Christmas Time is Here!

Today is the three year anniversary party for my business Two Beauties Skincare & Makeup Artistry. My official opening date is November 1, 2016 but because Christmas is my favorite holiday I made it a tradition to celebrate in December during my favorite night in old town Eureka. Every first Saturday of the month businesses in the historic old town section of Eureka stay open late for shopping, snacks, and art displays. When I moved to northern California and first started going to “Arts Alive” nights I always looked forward to the Christmas edition of this tradition.

Downtown is decorated, it’s cold out, and that special holiday spirit is in the air. I’d walk around in awe of how beautiful Eureka and it’s small businesses are – all lit up and glowing. The street lights shining through the mist and fog rolling in from the water. Like a glimpse into the past – what shopping for Christmas must have looked like before malls and the internet. Buying presents from people you know, watching them gift wrap your trinkets, knowing you’re supporting community. I love how many people come together to support our little town and it’s traditions. Back then I never would’ve dreamed I’d have a store front on second street, that I’d be a small business owner and a real part of this tradition. And what a journey it’s been already.

Today, as I prepare for my one big party a year – a way to celebrate my wonderful clients, our beautiful small town, and the magic of Christmas, I decided to show you how I decorate. At work and at home. For those of you that know me personally, maybe you’ve seen my shop and my home and can use this blog post for decorating and shopping inspiration. I’ll share the local vendors I used for my beautiful Christmas Arts Alive display at work, and then show you how I set up my house to reflect my love of the holidays. For those of you that may not know me, or have never visited my studio, I hope that this post is a way for you to get to know me better – an inside look at the things that make me happy.

While I’m aware that “things” are not what the holidays are about, I do recognize that I am very connected to the environments that I create for myself, and the feelings they evoke. When I take the time to create spaces that look and feel magical, that helps me to feel happy and content to just be and exist in the moment. Last night I locked up at work, about an hour and a half later than usual at the end of an eleven hour day, and I took the time to stand on the quiet sidewalk outside my front window and just look. Cardboard boxes full of décor in hand, I just let myself stand there and feel gratitude for what we’ve made. Local businesses are truly a creation of an entire community.

And I had a thought. As the years go by and I learn, grow, and get to know myself better, I realize that Christmas is my favorite holiday because of the magic that is easier to see. I’ve always been someone who notices the whimsical in the ordinary, the reality in the imaginary and the fairy-tale in every day circumstances. I’m given two ordinary options, and often times I’d rather create a third more extraordinary one for myself. I know Santa Claus isn’t real, but really, isn’t he? And why not believe? I’d lost that part of myself for a while – the part that insisted on believing – and lately I’ve been recovering it. Bit by bit. Because being solidly grounded in logic is good, but when that’s all you see, life becomes boring and soulless. And after all, reality is subjective anyway.

And so I’ve discovered that Christmas is that time of year when almost everyone is willing to recognize and believe a little more in magic. The trick is to learn to see that magic around us every single day of the year, because I know it’s there, somewhere.

_____

Work Display Vendors:

Photography: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

http://www.photosbykimberlyann.com/contact.html

Hair: Trimmed & Pinned Hair Studio

https://m.facebook.com/Trimmedpinnedhairstudio/

Wardrobe: Shipwreck Boutique

https://m.facebook.com/shipwreckeureka/

Florals: Flora Organica Designs

https://www.floraorganicadesigns.com

Display Stand & Sign: Barri Jean Designs

https://www.barrijeandesigns.com

_____

Notable Etsy Shops For Holiday Home Decor:

CreateYourOwnGift https://www.etsy.com/shop/CreateYourOwnGift

MyRusticHomeBoutique https://www.etsy.com/shop/MyRusticHomeBoutique

StardustBySeiko https://www.etsy.com/shop/StardustBySeiko

_____

My Favorite Local Shops For Holiday Decor:

Ferndale Emporium http://www.ferndale-emporium.com

The Farmer’s Daughter https://m.facebook.com/pages/category/Home-Decor/The-Farmers-Daughter-110728025661214/

Golden Gait Mercantile https://www.goldengaitmercantile.com

Land of Lovely https://landoflovely.com

Pierson’s https://www.thebighammer.com

Sekoya Botanicals https://sekoyabotanicals.com

Main Street Gift Co https://www.mainstreetgiftco.net

We also do a fair amount of holiday decor shopping at Michaels, and at a store called Paddington Station in Ashland, Oregon. https://paddingtonstationashland.com

What A Refined Sugar Free Vegan Eats on Thanksgiving

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

With Christmas quickly approaching, I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to the amazing refined-sugar-free and vegan foods I prepared, served and ate this Thanksgiving.

My intention is to shed light on how easy cooking without refined sugars, meat, dairy and eggs can truly be. Whether your intention is to host a more inclusive and cruelty-free holiday meal in the future, or simply to contribute a vegan dish to an otherwise non-vegan-friendly family gathering, I’m here to help.

To me, being truly thankful for this human experience means honoring all beings on this planet as equally as possible. Eating plants is compassionate, nourishing, and kind – to ourselves, our earth, and the animals we are blessed enough to live amongst. Let’s cook more peacefully.

