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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography

Sensi Magazine Freelance Work

For much of this year I’ve had the privilege of being an on-going contributor to our local Sensi Magazine Emerald Triangle edition. And I have some new and interesting articles coming this holiday, and next spring!

While bridal season comes to an end at my “day job” and I prepare to take some much-deserved vacation and enjoy the holidays to follow, I find myself in the final mad-dash to the imaginary finish line. A chaotic state I seem to create for myself each fall.

As I edit more Women In Business Series interviews, put together food journal entries from my entirely raw vegan experience, and catalog fitness and digital minimalism updates, I encourage you to pick up a copy of our monthly Sensi Magazine at a local business or browse through the online version. Below you will find two of my most recent articles.

Enjoy reading about North Coast happenings, unique businesses, alternative lifestyles, and health and wellness. (I’m usually in that section.) Support the good old written word and get back to those analog activities we’ve all gotten away from – like reading something you turn the pages of.

What’s better than cozying up with a hot beverage and flipping through a magazine as we watch this beautiful summer turn into fall? Not much.

Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 09, 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 09, 2019

For the full issue: http://s3.amazonaws.com/document.issuu.com/190828200219-dd58178e9ef8588098d3915f5b063558/original.file?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIATDDRE5J7YOA3PRJS&Expires=1568380147&Signature=BhrxdXPv3SB3Z6mXSGwEBzeF9hc%3D

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Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 07, 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Ed. 07, 2019

For the full issue: http://s3.amazonaws.com/document.issuu.com/190625163031-0c089d3448a0e414acc5b74fed7efbe9/original.file?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIATDDRE5J7X2YVMP3B&Expires=1568380304&Signature=6S8%2F%2Bu30r0Y5BWEMt71NRNIkzmo%3D

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Local Business Links:

Rebel Fitness & Nutrition https://rebelfitnessandnutrition.com

Body Tuners https://bodytuners-gym.com

Fit NorCal https://www.fitnorcal.com

Chumayo Spa http://www.chumayo.com

Platinum Float Spa http://platinumstudiosalonandspa.com

One Year No Beer

One year ago I sat around a breakfast table with my sister, my sister in law, and seven of my closest girlfriends to toast to my bachelorette party weekend and it’s success. In the loud cafeteria at Camp No Counselors Seattle we said goodbye over mimosas and departed to locations all over the country – back to our normal lives. I had made up my mind to quit drinking at the dance party the night before. I had been quietly considering it for months, wondering if I had the will power to go through with it. Somewhere between dancing the night away to Whitney Houston and standing in line for midnight nachos while drinking soda water and lime, the decision became crystal clear and easy. Camp left much to be desired, but my memories are all perfect – bunk beds and ping pong, waterslides and the talent show. Three nights in a cabin together with accomplished dynamic women taking breaks from their busy lives and careers to eat burgers in the mess hall and do bad yoga. Most of them I’ve known a decade or more – we’d come a long way from scream-singing Tenacious D songs at college house parties over shots of watermelon rum – most of us have been through a lot since then. I don’t want to say that being together again was like “the old days,” because it wasn’t. To me, it was better.

I’ll just start by saying that fifteen years is a long time to be in a one-sided relationship with something that only takes from you. Something that encourages your self loathing, and cheers for depression to root deeply inside your heart. Something that intentionally wastes your time and energy, strains your relationships and willfully stands strong and stubborn between you and your dreams and goals. I had decided I’d simply had enough of this self-inflicted bullshit.

I’ve never been someone who accepts what is “normal” just because everyone else does it. Sometimes I walk my own stubborn path to my detriment, questioning everything along the way. Critically. But this time I had recognized that for some reason the lemming in me had a thing for booze. I had fallen into the socially-acceptable catchall for life: alcohol fixes everything. Not that I believed this to be true, but on some level almost all of us buy into that narrative, otherwise we wouldn’t regularly drink alcohol. I wouldn’t drink a glass of milk because to me it represents violence, but I’d drink a beer because someone somewhere is selling me an illusion of happiness.

