My 5 Days of Raw Food

I struggle with sometimes near-debilitating headaches in the day or two prior to starting the “period” portion of my cycle. This specific pattern has repeated itself for the last eight months since I’ve been closely journaling about it, but I’m sure it started long before that. Apparently it has much to do with hormone fluctuation.

August’s headache turned into a migraine, which turned into a day of lying in bed drifting in and out of sleep, getting up to vomit occasionally. Over-the-counter pain meds do little to help, and I try to avoid taking them in the first place. CBD helps the most, but still only minimizes the pain slightly. Usually I just wait it out or go to work and try to ignore it. But a migraine of that degree is impossible to ignore.

I had been contemplating the use of a plant-based raw diet to help treat my headaches for a while, but after spending my husband’s entire birthday holed-up aside from a woozy and slightly blurry dinner out, I was convinced I needed to try something now.

My hypothesis was simple (and to some, probably oversimplified) and therefore easy to test. I didn’t want to get lost in the specifics and analytics so I pared it down to the basics, which I believe are sometimes best. If we take a pill and blindly hope to get results, why should I not eat good food to try and achieve the same (or a hopefully better) outcome?

I thrive on a plant-based diet but during those specific days my body is not getting something (micronutrients, vitamins, etc) it needs to function at its most optimal. If all I eat is an abundance of raw plant food for the five days before my period, maybe I’ll be so pumped full of nutrients that my headache won’t happen.

It’s worth a shot.

And it worked.

The definition of a plant-based raw diet is different depending on the source, but after doing my own research I concluded that I would not eat anything processed, refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides, or heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature where the natural enzymes and some nutrient content is essentially cooked out of most raw foods.

Some people who completely subscribe to this way of eating get creative and sprout grains and beans and dehydrate foods. I did not want to complicate an already unknown territory, so I decided to just get creative with uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, eating a ton of them to make sure I could workout and function normally. This experiment, to me, had and has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss or dieting. I want to make that clear. It’s about using food as medicine, with an intention toward healthy and sustainable lifestyle change, if applicable.

One major takeaway from this experiment: Even if you think you’re eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, until that’s all you’re eating, you’re probably not. You may be eating more than the general American public, but that’s still probably not much. I ate intuitively, meaning, if I was hungry, I ate food. So I did not track macros or calories. I meal-prepped and grocery shopped so that I was over-prepared for the five days. And then I just went about my normal routine. The only adjustment I had to make to my typical schedule was drinking my breakfast smoothie before working out, whereas before I’d workout on an empty stomach. I noticed I’d get hungry mid-way through. But after that adjustment was made, I never got hungry again, and I was able to deadlift and squat more weight that week than I ever have before.

I journaled every day so that I can share my menu with you, and I will include links to bloggers and recipes below, when applicable. The only exceptions that I made during this time to my raw outline above were coffee and my birthday “cheesecake.” I allowed myself one cup of black coffee a day, and even though my cheesecake is considered raw, it did contain maple syrup as a non-raw ingredient. I wasn’t about to waste my delicious cake, and if I chose to omit coffee, the five days would likely have been more representative of caffeine withdrawal than anything else.

I know that many of you will be curious about cost. I plan on sharing exact costs of a regular meal prep week versus a raw week in the future, receipts included. When my entire shopping cart is produce, the cost tends to be slightly less expensive or around the same as my typical shopping trips per week- on average this is about $150 at my local COOP. This includes all of my food for the week and generally around 3-4 dinners that I will make for my husband and I. The expensive items like nuts, seeds, oils and butters (if applicable) can add a lot of cost, but can be purchased in bulk or at Costco and will generally last much longer than just one week, typically closer to two or even three.

My five days of raw plant-based eating were amazing. I felt the best and most energetic I’ve felt in years- no exaggeration. I didn’t get a headache at all for the entire five days I did it, not even a slight or small one. I slept better and felt more focused too. I will say that prior to this, my regular eating habits had been established as fairly “healthy.” I haven’t eaten any animal products in over three years, and cut refined sugars out several months ago. So my “detox” period was essentially non-existent (aside from coffee which I chose to keep.) If you tried this coming off of a more traditional diet, I would imagine it would take much longer to reap the benefits because a detox period would be necessary.

I will be doing this again as part of my regular routine. The day I stopped eating raw food I got a slight headache and felt markedly more lethargic and “foggy.” I immediately decided that moving forward I’d make a conscious effort to regularly only prep breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that are raw. And that every month for a week prior to my period I will continue this journey. I do not know what the future holds, or if I will ever go entirely raw, but the results were so amazing that I can’t even imagine not continuing, and improving. I won’t lie- it was daunting for me at first. I felt like I was going vegan all over again, unsure of what to make and how to do it. But there are so many amazing resources out there to help, and this process has only expanded my food and nutrition knowledge. I hope my five-day food diary can help make plant eating easier for you!

