Digital DeClutter Diaries Part 1: I can think.

On the fourth day I began to think I had gone down some sort of mental rabbit hole that I wasn’t sure I could retreat from. That statement likely comes across as unnecessarily melodramatic, but it remains the best way to describe the swift losing of what I thought was my mind, in order to replace it with what actually is my mind, or rather myself.

Let me explain.

As the month I spent without unnecessary technology use comes to a close, I realize that ultimately my month “away” gave me the opportunity to temporarily grasp a small piece of what it feels like to be me. A pinhole glimpse into my understanding of who I’ve become. Not nearly large or tangible enough to hold onto or fully comprehend. But just wide enough to intrigue my interest and teach me that this experiment was really just the beginning of some more complex journey to widen that pinhole, if just slightly. Draw out the blackened edges little by little. Turn what feels like a metaphorical lesson from a dream into something I can hold in my hands.

What I thought would be 31 days to reduce anxiety, social pressures, and redefine what activities are important to me turned into 31 days of exploring around in my own head. I thought it would be all reading, and working out and time with friends and family without constant pressure from emails, social media, TV, and texting. It was all of those great things, but I had to go through this experiment in order to stop missing the point:

The real opportunity to learn lies beyond the simple omission of all the world’s noises and ideas. What remains in their absence is room for myself, which is the most important discovery of all.

The clean slate I forgot I was even capable of being. The ability to let my mind wander however it wanted to, sometimes for however long it could, with no interruptions. The freedom from input, from distraction and attention-grabbing, from anything that is the opposite of solitude. Which I still define as simply being alone with your own thoughts, not necessarily physically alone.

In the beginning it was easy. I liken it to a food detox. You feel great for that first couple of days. It’s easy and simple. I can give it up, no problem. Life without it will be so much better. Healthier. It’s quiet here. No one to bother me. No TV or internet to distract me. Reading all day with a cup of tea feels like vacation. Until it’s your third day in a row, and all the errands that used to take days to complete take a few hours, total. And I’ve worked out, and meditated, and spent my allotted fifteen minutes texting clients back, and cleaned the house, and did all my laundry, and it’s somehow 10:30am.

I seriously began to wonder what I was going to do with 31 days as I anxiously awaited a work day. A clear direction, tasks. It’s that moment when you realize you are truly addicted to sugar and you cannot possibly go without it because it is literally in everything. How is it in everything?!

Time slowed down and I watched it happen. It began to creak by, painfully slowly.

I had to have that moment of panic to realize that what was happening to me was exactly what I asked for. For life to slow down long enough for me to think. On the fifth day I woke up, meditated and immediately thought to myself: For the first time in as long as I can remember, my brain is waking up. I feel like I’m thinking clearly.

For the last decade or longer I’ve felt like someone sitting in a room while twenty radios play just as many different stations at miscellaneous volumes. I picture myself strapped to a chair with something covering my eyes. While it’s difficult to focus on one song long enough to really hear it, if I manage to do so, it would only be for a second before another song would cut in. Twenty songs or commercials or news reports always competing. If something familiar comes on, maybe I could concentrate on it long enough to sing along, only to have that song end and another immediately begin. What this model promises is always the same, whether we enjoy one of the stations, whether we recognize a song or find value in one of the news reports, the ultimate result remains identical: The last thought I have time, space, or energy for is the one in my own head.

Everything is a response to something else.

I went from that room, to a room with nothing in it at all. Or at least that’s what it felt like at first. Just me inside an empty room with the loud sounds of my own breathing. No blindfold because there’s nothing to see. No chair because there’s no where to go. Once the initial panic starts to wear off I realized that I can put whatever I want inside that room. I was the one who put the radios in, and cranked them up, and refused to remove them. I was the one that blindfolded myself and refused to get out of the chair, and now I was the one that decided to shut it all off. Suddenly. And I can always leave the room. Or put things back into it.

That’s when things shifted from scary to interesting. Because holy shit; I can think.

On day six I wrote: “All I know is that right now I feel like the volume of my thoughts has gotten turned way up, so I’m trying really hard to listen.”

