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

Let’s Be Better At Loss

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief, trauma, and loss lately. Friends and close clients have been experiencing the death of loved ones or being presented with challenging life situations at a rate that seems higher than normal – unusual even. And so it has me contemplating something that one of my best friends said recently in response to the death of one of her close family members – maybe as we get older this just becomes normal.

So maybe we should start teaching ourselves to be better at it.

Learning how to be supportive, understanding, and effective friends and family members to those going through difficult times seems more important than ever. And with all the literal guidebooks out there to help us cope with loss, experience grief and depression, and help others in need, you’d think we would have improved by now. But I’m noticing that we haven’t. And from my own experience, I can say that most of us fail miserably at trying to be supportive – but not for lack of caring. Mostly it’s from lack of understanding and an overall feeling of helplessness. Most of us find the talk of death or trauma uncomfortable at a minimum, and so it goes undiscussed and becomes invisible. And with it, so do the people experiencing it. The world keeps turning even though your world closes in. And because your loved ones (and everyone else around you) are too afraid to discuss it, you’re forced to pretend that that loss, that grief, that trauma never happened. But everything is still different.

I am very aware that I am not any type of expert on loss, grief, or trauma. I’m not an expert on communicating or empathizing either – but I do talk to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me who is constantly compiling stories, or the critical analyzer struggling to understand as much as possible, but I compulsively ask the other question. Not just the what, or where but the why. There’s so much more to be found there, I think.

Yesterday I was in the treatment room with a client who I barely know. This happens rarely but she is the type of client that floats in a couple of times a year for an eyebrow wax, and during that twenty minutes we can only cover so much ground. She had just gotten back from a three-week-long vacation, and I asked her how it went. She said that it was great, but she was really forced to get out of her comfort zone and face some of her biggest fears. So naturally, I asked her to tell me what those fears are. She laughed and asked me if I really cared to know, and I said I’d love to know because then we could have a real conversation. And at the end of those twenty minutes we had both concluded what we’re sure we must have heard Brene Brown say somewhere:

“It’s better to just do it afraid.”

Maybe I’m being nosy. Maybe it’s none of my business. But it turns out we have a lot of the same fears, and it helps to talk about it. And it adds a level of humanity to an interaction that could otherwise skim a surface level simplicity that leaves us both the same.

Let’s apply this to loss.

I had an interaction recently with an acquaintance who had recently suffered a devastating death of a loved one. I had known the person who had passed also, but we weren’t close, and I had discovered the information via social media. When I encountered this person in public we exchanged pleasantries, but after thinking over this whole topic and how horrifying it must be to be trapped inside a mind that is suffering while having to casually respond to “How are you’s” with something like “fine, thanks.” I stopped myself and told this person how sorry I was, and how I know they’re not okay, and that’s okay. They mentioned that they weren’t sure if I knew, and thought it would be weird to bring it up. So I just said, how could this kind of situation get any worse or any weirder? And they laughed and said “I guess you’re right.”

It’s better to just do it afraid.

I thought I’d share the three most important things I’ve learned from experiencing traumatic loss myself, but also from talking with hundreds of people who all have some version of death or trauma that they can share and relate to.

#1) Don’t say nothing.

You will not make your friend, family member or co-worker “feel worse” or remind them of their loss if you offer your condolences, support, or make a gesture to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Most likely, there is no way that they could feel worse, and they are thinking about their loss or difficult situation at all times whether or not someone acknowledges it. It is literally impossible for you to “remind” them that their loved one has passed, for example. They are always painfully aware of that reality.

What can be hurtful is the isolation that we can experience when we’re going through a difficult situation and those around us do nothing, say nothing, and try to treat you like nothing happened. Or worse, ignore you all together because they feel awkward. The fear of saying the wrong thing often translates into saying nothing at all, and that can make the person who is hurting feel frustrated and alone. Just offering up a simple “I’m sorry and I’m here for you” can go a long way for someone who is suffering.