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Diary Day 1:

Breakfast: Tropical Smoothie Bowl

Recipe: 1 Cup coconut water, 4 frozen bananas, 1.5 Cups frozen pineapple, 2 Tbsp hemp hearts blended until smooth. Top with blackberries, almonds, cashews, and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Lunch: Lettuce cups with 1 avocado, pumpkin seeds, broccoli sprouts, and salt and pepper.

Snack: 1 plum and some mixed nuts.

Dinner: Mixed green salad (spinach, romaine, arugula) with bell pepper, mushroom, cucumber, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and avocado.

I also made a hemp seed and cashew dressing using the Fully Raw by Kristina app. Out of respect for her and her amazing recipes, I will not post it, but will encourage you to purchase the use of her app!

Dessert: Foodwise Kitchen Chocolate/Vanilla swirl raw vegan cheesecake.

http://www.foodwisekitchen.com

Diary Days 2-5

These are meal prep days, so everything but dinners are the same.

Breakfast: Chocolate Energy Smoothie Bowl

Recipe: 1 Cup coconut water, 4 frozen bananas, 2 Tbsp hemp hearts, 2 Tbsp raw almond butter, 4 pitted dates, 2 Tbsp raw cacao powder, blended until smooth. Top with blackberries, strawberries, and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Snack #1: Cashews, almonds, dates.

Lunch: Lettuce Boats with walnut taco meat and avocado.

Walnut “meat” recipe: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/raw-mexican-zucchini-roll-ups-veggie-walnut-meat/

Snack #2: 1 plum and 2 apples.

Dinners:

-Apple Walnut Salad: Mixed Greens, walnuts, red onion, honey crisp apples, and cashew chive raw cheese from Foodwise Kitchen.

-Zucchini Noodles With Pesto and Walnut Meat.

Pesto: https://bakerbynature.com/super-healthy-spinach-basil-pesto-vegan-dairy-free-gluten-free/

*I used unfiltered, cold-pressed olive oil to make the pesto.

-Massaged Kale Salad (This entire 5 Day Guide from Veggies Don’t Bite was very useful!)

Recipe: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/5-day-raw-food-reset-with-shopping-list/

-On the final night I ate leftovers and a tropical smoothie for dinner.

A Lesson in Gratitude

I have this rule that with writing, I don’t need to stick to my plan. I’d say that fifty percent of the time I sit down to write whatever is on my blog calendar something entirely different comes out. And that’s okay with me. With writing I don’t force it, because the second I let a schedule supersede my heart, my head, and whatever that impulse is that pulls me toward a different topic or idea, this blog project will have become work. The unpleasant kind. 

I turned 31 a couple of days ago. My plan (for the second year in a row) was to write the quintessential 31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years post. I’d started a list before I turned thirty to do the same thing, then decided to launch my blog with my Context post – raw and real. Less cliché. More me. A year later I sat down to write out a list of lessons with their appropriate explanations and realized that after the last couple of weeks, there are only two things that I think are important enough to share, and timeless enough to matter another year from today.

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Practice gratitude. Even when it’s difficult.

“Pray” for the peace, love, and happiness of all beings. Because good things happen when your heart realizes connection rather than separateness from everything in this universe.

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A couple of weeks ago I had a “bad” week. Without getting into too many details, one of my rabbits Velveteen unexpectedly died, and I found myself in a sad and self-loathing place. Self-blaming for the accident and digging up tragedies from my past that I feel partially responsible for still. For those of you that may not know, I have another rabbit (Velveteen’s sister) Fleece who I became ultra-concerned about. Having never spent a day away from her sister since birth and for the last five years, I wondered if she’d pull through, or become so depressed she’d die too. Fleece spent a few days in a somewhat catatonic state, eating and drinking irregularly, but enough to convince me she would be okay. I kept her close to us for a few days and in doing so decided to put her in a smaller hutch and let her sleep in the gym (spare room) close by after spending the days in our bedroom. One night after putting her to bed I accidentally knocked the pullup bar my husband keeps in the doorway down and in doing so gave myself a bump on the head, a fat lip, and a fairly sizable cut on my face. 

Potential face scars aside, talking to clients all day at my beauty business was painful physically, but because of the fact that Velveteen had just died and I didn’t want to talk about it, it was emotionally exhausting to spend a week not explaining the full truth of what really happened. I felt not good, I looked not good, but to all but one client who I explained the situation to, it was just a silly accident, “no big deal.” Not a mistake made in a hazy self-loathing sadness. It’s my fault that Fleece is alone in the first place and now my face is bleeding. Perfect.

In writing this, it becomes even more painfully clear that I was making everything about me. 

That one client who I’d told the whole story to is a good friend who is real and non-judgmental. She’s been through more than many of us, and still listens with an open heart, offering a contagious laugh when really that’s the only good option that makes any sense amidst the sadness. I told her that when the universe is literally smacking me in the face I really try to step outside myself, look at the big picture, and try to pull the lesson out of the resistance. She understood, but we couldn’t figure out what the lesson was.