Although this post is rife with metaphor (apologies), there is truly no better way to explain this experience. My attention and concentration has improved, my dreams and meditations are more insightful and introspective, and I’m beginning to remember myself.

On day nineteen I continued: “As I think about how my mind feels woken up and truly focused for the first time in years, I wonder what that means for my brain – what dormant state has it been in? I wonder if anxiety isn’t always a response to something outside myself, but rather my own thoughts suppressed to the point that anxiety and depression manifest from their frustration and inability to break free – to get out.”

Which leads me to my next observation: I can feel.

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.”

Christmas Time is Here!

Today is the three year anniversary party for my business Two Beauties Skincare & Makeup Artistry. My official opening date is November 1, 2016 but because Christmas is my favorite holiday I made it a tradition to celebrate in December during my favorite night in old town Eureka. Every first Saturday of the month businesses in the historic old town section of Eureka stay open late for shopping, snacks, and art displays. When I moved to northern California and first started going to “Arts Alive” nights I always looked forward to the Christmas edition of this tradition.

Downtown is decorated, it’s cold out, and that special holiday spirit is in the air. I’d walk around in awe of how beautiful Eureka and it’s small businesses are – all lit up and glowing. The street lights shining through the mist and fog rolling in from the water. Like a glimpse into the past – what shopping for Christmas must have looked like before malls and the internet. Buying presents from people you know, watching them gift wrap your trinkets, knowing you’re supporting community. I love how many people come together to support our little town and it’s traditions. Back then I never would’ve dreamed I’d have a store front on second street, that I’d be a small business owner and a real part of this tradition. And what a journey it’s been already.

Today, as I prepare for my one big party a year – a way to celebrate my wonderful clients, our beautiful small town, and the magic of Christmas, I decided to show you how I decorate. At work and at home. For those of you that know me personally, maybe you’ve seen my shop and my home and can use this blog post for decorating and shopping inspiration. I’ll share the local vendors I used for my beautiful Christmas Arts Alive display at work, and then show you how I set up my house to reflect my love of the holidays. For those of you that may not know me, or have never visited my studio, I hope that this post is a way for you to get to know me better – an inside look at the things that make me happy.

While I’m aware that “things” are not what the holidays are about, I do recognize that I am very connected to the environments that I create for myself, and the feelings they evoke. When I take the time to create spaces that look and feel magical, that helps me to feel happy and content to just be and exist in the moment. Last night I locked up at work, about an hour and a half later than usual at the end of an eleven hour day, and I took the time to stand on the quiet sidewalk outside my front window and just look. Cardboard boxes full of décor in hand, I just let myself stand there and feel gratitude for what we’ve made. Local businesses are truly a creation of an entire community.

And I had a thought. As the years go by and I learn, grow, and get to know myself better, I realize that Christmas is my favorite holiday because of the magic that is easier to see. I’ve always been someone who notices the whimsical in the ordinary, the reality in the imaginary and the fairy-tale in every day circumstances. I’m given two ordinary options, and often times I’d rather create a third more extraordinary one for myself. I know Santa Claus isn’t real, but really, isn’t he? And why not believe? I’d lost that part of myself for a while – the part that insisted on believing – and lately I’ve been recovering it. Bit by bit. Because being solidly grounded in logic is good, but when that’s all you see, life becomes boring and soulless. And after all, reality is subjective anyway.

And so I’ve discovered that Christmas is that time of year when almost everyone is willing to recognize and believe a little more in magic. The trick is to learn to see that magic around us every single day of the year, because I know it’s there, somewhere.

