The Beast, the B*tch and the Badass

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Last weekend I realized that I hadn’t actually registered for the Mount Baldhead Challenge (The Beast) in September. So I (The Badass) went to the website, and read the announcement that the 15K had now become a 12-miler and some change. “Well that’s not a 15K then,” Jessica (aka The B*tch) said when I texted her. I’m going to do it. I have my heart set on running this multi-terrain race, but this means that the distance has increased, and when I checked the map, the amount of trail running has increased as well.

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Now this race was already hard. The first time I ever ran it, I had just started back running that year. I was choosing races that would help me increase my distance. I didn’t know enough to look at elevation or terrain or anything else. While standing in line at the porta-potty, I asked a fellow racer if he had ever run it before. “Yes!” he said. “This is my favorite race. It’s supposed to be the toughest 15k in the country! (or did he say Michigan?).” I was shaking in my running shoes.

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I ended that race dead last. The cop car with lights flashing followed me across the finish line. And I was hooked. I ran that race 3 more times – once in a pouring thunderstorm. The course takes you through scenic Douglas and Saugatuck, along country roads, up, over and through the beautifully wooded dunes of Lake Michigan, and just about the time you get really tired, you climb 302 steps to the top of the dune called Mount Baldhead.

So now it’s two miles longer. And I’m quite a bit older. Jessica has increased my mileage and the elevation of my runs. The bluff in Saint Joseph features a staircase that climbs about 75 steps from the beach into town. For the past two weeks, I’ve been adding a hill running/stair climbing training run. And, I’ve been running trails. This week, she told me I should come to Saugatuck and start practicing on the race course.

The Goal: Run for 75 minutes and then climb Mount Baldhead 4 times. (I’m sure that Okie B*tch is thinking of wimpy Florida dunes. She has no idea that Lake Michigan dunes are beasts.)

The Reality: Ashok and I took off and discovered that even the elevation of the roads in this area is very hilly. In town, it’s pretty flat, but when you get to the dunes, it’s like running in East Tennessee. I’ll be climbing that beast twice. Maybe I’ll work up to four in the next month. Maybe ….

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I was surprised at how strong I was running the roads. Even though they were hilly, I kept up pretty well. Ashok did great, too and enjoyed playing in the ditches to cool off between intervals. Deer and squirrels kept her prey instinct occupied. It rained on and off, and the temp was a comfortable 50 degrees. I felt like I was on vacation with all the woods and water areas.

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No dogs were allowed on the stairs, so I tucked her away in the car and started my climb. No way I was going to run them. Even walking, I had to stop and catch my breath several times. But I got up to the top, caught my breath, took the long walk down and did it again. I told myself I could try 3 if I thought I could make it, but my legs were so wobbly after 2 ascents, I thought I’d better call it a day. There will be plenty of time for stair climbing in the next three months.

Now I’m really excited. I hope to be in better shape for this race than any of the previous ones. I always trained on roads and hoped for the best. I never trained on the course ahead of time. And I look forward to spending more beautiful Sunday mornings atop Mount Baldhead while the view – and the climb – literally takes my breath away.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to take a nap.

 

Self-Love is Power

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The flashing of my light alarm awakes me. I close my eyes, Ashok gets up and stares at me while I roll into a fetal position on my side and hit the snooze. “Go back to bed, Ashok,” I say. I feel her breathing behind my ear as the tension grips my gut. “I love you,” I say to myself and hug myself into a ball.

A puzzle from work flashes in my mind, and I rifle through solutions. I let it go and find my breath. The light flashes again, and I’m up. I feed the dogs and cats, fix my breakfast, wash my face, make some tea and sit down. It is too much too fast. I am craving stillness. My head is spinning with thoughts and worries of the day, self-criticisms and emotional pain. On a scale of 1-10, I’m at a 6 today, but I’d love to be at a 2.

I find a meditation in my 10% Happier app on allowing the stress to settle. I grab my cozy socks, arrange my blankets and cushion, light a candle and incense and ‘tap to begin’. The teacher encourages me to sense the anxiety and tension. My legs and buttocks are gripping in unidentifiable fear. I breathe in to release. As soon as I release, they tense again, so I repeat. This time, my body puddles. I still feel the tension swirling in my abdominal area, and my mind is racing, but my body, at last, is not reacting.

