Coffeehouse #6: Play Date in Muskegon

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Tomorrow it will be 55 degrees and raining. The snow will disappear like whipped cream in my mocha. I decided I’d best pack up my girl and head into the woods before it was all gone. We’ll probably get more, but you never know. Better to strike while the iron is hot, I always say. I had Muskegon on the brain, so we packed up our hiking gear and headed north.

I thought we’d head to the Winter Sports Complex in Muskegon State Park, but then I had second thoughts. Maybe I’d prefer something quieter. I decided on the trails in North Beach Park in Ferrysburg. This lovely little county park had 10 miles of trails complete with stairs and boardwalks up and over the tallest dunes. Fabulous views of frozen Lake Michigan took my breath away, and we hiked for about two hours in the woods. I will definitely return there for trail running in the warmer months.

I knew that I had to visit another coffee shop this weekend, so my google search for “coffee near me” gave me several options. I drove by one, and it looked more like a cafe than a coffee shop, so I took the next one that popped up – Ryke’s Bakery. It didn’t really look like a coffee shop from the outside, but I decided to go in anyway. If I’m going to go on this year-long adventure I need to trust the journey.

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It was a bakery rather than a coffeehouse. But they did feature Kona coffee, and I happen to be in love with Kona coffee ever since I went to Kona. I ordered a cup and told Cassandra about my blog project. “Would you like a tour?” she asked. She told me the building was an old dairy mill. “Those ramps over there,” she said pointing toward the cafe,” are for the horses that came right through here.” She pointed me to some pictures of the old dairy carriages, and I took a look while she was getting Ashley to give me a tour.

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I know it’s a bad picture, but it’s the best I could do!

 

The bakery has been in business in Muskegon since 1937 and has been in its current location since 1967. They have over 60 employees baking, preparing and serving lunch and catering in the local area. Their business was built on their Butter Thins which were displayed in a big cabinet up front, and the recipe has never changed. But they do much more than that now. A night shift bakes and decorates their cupcakes which are delivered to customers all over town.

Ashley, who is fresh back from Disney’s college program in Orlando, has been working with Ryke’s for several years, and she said with a giggle that the best part of her job is getting to bring home cake remnants. She also told me that I just missed the Paczki that they sell on Fat Tuesday. Being a Louisiana girl who is familiar with the King Cake eaten during Carnival Season, I had to know more about this delicacy. This Michigan tradition has roots in Poland. It is pronounced (POONCH-kee), and I could not get it right. I am so sorry that I missed it this year. I will have to remember next year to stop by for one … or maybe two.

Me and my tour guide, Ashley…

Mel came out just as I was leaving. She’s from Memphis, and she wanted me to pronounce ‘bayou’ because she gets teased about the way she pronounces it. We shared memories of our favorite southern town, and then I grabbed some Butter Thins and headed out to the State Park. Note: Since I’m supposed to be writing about coffee, I should say that their coffee was excellent, and I even refilled my cup before I left. Ashok and I promptly ate several of the Butter Thins which were divine.

On the way to the State Park, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the ice fisherman on the lake. I had a chance to talk with Jim, a retired game warden, and his grandson who were headed out for some afternoon fishing on the two feet of ice we had today. They showed me the tool they use for cutting the hole and explained how their little boat opened up into a tent. I am fascinated by this whole ice-fishing business. I gave them the rest of my Butter Thins and wished them luck on their fishing.

On the way home, I spotted a place called Brooklyn’s Beans, Bombers and Bagels. I might as well get #7 while I’m at it! But you’ll have to wait until later this week for the write-up. It deserves its own space. Stay tuned.

All in all, I met some pretty special people today, drank some great coffee and learned a lot about the history and traditions in Muskegon. I would love to go back and experience ice fishing, do some more hiking and trail running up there and grab lunch at Ryke’s. And when I stopped by the Winter Sports Complex, I found out they have an ice skating trail! That would be interesting to try for sure.

