Natural High

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Sunday Night Check-In: Shifting Gears

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 

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Sunday Night Check-In: Trails, Dogs and Travel

I went in to the weekend with one lunch planned on Saturday with my friend Autumn. The rest of the weekend would just have to unfold as it should. I got home Friday night, and I wanted to unplug from the internet and fall into an alternate reality. I’d been wanting to see A Dog’s Purpose, so I drove over the theatre and checked out for a couple of hours.

The thing I hate about dog movies is the dog always dies at the end. (BTW, I looked up the controversy about the treatment of that German Shepherd in this movie, and they were cleared of all charges. Apparently that organization was just trying to propagate fake news… and they failed.) In this movie, though, the dog dies about 6 times and lives at the end. The movie is about the many incarnations of one dog soul into this world. I felt so in love with my dog when it was over. I couldn’t wait to get home to hug her neck. But I definitely should have brought Kleenex to the theatre.

I took Ashok for an early walk on Saturday and then I met Autumn at Caffe Tosi for some soup. She told me all about her trip to the Rose Bowl Parade. I was fascinated by her trip. It was an educational tour, and they learned all about the history of the parade and how the floats are made. They got to help build some floats, and then, of course, watch the parade. I’ve never been on an educational vacation, but she made it sound like so much fun that I looked up the travel company that she used, Road Scholar.

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My sister and I texted back and forth the rest of the evening about the options that they offered for educational travel. Trips lasting anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks feature lessons and experiences on topics like art, writing, hiking, geology, history, crafts and just about anything you’d ever want to learn. I am imagining myself learning to sail down the coast of Maine, writing my memoir on the coast of Oregon and viewing the Northern Lights in Alaska. They have trips all over the world, and they are very reasonably priced. I am definitely going to take some of these tours. I may even go on one of the Michigan hiking trips this year!

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I’ve been reading Becoming Odyssa, a book about a 20-something woman who hiked the Appalachian Trail. My sister gave me the book for my birthday, and I’ve been going to bed at night reading about sleeping on the trail and fantasizing about finally doing that thru-hike on my bucket list. Today I had planned to hang out at the house and grocery shop, but all of this hiking thinking got me in the mood for the woods. I looked up some hiking trails, packed up Ashok and headed northwest to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area.

We hiked the Chief Noonday Trail and continued on to the Long Lake Trail, too. It was rainy when we started but cleared up rather quickly. As soon as the rain cleared, the wind picked up. It never did get really cold, but I had to put on my hat and coat by the end of the hike. It was a quiet hike with very few people crossing our path, and it was lovely. The temperature stayed above freezing, and the swamps and woodlands were full of melting snow puddles. It didn’t feature the magnificent views of the dunes, but I was really in the mood for the woods. Toward the end, I was treated to a sighting of several white-tailed deer high-tailing it with their patch of white flashing through the forest. It was a great way to end the hike.

I’ve been chatting with Mick who heads up the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The North Country Trail (NCT) is a 4600-mile trail that starts in North Dakota and runs all the way to New York. I had heard about this trail when I was listening to trail shows while living in Louisiana, and, ironically, now I live within an hour and a half from the NCT. Trail “chapters” all along the trail take care of sections, and they educate people about hiking it. The Chief Noonday Chapter has 135 members. I plan on joining them for a hike on March 4. I’m enjoying going to the North Country Trail website and dreaming about backpacking large portions of that trail. I even signed up for 100-mile challenge for this year.

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After we left the Chief Noonday parking lot, I decided to drive the backroads to Grand Rapids to try a new coffee shop that I’d read about called The Sparrows. I was so thrilled when I saw a sign for the North Country Trail trailhead just a few miles down the road. I turned in, snapped a few pictures and just had to hike a few steps on the trail. “We’ll be back,” I told the trail as I hopped back into the car. And I meant it. I can’t wait for the day when I park there, heave ho my backpack and head to the woods for a several day Michigan adventure. I may not get on the Appalachian Trail for awhile, but there’s an even longer one practically in my backyard! BTW.. The Sparrows was great, and I’ll go back for a longer visit in the future!

