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This is an interview series with women that inspire me. Women that are doing cool shit with their lives. The Sunshine Sisters of the world! Be prepared to meet change makers, paradigm shifters, visionaries, game changers, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, adventurers, teachers, environmentalists, activists, renegades and storytellers from every corner of the globe! These interviews intend to share real life stories about how these women were able to diverge from the beaten path and follow their dreams. Learn how weaknesses were turned intro strengths and how breakdowns were actually preparations for breakthroughs!
Today I would like to introduce Merel from Blackbirds and Cakes. I freaking admire this girlboss for several reasons: she posts the most delicious vegan recipes on her website (for stunning cakes and budget friendly meals!), has a successful business delivering these cakes for weddings and parties AND somehow manages to keep up a weekly blog next to a fulltime job. I’m interviewing her partially for selfish reasons: I want to know how she does it so I can become more consistent with my own blog 😛
I hope that this series can give you the inspiration and tools to cultivate positive change in your own life. At the very least, I hope you are able to look at your own situation, with all your struggles and fears, but also hopes and accomplishments through a different lens. At the end of the day, you are the captain of your own ship. And because I love nautical metaphors, I’m just gonna leave this one here: ’no smooth sea has ever made a skillful sailor’ 😉
Hey, Merel! Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you, where are you from and what are you most passionate about?
Well, I’m Merel, I’m 26 years old and I work as an Associate Scientist in a lab in the pharmaceutical industry. I was born in the south of The Netherlands and grew up in Oijen, a little village next to a river, and lived there with my parents and two younger brothers. The village mentality didn’t resonate with me and I always felt like an outsider. After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (except for partying and doing nothing), so I enrolled in studies like fashion & design, theatre technology and restaurant ownership, but never finished any of them. A lack of creativity or a poor future perspective were usually the reason. After reaching an all-time low, education wise, I started at the laboratory school. This turned out to be a good move, as the courses were easy for me and I really liked the internships.
I graduated 5 years ago, and have held several different positions at an analytical laboratory. I’ll admit that my work isn’t my passion, but I don’t believe that that is necessary. I can wrap up my work day very easily, which leaves me with enough time and energy for my true passions: food, veganism, travelling, sustainability and creativity. I combine all these passions on my blog Blackbirds and Cakes, from which I also deliver homemade vegan cakes.
Wow, thank you for this super honest background story! I totally agree that your work doesn’t always have to be your passion. There are absolutely other ways to feel fulfilled. So about Blackbirds and Cakes.. I know that ‘Merel’ is Dutch for blackbird, but is there another meaning behind the blog name?
Besides what you just mentioned, I think blackbirds are really beautiful birds. They have something mysterious about them. I read that the bird symbolises higher ideals and that the colour black symbolises potential. I think these symbolic meanings resonate with my blog’s vegan and sustainability theme.
I never realized there was more to it, so I’m glad I asked! What made you want to start Blackbirds and Cakes next to your fulltime job?
When I started Blackbirds and Cakes I was feeling kind of down. I felt like I wasn’t in the right place with my previous job position, because it was costing me a lot of energy and it came to a point where I felt like I didn’t know what to do with my life. At the time, I was spending all my free time on food and I was sharing a lot of my creations on Instagram. After receiving loads of requests, I finally decided to start a blog. I wanted to inspire people and inform them about a vegan and sustainable lifestyle. In addition, I wanted to have something in my life that I loved doing. Starting my blog and a home bakery encouraged me to get out more, be creative and inspire others. It really helped me to shape my life again in the way that I wanted.
So your blog was basically a form of healing for you! When did you decide to go vegan and what motivated/inspired you? Was there a specific turning point?
I was following a couple of vegan blogs for some time as inspiration for my recipes, but I never thought veganism would be something for me. It seemed incredibly complicated, kind of like an unreachable goal. But to be honest, I never informed myself properly, and I had no idea why people were doing it except for caring about animals. When I got really ill two years ago and had to stay home for two months because of severe stomach pains, my doctors didn’t know what to do with me. After the gazillionth visit to the doctor, they told me to just sit it out and that it was probably nothing serious, so I went and did my own research. I never had the impression that my diet was unhealthy, but once I learned more about plant-based diets, I figured it might be the solution to my problem. I suggested to my boyfriend to try it out for two months, in which a whole new world ended up opening for us. Not just with regard to food, but also environmental issues, animal rights and what a plant-based diet was doing for our bodies. After those two months we decided to stick to it. At the moment, animal rights and the environment are my main motivators.