-Liz

_____

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner: Vegan “Hamburger Helper”

We have a tradition that when possible my sister will stay the night before major holidays, so I wanted to cook us a yummy vegan dinner. I decided to use this delicious mushroom stroganoff recipe by Ela Vegan. I made the recipe as directed, but doubled the seasoning, liquids and cornstarch, added a bag of slightly thawed (but not cooked) Boca Crumbles, and about 8oz of cooked Fusilli pasta noodles. And there you have it- my version of Hamburger Helper- delicious and vegan.

https://elavegan.com/vegan-mushroom-stroganoff-gluten-free-recipe/

Thanksgiving Brunch: French Toast & Sausage

This recipe seems like it should be simple, but until recently there just simply was not an egg replacement product that I deemed worthy of using for a real, delicious french toast. Then Just Egg happened.

https://www.ju.st/en-us/products/consumer/egg/egg

I haven’t used this product for scrambling or savory cooking yet, but it’s now a staple for my french toast making, and the fact that it’s cholesterol-free and packed with protein is just a plus. I purchase mine at my local COOP, but Safeway and other major chains are now carrying it.

Recipe:

1 loaf Sweet French Bread cut into 1″ slices

(I use Brio bread from a local bakery because it’s vegan. Check the ingredients on any bread you buy, but most home-made or bakery-fresh bread will be vegan.)

Mix:

1 container Just Egg

1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

2 Tbsp Plant Milk of Choice

Cinnamon to taste (I add a lot.)

Whisk together, soak bread on both sides, then cook in a non-stick pan.

This makes plenty of toast for 3 or 4 people. Serve with pure maple syrup, and Earth Balance butter. As a side I cooked a package of Beyond Meat sausages.

Snacks & Desserts:

-Spinach Dip & Bread: We cut up little squares of Brio Sourdough bread (also vegan) and make the Spinach Dip recipe on the back of this Knorr packet. It’s so yummy, and the mix only has a tiny bit of added sugar. I prefer to use Follow Your Heart brand vegan mayonnaise and Tofutti brand sour cream as substitutes.

-Blueberry Muffins: These muffins are super simple, healthy, and delicious! I got the recipe from the Two Raspberries blog, but use 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup mixed into the wet ingredients instead of cane sugar. They bake the same.

https://tworaspberries.com/amazing-blueberry-muffins/

-“Twix Bars:” These bars of peanut butter chocolate goodness do not taste at all like Twix to me, but are very similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, in a bar form. I got the recipe from the Ambitious Kitchen blog. Since I use dark chocolate chips with no sweetener (Pascha brand), I added a touch of maple syrup to the top layer mixture as well. They keep best in the refrigerator in a Pyrex container with parchment paper separating them.

https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/healthy-peanut-butter-twix-bars/

-Chocolate Chip Cookes: I got my friend Kelly’s permission to post her amazing chocolate chip cookies. They’re THE ONLY refined sugar free cookie recipe that I’m obsessed with. They’re also vegan and gluten free! I use the Pascha chocolate chips in this recipe as well.

Dinner: Tofurky, Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli Cheese Casserole

-Tofurky: We bought the Tofurky that comes in a set with gravy and a mini chocolate cheesecake. You can purchase this almost anywhere now, but I do notice that the health food stores tend to sell out closer to the holidays.

The Tofurky is extremely easy to make- you essentially thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then bake it for an hour and 45 minutes, and baste it twice with veggie broth. For those of you that are curious, it does not taste like tofu, and it has more of a substitute meat-type texture. Think Garde-in chicken tenders. The gravy is not phenomenal, but is good. And the cheesecake has sugar so I did not eat it, but I remember it being pretty delicious in previous years.

-Mashed Potatoes: Use whatever recipe you have and prefer but substitute Earth Balance butter and Tofutti sour cream for your dairy additions!

-Broccoli Cheese Casserole: I got this recipe from the Connoisseurus Veg blog and make it exactly as directed, but I bake mine in the oven to melt some Follow Your Heart vegan Parmesan on top at the end.

https://www.connoisseurusveg.com/vegan-broccoli-cheese-casserole/

Fitness Update & Natural PMS Remedies

I haven’t posted a fitness update since I ran my half marathon in May. Since then my routine has completely changed because my fitness goals shifted from building endurance to building muscle. My body is very slow to build muscle in general, and when I’m doing any type of cardio in my weekly routine it becomes even harder. Since weight loss is the opposite of my goal, my current training and food plan reflects that. I’m so excited to share the progress I’ve made, and as a bonus, a couple of dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made to maintain energy levels during those lethargic and headache-y days during the Luteal Phase* of my cycle.

*The Luteal Phase is one stage of the menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. Often times this is when “PMS” symptoms arise.

_____

My Current Workout Routine:

As many of you know from my previous fitness updates, I’ve been working with my good friend and personal trainer, Katie Berrey for nearly three years now. She owns Rebel Fitness & Nutrition in Eureka, California and is certified in plant based nutrition. If you’re interested in learning more about her business, check out her interview on my Women in Business Series.

https://thereallifeveganwife.com/2019/03/16/women-in-business-preview-katie-berrey-rebel-fitness-nutrition/

As a courtesy to her time and expertise I will never publicly post exact workouts or the exact plan that she puts together for me. I encourage all of you with serious fitness goals to try working with a personal trainer at least a few times to see how amazing your results can be when you trust a professional to help you.