A week, and 1,000 applications of neosporin and anti-scar cream later, my face is looking and feeling much better. Fleece seems to be maintaining a low-key energy but appears to be recovering from the loss slowly. It was my birthday weekend, and because of the holiday (yes, I was born on actual Labor Day, 1988) my husband had several days off that coincided with mine. Having more than a day together rarely happens. And we went to yoga, and brunch, and the movies. We hung out with the dogs, took them to the park, cooked together and just enjoyed our quality time. It was probably the best birthday weekend I’ve ever had. Just slowing down and enjoying each others company. And then Kanan went back to work and I got to spend one whole day to myself – I worked out, read my Rolling Stone and Esquire magazines cover to cover, and then watched Sex and the City for the rest of the day. Something I have likely not done in years.

At the end of our Sunday morning yoga class we spent about five minutes in our final resting pose, encouraged to meditate, breathe, and relax. As I was mentally repeating what has become my morning meditation mantra: “May all sentient beings know peace, love, and happiness” I saw an image in my mind, clearer than a dream, of Velveteen’s body turning into stardust and rising and swirling up into the sky, becoming one with the stars. And in that moment I felt the sadness slip away and be replaced with gratitude. Gratitude for that exact moment, for Velveteen’s sweet soul that she graciously shared with me for five years, for the clarity that comes with letting yourself slip away for long enough to see the big picture, and for the lesson.

As it works out, I had simultaneously been reading Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind, and I highlighted a quote (that he quoted) that says everything:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

(Walter Sullivan, “The Einstein Papers: A Man of Many Parts,” The New York Times, March 29, 1972.)

Sometimes it can be difficult to practice gratitude. It can be difficult to see ourselves as part of a much bigger universe. It can be almost impossible to take the selfishness out of situations. But the lesson I needed to see in my “bad” week was to be grateful, and to remember, quite plainly, that it’s not all about me. I needed to spend time reflecting on what Velveteen gave me and taught me, but instead I was focusing on the past, on being sad, on my own guilt and regrets. The cue to slow down and wake up should have been obvious with the smack to the face, but with practice I am beginning to understand Pollan’s idea (and the idea of many before him) that “the loss of self leads to a gain in meaning.”

My 5 Favorite Vegan & Refined Sugar Free Treats!

Almost six months ago I made the decision to go refined-sugar free. This means that I only eat natural sugars ( found in whole foods ) and sweeteners that are minimally-processed like maple syrup and agave. It became clear to me that eating refined sugars (that our bodies are not naturally meant to process) was causing me to have negative physical effects like bloating and lethargy but even more shockingly, I realized that the intense spikes in my blood sugar levels were causing mood swings and intense anxiety.

So far I am 100% happy with my decision, and because I was already meal prepping and making a conscious effort to reduce my sugar consumption prior, the transition has been mostly easy.

The only difficult part has been finding desserts and treats that comply with my vegan and now refined-sugar-free lifestyle. So I’m sharing my current favorites with you so that you can incorporate some healthier options into your weekly routine, or once again enjoy delicious foods that maybe you thought you had to quit to be “healthy.”

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Treat #1: Not Your Sugar Mamas Chocolate Salted Caramel Chocolate Bar. With a gooey “caramel” center, this dark chocolate bar sweetened with maple syrup and coconut is the perfect movie night treat! Organic, gluten, dairy, and refined-sugar free. I find this bar at my local COOP, but you can also order them online.

Not Your Sugar Mama’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Bar $7.99

https://notyoursugarmamas.com

Ingredients: Organic Raw Cacao Powder, Organic Raw Cacao Butter, Organic Coconut Nectar, Organic Grade B Maple Syrup, Organic Raw Almond Butter, Organic Raw Coconut Oil, Organic Vanilla, Himalayan Sea Salt

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Treat #2: Autumn’s Gold Grain Free Maple Almond Butter Granola. Literally the most delicious granola I’ve ever tasted- great on yogurt and oats, or by itself! Vegan and gluten, grain and refined-sugar free. I purchase at Costco, but you can also buy online.

Autumn’s Gold Grain Free Maple Almond Butter Granola $14.99

https://www.autumnsgold.com

Ingredients: Almonds, Organic Maple Syrup, Coconut, Sunflower Seeds, Coconut Oil, Almond Butter, Salt, Cinnamon, Vanilla Extract, Sunflower Oil

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Treat #3: Vixen Kitchen Naked Vanilla Paleo Vegan Gelato. Personally, I try to stay away from any foods with sugar substitutes like stevia, which can make “sugar-free” ice cream hard to come by. Vixen Kitchen is woman owned, locally (Garberville, CA- my neck of the woods) made, organic, vegan, and gluten, soy, and refined-sugar free. My favorite flavor is vanilla, but you can find a variety on their website. I purchase at our local COOP.

