30 Days of Meditation: Negativity

IMG_2924

I didn’t meditate this weekend, and I could feel the difference. I felt a subtle lift in anxiousness that caused my mind to shuttle back and forth in ways that made me a little unstable. My thoughts and feelings were a tiny bit harder to manage which can mean a big difference when small things go wrong throughout the day. After 2 days of resuming my meditation practice, I’m more grounded and my mind has stopped jumping from subject to subject like an out of control slide projector.

So, in my usual manner, I think I’ll experiment with 30 days of meditation. My goal is to meditate at least 3 times per day and hopefully to do it 5 times. We’ll see what happens.

This would be the schedule I want to take:

First meditation: Focus on my breath in bed between the first alarm sound and the snooze alarm. (I think that’s about 10 minutes)

Second meditation: Do the Daily Calm (from the Calm App) – 10 minutes with a focus and mini-lesson

Third meditation: At lunch take 5-10 minutes to focus on my breath.

Fourth meditation: 10-15 minutes when I get home

Fifth meditation: 10-15 minutes (or longer) an hour or more before bed

FullSizeRender

Today’s focus for the Daily Calm was negativity. My guide says that we are naturally adept at obsessing on the worst that will happen because our ancestors needed to do that to stay safe. She reminded me that when I obsess over not being perfect, not being loved, growing old alone or losing my job and becoming destitute, I need to question that thought to see if it’s really valid.

She also said it’s best not to fight negative thoughts. When they cross my mind, I should acknowledge them and just register the feelings they cause. I can name each one “negative thought”. I’ve found through this practice already that naming them seems to take their power away. If I feel fear, and I say to myself without judging “fear”, the fear seems to disappear like a dream upon waking. It’s really weird.

Negative thinking – and fighting negative thoughts – causes stress. My emotions are usually a reaction to my thoughts. So, if I choose not to react – negatively or positively – to my own negativity, I can evaluate later – or not – whether I should waste my time stressing about it.

I remember a yoga teacher saying “The mind that told you to go ahead and eat that piece of apple pie is the same mind that beats you up after you eat it.” Thoughts are really pretty fickle, aren’t they? And they are very often not very kind.

Have a great day!

 

Wake Up and Roar

IMG_2919

I’ve started a meditation practice, and I’ve been pretty consistent over the last six weeks. It is really helping me to tame the sharp edge of my anxiety. It helps me sleep. It allows me to read my own inner compass instead of reacting to the expectations and judgments of others.

I’m using the Calm app (calm.com), and every day they have a focused 10-minute meditation. This morning it was about individuality. So much of my life has been spent walking the line of accepting my unique life choices or beating myself up for not being “normal”. Acceptance wins out about 70% of the time, but the 30% spent in fear with my inner critic’s judgment is so uncomfortable. “Hush” I scream, wondering if somehow I missed the memo on what is the “right” way to live and knowing that I cannot live someone else’s dreams on any level.

In meditation, I strengthen the muscle of acceptance of myself, and I quietly hear the inner calling of my soul. The more I listen and experience who I really am inside, the easier it is to accept that I am on the right path. The easier it is to tell that inner critic to go silent. I’m not sure who he thinks he is anyway. He doesn’t even have a body.

Life is so fleeting. Yesterday my former boss at LCTCS had a heart attack while he was driving and hit a tree. He’s a couple of years younger than me. He’s kind and wise and was so instrumental in helping me to find a good role and purpose in my last few months there. He has a beautiful family. He has had a great career and has played many roles of great significance in supporting Louisiana’s economy. Louisiana needs him. In my opinion, he’s not done yet.

I am praying for his healing. At the same time, when these things happen, my own mortality flashes before me like a neon sign reading “Do Not Wait. We Are Not Promised Tomorrow.” I wonder on what day my chances to make my mark on the world will be over. The urgency to ‘wake up and roar’ is bearing down on me this morning. I pray for the fierceness to heed that call.

“If you are acting like a sheep, do not blame the shepherd. Wake up and roar….”

