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:

https://www.hennygraphy.com

Our Elopement Part 2: The Honeymoon

We spent our honeymoon in Alberta, Canada, flying into Calgary and then driving to Banff. Neither of us had been there so we had no idea what to expect. All we knew what that our elopement ceremony was on September 28th so the rest of our trip had to be planned around the big event.

(My new Away, Herschel, and Lululemon travel gear)

Calgary has the international airport closest to Banff, so we flew into the city and decided that instead of getting in and immediately renting a car to drive the hour and a half to Banff, we would explore Calgary for a few days. The flight from Seattle was quick, and once we got there our Air B&B was a short drive away. Immediately I noticed all the beautiful yellow and orange foliage I was excited to use in our wedding photos, but for the end of September (even by Canadian standards from what I heard) it was cold. I had done quite a bit of research and picked the end of September for our trip because according to pretty much everything, it was supposed to be slightly less touristy after the peak summer months, and the weather would be fairly mild, cooling off but not yet snowy. I’ll just foreshadow by saying that Canada, you lived up to your weather stereotype.

(The view from our Air B&B in Calgary, AB)

Our Air B&B was everything I hoped it would be. Downtown, the penthouse condo on the 29th floor of the highrise overlooked the city with gorgeous panoramic views. I love having our own kitchen, laundry, and privacy, so our own apartment was fabulous. A well-stocked grocery store with tons of healthy and vegan options called Sunterra Market was right downstairs so we shopped there for the three nights to get essentials. We had access to a nice, full gym downstairs so we could easily get workouts in every morning. And we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go from our Air B&B – the best part is that it cost about the same as a low to mid-level chain hotel in California.

(Riverwalk, Calgary)

(Downtown Calgary)

(Downtown Calgary)

Essentially for three days in Calgary we worked out, walked around, ate food, and relaxed at our condo.

*Vegan food suggestions in Calgary: Ten Foot Henry, SaVeg Cafe, The Coup (for dessert), Tandoori Grill

(Vegan S’mores Dessert from The Coup, Calgary)

After our stay in Calgary we took an Uber to the airport and rented a car, a small SUV that would prove to be beneficial as the trip progressed. We drove the beautiful hour and a half into the Rocky Mountains to Banff Springs. The Fairmont Hotel where we’d spend the next three days and take many of our wedding photos sits on top of a hill, with the town of Banff below. It was completely different in person than I thought it would be. It’s beautiful and castle-like, gigantic and spectacular, but completely crowded and surrounded by tourists. I don’t know why I expected something a bit more quiet, or in the mountains, or whimsical and fairy-tale like (probably because of all the photos and blogs that portray it this way). But it’s more of a beautiful piece of history that’s become overly commercialized. The hotel is considered an international destination, so tour buses abound. It reminded me a lot of Disneyland, which I love, but am typically prepared for. Downstairs in the lobby, there was always a long line for coffee at their independent version of a Starbucks. The check-in lines always going like you’re at a hotel in Vegas. It was an amazing experience – I have once in a lifetime memories from there, and the hotel made the perfect backdrop for many of our photos, but I doubt we’ll ever stay there again, opting for a hotel that’s closer to nature and less loud in the future.

(The Fairmont, Banff Springs Hotel)

Over the next three days we would eat at every restaurant in the hotel, relax, shop (again in the hotel… I can’t emphasize how massive it truly is. We’ll suffice it to say that I was bummed the Lululemon in our hotel was closed for refurbishment) and spend an entire day taking photos, eating wedding cake, and enjoying our elopement ceremony.

(Downtown Banff)

(Hike to Surprise Corner, Banff)

The day we checkout out of the Fairmont we drove down the hill into Banff Springs and checked in at the Moose Hotel & Suites, a well-appointed hotel decorated like a lodge, all wood, fireplaces and bears, in downtown Banff. We chose this place so that we could walk to all the shops and restaurants, and it was perfect for that. We spent our final three days in Banff walking around downtown, eating, and exploring many of the sites I had put on my list. Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise. Toward the end of our trip it started snowing off and on, so we took a couple spectacular hikes in the snow, one to Larch Valley, to see the beautiful Larch Trees in their golden glory, against the backdrop of snow. They only turn this color for a few weeks out of every year and we caught it.

