#30DayChartChallenge Retrospective

On the 1st of April, I was twitting about Twitter and noticed some data visualizations in my feed with the hashtag #30DayChartChallenge. Instantly intrigued, I decided to participate without thinking about the bazillion things I already had going on in April. I was excited to expand my portfolio and to explore some datasets I had been collecting for later analysis and visualization.


In retrospect, I wish I had developed a strategy for creating 30 new charts in 30 days that involved a set amount of time I could spend on each viz (say, an hour or 90 minutes) and limitations on data finding, exploration, cleaning, and analysis. I did set two goals other than actually completing all 30 charts (which I did NOT do), though, and managed to accomplish both.

  1. Use a tool other than Tableau for at least one of the charts.
    • I used R/ggplot2/ggridges for one viz, Excel for one viz, and Flourish–a tool that was new to me–for another one.
  2. Make at least one chart type I had never made before.
    • I created several chart types I had never attempted. I felt free to explore and experiment, so I made a waterfall chart, a Voronoi treemap, a Ridgeline plot, and a sunburst chart!

On May 1, I tallied up my chart output and I had 18. Of course I made a chart about my charting.

Check out the interactive viz on Tableau Public.


I didn’t complete all 30 charts, partly because I obsessed over datasets for hours instead of just choosing a nice clean one and getting vizzy. I was thrilled that I remembered enough R to create the ridgeline plot below of the lifespan of various dog breeds by United Kennel Club (UKC) breed group. I used ggplot2, my favorite dataviz package for R, and ggridges, which was new to me.

Data visualization of dog lifespans by UKC breed groups

For Day 12: Distributions – Strips, I made a waterfall chart in Tableau for the first time (with some help from this fantastic tutorial from Ryan Sleeper).

Check out the interactive version on Tableau Public.

For the Tampa’s Palm Trees viz (Day 16: Relationships – Trees) below, I used a new tool (Flourish) to create a new chart type for me, a sunburst chart. Flourish proved very easy to use and has a built-in template for this chart type. (In Tableau, it would have involved a bunch of calculations. At some point I’ll tackle that challenge!) It was also very easy to embed the interactive version of the chart in WordPress.


While the topic of four of my vizzes was dogs (duh), I created three vizzes about COVID-19. (All are viewable on Tableau Public, here, too.)

For Day 7: Distributions – Physical, I looked at Florida’s administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

For Day 23: Timeseries – Tiles, I explored the variants of the virus circulating in the U.S.

For Day 27: Uncertainties – Educational, I ended up creating this tile map showing the COVID-related school opening orders in effect in some U.S. states. I found a dataset from the State of Maryland with COVID outbreaks in schools, but after spending way too much time cleaning it, I abandoned that idea.

All told, I had a lot of fun and learned some new techniques and tools. I look forward to doing it again next year!

Become #CertifiablyTableau: How to Pass the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam on Your First Attempt

Since my company invested in a Tableau Desktop license for me (after maybe just a teensy little bit of borderline harassment of the CTO, CEO, and BI Manager), I want to make the absolute best use of the data visualization software, obviously, so it seemed prudent to get some training and prepare for the certification exam. As I researched training and test prep options, I discovered a plethora of resources ranging from no-cost to ridiculously costly. Since I managed to pass the relatively difficult exam on my first try, I want to share what I learned on my training and test prep journey. On Saturday, April 17, at 2 p.m. EST, join me on Clubhouse for a discussion with other Tableau-certified #datafam. We’ll discuss options for how to prepare, what to expect, and how to engage with the super fun, thoughtful, and talented Tableau community. (If you don’t have a Clubhouse account and need an invite, message me!) In the meantime, I have summarized the lessons from my experience below. Let me know if you have questions, comments, or if your experience was different.