For the last six months I’ve been doing an amended version of what Rebel Fitness calls the “Transformation Program.” Essentially the program includes customized daily workouts, training sessions when applicable, progress photos, measurements, muscle quality assessments, etc. Because Katie had a new baby (Asher, he’s adorbs) in September, the parts of the program that I can’t do myself have been put on hold until future notice. Currently I have an at-home program that Katie puts together that looks a little like this:

Monday: Arms

Tuesday: Heavy Hip Thrusts

Wednesday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit.

Thursday: Heavy Deadlifts

Friday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit – different than the first one.

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Rest or light exercise like yoga, Pilates, or a walk.

I absolutely love this routine because I’m working out five days a week instead of six. But here’s the deal – Last week I ran six miles on one of my rest days. So for me, the idea of resting is nice, but doesn’t always happen. It just depends on my mood, and more than anything I appreciate the flexibility in my schedule.

With this routine I’ve been able to “PR” (beat my personal record) in hip thrusts, deadlifts, and backsquats (when they were in my schedule). Going from running and lifting light weight, to occasionally doing cardio when the mood strikes, but mostly lifting heavy has been a great change for my mind and body. And I’ve definitely gotten substantially stronger, lifting more than pre-surgery for the first time. BUT I haven’t been going to Pilates or yoga for the last few months. During bridal season it can be extremely difficult to get workouts in if I have to leave my house to do them, or if they’re at any time other than 5am. Therefore, that part of my plan has been put on hold until this week. Now that my busiest season is over and we’re back from vacation, I can get into the routine of at least two classes per week to strengthen my core and improve flexibility, which in turn, improve my lifts and form.

_____

Food:

Other than my experiments with raw plant based eating, I’ve kept my nutrition fairly simple. I meal prep for work days and eat intuitively. Usually my daily food plan includes a smoothie for breakfast, a bowl of fruit for a snack, a salad for lunch, some mixed nuts and seeds as another snack, and then an unplanned dinner, because my husband likes them to be flexible. Because I found my results from eating raw to be so amazing, I’ve tried to incorporate as many raw foods into my daily routine as possible, but we do cook most of our dinners and sometimes I eat cooked foods during the day.

I don’t track macros or count calories at all. I don’t have a cheat day, or any rules regarding vegan junk food other than no refined sugars. I just eat (mostly) good plant based food, in whatever quantities satisfy me and give me enough energy to get a good workout in the next morning. The other day I went and got Beyond Burgers from Carl’s Jr for dinner – it’s all about balance.

_____

Tips to beat the lethargy that happens right before your period starts:

I get tired before my period, not regular tired but so exhausted that I can barely keep my eyes open for at least one to two days. I also get a headache that is lingering, terrible, and sometimes morphs into a migraine. When my nutrition is on-point (all raw plant food) the headaches go away and the tiredness lessens considerably. Here are two things that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine that have helped me tremendously without having to change entirely into a raw vegan.

#1) Magnesium

A very basic search of what magnesium does for the human body includes: Maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heartbeat steady, helping bones remain strong, adjusting blood glucose levels, and aiding in the production of energy and protein. Additional benefits include boosting exercise performance, fighting depression, lowering blood pressure, and preventing migraines.

During all my research to try and discover what I could do to help with my headaches, and why a raw plant based diet was so effective at curing them, I discovered that this one mineral was responsible for many of my positive results and is found in particularly high levels in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds – huge staples in a raw plant based diet. Our bodies also absorb much more of it if we consume it in food, rather than in a supplement form.

I started making myself (what I now call) my Chocolate Headache-Curing Smoothie. I drink one every morning and because of the high levels of magnesium found naturally in the plant ingredients, my headaches completely go away when I am drinking them on a regular basis.

Recipe:

1 Cup Coconut Water

3 Medjool Dates

3-4 Frozen Bananas

2 Tbsp Cacao Powder

1-2 Tbsp Raw Almond Butter

2-4 Tbsp Raw Hemp Seeds

Because of the hemp seeds, this smoothie is also high in protein. And because of the cacao, you can also enjoy a boost of energy. So add as much as you’d prefer!

#2) Mushroom Tea

I know, I know, I know. Mushroom tea sounds disgusting and conjures up an image of privileged college kids trying to dress like hippies and drink weird things for the sake of being holistic or whatever. But I have to admit they’re onto something. I’ve been drinking the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir Mix with Lion’s Mane. The loose tea or “elixir mix” comes in tiny packets that I pour about two cups of hot water over, mix, then enjoy. You can add creamer to it, but I don’t. There is a touch of stevia added to the mix, but as someone who cannot stand the taste, I do not notice it. It tastes like an earthy tea, and I get mine from our local health food store. Four Sigmatic’s website is awesome, and there are several different elixirs, coffees, and teas to choose from so I plan to try more.

The reason why I love this particular elixir is because it’s organic, vegan and decaf yet it gives me a huge boost in energy that lasts most of the day. This is especially useful to aid in intense workouts and during long days at my shop when I’m about to start my period and I’m experiencing that intense lethargy. The lion’s mane mushroom supports memory, concentration, cognitive function, and nervous system function, so I’m also able to produce more meaningful work on projects that require concentration. I find that the energy it creates feels cleaner and more sustained than the temporary boost caffeine gives.

https://us.foursigmatic.com

_____

I hope that you’ve found some of this information useful. Leave a comment if you try my magnesium smoothie, and let me know what you think about mushroom teas!

