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.

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/

My 5 Days of Raw Food

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

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

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

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

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

It’s worth a shot.

And it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diary Day 1:

Breakfast: Tropical Smoothie Bowl

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

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

Snack: 1 plum and some mixed nuts.

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

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

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

http://www.foodwisekitchen.com

Diary Days 2-5

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

Breakfast: Chocolate Energy Smoothie Bowl

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

Snack #1: Cashews, almonds, dates.

Lunch: Lettuce Boats with walnut taco meat and avocado.

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

Snack #2: 1 plum and 2 apples.

Dinners:

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

-Zucchini Noodles With Pesto and Walnut Meat.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 2

My First Week Being Somewhat Digitally Minimal

I struggled with what to bring to you this week. I have a list of blog topics and a calendar of scheduled ideas on hand, but the only thing that I feel motivated to discuss with you at this moment is what I’ve discovered during the last seven days. This week I began truly examining and unpacking my technology use and implementing strategies for improvement. My journey toward a life with less distraction, improved mental health, and time spent doing meaningful things of value (to me) has become my new obsession. For better or for worse.

I decided that the best way to communicate this journey is to break it down into individual strategies, my motivation for making these changes, and how they’re working in my real life so far. 

Strategy #1: Come up with a plan to minimize social media use.

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. As a business owner, Facebook and Instagram help me network and book new clients. Posting on The Real Life Vegan Wife can be fun and informative, working as a vehicle to discuss veganism and entrepreneurship. But somewhere along the line managing all four of my social media accounts became an arduous chore – the pressure to post has become a nagging stress in the back of my mind at all times. Being constantly present seems almost necessary in the current social media climate we live in, lest you risk disappearing and becoming irrelevant altogether.

The reality is that what I truly want to be doing with my time is build in-person client / community-member relationships and write meaningful content for my blog and other publications. Not feel constant anxiety or distraction from toggling between social media and the real, tangible, valuable things I am producing. And when I do post on social media, I want the content I share to also be real and valuable, not forced or phony.

So what did I do? I decided that the best way to implement strategy for change is to know the conditions I’m currently functioning under. Step 1: Find out how often I am using social media. Step 2: Come up with a strategy to maximize my return on my time invested, therefore enabling me to minimize my time spent with these platforms.

This seems simple enough. Honestly, now that I’m really examining it, it is fairly simple. I determined that between my four accounts I spend about one hour per day on social media. This is actually not as much time as I assumed I spent, so there’s a positive. Using the month of June as our example, that means that in June I will spend thirty hours total on social media. This is over one FULL 24 HOUR DAY of the month spent with social media. In a year that is 360 hours, or FIFTEEN DAYS. For some reason, what our minds consider a harmless hour per day becomes shocking when you realize you just bought yourself a two-week vacation per year if you just quit using Instagram. Or, on a smaller scale, an entire extra day per month. Chances are, that’s where all our time has gone. Or it’s at least a major contributor.

For me personally, it does not make sense to quit social media cold-turkey like my husband did, and truthfully I don’t want to. I want to figure out a way to coexist with these methods of communication without allowing it to waste my time, while communicating meaningful content that produces value for my business, my clients, and my blog. I would argue that if you’re concerned about not having enough time in your life, you have stress and anxiety related to social media, and you’re not producing original content, you should probably just quit it altogether. At that point, it’s value to you may be perceived but not actually real. That’s what my husband determined and did. Instead of going that route, I mapped out the ideal content I would like to post in a month for my business and my blog social media accounts, how much time it should take me to make those meaningful posts, and tallied up the hours – to 8.5 per month. That means that the content is planned, the timing is planned, and the hours I was spending scrolling or wasting time would be reduced by almost 75%. I just bought myself 258 hours a year – almost eleven entire days.

My plan is to take January completely off from all social media and return in February with this strategy as an outline moving forward. Although, after a month off, I may have entirely different ideas and new incite to put into practice. 

Strategy #2: Stop using social media for business communications, and funnel all inquiries to my business phone and email.

