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

Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

3 Reasons It’s Hard Being Vegan

“It’s expensive.”

“My family isn’t supportive.”

“I can’t get the nutrients I need to meet my fitness goals.”

“I can’t eat anything.”

“The jokes and public ridicule never stop.”

“My husband only eats meals with meat.”

“I crave animal products all the time.”

NONE OF THOSE ARE THEM.

Do you notice any vegans complaining about these things? No – not anyone who commits to a vegan lifestyle in full for a time period long enough to reap the benefits. Why is that? Because these are actually excuses or ideas perpetuated by dominant culture, and by people who aren’t vegan. These may be occasional annoyances for vegans, but things that are truly, actually hard? No. They’re reasons people give themselves to not go vegan, because if you’ve never done it, how would you know what’s hard about it? The interesting thing about choosing to omit as much harm as possible from your life is that your perspective on what is “hard” drastically changes, because your priorities and the way that you view the world shifts dramatically. Let me explain.

1) Dominant culture assumes that vegans think we’re superior to everyone. That we’re “preachy” and believe that our moral framework is the only one that matters. The hard part about that: We are vegan because we DO NOT believe that we’re superior to anyone. Illegitimizing and silencing social movements is the norm, therefore dominant culture and what is accepted as truth is what takes on an actual role of superior “knowledge.” We are actually challenging that superiority with a different framework.

The idea that humans are the superior species is rooted in religion and history (patriarchy and white supremacy) and science has been used to justify colonization and destruction of our planet based on this assumption. Animals are here for us, not with us, and therefore we should dominate them and consequently dominate nature and the earth. Even so, throughout history only the most privileged groups of humans have truly benefited from this thinking. From my experience, even the vegans who stop eating animals for health or environmental reasons eventually conclude that we are not superior to all the other souls on this planet, we were just lucky enough to be born into the body of the species that happens to be on the top of the food chain for this very short blip in time. But the universe is vast, and to assume my life is more important that anyone else’s is not only foolish, but naive and selfish. The proof is in climate change, preventable disease, species extinction, world hunger, and institutionalized inequality.

Ultimately, I do not think that we can break down systems of power and inequality without realizing that each day, 99% of the population is choosing to dominate and kill other species based on the idea that we are inherently superior. And these choices are not only killing animals, but our earth and ourselves as well.

2) Watching my friends and family members pay to perpetuate a system I strongly want to dismantle is hard.

The closest thing I can compare this experience to is the connection people are now making with “the personal is political.” Whether you choose to admit it or not, the food choices (and basically every choice you make) is a political one. You vote for the world you want to live in every single time you spend money or make a choice. How you live your day-to-day life is your political position whether you’re willing to admit it or not, just by existing and navigating throughout your day.

Some people are beginning to realize this, and it makes it harder to separate our friends and family from their political choices. Rightfully so. It seems that until recently many of us were willing to overlook our loved ones’ behaviors and somehow compartmentalize them into a political box separate from their identity. In my opinion, that is absurd.

Therefore, choosing to be vegan is a political choice. Watching friends and family claim to love animals but then eat and wear them makes no sense. Having those closest to me seem disturbed by violent and horrific factory farming practices pay their hard-earned money to keep these businesses afloat shakes me. Most people claim to be kind and compassionate – in theory we want to do as little harm as possible because we are empathetic beings. But we have separated ourselves from our food production to the extent that our values directly contradict our behaviors. And many of us are complicit to continue down this path of least resistance even though the cost is so high. We’re consuming death, and therefore we’re dying and our planet is dying. It’s impossible for me to accept that once you know these things your behavior wouldn’t change. But most of the time, for most people, it doesn’t.

Accepting that our friends and family are the ones working in direct opposition to our goals and their own best interest (even when most of them know the truth) is hard.

3) Going vegan will cause you to hold yourself at a higher standard of behavior, and therefore recognize that it is your responsibility to challenge this unjust world to help it become better. You have to do this through example, and some are waiting for you to fail. That is hard.

It’s an extremely complex thing to explain, but once you begin to reject violence as normal, everything in your life will change. There is a consciousness shift that occurs once you remove harm from your day to day life that will ripple positivity outward into everything you do. For me, this began with going vegetarian, then vegan, then I began asking myself what other ways I’m contributing to harmfulness in the world. How can I be better? I can shop locally, I can be more mindful of the clothes I buy, I can support companies who value animal and human rights above a larger profit margin. Going vegan influences all of your decisions, and I would argue, only in a positive way. It’s like you’re systematically eliminating the negativity from your life when you stop accepting it and paying for it.

