As the daylight recedes in Michigan, I find myself plugging in the little grapevine lights above my window. During the summer months and the long lighted days, the lights are a waste of electricity. I get up with daylight and go to bed most often before nightfall. Who needs little lights when the sun is taking up all the space? But now I have hours to enjoy the tiny fragments of light in my window. They remind me that as the darkness of winter envelops us, it’s the little lights that will get me through.
I don’t sleep well in the summer. The sun, the heat and the summer energy is just too much. My body is so sensitive to overstimulation, and it’s difficult to calm down when it’s time for sleep. I’m sleeping again now. My body rises early, so it’s a treat to be so relaxed that I sleep in. That happens with some frequency now. It’s just one of the reasons I like fall. I can rest, and when I rest I feel more energized.
The sun is rising as I write this, and I welcome it today. The temps are dipping into the 40s at night, and it will be the sun that warms up the day so I can exercise comfortably. It’s nice to be home with a light schedule so I can run or walk outdoors in the middle of the day when it’s the warmest. This also makes my mornings more relaxing. I can ease into the day.
I’m overstimulated now with the news and the state of the world. I’m disappointed and angry at our leaders. I’m afraid of catching a virus that could lead to long-term health consequences. I’m anxious about finding work in an uncertain time. I’m lonely due to the lack of contact with others for work and social gatherings. There’s a lot to process. There’s not much to do but think. I have too much to intake and not enough avenues for output.
Grief, fear and anger require a lot of energy and suck up most of the air in the room. But there are little bits of joy that remind me how lucky I am. I live in a beautiful place. Lake Michigan’s volatile personality is a touchstone. She can be an angry, vengeful sea in the morning and a placid, soothing pond by sunset. She mesmerizes and enchants me. Her changeability motivates me to wait for another day, another hour, the next minute. My animals are blossoming with my 24-hour attention. Ashok has forgotten what it’s like for me to be gone and is anxious for us to go on adventures. She sits by the door as soon as I start getting dressed and blocks my exit. Her enthusiasm makes me giggle.
I watch television, a luxury I gave up for 20 years. I’m enjoying documentaries and comedies and meaningful dramas. I have time to cook and to feed myself properly. And I’m saving money. Without race fees, frequent eating out and the need for clothing, I’m just not spending that much. This is what life is like when you can only have the necessities. I’m lucky enough that I’m focused on necessity out of a temporary situation instead of living in poverty. I am grateful for my current scenario. It could be much worse.
The sun is almost up now. My little grapevine lights are fading into the foreground of the sunshine. My day is delightfully unscheduled much like yesterday, Friday and the day before. I may run out to the grocery or take my dog for a hike. I’ll eat up the last of my red beans and rice, and I think I’ll make some veggie burgers for this week. I have a few phone calls scheduled and, if it’s nice out, maybe I’ll take a drive up the coast. Today’s little pleasures light my way through the darkness.
Right before I went to bed last night I made the mistake of looking at the headlines for a moment. I’ve done pretty well lately managing my intake of news but it was the timing and the gravity of the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsberg that disturbed my sleep for the next few hours. Her death wasn’t a surprise but I had been lost in the quagmire of denial that this woman would leave this earth. Why are some things even possible?
I, at first, started freaking out about another conservative on the court but quickly realized that I have no power to change this situation. Whatever is going to happen will happen. I’m not expecting very much from the idiots in power at the moment. I’m sure choosing a woman to replace her to represent a significant portion of the country is not even on the radar.
RBG admits she would have never had the career and opportunities she had without the support of her husband. She was in the top of her law class but couldn’t even get an interview because she was a woman. When I started my career I pretty much had to have a man “sponsor” me to get my name in the hat for good project opportunities or roles. The more feminine strengths of collaboration and supportiveness were seen as weaknesses to be exploited. I had to hide myself and take on the traits of being ballsy and aggressive in order to succeed. I felt as powerless then as I do now. You play by the rules and subject yourself to the control and judgment of men at work, or you’ll need to get married to support yourself. It was a terrible trade-off for women and, honestly, for businesses because – guess what – collaboration and supportiveness are actually good for business.