(Lake Louise, Banff National Park)

(Little Beehive Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse)

I will say that each location we went to was also quite crowded with tourists – people getting married and people setting up tripods for perfect travel photos. We did find that the earlier in the morning you start your hike, and the farther and higher up you go, the people get very scarce. It seemed like most people just wanted to hop out of the bus, take a quick look around, take photos and leave. So as soon as you distance yourself from the crowd, it gets extra beautiful. At one point we hiked for a long while without seeing anybody aside from one other couple every once and a while and the prospect of running into a Grizzly started to really freak me out. So pack bear spray if you distance yourself from crowds anywhere in the Canadian Rockies.

(Peyto Lake Lookout, Banff National Park)

(Moraine Lake, Banff National Park)

(Hike from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley)

(Larch Valley, Banff National Park)

*Vegan food suggestions in Banff: The Fairmont made most meals special for me since they didn’t have many vegan options. But they were fairly accommodating. Downtown Banff lacked good vegan food and I ate a lot of things from the local version of Safeway. The only meals I really remember being good were at the Indian Curry House (Indian food is always a go-to because it is often times inherently vegan), I had moderately good tacos at Magpie & Stump, and the Wildflour Bakery & Cafe offered several vegan treat options which were delicious. Sometimes good vegan food is still hard to find- you gotta just go with it.

I will say that up until this point, our travel had gone smoothly, and we hadn’t had any significant issues or problems on our entire vacation OR with our elopement ceremony and vendors. So that’s remarkable. But as it does, the universe had to throw us a curve ball there at the end. We checked out out of the Moose Hotel & Suites early in the morning with plenty of time to drive the hour and a half to Calgary, return our car at the airport and catch our flight back to Seattle. It had been steadily snowing off and on with temperatures reaching lows (in the teens) I had never experienced before (I totally get the jokes about being from California now, even though it does get fairly cold… not Canada cold).

Since we had packed appropriately, rented the right car, and had been hiking around in the snow and cold for several days, it didn’t phase us that it was snowing when we left. We just figured it was a normal Canadian fall. Nope. Apparently it was a freak snowstorm that no one was prepared for. If we would’ve turned on the news we would’ve known to tack a day or two on to our vacation and stay put. But we didn’t. We ended up completely stopped on the highway about half way between Banff and Calgary for over three hours with several other cars because a semi truck had refused to go up the hill in the storm and blocked traffic. We didn’t know this, and had assumed it was a bad accident, until the authorities eventually showed up and started giving people the go ahead to drive over the pass. Being stopped in a legitimate blizzard, on the highway in another country watching inches and inches of snow pile up around you… is stressful to say the least. I’m positive I saw more snow in those hours than I’ve seen in the rest of my life combined.

(The road driving from Banff to Calgary. There are two lanes each way under there.)

Since we had four wheel drive they said we’d be fine, so we drove the rest of the way to the airport going extremely slow, passing countless accidents, almost running out of gas, and listening to the radio telling everyone to stay inside because the wait on a tow truck was about six hours. Kanan got us through it. I would’ve probably passed out from fear trying to drive in those conditions.

*Neat Canadian Moment: As we’re driving through what looks like a trail through the snow (really four lanes) I see these black dots moving closer and closer to the road from out in the distance. At first I think they’re cows, then horses, then I notice they’re black dogs. Beautiful against the completely white backdrop – miles of wilderness covered in snow. My immediate thought is that these poor dogs are out in the cold and what kind of owner would let that happen. Then I realize it’s a pack of wolves, running in unison along the highway.