Vixen Kitchen Paleo Vegan Gelato $12.99

https://vixenkitchen.co

Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Raw Cashews, Organic Maple Syrup, Organic Fair Trade Vanilla Extract, Organic Vanilla Bean, Celtic Sea Salt

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Treat #4: Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Chips. Making cookies (or anything that calls for chocolate chips) can be extra daunting without a great sugar-free chocolate chip option. Organic, vegan, sugar, nut, gluten, and soy free, these one-ingredient dark chocolate chips are a life saver for baking! I purchase at my local COOP, but you can also find them online and at Thrive Market.

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Chips $5.99

https://paschachocolate.com

Ingredients: Organic Cocoa Mass

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Treat #5: Emmy’s Organics Organic Coconut Cookie Dark Cacao. Organic, gluten, and refined -sugar free, these cookies are delicious. If you enjoy a coconut/chocolate combination then you’ll be obsessed with these Mounds-reminiscent treats. I purchase these in a large bag at Costco, but their website has several sizes, flavors, and combinations you can order if you like variety!

Emmy’s Organics Coconut Cookie Dark Cacao $8.89

https://emmysorganics.com/collections/coconutcookies/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIpd-5tomo5AIVBdVkCh0EJg8EEAAYASAAEgIJh_D_BwE

Ingredients: Organic Coconut, Organic Agave Syrup, Organic Fair-Trade Cocoa Powder, Organic Almond Flour, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Vanilla Extract, Himalayan Salt

Women In Business Series: Kimberly Sweet Owner The Studio by Kimberly Ann

1) Explain what your business is, and your professional background in your field.

My name is Kimberly Sweet and I am the owner/photographer of The Studio By Kimberly Ann, a women’s portrait studio in Eureka, California that specializes in boudoir photography. I have a “no Photoshop” approach to boudoir and beauty and pride myself on giving my clients an experience that allows them to see how beautiful they truly are without using editing to modify their bodies. I started doing photography as a hobby in the summer of 2013 when I was working twenty hours a week in the president’s office at College of the Redwoods. I had just gotten married and didn’t know many people in the area because most of my college friends had moved back home after graduation so I wanted something to fill my time. I spent every spare minute researching how to work a camera. I watched tutorials, read every article I could get my hands on, and practiced on salt and pepper shakers, my dog, and my house plants.

Eventually I began to photograph my friends and hoped that one day I might make some money, but at the time didn’t have any expectation that I could do photography as a full-time career.

2) Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to pursue a full time boudoir photography career.

As time went on and my business slowly started to grow, I was scheduling a couple sessions a week after work or on weekends. By this time I was working forty hours a week at the college but I loved photography and working with people so much I would still schedule any type of session I could get my hands on. If someone wanted to pay me to photograph something I didn’t say no. After a while I started to notice that whenever I had a boudoir session on my calendar I would look forward to it more than any other session. I started to feel burn out and dread approaching if I had to photograph anything other than boudoir. I enjoyed watching women come alive in front of my camera. I loved that when they received their galleries they got to see how truly beautiful they are.

Absolutely everything about boudoir sessions lit a fire in my heart and I knew that if I was going to be spending what little spare time I had doing something it needed to be this because I was passionate about it. Toward the end of 2015 I decided that in January of 2016 I would re-brand my business exclusively as boudoir photography. At the time I thought that this would mean I would be cutting back on photography and doing just a handful of sessions a year. I was okay with this idea because my photography income at the time was supplementary and I just wanted to be doing something that I believed in. Luckily for me that was not the case and within 4 months of launching my boudoir brand I had filled my calendar for the year and had leased my own studio in old town Eureka. Half way through the year my husband and I decided that I would quit my job the following year and pursue photography full time. Shortly after that we found out that we were pregnant with our first child which solidified my decision to leave my day job. Being able to stay home with my (now) two babies a majority of the time but still be able to contribute to our family financially feels like an absolute dream. I love spending my days at the park and the zoo with my little monsters but equally enjoy my Fridays in the studio when I get to have grown-up time.

3) Boudoir photography challenges you and your clients to be vulnerable. How do you approach this challenge?

I truly believe that every single woman should have a boudoir session done at least once in her life. It is vulnerable and empowering and humbling and adventurous and intimidating and validating all at the same time. Deciding to not only invest the time and money on yourself but to say that you and your body are worthy of being photographed and permanently preserved in an heirloom album or on canvas is huge.

The experience can be completely foreign-feeling for many women, and I understand that. I completely respect and appreciate every single woman who walks through my door. I understand that what they are doing is likely out of their comfort zone and the fact that they chose to come to me for such a vulnerable experience is one of the most humbling feelings. I try my best to treat my clients like my dearest friends and make them feel comfortable during their session – each woman receives a special gift from me on their session day thanking them for coming to The Studio for their boudoir experience.

I believe in boudoir, and I believe in women. I strive to have every woman who leaves my studio realize that they are stronger, more beautiful, more courageous, and more worthy than they thought they were before they came in.

4) What is beauty to you? And how does your work environment foster that idea?