This strategy may seem counter-intuitive after explaining that social media is actually valuable to my business. But it seems simple to me. When someone has a service or business inquiry, I set up an auto-response on Facebook and a quick-response on Instagram to instruct them to contact the business directly. This is straight-forward, clear and reasonable. It will “weed-out” inquiries that were not serious, or people who want free advice or consultation without going through the appropriate channels of making an appointment for our undivided attention. It ultimately saves me a tremendous amount of time. And ensures that the clients who do choose to make scheduled appointments get the highest quality of service and attention possible, because we are not distracted. This does not mean that I will not get back to you, it means that you need to call my business or send the business an email with a serious inquiry first, and I will get back to you during my posted hours of operation.

Essentially, I’ve determined that social media serves my business when used for networking, event promotion, and portfolio picture positing, but anything more is a waste of time.

Strategy #3: Set client boundaries with tech use.

Strategy #2 falls into this category because I set clear boundaries. I no longer will respond to personal and direct messages at all hours of the day and night because it is convenient for the potential client. I will respond to calls to my business phone and emails to my business email during operating hours. Basically, I am no longer available all the time because I’m unwilling to continue distracting myself from doing other things that produce more value for myself and my business in the long-term. I’d rather give that new client or project my undivided attention.

So, this leaves texting. How do I handle the steady stream of communications coming in? Yesterday my first text from a client came in at 6:42am, but I didn’t know this until 8am because I set up an auto-text response as part of the “do not disturb” feature on my phone. I turn this on manually outside of my business hours so that anyone who texts me before or after hours, or on my weekend will know that I got their message and will respond, but will no longer be available to answer non-urgent inquiries at 6:42am via text message. This is straight-forward, clear, and reasonable.

This takes an enormous amount of stress away from my day-to-day operations, allowing me to check out from communications and enjoy my days off, or evenings and mornings outside the shop. While being reassured that everyone is being taken care of and is clearly informed about my boundaries.

Ultimately, I believe this will make me happier, and better at my job because I will not be distracted by a constant stream of text messages and emails which cause stress and anxiety when I cannot immediately return them. And I can take more time to focus on business improvements.

Strategy #4: Fix the problems created by strategy #3.

This one makes me laugh because it became very apparent early on that this process is going to be full of trial and failure. And although I want 99% of my texts and calls to be filtered until business hours, there are still personal communications that I would like to be able to receive. Additionally, when my phone is on do not disturb with auto-text response, I essentially cannot use it for anything without turning the feature temporarily off, resulting in the flood of texts coming though that I didn’t necessarily want to see until I was back in the shop. 

My solution, after doing a heap of research, was to go purchase an Apple Watch, turn it on do not disturb, adjust the setting to not mirror my phone so that I do not get any notifications, and only use it for music, podcasts, audiobooks, and tracking workouts. And oh my goodness it’s fabulous for that.

Essentially I can put my phone on DND with auto-text response, plug it in, and leave it alone until I need it while still using my watch for everything I enjoy and find value in. I added my close family and friends to my favorites list in contacts, so if they need to call me they will get through to my watch. If I absolutely need to look at my calls and texts I can also choose to do so by turning DND off, and seeking out my messages which are not easily accessible. I did it once to make sure it was working, and haven’t looked at it since.

I did not install any apps on my watch except Pandora, security lock and alarm, and my to-do list. My watch face is simple, with music, podcasts, and my workout results being the only easily accessible features. It’s life-changing and it’s been five days.

I feel free from my phone and the expectation to text and email everyone back immediately, but reassured by the fact that Kanan or my sister can still call me and I can still contact the world if need be. Currently I use my watch with my phone on DND with auto-response before work and after work but have not worn it and left my phone at home for entire days out of the shop yet. Today will be the first time and I’m so excited to try it and write about it.

The irony of using technology to correct technology use is not lost of me, but that is why digital minimalism is so much fun. It’s all about picking out the good and letting all the rest go. The next things on my list to quantify and correct are television, random internet use, and news consumption, and I cannot wait. I feel like my mental clarity and stress levels have already decreased dramatically in an extremely short period of time.