Our Disney Cruise Experience

My sister, her boyfriend Brendan, Kanan and myself recently went on the Disney Wonder Halloween on the High Seas Mexican Riviera cruise. We were gone for seven days and left from San Diego. I’m a life-long Disney and princess-obsessed person so my husband knew I’d love it and suggested we take a cruise to see just how much Disney magic can be on one ship, and if the vegan food holds up in case we want to rebook for any future vacations. I thought the best way to share highlights from our experience (and perhaps some critiques as well) was to show you the best parts of our cruise and to explain any potential challenges that we experienced along the way.

Overall, the best thing about this vacation was that my phone stayed on airplane mode THE ENTIRE TIME we were on the ship, and I didn’t bring my laptop with us. This reminded me to be present and really enjoy our time there. Now I’m back from a ten-day break from everything, and a two-week break from writing. It was much needed. For all you high-achieving entrepreneurs out there that think it’s impossible to turn your phone completely off for seven days – I did it and have no regrets. It was the first vacation I’ve ever turned my phone completely off for, and to be honest, I’m unsure if I was just so tired that I didn’t care, or finally had the resolve to protect my vacation time in an attempt to recharge. Either way I had just come off of a six-month jam-packed bridal season at work (I literally had my last wedding of the year 6 days before we left), am always slammed before I leave trying to get as much as possible done, and I’m transitioning into holiday preparations. So mentally I was maxed out and needed a break.

I don’t think that I would’ve been able to keep my phone off and experience stress-free bliss for a week if I wouldn’t have been on my digital declutter journey for almost six months now. Social media has lost it’s luster and now exists as a simple work, blog, and book club communication tool. I don’t miss it, and I certainly don’t miss wasting my time scrolling. And although I’m still improving and automating more things at work, the boundaries I’ve set up for social media, email, and texting are more than sufficient to give me peace of mind when I’m gone. My sister and husband also had their phones, which they turned on occasionally, so I will admit that this helped me to be more at ease. If the pet sitter or friend watching my shop had an emergency, they have their numbers as well. But truthfully, on a boat there’s not a whole lot we could do in the event of a home-emergency except for rely on the trustworthy people we put in charge in our absence to handle it.

All in all, our vacation was wonderfully relaxing. And after sleeping for much of it, I realized that I needed a longer break when we returned. Although I did go back to work and my routine after a couple of days, I decided to take one more week off from blogging to recharge and get motivated. And it worked. This year is almost over, and depending on when I choose to do my full digital declutter, I will only have around a handful more blog posts before I take a month off to quiet my mind and come up with experiences and topics I really want to write about next year. Including what it’s like to not use most technology for four weeks. And I can’t wait.

_____

Departure & Our Stateroom

Getting on and off the boat and checking luggage was fairly easy. Obviously you need a passport, and Disney makes sure that you have your boarding pass and information way in advance through your online cruise account. I printed everything and put it together in an easy-to-use binder. In the future, instead of flying in that morning, we decided we would stay in one of the hotels across the street from the port. My sister and her boyfriend did that and they had a direct view of the ship from their balcony. All they had to do was walk across the street to start the boarding process, whereas we had already been traveling for hours and were exhausted by the time we got to San Diego. I highly recommend spending the night there before – the hotels are extremely close and the airport is just a few-minute cab ride to the port area, so traveling is easy and simple.

We decided to splurge and get a room with a balcony which was completely worth it. We had a beautiful view for most of the vacation. We ordered coffee and a continental breakfast to our room each morning by leaving a card out on our door the night before. Although they did not offer any vegan pastry options, it was so nice and convenient to have fruit and coffee delivered each morning at whatever time we chose. Kanan did take advantage of the croissants and donuts available though. Our room was a fair size, most of it was Disney-themed, and our housekeeping staff was fabulous. One of the nights we came back to our room and they had decorated it for our anniversary!

We had access to Disney Plus so we watched several movies throughout the week, which we loved. You are also able to view your cruise account on the stateroom TV, so you can review all the charges going to your preset credit card which is convenient. All in all we were very happy with our stateroom, and being able to enjoy the view each day was amazing.

_____

Ports of Call

We signed up for excursions ahead of time through our online cruise account, and planned to do something fun at each port.

Cabo San Lucas – Port #1

We signed up for the snorkel and sea adventure. Debarking was simple and organized. We had great guides who took us out on a small boat (our group had sixteen people in it) to tour the popular parts of the coastline and then we made our way to a special area to snorkel. We saw coral and tons of awesome fish, and it was perfectly hot and sunny. I had never been snorkeling before and had a great time, and felt super safe. The only change I would make in the future would be to bring my own gear, because although they provided it, I am a bit critical of germs. I would also make sure to bring more cash to tip everyone accordingly – we had only packed large bills and had to scramble to find somewhere to make change.

Mazatlan – Port #2

We had signed up for a jet boat adventure which was canceled, so we spent the day exploring with Christina and Brendan. At the port we hired a man with a van who toured us around for as long as we wanted for $25 a person. He drove us to a place on the beach to have lunch, showed us the developing parts of the city, then drove us by the popular cliff diving spot, and up to their lighthouse landmark. He waited for us at the bottom while we took the hike to the top, and the view was amazing.