Beauty varies so much from person to person. One woman may feel like her curvy figure is her most beautiful asset while another would feel like it is her least. To me beauty is about celebrating and highlighting whatever it is that makes you feel the best about yourself. It’s about putting your insecurities aside and allowing yourself to be seen for who you are. It’s not about fitting into a specific mold. When women come into the studio I want them to feel encouraged to celebrate themselves because they are so worth celebrating. I want my clients to let go of what they think they’re supposed to look like – this is why I don’t have many mirrors in the studio. I don’t want clients looking outward; I want them looking inward. If you feel beautiful it will show. And I’ll tell you what to do with your hands.

5) What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from spending so much time with women of all different backgrounds and life situations?

One of my biggest lessons is that everyone has insecurities. All of my clients say that they are not like the women that I post online. Most women describe themselves as awkward, not photogenic, not sexy, overweight, wrinkly, saggy, or any combination of those things. Every. Single. One. And yet they all describe the other women they see in photographs as flawless, sexy, and confident. Those same women who were in the studio for their own sessions saying equally negative things about themselves. That’s where my “Allow yourself to Feel as Beautiful as You Really Are” saying comes from. When you relax and give yourself permission to let go of all your insecurities and all the “flaws” that society projects onto you as a woman and really allow yourself to feel beautiful, it shows.

6) What is your best piece of advice for someone interested, but apprehensive to book a boudoir session?

That you are worth it and that 99% of the women who have come before you felt the exact same way. Your job is to show up and relax – let me take care of the rest.

7) What is one thing you hope your kids learn from you as a female small business owner?

Only one? If I had to pick just one thing it would be that both my son and daughter have a positive body image and help encourage those around them to have a positive body image as well. You are not your body – you have a body. Your identity does not need to be wrapped up in your physical appearance.

General Questions:

8) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

God First. Family Second. Career Third.

In my experience when you keep these priorities in order things always seem to fall into place the way they are meant to.

9) What has been the biggest challenge / biggest reward of owning your own business?

Both questions have the same answer. That you are your own boss. I absolutely love that I get to make my own schedule and my own rules when it comes to my business. I feel so fortunate that I get to build my business around my family and not the other way around. Owning my own business allows me to be present and involved with my young children and I would absolutely not trade that for anything.

The biggest challenge is that you are your own boss and absolutely everything is riding on you. You are the marketing department, accounting department, human resources department, customer service, janitor, and sometimes office psychologist if we’re being honest. (Or am I the only one who gives myself pep talks at work?) I often say that I wish I had taken more business classes when I was first starting out – learning everything on your own as you go can be overwhelming.

10) What is one book that changed your life? Briefly describe why.

My First Book of Prayers changed my life. It was the first book that I read to my son so many times that I memorized it. It made me so grateful that I have the opportunity to spend so much time reading and playing with my kids that I get to memorize their books.

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320 2nd Street, Eureka CA

707-592-1930

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

3 Lessons From My Husband

Today is my husband’s birthday. I’m up at 5am to write while Kanan sleeps so we’ll have the day to spend together once he wakes up. I know that I haven’t given much history about our relationship, and rarely divulge details about his life specifically, focusing mainly on relevant information for our topic at hand. So today, in an attempt to shine light on the person that my husband is, I’m going to share three big lessons that my husband has taught me about life in our last (almost) six years together.

If there’s one thing about Kanan’s personality that has always perplexed and fascinated me, it’s his ability to consistently be one step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to matters of “zen.” I use that term loosely and metaphorically to mean calm, collected, and unchanged by his surroundings. When we first met I mistook his disinterest in most things as aloofness, dismissiveness, and an overall indifference or dispassion, but I know now that my husband cares more deeply than anyone I’ve met, he’s just remarkably good at choosing what few things he cares about.

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

If I had a dollar for every time this phrase exited my husband’s mouth or came through to me via text message, I’d be rich, and I wouldn’t need to structure my life differently.

Over the years Kanan has seen me grow from a mid-twenties employee with undefined dreams to an early thirties small business owner with fairly clear goals for our future.

I’ve discovered that when I have an end goal in mind I will work relentlessly toward it regardless of the time and energy that it takes to get there, even if it means depleting every resource I have in the process. Sometimes this takes years to complete. Sometimes the “end goal” is so obscure and far off in the distance that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to see, let alone support. But I see it.

Kanan may not notice what I’m able to predict. He observes my chaotic life, chalk full of work and stress. I see myself lay one more brick down each day I wake up with intention. It may not look like much now, but someday I’ll build my castle, revel in it, then move on to something new. I thrive on accomplishment and projects. I find happiness in the process of building, not necessarily the “finished” result – consequently this means I’m never really done and I’m almost never satisfied.

He watches me struggle and sometimes doesn’t realize that I share his same vision. Laying a brick a day will get us there, I promise, but you need to trust me. A decade later, and the foundation is complete. Still a lot of castle to build, but it’s got something solid to stand on. Structuring your life differently takes time. Great things aren’t built overnight. Strategies take trial and error to perfect; systems take years to run smoothly. I’d work seven days a week, and teeter on the precipice of burnout – he’d say “structure your life differently.” I’d be at the end of my rope spending every “personal” moment on my phone working. What should I do? Structure my life differently. To him, its easy. A simple answer to any of those parts of my life I am not satisfied with.

