I Wanted Something Different

This time last year I was on furlough due to COVID. Little did I know that in a few weeks I would receive an offer I couldn’t refuse that would lead me down a different path and provide some much needed down time. While on furlough, I binge-watched Schitt’s Creek, bought some rugs for my home and nursed a sourdough starter into being. By the time my two week furlough was over, my house looked pretty darn good. I had gained at least five pounds, and I had some mandatory rest while the world was on lockdown. I was not one of those people who learned a foreign language, got another certification or otherwise did something productive with their time. I guess I’m just not the type. When I’m offered some time off, I like to rest.

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a local outdoors outfitter where I have taught backpacking cooking classes and bought most of my camping and hiking supplies the last five years. The owner of the store had three job openings and wanted to know if I knew anyone that might be interested. “I’m not even sure you are still in the area, but maybe you know someone,” she asked in her note. I read through them with interest but then thought better of it. I didn’t really want to work the long hours of retail, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay in this area. I decided to think about it and respond later. Surely I knew someone who might like that kind of thing.

I was out walking by Lake Michigan two days later, and that email crossed my mind. “I thought you wanted to do something different,” a quiet voice whispered in my ear. It got my attention. “I did say that,” I replied. And fear of doing something different started to bubble up. I’ve been in the same field for decades. While I’ve been considered for a number of corporate roles in the last few months, I really wasn’t excited about any of them. I’d do it if I had to, and I’d do fine, but I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter. I have longed to do something different for a very long time. And this time I’m in a situation where I can actually consider it. I compared the fear of doing something different with the fear of not making a change. One felt like a leap forward, and the other felt like a huge loss.

I responded to their email and said I’d just like to meet with them to ask some questions about the roles they had open. But when I got there, they had a different leadership role in mind for me. The longer we talked, but the more excited I got about the “something different” they were offering. The best part was they were super excited that I was interested. They offered an Operations Manager role to me that evening, and I accepted the next morning. I am learning a whole new industry and work for a wonderful company called Wanderlust Outfitters. I have long day-dreamed about a job in the outdoors industry but I never would have thought I had a shot.

My new work home!

I’ve been off work for ten months considering my next move. With one potential role, I waited three and a half months for them to decide to offer it to somebody else. I’ve considered moving. I’ve been heartbroken, and I’ve been excited about opportunities. I’ve considered retiring. I’ve interviewed for a dozen different roles, many of which I turned down due to lack of interest. And it all ended in a week’s time with very little effort on my part. A door opened for me at just the right time, and I walked through it. It was as easy as pie.

I’m a beginner again. I’m trying to learn a new role and a new business. My morning routine is a bit rusty. How did I ever exercise, pack lunch and get my animals situated before 8 AM? Today is the first Sunday of my first weekend of being back at work. While I was “retired” Sunday was just another day in a long string of days that looked very much the same. But today I’ve been luxuriating in the knowledge that tomorrow won’t be the same as today. It will be different. And Monday won’t be the same as the hundreds of Mondays I’ve tackled in corporate offices. It will be different. Yes, I did say I wanted something different. Dreams do come true.

What I’d Tell Her if I Could

I’m having my house painted. I’m so excited. I’ve actually never had someone else do it for me, and I’ve only painted myself once. It feels like a declaration of making it mine and not a stopover point. The reality is I’m not sure if this house is a stopover for me or if I’ll be staying long-term, but I’m gambling that in either case a fresh coat of paint will be a good decision. My house is 100 years old this year, and she has plaster walls with cracks, joints that don’t necessarily connect and holes where past residents hung pictures and hardware. She is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

While taking down my hallway pics, I stopped to look at my photo of the Eaglettes, my high school dance team. Those young faces in that picture bring back memories of a time when my adventure had not yet begun. I know how they all turned out, and it’s interesting to gaze upon this picture knowing the struggles, hardships and gifts that each one of those young women would experience. For some, they knew exactly what they wanted and got there quickly. For others of us, it has been a journey that may never end. At that moment in time we had no idea what life might be like. We just knew how to take a choreographed dance and practice it until it was charmingly and imperfectly ours.

