Signing Off

I’m signing off until February first.

My biggest non-work-related goal in 2019 was to blog once a week and I almost made it! This is my 49th post this year, and while I’m proud of what I created, I’m mostly proud that I allowed myself to follow my curiosities enough to reconnect with writing. It’s led me down so many interesting paths and opened so many new doors in just one year.

But mostly, it’s opened my eyes to one big truth about myself that Elizabeth Gilbert explains so eloquently in her book Big Magic:

If I’m not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something- myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

For those of you who have followed my blog continuously throughout 2019, you’re likely aware of my “digital declutter” and the inspiration for my sabbatical from technology. For those of you who may be new to The Real Life Vegan Wife, I’ve been researching, preparing, and writing about this plan for the last six months, and my “Digital Minimalism” entries are great references for additional context.

This post is going to outline my plan to live more presently, more free of anxiety and social pressures, and to ultimately implement a long-term plan to coexist with technologies in a much healthier, (for me) minimal way. This is not meant to be a short term “break from social media” or “vacation from technology” for work. My goal is to teach myself how to use technology to my advantage when applicable, and let the rest fall away to make room for what I truly value in my life – in-person engagement with my community, time with friends and family, writing, reading, meditating, fitness and food, and growing my business without all the unwelcome mental clutter that 24/7 engagement encourages.

I plan to spend the month of January reflecting on what technologies are truly useful to me and what I do not need in my life moving forward. This will also be a time for me to sit quietly with my thoughts in order to remember (although I do have a fairly clear idea) what activities truly bring me happiness, contentment, joy and prosperity and what activities promise these things, but ultimately do not deliver. Lastly, during my month away, I plan to reconnect with my creativity in order to bring you thoughtful writing moving forward in 2020. And in order to write about interesting things, I have to actually go do or learn some interesting things. Obviously I’ll start back with an assessment of how my month off went.

Over the last six months, in an attempt to make the sting of digital minimalism hurt just a bit less, I have significantly minimized my engagement with social media and have set clear boundaries in my work life regarding communications. But in order for this plan to succeed, and for me to learn anything useful from it, I realized early on that I would have to have an outline of specific and clear “rules” and regulations that I can follow. This way I won’t become so worn down with decision fatigue that I ultimately give up mid-way through, or as soon as something becomes too inconvenient.

Here is the outline I’ve come up with so far:

Social Media Use:

Currently I use Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and have systematically reduced my usage by about 90% since I first began this experiment. I now rarely make personal posts and use my accounts strictly for business, blog, and book club purposes. I will be uninstalling these apps from my phone and will not use them at all during my digital declutter. I have determined that not posting anything for my blog (which I will not be publishing anyway for the month of January) and my business will not have any lasting negative effects on revenue or traffic. If anything, I think this will free up mental space for me to work on my business and writing in different and more efficient “big-picture” ways. After this experiment is over I hope to have a clear idea of how often I want to use social media in ways that only benefit me without wasting my time or mental energy.

Entertainment:

This includes television, radio, podcasts, news, music, video games, using the internet in any capacity and/or any apps on my phone. Since beginning this journey I have categorized all of the apps on my phone into different folders and have tracked my usage and their overall usefulness. The only apps that I will be using during the month of January are ones that I have determined to be “productive” to my overall well-being or my enjoyment of learning and that do not make me feel like they are presenting unwelcome demands on my time. This means that I will allow myself to listen to audiobooks, podcasts and music, will continue to use apps that track my workouts, my to-do lists, and my notes, but will not use my phone for internet use beyond those applications unless it is absolutely necessary for my business to function. Ie: Paying work bills online. I will not watch TV, play video games or games on my phone, and will not watch movies unless I’m going to an actual movie theater with friends or family as part of a social activity. I have curated a small media collection which includes physical subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Sunday New York Times, Veg News Magazine, and The New Yorker. These publications will be where I get my current stories and news from. My goal is to use this time to connect more closely with analog activities like reading, writing, crafting, exercise, etc. And possibly even try out some new activites.