Personally, I’m more motivated to reach fitness goals because I feel more physically capable. I quit drinking alcohol altogether and try to eat less processed foods which has vastly diminished my depression and anxiety. Intellectually, veganism has encouraged me to keep learning. For the first time in years I feel motivated to write so I started this blog and have been freelancing a bit on the side. And ultimately I’m realizing that my purpose is pushing me toward education and activism so I can more formally teach these ideas. And the best part of all these positive changes is that they multiply, and spread from person to person, making my relationships and community better.

Because all of this is so AMAZING and life-changing, vegans want to share it with everyone. And few people are willing to listen, and even fewer people are willing to change. So this can be discouraging, sad, and frustrating. It can be difficult to not feel defeated and depressed because the world is changing slower than we’d like it to. That is hard.

But I come back to that mantra: “Choose your hard.” I’ve chosen truth over convenience, and I believe that is the key to happiness. As Shawn Achor says: “Happiness is striving toward your potential.” Unless you’re willing to face these truths, I don’t believe you can achieve your potential as someone who can enact change outside of yourself to make the world better. Veganism helps to widen your lens outside of your own selfish ego and personal needs to recognize knowledge is peace and that these issues are much larger than ourselves.

The “hard” things in my life now stem from a place of compassion, kindness, and positive social change.

New Goals & My Life’s Purpose

Everybody Loves Raymond is one of my favorite shows. There’s an episode where Ray decides that there must be more to life than he currently has: A successful career, a loving family, a nice home, a retirement plan. His wife Debra confronts this idea with a response like: “Maybe you feel like there’s nothing left to achieve because you have everything you’ve always wanted.” Basically, you have everything; stop complaining. This throws Ray into somewhat of an existential crisis, unsure if his current routine will fulfill him for the rest of his years. He’s only in his early forties from what I can tell and the thought of there being nothing left to achieve makes life seem repetitious and somewhat pointless. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it privilege – sometimes I think we should acknowledge those feelings as subtle encouragement from ourselves (and the universe, if you’re into that) to pursue things that we’re drawn to, even if we’re unsure the reason. Because there is usually a big reason.

The idea that because we have reached a certain pinnacle of “success” we will be happy or fulfilled is completely false. Success is arbitrary and fluid. We’ve let others define what success means for us. Research has found that external conditions have almost nothing to do with internal happiness. Getting that job may cause us to experience temporary joy but does not predict long-term happiness. Why? Because there is more to being human than getting a promotion and making more money, but that’s what we’ve been taught to strive for.

This brings up the dilemma that I’ve been pondering recently. Can I simultaneously have gratitude and live with happiness in the moment while recognizing that I need more out of this life? While acknowledging that what I am currently doing is not fulfilling my purpose?

Five short years ago I was in the darkest place that I’ve ever been. Depressed, anxious, sad. I had lost my job and a person very important to me has unexpectedly died. But now I truly believe that without losing what I thought was everything, I wouldn’t have felt free to do anything I wanted to. Which brings me to my current life that I would’ve never had, had things not fallen completely apart.

Recently I’ve started to wonder if the life that I’m living now is the facilitator instead of the end-all be-all. I have my amazing husband, my dogs, my business, my awesome sister and supportive clients because I’ve really worked hard and changed my habits to create this life. Because I currently have certain systems in place, I am now able to pursue things elsewhere that are calling me, and that have been quietly pushing me to them since I can remember. But I also recognize how temporary everything in life is, so I struggle to find the balance to enjoy where I currently am without thinking of the future all the time. I always thought that once I had worked hard enough to create this life I envisioned, I’d be content to coast – shockingly I’m finding this not to be the case. (That is sarcasm, for those of you that may not know me in person.) Coasting is okay temporarily, but I know that for me to feel fulfilled I need to contribute to my community, and to making the world a better place to live in. I’m realizing that I didn’t go vegetarian almost half my life ago on accident, my journalism degree wasn’t an arbitrary choice. I didn’t lose my job for no reason. I believe all these events were pushing me toward my true purpose. I’m realizing that perhaps turning one of my talents (makeup) into a full time successful career path is not my life’s dream and purpose, but because of it, I can pursue whatever my true purpose is. It’s confusing and difficult to face that. But for me, even writing the words “makeup is my passion” seems silly to me. Because it’s not, and I’d be lying to everyone if I said it was.

