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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.