The Eaglettes – 1978ish

I would love to have coffee with that young girl with curly hair that was straightened into the perfect coif in about an hour’s time and with half a can of Aqua Net. I know she would be nervously trying to figure out who I want her to be because that’s what I always did. Not knowing the rules of life, I was constantly trying to figure out how to be good and right and please anyone I perceived to be in authority. My young, hollow view of life consisted of a single desire to fit in and be liked.

The first thing I’d tell her is that she’s NOT fat. The insensitive criticisms from the men in her life and the expectations of the women she respected about the size of her body will skew her perception of herself for most of her adult life. And digging out from that belief will prove impossible. So telling her she isn’t fat probably wouldn’t work anyway. Perhaps the better approach would be to ask her about her interests and her desires. Maybe we could talk about what she wanted from life which I know would be a career and the opportunity to live in a number of exciting cities. A discussion about her dreams and aspirations might crowd out the obsession about being too large for society’s approval.

What I’d most like to give her is the opportunity to be heard. I remember feeling like I was always listening to understand what was normal in order to mold myself to those expectations. What a gift it would be to speak freely and openly and explore what I was thinking without judgment or correction. I now know that’s the way I process things and am unapologetic about it. I have to meander through the maze that is my mind until I settle on what I believe is truth.

It takes hours – and a lot of stubbornness – to get hair that straight.

Although she is smiling in that picture I know she is depressed. It would be decades before a good friend will encourage her to talk about her depression and will hold her as she cries. In the moment captured here, she’s still trying to smile through it, get over it and otherwise pretend that darkness does not exist. I’d like to ask her about it, normalize it and tell her that some of those other smiling girls are feeling the same way. How powerful it would be for her if I could introduce her to meditation or yoga so that she doesn’t abuse alcohol later in life to self-medicate. I’m not sure she’d be open to it, but it would be nice to plant the seed.

I’d love to tell her what she has to look forward to in her life. I’d let her read me some of her poetry and tell her that one day she could be a writer just for fun. I’d encourage her not to be afraid to pursue her dreams of being a journalist. She doesn’t know how much courage and guts she has. I’d tell her she’ll become a teacher of sorts through her work and her writing, and she can use all of her hardships for gain. I’d like to encourage her not to limit her dreams to the ones she sees modeled in rural Louisiana. While she dreams of cities and adventures she reads about in books, she really doesn’t know that she’ll get to choose where she goes. I want her to know she has the power to choose her life… and change it if she doesn’t like what she chose. There’s no shame in that.

I’d reassure her that her stubbornness is a virtue, and she needs to protect herself with boundaries and not her will. She won’t know what boundaries are but I’ll suggest a book or two or tell her to write it herself. After all, she’s curious beyond belief. Her time will be better spent researching how to set boundaries than how to lose 10 pounds or catch the right husband. After all, she’ll probably be chasing those two goals the rest of her life and will one day realize they weren’t worth all of that effort anyway. Oh, yeah, and I’d tell her to get some good conditioner to let those curls go. She lives in humid Louisiana, and she may as well go with the flow.

The First Kiss of Spring

I love rainy Saturdays. I wasted all day yesterday watching it rain and binge-watching Cheers. For some reason at 10 PM last night I decided to start organizing my kitchen. In my new world where everyday is Saturday and every hour holds the possibility of a nap, my urge to act doesn’t follow a realistic pattern. If I’m in the mood to do something productive, I best just take advantage of it. So I did.

Today I met my hiking buddy, Liz, at the Bow in the Clouds Natural Area near Kalamazoo. It rained twice on my drive up, but it stopped by the time we started hiking. It was a short little hike, but what a lovely place it is! A beautiful spring-fed wetlands showcases water in a myriad of different ways. At one spot the spring was clear and sandy. Ashok had to take a dip there. In another spot it was filled with this beautiful green vegetation that made it look like an emerald river. In yet another spot it pooled into a lake. I’ll definitely go hang out there again. It was so peaceful, and I’ll bet in a few weeks it’ll be filled with wildflowers.

Asylum Lake Preserve – Beavers!

Since it was a short hike, we decided to drive over to Asylumn Lake Preserve which is a series of trails that surround a tranquil little lake. We saw deer, Canada Geese on the nest and irrefutable evidence of beavers. We got lost as we followed some marked and some unmarked trails, so we got a long walk in today. My Garmin says I took 15,189 steps. I feel it.

Reflections of Us!