I left my house today without a plan. If I’d stuck with my original idea, I would have missed the best parts of today. People really do like to talk about their hobbies and their businesses if I just take the time to listen. Some days it’s better just to let go of the reins and let the road guide you.

How could you let go of the reins and let the journey take you this week?

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Coffeehouse #5: Whistle Stop Grocery

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I have a goal to hit two coffee shops this weekend. If I’m going to hit 57 by next January 15, I better get sipping. One of my local favorites has been closed for the month of January. Since this area is a vacation spot for summer Chicago travelers and a sleepy little rural Michigan area otherwise, January is a popular time for shopkeepers and restaurants to close. I get used to planning an outing and having to punt because the place of interest has a closed sign on its door. Luckily for me, the Whistle Stop Grocery had opened for the season yesterday.

 

The Whistle Stop has been in business for 20 years, so I visited when I lived here before. Back then it didn’t have specialty coffees and wasn’t nearly as nice as it is today. Three years ago, the new owners purchased it and invested in making it a gourmet grocery, bakery and coffee shop all in one. There is no indoor seating with the exception of a small bar, but the outdoor seating is phenomenal. In the summer, I’ve spent many an hour mingling with the tourists on their patio. It was a tad too chilly to sit outside today.

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Emily, the store manager and one of the owners, said this place was really special to her family. She remembers vacationing here as a child and walking down the country roads with her change to buy candy at the Whistle Stop Grocery. She’s thrilled to be part of its transformation from a grocery store to something truly special. All of the food they sell is made on the premises, and they currently employ a bakery chef and pastry maker. I met the barista, Jess, who is also an experienced coffee roaster, and she told me their plan is to have their own roast in the not so distant future. For now, they brew Madcap which you’ll remember from my previous coffeehouse reviews.

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Me and Emily

My mocha was delicious, and I almost got away without buying any of the sweets but was stopped dead in my tracks by the coconut pecan biscotti. I am a devoted biscotti fan, but I’m picky enough that it’s hard to find one that I really like. They are more often than not flavorless or just so hard you have to dunk them to eat them (or break them with a hammer). This one was perfectly crisp and flavorful. I had my choice on whether to eat it out of hand or dunk it in my coffee. I chose to do a bit of both.

 

 

I had hoped my friend Alan who lived near the Whistle Stop could join me this morning, but he was busy being a helpful neighbor to a friend. When I mentioned Alan to Alex, the young man who sold me my coffee, a big smile came across his face, and he assured me that he knew Alan and all of the regulars. In fact, he said the best part about working at the Whistle Stop was the people. In the summer, the crowds swell exponentially, and the grocery just reorganized to handle the growth comfortably. He said it’s really cool when the occasional Chicago celebrity pops in, but he really loves getting to know the local people.

 

I will be back to the Whistle Stop sooner rather than later. It’s one of my favorites in this area. Don’t worry, I won’t count it again. But I think I’d like to check out their own roast when they get that new roaster, and I’d of course like to have some more of that biscotti!

Sunday Night Check-In: Coffeehouse #4

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I spent yesterday working around the house. It was a disaster. A contractor has been remodeling my bathrooms and my closets, and between the snow and construction dust and boots tracking in and out, my house was disgusting. I scrubbed everything and even rearranged the furniture to make my house more livable. It felt so much better that I fell asleep like a baby last night and slept until 7 AM. That is extremely unusual for me.

BEFORE…

DURING….

AFTER….

After shoveling snow all Friday night and then cleaning house all day Saturday, I woke up with a desire to take a ride. I loaded up Ashok and we headed to Holland to check out coffeehouse #4, 205 Coffee Bar. I’ve been following them on Instragram, and it seemed like a really cool place.

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As soon as I walked in the secret door to coffee, the owner Jacqueline greeted me. She had a vision of this space where people could come and hang out, and it has certainly manifested. A beautiful mural on the outside attracts brides and photographers from all walks of life. I didn’t have anyone to take my picture or I would have done it, too, but I guess it gives me a reason to go back.