So, my mind is spinning with the opportunities for travel with Road Scholar and backpacking on the NCT. On the way to the hike and back I listened to more hiking podcasts about the community on those long hiking trails and how life-changing a thru-hike can be. (Click on those links to hear them!) One thing I’d have to change is needing to work for a living. Tomorrow it’s back to reality. But I’m grateful to have a great job which will help me save money for these trips that I may not get to take and that brought me up here to this state full of great hiking. This was a great weekend – dogs, trails and all.

Y’all have a good week. Dream a little this week. One of them might just come true.

12 Weeks: Reflections on a Spring-Like Evening

 

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I got biceps!

I just completed my 12 week Virtual Boot Camp. My personal trainer Jessica knows the power of reflection. Just because exercise is physical in nature doesn’t mean that it only impacts our physical bodies. In order to commit to a program of exercise, we have to make daily changes in our lives. And when we make changes in our lives, we can’t help but learn about ourselves. Our tendency is to do whatever we want in the moment. But, when we commit to anything that changes our behavior and follow through on that commitment, we have to face a variety of issues that sabotage us. Jess knows this, and she asked us to reflect on the 12 weeks that we just completed.

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I started that program because I was floundering. It was right before Thanksgiving. I was still in the middle of adapting to the move, winter was settling in, and I was depressed over the outcome of the election. My desire to exercise was there, but the enjoyment of it was not. My energy level was down, and I was eating crap because I didn’t feel like shopping. I was stuck in a day-to-day survival mode. Planning ahead seemed like an arduous task.

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I reached out to Jessica because I knew I had to do something, and she suggested this. It was within my budget, and it was 12 weeks long – long enough to get me through the holidays. And the program consisted of three 30-minute strength workouts a week. I could even do them at home. I felt that was totally doable, and when I mentioned it on Facebook, two of my friends decided they needed something, too. We formed a Facebook group, and we were off.

Honestly, I had to drag myself through the exercise for most of the 12 weeks. I started seeing results about halfway through and that got me really motivated. I think I didn’t really believe that I would see dramatic results in 90 minutes a week. But, when I started seeing my abs get some definition, and my biceps bulging, I got a little more motivated. My main motivation was to get in a good habit of strength-training regularly and to do something that I didn’t hate doing. After all, now that the 12 weeks are over, my exercise commitment is not over. This is a lifelong, ever-evolving thing.

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Tonight was an absolutely beautiful evening in St. Joe. It was in the mid-50s, and there was very little wind. I grabbed Ashok, and we went downtown to walk. Throngs of people were out running, walking their dogs and enjoying the surprisingly spring-like weather. The lake was calm, and there were remnants of ice bergs floating near the shore. A kayaker paddled near the mouth of the river, and ducks floated quietly nearby. How quickly things can change in a few days … how drastically things can change in 12 weeks.

12 weeks ago I was 5 pounds heavier. 12 weeks ago I was floundering. 12 weeks ago the Christmas lights on the bluff had not even been strung…. our new organization was still but a dream … winter was just beginning with a massive pile of lake effect snow. The snow that was melting today was freezing into an unbreakable solid shore.

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When I decide that I want to do something, I have to face the pain of following through with that in the moment. A commitment doesn’t just happen. It takes screaming through an exercise that hurts. It takes starting over the next day after I don’t do what I needed to do. It takes support and encouragement. It takes reminding myself constantly of WHY I’m trying to do this. And it takes faith that even though I don’t see results in the moment, it will show results in the end. 12 weeks will come and go regardless. But if I want something different at the end, I have to do something different every day.

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12 weeks is a quarter of a year. Even though I muscled through a lot of the boot camp, the last 4-5 weeks felt different. I got more motivated about eating right. I started feeling better. I started feeling a desire to start running. I committed to a regular yoga practice, and I started preparing my meals ahead of time. I believe that when we make positive changes, our bodies change. Our cells turn over rapidly, and I am literally not the same person that I was 12 weeks ago. My energy is different, and when you change your energy, you change your life.