I don’t want to go on a political bender because it’s pointless. I have one vote, and I will use it accordingly. I am greatly saddened by this loss. We are also losing the great minds and hearts of our political system who believed in collaboration, integrity and justice. I’m sure RBG is already sitting for coffee with John Lewis and John McCain. What I would give to be a fly on that wall. My prayer is they may be even more influential from the other side.
Rest in peace, RBG. Today will be a day of mourning for me. I celebrate your vision, your collaborative spirit and your strength. I am motivated by your willingness to work within the system to change it. 87 years just wasn’t long enough. If any decisions are being made up there, please get a seat at the table. Godspeed.
I did not have a television for over 20 years. I know that seems crazy, but it was an evolution born of necessity. In 2000, I broke up with a fiancee who was sharing living expenses with me. In order to afford my mortgage, I had to cut costs and cable was among the first things to go. I still watched DVDs on my television set, but I no longer watched anything else. As my finances got sorted out, I was able to afford cable, but I had broken the habit of watching television, and it just seemed like I’d have to MAKE myself watch it. I just didn’t see the point.
My friend Randy texted me one day during the lockdown and offered me his TV. He was getting a new one and knew I didn’t have one. Given that I can now hook up my computer to the television, I thought it would be a great idea. Besides I had lots of free time when I was out on furlough and truly nothing else to do. So I said thank you and signed up for Netflix.
I’m on the fence of whether I think this is a good thing or not. I quickly got back in the habit of watching TV when I really could be doing something more productive. But I have really enjoyed some of the shows that are available to watch and binge-watching has transformed the experience. I am stunned when I think that we all had three hours to kill four nights a week for mini-series back in the 70s. Life was very different, but we just had to wait for the next episode, the next season or the next re-run. It drove me crazy to flip through channels to find something to watch and watching drivel just because there was nothing on. That was definitely a waste of time.
During lockdown I started with Grace and Frankie and quickly moved to Schitt’s Creek. Both helped me shift my attention and provided laughter during a very dark time. I fell in love with Schitt’s Creek and began reading everything I could about the show. I’ve since watched the entire series twice and follow the entire cast on Twitter. In a world where love and laughter is in short supply, I found a source right at my fingertips and for only $12.99 a month. Want to laugh? Hit Play.
Once I was done with Schitt’s Creek I sort of lost my way. I watched a few old movies such as Tootsie and The American President and then I found a few new ones about drag queens and plant-based eating. Somehow I stumbled on to The West Wing. I’m not sure why I chose it the first time, but I found myself so enamored with a White House that was actually filled with love of country, intelligence and a way with words. It felt like a long, cool drink of water, and I kept pressing play. I am like the patient with a morphine pump looking to ease my pain. I am quite simply addicted and madly in love.
This is old time television with 22 episodes per seasons, and the shows are an hour long. When I tell you that August and September have literally been spent watching The West Wing I am not exaggerating. I watch in the morning when I drink coffee. I watch during lunch. By the time it’s 4 PM I am settled in for the evening for a literal marathon of episodes before bedtime. And, if it’s a season ender, you won’t find me in bed until long after the plot line has been resolved. I …. cannot… STOP.
I can’t decide which character I like best. I’d like to sleep with every one of the men on the show including Toby. I want to be C.J., and I would love to be best friends with Mandy. I am googling them all to see what they are doing now. I’m listening to The West Wing Weekly podcast which covers literally every episode one by glorious one. I’m listening to interviews and blow-by-blow accounts of the making of each show. I am fascinated by the writing process and how an episode comes together. I am obsessed, and there is just no other word for it. I’m learning so much about the way our government works, and I feel like my intellectual soul is in heaven. It is truly sapiosexual porn, and I’m all in.
