Should I Support A Wild Animal Sanctuary?

    Happy Monday!  If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that my birthday was this weekend, and that my sweet husband surprised me with an overnight stay at an animal rescue + rehab facility called C.A.R.E.  I documented the trip throughout, and although the response from viewers seemed to be about 95% positive, I did get a few messages that made me realize that there is a discussion to be had about the way in which we interact with, view, and support these exotic animals.

    wild animal sanctuary

    Generally, people seem ok with farm animal sanctuaries.  But when it comes to wild animal sanctuaries like C.A.R.E. , people can get slightly suspicious.  Given the exploitation these types of wild animals (such as big cats, bears, wolves) tend to be vulnerable to, a certain level of unease is 100% understandable!  There are SO many places that present themselves as helping animals, but are actually doing things like charging people to play with, swim with, and cuddle the animals. And some animals are just not meant to be handled in this way.  And what really goes on behind the scenes at places like this?? It’s easy to slap on a pretty label like “sanctuary,” but how can you tell if a place is legit or not?

    Before lending your support to a place claiming to be a wild animal sanctuary, I would look online and/or call ahead to access certain features.

    1. Check into how the animals are “housed.” Do they have ample room? Does it mimic their natural habitat (i.e.- no concrete floors, low ceilings, etc.)?  If possible, it is good for them to have some type of “partner” with whom they share their space, in order to meet their socialization needs.  If a sanctuary is worth their salt, they will try and  closely imitate how the animal lives in the wild.  For example: If an animal is meant to climb, are there structures present upon which they may do so? Do they have pools mimicking a pond they would have access to in the wild? The animals need to be properly stimulated.
    2. How much physical contact are visitors able to have with the wild animals? Ideally, exposure in general should be low.  Any place allowing you to hold baby tiger cubs and pose for pictures with them, etc., should raise a major red flag.  While this does not present a healthy dynamic, a “fake sanctuary” is likely to allow it in order to draw in visitors and make more money.  Getting up close to them when divided is fine, and can encourage important human-animal connections…  But actually handling them is, in most cases, not good.  It is not natural, is frightening for the animals, and is dangerous for all involved.  Not to mention, if someone who works at a place like this is casually handing over a woozy bear/tiger/wolf cub for you to hold, it might very well be indicative of drugs being used to render the animal into such a docile, “safe” state.
    3. Do they breed the animals? At any wild animal sanctuary, this should be a big fat NO. No exceptions.
    4. How the animals end up at the sanctuary?  For instance, at C.A.R.E, all of the animals had been displaced or given up for one reason or another, and needed a place to live out their lives.  They came from circuses that shut down or mistreated them, zoos who would not pay for their medical care when a major issue arose, or private (oftentimes rich and famous) owners who had not anticipated the level or type of care wild animals require. For this reason, there weren’t a lot of “babies” at the sanctuary (if there are, that’s oftentimes a red flag).  A true sanctuary does not pay to bring on an animal unless doing so is an occasional, desperate move to save the animal from a dire situation.
    5. Are the animals pacing around/ pulling out their hair/ exhibiting other “stressed out, cooped up zoo creature” behaviors? This is not a good sign (but also could be symptomatic of PTSD).
    6. What accreditations does the sanctuary have? 501c3? GFAS? These are the two I look out for. 501c3 simply shows that the establishment is a true non-profit (as proven by the IRS); GFAS requires the sanctuary to adhere to a certain, strict set of ethical and welfare guidelines (no breeding or selling, living conditions of animals must be conducive to them living out their lives in a peaceful, socialized, spacious manner).
    7. Visitation guidelines… What are they?  A truly good sanctuary will have some limits on how much exposure these animals get to humans so as not to stress them out. At many of the best ones, a visit needs to be booked in advance.
    8. Why are the animals needing to live out their lives at the sanctuary?  The answer should be that they would/do release animals when possible, but when an animal is there for life, it is because they have simply been too exposed to humans and have no survival skills for the wild. (And this should be the case due to the conditions the animal was in PRIOR to their arrival at the wild animal sanctuary, not because the sanctuary has exposed them to too many people.)
    9. Does the sanctuary support education?  I actually had a few people who seemed very leery about the research & education component of C.A.R.E., but this is actually counterintuitive. Places taking steps to educate communities on the treatment of animals, the needs of wild animals, and the repercussions of zoos, exotic animal trade, etc. are the places that truly value long term conservation. Raising awareness is the only way that animal welfare will change. Additionally, find out what happens when an animal dies at the sanctuary (of old age, illness, etc.)–if they give you a vague answer, that should raise a red flag.  At C.A.R.E., for example, they very directly told me that when they lose an animal, they donate the body to science after having a full autopsy done– this way, they are furthering the knowledge of what makes these animals survive, thrive, or die.