~~Papaji

Sunday Night Check-In: New Beginnings

IMG_2875

Winter is over. We had a day last week where the temps dove into the 30s, but I think we all know in our heart of hearts that those days are behind us. There’s nothing ahead of us but sunshine and warmer days for the next four to five months. And there’s nobody more excited about it than Mother Nature.

IMG_2889

Earth Day was Saturday, and I have to say that she’s quite a showoff in Southwest Michigan. Last Saturday’s 74-degree day seemed to flip the switch on spring, and every tree started blooming or bursting forth a new-green coat of leaves. It seemed to happen in one day, and it’s got just about everybody salivating at the thought of the sunny days ahead.

IMG_2901

St. Joseph is bustling with restaurants reopening for the season, Illinois tags populating the highways and locals flocking to the sidewalks and waterways. We still have a little time to enjoy the seasonal fare before the real crowd hits on Memorial Day weekend, but things are definitely starting to pick up.

IMG_2834

My friend Kathy from Chicago is coming over every weekend now, and we made plans to see a play at the Twin City Players theatre Friday night, and we had dinner at Silver Harbor beforehand. That is my favorite St. Joe restaurant at the moment. Healthy, beautiful local cuisine is featured on the menu, and it’s right downtown. A walk afterwards is always a treat, and since it’s daylight until almost 9 PM now, there’s almost always time. The play was hilarious, and, if you live in the area and need a laugh, I highly recommend their rendition of the slapstick Move Over Mrs. Markham.

IMG_2838

Saturday morning, I packed up Ashok and we headed to meet a new friend of mine at Indiana Dunes for a hike. I stopped in Michigan City for a quick bite at Panini Panini. This place was highly recommended by my friend Kathy, but I had some reservations as I’m not a huge panini fan. I was pleasantly surprised by a lovely little coffee shop/cafe/restaurant that serves just about anything you’d ever want including crawfish pasta.

The owners…

I spoke at length with Bonni. She and her husband, Aaki (sp.), own the place. He is a classically trained baker and chef, and the food is “to die for”. There is no way I can do this place justice. The staff was personable, the environment was lovely, and the food was absolutely incredible. They are open for breakfast and lunch and are open for dinner the first Friday of every month. The website proclaims they were just named the #7 best restaurant in Indiana. The honor is definitely well-deserved. I had a breakfast dish called Croque Madame which was a ham and Gruyere cheese grilled sandwich on homemade bread topped with a fried egg. Perfection!

My breakfast and my server, Tony!

Nancy and I hiked trail #9 at the State Park. It’s my favorite trail in that park. When I lived here before, I ran it all the time. It’s challenging, wooded in places and climbs into the dunes lining the shoreline for about a mile. You get a little of everything. It was so clear yesterday that the Chicago skyline was perfectly visible across the lake.

Today, Kathy and I drove up to Holland MI. The Tulip Time festival is the first week of May, but with this mild winter we had, our tulips in St. Joe are in full bloom. Holland is a tad north of us so the tulips were not in full bloom yet. But I have to say I was impressed even with the first flush. The sunny day was a perfect backdrop for a walking tour of the quaint little town that has a large Dutch population and an affinity for the same spring blooms.

I didn’t rest much this weekend. I spent the time at home redecorating and repairing some things. I’m getting a new sofa and chair this week, so Kathy and I unassembled and moved my futon out of the way. I’ll be so glad to get some real furniture. Thanks to my tax returns I have a little breathing room this month. I even got new curtains for my living room! My neighbors won’t be able to keep an eye on me any more unless they make a concerted effort.

I’m working on a great project at work, and I’m pretty excited about it. I don’t even feel any Sunday night blues. I’m rather excited to get started tomorrow. Next week is the one-year anniversary of my layoff from my Baton Rouge job. Even though I was able to get back on eventually, that was a huge jolt for me, and I’m glad that is all behind me now. A new job with a great new project, a new season, new friends and new furniture are all developing rather nicely. I love new beginnings!