During this last year as I’ve put time between myself and alcohol, I’ve realized something big. We’ve been sold the idea that more money and more things will make us happier. We’re realizing that isn’t true. Each time we reach a new standard or pillar of accomplishment, we move the marker for success onto the next. If we live this way, we never reach happiness. On the sidelines of this over simplistic, capitalist equation for happiness is alcohol, working as an easy band aid when the rest of what we’ve been promised falls short. And it will always inevitably fall short. I believe that being truly happy requires so much more effort than buying something new and washing your guilt and lack of satisfaction down with a beer at the end of a long day. But I haven’t always felt this way.

Over my bachelorette party weekend I had several epiphanies. The most influential in my decision to quit drinking had to do with the company I keep. I could count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks I had over the course of my five-day party. As I quietly contemplated my decision to quit altogether I realized that I was having just as much fun without alcohol as I have with it (if not more). And then it “clicked.” Instead of drinking to “suffer” through events I attend out of a false sense of obligation, or drinking to “tolerate” people I do not wish to be around, I should stop wasting my time and life and just stop. Stop going and stop doing out of obligation and/or guilt. Give myself the emotional permission to create more time in my life by just saying no. If I don’t want to go, or I don’t enjoy the people, I shouldn’t be there. If I feel like I “need” alcohol to “have fun” then I am clearly using it as a band aid for a bigger problem: I am wasting my life doing things that do not serve me or my real happiness and that makes me unhappy. The other epiphany I had was that when you’re around your real people, the ones that give your life joy and meaning, alcohol is not just unnecessary, it can be a detriment to really experiencing your time together. And our time here is short.

Time. That is a topic I’ve written often about, and after discovering Andy Ramage and the company he co-founded: One Year No Beer, all the benefits of not drinking that I had struggled to articulate became clear. I was rarely a binge-drinker. I considered myself to be a moderate drinker, usually enjoying a beer or two a night after work “to relax.” My husband was the first one to point out to me that I shouldn’t need alcohol to relax, and that perhaps I should spend more time contemplating why I’m so unrelaxed in the first place. I met his ideas with stubborn resistance. I’m not an alcoholic. I work hard. Why shouldn’t I be able to have a beer at the end of a long day? I still, even now do not think that I have or had an alcohol dependency. What I did have was what Ramage talks a lot about: A bad habit that drains my energy while simultaneously sabotaging my physical and mental health. A habit that I engage in without question because society encourages it and deems it “normal.” And a habit that will always keep me from reaching my true and full potential because it is a huge waste of my time. Alcoholism aside, that just sounds terrible.

The focus of One Year No Beer is on the moderate drinkers. Those of us that do not consider ourselves extreme enough cases to need serious intervention or assistance, but who would benefit greatly from being part of a community of other people who just don’t want to drink anymore. Who recognize the untapped potential in a life and mind that isn’t constantly clouded or depleted by alcohol. Those of us that recognize that being an American should consist of more than working and drinking in an attempt to find happiness. Because most of us grew up living this model and are now realizing it’s pitfalls and failures. And we want more from our lives than a cycle that supports a general feeling of malaise.

Once I made the decision to quit drinking, I began to truly recognize how deeply alcohol is ingrained in our daily lives. When was the last time you stopped drinking for long enough to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a body free of alcohol? From the research I did, the general consensus is that it takes at least two weeks to begin to feel the physical and mental benefits. Much longer if you want to experience things like long-term career or fitness boosts. Most of us will never experience this since we begin drinking as teens and continue on some level, forever. This shocked me to think about. Would I really never let myself experience my full potential because I like beer? That felt absurd.