The bar serves classic coffee drinks, Stovetop coffee and espresso and Kombucha which is made locally from all kinds of wonderful natural flavors. I sampled them all. The lime jalapeno was really interesting, but I loved the strong flavor of the beet brew. She recommended the brown sugar and molasses latte, and I went for it. It was smooth and slightly sweet. It was so good that when I spilled some into my saucer I picked up the saucer and poured it back in my cup. I didn’t want to miss a drop.

The business strategist, David, for Stovetop Roasters was also in the shop, and we chatted for awhile about visiting coffee shops wherever we went, yoga and blogging. He recommended I visit Nashville for the premier coffee shop experience, so I might have to plan a trip. Meanwhile, I’ll definitely make 205 a frequent stop when I’m in the area.

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I had a dog in the car, so I needed to head out to take her for a walk. We drove to Holland State Park in the hopes that we could find a clear enough path for a short walk. It had snowed again last night, so the snow was very deep. We were able to find a path out to the lighthouse and even walked out to edge of the channel to see Lake Michigan. Ducks and gulls swam in the water that surrounded the ice, and the lake looked like the moon to me. Only a few people were out, but we were all enjoying the day and the raw beautiful landscape.

All in all, it was a really good weekend. I got in a run, some snow shoveling which was a rocking upper body workout, and I got to relax and enjoy the snow on Sunday. I love the feeling when my house is clean and put together, so that’s a great way to start the week. I hope you have a great week, and I’ll leave you with some pics from a snowy Michigan weekend in February.

My Complicated Relationship: Running

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This month, Runner’s World features a story called “The Love of My Life” by Marc Parent. It is, of course, about running. My running coach and soulmate Jessica has always said she has a relationship with running. It made me think about my own relationship with running that has – over the years – become more complicated and much more committed.

I remember when Parent started running. I was a new runner, and he wrote a series that began with him lacing up his running shoes for the first time. He was overweight, out of breath and not necessarily inclined to make running a habit. Every month I couldn’t wait for his dose of humor that more often than not mirrored my own path with running. I remember feeling like a kindred spirit as I watched him do his first 5K, half-marathon and then the beast – the full. I also remember when I started to wonder if he would stop writing the Newbie Chronicles as it was obvious he was a full-fledged, card-carrying runner.

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I’ve been running fairly steadily since 2003. In fact, my first short runs were run in February of 2003 on snowy roads in frigid temperatures about 3 miles from where I sit. My ex subscribed to Runner’s World, and I got hooked on the magazine. I had been a runner in my college days but had long since given up the ghost. I finally decided I was going to run when I read a piece about a 60-year-old woman who ran her first marathon. If that old woman can do it, so can I!

My path has had its ups and downs. I got in shape that February by running short intervals that got longer each run. I ran my first non-stop 30 minutes on a path in Maui on vacation that year. A 5K race in 2004 still stands as my 5K personal record. After a move to Memphis in 2006 and a failed attempt at training for a marathon, I sort of gave up on running. I was getting divorced, there was a lot of stress and my body seemed to hate running.

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But my love for running haunted me. I longed to be out on a beautiful day, and I hungered for that exhausted feeling after a good effort. A post-divorce depression intensified, and I sought out help from an acupuncturist. The acupuncture sparked my energy, and I started to run again. Luckily for me I found an amazing group called Memphis in Motion, and that is where I trained for my first full marathon surrounded by like-minded and tenacious beginner runners. I was introduced to the run/walk method which transformed my relationship with running.

I’ve been fairly consistent with running since then except for a hiatus in Louisiana. I kept getting injured, and I finally just quit for awhile. It was too hot. I didn’t enjoy it there, and I could never find a running group that worked. Looking back, I think I was under a lot of stress, and, given the fact that my body hated running when I was going through my divorce, running may not work for me when I’m in extreme stress. That’s okay. I now know the problem, and I can work with that.

