto-adapted before, it was never for long, and soon I had succumbed to carbs back again.  What finally helped me get keto-adapted this time–and actually stay this way–was having accountability.  In July 2017, I signed up for an early bird discount for Shawn Mynar’s Fat Burning Female Project ,  an online program with lots of support and advice on how to eat keto and become keto-adapted, aimed specifically for women. I loved Shawn’s approach of not focusing on the number on the scale, that weight was something that falls off once your body begins to truly heal. And she brings you down from carbs slowly, so your body isn’t shocked from going from high carbs to suddenly low. (Of course, you can get keto-adapted on your own, with discipline and compliance, but I’m someone who craves accountability, and this was, in my eyes, an investment in my health.)

Here’s an informative article by Amber O’Hearn on keto-adaptation. I especially love the section on “How to make keto-adaptation as quick and painless as possible.” Great tips for those trying this on their own.

My 8-Day Extended Fast, in Therapeutic Ketosis (GKI 1 or under)

How I Stayed Keto-Adapted on Vacation

  1. I used a glucometer and ketone meter. Every morning, I checked my fasting glucose and blood ketones, using my favorite new health device: the Keto-Mojo. (I love how the blood ketone strips are so much cheaper than the ones I used to buy for my Precision Xtra glucometer, allowing me to actually measure my ketones daily.) This is a great way to get immediate biofeedback, helping you make course corrections as needed. I don’t even check my weight regularly on a scale anymore (just once a month, relying on body measurements of waist, hip and how clothes fit more). And I don’t track my macros (I did at first, when first learning how to eat keto, though.) Now I just rely on three numbers daily: fasting glucose, ketones, and my GKI (glucose to ketones ratio), regularly tracking every morning. These numbers give me, as someone with prediabetes, an instantaneous idea of how I’m doing health-wise.
  2. I tracked my health to keep motivated and adjust as needed. I’m one of those weirdos that oscillates between analog and digital, preferring to first record my fasting glucose and ketones into my bullet journal health tracker, then log these numbers into Heads Up Health**, a health tracking site that is a phenomenal help for people like my husband and myself, who follow a keto and low-carb-high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle. Here you can easily enter your blood sugar numbers and ketones in the Dashboard and have your Glucose: Ketones Index (GKI) automatically calculated. This was a biomarker my husband tracked exclusively during his battle with cancer, following Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried‘s advice of keeping the GKI between 1 and 2. Recently we learned from a podcast with Thomas Seyfried with HVMN founder Geoffrey Woo [00:34:49] that when your GKI ratio is 1 or below, you’re in “Therapeutic Ketosis.” In Seyfried’s own words, “As I said in my book–Chapter 19–on cancer prevention…if you can get yourself down in therapeutic ketosis for three to five days, you’re blasting the crap out of these incipient tumor cells. Your body’s just going through and gobbling them up, eating them. So, before they can take off and start growing as a neoplasm, which is a dysregulated growth of cells, your body is killing them. So therapeutic ketosis, I always say, is a place to visit. But it’s nota place to live. You visit the zone periodically. But you don’t live in the zone.” (See graph where I fasted for 8 days, bringing my GKI under 1). Probably my favorite feature of Heads Up Health is the ability to graph your biomarkers using the Analyzer to notice trends. This allowed me to spot correlations between lack of sleep and high glucose, or too many carbs the day before and lowered ketones the following day. Seeing this on a graph helped me make course adjustments as needed.  
  3. The incorporation of fasting.  Fasting is a great tool to use to stay keto-adapted. For example, if my fasting glucose was higher than I wanted in the morning (and my blood ketones lower) because I ended up eating more carbs than I had anticipated, I can easily, bring the numbers where I want them to be the next day by fasting. If the numbers are looking pretty bad, I might opt for a 24 hour fast. If the numbers are close enough but could use some help, I might do some intermittent fasting, going for 16:8 (e.g., fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8 hour window). I also know that an extended fast can be done once the vacation is over, as a way to cleanse damaged cells (aka autophagy), which is highly protective as a way to prevent cancer, per Dr. Thomas N Seyfried, whose book my husband read when he first began using keto for his cancer, beginning December 2014 (see above mentioned podcast link). At least once a year, my husband and I aim to get into therapeutic ketosis, tracking and monitoring our GKI using the graphing/Analyzer feature in Heads Up Health.  I should also mention that being keto-adapted already makes fasting so much easier than when you’re not. You go into the fast padded with fat and don’t experience hunger cravings that you’d normally experience if you were to go from a Standard American Diet (high carbs, low fat) diet straight into fasting.
  4. Being keto-adapted already helped me finally understand what it means to “eat in moderation,” something people who don’t eat keto or low-carb love to say to you. (“Just eat in moderation! Live a little.”) But what they don’t get, is that for insulin resistant and metabolically challenged people such as myself, this advice doesn’t work. That is, UNTIL YOU ARE ACTUALLY KETO-ADAPTED. Then for the first time, I am truly able to understand what it means to “eat in moderation,” especially when it comes to refined carbohydrate-laden foods, such as many breads, cakes, cookies, and pasta. This time, being in Taiwan, I actually sampled pork dumplings, pork buns (xiao long bao), green onion pancakes, sugar-laden treats from the dessert bar at the hotel buffet, hash browns, and even Afternoon Tea savories and sweets. If you know me at all, I have never eaten like a bird. I’m one of those “All or None” folks who eat until every last morsel is gone. God forbid I waste food when so many in the world are starving! That’s the way I was raised, the way I’ve taught myself. You will rarely see me with leftovers. And I eat fast, practically inhaling the entire plate before you’ve even finished asking me a question during a meal.  So let me tell you: being keto-adapted allows something inside your mind and body to tell when you’ve eaten enough. Even some sugar-y thing. I’ve never had this capacity in my life before; I swear, this feels like a new-found super power! Now you don’t necessarily have to be fat-adapted to follow steps 1-3 above. But trust me: It’ll certainly make the process much easier.