IMG_2865

 

A Thru-Hiking Fantasy

whitman

I’m becoming obsessed. I hiked a part of the North Country Trail (NCT) yesterday with the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The NCT is a 4600-mile long National Scenic Trail that runs from Lake Champlain in New York to North Dakota. Only 8 people have thru-hiked the whole thing, but this trail is a great place to get people active in their own communities along the route. The chapter I hiked with yesterday is one of the many chapters that adopt sections of the trail for trail work and maintenance and that encourage locals to get out and hike. Each of the numbers on the below map denote a local trail association. You can go to this web page to find out more.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.06.03 PM

I love having one of these National Scenic Trails in my back yard. This one is still under construction, and I hear that there are still many sections of road walking. We had breakfast together yesterday before the hike and there was much chatter about how difficult it is to create new off-road sections to replace road walk sections. But these organizations are working very hard to get ‘er done.

On the way to the hike (1 1/2-hour drive) I caught up on the thru-hiking podcasts that I’d missed over the last few months. I find it so interesting to listen to these tales and updates from the hikers who live the thru-hiking lifestyle. It is its own culture, and these folks have a unique approach to life. The rest of us structure life by the “college, work and retire” plan, but they opt for a 6 months-on working, 6-months hiking schedule year over year. Work is a means to save money for a non-working span of time. Most don’t own homes or nice cars nor do they care to.

I listened to a podcast yesterday about spirituality and the trail. Thru-hikers can achieve the Triple Crown which consists of completing the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific-Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Scarecrow, a Triple Crown winner, was one of the guests who talked about their spiritual experiences on the trail.  In the loneliness of a long-term outdoor adventure, they have time and the open heart to experience the “Sublime”. In the middle of the wilderness with only a tiny bit of their possessions on their backs, they face the elements, the splendor, the rawness and an unimaginable connection with our creator.

IMG_2727-1

One hiker said, “after about 1800 miles on the trail, you become a part of the earth.” That resonated with me, and I have to say I began to obsess about it a bit. What would it be like to shuck all that is – the worry about retirement, the day-to-day rat race, the mortgage and all that is inherent in this lifestyle – for something different? Or what if I could find a way to actually retire a bit and work this same 6 months on – 6 months off schedule? Then again, what if I tried a thru-hike and hated it? What would it be like to be alone in the woods on my own Hero’s Journey at this point in my life? What if … this fantasy could become a reality?

As inspiration for my quest this morning, I looked up some hiking blogs. I found this article about an 81-year-old Memphian who hopes to hike the Appalachian Trail this year. Last year, he became the oldest person to canoe the Mississippi River from the source to the sea. His story made me hope that I can stay in shape like that and have lots of time left to try out my dreams. I just need to keep dreaming. The opportunities may manifest in ways I can’t even imagine.

 

 

 

Seeking Calm … and Finding It

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.16.40 AM

It’s been three weeks since I started my “no sugar” journey, and I’m happy to say that I’ve stayed away from the sweet stuff with the exception of that one little accident I had before my trip home. I even went to Magpie twice and didn’t touch anything sweet. With the way I felt after I had that sloppy joe, I was convinced that I wasn’t interested. I was so convinced that Michael made me a delicious sourdough waffle, and I ate it with pure, sweet strawberries on top.

We had a dessert bar on St. Patrick’s Day, and I wasn’t even tempted. After the first week and a half, I really haven’t wanted anything sweet except fresh fruit. I take that back, I did have one instance at work where I got really stressed, and I immediately had this intense craving for something sweet. It was so intense that it shocked me. The desire to soothe my emotions was so obvious to me that I was able to make a better choice and eat something satisfying but without sugar. That was a sublime success! And the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

IMG_2677

I have been experiencing issues with sleep, though. The last time I came off sugar my sleep was amazing. But, I think the lack of my artificial energy source (that also drains me when I come down) and my typical anxiety has produced insomnia. My friend Gigi’s daughter has been having insomnia, and she has had some success with an app called Calm. When I told her I was having trouble sleeping, she told me about it, and I immediately downloaded it.