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Once again last year I longed for the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, and I hired Jessica to slowly coach me back to running the 5K distance. I took it long and slow, and, with her guidance and support, I got back in the game. I started signing up for 5ks once a month, and since August I’ve only missed December. The winter admittedly is causing me issues, but I’m persevering. I plan to run today. I’m allowing myself to keep it short and to dress as warm as I like, but I’m going to get out. Spring awaits, and before you know it, I can run swiftly – for me – on roads unencumbered by ice and snow. This spring, like many before, will include running through the daffodils.

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Now that I’m pretty close to that “old woman’s” age, I appreciate the fact that I’ve chosen running as my drug of choice. It has prevented depression, given me reason to vacation, provided a means of touring new places and is a veritable fountain of youth. I know the hunger of not running, and I know the exhilaration of completing a marathon. Running is a gift that keeps on giving. It teaches me about perseverance and commitment and defeat. And while it is a backdrop in the drama I call my life, running gives me wings.

Sunday Night Check-In: Winter Fest

 

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When I lived up here last time, I don’t remember doing much in the wintertime. My ex was a wuss when it came to cold weather, and he thought winter was made for waiting for spring b*tching about the weather. I didn’t know any different. As a southerner, you hunker down and drip your faucets when it gets cold enough for water to freeze. But it’s a lot shorter wait in the south for springtime.

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Last year I walked downtown with Ashok in February and noticed a big festival going on.  (You can read my blog here.) Ice carvers filled the streets, and onlookers drank hot chocolate and shopped. In the middle of the square was a massive ice cube, and they lit a bonfire inside it. The fire burned out and my hot chocolate turned cold before the ice melted. I would never have imagined such a thing.

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So, this year I promised myself I’d get out and experience the winter festivals. I ran a 5K in the Magical Ice Fest in Saint Joseph Saturday morning, and then drove up to the Icebreaker Festival in South Haven. The 5K was really fun. It was cold. I mean, it’s February in Michigan, right? We had snow on the ground, and plenty of it had turned to ice. The announcer told us to watch our footing as there were a couple of slippery places on the course. I looked under my feet, and I was standing on a solid bed of ice. Hmmmmm….

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The race was beautiful and uneventful, and I didn’t even look at my time when I came in. I just enjoyed the day and the event. We got a fabulous big mug instead of a shirt, and I could not wait to get home and fill that baby with hot cocoa. The post-race food was divine. Sliced fruit, homemade chocolate chip cookies, pretzels, marshmallows and popcorn were placed in front of crockpots of melted chocolate for dipping. The South Bend Chocolate Factory provided trays of their finest chocolates. Biggby Coffee provided coffee and hot chocolate with plenty of whipped cream for topping. I will definitely sign up for this one again!

After watching some ice carvers, Ashok and I headed up to South Haven for their Icebreaker festival. I’d seen the billboard a hundred times, and I really wanted to go. This was a much bigger festival, and it took awhile to find parking. I finally decided to park down by the lighthouse and walk into town. The lighthouse catwalk was covered in snow and ice, and we walked around with a few other adventurous folks enjoying the scenery and the challenge of standing upright.

It was a beautiful day, and there were lots of people about. The festival featured cardboard sled racing, ice sculptures and a Frozen Fish Fling. I wish I’d gotten a picture of the Frozen Fish Fling, but my phone died before it started. A large crowd gathered round and cheered and jeered as adults and children flung big frozen fish as far as their arm would propel it. Laughter filled the air, and a good time was had by all.

I went to yoga this morning, had lunch at a local deli-bakery, took a nap and then took Ashok out to Grand Mere State Park for a walk in a snowstorm. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. Well, actually it wasn’t all perfect. When I got out of the car yesterday, my beautiful mug fell out and broke into several pieces. I am heartbroken. I guess I’ll just have to do it all again next year.

Y’all have a good week, and quit b*tching about the weather. If you have ice, channel a Michigander and make ice sculptures.

 

 

 

Coffeehouse #3: Sweetland

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Last weekend I ran a 5K with some work friends in Grand Rapids. In case you don’t know, Grand Rapids is the city of cool here in Southwest Michigan. While this area is a beautiful slice of Americana with much to offer for the vacation traveler wanting to slow down, locals desire a little more boil to their simmer. Grand Rapids roils in comparison.

