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

Vegan Holiday Shoe Guide

We’ve all noticed it- summer is turning into fall. It’s my favorite season, and in Humboldt county the nights seem to get colder and the days crisp, in what seems like the almost undetectable blink of an eye. Which means we’re in the midst of pumpkin patch trips, family photos, football games, parties, and holidays. It’s cozy season, but it’s also the season of glitter, glam, and New Year’s Eve. I celebrate the anniversary of opening my business on November 1st and my wedding anniversary on December 26th. To me, it’s truly the most wonderful time of the entire year.

I find that fall and winter are my favorite fashion months. Flannels and boots, rain gear and fuzzy socks, cozy pjs and furry slippers, dresses and heels (pretty much the only time I wear them). I’m inspired to troll Pinterest for the perfect outfit, and to shop for the perfect holiday gift.

This year, I encourage you to explore the wonderful and rapidly expanding selection of vegan shoes. I think that we can almost all agree at this point that vegan materials are a lot less Hannibal Lecter than animal skin. And when given the option for cute, good-quality footwear that is better for the planet, for animals, and for our own inner peace, why not choose the kinder option? Below I’ve included all of my favorite vegan shoes and brands. Happy shopping!

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Pawj California

LIZ10 For 10% off your entire purchase. ❤️

Short Boot $129.97
Tall Boot $149.97
Slipper $79.97

Pawj California makes my absolute favorite vegan boots and slippers. As a die-hard Ugg Boot fan it was difficult giving up my new pair every Christmas during the cold and rainy Humboldt winter. But now I don’t have to! Pawj is a woman-owned and family-run company based out of Southern California with goals to make environmentally friendly and humane Ugg- alternative style boots. I’ve had several pairs that have lived through two winters and are still in excellent condition. Since they come water-resistant right out of the box, you never have to worry about stains or water spots. My personal favorites are the slippers and short boots, and I love that all of the styles come in a wide color range.

https://www.pawjcalifornia.com

Jambu

Duck Boot $75
Snow Boot $79
Evelyn Booties $69

Jambu makes my absolute favorite duck-style boots. My search for a vegan option of the classic LL Bean-style boot ended here, and started my obsession with this brand. They are not an entirely vegan brand, but offer many vegan options! The classic duck boot comes in ten color options, is comfortable, water-resistant, and the perfect height for layering with cute, warm socks. I also love their snow boots (a great Sorel alternative) and their various selection of booties for more work-appropriate styles.

https://jambu.com/women/category/boots-booties

Lulus

Taylor Rose Gold Ankle Strap Heel $31
Hunter Black Suede Ankle Strap Heel $29

I’ll say it again for the people in the back- Lulu’s has an ENTIRELY VEGAN shoe selection on their website! Yes, you read that right. Now go check it out. Personally, I always find my favorite dressy shoes and heels here, but their range of choices is amazing, and everything is labeled and easy to decipher as vegan.

https://www.lulus.com/categories/179_257/vegan-shoes.html

Nike

Nike Air Presto $140

Since I do a lot of working out, I wanted to include my favorite vegan option for athletic shoes. Although Nike is no where near being an entirely vegan company, they did verify recently that their glues are now all plant sourced and therefore, all of their shoe styles that are synthetic with only man-made materials are now considered vegan-friendly. I personally have been wearing this style for years and haven’t found a more comfortable style for HIIT style workouts, cardio, and high rep lower-weight workouts.

https://m.nike.com/us/en_us/product/air-presto-id-shoe/?piid=45004&pbid=1008196145

And last but not least…

Birkenstock

Arizona Vegan $99.95

I’m including these for all those fall-obsessed gals in Humboldt who love rockin’ Birkenstock sandals with cozy socks, leggings, and a Patagonia fleece. You know who you are (and you are not wrong). When I saw that Birkenstock was finally offering a vegan range, I bought this style immediately and am completely obsessed!

https://www.birkenstock.com/us/vegan/

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

My 5 Favorite Vegan & Refined Sugar Free Treats!

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

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

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

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

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

https://notyoursugarmamas.com

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

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

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

https://www.autumnsgold.com

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

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

Vixen Kitchen Paleo Vegan Gelato $12.99

https://vixenkitchen.co

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

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

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Chips $5.99

https://paschachocolate.com

Ingredients: Organic Cocoa Mass

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

Emmy’s Organics Coconut Cookie Dark Cacao $8.89

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Questions:

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

God First. Family Second. Career Third.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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320 2nd Street, Eureka CA

707-592-1930

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

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.