Calm is an app that belongs to the Calm.com website. Their mission is to help people naturally reduce anxiety and sleep better. I have fallen in love with this app. After reviewing what they offer, I signed up for a year’s membership which is about $5 per month. I get a “Daily Calm” session each day which helps me work on a different “calming” technique. I’ve listened to meditations on patience, calming anxiety and gratitude. They are about 10 minutes long, so they fit easily into my morning spiritual practice, and they really do restore me.

I’m doing a 7 day program on sleep. Each ten minute session includes a relaxation practice and tips for better sleep. The folks at Calm believe that we will sleep better if we work to relax ourselves in short sessions throughout the day instead of just trying to ramp down right before bed. And they offer specific meditations of varying lengths to help me get to sleep when the time comes. So far, it is working beautifully, and I’m feeling much more grounded and calm during the day, too.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.27.40 AM

Remember as a kid when your parents would read you stories before going to bed? That was a time for everyone to connect and transition to bedtime. Well, Calm.com offers adult sleep stories. I listened to one the first night but fell asleep before it was over. I guess it worked!

In addition to these guided meditations and lessons, they also have meditation timers for unguided meditation, a tool for guiding a breathing practice and many other kinds of meditations designed to give you immediate relief during stressful situations. If you can’t tell, I’m loving this thing.  Yoga nidra has always been a lifesaver at keeping me sane and helping me sleep but they take 30-45 minutes to do. This app provides me some shorter solutions that I can practice during the day.

gentle

So, here’s the update on my sugar journey:

Mood: I’ve been down. Some of that is situational, but I think the lack of my sugar high has produced a low-grade depression and has probably contributed to my anxiety.

Energy: My energy is lower than I like. Again, sugar has been a continual artificial energy source for my muscles and my cells for so long, my body has to adapt to its own internal fuel. I’ve been reading about it, and this is normal. But at least I don’t have the big drops in energy like I used to have. I don’t need a big hit after lunch to keep me awake, and even when I don’t sleep, I’m not super tired the next day. And when I get home from work, I’m not drained.

Cravings: I don’t really have sugar cravings anymore. When I’m hungry, I’m hungry ….NOT hangry. Emotionally I get cravings every now and then, but it’s much easier to make a better choice because the intensity of the cravings is lower. I’m starting to crave fruit. And I’ve lost weight!

Sleep: See above. I’m struggling with it a bit, but I’m working it out.

Have a great Sunday. It’s rainy here, so there will probably be no hiking unless the sun surprises us.

 

Homeward Bound

 

fullsizeoutput_193d

It’s finally here!! I’m making my first journey home from St. Joe. I booked my flight awhile back. You know I’m not going to Baton Rouge after it gets too hot, and with this warm winter, that’s next week. So I found a cheap flight from O’Hare to New Orleans, and the day has finally arrived.

I could pay about $300 more and fly out of South Bend which is much closer, but that’s a flight that always stops in Atlanta. Every single time I’ve flown from South Bend to Louisiana, it’s been a 12-hour travel day. Delays, weather, the big flood in Louisiana and even a detour through Charlotte have plagued all of those flights. It’s worth it to take more time on the ground and travel to Chicago for a nonstop trip. Besides, they have better snacks here!

IMG_2560

So, I left the other side of the lake this afternoon and boarded a bus in Indiana headed for O’Hare. The driver was so nice, and the bus wasn’t crowded at all. While she fought Chicago Friday afternoon traffic, I texted my sister, ate some nuts from Starbucks and read the New York Times. It was a stellar way to get to the airport, and the parking was free at the bus stop. By the time I would have paid $20 a day to park at O’Hare, the bus ticket was a wash.

It’s been awhile since I’ve flown, and I’ve flown out of small airports the last few years. I checked in for my flight on my phone on the bus and purchased my pass to check a bag. When I got off the bus, I just walked over to a kiosk where I printed my own bag tag, slapped it on my bag and handed it to the counter guy. It all took about 2 minutes. They gave me a pass on the TSA check, and I sauntered right through security without stopping. It was so easy!