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The 5k was really fun. Runners were encouraged to wear their pajamas but I never noticed that on the website until I got there. There was a festival afterwards featuring local music, food trucks, hot chocolate and, of course, Michigan’s most famous product – microbrews.

Since I was in the land of cool, I knew I must try to check off a coffeehouse. A Google search for “coffee around me” led me to Sweetland. I was a little confused because the reviews and Google told me it was a coffeehouse, but it was a candy shop. My friendly barista Jack told me they had just added the coffee shop to this location to replace the ice cream department. I have to agree that coffee season up here in the land of the frozen north is much longer than ice cream season. Seems like a good move to me.

 

The quaint little section of the family-owned candy shop was brand new and featured tables made from the wood floor of a bowling alley. Everything was sparkly clean, and I was the only walk-up visitor at 4 PM on a Saturday. The drive-thru was hopping. Jack made me a mocha with Madcap coffee. If that sounds familiar, that’s because the last coffeehouse I visited in Niles featured Madcap coffee as well. I must visit one of the Madcap locations since this coffee seems to be the foundation for a number of semi-local coffeehouses.

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A visit to their website tells me that Sweetland Candies has been an integral part of the Grand Rapids community since 1919. I like that they are open to innovative ideas to grow their business, and a lovely little coffeehouse seems like a great modern addition to their portfolio. Chocolate and coffee are delicious together.

The mocha was delightfully classic and not too sweet. I can’t stand mochas with so much chocolate and sugar that it drowns out the taste of the coffee. This one was perfectly balanced. I asked if Madcap provides their recipes, but Jack said they have their own. They had a number of unique flavor combinations, and I’ll have to stop by to try some more in the future.

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If you are in Grand Rapids, I recommend you stop by one of their coffee shop locations. I visited the North Plainfield store. If you stop by, tell Jack hi for me!

Wrestling Anxiety… I Win

I jolted awake. I could hear Buster throwing up in the next room. “Dammit,” I said. Poor Buster. I got up and took care of him and cleaned up the mess.

I hopped back in bed only to realize that I was wracked with anxiety. “Dammit,” I said more loudly. First I was pissed at Buster for waking me up. A flash of fear told me that I would never go back to sleep. I already felt the drag of the long day ahead with little sleep. My body railed against it. My brain assaulted me with fears of growing old, of not being able to pay my bills and of my imminent death. Living alone, my animals will die a horrible death of starvation because there is no one here to feed them. (I read that story in the news yesterday. My anxiety has a new toy.)

I thought of one of my girlfriends who has been losing sleep lately. I promised her that I’d send her some links to a yoga nidra to help her get back to sleep. I forgot. Surely she thinks I’m a horrible person, and her life is going down the drain, too, because I forgot to send her the salve for her wound. Now I’ll be friendless, too. The familiar tense muscles and racing mind carried me away on a runaway raft of fear.

I finally grabbed a limb. “This is not real,” I told myself. “This is anxiety.” It is a physical problem which manifests a cascade of mental bullying. Nothing had changed since I went to bed. And everything will be fine when I wake up if I ever go back to sleep. “Jesus, help me,” I whispered. “I’m in anxiety.” I gave myself a long hug and a reassurance that I loved her and would take care of her. Anxiety said, “Dammit, I was having fun.”

Once I named it, I was able to let go of the torrent of thoughts. If I don’t stop interacting with them, sleep will elude me. I didn’t want to do it, but I launched my Calm app and did a 25 minute deep sleep relaxation meditation. I was so tense it took the full 25 minutes for my muscles to release. I realized I might not sleep but I could always rest, and that was okay, too.

This is my anxiety. I can go through the list of things I’ve eaten this week that probably set this off, but it doesn’t really matter how I got here. I have to dig myself out. I didn’t feel anxious when I got up, but I know I could stoke that ember pretty quick.  So today will be a no sugar, no coffee and no white flour day. There will be no news until later in the day, and I’m listening to sweet Enya. I will meditate frequently. Breakfast was a whole-grain breakfast porridge with plenty of relaxing healthy carbs. A glass of kefir and a bit of yogurt coated my gut with probiotics. It was probably diet that got me into this mess, and diet will bring me out.