Being keto-adapted is an amazing state of being. Your blood sugar levels are pretty even so you don’t get “hangry” as you once did when you were eating high carbs and low fat. And you just have energy and enthusiasm about life that just wasn’t there before, able to tackle things you’ve been putting off, trying new things you’d normally be afraid of, like selling your house and moving into a RV. Now my husband and I feel a sense of freedom and joy, excited about the life ahead of us with our family. With all that we’ve gone through, there’s one thing we know for sure: health is the ultimate wealth.


**Note: Before coming on board working part-time at Heads Up Health to help with writing and social media,  I had been avidly using it to track my own ketones, glucose, GKI, plus body composition measurements. I especially love how I’m able to centralize my medical records and blood tests such as my hbA1c, thyroid and cholesterol numbers, and track the data I’m self-collecting with devices like the  Keto-Mojo, apps like MyFitnessPal,  and wearables such as the Oura ring (I’ve preordered one because that’s a huge area in health I’d like to get better at: sleep.)

If interested, I wrote a blog post for Heads Up that detailed how my husband and I tracked his GKI during his battle with cancer, using the keto diet as an adjunct with conventional treatments. I also help maintain a keto for cancer resources page there.

From the Archives (When We First Discovered the Cancer and Ketogenic Diet)

Darrell driving blissmobil

I can’t believe I just stumbled upon an old blog on Tumblr I had written in despair, back when we first found out Darrell had cancer. Rereading it now (Jan 2018) is surreal, transporting us back in time to when it all began (Nov 7, 2014), when our lives divided in half, changing to “Life Before Cancer” and “Life After Cancer.”

Funny how memory can fail us; I’ve been actually telling people we started this keto life in 2015 when we actually started eating keto at the end of 2014. Whatever the case, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done for our health, for our lives.

If interested, check out what I wrote during this time. It was a time when I was scared as hell, and also a nice peek into our initial experiences eating keto for cancer (and the irony of learning how to eat keto while devouring  mac n’ cheese, plus lots of beer):

On Borrowed Time: My Husband’s Cancer


Starting Over: A New Life

New Life in a Blissmobil

Life, as I’ve known it, is about to change.

All my life, I’ve lived in the Bay Area, in California. Born in Millbrae, CA, raised in Concord–a tunnel away from San Francisco–and over two decades in Berkeley as an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by my entire family and circle of friends. I actually have friends from elementary and middle school I am still close to. Unlike my husband, a transplant from Texas, I have never lived anywhere else.

But now we’re planning to say good-bye to life as we know it. The comfortable life that my husband, Darrell, and I have built together as a family.

Recently, I entered a local bookstore in Oakland, scanning the shelves for books that remotely resembled what we were about to do.

There were no books with titles such as:

So You Want to Leave Everything and Everyone You’ve Ever Known and Travel the World in a RV.

How to Homeschool Your Middle-School-Aged Kid While Traveling the World.

So You Can’t Afford Your Mortgage Anymore, Can’t Fully Retire Just Yet, and Still Need to Learn How to Make Money, Yet Want to Do It Remotely from Anywhere in the World.

How To Take Your Child Out of School to Learn about Different Cultures and the Kindness and Beauty that Exists On This Earth, Despite What the News and Popular Media Would Have Us Believe.

The Side Hustle: Learning to Juggle Multiple Irons in the Pan in Your 40s and 50s.

How Not to Scar Your Teenager So That He Ends Up Writing Scathing Memoirs About His Dysfunctional Family Life.

I joked with the woman helping me search for books that I should write these books. She nodded, laughing: “That’s a missed opportunity.” The writer inside me, the one who had paid so much money for an MFA in creative writing, vowed I would do it, even if what I churned out ended up resembling the Watchtower and Awake pamphlets I grew up reading and hawking door-to-door, as a child of a Jehovah’s Witness mother.

As I browsed the bookstore for signposts to this largely unknown world I was about to explore, I found glimmers of it in the Travel section, near the back corner.

There were travel memoirs. Travel books specific to a country, city, or region in alphabetical order, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Books loaded with glossy photos and fold-out maps. I wandered to the Children’s section. There were middle-grade books about bullies, space, magic, and zombies. But where were the stories — fiction and non-fiction — aimed at kids traveling the world?

The woman and I walked all over the bookstore, but there wasn’t, to my surprise, not much of a selection. For some odd reason, I thought there would be an abundance. Recently, there seems to be a surge of people online–on Instagram and on blogs–who are traveling in their RVs or vans (lots of hashtags on IG with the likes of #vanlife or #homeiswhereyouparkit—especially overland travel–which is what we’d love to do). We’d seen pictures of 4×4 RVs crossing creeks, in remote deserts, beaches, forests, all over the world: Mongolia, Australia, Columbia. We had become smitten with the Blissmobil, especially…

The idea was born the year my husband discovered he might have cancer. 2014. That was the year my husband sat me down and showed me all of his passwords to all things financial. It was the year we finally decided to hire an attorney to help us with a will, cashing in the coupon advertised in a local magazine aimed at parents for a free two-hour session in Alameda. It was the year our son was about to turn ten years old. My husband’s daughter, my stepdaughter, had just turned twenty-two years old and was still living in Istanbul for grad school. We didn’t have the heart to tell the kids that their father had cancer.

Not just yet.