Now, I just have to decide what I want my life to look like … feel likebe like ….at the end of the next 12 weeks. That will inform my agenda for tomorrow.

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Our Obsession With Ice

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When I was in Louisiana, I noticed this obsession with ice. Now it’s hotter than Hades down there, so I could understand the obsession with keeping things cool. I even got to the point that I would take ice and put it on the back of my neck before and after a run.

When I camp, I have to keep my food cool, so I become obsessed with ice. Every day – or sometimes twice a day – I stock my igloo cooler with ice from the grocery for use in drinks and to cool my milk. So I was thrilled when heard that these new ice chests would keep ice so cold that it wouldn’t melt for 24 hours. So, two summers ago before I headed to North Carolina, I decided that I would splurge and buy one of those nice ice chests. I didn’t need a big one, and I gave myself permission to pay up to $150 for a nice ice chest. I was stunned to see that $150 didn’t even touch the price of an ice satchel much less an ice chest. I settled for the best little igloo I could find and bought ice as usual. It was then I realized that ice – while made completely of water – was revered like gold.

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Ice is plentiful here. In fact, it’s more work to keep things from icing than it is to keep it from melting. Just yesterday, I noticed that a storm drain had frozen as it was dumping water from the bluff downtown. The entire “waterfall” was a solid chunk of ice. “You don’t see that in Louisiana,” I thought. My friend Kenny who lives in Wisconsin said his “must-have” tools for getting his car out of his garage in winter are an ice ax and a snow shovel. He has to literally chop the ice away in his garage to get his car out. And I have to wear traction devices on my boots to keep from slipping on the slippery stuff when I walk Ashok.

People make do with what they have. They eat alligators and crawfish down in Louisiana, and up here they make use of ice. While I get so frustrated that my water freezes when I’m hiking and my hot chocolate turns cold in about 5 minutes, the folks here have festivals celebrating ice. Last weekend, they had a snow-carving festival in Frankenmuth even thought there was no snow. This weekend, Saint Joseph has their 13th Annual Magical Ice Fest. I’m headed to Chicago today, so I’ll miss the frozen fish-tossing, but I went down last night to see the carvings. In the middle of town, they were carving ice sculptures with mini-chainsaws and they built a bonfire in the middle of a huge block of ice.

I was eager to see a fire in ice. I am fascinated by the ice-fishing huts here. This year it hasn’t been that cold, so I haven’t seen any, but when I lived here before I was always taken aback when I’d see a hut in the center of a lake. My fellow blogger and new friend Stacy is an avid ice fisherman, and she said you only need 4 inches of ice to safely get out on it and fish. So, ice fisherman bring a stick to measure. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I’d trust the measuring skills of a male companion enough to put my life in his hands. The correct estimation of inches usually seems to be greatly exaggerated. But I digress.) After they are assured the ice is solid enough to hold their weight, they go out onto the ice and dig a hole to fish.

 

I asked her if she had one of those ice fishing huts. “No,” she said. “Those huts are not easily moved. They are mainly for parties.” Parties? Hmmmm…. I know that people have told me that they build fires right on the ice in those things. I am fascinated at how you can build a fire right on the ice, and you won’t fall through. So, last night, I was very curious to see what would happen when you built a fire in a block of ice.

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They lit the blazing fire about 7:30. Everyone stood around as fascinated as I was that you could build a fire in ice. Meanwhile my hot chocolate turned cold in about 5 minutes, and my ears and hands felt like frozen human popsicles. I went inside the Saint Joseph Today visitor center to save my hot chocolate and visit my friend Karen. After getting her set up to subscribe to my blog, I went back out to the bonfire which had become a small fire still sitting in the middle of a large block of ice. There were spots that had melted, but it was still frozen strong. I was amazed.