April 172021
How to Pass the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam on Your First TryDiscuss training, exam preparation, and study strategies for passing the Tableau Desktop Specialist exam on your first attempt with me (I did it!) and other Tableau #datafam.
2:00 p.m. ESTClubhouse

Plan to pass on your first try with these tips:

1. Talk to your boss about paying for the exam or reimbursing you.

I did not do this, yet I have placed it at the top of your list. Why? Because I should have done it. I learned so many Tableau–and dataviz in general–tips, tricks, and techniques that will add to my value at work. With so many truly awful, misleading, and ugly data visualizations and infographics in the world, the best practices I’ve started observing have (mostly) reigned in the goofy, weird, or totally random design choices I may have made previously. One of the reasons I invested time, money, and effort into preparing for the exam was that I know what I know (data analysis) and I know what I don’t know (design). Just how much I did not know about design became abundantly clear as I progressed. So ask your boss for the hundred bucks back if you pass. Why not? There’s literally nothing to lose.

2. Download the official Exam Prep Guide.

It’s free and it really does tell you what material is covered on the test. Another no-brainer.

3. Choose a formal training, book, or other prep plan and stick to it.

This sounds straightforward, but like a lot of people, I freeze up or try to do too many things when confronted with too many choices.

Initially, I dabbled. I bought a discounted Udemy prep course and did a few video lessons, watched a few free Tableau training videos, read part of a book, tinkered around somewhat aimlessly in the software, and read blog posts in no particular order until I decided to commit to the DataCamp Tableau Fundamentals Skill Track. Why DataCamp? (No, they are not paying me. YET.) Mostly because I was already subscribed ($29 monthly), already familiar with the platform and organizational style of the courses, and passed my college-level programming course solely through the help of DataCamp’s Python Fundamentals Skill Track.

Once I decided on the DataCamp track, I set aside time to work on it and practice in Tableau every day (e.g., I created a calendar event like I would for any other appointment and did not cancel). Some days I spent fifteen minutes and other days a few hours, but the consistency of daily practice really helped me succeed and remember what I had just learned.

4. Take practice exams and time yourself.

Like I mentioned, I’m aware of my strengths and areas of room for growth. I am a really good test taker. Like really good. And also pretty fast. If I had not forked over a hundred of my own dollars, I probably wouldn’t have taken a single practice exam and I might have failed my first attempt or run out of time. Remember that Udemy course I purchased on a lark? Well, it happened to have three practice exams included. The practice exams helped me assess my progress accurately. I took one before starting the DataCamp track but after a little random reading, video-viewing, and tinkering. I scored about 55%. I took the second one after completing the DataCamp track, reading up on a few topics I knew I had questions about, finishing three Tableau community projects (more on those later), and doing a lot of exploratory data analysis using Tableau. I passed, but with 75%. (I am a reforming overachiever, but that score didn’t leave me feeling as confident as I wanted to be.) I took the final practice exam after scheduling the “real” exam, about five days prior to it. At this point I had worked through the whole Udemy course, which was quite good and didn’t take too long, and felt pretty confident. I scored 90% on the third practice exam. The Udemy course site times you as part of the practice exam, but if you use a resource that is not timed, make sure you set your device accordingly. Generally, I have time left over after exams. On exam day, after moving fairly steadily through all of the questions, I had ten minutes to go back to ones I felt unsure about. It was just enough.

5. “Check yo self before you wreck yo self.” –Ice Cube

This entire preparation process I described above took me about nine weeks, but could take you less time or more, depending on your life. I have a full-time job, a side hustle, three dogs, two book clubs, and ADHD. Consider your own work and school schedule, family commitments, social life, and learning style before assigning yourself a timeline. Be realistic and leave room for adjustment. Don’t schedule the exam until you’re almost ready to take it (although you can reschedule without a fee, if necessary, with advance notice). Scheduling is easy and there were proctors and time slots available as soon as the next day when I scheduled with Loyalist Exam Services, the vendor used by Tableau to administer the exam online.

6. Make sure your computer system and setup are compliant with exam rules (Also, buy a Stadium Pal or a pack of Depends if you can’t go without a bathroom break for 60 continuous minutes.)

The proctoring service requires you to take the exam on a virtual machine in Google Chrome and your internet connection must meet speed and latency requirements (the proctor will check for compliance). I prefer Firefox, so I made sure that I had the latest version of Chrome installed on my computer and did the speed and latency checks a few days before my test. After having some problems with my computer audio, I had a backup plan to test on my Mac instead of my PC in case of mic issues on my appointment date. Headphones are not allowed, so make sure you have a quiet space and your computer has a working microphone that doesn’t require a headset. If you’ve somehow managed to escape the Zoom pandemic, check that your webcam works. The proctor must see and hear you for the entire length of the exam. You can’t get up, so pee first, too.