Working with amazing women who contribute to our community and world is one of my passions, helping women to feel valued is one of my passions, making deep and lasting connections is one of my passions. Contributing to making my community and world better is one of my passions. Each connection ripples out to create positive change and mutual support for us all. I feel like Two Beauties is a practical application of those passions meeting in one location. With beauty being the initial purpose that brought us together, but over the years meaningful relationships make those connections last. This whole time I’ve thought being a successful beauty professional was my end-goal, and now I’m realizing it’s not. But that doesn’t make me love it any less. After thinking this over for a long time now, I’m realizing it makes me love it even more. Because I realize how special and rare it is. How privileged I am to have created it with everyone else’s support. And how temporary all things in life are. So it encourages me to pour more heart into it. Isn’t that weird? When I initially began reflecting, I thought if I admitted these things to myself, it would influence me to put less of myself into my business, but it encourages me to do the opposite, because at the end of the day it isn’t really all about beauty, is it?

My current conclusion: You can have great gratitude and live in happiness each day even if you are pursuing new goals and dreams. As long as you’re not chasing them out of unhappiness. Why do we feel like we need to achieve something and always move on? Or correct our temporary problems by changing the scenery? Or think the next thing will be better than the last? Maybe we can add to our lives to make them more full and rich while appreciating what we already have just as much. We can love our lives already, while also adding in more lovely things.

For some reason, I keep visualizing myself in a huge open field of flowers, with a basket full of the ones I’ve already picked. Instead of dumping them out to find “new, better ones,” I’ve decided to add different ones that are just as beautiful, each one complimenting the last, until the bunch is overflowing.

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As part of this process, I’ve decided to say yes to things that make me feel uncomfortable, but that give me that gut feeling of pursuing my purpose. This is my first published article since college and my first freelance writing job ever. I have so much gratitude for the oppurtunity. It’s amazing how a little 250-word article in a local magazine can light me up and encourage me to ask these questions about my life. Being Vegan and using my writing to inform and inspire people to pursue it is what drives me, but it’s taken a long time for me to really figure that out. And I know this is only the beginning for me.

Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Edition: May 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Edition: May 2019

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Check out the full issue at:

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Tattoo Stories

I went to my first tattoo appointment about four years ago, alone. I felt like I was being unreasonably impulsive to get it when Kanan was out of town working even though I had a consultation prior, and had been mulling over one of the ideas since I was sixteen years old. At this point I figured it was now or never, but for some reason I felt irresponsible, like a teenager making a choice they can’t take back. But if I’d had the idea for a decade, it probably wasn’t going to change. I had booked out months in advance for the artist’s soonest availability and he called me with a cancellation. Honestly, I’m not the fondest of needles but at this point I was so ready for new beginnings it didn’t matter to me. I had convinced myself that whatever pain I’d feel could only be a significant improvement over the last few years.

I had the idea to get the words “Constructive Deconstruction” tattooed on the inside of my left arm the first time I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, about ten years prior. In my previous post Why I’m Vegan Part 1 I go into detail about how the book influenced me to research factory farming and animal welfare, ultimately resulting in me becoming a vegetarian, and years later, a vegan. It had changed my life significantly when I was just sixteen years old, the protagonist’s mantra, the thread that tied the story together: Tear it down to rebuild. Constructive Deconstruction. If that idea made sense to me then, it’s crystal clear now.

Fast forward to college. I was taking one of my many Women’s Studies classes and we were assigned an essay by Audre Lorde. Her paper Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference would drive the “Constructive Deconstruction” point home with a intersectional feminist perspective so powerful, I took it as a sign that I had to carry those words with me permanently.

“The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference. The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions, of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion.

For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

It gives me chills to this day even though now I have all but memorized it.

That first tattoo will always be the most deeply meaningful to me – it has become the mantra for my own life, giving me conviction to push forward and pave my own path through the pieces. Knowing that real change grows out of complete deconstruction gives me power. Knowing that I do not want to reform, and that I do not define the master’s house as my only source of support empowers me still.

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On that same day I got another tattoo that I believe is the counterpart to the constructive deconstruction idea: “Give me a reason to care, I’ll sing along forever.” A Bouncing Souls lyrics from their song Sing Along Forever on their 2003 album Anchors Aweigh. The script is my Grandma Brown’s handwriting, pulled, pieced together and traced from birthday cards and book inscriptions. She always encouraged me to read and learn, to do my own research and refuse to believe anything just because it was told to me. So I made a deal with myself. If I’m going to try to live a progressive life, if I’m going to tear things down to rebuild, I’m going to be open to the truth. I’m going to be willing to learn painful things and to relearn uncomfortable realities. I’m going to change the way I live when I learn my privilege. I’ll try my best to know better and actually do better. And if you give me that reason to care, I’ll make it one of my life’s goals to sing about it forever. Because what are ideas without action?