His point: When I’m “done” I’m never done. So I may as well create a life I love to live in the process of building. Structure my life differently. 

It’s not that I didn’t understand this concept before – I feel like I have quite a clear understanding of what it takes to create a life you actually want, basically full of work I enjoy, people I enjoy, and activities that give me joy, purpose, and meaning. But for me it will take years to even define what that looks like, and I imagine it will be fluid and constantly in flux. But I feel like when he emphasizes that point to me, it’s his subtle and effective way to reiterate that I am the creator of my life and I do have the power to change it, and make it however I dream. It’s up to me, and he knows I can do it. After all, if I’m not happy with something in my life, all I need to do is do it differently.

Lesson #2: Leveling up is hard, but a great partnership will force you to level up constantly, and forever.

I resist what my husband tells me to do. My husband resists what I tell him to do. Together we end up stubbornly encouraging each other to become better people.

What I’ve discovered is that my husband and I chose each other for big reasons, and each one of us has greatly valuable qualities to bring to our table. So when we resist each other because of our strength and stubbornness, eventually one of us will rise to join the other. And when we really clash, it’s because one of us just hasn’t quite figured out how to get up to that next level yet. But with enough encouragement, we will.

This happens in small ways, like snoozing my alarm. I used to be that person. Snooze the alarm every single day for however long it takes to get out of bed in the morning. Kanan explicitly hated this behavior because it disrupts his sleep, and we had many arguments about it, until stubbornly and angrily I made it a point to get out of bed immediately, every single day as soon as my alarm went off. Annoyed and stubborn, I now am a more productive person who loves the morning and looks forward to quiet time alone with my coffee, my books, and my computer. Why would I want to waste that wonderful peaceful time snoozing?

This also happens in big ways, like eating more plant foods, a significant and long-term lifestyle change. Over the years Kanan has resisted my dietary choices being “pushed on him” and has explicitly made it clear to not tell him what to eat. It turns out, the squeaky vegan wheel gets the grease. When I see my husband packing his mostly (if not entirely) raw, plant based lunches for work everyday, coming home for his post-work kale, ginger, celery smoothie it does two things. It instantly makes me happy that we’re headed down this healthy, long path together, but also makes me realize that I can do better too. I don’t eat kale everyday; there’s always room to improve and grow.

When my husband and I seem to disagree, I now try to step back and look for the lesson inside the clashing of two stubborn individuals. We both want what’s best for us, so who needs the boost up to the next rung? The other one of us will be more that happy to provide it.

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

This last lesson I’ll share with you wraps back around to the initial idea of my husband as the “zen master.” Kanan is not a meditation expert. He doesn’t do yoga. He’s certainly not Buddhist. He has fairly liberal beliefs but is in no way carefree or someone I’d call a free spirit. He has not reached enlightenment. Nor is he wearing a poncho and selling beads in the park. My point: he’s neither a true zen master, or a wannabe zen master. He’s just himself.

He is an adamant nonconformist in his own way. He’s so punk rock about his time that it fascinates me and encourages me on my digital minimalism journey. Simply put, Kanan understands with no degree of uncertainty that his time is his own, and he is allowed to selfishly protect it. He can exist amongst the chaos and remain himself, a calm center.

Social media? Not worth the time or energy. Texting? Only if absolutely necessary, or to appease his text-happy wife. Facetime is a solid no. Calling is a sometimes and only for the most important in his life. He refuses to make plans if he even has an inkling he may not want to participate in something or may want to just relax and do what he wants. He doesn’t feel the need to answer to anyone about how he spends his personal time, and most of the time that philosophy does apply to me. And while this can frustrate me sometimes as his behavior can appear to be noncommittal or selfish (which it is), he generally encourages me to live the same way. Selfishly with my time, even when it pertains to matters involving him.

This has taught me that being selfish with my time is okay, and that respecting each other’s time is important. It’s taught me not to dole it out indiscriminately, and to really decide if something or someone is worth letting into my life and space. My husband is basically a minimalist at heart, and someone so confident in himself that he can live his life from his own center, allowing in only the things that mean most to him. That is a skill most of us have to actively cultivate with things like exercise, meditation, learning – strategies. I joke that Kanan has had it figured out since I met him. I thought he was antisocial and afraid to commit. It turns out he just wanted to make sure I was someone he wanted to give his most precious resource to before he decided to marry me. What a way to live.

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Wedding Photos:

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“Draining The Shallows” Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 3

What does “Deep Work” Mean to Me?

My whole life I’ve been naturally drawn to produce what Cal Newport describes as “Deep Work.” I picture myself as a ten year old writing stories in one of the many outdoor “forts” my sister and I would build. Sometimes I’d spend what felt like hours alone, riding my bike down our long dirt road to sit on the “big rock” and write down my thoughts and observations – a backpack full of books in tow, and a heavy imagination to compliment the scenery. Nature and quiet time were easy to find, but so were the other kids on my street, who, when I was ready to socialize seemed to always be available.