    I hope this post is helpful in outlining things to be aware of when choosing whether or not to support a wild animal sanctuary.  There can be a thin, grey line between true sanctuaries and pseudo-zoos, so it is always good to research ahead of time and to ask the right questions.  Thank you for supporting TRUE ANIMAL SANCTUARIES, which are essential to the longterm conservation and better treatment of animals!

    dress: free people, size xs; shoes: sydney brown (true to size, eco-friendly)


    Body Issues While Pregnant… Yep, I’m Going To Talk About It.

    Love it or hate it, pregnancy is an insanely special, unique (WEIRD), and magical experience.  You are growing a life inside of you, a soul!  It is definitely not lost on me how lucky I am to have gotten pregnant so easily; many of my dearest friends have struggled in this department, and it has been heartbreaking and frustrating to watch.  I cannot wait to be a mother.  For me, nurturing others (oftentimes much more effectively than I have nurtured myself) has always come naturally, and I just cannot WAIT to be a mom. To raise a GOOD PERSON–someone who fights for what they believe in, who eats their veggies with happiness, and who laughs easily like his parents do– and to see my sweet husband become an even sweeter father.

    About 98% of the time I’ve been an exceptionally happy pregnant lady.  My morning sickness was never out of control, I can count the notable/scary mood swings I’ve had on one hand (Matt might give you a slightly different number), and my energy level has been fine!  I honestly cruised through the first 5 months or so of pregnancy, saying to myself, “Well dang, this ain’t half bad!”

    My stomach “popped” really early on in pregnancy, like around week 12.  I didn’t mind a bit!  Nothing else changed; I just had constant, visible evidence of my baby boy on the way whenever I would look down.  And the little preggo belly was really kind of cute! Matt bought me some super stylin’ maternity wear, and it was almost like a theme every day when I’d get dressed: “Woohoo! Let’s show off this bump!”  My hair was full, my skin was clear, and honestly I was having a blast feeling like an uber-womanly, sacred vessel.

    THEN, around the 5.5 month mark, I started noticing some slightly less adorable changes.  Is that cellulite on my butt-meets-thigh area???  WHAT? Why?? But, being a rational person who is aware that changes might come with pregnancy, I shrugged it off.  Same deal with my all-of-a-sudden very heavy breasts, which boasted all-of-a-sudden very much larger, darker nipples.  I thought, WOW!  Crazy!  But again, shrugged it off.  As I did with my slightly wider hips and thighs.  Shortly thereafter, though, I began noticing in photos (it is an interesting thing, having job which entails weekly photoshoots while pregnant) that my face was appearing much more full than before.  THIS was harder for me to ignore.

    Some background you probably don’t know about me:  I used to be a bit (ok, a lot) heavier back in college (2002-2006), and at that time I was riddled with some pretty substantial body image issues.  I flirted with eating disorders, none of which ended up really “sticking,” thank goodness, and I just generally didn’t feel great about my appearance during this period of my life.  I fluctuated a lot. It was sad.  I don’t even want to get into all of that in this post.