Finally, join me for Pass the Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification Exam on Clubhouse on April 17! Bring any questions with you! If you’re Tableau certified at any level and would like to join the discussion as a speaker, hit me up!

The Twelve Days of Vegan Cookies: Days 3 & 4: Easy Chewy Vegan Molasses Cookies and Chocolate Crinkle Cookies.

My work week was super busy, so I made two very easy recipes Wednesday and today for days 3 and 4. In the kitchen, I move slowly. I enjoy baking and don’t rush, cleaning as I go. Both of these recipes took about fifteen minutes to prepare (not including baking time), so there’s really no excuse NOT to makes them. (Except maybe diabetes.)

Easy Chewy Vegan Molasses Cookies from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken

I didn’t know if I’d like these, but I had molasses in the pantry. (I can’t even remember why I bought it–it was unopened.) It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken is a great resource for newer vegans (and lazy vegans like me). When they say a recipe is easy, it really is. This one is no exception. One bowl, fifteen minutes, and you’re ready to bake cookies that taste like they took two hours. The texture is perfect–a little crispy outside and chewy inside–and the flavor is complex. I love ginger, but if you don’t, you should reduce or omit it. It’s very distinct in this recipe. (I often eyeball measurements, but for these posts I have been measuring exactly.) “Fancy” molasses are called for, but my molasses were not fancy. For the vegan butter, I used Earth Balance Original (there are like ten kinds now!).

Vegan Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from Nora Cooks

First of all, about a third of the new recipes I try are from Nora. She knows what I like. Quickbreads are a staple in my house, and the zucchini bread and banana bread I bake most often are her recipes. My other go-to vegan recipe sites include The Simple Veganista, Minimalist Baker, and Isa Chandra’s The Post Punk Kitchen. A coworker recently introduced me to Rabbit and Wolves, and I am OBSESSED. (Make the Sticky Lemon Tofu and thank me later.)

Back to the cookies. Like the molasses cookies, these are incredibly easy to make. Also just one bowl and fifteen minutes! I substituted one serving (one tablespoon) Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer for the ground flax. For the non-dairy milk I used Minor Figures Oat Milk, which I get with my produce delivery from Misfits Market (get 25% off here) as an add-on for $2.19. I would normally use melted coconut oil, but I was out, so I used regular old supermarket brand canola oil. Nora suggests you use a sifter or a fine mesh strainer because cocoa powder has a tendency to clump. This was a good call on her part. The most challenging task is putting together the balls of dough before rolling them in the powdered sugar. I kept getting a lot of dough stuck to my hands, so I started rinsing them between every 3 or 4 cookies. Problem solved. The recipe says they will look underdone when they come out of the oven, and they will. Do not cook them longer. Let them set for 15 minutes or so. That underdone-seemingness is why they end up so soft and delicious.

They come out looking very pretty, encrusted with powdered sugar. The flavor is chocolatey and just the right amount of sweet. The texture is light. So light that I ate five before I realized I had spoiled my dinner.

The Twelve Days of Vegan Cookies: Day 2, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip

If you love soft-baked chocolate chip cookies as I do, this recipe from The Viet Vegan is a clever variation on a classic–there’s just enough pumpkin flavor to make them taste a little different, but it’s definitely not overwhelming. My dogs were beyond thrilled when they realized I wasn’t using the whole can of pumpkin puree–pumpkin and sweet potato are among their favorite treats.

Making the dough is super easy and can be accomplished with just one bowl for easy clean-up, too. I only made one change to the recipe as written–I substituted Enjoy Life Mega Chocolate Chunks for regular-sized chocolate chips. There’s almost nothing better than cookies almost straight out of the oven, and the chocolate chunks made it a delightfully messy experience.

Difficulty Level: Super easy

Time in the kitchen: About 30 minutes

Omnivore rating: “These are vegan?”

