We had storms Friday night. Compared to Louisiana storms, this one was mild, but I found myself laying in bed watching the lightning before I fell asleep. Summer storms feel so refreshing to me. I always imagine the atmosphere is releasing pent-up anxiety over the day’s heat. And the cooler weather behind it feels like such a relief. That being said, it was hot and humid this weekend. Not Louisiana hot and humid, but hot and humid just the same.
I didn’t do much Friday night. I hung out at home and had a nice dinner of homemade hummus, sourdough bread and a big salad. I’m working hard to drop my 6 pounds of coronavirus weight. But just by eating better I already dropped 3 pounds. Hopefully it will be a short focus. It is the best time of year to eat healthy. Michigan’s fruit and vegetable bounty is warming up with asparagus, fresh peas, the first of the blueberries and blackberries. I had some of all this weekend, and today I snagged local raspberries. Yum yum.
My long run Saturday…..
Saturday I got up and ran the longest distance I’ve run in a while. It felt really good to be back out and to run by “feel”. I wasn’t worried about speed or even distance. I just ran for as long as I wanted. I thought I was outrunning the weather, but the rain never really materialized on Saturday. After running, I did some chores around the house, ran out to pick up some local produce, made a big salad with a side of hummus and laid down for a two-hour nap. It felt so good to sleep. I haven’t been sleeping all that well, so I’m truly grateful when I sleep hard.
This morning I made the most wonderful Savory Blackberry Rice Grits for breakfast. I added cocoa powder, a little cayenne and cinnamon. I topped it with some cottage cheese and heated the fruit until it made juice. It was delicious! Then I met a friend for a bicycle ride in my old stomping grounds near Chesterton IN. We actually rode so close to my old house that we took a ride around the block to see the old homestead. We continued on the bike path that I ran, walked and biked for years. It really hadn’t changed that much except that I’m a much happier person now. For a moment, I reflected on how hard my life was at that time and was grateful for the changes I’ve made.
I’m getting ready for my last two days of work. I have lots of fresh veggies and fruits for meals. A sourdough starter is bubbling in my kitchen, and I have a bowl of Creme Fraiche fermenting. You can bet I’m going to dig in to a bowl full of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries later this evening for dessert. I rode 21 miles today! I might even make a shortcake.
I hope you guys have the week you need this week. I’m just uncomfortable saying “have a great week” anymore. So many people are struggling and facing hard news that it just seems silly to believe that a “great” week is even possible. But we all have needs. I hope that you get your needs met this week, and I hope that you have some light-hearted laughter at some point, too. Don’t forget your fruits and veggies. Your body will thank you.
Tuesday is my last day at Whirlpool. I accepted a Voluntary Retirement Package about 5 weeks ago, and it’s been a bit of an emotional journey. There were days that I was excited. There were days where I questioned my decision. I had a few long nights of worry about finances and retirement funds running dry. But those things worried me less and less as time wore on. The first 2-3 weeks I moved files for my team and reassigned documents. I made a transition spreadsheet for my yet-to-be-named successor with notes and links on all of my important projects. The work of transition kept me busy and engaged.
About 2 weeks ago, I finished that work and began to have my last 1:1s with my team. I documented my performance feedback for them and discussed it with each team member. It was during those meetings that I felt the shift to closure. In meetings, I started to let my team take the reins and make decisions without me. I found myself more interested in closure with my team than with the work. And thoughts of the future started to bubble up.
I don’t have any idea what will come next. My typical reaction would be to start looking at job boards, engaging my network and start envisioning where I might want to move. But this time I’ve been given the gift of time. Even if I hadn’t, I’m not sure now is the time to look for jobs anyway. I get time to explore my options.
One night as I was laying awake worrying about what was next, I listened to a “masterclass” on the Calm App. I got a lot of good pointers on mindful living from Ryan Holiday (author of The Obstacle is the Way), but one thing really resonated with me. Marcus Aurelius says “Convince yourself that everything that happens is a gift from the gods.” In fact, Holiday says we should attempt to LOVE whatever happens to us.
