My Day With Oprah

I spent this week researching and writing about the blatant connections between large-scale animal agriculture and disease in humans. And until last night, I had planned on today’s post being about that specific cycle of speciesism and the commodification of life producing dire consequences for human health and safety. Because to a vegan (and a whole lot of scientists) the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

After leaving my small business yesterday where I spent about ten hours talking to many women I consider friends, I decided that now isn’t the right time for that content. I’m not suggesting that “fluff,” or timely distractions are the answer to panic, uncertainty and fear. But I am suggesting that a good writer knows when to steer the audience to something positive until the true reality of a situation can be assessed and absorbed. We’re in the speculation phase of COVID-19, and the last thing anyone needs right now (myself included) is more uncertainty or stress about the unknown. My goal in helping others make a connection between eating animals and sickness can wait for another day when introspection is an option, and the initial reaction has ceased.

So today, I’m talkin’ about Oprah!

Yes, the one and only, Oprah Winfrey and her Your Life in Focus tour. I snagged my mom, sister, and myself tickets to go last month in Los Angeles, and now I can officially mark “seeing Oprah live” off of my bucket list.

First of all, let me explain that as a latchkey kid with limited access to television, it quickly became my after-school ritual to watch The Oprah Show with my sister. Later, as an aspiring news and editorial writer in my high school and early college years I idolized Oprah for her humble beginnings in broadcast journalism. Her ability to consistently ask the right questions provoking a spectacular interview and a deeper look into what it truly means to be human were skills any writer hoped to hone even half as well as she does. Fast forward to present-day – I listen to both of her podcasts: Supersoul Conversations and Oprah’s Masterclass on a regular basis. As a woman and an entrepreneur I look up to her even more now for her unapologetic attitude toward her fantastic success – she is truly a force. But I believe her true talent is in balancing that incredible power and energy elegantly with a genuine empathy and an unbelievable presence that draws truth from people coming from every center and walk of life. She is one talented lady.

We spent roughly seven hours at the event. It began with a full-on dance party of around 13,000 people followed by an extensive talk Oprah gave about her health and wellness journey. Throughout the day several experts took the stage to lead us through dances, guided meditations, and breathing exercises. Then to wrap up the show Oprah gave another in-depth talk about her background which led us into an interview with Jennifer Lopez. It was amazing, and I am so glad that I took the time to go.

Throughout the day, Oprah would instruct us to open our workbooks (which she provided in our gift bags at the start of the show) and she guided us through them, step by step to hone in on what our wellness focus and intentions will be moving forward, and how we will accomplish real change in our lives through commitment to these specific goals.

One of the first things you see in the workbook are the words

“You are here. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Then Oprah’s definition of wellness:

“Wellness for me is simply all things in balance. We long for a life without constraint, free from conflict, fear, or judgment– where our health, relationships, career, and finances coexist in perfect flow with our spiritual center. This is the highest form of well-being.”

I thought the most useful way for you to see what we spent much of our day with Oprah doing would be for you to participate, and for me to candidly share my results with you from my own workbook. These are the answers I wrote on the spot, and they have not been edited. I know they may be a little hard to read, but I did the best I could to brighten up the photos for you.

The first step was to figure out our “wellness quotient” through a series of questions, because it is hard to know where you want to go if you have no idea where you actually are.

“Knowing where you are on your journey is a gift. It grounds you in the moment and guides you to a hopeful future. Knowing why you’re on this path creates intention, which gives you the motivation to take the next right step.”

113 was my total. “Purpose” and “relationships” were tied. And the phone number is one you can text if you want help with your goals!

After we finished this section, she walked us through setting our wellness intention, because she, like me, believes that

“You don’t get what you want; you get what you intend.”

We did this by first, writing down and examining a time where we set a goal that we didn’t accomplish. More often than not, we did not accomplish this goal because our intentions did not align with the truth of who we really are. For example, I listed “Opening a business with a partner” as my goal that ultimately failed. I wanted to achieve this goal to “combine our talents and provide them to the community, to make money, to move forward in my career, and to employ more people in my town.” Those all seem like good intentions, but when you turn the page there are a list of underlying motives for accomplishing these goals. I read them through, and ultimately decided that underneath those reasons for opening that particular business with that particular partner I also wanted to: “prove something to someone. I wanted to win and to live up to someone else’s expectations. I felt obligated, and I felt like I was supposed to want it.” The goal failed because the “why” did not match up with the true person I am.

The next step was setting our intentions, because when they are not clear it is hard to accomplish specific things, and it is impossible to see if those goals line up with what is truly right for ourselves. I decided to set a general mind, body, and spirit intention with an understanding of how this intention will bring me more meaning and fulfillment.

Then Oprah says:

“The commitment to do well and be well is a lifetime of choices that you make daily. The space to live in is not ‘I’ll try.’ Not ‘I want to.’ Not ‘I really want to.’ It’s ‘I have decided.’”