The Twelve Days of Vegan Cookies: Day 1, Peanut Butter Thumbprints

My favorite thing about the holidays is even more sweet treats than usual. So I’ve decided to bake twelve kinds of holiday cookies between now and the end of the year. I love baking, and it’s easy to find a recipe for a vegan version of your favorite holiday cookies. If not, I can probably veganize it. (Hit me up if you have one you want to make.)

Day 1, Dec. 11: Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

I hadn’t planned to make these first, but I can’t resist fulfilling the wishes of my favorite guy, so I made them first. I’m a flavor-over-presentation baker, but these are both pretty and delicious. As a starting point, I used Purely Kaylie’s Plant-Based Recipes’ Vegan Peanut Butter Blossoms recipe.

I made a few adjustments:

  1. I don’t fuck around with making flax eggs when Bob’s Red Mill has already made the most perfect and easy Egg Replacer. So out with the flax egg and in with one serving of this.
  2. I did not use a hand mixer to cream the Earth Balance (butter) and sugars together–I have always done it by hand with a wooden spoon, no problem.
  3. A bit more brown sugar, closer to 3/4 cup rather than 1/2 cup. (I have a serious sweet tooth.)

I expected they’d be tasty–and they were perfect–but I did not expect for them to be so pretty, too.

Tip: If you haven’t the time or inclination to make your own chocolate kisses (also easy), just stick some Enjoy Life Mega Chocolate Chunks or half of a Lily’s peanut butter cup (they come in both dark and “milk” chocolate) on top.

Difficulty Level: Easy-ish

Time in the kitchen: About 45 minutes

Omnivore rating: “Yum.”

The Vegan’s Guide to Tampa: Part One (of at Least Three)

During the two and a half years since I moved back to Tampa from beautiful Durham, North Carolina, I’ve discovered the city’s very best attribute (no, it’s not the beaches, although they are lovely): the bounty of vegan food–especially vegan junk food. A veritable cornucopia of options await the hungry vegan. Fortunately, the city of the world’s longest continuous sidewalk offers many opportunities to burn off those calories, too. Just across the bridges over Old Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg also offers a ton of amazing vegan food. I’ll save my St. Pete and other Pinellas County recommendations for another post, especially since I can’t fit all my Tampa recs into one post. (Can’t wait? This list is a legit guide to St. Petersburg’s main vegan culinary attractions.)

3 Dot Dash

The Fat Mac from 3 Dot Dash

Located inside Jug & Bottle Dept., a lovely bottle shop in Seminole Heights, 3 Dot Dash is the ultimate vegan junk food. Super reasonably priced and served by some of the friendliest staff, 3 Dot Dash’s burgers and chik’n sandwiches have become a staple of my weekday lunch rotation. I am working my full-time job plus working part-time on a COVID-19 testing research project, so I don’t have time to prepare lunches most work days. 3 Dot Dash keeps me full and happy. Their specials are always on point, but my favorite regulars include the Southern Chik’n, a house-made fried chick’n cutlet with Alabama white BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle and the Fat Mac, a quarter-pound Impossible burger, topped with cashew mac, ranch, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle. (Hold the pickles for me.) I always, always get fries with cashew whiz, too. So. Yummy. When my non-vegan best friend was visiting Tampa back in February, she requested a second visit to 3 Dot Dash after having the Southern Chik’n. She’s planning another visit, and 3 Dot Dash is already on her to-do list, after snuggling with her favorite canine nephew, Parker. 3 Dot Dash offers pick-up and delivery via Uber Eats.

Farmacy Vegan Kitchen

With locations downtown inside Duckweed Urban Grocery in the Element building and in the Channel District, Farmacy makes at least a biweekly appearance on my lunch menu and an occasional appearance at dinner time. Like 3 Dot Dash, Farmacy offers a variety of Impossible burgers. There are some genuinely healthy options, too. I have been known to say I hate salad, but Farmacy’s Herb-Roasted Kale Caesar is delicious. They also serve Impossible Philly Cheese Steaks along with several other hot sandwiches, cold wraps, salads, acai bowls, sides, and sweets. I often order the Frisco Melt, an Impossible patty on garlic sourdough bread with American “cheese”, Farmacy pickles, special sauce, tomatoes and avocado. The special sauce is amazing and I never eat pickles on purpose, but I like Farmacy’s. I accidentally forgot to request to leave them off this week and, as a friend promised, I liked them! You can taste the cucumber and they are not overly briny or acidic.