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Work Display Vendors:

Photography: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

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

Hair: Trimmed & Pinned Hair Studio

https://m.facebook.com/Trimmedpinnedhairstudio/

Wardrobe: Shipwreck Boutique

https://m.facebook.com/shipwreckeureka/

Florals: Flora Organica Designs

https://www.floraorganicadesigns.com

Display Stand & Sign: Barri Jean Designs

https://www.barrijeandesigns.com

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Notable Etsy Shops For Holiday Home Decor:

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

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

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

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My Favorite Local Shops For Holiday Decor:

Ferndale Emporium http://www.ferndale-emporium.com

The Farmer’s Daughter https://m.facebook.com/pages/category/Home-Decor/The-Farmers-Daughter-110728025661214/

Golden Gait Mercantile https://www.goldengaitmercantile.com

Land of Lovely https://landoflovely.com

Pierson’s https://www.thebighammer.com

Sekoya Botanicals https://sekoyabotanicals.com

Main Street Gift Co https://www.mainstreetgiftco.net

We also do a fair amount of holiday decor shopping at Michaels, and at a store called Paddington Station in Ashland, Oregon. https://paddingtonstationashland.com

What A Refined Sugar Free Vegan Eats on Thanksgiving

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

With Christmas quickly approaching, I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to the amazing refined-sugar-free and vegan foods I prepared, served and ate this Thanksgiving.

My intention is to shed light on how easy cooking without refined sugars, meat, dairy and eggs can truly be. Whether your intention is to host a more inclusive and cruelty-free holiday meal in the future, or simply to contribute a vegan dish to an otherwise non-vegan-friendly family gathering, I’m here to help.

To me, being truly thankful for this human experience means honoring all beings on this planet as equally as possible. Eating plants is compassionate, nourishing, and kind – to ourselves, our earth, and the animals we are blessed enough to live amongst. Let’s cook more peacefully.

-Liz

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Thanksgiving Eve Dinner: Vegan “Hamburger Helper”

We have a tradition that when possible my sister will stay the night before major holidays, so I wanted to cook us a yummy vegan dinner. I decided to use this delicious mushroom stroganoff recipe by Ela Vegan. I made the recipe as directed, but doubled the seasoning, liquids and cornstarch, added a bag of slightly thawed (but not cooked) Boca Crumbles, and about 8oz of cooked Fusilli pasta noodles. And there you have it- my version of Hamburger Helper- delicious and vegan.

https://elavegan.com/vegan-mushroom-stroganoff-gluten-free-recipe/

Thanksgiving Brunch: French Toast & Sausage

This recipe seems like it should be simple, but until recently there just simply was not an egg replacement product that I deemed worthy of using for a real, delicious french toast. Then Just Egg happened.

https://www.ju.st/en-us/products/consumer/egg/egg

I haven’t used this product for scrambling or savory cooking yet, but it’s now a staple for my french toast making, and the fact that it’s cholesterol-free and packed with protein is just a plus. I purchase mine at my local COOP, but Safeway and other major chains are now carrying it.

Recipe:

1 loaf Sweet French Bread cut into 1″ slices

(I use Brio bread from a local bakery because it’s vegan. Check the ingredients on any bread you buy, but most home-made or bakery-fresh bread will be vegan.)

Mix:

1 container Just Egg

1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

2 Tbsp Plant Milk of Choice

Cinnamon to taste (I add a lot.)

Whisk together, soak bread on both sides, then cook in a non-stick pan.

This makes plenty of toast for 3 or 4 people. Serve with pure maple syrup, and Earth Balance butter. As a side I cooked a package of Beyond Meat sausages.

Snacks & Desserts:

-Spinach Dip & Bread: We cut up little squares of Brio Sourdough bread (also vegan) and make the Spinach Dip recipe on the back of this Knorr packet. It’s so yummy, and the mix only has a tiny bit of added sugar. I prefer to use Follow Your Heart brand vegan mayonnaise and Tofutti brand sour cream as substitutes.

-Blueberry Muffins: These muffins are super simple, healthy, and delicious! I got the recipe from the Two Raspberries blog, but use 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup mixed into the wet ingredients instead of cane sugar. They bake the same.

https://tworaspberries.com/amazing-blueberry-muffins/

-“Twix Bars:” These bars of peanut butter chocolate goodness do not taste at all like Twix to me, but are very similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, in a bar form. I got the recipe from the Ambitious Kitchen blog. Since I use dark chocolate chips with no sweetener (Pascha brand), I added a touch of maple syrup to the top layer mixture as well. They keep best in the refrigerator in a Pyrex container with parchment paper separating them.

https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/healthy-peanut-butter-twix-bars/

-Chocolate Chip Cookes: I got my friend Kelly’s permission to post her amazing chocolate chip cookies. They’re THE ONLY refined sugar free cookie recipe that I’m obsessed with. They’re also vegan and gluten free! I use the Pascha chocolate chips in this recipe as well.