Since Liz hasn’t been to Kalamazoo, and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the downtown mall with a friend in the last year, we decided to head downtown. Our first stop was Cherri’s Chocol’art, an artisan chocolate shop that features chocolates, ice cream, coffee and self-described Monster Milkshakes. While I would have loved to have tried a Monster Milkshake (and you better believe I’ll be back when I’m a little more hungry for one of those), I opted for a Chocolate Buttercream and a Peanut Cluster. I’m a chocolate snob. When I tell you these chocolates were the best I’ve ever had, I’m not exaggerating. If you are in the area, I definitely recommend a visit. If you give me a call with an hour’s notice, I’ll meet you there.

Spring has sprung in Southwest Michigan, and the walk through the mall was accentuated with blooms from trees and flowers. For the first time in my recent memory people stopped to pet Ashok and chat about the weather. Whether it’s the end of winter or the end of the pandemic that is inspiring such friendliness, I don’t care. I’m just glad that some things are feeling more normal. We meandered down the street and chatted about an assortment of topics that wouldn’t interest you in the least. By the time we got back to the car, Liz, Ashok and I were ready to head home.

Downtown Kalamazoo

After taking a long hot bath and deep conditioning these curls, I’m taking a moment to reflect on the last week and plan for the upcoming one. I’m sort of in the mood for a trip up North. I haven’t been eating so well the last week, so I need to sit down and journal about what is going on. I think I’m ready to go back to work and am a bit tired of looking at these four walls for the last year. Boredom is an eating trigger for me. Maybe I need to beef up my schedule and work on a goal or two this week. I get my second vaccine on the 20th, so I’m really looking forward to that date. Patience is a virtue at the moment, and I need to lean into it.

Thanks to Liz for taking this
AWESOME pic of my girl.

I hope you had a good weekend, and I hope you are starting to make plans for the future. I feel like I’ve been in a holding pattern for a long time with a void as to what the future will look like. But I believe one day I will probably look back and wish I had this kind of downtime again. Life will get hurried and crazy. I will have days I can’t fit everything in. “Boredom,” I’ll say with a sigh. “I wish I could be bored again like I was in 2021.”

Hungry Evil Elf Saves My Ass

I’ve been going to physical therapy for three weeks. I decided to get an x-ray on my creaky right knee to make sure nothing was injured. My nurse practitioner said there was just some degenerative stuff that is normal in the aging process. She suggested I might see a physical therapist to see if it would help. I’ve never been to physical therapy but I thought it might be a good investment since I was having a number of little problems on my right side. The words of my running coach, Jessica, kept haunting me. She always said if one thing is off balance in your body, it can start to affect everything else up the chain.

Sarah, my physical therapist, is a runner, too. She was very excited to meet me and said helping people to keep doing the things they love was her passion. I was shocked when she watched me walk and said she knew exactly what was wrong. I was weak in my glutes and my quads, and I had been overcompensating by overusing the muscles in the side of my leg. As a result, my IT band has gotten really tight and has been pulling on my knee. In her opinion, my plantar fasciitis I’ve had for the last year, the issues with my knee and the nagging pain I was having running would be gone if I took care of this issue. Surely it wouldn’t be that easy.

I was in until she started me on some exercises. Holy cow! Waking up muscles that have been sleeping for awhile hurts. I kept thinking of the tin man on the Wizard of Oz as he creaks and stumbles after years of being rusted in the rain. There was no magic oil for me. But there was a way to fix it. That first day after she tortured me for an hour and educated me on my issue, she sent me home with two exercises to strengthen my glutes. I was to do 3 sets of 15 two times per day.

The first one was a standing hip adduction which was designed to strengthen my standing leg. She taught me how to externally rotate my knee in the correct form and lift up through my core so I wasn’t using my lower back. In theory it seemed so simple, but my body had been collapsing into the wrong position for so long that breaking that habit was excruciating. I was literally exhausted after the first two days and everything in my body hurt. The second one was a clamshell which Jessica has had me doing for a long time. But I was doing it wrong. In fact, Sarah laughed when she saw me doing it. I was using my upper leg to lift, and the exercise is supposed to strengthen your glutes. She told me that if felt like there was a mean little elf chewing on my butt, I was doing it right.