    Fast forward to about 2010: I seemed to have “figured it out.”  Was eating mostly plant-based (although I didn’t go full-on vegan officially until a couple of years later), was active, happy… And, without it even being a conscious thing, my body just settled into a healthy, comfortable weight.  Physically, I just felt good and healthy. And my head felt good and healthy.  And things stayed that way, until about a month ago.

    Now, my excitement and positivity is coupled with a nagging feeling of fear. Fear of “FAT.” And a sadness that I don’t feel quite like myself anymore. Insecurity at how my husband views me.  And guilt that I dare to feel these things at all. Nervousness that people will judge me as being shallow or bratty for caring about my appearance while in the midst of something as consequential and miraculous as pregnancy.  Confusion over whether my fears are simply symptomatic of PTSD from my past struggles, or something entirely new. The thing is, when you’re pregnant and feeling sad, people very much tend to have the attitude that “its just not about you, anymore.”  They may or may not respond bluntly like that, but you can hear it in their perhaps-well-intentioned-but-incredibly-dismissive “Oh, pregnancy is a blessing, just enjoy it!”  Bottom line is that (in my personal experience as well as that of at least 50 of my readers who responded to my Instagram story last week) people seem to not want to hear much from you in regards to your time gestating, aside from how amazing it all is and how excited you are.  But you’re still in there.  And issues– even the ones you may have thought were far behind you, whether related to body image, depression, anxiety, or something else altogether– can easily rear their ugly heads while your hormones are raging, your body is changing, and your future feels so foreign and uncertain.

    This post is not about providing an answer or proposing a solution to a body image problem you might be dealing with.  I am still struggling myself.  I guess I am writing this so that: A) other moms-to-be will know they aren’t alone, and that these emotions are THEIRS TO HAVE.  Don’t let anyone shame you into silent sadness– there is nothing less healthy for you (and for baby) than that;  B) in general, people reading this will know that everyone struggles with this stuff.  What you see on social media is such a minuscule part of what is really going on, and oftentimes the more perfect the picture, the more insecurities are festering beneath it;  C) to open up a dialogue and to declare this a safe space.  I am here if anyone needs to talk, truly, and I want you to know that your feelings are valued and can always be heard.


    Recipe: Vegan Quesadillas! (In collaboration with Dani from Little Mixico)


    Dani Rios is a (non-vegan) foodie & style blogger + YouTuber from Dallas, whom I’ve only met a handful of times.  What I can immediately tell about Dani: she is high energy, super sweet, and loves food!  She recently texted me to let me know that she’s “veggie curious” but afraid of giving up cheese (sound familiar??) and wondered if I’d like to get together and make something cheesy-but-vegan…And of course, I jumped at the chance!  If you know me, you know I’m always eager to improve my culinary skills (it’s an uphill battle, guys), and some easy-but-delicious vegan quesadillas sounded like just the thing.

    Ingredients (we got all for about $25-$30, and this can feed several people and/or make for multiple dinners):

    1. Tortillas (Most are vegan! But check on the back to just make sure there is no dairy listed in ingredients.)
    2. Vegan Butter (I recommend Earth Balance)
    3. Olive Oil
    4. Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips
    5. Red & green bell pepper (sliced)
    6. Onion (sliced and/or diced)
    7. Garlic (minced)
    8. Vegan Cheese (we recommend Follow Your Heart brand; we used cheddar and pepper jack, but it is also great with provolone; experiment with combos! Either shredded or sliced works.)
    9. Red pepper flakes
    10. Chili powder
    11. White wine vinegar
    12. OPTIONAL: salsa; avocados/lime/seasonings for guacamole; and/or vegan sour cream


    1. Heat olive oil in a large, non-stick pan over medium-high; add the chicken-free strips and cook for 1 minute or so
    2. Add a splash of vinegar, onion, garlic, bell peppers, red pepper flakes and chili powder.  Stir and sauté for about 4 more minutes. Remove from heat.
    3. Coat another non-stick pan in vegan butter.  Place one tortilla in the pan over medium-high. Sprinkle shredded cheese evenly over the tortilla, or place slices evenly.
    4. Once cheese begins to melt, layer some of the veggie and chicken mixture over the cheese.
    5. Top with a second tortilla. Cook until golden brown on both sides, or for approximately 2-3 minutes on each side.
    6. Remove quesadilla from pan, and repeat with remaining ingredients.
    7. Cut each quesadilla into triangles with a pizza cutter; serve hot.