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I got my next tattoo a couple of years later on what I now call my “vegan arm.” I mean, my whole body is vegan, but my left arm is just more vocal about it. (Ha. Ha.) I essentially entrusted my new tattoo artist to create a half cow, half dog portrait with the words “Have courage and be kind” framing their sweet faces. And the work she did is perfection. We used a picture of a beautiful cow I found online, and a picture of my adorable border collie Moose. Connected with a flower crown, but split down the center, it’s meant to represent the idea that we’re all in this together, and we all have a responsibility to each other on this planet. Everyone’s soul matters, and the value that humans place on life is arbitrary and ignorant. I believe that everyone should have the right to their own life, and it shouldn’t be our choice to take it, no matter the species – they are a someone. The ironic part about this is that animals know this already, and they should be our teachers. They know how to be kind, and to only take life when necessary. It’s us humans that can’t figure that out.

I used the quote “Have courage and be kind” because it’s from one of my most favorite Disney movies: Cinderella. The remake. Her mother gives Cinderella this last bit of advice to her before she dies, and to me it’s simple but so complex. It’s something that I need to be reminded of daily, because having courage is only half of the equation. Finding a way to be kind in this life, to me, is the hard part. Not letting the world harden you as you discover inequalities and injustices, but being wise enough to push forward toward change with kindness in your heart and the belief that the world can be better. Hope. Knowing that kindness begets kindness, but you must have the courage to speak up and work toward change.

There’s a scene in the movie where the prince is hunting a stag and stumbles upon Cinderella on her horse in the woods.

Cinderella: “What’s he [the stag] ever done to you that you should chase him about?”

Prince: “I must confess I’ve never met him before. He is a friend of yours?”

Cinderella: “An acquaintance. We met just now. I looked into his eyes, and he looked into mine and I just felt that he had a great deal left to do with his life, that’s all… Please don’t let them hurt him.”

Prince: “But we’re hunting, see it’s how it’s done.”

Cinderella: “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.”

She shifts his thinking of the stag as a thing, to a someone. With kindness. To me, there’s nothing better than working toward that balance.

_____

The most recent tattoo I have also has a complex story. In 2012, Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Against Me! interviewed for Rolling Stone Magazine, explaining she was transgender. I kept the magazine because it was revolutionary at the time and to me, she was so brave to announce to the world that she would be identifying as a woman moving forward. I also thought it was great journalism.

Over the years I’ve gone to a few of their amazing concerts, but actually had the opportunity to meet her in person at Humboldt State University at a small acoustic show she played for around $20 a ticket to promote her book Tranny. Which is amazing. I brought my magazine from years prior that I dug out from under a million books and papers, with the off chance she might sign it for me. And she did, with one of my favorite lyrics: “There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve.” I had my new tattoo artist place this on the back of my arm, opposite my Bouncing Soul’s lyric on what I now call my “punk rock arm.”

To me, the song The Ocean represents the undying persistence to discover your true self. It represents the not-giving-up during the tumultuous repetition of life that attempts to strip you of yourself, but in doing so makes you more authentically you if you let it. It’s about that night at their concert playing The Ocean when my sister and I knew it was that exact moment where the crowd would move from jumping in symbiotic unison to violently tearing through each other in an instant, so in a half second we grabbed each others hands and held on tight. It’s the strongest and the calmest. It’s the most volatile and yet the most flexible. The ocean grounds itself around whatever obstacles appear, while ultimately being uncontrolled.

“There is an ocean in my soul, where the waters do not curve.”

_____

Tattoos 1 & 2 by Henry at Sailor’s Grave Tattoo, Eureka CA

Tattoos 3 & 4 by Stacey at Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA

Our Elopement Part 2: The Honeymoon

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

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

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

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

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

(Riverwalk, Calgary)

(Downtown Calgary)

(Downtown Calgary)

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

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

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

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

(The Fairmont, Banff Springs Hotel)

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

(Downtown Banff)

(Hike to Surprise Corner, Banff)

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

(Lake Louise, Banff National Park)

(Little Beehive Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse)

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

(Peyto Lake Lookout, Banff National Park)

(Moraine Lake, Banff National Park)

(Hike from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley)

(Larch Valley, Banff National Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Elopement Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photos: Amber Ferriman)

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

(Photo: Hennygraphy)

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

(Dress: Anna Skoblikova, Photo: Hennygraphy)

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

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

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

(Photo: Hennygraphy)

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

(Photos: Hennygraphy)

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

(Photos: Hennygraphy)

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Vendors:

https://www.hennygraphy.com

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

http://www.promisesbridalshop.com

https://lauriesarahdesigns.com

https://www.banffmountaintopflowers.com

https://floraorganicadesigns.com

http://twobeauties.org