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I have been wondering how I had missed all of these ice fests when I lived up here before. If this was the 13th annual event in Saint Joe, I would have been gone the year it started. But I’m glad to see that there are so many things to do with ice. I can ice skate, carve ice sculptures, ice fish, enjoy pictures of all of the manifestations of ice, throw frozen fish and even build a fire in ice. The people in Louisiana need to be more creative. Yeah, I see a Yeti every now and then here, but they are all on clearance. Who needs a $700 ice chest when you can just throw your beer – and your fish – outside?

 

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: A Trip Up the Coast

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The fabulous little beach towns up and down the coast of Lake Michigan are one of my favorite things about this area. They aren’t the ultra-classy newly developed beach towns of the Gulf Coast down south. Most have been there for ages, and Victorian homes and quaint downtown streets have been visited by vacationers and locals alike for decades if not centuries. Each little town has its own charm and history, and most have their own unique lighthouse that claims its spot on the shore. And, lucky me, I can go to probably 8 or 10 within a 1-2 hour drive in one direction to another.

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This weekend I wanted to go out of town, so I began to noodle which direction to head. Frankenmuth had its Snowfest complete with snow-carving contests. Chicago, of course, is Chicago, but I’m going there next weekend. I could have gone to Grand Rapids and done some hiking and visited one of the coolest coffee shops in Michigan. I also had options of going Southwest or North on the coast. At the last minute, I decided to head to Grand Haven and Muskegon. I ran into a friend at our downstairs coffee shop Friday, and she said Muskegon was beautiful. That’s all I needed.

Approaching the Grand Haven Lighthouse….

I packed a bag and headed up the coast. I stopped first to get a mocha at The Phoenix Rising in Benton Harbor. I’d heard that they made their own mocha, and it was really good. Grand Haven was about an hour away, and I immediately fell in love with its downtown area. Lots of shops, restaurants, breweries and coffeehouses lined the main street which ran right into the inlet off Lake Michigan. Ashok and I walked the boardwalk until I realized that I didn’t have the right boots on to go all the way to the lighthouse. Ice and sand made the walk slippery, and I needed to put on my hiking boots. We got back in the car and drove down to see this stunning little lighthouse in the Grand Haven State Park.

Downtown Grand Haven

You can tell Grand Haven is a happening spot in the summertime. Although the hot dog stands and ice cream shops along the water are all shuttered now, I can just imagine throngs of beachgoers hanging out and soaking up the much-awaited sunshine. I know in Saint Joseph the crowds in summer swell way past the crowds that attend the winter festivals. My sister is coming Memorial Day weekend, and I thought this would be the perfect spot for us to visit. But, I’m sure it will be much more crowded then.

Muskegan and the Stormy Kromer shop…

I drove up to Muskegon, and I made reservations at a hotel about 20 minutes out of town. My friend at Whirlpool had told me about the Stormy Kromer shop, and I really wanted to go in. It’s a Michigan company that makes outdoor wear for the cold winters in the Upper Peninsula. They are known for their hats. I stopped at a coffee shop to ask where this place was, and it happened to be right next door. The saleslady was so nice, and she told me how wonderful and warm the Stormy Kromer hats were. I tried on a few, and I also tried on a poncho. Everything was wool, and it was so well-made. I could tell it would last forever. I handled some wool pants that were the thickest wood fabric I have ever seen. I’d love to have a pair of those!

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I ended up buying a hat and then had dinner at Handsome Henry’s, a restaurant the saleslady recommended. Then I went to the hotel and retired for the night. This morning Ashok and I hiked at the Muskegon State Park. It was stunningly beautiful. We hiked the South Camp trail which followed the beach first. I saw four swans and numerous ducks who found some unfrozen water to paddle. At one point, an eagle flew overhead and circled twice before flying away. I felt like it was stopping by to say, “Hi. I’m still here with you.” We finished up by hiking the Dune Ridge trail which followed the tops of the dunes throughout the park. The view was phenomenal, and we could see Lake Michigan and the channel on the other side. It began snowing heavily right before we got back to the car, so we ended our hike covered in snow. It was fun.