Black Radish Vegan Grocer

I cannot sing the praises of Black Radish loudly enough. My only regret about my recent move is that I am no longer quick walking distance away from the V. M. Ybor gem. (I live a whole 1.1 miles away now.) From the design of their signage and website to the difficult-to-find vegan products they carry, my love for Black Radish knows no bounds. I regularly self-medicate with sweets (don’t judge me, I am vegan for the animals not for prevention of diabetes), and Black Radish carries a ton of local Oopsy Daisy Sweets products including my favorite, the Vinkie (a vegan “Twinkie”), in vanilla and chocolate and a mind-blowing brownie containing Oreos, peanut butter, and chocolate chunks. Tuesday nights from 5 to 8 p.m., go get a Munch Wrap! The fillings vary from Buffalo to Al Pastor to Plant Ranch Pollo Asado. Check their Instagram for the latest. Brunch is served Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Just Egg, Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, Impossible sausage on a Pretzilla roll? Omg, yes.

HaleLife Bakery

I’m extremely skeptical about gluten-free foods, particularly baked goods, yet HaleLife‘s vegan and gluten-free cupcakes, donuts, bread, and waffles have completely won me over. To soothe my post-election anxiety, I’ve been consuming approximately one two-pack of HaleLife cinnamon rolls daily. (I wish that was a joke.) My other go-tos include the chocolate ganache cupcake, smores donut, and salted caramel cheesecake cupcake. (Look at all the research I have done on your behalf, dear reader!) HaleLife has two locations–South Tampa and Clearwater.

For now, I’ll leave you to try (or dream about) these wonderful local eateries. Coming in part two: King State, Dharma Fine Vittles (formerly Dixie Dharma), Bodega, Taco Dirty, and more.

Veganism, Animals, Privilege, and Suffering

Since I moved back to Florida in March 2018, I’ve revisited the topic of animal agriculture and its implication on animal welfare, the environment, health, and ethics. My main question is, “What do our food production practices say about us as a so-called ‘civilized’ society?” I’ve examined my own participation in eating animals and animal products–over the years I’ve been an omnivore, a vegetarian, vegan, and what I’d call veganish (about 90% vegan). These topics have preceded a personal reckoning many times before, like after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (and hearing the author speak at the University of North Carolina), The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and after viewing the films What the Health and Cowspiracy.

I can’t say precisely why veganism seems to have “stuck” this time, but I theorize that it’s the result of a convergence of my unwillingness to participate in or contribute to more cruelty in the world, the increasingly urgent need to address the climate crisis, and my inability to tolerate or contribute to any more hate of any kind.

Donald Trump’s presidency has emboldened all manner of hateful, inhumane, and mean-spirited behavior, rhetoric, and policies in a way I’d never witnessed in my Gen X life prior to his election. White supremacists have scurried out of the woodwork like cockroaches. Our government is caging immigrant (brown) children at our southern border. Trump has branded journalists “the enemy of the American people“. He’s been impeached, admitted guilt, and been acquitted by Moscow Mitch‘s Senate. It’s a dark time in America–are we even a constitutional republic anymore (we never were a democracy, contrary to popular belief)? I digress.


My hounds, Penelope and Parker, constantly remind me how smart animals are, how deeply they feel things, and how fully they are able to live in the moment. I spend more time with the two of them than with any human, especially in this era of social distancing, and I can’t help but acknowledge that other types of animals are intelligent, feeling, perceptive living beings, too. I think most people would agree with that, but animal agriculture is so far removed from our activities of daily living and meat consumption is so ingrained in our food culture, that we choose to ignore the atrocities committed by modern animal farming. These atrocities are bestowed not only upon cows, pigs, chickens, and our environment, but on those (again, mostly brown) people who have no better employment opportunities than to work at one of these facilities.

Workers in the meat industry make an average of $23,000 a year, work 10+ hours a day, are pushed so hard they often defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down and suffer a repetitive motion injury rate 30 times the national average.