IMG_2562

I arrived at the gate and immediately got an email that my flight was delayed but, at this point, I’ll only arrive 30 minutes late. As easy as this trip has been, I’ll not complain. I’m sitting at a Starbucks now trying to decide if I want to grab a healthy snack. I didn’t eat dinner, so I’ve been snacking on fruit and nuts. And I get to spend the night at Michael’s house. Yay!

As far as my sugar journey, I messed up today. It was an accident, but I ate some sugar at lunch. I didn’t realize sloppy joe meat had sugar in the sauce. Of course, I don’t know how much, but I looked up a generic sloppy joe nutrition guide, and it said 32 g. That’s about 2 teaspoons of sugar. I could tell immediately after I ate it. I got a little light-headed, and I did not feel good. After a week of feeling grounded and stable, I was disappointed that I was feeling this way. I learned a lesson. I’ll be more careful next time. It happens, right?

IMG_2565

I’ll give you a breakdown on the last few days:

Energy: My energy has been great and very steady. I haven’t gotten much sleep the last few nights, and, even with that, I have felt good. After 5 hours of sleep night before last, I still had enough energy to workout yesterday.

Sleep: I haven’t gotten good sleep the last couple nights but it’s not because of sugar. I drove to a hiking club meeting an hour and a half away Wednesday, and I was too wired to sleep as I got home at 10:30 PM. Last night I was up packing and running around the house and was again too wired to sleep. I imagine tonight will be a re-run, but tomorrow night I can catch up!

Brain Fogginess: My brain was really messed up after eating sugar at lunch today. Before that, I’ve had good mental days and got a lot done at work.

Mood: I have been a bit on edge, but I think it’s the lack of sleep that’s doing that. We’ll see.

Bodily functions: I’ll add this tonight and won’t mention it again. When I don’t eat sugar, I don’t wake up to pee in the middle of the night. And, on top of everything else, I become much more regular (if you know what I mean). I won’t post any pics on this!

Hunger: Yesterday, I didn’t get hungry at all. I remember the last time I got off sugar, I realized that my hungriness is part of the sugar cycle. Hunger – when my body is clean of sugar – feels different, and it’s not so insistent. I can just say “Hmmmm …. I’m hungry,” and I don’t even feel compelled to eat right away.

At any rate, I’m back on track with no sugar. I may even start my 30-day clock over. I’ve got a busy weekend. I’ll be in touch.

IMG_2561

Ashok even found a boyfriend at the petsitter!

 

 

 

 

 

Natural High

fullsizeoutput_1933

After I posted last night, my friend Ann from NOLA said she was in the process of quitting sugar, too. My former boss commented that he and his wife are doing Whole 30 right now. In that one, you only eat whole foods which means ALL the good stuff – booze, sugar, grains, dairy and legumes – is out the door. I salute them on that challenge. That’s a whole new level of discipline. One of my coworkers at Whirlpool did it in January. The other day I asked him if he kept any of the habits. “I still eat,” he said.

I’m so lucky that my friend Ann here and my sister are both trying to make positive changes in their eating habits and lifestyles, so we are all supporting each other in the journey. Last night, Ann and I chose a restaurant that would make it easy to make good choices and then took a long walk. Today was a gorgeous sunny day, so I texted her again and asked her if she wanted to join me for the sunset and another walk.

fullsizeoutput_1935

We chatted enthusiastically about our new eating plans and how much better we felt and even laughed about our day’s temptations. But I’m happy to say we both got another 24 hours under our belt and even exercised to boot. I feel so good when I’m eating right and exercising, but it’s so hard to keep on keeping on. It really is a “one day at a time” gig, and the challenge is always to keep dusting yourself off and starting over. It’s like ice skating. The first thing they taught me in my lessons was how to get back up. “If you are going to learn to ice skate, you are going to fall,” Mindy said. Falling is not a matter of if …. it’s a matter of when.

