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

Our Disney Cruise Experience

My sister, her boyfriend Brendan, Kanan and myself recently went on the Disney Wonder Halloween on the High Seas Mexican Riviera cruise. We were gone for seven days and left from San Diego. I’m a life-long Disney and princess-obsessed person so my husband knew I’d love it and suggested we take a cruise to see just how much Disney magic can be on one ship, and if the vegan food holds up in case we want to rebook for any future vacations. I thought the best way to share highlights from our experience (and perhaps some critiques as well) was to show you the best parts of our cruise and to explain any potential challenges that we experienced along the way.

Overall, the best thing about this vacation was that my phone stayed on airplane mode THE ENTIRE TIME we were on the ship, and I didn’t bring my laptop with us. This reminded me to be present and really enjoy our time there. Now I’m back from a ten-day break from everything, and a two-week break from writing. It was much needed. For all you high-achieving entrepreneurs out there that think it’s impossible to turn your phone completely off for seven days – I did it and have no regrets. It was the first vacation I’ve ever turned my phone completely off for, and to be honest, I’m unsure if I was just so tired that I didn’t care, or finally had the resolve to protect my vacation time in an attempt to recharge. Either way I had just come off of a six-month jam-packed bridal season at work (I literally had my last wedding of the year 6 days before we left), am always slammed before I leave trying to get as much as possible done, and I’m transitioning into holiday preparations. So mentally I was maxed out and needed a break.

I don’t think that I would’ve been able to keep my phone off and experience stress-free bliss for a week if I wouldn’t have been on my digital declutter journey for almost six months now. Social media has lost it’s luster and now exists as a simple work, blog, and book club communication tool. I don’t miss it, and I certainly don’t miss wasting my time scrolling. And although I’m still improving and automating more things at work, the boundaries I’ve set up for social media, email, and texting are more than sufficient to give me peace of mind when I’m gone. My sister and husband also had their phones, which they turned on occasionally, so I will admit that this helped me to be more at ease. If the pet sitter or friend watching my shop had an emergency, they have their numbers as well. But truthfully, on a boat there’s not a whole lot we could do in the event of a home-emergency except for rely on the trustworthy people we put in charge in our absence to handle it.

All in all, our vacation was wonderfully relaxing. And after sleeping for much of it, I realized that I needed a longer break when we returned. Although I did go back to work and my routine after a couple of days, I decided to take one more week off from blogging to recharge and get motivated. And it worked. This year is almost over, and depending on when I choose to do my full digital declutter, I will only have around a handful more blog posts before I take a month off to quiet my mind and come up with experiences and topics I really want to write about next year. Including what it’s like to not use most technology for four weeks. And I can’t wait.

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Departure & Our Stateroom

Getting on and off the boat and checking luggage was fairly easy. Obviously you need a passport, and Disney makes sure that you have your boarding pass and information way in advance through your online cruise account. I printed everything and put it together in an easy-to-use binder. In the future, instead of flying in that morning, we decided we would stay in one of the hotels across the street from the port. My sister and her boyfriend did that and they had a direct view of the ship from their balcony. All they had to do was walk across the street to start the boarding process, whereas we had already been traveling for hours and were exhausted by the time we got to San Diego. I highly recommend spending the night there before – the hotels are extremely close and the airport is just a few-minute cab ride to the port area, so traveling is easy and simple.

We decided to splurge and get a room with a balcony which was completely worth it. We had a beautiful view for most of the vacation. We ordered coffee and a continental breakfast to our room each morning by leaving a card out on our door the night before. Although they did not offer any vegan pastry options, it was so nice and convenient to have fruit and coffee delivered each morning at whatever time we chose. Kanan did take advantage of the croissants and donuts available though. Our room was a fair size, most of it was Disney-themed, and our housekeeping staff was fabulous. One of the nights we came back to our room and they had decorated it for our anniversary!

We had access to Disney Plus so we watched several movies throughout the week, which we loved. You are also able to view your cruise account on the stateroom TV, so you can review all the charges going to your preset credit card which is convenient. All in all we were very happy with our stateroom, and being able to enjoy the view each day was amazing.

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Ports of Call

We signed up for excursions ahead of time through our online cruise account, and planned to do something fun at each port.

Cabo San Lucas – Port #1

We signed up for the snorkel and sea adventure. Debarking was simple and organized. We had great guides who took us out on a small boat (our group had sixteen people in it) to tour the popular parts of the coastline and then we made our way to a special area to snorkel. We saw coral and tons of awesome fish, and it was perfectly hot and sunny. I had never been snorkeling before and had a great time, and felt super safe. The only change I would make in the future would be to bring my own gear, because although they provided it, I am a bit critical of germs. I would also make sure to bring more cash to tip everyone accordingly – we had only packed large bills and had to scramble to find somewhere to make change.