As if torturing animals for food weren’t cruel enough, there are all the animals we exploit for entertainment. Last year, I saw the film Sled Dogs and the unspeakable cruelty of the Iditarod sled dog race broke my heart. (This year’s race just ended on March 22. All other sports were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but not the Iditarod!) I became a card-carrying member of PETA the day I saw Sled Dogs, literally. Joe “Exotic” (Joseph Maldonado-Passage) of Oklahoma and Carole Baskin of Tampa, Florida made their livings displaying captive lions, lemurs, and tigers and even parading cubs around at shopping malls. (Ms. Baskin claims her operation is an animal sanctuary, but after listening to Wondery’s podcast on the subject, I’m skeptical.) Mr. Maldonado-Passage was finally sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing five tigers and hiring a hitman to kill the aforementioned Ms. Baskin, but at least he has a Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, dedicated to his story while it masks the way the tigers themselves are being treated.

Then there’s white privilege and wealth inequality. “What does that have to do with veganism?” you may wonder. Money and time. I’m fortunate enough to have a good-paying job, some spare time, and enough “disposable” income to contemplate my food choices and make better, more informed decisions. In the richest country in the world, 15 million households are food insecure, live in food deserts, or live in food swamps. The USDA defines food insecurity as “the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members.” If you can’t put food on the table, you really don’t have the luxury of philosophizing about agriculture, animal welfare, and the environment. The USDA defines a food desert as “a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.” Many lower-income urban dwellers without access to a car live in a food swamp, a place where the majority of food available within walking distance is junk. It comes from fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and liquor stores. My Tampa neighborhood, Ybor Heights, closely resembles a food swamp. (There is a Winn Dixie grocery store within walking distance of some residents’ homes.) The corner store is the main source of food for a number of neighbors I have talked to. It’s no secret that being poor in America is expensive. Getting your groceries from the corner store is an example. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which costs $0.99 at Winn Dixie, costs $2.29 at the corner store a block from my house. (Preachy, holier-than-thou vegans who give us all a bad name, before you berate someone for their food choices, consider that they may not have many real choices at all. They may be struggling to keep themselves and their families alive. )

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Now, we’re faced with a global pandemic, the likes of which humanity has not encountered since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. The origin story of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (COVID-19) that emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, in late 2019 is not completely clear, but the two main theories are that it either originated at an unsanitary “wet” market or a lab that was experimenting on bats. Either way, human exploitation of animals is involved somehow, it seems. Human exploitation of humans is occurring, too, naturally. American prison and jail inmates cannot observe social distancing guidelines. Hand-washing proves a struggle, too, when you don’t have soap. The Atlantic’s stellar coverage of the pandemic includes a piece that ponders why we don’t give prisoners free soap: “Dayquan Salaman, a prisoner in the Manhattan Detention Complex, “doesn’t have hand sanitizer. He doesn’t have regular access to soap. He was only allowed to shower once last week, and he’s been wearing the same stinking clothes the entire time.””

“Inaction is action,” said Daryl Atkinson, co-director at Forward Justice, a law, policy, and strategy center dedicated to advancing racial, social and economic justice. “You’re saying these folks are fit to die; that’s what you’re saying by your inaction, and that’s what the governor is going to have on his hands if he doesn’t take action.”


This is life in the richest country in the world. So civilized.

I hope, at the conclusion–or more likely, the containment–of this coronavirus crisis, we humans will have had time to reflect on our interdependence not just with other humans and animals, but with plants and the planet. Evidence suggests that the pandemic has already benefited the environment.

Depressed? Try a Mental Health Dance Party

Whether you’re suffering from an ordinary down mood or major depressive disorder like me–or something in between or different altogether–many people have advice for you. Including me.

Some mornings, before my magical cocktail of coffee, Trintellix, and CBD Relief Toads kicks in, there’s almost nothing that can get me motivated to unstick my ass from the sofa, where I am watching Mika and Joe report Donald Trump’s latest efforts to destroy any remaining shreds of American democracy. (I know I should not start my day with the news, but I am the one doling out the advice today!) Intellectually, I realize that a short yoga practice, a healthy breakfast, a shower, and a walk with the dogs will make me feel at least better enough to get my day started. But sometimes I literally can’t. That inability to override the heavy freeze of depression with one’s will is its defining feature, in my opinion.