Puerto Vallarta – Port #3

By this point we were all fairly tired from doing, and just wanted to relax. We found the Marriott resort – this was the only time I used Kanan’s phone to do research – it got five stars on Trip Advisor so we took a short cab ride there and it was amazing. We will definitely go back. Day passes were $37 per person and we each got so much food and beverage credit with that that we couldn’t even use it all. We spend the perfectly hot summer day eating guacamole pool-side, walking down by the ocean, and enjoying the fabulous water.

_____

Cruise Activities

If you go on a Disney Cruise with kids, I would imagine that the sheer amount of activities available to you would be extremely overwhelming. For us, the activities we wanted to do were fairly reasonable and mostly involved our after-dinner shows. My favorites were the Golden Mickeys – an award-style red carpet event on formal night where all your favorite Disney characters sang the most iconic Disney songs, Broadway-style. Of course I was obsessed with Frozen, the live musical. And on the last night Disney brought out all the stops with Disney Dreams, a live performance where Peter Pan reminds a young girl that anything is possible if you just believe in yourself and your dreams. He shows her by bringing out all the characters from her favorite stories who did just that – instant tear-jerker with all the feels.

In addition to those shows, there were also some comedians, a magician, a hypnotist, and several Disney movies on the big screen. The performance spaces were all comfortable and beautiful to watch shows in. Because we took the Halloween cruise, the entire ship was decorated accordingly, and on Halloween we were encouraged to dress up and participate in the festivities. There was a huge party, trick-or-treating, and then fireworks to top it off. They also had one night where everyone was encouraged to dress up like pirates, but we didn’t participate in that one. The gym was wonderful and we worked out several days we were there- it had every piece of equipment you may need and an awesome view.

What I recognized as we would walk down the halls of the ship is that going on a Disney Cruise is a repeat event for most people, and participating in all of the things is the best way to make the most of your time. Each door was decorated like high school lockers would be during homecoming week, just Disney themed instead. In the future, I will pack an entire suitcase just to decorate our room and have appropriate costumes for all events. It seems over the top and a little bit cult-y, but I’m in. It’s all about forgetting you’re a grown up for a week.

_____

Food

Okay vegans, the cruise food was not fantastic.

I feel like as tenured vegans watching the world evolve to accommodate our dietary choices more and more, we expect more. “Vegan” was an option to sign up for ahead of time, so of course I checked that box and assumed they would accommodate me. But on more than one occasion I felt that they were unprepared or that I was responsible for coming up with my own ideas because they simply didn’t know what to do, which was a bit tedious to deal with. For example, I would often find that the “dairy free” options available on their menus were just meat.

Our dining staff was the same the entire trip (and they were awesome) so our head server made sure I had a vegan dinner each night. Some dinners were good – like pasta or curry, but other nights they were just bad – like a bowl of plain and unseasoned lentils with a few broccoli pieces on top. The desserts were by far the best part – I got everything from strawberry whipped parfaits to beignets, but I struggled to eat them because of the fact that I knew the sugar would make me sick – which it did. But by that point in the night I was hungry and wanted to eat something good. Meanwhile my husband enjoyed five entrees each night, and just about every dessert on the menu.

Breakfasts had to be ordered the night before if I wanted something other than fruit. Room service literally offered me dinner rolls as the only “pastry” option they could deliver that was vegan. After pre ordering I did get vegan pancakes and waffles at one of the restaurants which were delicious, but also loaded with sugar. And lunches were hit and miss depending on where we happened to be and what was available. Salad and fries were always an option, although one day they did have Beyond Sausage hotdogs available, and upon request they did make us an ad hoc vegan pizza.

Overall, I was not impressed and felt as though I was responsible for coming up with food ideas for myself the entire time, which I thought was supposed to be handled by the dining staff. No one wants to think about how you’re going to get food on a cruise, where you don’t have access to a grocery store. In the future I would love to see them improve their options and actually have a vegan menu, but I would most likely type up a list of acceptable meals and foods and bring it with me to special request everything. Which seems over the top and unnecessary, but that way I won’t spend the entire vacation lethargic and sick from eating desserts, few vegetables, and definitely not enough protein.

_____

Our Disney Cruise experience was magical. For omnivores, I’d imagine it to be a pretty perfect vacation. As someone who chooses to be childless, I was mildly concerned that the sheer amount of children on the boat would be overwhelming and distressing to me. But for probably the same reason I love Disneyland, I loved the Disney cruise: There is a reminder at every turn to live in the moment, and see things the way that kids do. Every character, every show, every piece of confetti that fell or firework in the sky is magic to them. And watching hundreds of kids experience that wonder reminded me to feel that way. To take in the little things, show your excitement, and remember that we don’t have to ever fully grow up.

How to Move Forward When Your “Metrics of Success Have Been Blasted to Shreds.”

A story inspired by Rob Bell.

I grew up in a born-again Christian household, in a largely born-again Christian town. Church on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, youth group on Wednesday. Church camp, Vacation Bible School and field trips during the summer. No Harry Potter, no Sabrina the Teenage Witch – no dressing up “like anything scary” on Halloween. I remember church and all of it’s functions being a time to socialize with friends, but little to nothing else. Even as a small child attending Sunday school I was always aware that every teaching should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to be interpreted literally, akin to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my shelf, or my favorite Aesop’s Fables. Useful stories and cautionary tales. Written by men and usually not very feminist.