 

As we were leaving, I noticed a sign for the Winter Sports Complex, and I decided to drop by there. I had read that they have the only public luge in the United States. Everything was closed today because the temperatures were too warm last week, but they were working furiously trying to water everything down to refreeze for a Tuesday opening. They have a huge outdoor ice rink, an ice skating trail, sledding, cross-country skiing and the Luge. The guys there were really friendly and showed me around. They were shoveling snow into the luge. Later, they will hose it with a fire hose and let nature freeze it to make it solid. When my brother and his family come up at the end of February, I think we are going to check that place out. It was really cool.

I loved Muskegon and Grand Haven, and I look forward to returning. At the furthest point, I was less than two hours from home, so it’s definitely doable – even as a day trip. All of these little towns are having winter festivals now. There is no lack of things to do in the winter. In fact, I was thinking yesterday how lucky I was to live in a place where I have year-round hiking. Yes, it’s cold, but I just dress for it. Truth is, I usually end up sweating rather than getting cold. But it’s nothing like a July in Louisiana sweat!

Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon

Have a great week, y’all. Try to get out and enjoy something near you. There’s a lot of drama going on right now, but we have to stay positive. That eagle reminded me today that we are not alone, and we need to focus on the big picture…. whatever that is for you.

 

“Welcome Aboard,” The Conductor Said

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Some of my friends do not understand why I would ever come live in a place with a northern winter. I get a lot of flack from them when I post pics of this beautiful Michigan season on Facebook. I’m sitting here looking out my window at the snowy scene at the first glimpse of daylight. Frost etchings in the corners of my windows make the most delicate frame for the winter scene.

Why am I here … at this time … and in this place … AGAIN?? I’ve asked myself the question numerous times – each time for different reasons. Sometimes it’s in angst from the effort of moving. Other times the pain of loneliness begs to know why as I struggle to get connected. And just as often, it’s asked in a sense of anticipation and wonder. Why am I here? 

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I moved when I was younger out of a sense of adventure laced with some sort of searching urgency. I was looking for something. I’ve described midlife as a time of waking up for me, and, in this time, this relocation business has reframed to something else entirely. I’ve learned over the years – and the lessons – that everything happens for a reason. The urgency for answers has gone, and I find myself relaxing into the questions.

When I was first contacted about this job, I pulled the Eagle card. It is the first card in my Medicine Card deck, and it represents a strong connection to the Great Spirit. Eagle medicine urges me to look at things from the eagle’s perspective, a perspective much broader than a human perspective. My friend Ann reminds me of this when things get tough. Sometimes I’m happy to be reminded. Other times I ask, “But why, dear God, am I here?”

Loneliness is my greatest teacher. Being an extrovert, I have a high sensitivity to loneliness, but I also have this really strong need for solitude. Achieving a balance is critical for my well-being. I’ve gotten so much better at understanding my needs, but when events like a relocation happen in my life, the challenge increases.

This bench was at the top of a dune at Grand Mere State Park, and this was the view!

I had some energy work done with my friend Lexlee the other night because I was feeling lonely and low after the holidays. During my session, she said the Eagle came to her. It was a reminder of my purpose here, and she reiterated the assurance that ‘Every step has a reason.’ I pulled a card the next morning to see how I could “step into” Eagle energy because right now it seems a bit unreachable. Wolf appeared to me and reminded me that I am a teacher. And right in the middle of the reading for the card, wolf medicine urges me to “seek out lonely places that will allow you to see your teacher within. In the aloneness of a power place, devoid of other humans, you may find the true you.”

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I still don’t know the answer to “Why Am I Here?” I may never know the answer. But I do know that there is a reason I am here. I have learned that God does not send me anywhere for a job. He sends me to places because I need to be in a specific place with a certain group of people at a certain time. I imagine myself boarding this Southwest Michigan passenger train at this moment in time,  and none of us really knows where we are going or why we are aboard. We could be riding together for a long time or a short distance, but when I think of how this all came about there is no doubt that I landed here on the wings of eagles. So, I’m just trying to step into my own best self and contribute what I think is mine to give.