    vegan quesadillas

    vegan quesadillas

    vegan quesadillas

    vegan quesadillas

    vegan quesadillas

    vegan quesadillas

    photos by Manny Rodriguez


    (Recipe was massively inspired by my friend Jessica Hoar‘s Instagram story!)


    Link to Dani’s YouTube vid (step-by-step making of the vegan quesadilla)


    Rêve En Vert – The Go-To For Consciously-Made, Luxury Fashion

    Dressing the bump in:  Mara Hoffman

    Rêve En Vert is changing the game when it comes to shopping for luxury fashion.  It has been called “The Net-A-Porter of sustainable fashion” by Harpers Bazaar, a description that is spot-on: The co-founders of REV created the company with the goal of only featuring fashion from designers who met one of their four sustainability criteria: organic, remade, local, and fair.  (But I can’t help but notice that “vegan” seems to have crept in there, as well, based on the availability of animal-friendly handbags on their site!)

    Rêve En Vert offers the best of the best in activewear, casual wear, dresses, lingerie, resort wear, accessories, beauty, and more.  Under each item, there is a description of WHY this designer is considered sustainable– what are their practices, their materials?  I will say, I was pleasantly surprised more than once to find that designer I have known of and admired for years has been, unbeknownst to me, consciously making their pieces with sustainable measures in place.  The dress I’m wearing, for instance, is by Mara Hoffman.  I worn pieces by this designer for the past 10 years, having no idea that she actually partners with artisans to make everything in the USA, focuses on employing women using ethical employment standards, utilizes cutting-edge and sustainable materials such as lenzing rayon and birla viscose, and focuses heavily on reducing fabric waste.  Honestly, perusing the site’s featured designers is an education in and of itself.

    I want to share some of my favorite, sustainably-made pieces from their site with you guys– I hope you love them!  And go check out the Rêve En Vert site online, it is truly inspiring.

    Dream shopping cart:

    Von Holzhausen, as seen on me here

    Matt & Nat, one of my all-time fave handbag brands

    tencel, non-toxic workout gear by Vyayama

    Willow Beauty trio of organic oils- cruelty-free, vegan, organic



    Ultra Violet : 2018’s Pantone Color of The Year

    2018 is in full swing, and with it has come the newest selection of Pantone colors. The color of the year, a very welcome change after last year’s barely-wearable yellow-green, has been declared Ultra Violet, a “blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level. From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come,” according to the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

    After the year we’ve had, an indicator of changes ahead is exactly what we the people are needing. It shouldn’t be ignored that our color of the year comes from harmoniously blending the politically polarizing colors of red and blue. Could this be the color of hope and peace that is to come in 2018?

    So— how do we incorporate this color into our wardrobes/lives for little morale AND style boost? Whether you’re a 20-year-old student, a 35-year-old mama, or just a fashionista in between, I have some ideas and inspiration for you (all animal-friendly as usual). Let’s make like Alice Walker and get into the color purple!


    undies: hanky panky- regular or plus size // cruelty-free, vegan lippie: kat von d // velvet jeans: marc jacobs // baby carrier: baby k’tan // tassel earrings: design b london // vegan leather padded headphones: beats // handbag: gunas // grid pattern, long sleeve blouse: sanctuary // backpack: fjallraven kanken // booties: on major sale- aldo //  sunglasses: ray ban // cruelty-free, vegan nail polish: luna // cruelty-free, vegan eyeshadow: half off-  elf cosmetics // scarf: almost sold out- asos



    ultra violet jumpsuit urban outfitters purple

    Jumpsuit (30% off, comes in yellow as well) (size 4 for reference)

    Blazer (petite and regular available)

    Black framed/ blue mirrored sunglasses (more colors available)

    photography by MAS Photography


    Green Chef | Vegan Meal Kit!