I returned to see her three days later, and her eyes lit up when she saw my results. She is sure that we can fix this problem, and I’ll be back to running and doing whatever I want pain-free. Her excitement got me motivated, and it’s a good thing because she gave me another two exercises and the next time added two more. In fact, I was starting to dread going in because I got a longer list of those exercises every time I went. It’s really messed with my regular exercise routine because I’m exhausted from those. And I hate that evil little elf.

My plantar fasciitis is gone. I was inflaming that tendon by landing on it the way I was. It started going away immediately. When I do lunges in my workouts now, I’m much more stable. And on a hike in the dunes last week, I was noticeably stronger. My balance is better when I’m doing yoga, and I know how to correct it if it’s not. That really tight muscle on my leg has softened and doesn’t yank on my knee anymore. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I actually think the appearance of my legs is changing. They just seem less wiggly. That’s a perk!

I now have a long list of exercises to do, but it doesn’t feel like a long list of exercises. I know the benefit of each one, and it feels like a small investment in my future active self to pick one and do it. The exercises are getting more advanced, so they are a little more interesting. And the little elf has become a bit more friendly and a lot less hungry. My downtime at home is now spent squeezing my glutes, rotating my knees and strengthening my quads. No more watching TV laying down!

I have a couple more weeks of therapy, but we are both encouraged. Sarah told me that she hates it when people just start giving up activities they love as they age under the assumption that they can’t do them anymore. Most of the time there is some imbalance somewhere that could at the very least relieve some pain and in the best case get them back into action. She thinks in my case, we can totally correct what was happening. I’ve spent a bit of money on this and a good deal of time, but it seems like a great investment to keep me doing the things I love to do. Who knows? Maybe there’s another 5K in my future. I can visualize outrunning that evil little hungry elf.

St. Louis Diversion

When I lived in Memphis, my favorite weekend trip (other than hiking at Sycamore Creek) was to make the four-hour drive north to The Hill in St. Louis. I’m not quite sure how I found out about The Hill, but I’m sure I’ll never forget it. I don’t have any Italian in my blood, but I must have an Italian soul. The one place in the world that I want to visit outside of this country is Italy. I love cappuccinos, cannoli, pastas, garlic, olives, homemade ricotta cheese and virgin olive oil. One day I will find myself in Rome or in the Tuscan countryside, but for now I’ll visit The Hill with lust in my heart.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday I knew I had to get out of my house, and I decided to make the 6-hour drive to St. Louis for some good food and coffee. With the pandemic in full swing I knew I couldn’t do a lot, but I definitely could eat and drink and find a nice place to walk. Ashok and I made our way down on a rainy, cold day and stayed at the Hotel Indigo downtown.

We were in walking distance from The Gateway Arch, so we walked around there a bit. I found myself transfixed by the lines of this beautiful arch and took a hundred photos at different angles. Darkness came quickly, but the pizza I ordered never did. In fact they stiffed me, and I had to work really hard at not letting it ruin my trip. The hotel was lovely as was the front desk clerk, and I enjoyed a night away from my little house that is getting a bit claustrophobic here at the end of winter. My dinner was dried chickpeas and some fruit, and I lived to see another day. It could have been worse.

The next morning I chose a breakfast spot on Cherokee Antique Row. The Mud House was a cute little coffee house/restaurant in a historic building. It was lovely but small, so the tables were cleared out for Covid. I sat in an outdoor tent on the 60ish degree morning, and the server was nice enough to put me right by a heater so I’d be comfortable. The French Lentils and egg dish I ordered was amazing, and the coffee was perfect. After eating Ashok and I took a stroll through the historic district. I’d love to come back when things are open, but the architecture was lovely, and I enjoyed imagining this place in its heyday. They even had a Cat Cafe!

I took a drive out of town to find a hike, and I stumbled on the Route 66 State Park. We hung around outside the closed Visitor Center looking at the ruins of a bridge and drove across the river to walk. The trail was nice. You could either drive or walk and a lot of it was paved. It was warm which was nice given it’s still cold in Michigan. I just enjoyed being in the sunshine wearing only a light jacket.