Recently I’ve shifted my thinking from a strictly atheist perspective to more of an agnostic outlook. I used to take comfort in the simplicity of believing in what you can see. In science, in practicality, in the fact that when I die all that happens is my own decomposition. Back to the earth. I haven’t quite decided what I believe in now, but what I do know is that the universe is far too complex to believe any of our senses are producing the “truth” because our scope of understanding is simply too small. I do believe that each of us is a tiny part of one larger piece – the earth, plants and animals, and that is why our joy and our suffering is so intrinsically connected. So while I do not believe in god or a creator, I do believe in purpose, in connectedness, in energy, and ultimately in the simple fact that at the fringes of what we like to believe are “scientific facts” are actually whimsical and largely unexplained phenomena that all lead back to the same theme: We can’t believe what we think we know, because at this time our lens is not advanced enough to see what lies beyond our comprehension. There is so much more that we are blind to. When my body goes back to the earth, what really is it feeding? Isn’t that exchange somehow a form of magic?

My entire life I’ve been drawn toward a sense of connectedness. To plants, to animals, and to a feeling of belonging that I can’t quite explain. It’s not a nostalgia for my past or a wish for an ideal future, but a peace I feel on certain days when the smell of wet leaves and dirt sends me off to a place where I truly belong, but haven’t been yet. Crisp air, the sound of wind chimes, and white garden roses losing their petals, my husband and our animals – it’s magic. I feel like every choice I’ve made is leading me down this path, but I’m not sure where it goes, I just know it’s right, and when I get closer, I feel it. I’ve always been good at following my heart. Until this point I’ve always chased tangible dreams. College, business, career. And then one day I realized that all of these successes are amazing, but haven’t led me toward that feeling – to that place I’ve haphazardly been traveling to since the beginning. Toward that connection to something my soul feels but my senses can’t describe or articulate. To the unknown future that I know is there for me to discover. So for the first time I’m sitting with an open heart – trusting the universe to show me why I’m being pulled toward a feeling and a life that by all accounts can’t be measured by traditional metrics of success.

I recently discovered Rob Bell, a pastor and speaker who’s sermon-like podcasts on the Robcast often shed light on feelings or dilemmas that many of us can relate to. I’ve found that when strict religious underpinnings are removed from teachings like his, I love listening to smart and relatable sermons, and often use the time to learn, reflect, and meditate on the ideas. One of his latest episodes “A Hymn For the Curve” is about those of us that are drawn to do things differently, who know things can be better so we change our behavior accordingly. For those of us that simply aren’t sure why we’re drawn to be different, but we are. We take the path less traveled and are often misunderstood. Maybe we’re ahead of the curve, maybe we see something that others can’t yet see. Maybe if everyone saw it then the change wouldn’t be needed. But it is.

_____

He shared a version of this story:

There are a group of people living in a village near a river. One day they notice a body coming down the river so they jump in to pull it out. Then they notice another, and another, and another. The bodies start coming down the river so fast that the people can’t pull them out fast enough.

Another group of people living nearby observe the problem and decide to help, so they build a dam to help catch the bodies. The bodies begin piling up, but their method makes it easier for them to catch more to pull out at a time. The bodies keep coming down the river at a rapid rate, and eventually the dam will break under the weight because it will become impossible for the people to keep up, even with the dam.

A third group observes both methods, and after watching for a while, they turn their backs on the other villagers and begin walking upstream.

_____

What we know is that the third group is going exploring. To the other villagers they appear to be dismissive. They seem uncaring and unwilling to help. But in reality, they’re traveling into the unknown to discover where the bodies are coming from and why they’re coming down the river to begin with. They are seeing what the others couldn’t see so that hopefully they can change behaviors and therefore, change the outcome.

Maybe when we’re drawn to something we can’t explain, it’s the universe leading us to the magic. Our minds just haven’t caught up yet.

_____

Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography

Let’s Be Better At Loss

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief, trauma, and loss lately. Friends and close clients have been experiencing the death of loved ones or being presented with challenging life situations at a rate that seems higher than normal – unusual even. And so it has me contemplating something that one of my best friends said recently in response to the death of one of her close family members – maybe as we get older this just becomes normal.

So maybe we should start teaching ourselves to be better at it.

Learning how to be supportive, understanding, and effective friends and family members to those going through difficult times seems more important than ever. And with all the literal guidebooks out there to help us cope with loss, experience grief and depression, and help others in need, you’d think we would have improved by now. But I’m noticing that we haven’t. And from my own experience, I can say that most of us fail miserably at trying to be supportive – but not for lack of caring. Mostly it’s from lack of understanding and an overall feeling of helplessness. Most of us find the talk of death or trauma uncomfortable at a minimum, and so it goes undiscussed and becomes invisible. And with it, so do the people experiencing it. The world keeps turning even though your world closes in. And because your loved ones (and everyone else around you) are too afraid to discuss it, you’re forced to pretend that that loss, that grief, that trauma never happened. But everything is still different.