One thing that the OYNB movement emphasizes is that the benefits of not drinking snowball tremendously. And after a year, I can attest to that. Time seems to multiply because every late night, every hungover or tired day, and every event I did not want to attend simply vanishes and can be replaced by other more fulfilling activities. Sleep improves, energy levels improve, depression and anxiety decrease, workouts are more effective, and work is more productive. Instead of struggling through a full day at moderate productivity, I find that I can complete more meaningful work on my business and personal endeavors in less time. Making time for even more meaningful relationships, goals, and activities. My husband and I have a stronger relationship (he quit too), and I believe that our decision to omit alcohol from our marriage will help us to focus our energy on positive endeavors and leave aside all of the complications and traps alcohol brings into relationships.

But it’s difficult to get that snowball rolling. Between the social event excuses, the work event excuses, and the “wine-o-clock,” “mama needs a beer,” and “life is better day drinking” t-shirts, alcoholism has become so pervasive in our culture that to not drink makes you somewhat of a social leper. My interest specifically on the strong emphasis on moms and females self proclaiming their drinking habits as a “funny” way to cope with our lives fascinates me, but that topic is for another day. As a meme I once read so accurately put it: “Galentines Day is not a thing. You’re an alcoholic.” And as someone who would have scoffed at that comment in a past life, I see it clearly now. Alcoholism has taken on a much more female tone recently- “I’m on a juice cleanse, and by juice I mean wine.” Normalizing drinking, emphasizing it’s importance in our social lives, and excusing our “need” for alcohol is not only shocking, but indicative of a culture that is starved for meaning. So I am happy to leave it behind forever.

Popping that special bottle of champagne my best friend brought and toasting to us, the round table of strong women felt like a break up. An empowering and permanent celebration of acceptance, surrounded by my biggest supporters. I’m leaving alcohol behind and beginning my new life with a different perspective – life is short and I refuse to waste it.

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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Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 4: Trade My Life for What?

I’ve been “decluttering” my digital life for five weeks. My intention when I began this process was to slowly establish boundaries, efficient practices, and practical strategies to minimize my technology use and make more room for “deep work,” in-person connection, and solitude in my life. I started now so that by the time January arrives I will be more than prepared to effectively participate in an official thirty-day digital declutter as Cal Newport defines in his book Digital Minimalism. The goal: Put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use and think are necessary or valuable for a long enough amount of time to determine if I want to keep them in my life, or omit them altogether in the future. Cut everything extraneous out of my life, and only add back in the good, or the stuff that doesn’t make me feel terrible. It’s a Whole 30 practice for your mind.

So what is Cal Newport’s philosophy, and what are the strategies he offers up to assist us on our own technological journey? Very simply put, in his book Digital Minimalism Newport defines his theory as a belief that “less can be more” when it comes to our relationship with digital tools. It’s a “philosophy that prioritizes long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction.” Digital Minimalism shifts our focus when examining value in technological tools from one simple marker: usefulness, to a much more satisfying, albeit complex principle: autonomy. This requires a complete restructuring of how we view technology, and therefore, our relationship to it. Newport explains that “by working backward from [our] deep values to [our] technology choices, digital minimalism transforms these innovation[s] from a source of distraction into tools to support a life well lived.”

“Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Newport breaks this concept down into “Three Principles.” Principle number one: “Clutter is Costly” examines the role that technology has in cluttering our time and attention ultimately creating an overall negative cost that overshadows the small individual benefits that each bit of technology may offer in isolation. Principle number two: “Optimization is Important” is the idea that once a digital minimalist decides that a certain technology does indeed give them real value, the way that they use that technology in order to optimize it is equally as important to determine. Principle number three: “Intentionality is Satisfying” is the concept that because minimalists are establishing autonomy over their digital choices, this practice becomes meaningful within itself.

I don’t want to get too caught up in the details outlined in the book, because I suggest you read it yourself. The entire thing is full of epiphanies and useful strategies. So I will share with you my favorite philosophies and practices, then give you a short update on how this process is working for me.