I took Ashok back to the hotel and went to The Hill intending on finding lunch and doing some grocery shopping at DiGregorio’s Market. I stocked up on their house sauces, homemade pasta, olive oil, fig preserves and relishes. The staff recommended Anthonino’s Taverna for lunch because they make their own pasta. Anthonino’s is famous for their toasted ravioli. It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and, in my opinion, deservedly so. But I was blown away with the Salmon fettuccini dish I ordered which featured an olive oil and butter sauce accented with capers and red onion. OMG! Mama Mio! I am truly not sure I’ve ever put anything better in my mouth. After licking the plate and leaving a really big tip, I headed out to my favorite local bakery.

Pandemic traveling has its downside. People are stressed so sometimes hotel and restaurant staff are just not on their game. Revenues are down, so quality sometimes suffers. I’ve really been working hard at appreciating whatever I receive and being grateful that I have the opportunity to get out. I’m focusing on connecting with the people rather than expecting a stellar experience. It’s really the only way to enjoy traveling during this time. And I’ve enjoyed the change of focus. But I did not enjoy that my favorite bakery was closed. I’m not sure if it’s out of business for good or just temporarily, but I was really sad when I saw that sign on the door.

Closed for business….

I found a nice coffee house and soothed myself with a mocha. Then I returned to the arch for some more photos. I was lucky enough to catch an airplane traveling just beyond the top of the arch which made for a very interesting shot. I thought of the people in the airplane looking down at me as I was looking up at them. We are all in a strange world right now, and we need to grab a little happiness wherever we are. St. Louis provided a pretty good distraction. I’d love to come back when everything is back in full swing, but they provided a soft place to land when I really needed a break. I am really grateful for that. And I’m loving that olive oil.

A Year of Living Differently

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since my little world shut down due to Covid. At this time last year, I was adjusting to working at home with my clunky Windows computer at my dining room table. I loved being in an office with the hustle and bustle of meetings and conversations in the hallway. Working from home featured endless back-to-back Zoom meetings, a close proximity to food that I didn’t need to eat, an uncomfortable dining room chair and curious animals in need of my attention all day. It was about this time that I adopted a kitten. Life looked very different but would evolve into even more strangeness before it was all over.

I’ve been surprised that I haven’t wanted to write much. I expected this extra time would give me more time and energy to write. But I’ve discovered that my motivation for blogging is connecting with others. I liked the motivation it gave me to get out to coffee shops and talk to people about local history. I thrive on the comments and interactions I get with readers on their reactions to my writing. I’ve been journaling a lot for my own sanity, but with all of the anger in the internet universe and the overall disconnection, I’ve been hesitant to put myself out there.

I have one friend who literally chased me down to go for a walk in two feet of snow and 20-degree weather just to get a break from her kids and husband. Others have been eager to talk via video-chat on a more regular basis than in the past. Many of us have bundled up in cold weather gear for walks on winter days that previously would inspire visits with hot chocolate and a fire. Some of my friends have continued to work and just need a damn break. We’ve all become cognizant of the pros of our lifestyles and felt the pain and inconvenience of its cons. For me, it’s been a mix of enjoying solitude and nature and being incredibly lonely. I’ve also had the pleasure of deepening some relationships with old friends who have had more time to chat on a regular basis. Oddly enough, I’ve made new friends in upstate New York because of a Soul Care group I attend. It’s been a pleasant surprise.

About this time every year I’m ready to bolt out of the house and do something. Winter in Michigan is enjoyable for me until about the end of February. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually warm up until May so I have a bit of a wait. This year I’ve felt it keenly since I didn’t even have the relief valve of winter festivals and work. Michigan is still a hot spot for Covid, and I’ve only had my first shot of the Moderna vaccine. I’m cautious but hopeful for a more open life soon. I am active in a few interview processes for jobs that seem likely to pan out. There seems to be a path out, and I’m eager to see where it leads. If none of them lead to a job offer, I’ll enjoy another leisurely Michigan summer. Either option seems attractive at the moment.

Right now I’m busy taking some online courses for PDUs to renew my Project Management Professional certificate. I’m also taking a popular Yale course on building a sense of well-being. I really like it. It’s providing some great tips on feeling happier in the life you have. At this point I need a shot in the arm on that as well. It’s easy to get discouraged spending so much time in my own head and in this small house. The kitten and my older cat don’t get along very well, and sometimes I feel like I don’t like them all that much either. It passes, but too much togetherness is just too much togetherness.