Which leads us to the last part of the workbook where we commit by setting three healthy habits based on the areas of focus we determined from our “wellness quotient.” I didn’t include “nutrition” because for me, that’s not something I want to actively work on at this time. And then we conclude with a contract to ourselves that will hold us accountable.

Honestly, I have to admit that most of this introspection I’ve done before. Countless times. It’s in my nature to plan goals, explain them, and execute them through planning. If you follow this blog regularly, or you know me in person, you know this to be more than true. But what it did do for me was something unexpected and interesting. It challenged me to level up, and to expand my goals beyond myself and my own wellness and to really think about what that truly means. The bigger picture. There is always room for improvement and self-growth, and I have made my mental and physical health a serious priority that I work on daily. But what I realized is that I’ve been thinking too small. I’ve outgrown many of these goals because thankfully they’ve evolved from goals into my daily practices. Lately I’ve been feeling lost searching for new things to strive for. I think the key is to keep searching.

“Nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented. Opportunity will rise to meet you.”

-Oprah Winfrey

Sensi Magazine Freelance Work

Happy Saturday!

For those of you that follow The Real Life Vegan Wife regularly, you may be aware that one of my 2019 goals was to start this blog and to freelance for at least one other publication. My intention was to start spending real time with writing again, and to contribute in a positive way to my local community. In 2020, my goal remains similar. Just keep doing things that I enjoy or find interesting, write about them, and keep sharing them with you.

Every day I’m grateful for the opportunities these goals have presented. Here are my latest articles in Sensi Magazine: Emerald Triangle that showcase some awesome local businesses!

-Liz

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Full Issue: https://issuu.com/sensimediagroup/docs/2019.12_dec_et_hr

Vida Sana Studio: https://vidasanastudio.com

The Club: https://thecluboncentral.com

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Full Issue: https://www.sensimag.com/emeraldtriangle/issue/january-2020/#stories

Hatchet House: https://www.hatchethousethrowing.com

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I had to throw this feature in for good measure! My take on my favorite vegan carrot cake recipe from the Six Vegan Sisters blog. Enjoy! (And yes, that is actually the cake I baked.)

Original Recipe Credit: https://www.sixvegansisters.com/2018/12/15/carrot-cake/

Give Yourself Permission to be Vegan – My 4 Year Veganniversary Post

When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.

Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.

Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.

Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…

So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.

A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.

#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”

This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.

I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.

Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?

To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.

#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.

Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.

People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.

If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.

I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.

So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA

I Guess I’m A Digital Minimalist Now

My digital declutter ended about three weeks ago. After submitting a short article about it to the editor of the local magazine I freelance for, she had some logistical questions. I thought that the most beneficial way for me to answer these questions (and some others that I’ve gotten from friends and clients) would be to work them out in real time, on the blog. That way you can benefit from the broken-down, simplified answers. It’s important to be philosophical and introspective, but what about real-life application and practicality? This post is meant to wrap up my digital declutter series by breaking it down to it’s simple foundation – the “bones” of the experiment. That way you can move forward with practical tools and ideas to help implement digital minimalism principles into your own life.

Question 1: Was quitting all unnecessary technology hard?

The short answer is yes. Like any major lifestyle change, it was difficult for about the first week while I re-acclimated. That is exactly why I constructed a plan to implement less technology use over time, that way when I went “cold turkey” it was not such a shock to my system. I also defined what things I absolutely “needed” for my safety, and for my business to function properly, so I did not go 100% tech-free. Remember, it is a “digitally minimal” lifestyle, not a lifestyle completely devoid of all technology use.

The key to success is to have a plan. It’s as simple as that.

Question 2: What was your plan and how did you implement it?

The first thing I did was figure out how much technology I was using to begin with.

I would like to stress this point:

WITHOUT KNOWING HOW MUCH YOU ARE USING TECH, YOU WILL NOT HAVE AN OBJECTIVE STARTING POINT FROM WHICH TO REDUCE IT.

Numbers don’t lie.

For six months prior to my declutter experiment I tracked social media, texting, emails, and miscellaneous internet use, totaling out everything and writing the times down in my journal. I made it a point to reduce my consumption, if even by a small percentage, or a few minutes each week. After six months, I had reduced my consumption significantly (by about 80%) by just tracking it, and reducing it by nominal, almost unnoticeable (at the time) increments. This helped me to put into perspective how much time I was wasting, and how truly unnecessary most of the technology we spend our time with is.

The next part of my plan had to do with the actual 31-day period of time when I’d go without any technology that was not “necessary.” This means being extremely honest with yourself.

JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT DOES NOT MAKE IT NECESSARY FOR YOUR HEALTH, SAFETY, OR MAINTENANCE OF YOUR LIVELIHOOD.

Seriously.

I went through all the things I use and basically figured out what I could omit without it having serious real world implications for myself personally, or for my business.