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Thank goodness it’s Friday, and I have a connected weekend ahead. There’s a chili cook-off in Saint Joe tonight, and it sounds fun. I think a night out on the town might do me good. Y’all have a good weekend. I hope to visit a new coffeehouse or two this weekend!

Resources:

Oh yeah, and if you struggle with anxiety, here are some things that work for me. You can also check out a lot of resources on this search. Share your favorites with me. Kick your anxiety out the door!

Seeking Comfort: It’s Monday

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In the January 22nd reading of Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart, she provides a perspective on comfort. She keeps one of her favorite blankies in her Jeep. She doesn’t use it to sleep with because she doesn’t sleep outside, but she throws it in her vehicle to remind her of how important it is to seek comfort.

Our collective obsession to “be the best we can be”, “live out our passion” and “stay positive” has become a new way to push ourselves.  It seems softer than having to work ourselves to death for The Man, but it can have the same effect of driving us to succeed. We are not machines.

Even Elizabeth Gilbert realized that she was passion shaming people when she spoke about the importance of finding your passion and committing to it. After a confrontation from a fan about how shamed she felt after hearing her speak because she couldn’t name her singular passion, Gilbert realized that her path might have been different. She found that most people grow into their passion by the choices they make. Not everyone has the same driven life experience that she had. And both approaches are completely normal.

Gilbert says there are two kinds of people. There are the jackhammers and the hummingbirds. I like to noodle things. I try out new things to see if I like them. I see a shiny object, and I totally dig getting distracted by it. This kind of lifestyle brings me comfort. Yes, I feel a little unfocused at times. I give in to my depression on occasion. There are days when I’m not being true to myself. I wasn’t always this way. I was taught to power through and excel. I was raised on the mantra “be the best at something, or don’t do it”. And it about killed me. I am NOT a jackhammer.

I’m approaching Monday by easing into it. I’m curled up with my kitties and Ashok under my favorite blankie. I’m sipping green tea instead of coffee. In a moment, I will have some greek yogurt and granola with fruit. These are some of my favorite things. And I will probably be a few minutes late for work because I hate dragging myself out of my house in the morning. Luckily it’s not too cold, and I don’t have to shovel snow. I have time to seek comfort this morning, and I believe I will.

What brings you comfort? Do you spend time seeking comfort, or do you drive yourself? What feels better to you? Are you a jackhammer? Or a hummingbird?

 

 

Coffeehouse #2 in Niles MI: Top Heavy Coffee

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Seems I totally forgot about my blog project on doing something new everyday! I’m such a ditz. I got really busy this week. I’m remodeling my bathroom, there’s a big downsizing going on at work, and I’ve been trying to get back on track running. I’m just a bit out of sorts at the moment. But as soon as I remembered today, I decided to go (a) try something new and (b) find coffeehouse #2.

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I thought it might be nice to combine the coffeehouse adventure with a run in a new area. So, I noodled driving up to Holland to 205 Coffee Bar. They closed at 3, and it was already 1:30. With the hour drive, I would have only 30 minutes to hang out. Besides, it was so foggy outside, I probably wouldn’t have even seen the lake on my run. I’d save that for another Sunday.

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I settled on Top Heavy Coffee in Niles MI. I’ll be straight up and tell you I’ve been there before. I really liked it then, and I liked it today. They sell Madcap Coffee beans roasted in Grand Rapids, and the coffeehouse is warm and cozy. When I arrived in Niles, the roads were blocked off. The Hunter Ice Festival was in full swing even though the temps were in the 40s. It was not ideal weather for ice sculptures that have to stay outside for 3 days.