A walk I took at Notre Dame recently with my friend Claudia.

I didn’t do too much over the pandemic, but I definitely feel like I’ve had a great rest and am ready to get back to work. I was pretty burnt out when I left Whirlpool in June, and I’ve spent some time figuring out what I liked and what I don’t like. I’ve been given the opportunity to be discerning about what I do next, and I’ve said no to several different opportunities. It’s felt empowering to choose, and I’m happy to report that I have skills that seem to be needed right now. I also got to catch up on all the TV I missed over the last two decades when I didn’t own a television. My basement looks a lot better and my diet has improved dramatically. I wish I could say my sleep has improved but apparently I’m wired to be up at 5 AM. I guess that will never change.

It’s good to write again. I hope that whatever situation you faced during the pandemic has had great gifts and easy lessons. This will end. I don’t know that the new normal will resemble the old normal a great deal, but I know that there will be good and not so good that will come of it. There will be loss, and there will be gain. One day we’ll look back as if all of this was a dream. “Can you believe we stayed home for a whole year during the pandemic of 2020?”, we’ll say to our friends. It’s hard to believe, but we did it. There is a new day coming. We just have to be a bit more patient.

The Pepper and Egg Sandwich Experience

On the way out of Chicago yesterday I decided to try again to get to Damato’s Bakery. When I tried Friday there was so much snow that I couldn’t find a place to park. A big banner on their website proclaimed that they would be serving Pepper and Egg Sandwiches every day. Hmmmm… I assumed there must be a tradition there for such a simple combination to deserve a banner. I knew what I was going to try for breakfast.

It was still difficult to park. Massive trucks and workmen were parked right in front of the bakery clearing snow nearby. It was a massive undertaking. I found a spot in the neighborhood and slip-slid my way to the ATM outside. Damato’s is a cash only establishment so they have an ATM right outside the front door. When you want a cannoli, you want a cannoli. Money is not going to be an issue.

I got my regular cannoli, one of their amazing Cappuccinos, the Pepper and Egg Sandwich with Provolone, Eggplant Parmesan to take home for later and some really nice looking biscotti. I love being in that place. The service is always friendly, and it smells so good. It wasn’t crowded yesterday so I was able to spend some time chatting with the lady at the counter. She said there is never any place to park there… snow or not.

I was starving so I tried my sandwich when I got to the car. The simple ingredients of sautéed peppers and onions with eggs laid out on divine French bread was the perfect combination. As with everything else, I think the quality of the French bread determines your experience. This bread was soft on the inside with a perfect crispy crust. Slathered in butter, it was the perfect platform for the peppers and eggs. Apparently this sandwich is a Lenten tradition in Chicago in the Italian community. A Google search confirmed it is also a tradition for Italians in New York.

I found the above recipe video on how to make this wonderful but super-easy sandwich. If you like hot, young Italians from New York – er, I mean hot pepper and egg sandwiches – you’ll want to watch this. Either way I think you’ll be inspired to find one and give them a try. They are delicious! (And by that I mean either the hot, young Italian or the sandwich. Or both would be even better!)

Groundhog Day School

The next house I buy will have a fireplace. I’ve been without one for almost 20 years. I’d even be happy with a non-working one that I can fill with candles and pretend it’s a fire. I just want that warmth of light and heat on cold winter days and emotionally chilly nights. I’m enjoying the one in the lobby of the hotel as I write this. Sipping a cappuccino in front of a fire with my dog comforts me and makes me happy.

When Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day came out in 1993 I remember thinking how interesting it might be to run the same day over and over again until I learn all the lessons and finally get it right. While it was funny and felt like torture to his character I thought there must be a silver lining to that experience. What a gift it would be to stop the next day from coming and just stop for a damn minute.

My “retirement” has been such a gift to me this year. While those back at the office are trying to get through the colossal amount of work left behind by those of us who left, I’ve been ground hogging it on my own. I peek my nose out every now and again, but I just go back inside because there’s really nothing new pushing me into the future. If I get tired I take a nap. If I’m hungry, I cook. If I’m stir crazy, I take a little trip. If I’m lonely, I call a friend. It’s been a luxurious simplification of my life.