I’m almost at the end of Season 7, the final season. John Spencer, who plays the wonderful, wise and warm Chief of Staff dies of a heart attack during the last season. I was devastated when I read it, and I dreaded getting to the part where he would no longer be in it. But I was not prepared for the emotional reaction I’d have. For one thing, his character, Leo, has a heart attack in Season 6, and it was so painful to watch knowing that he actually died like this in real life. They moved him into a role where he was less on his game, and I just imagined the whole time he was marching toward his death. I literally was an emotional wreck when I got to the episode where they had to write him out due to his real-life death. I feel like I’ve lost a best friend and mentor.
When I was in my thirties, I got hooked on Thirtysomething in the same way. Ironically, a couple of those actors were guests on The West Wing, and I felt so connected to them. The show reflected something about me back then that I needed to see.They were my friends at a time in my life when I needed friends and a role model for adulting. I was devastated when it ended. Lonesome Dove was the fantasy of my high school years, and I remember being completely addicted to Dallas during college. They all offered me something, and I literally fell in love with every single one.
I’m not sure when this West Wing obsession will end, but I joined a Facebook group obsessed with it, and I am making my way through that crazy podcast. And, actually, it’s not doing any harm right now, so who cares? I certainly don’t. But I probably need to go now as I haven’t had my fix for the day. I still have time for 3 episodes!!
And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.John Muir
Well it’s here. It’s September and only a few days from the bookend of the summer in Michigan, Labor Day. In all transparency, the fall is my favorite time of the year here. It only teases at getting really hot here throughout the summer, but I still love the free-fall into cooler temps and the pickup in autumn storms. A couple of times in the last week the traveling surfers parked downtown and hit the surf by the lighthouse. Surf’s up. September is here. I’m a happy camper.
Wind Surfers in St. Joe
It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since I left Whirlpool. I had a dream the other night that I ran out of money except for a few thousand dollars. I withdrew it in cash and then lost it. I woke up so relieved to know that it was all a dream and my checking account was still full. It’s sort of amazing how little money I need when I’m not working. My closet sits untouched as I mostly wear workout clothes. On a whim I bought some outfits in the spring, and most of them still have tags attached. I can literally count on my hands the number of times I’ve taken something off a hanger to wear. My comfortable clothes are actually wearing out first. There are no impromptu work lunches, long weekends in Chicago or flights to take. I wear makeup on the rarest of days. The world is small, and it is much less expensive.
Backpacking the Manistee River Trail
I took some time to be quiet and just enjoy the company of friends and the solitude of nature. Admittedly I’ve become hooked on The West Wing on Netflix. Otherwise I spend my long unscheduled days doing volunteer work for AARP, networking with past business associates and exercising. A few work opportunities have presented themselves, but nothing is solid yet. I figure I have until next spring before I get too anxious about what comes next. It feels luxurious to have so much time to explore. I feel a tad guilty especially when I chat with friends that are overwhelmed at work or who have lost their jobs unexpectedly. We are all in different scenarios than we imagined in January. It’s happened so fast, and many of us are navigating uncharted territory.
I miss going to the gym. My daily routine is shot. I actually miss having a strategy to drive and a team to manage. I miss restaurants, and I miss racing. It was so much more fun to run when I had something to motivate me. There are some virtual 5Ks, but it was the social part of racing that I liked. That’s all gone now. I have some bad days with loneliness. Without working, there are many days I don’t have contact with another human being. I really have to work at keeping a social schedule, and I try to increase interactions when I start to get too lonely. It feels weird that I ever felt too busy and often longed for down time.