I follow his direction to wrap a warm blanket of kindness and compassion around the area where my tension grips. It snakes around my abdomen, and I mentally hug it close. Warm and soft, it soothes me. I send myself love and compassion and focus on my breath. It is uncomfortable bathing in my anxiety. Self-critical thoughts flash, tempting me to hate myself. I concentrate on the simple act of breathing. “God loves me,” I say to myself, and the blanket cinches.

Finally, my energy settles. I know I could start it up again with a single critical thought, but instead I focus on how peaceful my body feels. I am in the arms and presence of God. The world is out there, but I only hear my breathing. In a minute, I will open my eyes, and the world will bat me around. But for this moment I am still.

I have been reminded several times this week how important it is to love myself. We have a culture that believes we must flagellate and criticize our self and others in order to perform. We learn it as children from critical parents, and the pattern continues with teachers and bosses who are reacting from their own pain from self-criticism. By the time we are adults, our minds are filled with the words that browbeat us into submission or enrage our anger. Like a programmed computer, our brains regurgitate what it has been fed.

You have been a loser all your life. Every time you think you screw up. Fatso. Fatass. Your hair looks like a brillo pad. You will never amount to anything. I don’t want to hear a word out of you. You are way too sensitive. Buck up. Do something with that frizzy hair. Who do you think you are? Shut up your crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about. You better learn how to be friendly. What is wrong with you? What will other people think of you? Shut up …. Shut upSHUT UP.……..

I can choose to close my eyes when I feel the churn, wrap the blanket of compassion around where it hurts and settle into love. That hateful voice does not belong to me or God. I know how to silence it. Self-love is power.

How do you love yourself? Do you love your self? What are the key messages of your critical voice, and who do they belong to? Can you let them go?

Our Need to Look Forward

 

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Signs of spring – asparagus, morel mushrooms, new potatoes and red onions. Yum!

I had brunch at the Browns’ house today on Dewey Lake. If you’ll remember, I spent a month in the little cottage by the lake when I first moved up to Michigan. But today was the last meal that the Browns would have in the big cottage on the hill. I’ve had at least 15-20 meals with them in the last two years. And dinner was usually followed by a boat ride on the little lake. And while I’ve been there for two years, they’ve been gathering at that spot as a family for as long as they can remember.

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One of my first mornings in Michigan on Dewey Lake. I feel like a different girl than I was on this day.

Kathy has since moved to California. Another sibling is renting a condo in downtown Saint Joe, and still another has an RV spot near Saugatuck. Their parents and a brother are buried down the street in Dowagiac. An era is ending for this family, and as we took one last walk down to the boat ramp, they all agreed they were ready for the next chapter to begin. What I thought would be a tearful day turned out to be a day of gratitude and acceptance.

 

I had to do a trail run today. I’m training for a 15K in September in Saugatuck which is part trail run, part street run and part dunes climb. It’s a tough one, and I’ve been building a base with strength training and street running. I wanted to run a trail that I knew, so I chose one in a state park near where I used to live. I’d run those trails in that park in every season and in every kind of weather.

 

Leaves and wildflowers were popping out in celebration of springtime. I hiked that trail this winter in the snow. It was the same but totally different. It is the ending of the winter in the woods and the beginning of spring. Nature is always looking forward. I ended my day with dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant having one of my all-time favorite soups. I’ve ordered that warming soup so many times on chilly days. It was comfort food when my marriage was falling apart. It, too, felt familiar.

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We didn’t talk too much about the past today even though I’m sure it was as much on their minds as it was on mine. There have been many nights that I’ve listened to Brown family stories at that dining room table. It was their Mother’s home. Her presence was palpable and yet I never met her. It was certainly fitting that they would say good-bye on Mother’s Day.

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The Browns found these old cookbooks in their family home. I’m glad this is changed!

Comfort hails from the familiar. Like nature, though, we have to always look forward. We have no choice in this. We suffer loss, and we let go. We set goals and leap forward. If we fall backward, it is usually a painful incentive to try something different. We are hard-wired for growth. And growth happens outside of our comfort zone.

When you look back on your life, what changes brought about the most growth? What are you afraid of changing now?

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Rebelling Out Loud

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I always considered myself a rebel. But if I reflect on it, I’m not sure I really am. Fear keeps me bound by rules that tell me to get an 8 to 5 job, save up for retirement, find a nice man and keep my house clean. But my heart is not always in any of it. I’d like to be a writer who writes in the morning and serves coffee at a coffeehouse in the afternoon. I’d prefer to work as a hostel-owner on the Appalachian Trail. Or better yet, I’d like to do some kind of job for six months a year and take six months off.

There’s a guy on Match who ended his profile with “P.S. No tattoos, please.” He had contacted me and had been chatting me up for a week before I noticed it. I messaged him and told him I had two, and I wasn’t interested in someone so closed-minded. He ended the interaction saying he thought I was an interesting person. I resisted answering, but I wanted to say, “Most people who are ballsy enough to get tattoos are interesting. But you’ll never know because you have some stupid preference that has nothing to do with the person.” Next….

Don’t we all rebel against something? If we invest in a mainstream life, we might rebel by eating too much or running up debt. “You can’t put limits on me!” those behaviors scream. I want. I get. Or what about all of these sexual harassers who hide in their offices and prey on coworkers in secret. Their mainstream life is not wild enough for them, so they take what they want from women who are less powerful than they are. We rebel but we are too chicken to rebel out loud.

I admire the rebels who live their whole lives in rebellion. They thumb their nose at money and create. One of my artist girlfriends who is also a shaman says she creates something every single day. Her house is colorful and eclectic. It is never clean because she’s painting. She and her husband are both artists. They teach. They protest for things they believe in. They invest in their family of choice. They rebel until it’s mainstream for them. They are my heroes. I want to grow up and be like them.

 

 

 

The Evolution of an Artist

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I saw Steve Martin last night at The Mendel Center. Imagine my delight when the word prompt of the day from WordPress was ‘laughter‘. I have to write this one.

My sister and I saw The Jerk when we were in high school. Throughout the movie, we kept looking at each other and rolling our eyes. It was the stupidest movie. After a few days of recalling scenes in the movie and laughing our asses off about it, Momma remarked, “For a movie that was so horrible, you sure are laughing a lot about it.” I suppose Steve Martin is one of those comics that grows on you.

I was thrilled to get the chance to see him. I wish they had just let him talk and do his own thing, but they chose an interview-style setting which seemed to constrain him.  More than a couple of times he jokingly grumbled about being interrogated. Being the stellar performer that he is, he made it work, and I suppose he covered a lot of topics that he normally wouldn’t pursue. And, of course, he made us laugh – over and over again.

I also saw Art Garfunkel over the winter. He had throat surgery and almost lost his voice, so his voice was a mere shadow of what it used to be. But that hint was just enough to bring it all back into focus. At first I longed to hear his old voice. He talked about how much he loved singing, and he could never dream of stopping. I thought that was so sweet. I’m sure he longs for the voice he once had and the energy of his youth, but he still finds joy in it.

Over the course of the show, I started to see more of Art Garfunkel the man and less of Garfunkel the aging star. A pile of tattered white envelopes lay on a stool onstage. As a bookend to each song, he read a note hastily scribbled on an envelope or a poem he’d written in the heat of a moment. Charming stories about his rocky relationship with Paul Simon trickled into his act. Another song would highlight the next decade, and he’d start all over again. I had expected to hear a singer, but what I experienced was the expression of a well-loved lifetime.

I love seeing these old stars as they travel around the country in their last acts. Small venues filled with gray-haired fans and a few midlifers come to life with memories and emotions of days gone by. I find the nostalgia nice, but it’s their evolution as a human that intrigues me. If they have evolved at all and not been consumed with drugs, alcohol and money, they seem to become more well-rounded and whole. The man no longer works so hard to express himself. The artist literally becomes their art.

In 2008, Robert Plant toured with Alison Krauss. She’s one of my favorite bluegrass artists, and I saw them on a sunny July day on the banks of the Mississippi River. They played bluegrass renditions of several Led Zeppelin hits. My ex struggled and complained because could not get the past out of his head. I was fascinated by this interesting evolution of his music. He didn’t feel stuck in making the same music over and over for the crowd. The exploration of a different sound seemed to be a normal extension of an evolving human – the evolving artist.

Raising Sand is still one of my favorite albums.

Steve Martin played the banjo for us last night. He told jokes. He made fun of himself and told stories of celebrities he’d known. He even gave advice to a couple of aspiring stand-up comedians. But when a man asked him to recreate his funny “man-woman” walk, he was visibly uncomfortable. He paused for a moment and then stuttered that he just didn’t like trying to recreate something he’d once done. “It just wasn’t his thing,” I think he said. Like Plant and Garfunkel, Martin seems to be exploring the path ahead of him while standing firmly in his own shoes.

Why recreate the past when something much more interesting could be right around the corner? 

 

Back to the Grind, Dammit!

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I didn’t sleep well last night. I have no idea why. I do know that I had a smidgeon of coffee this weekend. My esthetician noticed that I had some redness on my face. “What is that about?” she asked. Was I doing something different? There was nothing I could think of that seemed to matter to her except that I had coffee for the first time in awhile an hour before. I had a shot of coffee Sunday, and when I looked in the mirror I could see it. My face was flushed. Just like some people flush with alcohol, I am now flushing with coffee.

I woke up anxious this morning. Even a 45-minute yoga nidra did very little to calm my jittery disposition. So, I’m committing to soothing green tea this morning. At least I didn’t have sugar yesterday! I’m over three weeks off that evil powdery drug. I’m starting to feel better and more energized every day.

As much as I love my crazy, high-energy new job, I don’t want to go in. I want to sit here and drink my tea curled up with my furbabies. Then I’d like to go out for walk in the sunshine or hike for a bit on the North Country Trail. I could fix a nice smoked whitefish salad for lunch and take a long nap after. A few things around my house need to be done. I could lazily go after those after my sleepy self wakes up. But, alas … it’s time to wake up from this idyllic fantasy. I have to get dressed and herd cats for approximately 8 hours.

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I’ll leave you with a resource I found this weekend. I went to the Mason Jar Cafe in Benton Harbor, and they have superfood lattes. There’s no coffee in them. They provide a jolt of energy from healthy ingredients designed to stoke your immune system and soothe your nerves. This morning I made one with homemade almond milk, some cacao and matcha. Yummy!

What’s it going to take to get your Monday game face on? And, if you are retired, go out and have fun. Just realize how damn lucky you are!

 

What a Gorgeous Michigan Weekend! #summertime

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For the last month, I – along with many other Michiganders – have been toeing that line of demarcation between winter and spring. Moaning and groaning and carrying on about the lingering cold weather and even April snow has been a constant theme of every day. Last Sunday I drove to the beach, and I had to put on a parka to go out on the pier. As I drove away, I wondered how many of the tourists had planned on spring-like weather but had been forced to bundle up. So…. we’ve … been … waiting ….

We were set free yesterday! The temps neared 80 degrees. Count – ’em .. not 60 not 70 … but 80 degrees! Okay, it was only 77, but it’s close enough. I had to clean my house because it was disgusting after 6 weeks of focused study on my certification and then vacation. But I did it early and late and hit the road like a Chicago tourist all the damn weekend.

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I got a massage. I ate out for breakfast …. TWICE. I drove up to Saugatuck. I ate out for dinner. And I took a long run on a short pier. I ate tacos and tamales on a picnic table in Coloma. I drove down country roads with country music blaring out of the speakers. I bought delicious morel mushrooms.  Every tree in every orchard is in full bloom. The dandelions dot the landscape with little yellow kisses. Snowbirds are returning from Arizona, Florida and New Orleans with their tans. All the stores and restaurants are opening their doors for the season. As far as I’m concerned, the switch is flipped. It is summertime in Michigan!

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So, we have about 6 months of carefree lovely weather before we start bundling up again. Yeah, it’ll be chilly again yet this spring, and it’ll start cooling down for fall in September. But the snow better be gone for the time being. This year, it has worn out its welcome!

Simplifing the Superhero

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My Memphis friend Gene in turned me on to the Optimal Living Daily podcast a few weeks ago. The one he mentioned was one on writing, and I thought it was pretty cool, but I didn’t listen again until this morning. Vacation is optimal living anyway, right? Justin, the author of this podcast, takes the best that he finds on the web about improving your life and compiles it for us to hear.

I managed to extricate myself from the bed this morning (the Monday after vacation) to get to the gym, and I didn’t want to think about the news yet. I spun through my podcast feed, and decided to listen to the Optimal Living podcast. This morning’s  message was about untethering yourself from your smartphone, and I found that interesting, but I really liked the one from Friday about redefining the superhero.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstdacles.”

~~ Christopher Reeve

I often beat myself up because I’m not out saving the world or adopting orphans. “What am I doing with my life?” I ask myself with a generous dose of shame. I feel guilty for working in corporate America instead of working at a nonprofit doing something that is meaningful for the planet or saving the animals that are rapidly becoming extinct. I donate money but shouldn’t I be doing something more substantial? I grapple with the reality that I need to take care of myself financially at this moment in time. What is more important?

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Justin got this redefining of superhero inspiration from Eric Weinbrenner. He says that dreaming about being a superhero is a distraction. The world needs something more basic and simple from us.

“The world doesn’t need guys with superhuman strength, it needs men who are willing to:

  • Take responsibility for their actions.
  • Step up and do what they can to make a difference in their communities.
  • Get off the phone or computer and spend time, face-to-face, with the people that really matter.
  • Refuse to be okay with the status quo. “

~~ Eric Weinbrenner

I’ve been praying about my own role in this drama we call life. As I turn this over in my head, I ask God to help me understand my role and whether I need to be doing more. Inevitably, someone will contact me to tell me how I’ve helped them with my writing.  In my heart, I know that sharing what I’ve learned with others on the same path is God’s greatest desire for me. I learned from the love and support and wisdom of those who struggled before me. Maybe writing doesn’t feel superhero-ish to me, but if my story helps one other person take the next step in improving their life, it could feel superhero-ish to them. And they can turn around and do it for another with their unique superhero talent. Sometimes being part of the chain is the best kind of superhero.

What is your superhero talent? Does it feel like a superhero talent? Are you sharing it in a way that feels satisfying to you and could be meaningful to others?

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Don’t Be a Pantywaist

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I woke up really emotional this morning. Perhaps I’ve been affected by spending several days in the woods. Maybe it’s the coffee I drank yesterday. Or it could be the releasing of all the stress of the last few weeks and finally relaxing my guard. It doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I cried at least three times today.

A tear rolled down my cheek when I read a New York Times article about the drastic declines in the shorebird populations. I am gripped in grief over the ongoing loss of our wild animal species. I had to pull myself together and stop crying after Ashok had an altercation with a very old dog at the kennel. It destroys me she can’t get along with other dogs, especially when they are so old. And I cried as the author of Grandma Gatewood’s biography recalled her heart for walking and her spirit of persistence until the ripe old age of 86.

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I am in the land of Grandma Emma Gatewood, the first female thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. In fact, today is Grandma Gatewood Day, and this book signing by author Ben Montgomery was held today as a celebration. The event began with a showing of the documentary Trail Magic which details the 67-year-old woman’s hike of the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail. Her hike was in 1955. Yes, she was 67, and she wore tennis shoes and carried a canvas sack. She had no tent and stuffed leaves in her sack so she could sleep on top of it at night. In a word, she was a trooper.

Grandma divorced a man who beat her for over 30 years although she told people she was widowed. I won’t tell you her whole story, but I find it interesting that after divorcing a man who beat her and raising 11 kids, she decided one day to go for a walk – a very long walk. That’s what she told her kids. I am going for a walk. She was gone for many months when she decided to send them postcards to inform them of her trek because reporters had gotten wind of it. She didn’t want them to read it in the paper.

What made her want to walk? And what made her want to keep walking? After her first trip, she hiked the trail again two years later at age 69. And then she hiked it a third time doing section hikes even later. Oh yeah, and in between all of that, she also hiked the 2000-mile Oregon Trail. What makes someone who stayed for 30 years of intolerable abuse finally walk away? Then the walking became the obsession.

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Author Ben Montgomery and Me!

I’m not sure what touched me so much about her story. It could have been that I’m just raw right now. But I related to her desire to leave it all behind her. I know the freedom and the grief of extricating yourself from an abusive relationship. It is both insanely difficult and wildly freeing. I felt so happy that she found a way to step into her power and make a name for herself during a time it was considered selfish. I doubt she had a plan to be famous, but she ended up on the cover of the 1-year-old Sports Illustrated magazine. She wanted to walk and walk and walk.

One of my favorite feisty Gatewood lines was uttered when asked why she did it. “Most people are pantywaists,” she said. “Exercise is good for you.” Maybe we just need to decide what we are going to do and do it. We get all caught up in what we are supposed to do or in waiting for the perfect time. She taught me today that there is still time left. There is no time like the present, and there are no rules. Life is short. And, above all, just keep walking.

What would you do if you weren’t a pantywaist? Why don’t you just start walking and see what happens?

I Passed!!!

Just call me Ms. Project Manager!