I thought of the many times in my life when something bad happened to me, but, in hindsight, those events were catalysts for major good. What if I anticipate and believe this will be one of those times? Honestly, I’ve been dreaming for many years of a different style of life but the need for an income trumped those soulful desires. Now I have a gift of having an income while I explore – at least for awhile. And perhaps the gift is sweeter since the distraction of travel is not a great option.
I have to work a couple more days, but, honestly, I’m done. I’ve transitioned my work. I’ve said good-bye to my team. I’ve cleaned out my desk. I’m looking at my budget to estimate how much time my severance will last. I’m talking to friends who’ve given me some very good advice. My friend Bill told me to “think of it as a sabbatical, but make sure you know what you want to accomplish in this time.” I know I’d like to write a book. Starting my own business has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve dreamed of buying a little vintage camper and traveling cross-country. And, of course, hiking the Appalachian Trail is my wildest dream. It’s truly weird to actually think I could do one or more of these things in the next year. All of the excuses I’ve had over the years have dissolved.
On my run this morning, I saw a number of boats in Lake Michigan. A power boat shot out across the lake while a fishing boat bobbed cork-like in the quiet water. It struck me that in two days I will be untethered from my usual shore. I imagined myself pushing away from the dock on Tuesday with nothing but the horizon before me. It may be rough going at first, but soon I’ll be an experienced voyager on the open sea. As I prepare myself for this journey, I will need to embrace being unmoored for a bit from work. It won’t be easy as I feel a delusional sense of security by being employed. For now, I’ll prepare as best I can, toss away unnecessary cargo and embrace the adventure.
Ahoy Matey! Let the adventure begin.
It was going to be 84 today, so I set my mind to running first thing this morning. I was on track with my training to run a 10K in May. Of course that was in early March. It would be a matter of days before my race in Chicago, The Shamrock Shuffle, and my May race in Grand Rapids were canceled. “Screw it,” my mind said. I’ll just stop running and stress eat until we go back to the office. Of course the three weeks turned into 5 and then into a “to-be-determined” date. As I got more isolated, I got more depressed. And as I got more depressed, I ate more junk. About the time we were asked to go on furlough I’d had enough of my bad eating habits and my lack of exercise.
Jessica “the Bitch” Sprenkel, my decade-long personal trainer had moved all of her classes online and announced she was starting a running program. There would be no cost during the pandemic unless we wanted to contribute. I was getting paid, so I opted for the pay version. Besides, I needed to pay somebody so I’d be accountable for making progress. I wasn’t doing so well on my own.
We could not check in to work at all during our furloughs. We couldn’t talk about work. We couldn’t log on to any company systems. So I totally unplugged for two weeks. I created a sourdough starter, bought some vintage rugs from my neighbor, binge-watched Schitt’s Creek, baked bread and started running and strength-training again. It was nice to be in a live class with my friend from Tulsa since the only other thing I could do was grocery shop. And I was trying to only do that every other week. The running really got my mind back in a good space, and I’ve stuck with it.
To be clear, I never want to get up and run. The last thing I want to do is roll out of the bed and start pounding the pavement. My favorite time of the day is having my tea after I get up, and I don’t like skipping it for a quick run. I usually end up getting up earlier to make time for both. But in today’s environment, I have no commute time. It’s easier to go for a run and even start work before I shower. Working from home makes exercise so much easier… except when it didn’t.
So this morning I got up, threw on some running clothes, fed my pets and prepared a nice cup of Earl Grey tea. I made overnight Muesli with fresh strawberries, so I ate that first thing. I took my warm cup of tea and settled in on my sofa to enjoy. Just taking a few moments to breathe and sit still makes me feel centered. Before my tea got cold, I forced myself to get up and get going.
There were lots of people out at 6:30 AM walking their dogs and riding their bikes. The breeze was cool off the lake, and I even thought maybe I read the temperature wrong. Was it really going to get up to 84 degrees? (Yes, it did.) I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, and my run was literally over before I was ready to stop. It always feels good to be done. It means I can relax in the evening and maybe even blog.
And, guess what…. it’s almost time for tomorrow’s morning cup of tea! I CAN’T wait!
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.