Mostly Vegan July… and, yes, that’s Cashewmilk ice “cream”
The space that opened up has given me gifts as well. I’ve been working out virtually with Jessica in Tulsa since lockdown. I started eating plant-based in July. I’d been wanting to test out a theory that dairy was negatively impacting me, and I cut it out. I ate a vegan diet for a whole month. After just a few days my knees stopped popping, and all of my joint pain literally evaporated. I’m sold that I’m better off eating this way although I have added the occasional egg and fish entree back into the rotation. I’m sleeping through the night which was really rare before. If I’m tired, I take a nap. My anxiety has completely abated. People regularly tell me I look “so relaxed”. Well I guess I am.
Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway
I took a backpacking trip, two camping trips and met some friends in North Carolina for a few days. I hope to do more camping as it starts to get cooler. Northern Michigan is amazing, and I have lots of places I want to go before we descend into winter. I figure I’ll try to work some in the winter just because I’ll have more time on my hands, but I may even have the freedom to go somewhere to thaw out in the middle of winter this year. I can decide to leave tomorrow if I want and nobody will care. It’s incredibly freeing.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a daily coffee again as it doesn’t seem to bother me with the lack of stress and the lack of dairy. I’m exploring vegetarian recipes and riding my bike for long, social rides on weekends. Local produce is abundant now, and I’m eating peaches like they are going out of style. They will soon, too, so I’m going to continue my guilty pleasure as long as the juice drips down the side of my mouth. Apples and pears are on their way in, the leaves are hinting at turning, and the temps are dropping into the 70s for as far as I can see.
I’m okay for now. I hope you are, too. We are all just doing the best we can. I try to be understanding with grumpy servers and surly customer service people. While some things in life are a bit easier now there is still a lot of uncertainty. I was asked the other day if I think the worst is behind us or if I think it’s still ahead of us. I’m no expert, but I expect the worst is yet to come. I can’t imagine all of these businesses can hang on much longer in this climate, and the winter will bring less opportunity to socialize outside. I expect more economic pain, more sickness and more personal distress. It’s not a happy ending, but I’m just trying to stay in reality. I’m just trying to take this one day at a time.
Tent camping has one major drawback. When it rains, you are wrapped in a very thin sheet of technical fabric that may or may not keep you dry. The rest of the hassles I can tolerate with a minimum of whining and gnashing of teeth. This trip I cleaned out my entire car looking for my wallet. It turned out to be in a bag I packed for the beach the first day I was here. I missed a trip to the beach because I could not locate my swimsuit which, of course, I found when I found my wallet. I’ve also consistently had to deal with the fact that there is nowhere to leave my dog. Anything I do, she has to come along which is restrictive in the heat of the summer. But all of that is okay. I can deal.
Yesterday I took a drive up the coast and decided to check out a backcountry campground called White Pines in the National Lakeshore. Ashok and I hiked in about 1.2 miles and walked around this lovely little campground complete with pit toilet, bear box and fire rings. I chatted with a guy who was camped there with his dog to get the lay of the land. We said our good-byes, and almost as soon as I got back on the trail, I heard the crash of thunder.
I wasn’t too worried about getting wet. I was worried about being the tallest thing on the prairie segment of the trail and getting struck by lightning. It was really, really close and getting closer. Then, the rain began. This was a surefire southern-style thunderstorm in the middle of an otherwise nice, cloudy day. We hurried back along and were completely soaked by the time I got back to the car. I changed into some dry clothes and we headed back to Traverse City for some lunch.
Since it was overcast, Ashok could stay in the car while I grabbed some food from a nearby food truck. Before I got back, it started pouring again. And this time I was reminded of the pouring rain in Louisiana. It was coming down in sheets. I had on a rain jacket, but the bottoms of my sweat pants were completely soaked by the time I waded through the flash flooding in the streets.
I thought of my little tent in the campground. My tent has sat in the middle of a torrent of rain as water flooded through it rendering it unusable for the rest of the trip. I was imagining the worst and checking the time to see if I had time to drive home last night if there was a waterlogged tent at my campsite. I got back and tentatively zipped back the rainfly to find a completely dry tent and bedding inside. Whew! I’d just wait it out and find some way to kill the time until I could go to sleep. More rain and storms were expected through the night, but if it had survived the afternoon monsoon, it would survive those too.