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I ordered a mocha and sat down at the front window to read my Runner’s World magazine. I did some people-watching and enjoyed the not too sweet chocolately coffee. When I was done, I asked the woman next to me for a suggestion on where to run, and she suggested I try the riverfront trail. It was nice to be running without layers and layers of clothes. The snow was melting quickly, and the river was swollen. The trail was right at 3.1 miles long which is what I wanted to run. We saw a herd of deer grazing near the trail. They ran away too fast for me to get a picture, or I’d share it with you.

On the way back, I noticed a couple of women scooping ice cream that was embedded into an ice sculpture shaped like a bar. Barbara and Eugenia told me that the ice fest was a community event tied to area’s history. Nearby Barron Lake was the home of the Hunter Ice & Ice Cream Factory that provided ice to the surrounding area. Mr. Hunter cut ice directly out of the lake to sell. The ice had to be 9 inches thick in order to harvest it! And the ice cream they were selling today was the same recipe used by Hunters. Of course I had to have a taste, and it was delicious. The festival was a nod to the area’s history. An ice sculpting competition is a main event. The city streets were filled with sculptures although they were melting quickly by this afternoon.

Click here for a story on how Hunter Brothers harvested ice! It’s fascinating. Below are pics of the company and the men harvesting ice from the newspaper article. 

So I had a great time learning something new today. Eugenia is a massage therapist, so I got her number, and I’m definitely going to give her a call. I’ve also decided that I’ll continue to do the coffeehouse project, but I’m going to try something new every week NOT every day. I just don’t have time to write every day right now. I started a writing class out of a school in New York, so some of my writing time is being sucked up in that. But, hopefully, you’ll see my writing start to evolve!

Have a great week, y’all!

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Vulnerability Unearths Strength

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With a birthday that’s so close behind New Year’s, it’s hard for me to find a reflection point. I’ve already made a list of what I want for this year. I’ve already reflected on the past year. So, I searched for ways to celebrate your birthday on the worldwide web. That’s where all the answers are, right?

My search came up with all of the typical reactions to getting older. I care less about what people think. I sever or speak up in relationships that aren’t helpful. I am less attached to consumerism and “rules”. All of this stuff is true, but I don’t really want to focus on that. I wanted something more positive to focus on. I came up with this blog:

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A friend of mine recently pronounced on an online dating site that she was grateful for her sobriety and wanted someone that would celebrate that. After all, sobriety is hard work and a sign that a person would go to any lengths to make sure they are the best person they can be. That’s a positive, right? Pretty immediately she freaked out that she put that up there and took it down. But in the few minutes it was up, a guy – interested because of that confidence in herself – contacted her, and they have started dating. She doesn’t even remember what it said because she took it down so fast.

Ironically, in our culture, recovery from addiction is a stigma. Most of us have very little control over the hand we are dealt in life. Genetics define who is susceptible to addiction, our skin color, our  mental health, and our looks. People are constantly judged by all of these – as if they had any control over any of it. Many other issues are a result of our upbringing, where we grew up and the life lessons that fell in our path. Our path is not in our control, but our reaction to it is. But we are often judged by the obstacles that were put in our way – addictions, mental illness, poverty, attachment disorders – and not the way we have overcome it.

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I know this seems to have nothing to do with the gratitude blog that I read, but I am most grateful for my quality of being intolerant of emotional pain. Sure, it led me directly into numbing through early addiction, but it also led me out. When something is painful for me, I don’t tolerate it very long. And, luckily for me, I live in a world with plenty of resources.

Even in my twenties when I realized drinking was an issue for me, I picked up the phone and asked for help. This “shortcoming” of mine of being intolerable of emotional pain has helped me avoid lots of danger and to become a stronger person with resilience in the face of adversity. The simple act of asking for help has opened me up to communities of people who are strong and brave and vulnerable. I have no idea what my life would be like if I would have chosen numbness over connection with others, but I really don’t want to find out.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a country friend of mine when I moved home. This big, tough redneck guy told me, “When the going gets tough, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket in this country, I want you on my team. You are a survivor.” I can’t be grateful for that capacity without being grateful for the hardships and tendencies that unearthed the need. As always in God’s world, it is vulnerability that ultimately strengthens us.