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Last week I hiked in Grand Mere State Park. Like Warren Dunes, it is a beautiful place with woods and enormous sand dunes overlooking that jewel Lake Michigan. I stood on the top of a dune and looked around. “Why am I here?” I said aloud. Without even knowing that I would later that evening brush wings with eagle, I felt her presence. The view was incredible, and I was literally on top of my world. The sting of loneliness ebbed beneath the surface of my heart, but the magic of this transition held me captive emotionally. “You know why you are here,” eagle answered back as she descended upon me playfully. My soul resonated with the knowing that this is a spiritual journey that led me to the top of a dune in a very cold place alive with a warm and inviting spirit.

“Welcome Aboard,” the conductor said. “Enjoy your ride.”

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Winter Moments

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It’s cold everywhere today. My Memphis friends are checking in with snow photos from a long snowy day at home. A friend from Baton Rouge called me to laughingly inform me it was 38 degrees, and Louisiana was officially shutting down. My old boss texted me a photo of an icy drive home in North Louisiana. All evidence says that winter is settling in even in the deep south.

As for me, I shoveled snow twice today although my snow removal person told me we didn’t have enough snow for him to worry about. I informed him that I was Southern and wouldn’t know how much snow was enough to shovel. He told me that this snow was powdery and nice, but if it’s a wet snow, I’d need to have it shoveled. “It all depends on the type of snow,” he said. I reminded him again that I was Southern, and I wouldn’t know the difference in types of snow. He left with an assurance that I would figure it out, and that he would help me when it gets too bad to get out of my driveway. And he wouldn’t even let me pay him.

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This morning I had to be at work for 6:30, so I drove to work in complete darkness. But it was so beautiful out. The roads were completely covered in snow as the plows had not gotten cranked up yet. The bridge over the St. Joseph River was icy and snowy, and it all looked like a perfect winter wonderland. Christmas lights still burn up here because … well… it still looks like Christmas. As I left the edge of town and hit the country road leading to Whirlpool’s campus, it got darker. The snow was blowing sideways in the wind, and I felt myself start to smile this really big grin.

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I slowed down for the Whirlpool parking lot which was almost completely empty except for a car that had been left overnight and one or two others from my team. The parking lot was not cleared, so my tires squeaked on the freshly fallen layer of snow. I parked under the lights and jumped out of the car. With the delight of a child at 6:20 in the morning, I took some pictures of my workplace lit up in the snow. I looked around and realized that no picture could capture the moment in this snowstorm. The scene was only mine to see.

I’ve felt it many times since I’ve been here. Standing on top of the dunes at Grand Mere or Warren Dunes State Park, driving through corn fields in late summer, freezing at the end of the pier by the St. Joe lighthouse in a vicious wind…. the raw beauty of it all ignites something inside of me that makes me feel quite young again. Even while I’m out shoveling snow in the darkness with my dog running around rolling in the snow I feel this sense of adventure… a knowing that this life is short, and this moment – all moments – are fleeting.

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Tonight I bundled up – 13 degrees and dropping – and took Ashok for a walk. I finally found some little booties that work, and she looked so cute plodding around in them. I was wrapped up in my down parka, $75 technical gloves that still don’t keep my fingers warm and my snow boots. We trudged across snowbanks and shoveled walks. The snow was coming down hard and fast, and the Christmas lights twinkled an assortment of colors.

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I let Ashok loose in a field of snow, and she raced in circles, rolling in the snow every few seconds. She ran back toward me and gazed at me in a downward-facing dog position. She was completely covered in snow. Her black fur made a shadowy outline around her eyes. For a moment, I really regretted that I didn’t bring a camera. I giggled because she looked so funny. And, just like this morning, I realized that some moments are not meant to be captured. They are only meant to be lived.

Enjoy winter, my friends – whether you have it for a day or for a season, it’s meant for inward reflection and downtime. Fix a hot chocolate and cuddle up with a loved one. Tomorrow, this moment will be history.