Client & Personal Communication:

This category has been more difficult to navigate because of the work element. I use my phone to communicate with most of my clients and although I set up auto responses to all my social media accounts that instruct clients to call or email my business directly, I still struggle with constant texts, calls, and emails. I decided that the best way to handle this would be to set up specific hours during which I would respond to client communications – I have done this with an auto text response and this has been working well for the last several months. Essentially, I only respond to clients, check email and business voice mails during actual business hours, which has been a huge improvement over 24/7 checking and responding. The part that will change during my digital declutter will be how often I check these things. Currently I check my phone for messages between each client appointment during business hours, but moving forward I plan to have three designated times to check and respond to messages, therefore minimizing my overall time spent checking for communications, capacity for distraction, and therefore minimized productivity. I will set aside fifteen minutes in the morning, mid way through my work day, and then in the evening before I leave work.

As far as personal communications go, I will only read texts, emails, and listen to voicemails people send during the predetermined times I set aside for business, and will not respond unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. If someone would like to have a phone conversation we can do so during a predetermined time, but aside from that I will not be texting or emailing unless the consequences of not doing so will be negative and seriously high. I will answer phone calls from my favorites list which essentially includes close family, friends, and necessary vendors for my business before 6:30pm and then will put my phone on do not disturb so that anything received after that time will have to be from my favorites list and will be assumed to be an emergency so I will answer it.

I’m sure that I will encounter scenarios that I did not plan for, and will journal everything so that I can report back with the solutions and potential blind spots where my plans failed. Maybe this can help any of you looking to do your own digital declutter in the future.

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I’ve already experienced significant improvement with my anxiety and stress levels over the last several months working toward this goal. And I’ve successfully reallocated hundreds of hours of time to other interests or tasks. I’m excited to put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use to be able to make clear decisions regarding what I will keep in my life moving forward and what I plan to leave behind. And to be honest, I look forward to the solitude. I’ve learned that my productivity levels increase and my mood drastically improves when I allow myself time away – quiet time alone with my own thoughts, work, projects and hobbies. And while some people are content with little bits of solitude here and there, or an hour alone after work, I am learning that I require much more. Time to settle into myself and really think. Space where I can just be and exist without the constant pressures and demands of others on my time.

Recently I’ve been meditating on my young self – remembering to be more like her. Somehow when I was younger (we’re taking elementary school age) I intuitively knew solitude was the key to my creativity, incite, and peace. And I wasn’t afraid to go sit alone while everyone else was sitting together. Certainly, this means I miss out on some information, events, and even some tasks that others consider important. But I’ve made some peace with that part already because I’ve honed in on what is truly important to me, and I’m willing to let the rest go to be a happier person. After a month of reflection I’m excited to learn what my intentions and goals for 2020 will be.

I’ll see y’all in a month.

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Photo: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Frozen 2 Isn’t Just For Kids

Simply put, I think Frozen 2 was written for adults trying to find our way.

I’m not writing this post to debate whether or not the Frozen franchise is feminist, or to analyze how well (or not well) Disney represents indigenous cultures and tackles the humongous feat of teaching young minds about colonialism. Those are fantastic topics for a blog, and I’m sure there are hundreds of posts out there deconstructing every Disney film with a fine-tooth comb. So I’m taking a far different approach – spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, much of this may not make sense.

Oprah introduced me to the idea that in our lives we will be guided by what she calls “whispers.” Subtle and sometimes tiny signs from inside of ourselves (or possibly from a larger force, like the universe, “god,” or whatever you believe in) guiding us to our purpose, if we take the time to listen. Often we ignore these signs because the thought of disrupting our predictable lives to pursue anything different is scary, and journeying into unknown territory isn’t something that many of us do willingly. After a period of ignoring the whispers, the universe makes the signs bigger, and louder, and if we continue to refuse action the whisper will turn into a life-altering scream. Forcing us out of our perceived comfort zone, and right into the unknown.

“What do you want, because you’ve been keeping me awake? Are you here to distract me, so I make a big mistake? Or are you someone out there, who’s a little bit like me, who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?”

I think everyone can relate to this scenario in one way or another. You struggle with your job and consider quitting to do something more meaningful. Years go by, and every sign is pointing you to move on, but you’re afraid to leave. Then you get fired.

You’ve been in a relationship that you know is bad for you. You’re not growing and flourishing but never leave because of the consequences that action could bring on. And who wants to be single again? Then you get dumped.

You get the point. You knew all along that those things weren’t right for you, but since you didn’t take the “whispers” advice to take action, you were shoved back onto your path in a different and more disruptive way. And most of the time, it works out for the better. Because the truth is: Everything is the unknown, so you should take the risk. The mythical and symbolic river who is “full of memory” is inside of you all along.