We grew up in a town where solitude was plentiful – I refer to solitude in the way that Newport does, as being alone with your thoughts, but not necessarily alone physically. Think: In the grocery store check out line without your phone. Not alone, but alone in your head – solitude. My home town is excessively rural, secluded, and a few years behind whatever technology or trends are happening on the outside. Thinking of the hundreds of days I spent riding my mountain bike up over the hills to spend hours with friends makes my heart fill with gratitude. Idle time was seen by many of our parents as time for trouble, but we rarely found any. What we did find was a childhood and adolescence spent “hanging out” with each other before the internet meant much, and long before cell phones were common, let alone in any of our own hands. 

Sitting alongside the Kern River watching tourists go by on river rafts, walking circles around the high school football field talking, getting to know my future best friend, cleaning the hotel pool area in the early morning at my high school job. Thinking about being outside in the warm summer air, just me, the smell of chlorine, and the sound of the birds at 7am sometimes leads me to think that maybe we have gotten so far away from analog behaviors, solitude, and personal connection that we are suffering – mentally and physically. But how do we go back to that feeling – the one that we seem to find whenever our minds are left to fend for themselves?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. 

My intention is not to emphasize an unrealistically ideal society pre-modern technology and to suffocate you with nostalgic tales from my childhood. What I do mean to do is evoke that sense of calm in you that I believe comes from the fulfillment and mental rewards we reap from the combination of experiencing a balance and abundance of solitude and personal one-on-one connections with other people.

I find myself researching Digital Minimalism, efficiency and effectiveness in my business and personal life, and my own cognitive potential, realizing that not only are those topics interconnected on many levels, but in my opinion, crucially dependent on one another for their success. As a society we’ve strayed away from meaningful connections and failed to give ourselves and others the permission to spend significant time on work that captures our undivided attention. The result: Our lives are spent toiling away on work that does not fulfill us, and on media platforms that do not produce the amount of value they’ve promised for the time we’re haphazardly giving away. If Instagram was charging you per minute to use their service, how much would it be worth to you? As it turns out, “liking” your friend’s post does cost us something huge: time. The only resource we cannot replenish. When it comes to our time, we should be counting our pennies, but instead we all spend like we have millions in the bank.

Personally, I enjoy and find fulfillment in one-on-one time spend with other people, and time spent alone, producing what I consider to be my “deep work” which usually has something to do with writing. The problem that I’ve encountered, and that has become glaringly obvious to me recently, is that I’ve positioned myself in a career where my personal connections are bountiful and meaningful, I’ve etched out time in my schedule to produce high-quality work, and I’m maintaining a blog and four social media accounts. And it’s too much. I did not replace personal connection with online or shallow connections, I merely added them all in, on top of the heavy client load and the real brick-and-mortar business location I currently run. Shocking fact: I have only had a personal Instagram account for three years. What value is it really producing? Not much.

For those of you unfamiliar with the day-to-day operations of a full time esthetician, my schedule looks like this: From around 8am to 7pm three days a week I book back to back clients during all of these hours for a minimum of thirty minutes and a maximum of three hour long appointments. During this time I will render any combination of skincare and makeup services, typically in a private room behind closed doors, in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. This means that on any given client work day I will have an average of around ten one-on-one conversations. Many of my clients are friends, almost every single one has been coming to see me for several years. So we know each other and our talks are meaningful and rarely surface level. For roughly 33 hours per week I am in an intense state of concentration and attentiveness. I am producing quality work which requires practice and skill, providing a quality environment that requires thought, intention, and execution, and I am cultivating meaningful personal connections and conversation, which requires my full and undivided attention.

In addition to these client hours, I have event hours which typically include several weddings a month where my ability to concentrate and produce quality work in intensely distracting and high-stress environments is vital. And lastly, office hours which I’ve widdled down to two efficient hours per week doing paperwork and making phone calls – another task that requires my undivided attention to complete, lest I digress to completing these tasks haphazardly throughout my week, distracting me from client work.

I believe that I have cultivated the ability to work deeply and to socialize deeply because my career depends on it. And at this point in our history those skills are becoming increasingly more rare, and therefore, more valuable. The problem: I concentrate deeply for roughly 40-45 hours per week in a very social environment and then go home and try to socialize online, or text/email/call back any clients who are trying to contact myself or my business. My energy is so depleted by that point that I have basically none remaining for myself, my husband, or my personal relationships outside of work and social media. Perhaps I am not becoming more anti social, but rather, more intolerant of allowing my time to be monopolized by anything that produces shallow or ambiguous value.