Dinner: Tofurky, Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli Cheese Casserole

-Tofurky: We bought the Tofurky that comes in a set with gravy and a mini chocolate cheesecake. You can purchase this almost anywhere now, but I do notice that the health food stores tend to sell out closer to the holidays.

The Tofurky is extremely easy to make- you essentially thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then bake it for an hour and 45 minutes, and baste it twice with veggie broth. For those of you that are curious, it does not taste like tofu, and it has more of a substitute meat-type texture. Think Garde-in chicken tenders. The gravy is not phenomenal, but is good. And the cheesecake has sugar so I did not eat it, but I remember it being pretty delicious in previous years.

-Mashed Potatoes: Use whatever recipe you have and prefer but substitute Earth Balance butter and Tofutti sour cream for your dairy additions!

-Broccoli Cheese Casserole: I got this recipe from the Connoisseurus Veg blog and make it exactly as directed, but I bake mine in the oven to melt some Follow Your Heart vegan Parmesan on top at the end.

https://www.connoisseurusveg.com/vegan-broccoli-cheese-casserole/

Fitness Update & Natural PMS Remedies

I haven’t posted a fitness update since I ran my half marathon in May. Since then my routine has completely changed because my fitness goals shifted from building endurance to building muscle. My body is very slow to build muscle in general, and when I’m doing any type of cardio in my weekly routine it becomes even harder. Since weight loss is the opposite of my goal, my current training and food plan reflects that. I’m so excited to share the progress I’ve made, and as a bonus, a couple of dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made to maintain energy levels during those lethargic and headache-y days during the Luteal Phase* of my cycle.

*The Luteal Phase is one stage of the menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. Often times this is when “PMS” symptoms arise.

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My Current Workout Routine:

As many of you know from my previous fitness updates, I’ve been working with my good friend and personal trainer, Katie Berrey for nearly three years now. She owns Rebel Fitness & Nutrition in Eureka, California and is certified in plant based nutrition. If you’re interested in learning more about her business, check out her interview on my Women in Business Series.

https://thereallifeveganwife.com/2019/03/16/women-in-business-preview-katie-berrey-rebel-fitness-nutrition/

As a courtesy to her time and expertise I will never publicly post exact workouts or the exact plan that she puts together for me. I encourage all of you with serious fitness goals to try working with a personal trainer at least a few times to see how amazing your results can be when you trust a professional to help you.

For the last six months I’ve been doing an amended version of what Rebel Fitness calls the “Transformation Program.” Essentially the program includes customized daily workouts, training sessions when applicable, progress photos, measurements, muscle quality assessments, etc. Because Katie had a new baby (Asher, he’s adorbs) in September, the parts of the program that I can’t do myself have been put on hold until future notice. Currently I have an at-home program that Katie puts together that looks a little like this:

Monday: Arms

Tuesday: Heavy Hip Thrusts

Wednesday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit.

Thursday: Heavy Deadlifts

Friday: Quick 30-45 minute glute and legs focused light weight circuit – different than the first one.

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Rest or light exercise like yoga, Pilates, or a walk.

I absolutely love this routine because I’m working out five days a week instead of six. But here’s the deal – Last week I ran six miles on one of my rest days. So for me, the idea of resting is nice, but doesn’t always happen. It just depends on my mood, and more than anything I appreciate the flexibility in my schedule.

With this routine I’ve been able to “PR” (beat my personal record) in hip thrusts, deadlifts, and backsquats (when they were in my schedule). Going from running and lifting light weight, to occasionally doing cardio when the mood strikes, but mostly lifting heavy has been a great change for my mind and body. And I’ve definitely gotten substantially stronger, lifting more than pre-surgery for the first time. BUT I haven’t been going to Pilates or yoga for the last few months. During bridal season it can be extremely difficult to get workouts in if I have to leave my house to do them, or if they’re at any time other than 5am. Therefore, that part of my plan has been put on hold until this week. Now that my busiest season is over and we’re back from vacation, I can get into the routine of at least two classes per week to strengthen my core and improve flexibility, which in turn, improve my lifts and form.