The sunset on Lake Michigan was amazing but fleeting tonight. And the cool breeze, lovely river and great company put me on a natural high. Who needs sugar when there is such sweetness in life? At least for today, not me.

fullsizeoutput_1937

Here are the sugar stats for today:

Energy: The slump after lunch disappeared today. My energy stayed pretty steady from the time I got up until now. I’m actually not even beginning to feel sleepy yet, and that’s unusual. When I’m eating sugar, I’m usually exhausted by the end of my workday. But tonight I was totally energized. I did yoga and went for a walk without any resistance.

Sleep: I slept all night last night. When I woke up, it was 10 minutes prior to my alarm set time. I felt rested and didn’t even really need a caffeine boost right away. (I had one anyway, but I could have done without it.)

fullsizeoutput_1932

Cravings: I had some bad cravings this afternoon around 2:30. I am tracking on Weight Watchers, so I decided that I was going to learn something and make a better choice this time. I took my phone so I could use the barcode scanner and went to the little convenience store downstairs. I checked items for sugar first and realized I’d have to go savory. Even somewhat healthy-looking snacks had sugar. I found a bag of jalapeno tortilla chips that didn’t have sugar. They were baked, so they were low points when I scanned them. I ate them, and they were actually delicious. I felt like a rock star. I navigated that with ease.

Mood: I was grumpy when I got to work this morning. I was irritated by every little thing, and I finally realized it. I’m sure it was the lack of sugar. It always makes me more irritable. I had some green tea and that seemed to help my mood.

Brain Fogginess: No difference from yesterday. I was pretty clear-headed.

Joint Pain: I did yoga tonight, and while my muscles were tight, I did not have any pain in my joints.

fullsizeoutput_1936

 

 

Body, Heal Thyself

quitting-sugar-720x387

Okay, I’ve decided I’m committing to 30 days without sugar. I was telling my friend Ann tonight that I really need to develop this attitude about sugar that has a more positive slant. It’s not that I want to give up sugar. No one wants to give up sugar. It’s delicious, and when I eat a bunch I feel like I’ve taken a wonderful drug. Who wants to give that up?

What I really want to do is to take care of my body. I spent so many years eating loads of sugar in response to negative emotions and being bored that I have done a number on my system. It was not unusual after my second divorce to go an entire day eating nothing but chocolate. One of those big bags of Dove chocolates was a single serving on too many occasions. Somehow my body coped with it, but eventually I developed hypoglycemia. Now even a little sugar sets me off on a blood sugar roller coaster. My eating habits have damaged me.

iamruby-website-loveyourbody

So, I want to approach this as an amends to my body. It got me a long way despite my abuse. I would love to commit to a 6 month hiatus to give my body a chance to heal and rest, but I don’t know that I can commit to that. I’ll do it for 30 days. If I’m feeling good enough and want to continue, I’ll do it. Who knows, I might develop some new habits that I enjoy more than eating sugar and certainly more than dealing with the aftermath.

I am now on Day 3 without sugar, and I’m feeling pretty good. I didn’t have any cravings today after two days of really strong ones. I’m eating a lot of fruit to keep my sweet tooth at bay. I know that fruit has natural sugar, but it also has lots of healthy nutrients, too. If I feel like I later need to cut that out, I will. But for now, it seems to have no negative effect. I slept really hard the last two nights, and I’m sure I’ll sleep good tonight too. And, without sugar ramping up my adrenalin, I don’t have an issue with coffee. So, that’s a perk! (Pun intended.)

IQS-Benefits-of-Quitting-page-001

April 4 will be my Day 30. I’ll use this as a journal, so if you don’t want to read about my quitting sugar you may as well take a Midlife Moments vacation. If you’d like to join me, please do so. I know … I know. But it might be good for you! As for today, I’m feeling good. I’m going to measure my progress by detailing the following:

  • Sleep – I’m sleeping harder and waking up less. I’m still a little groggy when I wake up, but I wake up early. And I have great, crazy dreams!
  • Energy – Not very energetic today. I got up at 4:30 to workout. I did workout, but it was pretty painful. I was so sleepy after lunch that I had to stand up in a meeting. But I had plenty of energy after work to meet a friend and go for a walk. It’s 9:18, and I’m getting sleepy but am not super tired.
  • Joint Pain – I’m achy today. I worked out my legs this morning, and they ache.
  • Mood – I laughed a lot today. I mean I really laughed a lot.
  • Brain Fogginess – I was foggy this morning, but I was engaged at work and able to think through things until I got sleepy after lunch. It was hard to rebound even though I drank some matcha.
  • Cravings – I was hungry but was not necessarily craving sweets. I ate a good deal of fruit for snacks.