Mazatlan – Port #2

We had signed up for a jet boat adventure which was canceled, so we spent the day exploring with Christina and Brendan. At the port we hired a man with a van who toured us around for as long as we wanted for $25 a person. He drove us to a place on the beach to have lunch, showed us the developing parts of the city, then drove us by the popular cliff diving spot, and up to their lighthouse landmark. He waited for us at the bottom while we took the hike to the top, and the view was amazing.

Puerto Vallarta – Port #3

By this point we were all fairly tired from doing, and just wanted to relax. We found the Marriott resort – this was the only time I used Kanan’s phone to do research – it got five stars on Trip Advisor so we took a short cab ride there and it was amazing. We will definitely go back. Day passes were $37 per person and we each got so much food and beverage credit with that that we couldn’t even use it all. We spend the perfectly hot summer day eating guacamole pool-side, walking down by the ocean, and enjoying the fabulous water.

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Cruise Activities

If you go on a Disney Cruise with kids, I would imagine that the sheer amount of activities available to you would be extremely overwhelming. For us, the activities we wanted to do were fairly reasonable and mostly involved our after-dinner shows. My favorites were the Golden Mickeys – an award-style red carpet event on formal night where all your favorite Disney characters sang the most iconic Disney songs, Broadway-style. Of course I was obsessed with Frozen, the live musical. And on the last night Disney brought out all the stops with Disney Dreams, a live performance where Peter Pan reminds a young girl that anything is possible if you just believe in yourself and your dreams. He shows her by bringing out all the characters from her favorite stories who did just that – instant tear-jerker with all the feels.

In addition to those shows, there were also some comedians, a magician, a hypnotist, and several Disney movies on the big screen. The performance spaces were all comfortable and beautiful to watch shows in. Because we took the Halloween cruise, the entire ship was decorated accordingly, and on Halloween we were encouraged to dress up and participate in the festivities. There was a huge party, trick-or-treating, and then fireworks to top it off. They also had one night where everyone was encouraged to dress up like pirates, but we didn’t participate in that one. The gym was wonderful and we worked out several days we were there- it had every piece of equipment you may need and an awesome view.

What I recognized as we would walk down the halls of the ship is that going on a Disney Cruise is a repeat event for most people, and participating in all of the things is the best way to make the most of your time. Each door was decorated like high school lockers would be during homecoming week, just Disney themed instead. In the future, I will pack an entire suitcase just to decorate our room and have appropriate costumes for all events. It seems over the top and a little bit cult-y, but I’m in. It’s all about forgetting you’re a grown up for a week.

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Food

Okay vegans, the cruise food was not fantastic.

I feel like as tenured vegans watching the world evolve to accommodate our dietary choices more and more, we expect more. “Vegan” was an option to sign up for ahead of time, so of course I checked that box and assumed they would accommodate me. But on more than one occasion I felt that they were unprepared or that I was responsible for coming up with my own ideas because they simply didn’t know what to do, which was a bit tedious to deal with. For example, I would often find that the “dairy free” options available on their menus were just meat.

Our dining staff was the same the entire trip (and they were awesome) so our head server made sure I had a vegan dinner each night. Some dinners were good – like pasta or curry, but other nights they were just bad – like a bowl of plain and unseasoned lentils with a few broccoli pieces on top. The desserts were by far the best part – I got everything from strawberry whipped parfaits to beignets, but I struggled to eat them because of the fact that I knew the sugar would make me sick – which it did. But by that point in the night I was hungry and wanted to eat something good. Meanwhile my husband enjoyed five entrees each night, and just about every dessert on the menu.

Breakfasts had to be ordered the night before if I wanted something other than fruit. Room service literally offered me dinner rolls as the only “pastry” option they could deliver that was vegan. After pre ordering I did get vegan pancakes and waffles at one of the restaurants which were delicious, but also loaded with sugar. And lunches were hit and miss depending on where we happened to be and what was available. Salad and fries were always an option, although one day they did have Beyond Sausage hotdogs available, and upon request they did make us an ad hoc vegan pizza.

Overall, I was not impressed and felt as though I was responsible for coming up with food ideas for myself the entire time, which I thought was supposed to be handled by the dining staff. No one wants to think about how you’re going to get food on a cruise, where you don’t have access to a grocery store. In the future I would love to see them improve their options and actually have a vegan menu, but I would most likely type up a list of acceptable meals and foods and bring it with me to special request everything. Which seems over the top and unnecessary, but that way I won’t spend the entire vacation lethargic and sick from eating desserts, few vegetables, and definitely not enough protein.