“In her waters, deep and true, lie the answers, and a path for you… Yes she will sing to those who hear, and in her song all magic flows. But can you brave what you most fear? Can you face, what the river knows?

The idea of a comfort zone is a false construction of our minds, because anything can happen at any time and we have little control over the outcome. Sure, staying at that job that makes you chronically unhappy may be “predictable” and “safe,” but is it really? No, because you could lose it anyway. Our brain does have certain evolutionary mechanisms in place to keep us safe, but typically our everyday risks don’t include whether or not conditions are ideal for leaving the village to slay a wooly mammoth. They include things like starting a blog or going to the gym. Going on a date with someone new, or starting that Etsy shop. The only things that never change are the inevitability of time passing, our inability to control it, and the very unpredictable nature of life: Everything can and will change. So we may as well live our lives and treasure the moment.

“Some things never change, turn around and the time has flown. Some things stay the same, though the future remains unknown. May our good luck last, may our past be past. Time’s moving fast it’s true. Some things never change, and I’m holding on tight to you.”

Then we have a piece of this equation that I think is often omitted from the “life’s purpose” discussions: The idea that since we’re adults we know everything. I believe that a huge piece of the happiness puzzle is related to realizing that we know very little, almost nothing. As an adult we have constructed a complex memory of truths: How things are and should be, what is safe and what isn’t, how our lives should be lived, and what is ridiculous and unbelievable. Our sense of wonder and unknowing evaporates over time, and I think for a lot of us disappears altogether. Again, these shortcuts have been constructed in our human brains to make living easier. If we looked at everything with new and wondering eyes each time, we’d be a lot like Dory wandering through the ocean and we wouldn’t get much done. But there is definitely an argument out there for why that might make us happier, even if evolutionarily we may not last long. We essentially train ourselves to see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. This can be depressing if we focus on what a small and myopic version of our world this lets us in on, or it can be exciting if we realize that there is so much more to discover if we allow ourselves to open our eyes in different ways to see something new.

Ultimately, the realization that we know almost nothing and understand very little can lead to a sense of peace with the unknown (which is everything). And I think it can help us to see more of our life and world through the wondrous eyes of a child (or a magical snowman) if we realize that nothing makes sense once we’re older, we will not feel more secure, and we’re okay with that.

“Growing up means adapting, puzzling at your world and your place.”

We’re never done growing up, so the universe is full of possibilities and magical things we can’t even begin to comprehend. We may as well keep learning and growing. The real unknown, in my opinion, is positive. It’s the journey you go on with yourself as you discover who you can be. Self discovery can be difficult, and simultaneously rewarding. Shedding your old skin to inhabit a new one should constantly be happening on our journey to becoming more of ourselves and discovering our purpose. Stepping into your power, or “showing yourself” will be disruptive, life-altering, and you may even feel like you’ve lost everything to get there. But it is possible to struggle and to be more empowered than ever in the same moment. “Do the next right thing” applies to everyone, and I think is particularly useful advise for adults who find ourselves constantly lost. A live-in-the-moment step by step approach can help us through difficult times, but can also help us to appreciate the great ones, once we’re ready to learn.

“Show yourself. Step into your power. Grow yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for, all of your life. Show yourself.”

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

Let’s Be Better At Loss

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s better to just do it afraid.”

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

Let’s apply this to loss.

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

It’s better to just do it afraid.

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

#1) Don’t say nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Kimberly Ann Photography

Notes From the Humboldt County Blackout

When was the last time you sat in your living room laughing at shadow puppets cast onto your ceiling in the dark? Cozy pajamas, flashlights, blankets, candles, and good company. No television or computers, phone use is limited, and leaving the house is discouraged. Especially at night when most of the traffic lights aren’t working and the dead street lights emit an eerie tone on the dark sidewalks. But the stars and moon seem to shine brighter than you’ve noticed in the past, even out here in the pacific northwest.

When I got the text message at nearly 7pm on Tuesday night alerting me to the fact that power at my house and my business was being shut off at midnight, for an unknown amount of time, I did not instantly see the silver lining. For those of you that may not have heard, in an attempt to prevent more devastating wildfires from taking place, the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric has decided to implement outages in high-risk locations during extreme weather conditions. The national weather service had declared a high-wind and low-humidity situation throughout huge areas of the bay area and into the northern areas of California. Although our temperatures have been hovering around a cool sixty degrees this week, we did have fairly high winds on Wednesday, and our power here is dependent on lines that run through Shasta county where the weather patterns are much warmer. So out we went.