Luckily we made it to the airport in one piece, but had missed our flight home and had to rearrange our travel plans. Apparently flying in that kind of weather isn’t a problem? And once we were in Seattle an hour later I was happy to be back to somewhat predictable non-Canadian weather, and then eventually, home with my husband.

Our Elopement Part 1

 If you asked my husband why we eloped he’d reply with an answer about saving money and doing whatever makes his wife happy. Or at least I think that’s what he’d say. To me, eloping was a much more complex decision that had a great deal to do with wanting our wedding to be about us.

Let’s just start from the beginning. Kanan and I met when he was thirty and I was 25. I’m fairly certain that my parents had made up their minds that I would never get married – mostly because I told them that. Truthfully, I was still about two percent open to the idea; I just wasn’t pushing it. I’ve heard Kanan was similar, but for him marriage was probably about one percent on the table… or less. I’ve said it before, but I knew I wanted to marry him almost instantly after meeting. Three dates and the idea took up permanent residence in my head. Kanan took longer to come to that conclusion, but obviously proposed after about three years with the exact ring I wanted. He’d tell you it was to make me happy. But you can’t make a man (especially one as stubborn as my husband) do anything, let alone be with you ‘til death. So I see through the gruff explanations and translate them into a kind of nostalgia.

(Rings: Laurie Sarah Designs, Photo: Amber Ferriman)

I can’t remember if we had the conversation before or after he proposed, but he asked me if I’d be okay to elope, and I said yes, completely relieved. I’m the type of person that will execute a plan I see in my head down to the detail, if that’s what I want. And for some reason I was having a hard time envisioning our wedding. I’m not sure if it’s perspective, age, or the fact that at this point I had been working with brides closely for about eight years professionally and just simply knew too much. Weddings are like funerals – ultimately they’re for the family.

We did consider how our decision may affect our loved ones, but ultimately and selfishly concluded that our wedding should be about our feelings, and us alone. Which meant we would make every decision about it. If you’ve been married, or participated at all in weddings then I’m sure you’re aware that the bride and groom almost never make most decisions based on their own selfish wants. From my (now eleven years of bridal) experience, I’ve seen most wedding decisions, from venue to photographer to table runners, made out of guilt or coercion. We decided that the best way to avoid going down the path of overspending on things we didn’t want was to avoid it altogether. Initially we tossed around the idea of having a small destination wedding, then struggled with who not to invite. Eventually we concluded that the only way to not offend anyone and truly honor our decision was to not include anyone at all. And from there we decided on just us two.

We went to the courthouse here in Eureka, CA with one of my clients and friends, Amber Ferriman as our only witness and our photographer, staying true to the only us two theme. I’m so happy that she captured these moments, glamorous in their own way. I bought a three-quarter-sleeve sheath dress from Lulus for $60, taupe pumps from Amazon for $30, spent an hour on my hair and makeup, and Kanan told me I had Jackie Kennedy style that day. We exchanged vows in a little room on the top floor, taking pictures surrounded by thousands of old books and records and a view of our little town. We went to a quiet dinner afterward to celebrate before calling the family to tell them the news. Some people choose to keep their legal marriage a secret until the elopement photos come out, but that was hard to do. So we just went with it. Whoever knew, knew.

(Photos: Amber Ferriman)

The quote: “Pursue what’s in your heart and the universe will conspire to support you” describes how piece by piece I designed my dream elopement ceremony. As soon as we made the commitment to stay true to ourselves, I could envision everything perfectly, and sought out every piece. We had narrowed down locations to three potential destinations and Canada was one of them – the solidifying factor in choosing Banff, Alberta was our photographer Henny Hwang. A year or so earlier, I had worked on a bride from Alberta – she and her fiance had traveled to Humboldt to elope in the redwoods, and they brought their amazing photographer with them. I had already met Henny and had her fabulous work in my professional portfolio. I emailed her to inquire about her availability, and we landed on September 28, 2018 at the Fairmont in Banff Springs. We chose that time of year because of the potential for fall colors and foliage, and we chose that venue because it looks like a castle. The most serendipitous part of that story: the Canadian couple are the Wilsons as well.

(Photo: Hennygraphy)

After our photographer and hotels were booked (we would honeymoon in Banff as well) I started in on details. The dress was something I had seen during a late night Etsy scroll session. A mix between Cinderella and Belle’s classic ballroom styles; it was perfect. I screen shot it before we were even engaged, knowing that every other gown I’d seen fell short somehow. A year later I went back to the designer’s Etsy page and it was gone. I frantically emailed her with a picture asking her what we could do and she said she could make it for me, custom. My designer’s name is Anna Skoblikova. We did all of our communication via email, my dress shipped from (if I remember correctly) Israel, and she made my custom gown using measurements I had taken at a local shop and three pictures of me. It fit like a glove, the quality is impeccable, and every detail is absolutely perfect. At times I definitely worried that I was making a bad decision by having my dress custom made by a designer in another country I’d only ever talked to through email, Paypal-ling her money and crossing my fingers. But she is the best, and if we ever renew our vows or I need a fabulous dress, I’ll have her make me another. It’s a work of art that Kanan plans to build a display dressing table for, so when I have a huge walk-in closet I can look at it every day.

(Dress: Anna Skoblikova, Photo: Hennygraphy)

I bought my ballet slipper inspired flats from Amazon, Jessica Simpson brand. I picked Kanan’s outfit from a picture in a catalog at the local bridal shop Promises and they took it from there. And I decided to do my hair and makeup myself.

(Flower Crown & Boutonnière: Flora Organica Designs, Bouquet: Banff Mountaintop Flowers, Photo: Hennygraphy)

My friend Faye, the extremely talented owner of Flora Organica designs made my flower crown and Kanan’s boutonniere out of preserved flowers that I packed in my carry on along with my ring box, and my dress and shoes. Christine, the owner of Banff Mountaintop Flowers put together the most beautiful bouquet and décor for our hotel room. I chose her based solely on her online portfolio and quick communication, and she did a better job than I could’ve imagined based on a collage of inspiration photos I sent her and colors from my flower crown materials. Things were falling right into place – every invoice printed and placed in the wedding binder with thank you cards written to every vendor.

(Photo: Hennygraphy)

Believe it or not, the hardest thing to put together from 1,125 miles away was the cake, and cake is my favorite. A non-negotiable. Our favorite cake is carrot, and finding someone who would make a two person vegan carrot cake was almost impossible. The hotel refused, and there wasn’t a bakery in the area who would do it. Eventually one of the bakeries gave me the name and email of her friend who bakes cakes on the side, and she agreed to make it. She delivered the most perfect and delicious wedding cake to our hotel the morning of our ceremony with a stand and a serving set. She was amazing. And that tied it all together. It was totally worth going down a 6-month long Canadian cake rabbit hole.

(Photos: Hennygraphy)

The day of our ceremony Henny came to our hotel room at the Fairmont and spent an hour with us getting ready. Looking back at the photos, eating our wedding cake for breakfast and having my own husband help me get into my dress are my most treasured moments. We did everything together, which for two stubbornly independent people, means a great deal to us. We took pictures at the hotel and then Henny drove us to Lake Minnewanka where we exchanged vows at the perfect spot that she had picked out the day prior. Blue water, and snow-capped mountains behind us. We took photos at two other locations, dodging tourists and several other couples getting married, and after the five hours of photos, we parted ways with our amazing photographer, went back to our hotel room, and took a nap. A couple of hours later we woke up, got ready, and went to our fancy dinner downstairs, just us two.

(Photos: Hennygraphy)

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Vendors:

https://www.hennygraphy.com

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

http://www.promisesbridalshop.com

https://lauriesarahdesigns.com

https://www.banffmountaintopflowers.com

https://floraorganicadesigns.com

http://twobeauties.org