    Martha Stewart, I am not.  But as it turns out,  I can read & follow directions (especially when given the pre-measured ingredients) with the best of them!   

    I’m talking about Green Chef, an organic, gluten-free meal kit delivery service.  This is how it works:

    1. You select which meal plan option you’d like (cough cough VEGAN cough), as well as how many people you plan on feeding (i.e.: Two people? A family of four?).  Pick your subscription plan and which day you’d like your deliveries, and VOILA — they come delivered to your doorstep like magic!
    2. Once they arrive, you put on your cutesy “kiss the chef” apron and get to cookin’!  Each meal only takes about half an hour, and the directions/recipes are pretty much foolproof.  
    3. Pat yourself on the back and eat your delicious, beautiful meal!  

    The menu and recipes change every single week, and are truly restaurant-quality.  

    As amazing as Green Chef is, they are not the only meal kit company out there. There are, however, several things that set them apart from the rest and make them my personal preferred service:

    • Green Chef is the first USDA-certified meal kit company, and they serve more organic ingredients than any other company in the industry.  So you’re getting organic ingredients with no GMOs, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or steroids. Just healthy and pure, REAL food.
    • Green Chef is also the first meal kit company to receive Gluten-Free certification through the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Food Service program.
    • The menu is simply better than other services I’ve used.  The options are always flavorful, filling, and delicious… i have literally not had a single meal from them where I was left feeling “meh.”  My fiancé even went as far as saying that one of our meals, the Kung Pao Cauliflower dish, was “the best meal he’s had in YEARS” (!!!!!!!)  He has been SO impressed, which is so important to me since he is in the process of going 100% plant-based.

    This past week, I made 3 new Green Chef meals, all of which I loved:  Roasted Sweet Potato Bowl; Portabello Steak; and Kung Pao Cauliflower.  I’ll attach photos below, but excuse the lack of photographic evidence for the cauliflower; my husband seriously gobbled it up before I could even get my camera out!  Sigh.

    portabello mushroom steak green chef vegan

    vegan meal green chef

    green chef sweet potato bowl vegan meal

    sweet potato bowl vegan meal green chef

    All in all, I am addicted to Green Chef.  You’ll see them a lot from me moving forward, not only because it is an easy and cost-effective way to feed my little fam with plant-based, organic, gluten-free goodness, but ALSO because this service is actually teaching me how to cook!  I am such a novice, but the Green Chef really breaks the preparation and execution of these recipes down to where I can actually grasp what I need to do, and is getting me familiar with my kitchen it’s accoutrements. I am so excited about them, and I know that you will be, too!

    Click below to get started.  Go to “menu” and select Vegangreen chef logo



    *This post is done in collaboration with Green Chef.  All opinions are my own.



    Pop Your Pup (+ a Valentine’s Day giveaway!)

    I’ve talked with you about Pop Your Pup before, but JUST in case you’re new here… I just had to re-introduce you!

    Whether you have a parakeet, a snake, a flying squirrel, a kitty cat, or– like me– a pack of dogs… Pop Your Pup has you covered.  You just snap a quick pic of your “pet” to send to them, and they’ll put a pop art version (and thanks to PYP’s team of USA-based artists, and it’s always a dead ringer! It WILL look like your pet) on a top of your choice to wear OR on a canvas for you to hang in your home. You can choose the patterned or solid background of your choice, as well (check out their impressive gallery HERE.) It’s a super quick process, which I love… It makes it so that chronic procrastinators like me can easily get it done before holidays or birthdays to give as gifts.  Trust me- the recipient will be excited!

    Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I thought this would be a cool gift idea for you/your loved ones.  I want to give one of you a free Pop!  Head to my latest Instagram post to enter.

    Good luck!!! XOXOXO

    pop your pup top with great dane

      pop your pup