It Ended As It Began – 2016

 

 

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Happy New Years Eve! 2016 has been an up and down year for me for sure. I’m eager to see it end, and excited to see what 2017 might bring. All week, I’ve been seeing memories from Facebook of last year’s holiday hike on the Wild Azalea Trail. It was my first long backpacking trip with three ladies and one girl dog. It’s made me reflect on that hike and remember what it meant to me to be so adventurous and learn all of those new survival skills. It truly was a life-changing experience.

Last year’s hike on the Wild Azalea Trail….

As I was watching those pics pop up, it made me a little sad that I didn’t have hiking buddies this year. I’m ready to get out hiking, but I just don’t have those folks on speed dial that would say Hell, yeah! if I called and asked if they wanted to go on a hike. By some stroke of sheer luck, my friend Karen posted on Facebook that she was in Southwest Michigan this week. Karen is one of the lucky travelers who travels around the country in her RV working at National Parks and other odd jobs. In her spare time she hikes. I went out to dinner with her last night, and at the last moment, I asked her if she wanted to hike this morning. “Hell, yeah!” she said. (Well, maybe that’s not what she said, but that’s what I heard.)

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We met at 9 AM at Warren Dunes State Park. It is about a 25-minute drive from my house. I had driven over there once before but wasn’t interested in just climbing those steep dunes all day. I had done some research and found out that not all of the trails were over the dunes. Some were in the woods, so I was eager to get my feet on the trial to see if I liked it.

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We hiked through the woods with our dogs – females Ashok and Tippy – on another all-girl adventure. A slight dusting of snow was evident at the start, but gradually the snow disappeared. The leisurely trail through the wooded park sat just on the edge of the sand dunes. We finally reached a juncture where we had to choose if we wanted to get physical and climb some dunes or stay with a more easy pace. We both decided to go for it, and up we went into some of the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world on a beautiful 40-degree day.

The dunes, of course, led us to that gorgeous gem, Lake Michigan. There was no ice today. We walked the beach next to crystal green water boiling with waves just like the ocean. We found a little “tumbleweed” that was formed from the dune grasses that line the shore. The dunes had eroded a great deal, and a massive “wall” of sand marked the edge of the beach. The sand was stacked in layers that looked like some kind of massive sandstone rock formation.

The tumbleweed and sand wall….

We climbed Mount Randal which is a 260-foot dune and the namesake of the trail. Feeling like we were lost in the desert, we kept climbing and walking on the top of the dunes trying to find the trail. It disappeared into the blowing sand, and there was little evidence of a walkway. To our left was a sharp drop-off that went almost straight down to the woods, and on our right was a less steep but still unnavigable drop into the heart of the dunes. Eventually, we saw this really long, steep “trail” that looked like it led back to the wooded area. We decided to slide down as far as we needed and then lope the rest of the way down the dunes. It was like a long sand slide, and I had a ball trying to get down.

We found a lovely little creek at the bottom and followed it and the trail back to the car. It was such a beautiful day, and the dogs had a great time playing with each other and hiking. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of 2016. I’d spent the first day of 2016 on a trail in North Louisiana alongside a beautiful creek. I never would have dreamed that I’d be climbing a massive sand dune in Michigan by the end of the year.

On the way back, Karen and I talked about the Great Lakes and the massive sand dunes. On that trail, we had two very distinct eco-systems. The dunes very quickly fade into a super-dark soil that could support trees and ferns. The Great Lakes were formed when very heavy glaciers pressed down upon the earth and dug out (or pressed down) the soil. So, these dunes and soil rose up in the process. When the glaciers melted, the depressions filled with water, and we now have some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. I find the history so fascinating.

I hope that you have a Happy New Years’ Eve tonight, and I wish you the very best year for 2017. I hope that you discover and seek out experiences that fill your heart with joy and make your soul’s desires your most important priority. Life is too short to miss the beauty and love all around us. And it won’t come to you. You have to go seek it out. Happy New Year!

See this drone footage I found on YouTube of the park we hiked today….