I built the majority of my client base before I used social media much at all, and many of the most successful business people I know rarely use it. If they do, it is with intention to produce a specific value. The haphazard use of social media networking tools to produce a very abstract value is not serving me, or my business in real life. What does serve me and my clients is a thoughtful, professional environment, quality services and deep connections. In order for me to produce these things, I need solitude, and in order for me to feel content and happy I need to be “immersed in something challenging.” 

As Newport would say, it is time to “drain the shallows” to fill what room is left in my bucket with deep work.

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

This blog post was supposed to be about float pods and their mental and physical health benefits. Which are real, and I have personally found to be quite amazing. Consequently, I found myself reflecting on all the “self-care” we do in an attempt to be happy, or to curb anxiety and stress. To distract ourselves from our daily lives, to escape. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of what has now been popularized across social media platforms as “self care.” I think treating yourself to spa days, bubble baths, and Netflix binges on occasion can be a good thing. I think the problem is that we’re treating symptoms and not causes. We’re oversimplifying mental health and putting a pretty band-aid on a much bigger problem: Why do we need to escape in the first place? Incorporating relaxation and taking time for yourself is one small piece of maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle, but lying in a float pod is not going to treat my depression.

When it comes to becoming the most physically healthy version of myself, I feel like I have the puzzle pieces identified. I may not always put them together correctly, or at all, but I’m at least aware of their existence. The method in which I need to put them together to create something that’s organized, beautiful, and that makes sense is a formula that I understand. Consistency. I try to eat mostly whole plant foods, I no longer eat refined sugar, I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs, and I work out six days a week, mixing pilates, yoga, lifting, running, and leisure activities. I sleep at least seven hours a night. I’ve been on a three-year-long mission to become healthy. And although I do recognize my body as a lifelong work in progress, at least I’m not confused about how to maintain my lifestyle. Eat whole plant foods, sleep, exercise, and stretch. If I don’t take the time to do these things, I do not feel my best. For me, staying active with intention is the key – filling my life with fulfilling activities gives me purpose, creates goals, and gives me confidence that my future with my husband will be long and meaningful.

Mental health is not the same. Lately I’ve been feeling like all the puzzle pieces in my head are jumbled – thrown together on a garage sale table or tossed into a thrift store bin. The kind where kids have taken key pieces out, swapped them, crinkled them into balls, or mixed them up to the point where they’re unrecognizable. The Thomas Kinkade missing key elements. The castle without the flag. Do we just piece together what we can and ignore the holes and scratches? Do we try to jam things into spaces where they don’t belong? What if I don’t even know what goes there? The startling realization that the answer to all of these hypothetical questions is literally: “I don’t know” is confusing and overwhelming. Typing the word overwhelming seems silly because sometimes it feels more like the end of the world, and less like a task that can be overcome with enough hard work.

If you were to ask me if I’m doing okay, my answer may likely be no, even though I’m very happy with my life. I have no idea where to go from there.

In a nutshell: Being overweight and developing type two diabetes is common on both sides of my family. So I eat healthy and exercise. Simple enough. But alcoholism, addiction, and mental health disorders also appear frequently and on both sides of my family. I stopped drinking and put systems in place to support organization, a meaningful schedule, work I enjoy, and healthy habits, but simply put, I struggle constantly with depression anyway. As I lay on the massage table and drift away (every other week), or as I’m getting my nails done (every other Tuesday), my hair done (every six weeks), or a facial or pedicure (about every month) I am painfully aware of the fact that we are fragile, and one day I could wake up changed for the worse. Unable to recognize it or go back. I could already be there. And from there the anxiety begins and grows into a depression that takes over my mind.

What pulls me out of that cycle is my real life, that is wonderful and meaningful. My husband, friends and family, my hobbies, my writing, my work – the life I have constructed intentionally and make the effort to maintain daily drowns out the fear until I forget it for a brief moment. And in that moment I feel like I can rise above the cloud, and get just enough air to fill my lungs. And then I struggle to hold my breath until the next time I can come up.

I tend to focus on physical health because even though it can sometimes be hard, it’s mostly easy and I can control much of the outcome. And it does help my mental state to a degree. The stress and anxiety has become slightly more manageable because every minute of my life is planned, scheduled, calculated, weighed for importance, and placed in categories. Lifting weights doesn’t hurt. It’s more difficult to lose your marbles amongst an extraordinarily predictable and intentional life, or so I tell myself. 

But after three years in the fog, and another three years hovering slightly above it, I am confused and exhausted trying to fix myself. Because I love my life and yet I still struggle, almost daily, to keep myself above the cloud. So I thought I’d write to contextualize my current choices, and to explain my reality. Digital minimalism is just one concept helping me unpack my mental baggage. I’m actively beginning my mental health journey, and I am thankful that I have a strong foundation of healthy habits to build from. 

Currently I’m experimenting with everything from CBD to meditation, and have been actively learning about how to heal myself without pharmaceuticals. I start therapy on Wednesday morning at 9am. (About six years too late.) The receptionist explained that since I am a new patient, my therapist would like us to note some reasons for my appointment, and I said: “How long do you have? I bet everyone makes that joke.”

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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