#2) Directly ask the person whether they want to talk about it or not, and then respect their answer.

One of my go-to lines in the treatment room is: “I’m here if you want to talk about it, but if you don’t then that’s completely fine too. We can talk about other things, or not at all.” Sometimes I lead with that statement; sometimes that’s a follow-up to another technique I learned from a client going through a terrible time. I ask how they’re doing today. In general, they are most-likely not doing well, but in this moment, today, they may be doing better or worse. I remember hating it when people who were aware of my loss would ask me a blanket “how are you” because I’d feel confined to answer in a socially acceptable way like “fine” when what I really wanted to say was: “Fucking terrible. How could I feel any differently?”

Some people may want to talk about it. Others may not. Some may tell you ahead of time through a non-confrontational text that they just want you to treat them like nothing has happened when they see you. Others may come through the door at work and immediately break down and tell you everything. But not everyone is that direct, or has the capacity to do those things. The point is to be brave enough to ask them what they actually want instead of saying nothing, or assuming you understand how they feel and want to be treated.

#3) Stop asking what you can do and just do something.

This, in my opinion, is the most difficult one to put into practice. What can you do for someone suffering emotionally other than be there for them? You want to make their life easier during this terrible time, but you’re not sure how, so you ask them. This seems harmless but actually then puts the heavy burden of delegating or deciding on the person who is already mentally and emotionally maxed out. So they usually respond by saying they don’t need anything. Which isn’t usually true.

Depending on the type of relationship you have with this person, the type of “help” will vary. But decide on something and just do it. Say, “I’m coming over with dinner. If you want me to stay and talk, great. If not, that’s great too. I just want you to have some food.” Say, “I know you’re going to be out of town a lot with family in the next couple of weeks. I’d be happy to watch your pets while you’re gone.” Come over and take their dogs on a walk. Babysit the kids for a few hours. Drop off some books or flowers. Sit with them. Answer their phone call.

I know that for me personally, I needed to continue going through my routine in order to keep my life somewhat together. What helped me tremendously, and what to this day I will never forget was the fact that for probably at least six months my sister never left me alone. And my best friends always answered their phones. My sister didn’t do anything in particular, but she was always there. Getting off work and having someone to sit with, and eat with, and watch movies with was very helpful, and being able to call my friends and talk in the middle of the night got me through some dark moments.

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I hope that these few tools can help some of you. I understand that not everyone is the same, and some of you may disagree with my ideas. Maybe my friend was right- as we get older these things start to happen more frequently, so naturally we should get better at dealing with trauma and loss as time goes on. But instead of waiting for practice, I think we should all try to be better now.

Photo: Kimberly Ann Photography

My 5 Days of Raw Food

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

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

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

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

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

It’s worth a shot.

And it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diary Day 1:

Breakfast: Tropical Smoothie Bowl

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

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

Snack: 1 plum and some mixed nuts.

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

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

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

http://www.foodwisekitchen.com

Diary Days 2-5

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

Breakfast: Chocolate Energy Smoothie Bowl

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

Snack #1: Cashews, almonds, dates.

Lunch: Lettuce Boats with walnut taco meat and avocado.

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

Snack #2: 1 plum and 2 apples.

Dinners:

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

-Zucchini Noodles With Pesto and Walnut Meat.

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

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

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

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

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

A Lesson in Gratitude

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

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

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Practice gratitude. Even when it’s difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 5 Favorite Vegan & Refined Sugar Free Treats!

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

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

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

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

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

https://notyoursugarmamas.com

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

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

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

https://www.autumnsgold.com

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

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

Vixen Kitchen Paleo Vegan Gelato $12.99

https://vixenkitchen.co

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

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

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Chips $5.99

https://paschachocolate.com

Ingredients: Organic Cocoa Mass

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

Emmy’s Organics Coconut Cookie Dark Cacao $8.89

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

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

One Year No Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Lessons From My Husband

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

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

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

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

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

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

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

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