I:

• Deleted email, social media, entertainment streaming, and shopping apps off of my phone. I decided that I could check email at work during business hours only, and taking a break from all the other things would be FINE.

For all of you small business owners who think the world will go up in flames if you do not participate in social media for one month, this is for you:

IT WILL NOT. AND YOU NEED THIS EXPERIMENT MORE THAN ANYONE TO SHOCK YOU BACK INTO HAVING SOME PERSPECTIVE.

I was you. The time away will HELP your business.

• Did not watch TV unless it was a movie that I specifically wanted to watch as part of a social activity with others. So no streaming, mindless watching, watching anything alone, commercials, or background noise. Yep, this means if you cohabitate with others who watch TV, you will spend a lot of time in the other room. This will be weird and isolating at first, but then you will realize it’s actually quiet and wonderful alone time.

• Only texted and checked emails during three fifteen minute, predetermined time frames. This included personal and business text/emails. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. If I was at work that day, I would schedule these in so I wouldn’t miss them, giving me an excuse to check my phone later. If someone wanted an immediate response, they would have to CALL me. All business was responded to during business hours, and NEVER outside of them. I set up an auto-text response so these hours were very clear for clients.

• Allowed myself to use technology that does not drain my energy, but enriches me. I know this is very subjective, but I encourage you to really dig deep when determining what these areas are for yourself. The whole point of this experiment is to differentiate between technology that promises value, and technology that actually delivers it for you specifically. I allowed myself unlimited podcast and audiobook listening. I still used my phone calendar, weather app, to do list app, my fitness apps, and Pinterest (for recipes only!).

• Did not use my phone for ANY internet surfing or searching at all. I set this hard and fast rule so that it couldn’t spiral out of control. If I needed to look anything up, pay bills, or do things for my business that required the internet, I waited to do it at work.

• Allowed myself room to fail. I had a situation come up where it was necessary that I use the internet to email and sign documents. I did this outside of my normal digitally minimal parameters. But in my opinion, it was necessary and I wasn’t going to let that ruin the rest of my experience. So I just made sure to take care of business, and then go back to my plan.

Question 3: Did your husband do it with you? How did that go?

No he did not. In the beginning it was difficult to see him constantly watching TV or being on his phone when I wanted to interact or not remove myself from the space he was in to go be by myself. But I got used to it after about a week. And I did notice as time went on that he was watching a bit less TV so we could eat dinner together, or relax before bed together which I really liked. He respected my boundaries but all in all, we did spend a lot more time apart.

I realized that just because we’re in the same room does not in any way mean that we are actually spending quality time together, and being around a noisy TV puts me in an instant bad mood if I don’t like what’s on. So after a while, I started to value my quiet, alone time, and noticed that when I get to spend my time reading or listening to a podcast instead of passively watching something I don’t like, I’m in a much better mood, and I’m much more relaxed after a long day. Noise just drains my energy.

Question 4: Have I gone back to how I was before?

No. Nor will I. I have made slight adjustments, but plan on living a digitally minimal life moving forward. I am much happier, and more mentally alert and productive this way.

I obviously have gone back to posting to social media and my blog once per week. I do not go on social media more than this. I download the apps to my phone to make my posts and then delete them right after. I plan to post using this same method for my business on occasion, but this stepping away from social media has actually had positive impacts on my business, allowing me to work on bigger ideas and projects which produce better, tangible results. If my books are full at work then it is irrelevant how much time I spend on social media.

I do not plan on putting email back on my phone ever. Checking it at work is just fine. I no longer respond to potential business through social media – everyone gets an auto response to call or email. This will not change. I did not reinstall any other streaming or shopping apps. I don’t need them, and they are a waste of time.

I have been more lax with my internet and texting use – straying away from the fifteen minute intervals, three times daily. But I can already notice that this is beginning to drain my energy, so I plan to figure out a happy medium where I can use the internet and check texts, but not do it all day. I like to be able to plug my phone in and just leave it alone.

And with TV, I have started watching some again, but I plan to make sure that the time spent there remains small.

Question 5: Would you recommend a digital declutter for others?

Yes. Just have a plan and stick to it. I wouldn’t waste time doing it for any period of time shorter than 2-3 weeks. Less than that, and it’s not long enough to reap real benefits, in my opinion. I felt like a month was perfect.

Question 6: What was your favorite part of your experience?

Aside from learning A LOT about myself, it was all the reading I did. My attention span dramatically increased and my real, true love for reading and learning was reignited. I read FOURTEEN books in January. Last year, I read 21 TOTAL.

My new life goal is to learn how to feel like my true self- how I felt in my favorite wedding picture of myself, as often as possible. Purely happy and free.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Resources: https://www.calnewport.com

2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker

One Year No Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Lessons From My Husband

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

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

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

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

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

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

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

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Wedding Photos:

https://www.hennygraphy.com