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Food:

Other than my experiments with raw plant based eating, I’ve kept my nutrition fairly simple. I meal prep for work days and eat intuitively. Usually my daily food plan includes a smoothie for breakfast, a bowl of fruit for a snack, a salad for lunch, some mixed nuts and seeds as another snack, and then an unplanned dinner, because my husband likes them to be flexible. Because I found my results from eating raw to be so amazing, I’ve tried to incorporate as many raw foods into my daily routine as possible, but we do cook most of our dinners and sometimes I eat cooked foods during the day.

I don’t track macros or count calories at all. I don’t have a cheat day, or any rules regarding vegan junk food other than no refined sugars. I just eat (mostly) good plant based food, in whatever quantities satisfy me and give me enough energy to get a good workout in the next morning. The other day I went and got Beyond Burgers from Carl’s Jr for dinner – it’s all about balance.

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Tips to beat the lethargy that happens right before your period starts:

I get tired before my period, not regular tired but so exhausted that I can barely keep my eyes open for at least one to two days. I also get a headache that is lingering, terrible, and sometimes morphs into a migraine. When my nutrition is on-point (all raw plant food) the headaches go away and the tiredness lessens considerably. Here are two things that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine that have helped me tremendously without having to change entirely into a raw vegan.

#1) Magnesium

A very basic search of what magnesium does for the human body includes: Maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heartbeat steady, helping bones remain strong, adjusting blood glucose levels, and aiding in the production of energy and protein. Additional benefits include boosting exercise performance, fighting depression, lowering blood pressure, and preventing migraines.

During all my research to try and discover what I could do to help with my headaches, and why a raw plant based diet was so effective at curing them, I discovered that this one mineral was responsible for many of my positive results and is found in particularly high levels in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds – huge staples in a raw plant based diet. Our bodies also absorb much more of it if we consume it in food, rather than in a supplement form.

I started making myself (what I now call) my Chocolate Headache-Curing Smoothie. I drink one every morning and because of the high levels of magnesium found naturally in the plant ingredients, my headaches completely go away when I am drinking them on a regular basis.

Recipe:

1 Cup Coconut Water

3 Medjool Dates

3-4 Frozen Bananas

2 Tbsp Cacao Powder

1-2 Tbsp Raw Almond Butter

2-4 Tbsp Raw Hemp Seeds

Because of the hemp seeds, this smoothie is also high in protein. And because of the cacao, you can also enjoy a boost of energy. So add as much as you’d prefer!

#2) Mushroom Tea

I know, I know, I know. Mushroom tea sounds disgusting and conjures up an image of privileged college kids trying to dress like hippies and drink weird things for the sake of being holistic or whatever. But I have to admit they’re onto something. I’ve been drinking the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir Mix with Lion’s Mane. The loose tea or “elixir mix” comes in tiny packets that I pour about two cups of hot water over, mix, then enjoy. You can add creamer to it, but I don’t. There is a touch of stevia added to the mix, but as someone who cannot stand the taste, I do not notice it. It tastes like an earthy tea, and I get mine from our local health food store. Four Sigmatic’s website is awesome, and there are several different elixirs, coffees, and teas to choose from so I plan to try more.

The reason why I love this particular elixir is because it’s organic, vegan and decaf yet it gives me a huge boost in energy that lasts most of the day. This is especially useful to aid in intense workouts and during long days at my shop when I’m about to start my period and I’m experiencing that intense lethargy. The lion’s mane mushroom supports memory, concentration, cognitive function, and nervous system function, so I’m also able to produce more meaningful work on projects that require concentration. I find that the energy it creates feels cleaner and more sustained than the temporary boost caffeine gives.

https://us.foursigmatic.com

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I hope that you’ve found some of this information useful. Leave a comment if you try my magnesium smoothie, and let me know what you think about mushroom teas!