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Our Disney Cruise experience was magical. For omnivores, I’d imagine it to be a pretty perfect vacation. As someone who chooses to be childless, I was mildly concerned that the sheer amount of children on the boat would be overwhelming and distressing to me. But for probably the same reason I love Disneyland, I loved the Disney cruise: There is a reminder at every turn to live in the moment, and see things the way that kids do. Every character, every show, every piece of confetti that fell or firework in the sky is magic to them. And watching hundreds of kids experience that wonder reminded me to feel that way. To take in the little things, show your excitement, and remember that we don’t have to ever fully grow up.

How to Move Forward When Your “Metrics of Success Have Been Blasted to Shreds.”

A story inspired by Rob Bell.

I grew up in a born-again Christian household, in a largely born-again Christian town. Church on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, youth group on Wednesday. Church camp, Vacation Bible School and field trips during the summer. No Harry Potter, no Sabrina the Teenage Witch – no dressing up “like anything scary” on Halloween. I remember church and all of it’s functions being a time to socialize with friends, but little to nothing else. Even as a small child attending Sunday school I was always aware that every teaching should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to be interpreted literally, akin to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my shelf, or my favorite Aesop’s Fables. Useful stories and cautionary tales. Written by men and usually not very feminist.

Recently I’ve shifted my thinking from a strictly atheist perspective to more of an agnostic outlook. I used to take comfort in the simplicity of believing in what you can see. In science, in practicality, in the fact that when I die all that happens is my own decomposition. Back to the earth. I haven’t quite decided what I believe in now, but what I do know is that the universe is far too complex to believe any of our senses are producing the “truth” because our scope of understanding is simply too small. I do believe that each of us is a tiny part of one larger piece – the earth, plants and animals, and that is why our joy and our suffering is so intrinsically connected. So while I do not believe in god or a creator, I do believe in purpose, in connectedness, in energy, and ultimately in the simple fact that at the fringes of what we like to believe are “scientific facts” are actually whimsical and largely unexplained phenomena that all lead back to the same theme: We can’t believe what we think we know, because at this time our lens is not advanced enough to see what lies beyond our comprehension. There is so much more that we are blind to. When my body goes back to the earth, what really is it feeding? Isn’t that exchange somehow a form of magic?

My entire life I’ve been drawn toward a sense of connectedness. To plants, to animals, and to a feeling of belonging that I can’t quite explain. It’s not a nostalgia for my past or a wish for an ideal future, but a peace I feel on certain days when the smell of wet leaves and dirt sends me off to a place where I truly belong, but haven’t been yet. Crisp air, the sound of wind chimes, and white garden roses losing their petals, my husband and our animals – it’s magic. I feel like every choice I’ve made is leading me down this path, but I’m not sure where it goes, I just know it’s right, and when I get closer, I feel it. I’ve always been good at following my heart. Until this point I’ve always chased tangible dreams. College, business, career. And then one day I realized that all of these successes are amazing, but haven’t led me toward that feeling – to that place I’ve haphazardly been traveling to since the beginning. Toward that connection to something my soul feels but my senses can’t describe or articulate. To the unknown future that I know is there for me to discover. So for the first time I’m sitting with an open heart – trusting the universe to show me why I’m being pulled toward a feeling and a life that by all accounts can’t be measured by traditional metrics of success.

I recently discovered Rob Bell, a pastor and speaker who’s sermon-like podcasts on the Robcast often shed light on feelings or dilemmas that many of us can relate to. I’ve found that when strict religious underpinnings are removed from teachings like his, I love listening to smart and relatable sermons, and often use the time to learn, reflect, and meditate on the ideas. One of his latest episodes “A Hymn For the Curve” is about those of us that are drawn to do things differently, who know things can be better so we change our behavior accordingly. For those of us that simply aren’t sure why we’re drawn to be different, but we are. We take the path less traveled and are often misunderstood. Maybe we’re ahead of the curve, maybe we see something that others can’t yet see. Maybe if everyone saw it then the change wouldn’t be needed. But it is.

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He shared a version of this story:

There are a group of people living in a village near a river. One day they notice a body coming down the river so they jump in to pull it out. Then they notice another, and another, and another. The bodies start coming down the river so fast that the people can’t pull them out fast enough.

Another group of people living nearby observe the problem and decide to help, so they build a dam to help catch the bodies. The bodies begin piling up, but their method makes it easier for them to catch more to pull out at a time. The bodies keep coming down the river at a rapid rate, and eventually the dam will break under the weight because it will become impossible for the people to keep up, even with the dam.

A third group observes both methods, and after watching for a while, they turn their backs on the other villagers and begin walking upstream.

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What we know is that the third group is going exploring. To the other villagers they appear to be dismissive. They seem uncaring and unwilling to help. But in reality, they’re traveling into the unknown to discover where the bodies are coming from and why they’re coming down the river to begin with. They are seeing what the others couldn’t see so that hopefully they can change behaviors and therefore, change the outcome.

Maybe when we’re drawn to something we can’t explain, it’s the universe leading us to the magic. Our minds just haven’t caught up yet.

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Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography