It has been so long since I wrote a Sunday Night Check-In. If you are new to my blog, I used to “check-in” every Sunday night (or most of them) with a report of my adventurous weekend, silly little thoughts and anything else I found interesting on my time off. For the last year or three, I’ve had a heavy heart or just needed a break from anything more intimate than a review of a coffee shop. I don’t trust like I did years ago, and dang it, I just don’t like a lot of people in the world anymore. Being light-hearted and open has just been a struggle for a long time.
Right now we are in the midst of a reckoning, and I believe good will come out of this. I don’t know what that will look like, but when my world has fallen apart, it’s always ended up being a good thing. Even if it’s a childish notion, I’m going to hang onto that. If there’s anything I’ve learned through the challenges in my life, it’s that I will survive and often thrive. I hope that applies collectively as well.
I started this weekend like I like to start all weekends. I hid out Friday night. I watched TV, walked my dog and basically holed up in my house doing whatever I damn well pleased. I think I binge-watched Season 5 of Schitt’s Creek for the third time. I also watched a silly little drag queen movie called “To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything”. It put me in a light-hearted mood knowing that we all have our gifts and drag queens are just so damn fashionable and funny. Saturday I met a friend for breakfast at Caffe Tosi’s and then walked around the Farmer’s Market. It was light on vendors, but I did manage to snag some fresh asparagus and strawberries.
I came home and met my friend Michael over video chat. We both chose a recipe for Focaccia, and had a virtual bake-off. Over the course of the morning, he texted me that he was also making Red Gravy, and, of course I had to have some. I ran out and got the ingredients and started mine, too. I’d never made Red Gravy before, and it was super easy. While it bubbled away making its magic, Michael and I revved up our blenders, compared notes on our Focaccia recipes and chatted about current events. By the time we laid our rising dough to rest, his husband had planned a dinner party and I decided to bake a Grape-Nuts pudding for dessert. We hung up and texted our next steps as we baked and stirred and kneaded our way through the afternoon. At some point we both were dipping Focaccia in the most delectable red gravy I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t even need pasta.
With all of my cooking done for a few days, I used my time this morning to take Ashok for a walk to the beach. Silver Beach is beat up pretty bad after the high water and winter storms. They’ve dredged sand from the river, but it’s not very clean. I noticed a lot of trash down by the beach and wondered if the city was short-staffed or struggling to keep things up this year. I made a note to bring a garbage bag the next time and do my part to help keep our little town clean. We walked and sat for about 2 hours. It was a lovely morning, and the rain that was forecast never came.
I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with friends from Memphis, Boston and Nashville on the phone. I felt very connected and loved after catching up with them and understanding that we are all on the struggle bus right now. While a lot of people don’t like to talk about their burdens, I find that sharing our burdens makes them lighter. I felt so good I loaded up my new kitten Luna and Ashok and we went down to the bluff to lay out in the shade and people-watch. I chose a spot with a view of the river and the lighthouse, and I watched my kitten play and the boats go by. Time stood still for a bit, and I even closed my eyes for a daydream.
I cooked an amazing smoked pork chop and some collard greens for dinner. When I took Ashok out for a final spin around the block, an odd desire bubbled up. I wanted to write about my weekend. I remembered how fun it used to be to tie my weekend in a pretty bow with a blog. Writing it down always made me feel grateful for the meandering weekend and the simple life I’ve chosen. I actually couldn’t wait to get home to start writing. It’s been a long time since I felt this way. I’m grateful for whatever set of circumstances led me to this place.
Have a great week, y’all. Now that sounds weird given the times we are in. Have the week you need to have, y’all! That feels more congruent with the sentiment I need to express. And know that if I can support you in any way, I’m right here. Share your fears and your burdens with somebody. I promise you’ll both be the better for it. If nothing else, light a candle for our world. We can all use some light.
Today was a perfect day.
I slept with the windows open last night. The temps are in the 50s at night and in the 60s – low 70s during the day. It is freaking awesome. It’s great running weather, perfect hiking weather and the kind of weather that makes me smile all day long. It’s really hard to be anything but happy with a Michigan summer day like today. And yesterday was just like it.
At my friend Claudia’s recommendation, Ashok and I visited Boot Lake Nature Preserve near Elkhart IN. It was a sweet little hike through prairies bursting with wildflowers. We took a few little jaunts into the woods. From there you could catch a glimpse of the lily-flecked lake. The sun was nice, and I took off my jacket about half-way around the loop. I imagine I got a little pink on my shoulders. I’m still pretty translucent after the long winter. I can use a kiss of sunshine for many reasons.
Yesterday’s perfect day
(although I’m not sure this southern girl will ever be on the beach in 60-degree weather)…
On the way home, we stopped at a little farm store I’d been wanting to check out. Wild Coyote Farm is an organic farm, and this year they set up a little store on their property. Their Facebook page said they had much more than just produce so I was eager to check it out.
They had lots of yummy things to choose from, although the empty bins full of water told me I got there a little late for the best variety of produce. I still snagged some beautiful cucumbers, fresh kale and collard greens, freshly-milled artisan bread flour, just-picked strawberries and a gallon of farm-fresh milk. I’ve been making my own soy milk and tofu, so I passed over their selection, but that would definitely be worth trying.
I came home and made a beautiful kale salad with lemon-tahini dressing, my favorite cucumber salad, baked fish and boiled eggs. I am prepped for healthy eating this week. No excuses. I decided to make some sourdough focaccia with the starter I fed this morning. It won’t be ready until tomorrow morning, but man does it look delicious. I have been loving my sourdough starter this year. I grew it during quarantine, and I have been using it every week for crumpets, muffins or a variety of different breads. I even made waffles one morning!
There’s something about being food-prepped for the week with healthy just-picked produce. It’s so colorful, and when I’m ready for a meal it’s nice to have that beautiful food ready-to-eat within a few minutes. It almost makes me feel like somebody else prepared it for me.
So, tomorrow will mark two weeks from my retirement date. I’ve begun to wrap my head around it, but it’s really going to feel weird when I get up on July 1 with no agenda for the foreseeable future. I’m noodling ideas for a little vacation since I haven’t been able to take one this year. But if the days keep coming like the one today, I’m not sure why I’d go anywhere. The beach is near, the breeze is cool, and the food is fabulous. What else would I need?
One of my girlfriends is learning to teach virtually. She has taught face-to-face classes for her entire career, so this is no small task. The technology is daunting and feels really clunky. “I keep messing up,” she said with frustration. The content and activities have to be reworked to be delivered onscreen. And she has to teach the participants a new way of learning as well. She is way out of her comfort zone.
My team is completely virtual now. We’ve been a virtual team forever, but we are now virtual at a whole new level. I’m sitting on a cushion on my dining room chair trying to figure out how to keep my back from hurting. Several of my team members have little kids at home, and they are learning to juggle childcare duties with the needs of their work-at-home spouse on top of the work they need to do for their job. We are learning how to work together with no home base and with dozens of daily distractions. Some days we laugh through it. Other days people are oddly silent. There are times I need to ping someone to make sure they are okay. But we are making it work – clunky as it is.
On top of this is a world careening out of control. It’s hard to watch and it’s hard to take my eyes off it. Literally everybody on this planet is outside their comfort zone in at least one area of their lives. And this pandemic has been a wildly different experience for different groups of people. You have one experience if you are a suddenly remote worker holed up in your house and yet another experience if you are essential and need to get out. Families who get sick with Covid-19 have an even more harrowing experience. It’s hard to know what to think about this time, and yet it has provided a great deal of time for reflection.
We learn when we move beyond our comfort zone. There is nothing to learn within the confines of safety and what we know. It’s that leap of faith that takes us over the safety rails and into the unknown that is the catalyst for learning. Our first tendency might be to jump back in our comfort zones, but right now we don’t have that choice. We have to learn a new way, and we have to get comfortable enough with that new way of being to make a life of it for at least the short-term.
I’m hopeful that we all learn so much individually from being outside our comfort zones that it literally leapfrogs our collective consciousness lightyears ahead. We need that forward movement. The best times for my own personal growth have been at those times when my world was completely in ruins at my feet. There’s something about total destruction that frees us up to think differently. Change that is just a reaction to something else is not true change. We need something more than opposition. We need complete and radical change.
Today my Michigan team and I met up for ice cream. It was the first time that we had seen each other in person since February. So much has changed since then. Our company won’t be going back onsite for months if all goes according to plan. I have an end date for my employment that is quickly approaching, so my team will move on without me. They will have a new boss and a new structure. They will lose a number of colleagues and will have to figure it out without them. I will have a new life, and I know nothing of what that will look like.
As I walked away from our gathering, my parting gift in hand, I remembered the day I was given that team. I was afraid then. Could I do what I wanted to do? Would we like each other? Would we create great things or spin our wheels? We all walked boldly into the unknown then, and we’ll do it now. That team and our mission has become my comfort zone over the past year or two. And I’m taking leave of my comfort zone again. In a year, what is unknown today will be my comfort zone. I suspect I will learn a lot, cry a bit, laugh until tears stream down my face and meet a number of new people. With any luck, I will look back on this time with fondness. This is the doorway to my next adventure.
Sunday I ventured into the world to get some sunshine and blue skies on a beautiful 70-degree day. One of my favorite little beach towns is Ottawa Beach, home of Holland State Park and the Big Red Lighthouse. A boardwalk meanders beside Lake Macatawa and follows it’s outlet into Lake Michigan. I like to sit and watch the boat parade that forms in the narrow inlet. Ashok loves the attention of the beachgoers and taking a short dip on a little beach. But Sunday I wanted to take a longer walk. It was so nice out, and after the lockdown and the winter I really needed some sunshine. There is a cutoff bike trail close to the park that leads to the Ottawa Beach Historic District.
I’ve lived here four years this summer. This time four years ago I was treading water after my organization’s budget was cut, and I lost my job. Thankfully it ended with my finding a better role within the larger organization, but at this time that year I did not know how it would end. While my manager searched frantically for a budget line to fund my position, I was looking for jobs and spending a little time off visiting friends and hanging in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. My manager called while I was shopping in downtown Bay St. Louis to inform me that I had a soft spot to land. Later that day I was asked to send my resume to Whirlpool. A new path opened for me, and I took it.
We never know what paths lie before us. Will they be lovely? Or will they be difficult? We only know there are options. We have decisions to make with little information on what might happen in the future. I made a decision last week to take a retirement package from Whirlpool. I am lucky to have been offered it. It will provide a soft spot to land while I explore paths to the future. This in-between place is always difficult AND exciting. I can choose a similar path which ensures more of the same, or I can choose a path yet unexplored that might provide something different. Neither is right or wrong. They are just different choices.
I took the path near the Ottawa Beach Historic District sign. My next choice was to take the shadier upper boardwalk instead of the sunnier beach route. There is no car access, so the boardwalk is the main thruway through quaint beach homes decorated with colorful yard decorations and flowering gardens. It was shady, peaceful and pleasant. Ashok and I walked the entire circle and ended up by the beach, choosing the beach walk on the way back. It was sunny, bright and active with beachgoers. Both were interesting, but I found the upper boardwalk was exactly what I needed.
It’s interesting to sit here with my choices. It’s, of course, much more interesting since I don’t have to race out and find another job. I am grateful to be in this space. I want to take the time to evaluate the choices before me. Do I want more of the same? Do I want a different path? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I don’t have an answer now, and I’m not going to make a quick decision. I want to percolate a bit.
I feel like writing but I don’t really know what to write about. Maybe if I just start, I’ll finish. It is the practice, after all, that makes for a habit. It’s not the skill. A guy I talked to the other day kept saying he was anxious to “get better” at meditation. There is no “getting better” at meditation. Yes, the mind eventually will begin to heal and settle with hours of continuous practice. But the mind is born to wander. It thinks. That’s literally it’s main deal. It can’t “get better” because it’s already good at what it does. It’s just a bit wild. So we practice to mold that mess into a strength.
Yoga is the same way. I remember early on in my 20-year yoga practice apologizing to a teacher about my lack of practice. “I know I need to do better,” I said. “I feel like a failure at yoga.” She replied, “That’s why they call it a practice. There is no perfect way to do it. Just start again.” I have many times used that as a touchstone as my practice time ebbs and flows with my desire, energy and available time. It’s not about hitting goals or getting the pose right. It’s about stepping into the practice to learn whatever I learn.
All of these practices – writing, meditation, yoga – are healing for me. They alleviate stress and nurture me when I feel I have nothing else to give. I avoid numbing out because of my propensity for addiction, so I lean in. I explore what is going on inside me by staring at my feet in Uttanasana or following my breath in meditation. I take the remnants of my worries, hopes and dreams and mold them into a digestible story with my writing. These practices help me to identify the root of my demons and sit with my beautiful mess with compassion and love. The practice is transformative. By accepting whatever I’m bringing to my practice, I find peace. Anxiety dissipates or diminishes. Obstacles melt. I can rise to meet the day.
I don’t remember why I was drawn to yoga and can’t explain how writing became a salve for me, but I know that when I need something or I feel out of sorts, these practices are the path. I step on my mat and settle into child’s pose. I close my eyes to observe my breath. Or, like today, I just start writing and all of the troubles of the world fade into the background. The peace may not last for long, but it lasts for a moment. And being kind to myself in that moment is the practice that changes my world one breath, one foot placement or one word at a time.
I can be standing on the sand at the edge of Lake Michigan in less than a mile from my house. The distance has gotten a tad shorter due to the winter storms, high water level and lack of ice build-up this year. The water has chomped at the sand all winter long, biting off huge chunks of beach, taking it back into its stormy sea. The lake giveth and the lake taketh away.
In Southwest Michigan we live and breathe the seasons. We have four seasons, and each has a distinct character. Summer features calm waters, cool breezes and temperate sunny days. We have the occasional storms but mostly the lake is a gentle giant in the summer. It is the season that Michiganders hunger for during the long winter and the fickle and stubborn spring. Fall brings lovely crisp temps but raging storms that whip around my house with hurricane-force. Sometimes I wonder if my house will hold. Being almost a hundred years old, I suppose she’s seen more than her fair share of Lake Michigan winds.
Winter, of course, is most of the time raw. The winter before last was so cold that it killed fruit trees across the region. This winter I never shoveled snow at all. The lake never froze over. It was a winter that lay sleepily at our feet. But the winds of fall only escalate into the ferocious winds of winter. It is wild watching the snow blow and the waves crash into the ice banks that typically line the shore of Lake Michigan for as far as you can see. While it’s dangerous for people to walk on those banks, people still do it anyway. They seem so small amid the frozen hills and valleys that inevitably form as waves crash and freeze. Thousands of ships have gone down in Lake Michigan in the winter. She shakes her fist at us.
Spring can be long and sleepy. Winter reluctantly sleeps but keeps waking up to show she’s still alive. I was wearing a parka to walk my dog less than a week ago, and yesterday I could have worn shorts. Winter and Summer spar during spring. Stubbornly, flowers make their way past the fighting. Foliage bursts into view. Yesterday was the first day I noticed the forest here full of green. She had a slow, long start this year, but she is here – just in time for the first day of summer.
One day Lake Michigan is beautiful in her anger, and the next day she rests like a sleeping baby. I can hear the waves a mile away when a storm is brewing. I was running the other day, and the surface of the lake was smooth as glass. She is so easy to love when she is quiet and still. But isn’t she much more interesting when she is taking charge and pushing her boundaries? I love an angry sea. My heart beats faster when the wind is whipping my hair and the cold bites into my skin. I scream in awe at the majesty of her wrath.
I’m not even a water person. I’m more of a land-loving mountain goat. But this lake sits here in such close proximity, and she’s just so damn interesting. I wonder what she thinks of us humans who dare to think we can tame her or keep her in her place. She must be inspired by our love and angered by our disrespect. Or maybe she doesn’t care at all. After all, she was here long before we got here and will be here long after we are gone. We are but a speck in the sands of time.