Goodnight y’all. I’m so happy to go to bed so I can sleep and then drink coffee in the morning!

Sunday Night Check-In: Shifting Gears

fullsizeoutput_1925

I’ve had a rough week. To be honest, I’ve had a rough time for a few weeks. I’m not sure if it’s SAD, or if I’m just sad. I know that I’ve been trying to reign in my consumption of sugar with a great deal of inconsistency. Every time I eat it, I am awake in the middle of the night for hours kicking myself. The stuff disrupts my sleep no matter what time of day I eat it. I’ve been knowing this for over 3 years now. And still I struggle with it. It may even be the cause of my mood.

Friday was Employee Appreciation Day, and we had a candy bar in our office. A whole row of beautiful candies and chocolate greeted me as I walked in. I had absolutely no willpower. “So much for eating right,” I said before putting my purse on the floor. There were no brakes …. no deceleration … no hesitation. I went for it, and I woke up at 2:30 Saturday morning. “Hello, Sugar,” I say now when I wake up in a fit of insomnia. I’m not sure if I drifted off again or not, but I left early Saturday morning for a hike. Since I didn’t get much sleep, I told myself that I was NOT having any sugar this weekend. So far, I’m golden.

I met a group from the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association in Marshall MI for a 6.5 mile hike. This was a “road” section, so we basically walked on the road through cornfields, a bitter winter wind and through neighborhoods. It felt a little weird since we were about 50 people with backpacks and stuff, but nobody else seemed to be bothered so I just enjoyed the day. A couple of river crossings gave me a little natural scenery, and I was very excited to meet Strider, the NCT thru-hiker I heard on one of those trail shows last year. (You can listen to his account of the trail here.)He is one of 8 who has hiked the entire 4600 mile NCT. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity although he seemed like a pretty ordinary hiker.

img_2482

Me and Strider

He works part-time for the National Park Service working on this trail, and there were a other park rangers on the hike. I talked to one who told me that they were all worried about the budget cuts coming. He said anybody that has anything to do with the environment is holding their breath. 97% of the funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Project is in jeopardy. It takes my breath away to even think of those beautiful lakes going back to their former polluted condition. All we can do is pray…. and call our senators.

I drove around Marshall to look at the town, and there were some beautiful historic buildings there. I put the GPS on “back roads” and drove home via country roads. I passed through several small towns and took a quick tour of Battle Creek. I found the Fort Custer Recreation Area and made a note of the nice campgrounds. The Kalamazoo River was up, and the sign next to the river assured me that any oil I saw would not harm me. Apparently there was a huge oil spill in this river many years ago, and the EPA spent a long time cleaning it up and holding the oil company accountable. I can only hope they will continue to be able to do jobs like that in the future. All I can do is pray … and call my senator.

img_2486

The flooded Kalamazoo… oil-free.

I woke up really down this morning, but I managed to get out and wash my car, take care of some chores and cook myself a healthy lunch. The sun came out and then ducked behind the clouds while I stewed in my juices about all of the sad things going on in the world. I tried to watch a movie about grizzly bears, read an article about a river that has disappeared because of human consumption in India and laughed at last night’s Saturday Night Live episodes. I needed to work out today, but I could not get motivated enough to move. I decided to walk Ashok around the block and keep walking if I felt like it.

Once I got going, I felt better, and I made my way to Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful late afternoon. The water was almost still, and the sun was hanging low on the horizon in a lightly-clouded sky. Few people were on the beach, but the ones who were out enjoying the spring-like day were friendly and talkative. We walked back at a slow pace, and, by the time I was home, I was really glad that I made the effort.