For an area as secluded and rural as Humboldt county, you’d think we’d handle our shit better. There’s just no way to say that better. Unfortunately the communications from PG&E to the public and local media were lacking. Around 6pm my clients began asking if we were still scheduled for appointments on Wednesday. At that point the only notification I had received was a text message at 11:40am saying “To protect public safety, PG&E may turn power off overnight” with a link to click on for more information. I clicked it, and their website wouldn’t work. I chalked it up to the work they’ve been doing on the gas lines near downtown (since I get notifications from them often). Turning power off “overnight” shouldn’t be a problem.

After several more client texts began to come through, I started to panic. I tried PG&E’s website again, and it finally loaded. I typed in my business address into their outage information page and when the words “area not affected” came up, I assumed our power would stay on. But to double and then triple check I went to the San Francisco Chronicle and ABC News’ websites to cross reference their maps of affected areas in California. Humboldt County showed nothing – hovering hundreds of miles north of the bay area, no colors identifying it in any special way. But if you checked any local news outlet’s social media or current breaking news feeds, all everyone was talking about was the power being shut off at midnight for as long as five days, or even a week. And then at 7pm I got the official text that we were being shut off too – but no one knew for how long.

Yes, the notice was short, and the potential financial impact on local business closures could be massive. I get that. And truthfully that was the only thing I was concerned about. Missing a week of work can be devastating, and since I already have a greatly impacted schedule, working all of my days off to fit clients in can make my busiest season seem all but intolerable. And I had two clients getting married on Saturday. As I texted clients to let them know that I simply would not know until the morning whether my business would be open or not, I thought about the local media stations’ speculation and the fact that PG&E’s website kept crashing with traffic. And so the chaos ensued.

What will the zombie apocalypse look like? Humboldt County hours before a supposed five-day blackout with minimal notice. Sans the actual zombies. Local media channels show lines at gas stations extending out far into the street, empty grocery store shelves, shopping carts full of water, every single store sold out of ice and generators. It feels like when midnight comes, the world will end. Maybe it will.

My sister had to go to several stores to get a portable battery because they were sold out everywhere. The roads were mayhem. At that point I had contacted all my clients, charged my portable battery, and my husband had cranked up the freezer to make more ice and freeze ice packs for the cooler. It’s my raw vegan week. We’ll not only eat well, but extra healthy during the blackout. We feel prepared with our disaster preparedness kit, fruit trees in the back yard, and almost full tanks of gas. And because of that, I was privileged enough to know we’d be perfectly fine for a week with no power, so I decided to hunker down. If this means preventing devastating wildfires, we’re in. I left the house twice in the early morning hours to check on my business – the first day when the power was completely out I took both of my dogs with me, should I encounter anyone in downtown causing trouble in the pitch black.

Needless to say, the atmosphere that a blackout creates is eerily quiet. It’s that feeling you get when you sense someone is watching you, only there probably isn’t. There just isn’t any noise to drown out the thoughts.

Just as soon as the power had gone out and we had all accepted our fate, the power came back on. I missed one day of work, but on Thursday, Humboldt County was back to business as usual. Not before PG&E workers were threatened with violence, a small amount of looting happened, and several people had gotten into minor scuffles, not unlike the usual Black Friday shenanigans we’re used to seeing on the evening news. No pun intended?

I had spent the blackout doing work from my car with my cell phone plugged in, getting a good and uninterrupted workout done, and then playing board games, talking, and eating by candlelight with my family.

Kanan mentioned how bright the stars looked without the glow of light pollution. And seemed to enjoy walking around delivering the mail in a world where for just one beautiful day, people got to take a big break. From work, from school, from their televisions, phones, and computers. From obligations. He walks around every single day and found the sheer amount of people working in their yards, walking their dogs, and just being outside refreshing.

The blackout got me thinking about a world that is rapidly changing. About how our daily food, water, and energy consumption is having real, material consequences that everyone can see. Will we recognize our wasteful habits and evolve accordingly? How will we adapt to climate change and it’s implications? What will happen to the people in areas that do have more extreme temperatures when the power goes out? And for those of us with a roof over our heads and food in the cooler- will we learn to appreciate the quiet and prepare our businesses for the darkness?