I certainly didn’t want to sit in my tent for 5-6 hours, so I drove over to my friend Abby’s house. After having a major meltdown because of the stress of the afternoon, I had a good cry and settled in for a few hours. I threw my pants in the dryer and sat on the porch with Abby discussing the state of the world and our past histories. Her husband ordered Chinese food, and my waterlogged and emotionally drained self enjoyed a hot bowl of wonton soup which was just what the doctor ordered. It was soothing and comforting both to my chilled bones and my wounded psyche.
We went back to the tent. Almost as soon as we got settled in another storm came through. We were both so tired, we fell asleep pretty quickly, and I slept until 7 AM. The sun was out, my tent was still dry, and yesterday’s challenges seemed way in the distance. Today’s meanderings have been short and restful, and I’ll end my trip with a night around the campfire with Abby solving the problems of the world.
Part of the adventure of camping is overcoming challenges which are presented by the elements, things not working out as planned and lost or forgotten essentials. It helps keep me sane knowing that I can be that self-contained and survive at least for a short-term with very few luxuries. The rain, for some reason, is my achilles heel. The weather is definitely out of my control, and even as much as I plan, it can still cause lots of problems, some of them dangerous.
So, I’m enjoying today. I’ll be home tomorrow and can sleep in my own bed. But right now it’s 72 degrees, the breeze is cool, and the sun is shining. Life is good – at least for today.
Looks like it’s going to rain today. It’ll be nice. I’ve been using up sunscreen like it’s hand sanitizer. Plus, you know how I hate the heat. That is, if you can call 76 hot. And I can. Anything over 70 is too … much … hot. The first night here it was 58, and I was in heaven. It heats up during the day which and I commence with the whining. I need to just keep channeling memories of Louisiana in July. How quickly I forget!
I woke up yesterday in the Platte River Campground and spent some time walking down the banks. Tubers were putting in for a day of floating fun, and an outfitter was helping a group get into their kayaks. It was going to be a lovely day on the Platte. From the looks of it, I’m not sure there could ever be a bad day on that crystal clear waterway. I’m making a mental note to come back and float this river.
After my coffee and blogging yesterday, I met my friend Abby and her little one in Glen Arbor. I stopped in Glen Arbor last summer for a brief minute to pick up some M-22 souvenirs. What was meant to be a parking stop turned into a several hour shopping, eating and walking extravaganza. The lunch we ate was unexceptional, but I had to stop at the Cherry Republic for cherry pie and ice cream. This is the cherry capital of the world. And it is the very beginning of cherry season. Abby said it’s a bit late coming in this season, and, of course, the massive Cherry Festival in Traverse City was canceled due to Covid. That would have been last week. So I bought some pie to help out the local merchants. You know, it was a totally selfless move to help the economy. You know that, right? Best charity move I ever made.
We meandered our way around the area for a scenic drive so her baby could nap in the car. Then we headed out for a hike to Pyramid Point in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. If you’ve never been to the Great Lakes, you really may not have a perspective on the glory of these beautiful sand dunes. They are massive. In this area, there are so many ancient dunes inland that it feels like you are driving around the mountains. When the glaciers formed the Great Lakes, the glacial ice pushed the earth underneath into massive sand dunes on the shore. We get to hike those here for a real natural workout and be rewarding with astounding views reminiscent of my time in Seattle looking over Puget Sound.
We sweated and chatted our way up and over several dunes and stopped to smell the roses along the way. It was a beautiful afternoon, and just what I needed to shift into my new way of being. I’ve been looking forward to this trip to help me move beyond “not working” to “re-imagining life”. Thoughts are already percolating on things I’d like to do. Sitting on that glorious sand dune and looking over that vast emerald freshwater sea I imagined that the world was full of possibilities. The island is still a long way offshore but, man, what a beautiful view!