What were your main struggles with the vegan lifestyle, and how did you overcome it?
I’m the type of person who finds it difficult to say ‘no’ and to go against the grain. So if someone offered me a piece of cake, I would find it difficult to refuse. Also when my mother in law would invite us over for dinner, I would find it hard to ask if she could cook something vegan. And because I didn’t have the guts to say no, I’d feel terrible afterwards. And it was actually this feeling that helped me get rid of my fear of saying no! After indicating my wishes a few times I realised that others are actually very understanding and willing to adapt.
Very inspiring for anyone thinking of going vegan. Back to the blog, we all want to know where you find the time to do all this next to a full time job? What does a typical week look like?
I wake up early so I can start my day job at around 7am. For most people this sounds incredible early, but I do this so I can have more time later on in the day. I usually get home around 16.30, and after chilling out with my boyfriend, we usually cook a meal together. We make extra big portions, so we spend as little time as possible on cooking while still eating healthy. My boyfriend will also cook by himself to give me more time to work on my blogs or cakes. I try to not spend more than two hours a day on this.
The thing that really works for me is to cluster all my tasks. I’ll start answering emails, after which I’ll shut it down because I’ll only get distracted by it. Afterwards, I’ll either take or edit photos, write, bake or cook or create a plan with my goals for the upcoming weeks: what I want to write, and which recipes I’ll share. It hardly every occurs that I cook a recipe, photograph it, and type it all up in one day. By dividing your work into groups, and only carrying out tasks in that group you can be more focused and work more efficiently. I try to plan most of my blog work in the weekends. In addition, I’ll try to do some work in advance to give me more flexibility and peace of mind. If I work on the blog for an entire morning, it gives me more time throughout the week for fun things. I also try to stick to my rule of putting my laptop away by 8pm every evening. We can then watch series, do yoga or read a book to relax before we go to bed at around 22.30. I realise that it sounds like I’m working every day, but that is not true, haha! On average I spend one morning in the weekend and two to three evenings on weekdays on my blog and home bakery.
Daily obstacles can cause us to lose sight of our goals and dreams after we’ve started turning them into reality. What are these obstacles? And instead of giving up, what helps you to regain a positive outlook?
For me they’re mostly inner struggles. Sitting on the couch, and watching Netflix with a bar of chocolate is a lot more appealing than waking up early, and working my ass off. I always try to remind myself of my higher purpose, which is to inspire people and make the world a tiny bit of a better place. Sometimes I feel completely out of it and will lack motivation and inspiration, but instead of forcing myself to work, I try to be gentle with myself, and give myself some time and space so I can start my next week full of inspiration and motivation. I believe this is the best way to achieve your goals: don’t rush or force anything, and keep doing what you love.
Sounds like you’ve achieved a super healthy balance, so great advice! What gives you the most energy?
Travelling and learning new things! After I’ve been away for a while, I always come back full of energy, inspiration and new ideas. I really feel like I’m on cloud nine after a trip, and that cloud sometimes sticks around for several weeks! During those moments, I get lots of things done and any setbacks don’t feel as bad. And I really don’t need to travel to the other side of the world for a month to achieve this. A weekend away or just a single day in a different environment already gives me so much energy.
Who or what empowers and inspires you?
The people that most inspire me are game changers. Women who show up for themselves and a better world, in whichever way. Think of people like Floortje Dessing, a world traveler, writer, and owner of two sustainable clothing stores, Merel from ‘De Groene Meisjes (a sustainability blog, editor) who in her own way inspires people to live a more sustainable lifestyle and be more gentle with themselves, or Nicky & Jessie from the Zero waste project who inspire others to live waste free. Then there’s also my colleagues from Viva Las Vegas (vegas being ‘vegeterians’ in Dutch, editor), whom I volunteer for. They inspire me with their efforts for a plant-based future.
What advice do you have for women that want to start a lifestyle/food related blog? (e.g. how do you manage your time, considering your other job).
Just do it! Go on an adventure, discover what resonates with you and in what way it fits into your daily life. You’ll learn so much, especially about yourself, and if it suits you, it will end up giving rather than costing you energy. When you decide to start a blog, you’re doing it for yourself, so set yourself some realistic goals and focus on them. Don’t force or rush anything, and the rest of it will follow!
Thanks for your time and the inspiration, Merel! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
If you’re thinking of switching to a (more) plant-based diet, or want to live more sustainably, I would love to help you and give you your daily dose of inspiration through my Facebook-page, Instagram-account and blog. I hope to see you there!