The most important idea that I pulled out of Digital Minimalism is the (not new) concept of Henry David Thoreau’s New Economics. In his book Walden, which was published in the year 1854, Thoreau essentially shifts the units that measure value from money to time. “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” I certainly feel that once you begin examining your habits in these terms, you become painfully aware that you are literally paying for each minute of whatever technology you’re using with your life. 

I also found Newport’s strategy for determining whether or not to re-introduce a technology back into my life after the declutter useful. He offers up a set of simple criteria: “Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? Is this technology the best way to support this value? How am I going to use the technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?” A simple set of questions that requires a massive amount of introspection.

I also appreciate Newport’s emphasis on the importance of having a plan for your time in order to facilitate a lifestyle change. This process should not be considered a “detox” that you suffer through, then afterward simply go back to the same lifestyle and habits as before. It’s not a crash diet. During this time of “decluttering” we should be taking the time to remember what we enjoyed before we were tethered to our phones and computers, or for those born after 1995, to figure out what those activities are in the first place. Newport makes many useful suggestions, including: Spend time alone to facilitate solitude, deep work and introspection, reclaim conversation by spending real time with others instead of “clicking like” as a shallow substitution, and reclaim leisure time by finding activities that give you joy, or meaning and value. I found that last idea to be particularly useful because Newport calls for a shift from leisure activities that are merely considered “passive consumption” to activities that “prioritize demanding activity, use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world” and “require real-world structured social interactions.” In summation: activities that give us meaning, and produce real value for ourselves and those close to us.

He then goes on to give real-world examples and suggestions of how to do this. Join a club, a gym, or a group of some sort. Schedule phone calls with loved ones. Remove apps from your phone so that you use it only as a phone. Schedule specific leisure activities. Fill your life with planned and meaningful things so that at the end of your declutter your perspective on what is important enough to trade your life for has likely changed.

I have been slowly implementing more and more of these strategies to assist me in the process of minimizing my technology use for good. I have been journaling all of my screen time, removed all unnecessary apps from my phone, and placed the existing apps into a few specified categories so that I have a clear idea of where my time is going. I have “productivity” which includes my to-do list app, my schedule, my blog, notes, fitness apps, music and podcasts. A folder for work, finance, photography, utilities, and then social media and entertainment. I chose to put music and podcasts into productivity instead of one of the other categories because I’ve determined that they give me significant positive value, whereas social media, netflix, and the Lululemon app do not, but on a scheduled occasion are okay in moderation.

The result of tracking my use for five weeks: I’ve gone from around seven hours a week of social media use to around two without actively limiting myself, or implementing an actual schedule yet. These are just the changes I’ve made naturally after exposing myself to my habits, and realizing that there are better ways to spend my time. Honestly, I expected stepping away from social media to be a struggle, but the opposite literally just happened on it’s own. Instead of focusing on what I’m not doing, I’m putting all my energy into what I am doing: spending scheduled time with friends and family, hosting a book club, exercising, reading more, going on walks, journaling my ideas. With all these fulfilling leisure activities in my life, I honestly don’t miss spending time on “shallow” activities at all. And the anxiety and pressure social media created in my life is diminishing as I begin to recognize that most of social media’s perceived value is literally not real. 

The boundaries I’ve established with my clients (auto text response, less accessibility, quick responses on social media) have all helped to put me at ease because my clients have a very clear understanding of my availability, and know they will be taken care of in a prompt manner. This takes much of the pressure off of me to constantly email or text for work, and I think the majority of my clientele understands and respects these boundaries. 

And I feel free to be. I put my Apple Watch on, and head out the door. No phone, watch set permanently to silent and do not disturb, mirror my phone feature is permanently off. Available for music, podcasts, tracking workouts, and getting ahold of me in emergencies only. The amount of mental space this frees up for me is enormous. The things you notice being out in the world without your phone for entire days is amazing. Knowing that if something happens to me I can still call my husband or hear from him helps curb the little bit of anxiety I used to have about leaving my phone at home. If it’s that important, call me. If you’re not on my favorites list, it can wait.

“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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