I am very aware that I am not any type of expert on loss, grief, or trauma. I’m not an expert on communicating or empathizing either – but I do talk to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me who is constantly compiling stories, or the critical analyzer struggling to understand as much as possible, but I compulsively ask the other question. Not just the what, or where but the why. There’s so much more to be found there, I think.

Yesterday I was in the treatment room with a client who I barely know. This happens rarely but she is the type of client that floats in a couple of times a year for an eyebrow wax, and during that twenty minutes we can only cover so much ground. She had just gotten back from a three-week-long vacation, and I asked her how it went. She said that it was great, but she was really forced to get out of her comfort zone and face some of her biggest fears. So naturally, I asked her to tell me what those fears are. She laughed and asked me if I really cared to know, and I said I’d love to know because then we could have a real conversation. And at the end of those twenty minutes we had both concluded what we’re sure we must have heard Brene Brown say somewhere:

“It’s better to just do it afraid.”

Maybe I’m being nosy. Maybe it’s none of my business. But it turns out we have a lot of the same fears, and it helps to talk about it. And it adds a level of humanity to an interaction that could otherwise skim a surface level simplicity that leaves us both the same.

Let’s apply this to loss.

I had an interaction recently with an acquaintance who had recently suffered a devastating death of a loved one. I had known the person who had passed also, but we weren’t close, and I had discovered the information via social media. When I encountered this person in public we exchanged pleasantries, but after thinking over this whole topic and how horrifying it must be to be trapped inside a mind that is suffering while having to casually respond to “How are you’s” with something like “fine, thanks.” I stopped myself and told this person how sorry I was, and how I know they’re not okay, and that’s okay. They mentioned that they weren’t sure if I knew, and thought it would be weird to bring it up. So I just said, how could this kind of situation get any worse or any weirder? And they laughed and said “I guess you’re right.”

It’s better to just do it afraid.

I thought I’d share the three most important things I’ve learned from experiencing traumatic loss myself, but also from talking with hundreds of people who all have some version of death or trauma that they can share and relate to.

#1) Don’t say nothing.

You will not make your friend, family member or co-worker “feel worse” or remind them of their loss if you offer your condolences, support, or make a gesture to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Most likely, there is no way that they could feel worse, and they are thinking about their loss or difficult situation at all times whether or not someone acknowledges it. It is literally impossible for you to “remind” them that their loved one has passed, for example. They are always painfully aware of that reality.

What can be hurtful is the isolation that we can experience when we’re going through a difficult situation and those around us do nothing, say nothing, and try to treat you like nothing happened. Or worse, ignore you all together because they feel awkward. The fear of saying the wrong thing often translates into saying nothing at all, and that can make the person who is hurting feel frustrated and alone. Just offering up a simple “I’m sorry and I’m here for you” can go a long way for someone who is suffering.

#2) Directly ask the person whether they want to talk about it or not, and then respect their answer.

One of my go-to lines in the treatment room is: “I’m here if you want to talk about it, but if you don’t then that’s completely fine too. We can talk about other things, or not at all.” Sometimes I lead with that statement; sometimes that’s a follow-up to another technique I learned from a client going through a terrible time. I ask how they’re doing today. In general, they are most-likely not doing well, but in this moment, today, they may be doing better or worse. I remember hating it when people who were aware of my loss would ask me a blanket “how are you” because I’d feel confined to answer in a socially acceptable way like “fine” when what I really wanted to say was: “Fucking terrible. How could I feel any differently?”

Some people may want to talk about it. Others may not. Some may tell you ahead of time through a non-confrontational text that they just want you to treat them like nothing has happened when they see you. Others may come through the door at work and immediately break down and tell you everything. But not everyone is that direct, or has the capacity to do those things. The point is to be brave enough to ask them what they actually want instead of saying nothing, or assuming you understand how they feel and want to be treated.

#3) Stop asking what you can do and just do something.

This, in my opinion, is the most difficult one to put into practice. What can you do for someone suffering emotionally other than be there for them? You want to make their life easier during this terrible time, but you’re not sure how, so you ask them. This seems harmless but actually then puts the heavy burden of delegating or deciding on the person who is already mentally and emotionally maxed out. So they usually respond by saying they don’t need anything. Which isn’t usually true.

Depending on the type of relationship you have with this person, the type of “help” will vary. But decide on something and just do it. Say, “I’m coming over with dinner. If you want me to stay and talk, great. If not, that’s great too. I just want you to have some food.” Say, “I know you’re going to be out of town a lot with family in the next couple of weeks. I’d be happy to watch your pets while you’re gone.” Come over and take their dogs on a walk. Babysit the kids for a few hours. Drop off some books or flowers. Sit with them. Answer their phone call.

I know that for me personally, I needed to continue going through my routine in order to keep my life somewhat together. What helped me tremendously, and what to this day I will never forget was the fact that for probably at least six months my sister never left me alone. And my best friends always answered their phones. My sister didn’t do anything in particular, but she was always there. Getting off work and having someone to sit with, and eat with, and watch movies with was very helpful, and being able to call my friends and talk in the middle of the night got me through some dark moments.

_____

I hope that these few tools can help some of you. I understand that not everyone is the same, and some of you may disagree with my ideas. Maybe my friend was right- as we get older these things start to happen more frequently, so naturally we should get better at dealing with trauma and loss as time goes on. But instead of waiting for practice, I think we should all try to be better now.