My future is unknown. I know I’ll go back to work one day. But I don’t yet know what to worry about in that new job. I don’t know what co-worker is driving me crazy enough to disrupt my sleep. I don’t even have to worry about whether I’m gaining weight and have to buy new clothes. I have nothing planned beyond today and could very easily just decide to stay another night in Chicago if I want to. In fact, I can do whatever I want until my money runs out. Nobody cares where I am or what I’m doing. My focus is singularly on my immediate needs and trying to stay sane in this odd suspended state of being.

I’ve had times in my life where I’ve made enormous changes. When I got divorced in 2008, my life changed completely. But it was done in the midst of working 8 hours a day with the help of a counselor and numerous support groups. It was a push, and it was really hard. The changes I’m making in my life this time are just as profound but it’s happening so gently.

The ability to stay in one place and just deal has taught me how to take care of myself in the most fundamental of ways. I’ve learned to listen to what I need to be happy and comfortable instead of what I need to do to succeed. I’ve been participating in a weekly Soul Care group my coach offers, and I’ve realized what a gift it is to be supported regularly by the same group of women. We don’t DO a lot but what we do is very connecting and supportive. Each week I’m gently pushed to care for myself and listen to my own needs in a way I never could when there was so much noise. We listen to songs, dance, journal and share. All of us are experiencing different things right now, but fundamentally we are all the same. We all need rest, kindness, empathy and love.

As I come out of this Groundhog Day experience, I want to focus on these foundational needs as the world gets louder. I’ve learned I need comfort in my day to be happy. It’s made me rethink my living room furniture, my lack of a fireplace, and my choice of careers. I don’t have to be comfortable all day long but at some point I need to be able to breathe. I need to relax. I need sleep. I need to be able to let go of the future and settle into what is. I’ll keep the Soul Care group as part of my weekly routine as a reminder of this time. Maybe in a few months I can chat with my group in front of my lovely fireplace. And, yes, in April or May a fire will still be appropriate in Michigan. Some things truly never change.

My Favorite Perch

One of my favorite perches is on a big, luxurious windowseat in a room at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago. Saturday morning I was restless. I checked out some AirBnBs in Northern Michigan. It sounded nice to run around in the snow a little but it just felt a little lonely to be alone in yet another house in a rural area. I considered another trip to Grand Rapids, but I’d done that already. My mind just kept wandering back to a window seat at the Monaco, but Chicago seemed too big and busy for this particular time.

After checking their rather reasonable rates several times, booking them and canceling them, I considered going for one night. If it felt unsafe or wasn’t very comfortable, I’d just spend one night and come back Sunday. After all, I just wanted to hang out in the room, maybe take a walk on the Riverwalk and eat at some different restaurants than the ones I’ve been eating at for a year. That felt reasonable to me, so I checked out on the IHG app to reserve my room and parking.

I set my GPS for D’amato’s Bakery as I was hankering for an Eggplant Parmesan sandwich. But when I arrived, there was so much snow piled up that it was impossible to find street parking. I gave up and drove to the hotel where I had to unload my own luggage (no bellmen) and checked in to my lovely room with a windowseat overlooking the Chicago River on the 9th Floor. There was no hot chocolate bar in the afternoon, and there was nobody hanging around the lobby by the fireplace. I didn’t even recognize any of the folks at the front desk. It was all very different, but I was so happy it was different than my living room.

I grabbed some soup at the bar across the street and took Ashok on a long walk on the Lakeshore and then back by the Riverwalk. The snow was beautiful. Ice fisherman sat on the ice in the harbor, and runners braved the 20-degree temps to run. I longed for the breathlessness of a long, cold run, but Ashok is too old and I’m not in running shape. Big chunks of frozen ice “pancakes” floated in the river providing a lovely white foreground for Chicago’s riverfront architecture. After the week’s cold temps, it almost felt warm. The sun kept teasing us with light and warmer temperatures, but I preferred the wintry sunless landscape. It looked like Chicago.

Over the last 24 hours I’ve realized that many things about Chicago haven’t changed. Wonderful restaurants abound, and it’s easy to find a hot chocolate. The streets are still nasty in the slush and waterproof footwear is a must. But there are no lines anywhere. The streets are less crowded than I’ve ever seen them. I haven’t even had to wait for the walk light in most cases. There just isn’t any traffic. The restaurants are empty for the most part, and stores have limited inventory with very few patrons. Many storefronts are boarded up. Some boast signs that they’ll be closed until quarantine is over, but others must be gone forever. The city is wounded, but I can still feel its beating heart.