For those days, I have a Mental Health Dance Party, five to fifteen minutes of listening to music that motivates me in some way, usually culminating in spontaneous embarrassing white girl dance moves. (I imagine that my dancing brings my dogs great amusement.) With essentially zero effort and exactly zero expectations around whether I will actually dance on a given day, I pick up my phone, open Spotify, and click play. My playlist, prepped in the days or weeks before, is right there, so there’s no decision-making anxiety around which songs to choose. Inevitably, one of the first few songs gets at least a little head nod going. Five minutes later, I am shaking my booty and grinding coffee beans.

The benefits?

  • No side effects!
  • It’s free!
  • It’s fun!
  • Studies show that music helps depression.
  • Dancing helps depression, too!
  • Inevitably, you’ll get your heart rate up and move around (also known as exercise). And guess what? Exercise also helps depression.
  • If it doesn’t improve your mood, you will still have exercised for a few minutes and inadvertently improved your heart health, if not your mental health.

If you try it, please share some of your favorite jams. I’ll gather the responses and create a collaborative Mental Health Dance Party playlist.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP, available 24/7.

Mama’s Lean Times Tomato Cabbage Soup

Note: This was originally posted on my yoga teaching website, www.nicolemarkyoga.net, in June 2012. I made a few edits to the recipe thanks to some experimentation in the kitchen. I wanted to re-post this because it’s a favorite, and because I’ve been cooking at home a lot more on a much tighter budget than I’ve worked with in a while. This nourishing meal will give you dinner for two plus lunch for at least two more days, and winter is a great time to enjoy a hearty soup.

For most of our childhoods, my brother, sister, and I had it really, really good. We lived in lovely homes in suburban Baltimore County, Maryland and Central Florida, traveled extensively and were loved dearly. Of the meals my dear Mother prepared at home, I never remember meeting one I didn’t like. (Some of you may be surprised to know–and some not at all surprised–that as a tot, my favorite meal was my Mom’s homemade, gourmet-as-any-restaurant boeuf bourguignon).

There were some lean times, financially speaking, that I never knew about until my early adulthood.  During these times, my Mother kept us well-fed and blissfully ignorant of the family finances. One of my favorite meals she prepared then, and a real comfort food for me now, is this super-easy-to-make and super cheap tomato cabbage soup. Since I am experiencing some lean times of my own and I’m comforted by this nostalgic meal, I decided to make it. It’s the perfect meal for the person with every excuse not to cook: it’s fast, easy, cheap, tasty, and healthy. Vegan? Got you covered. Don’t use butter.



  • One cabbage (I got a medium-sized local Florida one at Whole Foods Market last week, and it was more than enough)
  • One 64-ounce bottle V-8 or other vegetable juice cocktail
  • One 16-ounce bag mixed vegetables (I used 365 organic ones. There are a number of new frozen vegetable blends available now–I plan to experiment soon.)
  • Seasonings of your choice to taste (in the past, I’ve added fresh minced garlic, Mrs. Dash, and black pepper, but this week I tossed in just a teaspoon of red pepper flakes)
  • Butter (the good shit, like Kerrygold or another European butter) OR vegetable oil such as olive oil, canola oil, or whatever other vegetable oil you have on hand that won’t clash with the other flavors (sesame oil or coconut oil would probably not be good choices)
  • Parmesan, Romano, or a blend of the two cheeses for sprinkling atop your soup. (Don’t know the difference between the two? Here you go.)


Boil salted water in a very large pot or Dutch oven situation. While the water is boiling, coarsely chop the cabbage. Toss the chopped cabbage into the boiling water and cook until tender (al dente-ish). Drain the cabbage.

In the same pot, heat the butter or oil in a soup-sized pot. Add garlic if using. Add chopped cabbage and toss for a few minutes. The idea here is to give the cabbage a little braised flavor. Pour in veg juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, then add frozen veggies. Simmer until hot. Season to taste. Sprinkle with parmesan or romano if desired. Eat.