Photo: Kimberly Ann Photography

Notes From the Humboldt County Blackout

When was the last time you sat in your living room laughing at shadow puppets cast onto your ceiling in the dark? Cozy pajamas, flashlights, blankets, candles, and good company. No television or computers, phone use is limited, and leaving the house is discouraged. Especially at night when most of the traffic lights aren’t working and the dead street lights emit an eerie tone on the dark sidewalks. But the stars and moon seem to shine brighter than you’ve noticed in the past, even out here in the pacific northwest.

When I got the text message at nearly 7pm on Tuesday night alerting me to the fact that power at my house and my business was being shut off at midnight, for an unknown amount of time, I did not instantly see the silver lining. For those of you that may not have heard, in an attempt to prevent more devastating wildfires from taking place, the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric has decided to implement outages in high-risk locations during extreme weather conditions. The national weather service had declared a high-wind and low-humidity situation throughout huge areas of the bay area and into the northern areas of California. Although our temperatures have been hovering around a cool sixty degrees this week, we did have fairly high winds on Wednesday, and our power here is dependent on lines that run through Shasta county where the weather patterns are much warmer. So out we went.

For an area as secluded and rural as Humboldt county, you’d think we’d handle our shit better. There’s just no way to say that better. Unfortunately the communications from PG&E to the public and local media were lacking. Around 6pm my clients began asking if we were still scheduled for appointments on Wednesday. At that point the only notification I had received was a text message at 11:40am saying “To protect public safety, PG&E may turn power off overnight” with a link to click on for more information. I clicked it, and their website wouldn’t work. I chalked it up to the work they’ve been doing on the gas lines near downtown (since I get notifications from them often). Turning power off “overnight” shouldn’t be a problem.

After several more client texts began to come through, I started to panic. I tried PG&E’s website again, and it finally loaded. I typed in my business address into their outage information page and when the words “area not affected” came up, I assumed our power would stay on. But to double and then triple check I went to the San Francisco Chronicle and ABC News’ websites to cross reference their maps of affected areas in California. Humboldt County showed nothing – hovering hundreds of miles north of the bay area, no colors identifying it in any special way. But if you checked any local news outlet’s social media or current breaking news feeds, all everyone was talking about was the power being shut off at midnight for as long as five days, or even a week. And then at 7pm I got the official text that we were being shut off too – but no one knew for how long.

Yes, the notice was short, and the potential financial impact on local business closures could be massive. I get that. And truthfully that was the only thing I was concerned about. Missing a week of work can be devastating, and since I already have a greatly impacted schedule, working all of my days off to fit clients in can make my busiest season seem all but intolerable. And I had two clients getting married on Saturday. As I texted clients to let them know that I simply would not know until the morning whether my business would be open or not, I thought about the local media stations’ speculation and the fact that PG&E’s website kept crashing with traffic. And so the chaos ensued.

What will the zombie apocalypse look like? Humboldt County hours before a supposed five-day blackout with minimal notice. Sans the actual zombies. Local media channels show lines at gas stations extending out far into the street, empty grocery store shelves, shopping carts full of water, every single store sold out of ice and generators. It feels like when midnight comes, the world will end. Maybe it will.

My sister had to go to several stores to get a portable battery because they were sold out everywhere. The roads were mayhem. At that point I had contacted all my clients, charged my portable battery, and my husband had cranked up the freezer to make more ice and freeze ice packs for the cooler. It’s my raw vegan week. We’ll not only eat well, but extra healthy during the blackout. We feel prepared with our disaster preparedness kit, fruit trees in the back yard, and almost full tanks of gas. And because of that, I was privileged enough to know we’d be perfectly fine for a week with no power, so I decided to hunker down. If this means preventing devastating wildfires, we’re in. I left the house twice in the early morning hours to check on my business – the first day when the power was completely out I took both of my dogs with me, should I encounter anyone in downtown causing trouble in the pitch black.

Needless to say, the atmosphere that a blackout creates is eerily quiet. It’s that feeling you get when you sense someone is watching you, only there probably isn’t. There just isn’t any noise to drown out the thoughts.

Just as soon as the power had gone out and we had all accepted our fate, the power came back on. I missed one day of work, but on Thursday, Humboldt County was back to business as usual. Not before PG&E workers were threatened with violence, a small amount of looting happened, and several people had gotten into minor scuffles, not unlike the usual Black Friday shenanigans we’re used to seeing on the evening news. No pun intended?

I had spent the blackout doing work from my car with my cell phone plugged in, getting a good and uninterrupted workout done, and then playing board games, talking, and eating by candlelight with my family.

Kanan mentioned how bright the stars looked without the glow of light pollution. And seemed to enjoy walking around delivering the mail in a world where for just one beautiful day, people got to take a big break. From work, from school, from their televisions, phones, and computers. From obligations. He walks around every single day and found the sheer amount of people working in their yards, walking their dogs, and just being outside refreshing.

The blackout got me thinking about a world that is rapidly changing. About how our daily food, water, and energy consumption is having real, material consequences that everyone can see. Will we recognize our wasteful habits and evolve accordingly? How will we adapt to climate change and it’s implications? What will happen to the people in areas that do have more extreme temperatures when the power goes out? And for those of us with a roof over our heads and food in the cooler- will we learn to appreciate the quiet and prepare our businesses for the darkness?