This morning I walked downstairs and I saw the first familiar face I’ve seen since I got here. We both screamed excitedly when we saw each other. She had been laid off for awhile but just came back. She gave Ashok a couple treats, and I sat by the fireplace talking to her just like the good old days. For a minute I forgot about Covid and all that’s it taken from us. On a whim I decided to stay another night and spend another day on my perch in the window.

I’m writing this while a young man with a backpack tries to navigate the snowpack and slush below me. Two fire trucks just flew by on Wacker Drive with their sirens flashing. A runner is passing through the Vietnam Memorial beside the semi-frozen river. The temperature is above 32 for the first time in weeks so the ice and slush are melting into messy puddles. Muted light from the street lamps provide a contrast to the snow. The trucks from a TV Crew filming outside are loading up their equipment. A pigeon lights on one tree and then another as gulls glide over the river. From this window, Chicago looks like the city I’ve always loved. I’m looking forward to seeing it in the spring as new life peaks through the snow.

An Up North Sampler

Thursday’s calendar was blank. Nothing. Nada. It’s not unusual these days. I wake up and the agenda is all mine. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot going on otherwise, so sometimes I opt to sit it out and spend a long morning drinking coffee. I’ll get on and off rabbit trails in the news or on social media, read part of a book, call a friend or take Ashok for a walk. On a wild day, I’ll go for a ride up the coast and find a hike.

We got a LOT of snow this week. I think there’s about a foot and a half on the ground in my yard. Poor Ashok is up to her private parts in the white stuff when she goes out to do her business. I built her a little trail in the yard but she sort of snubs her nose at it. “I’m a dog,” she snorts. “I’m gonna run in the snow.” When I let her out Thursday and saw that we had more snow and my calendar was blank I decided I needed to go north. If some snow was good then more snow was better.

Silver Lake State Park and Little Sable Point Lighthouse

I thought I might drive up to Ludington State Park but on the way I saw a sign for Silver Lake State Park. I’d never been there, and the internet said there was a lighthouse. So, we got off the beaten path, drove down a few snow-covered country roads and ended up in a lovely quiet beachside community. Of course most places were deserted. Snow blanketed sidewalks and steps. The road was plowed but definitely still covered in snow. The dunes signaled the lake was near, and we followed the little road until a beautiful brick lighthouse rose up from the sand.

The waves are frozen from the most recent storms and deep freeze. This is my favorite look for that magnificent lake. Raw and ragged with huge frozen balls of ice submerged in frozen puddles, the ice formations make me think of the moon. I’ve never been to the moon, so I have no idea if this is what it looks like, but it still makes me think of the moon. Ashok and I climbed some dunes which would have been easier with some snowshoes and then eased on down by the lake for a closer look. We had the place to ourselves and I wondered what it must be like in the summer with the beachgoers all around.

Country Dairy in New Era MI

I decided I’d like to head east to see the Manistee-Huron National Forest. I thought I might find an icy river or hike a mile or so on the North Country Trail in the snow. On the way we passed a local dairy that has a wonderful cafe and gift shop. I was surprised they were open in February, but they were. A grilled cheese and pint of chocolate milk later, we were back on the road again.

We found a lovely trailhead on M20 with ski and snow shoe tracks. The snow was really deep so we hiked about 20 minutes or so and came back. It was so quiet and peaceful there. We drove through the forest to Croton Dam and hiked on the NCT there, too. The river was lovely. I remembered hiking that section the first summer I was in Michigan with a friend. We got lost and a 7-mile hike turned into an exhausting 13-miler with a lot of road walking. Thursday was much more fun.

River Stop Cafe in Newaygo MI

I stopped in Newaygo at a lovely little coffee shop/cafe for a cappuccino before I headed home. The day was a perfect sampler of some of my favorite things. We got to see sand dunes, Lake Michigan, a beautiful river, several doe, took a hike in the woods and one on the beach, drove through a beautiful snowy countryside and finished it all off with the perfect cappuccino. Oh yeah, and a pint of chocolate milk makes everything better. I couldn’t fill a day more perfectly.

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