I’ll continue to try to shift out of my funk, and I’ll continue to pray … and call my senator. I hope you will do the same. Have a great week, y’all. I wonder what drama will go down this week!! You can’t make this sh*t up!

 

 

 

 

Lighthouses, Snowfall and Pie

 

fullsizeoutput_18f3

My baby brother came to town last weekend with his wife Laura and his daughter Mariya. Mariya had wanted to see snow, so back in November or December when we were inundated with the fluffy powder, they booked a trip for Mardi Gras weekend. As it got closer, it became more and more obvious that global warming had canceled the snowfall this year, and I texted Terry last week to tell him his winter vacation might be more of a spring vacation.

Saturday’s Travels

We did get lucky on Saturday with a little light snowfall, so Mariya got to play in it some, but it was mostly gone by Sunday, and the temperatures were on the climb. But at least the more moderate temps gave us a chance to get out and spend some time outdoors. I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow, but let’s say that we pretty much covered the entire Lake Michigan Coast within an hour of my house, experienced a Viking Fire Fest in middle Michigan and had some of the best pie I’ve ever put in my mouth. From my view, it was a pretty nice visit.

img_0025

If I had to pick a day, Sunday was my favorite day. Saturday was stormy, and the wind made anything outdoors uncomfortable after more than 15 minutes. I had to work Monday, so that wasn’t any fun either. But, Sunday, we loaded up the car and headed north. After a really nice lunch in South Haven at Clementine’s II, Terry decided to go off the beaten path and look up a place called Crane’s Pie Pantry in Fennville MI.

Crane’s Pie Pantry

Crane’s has all kinds of specialties. They are first and foremost an orchard. We passed apple trees and blueberry bushes for sure. The inside of the restaurant was decorated in old memorabilia, the best of which was this stuffed dog who had died 80 years ago. It was more than a little creepy, but it got me to thinking about whether or not I’d want to stuff Ashok after she’s gone. I could prop her up in the passenger seat, and she could ride around with me through eternity. And I wouldn’t even have to walk her anymore. She’ll be hassle-free!

img_2399

Terry and Laura got the flight of pies which included a sample of cherry, blueberry, apple and raspberry pie. I asked the waitress what was ‘to die for’, and she recommended the apple. I was a little disappointed because apple just seemed so … you know…. ordinary. But I had asked so I took her suggestion. It was absolutely to die for. And if you are not up for dessert, they have flights of hard cider, beer and wine. It was a special place, and I will definitely be back.

Ashok got a doggie moon pie….

We wandered a little more and found an old home place that was set up as a monument because this family was the first family to come to these parts and plant corn. And, if you ever come here, you will see that corn is gold in the Midwest. We grow a lot of fruit in Southwest Michigan, but corn is everywhere. So, I guess this was corn royalty. It was pretty interesting to imagine this place as it might have been. Laura was just imagining this place without the wind.

img_2413

Our last most interesting stop on the back roads was a self-service artisan cheese shop called Evergreen Lane Creamery. We saw the sign for it, and when we drove in the driveway we thought it was closed. There was no one to be seen. We walked inside, and there was a little refrigerator stocked with artisan cheeses, a description of the cheeses on a laminated card and a self-service cash drawer. You see that a lot around here. I hope that these local farmers get nothing but honorable customers. Terry and Laura picked out three of their favorites, made their change, and we were off to Holland MI to see the windmill.

The day was full of lighthouses, stairs (we climbed 305 steps to the top of a dune), food, laughter, ice, sand and finally a beautiful sunset. Most people say the summertime would be a better time for them to visit, but the nice thing about the winter is that we have this beautiful place to ourselves. The lack of crowds gave us more time to explore, longer visits with shopkeepers and less of a hassle. I spent last Mardi Gras backpacking in the woods in Mississippi. This year, I got to spend it on the shores of Lake Michigan. Where are we gonna go next year?

Saugatuck and Holland 

img_2455