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.

An Impromptu Adventure

I just could not take it anymore. I had a meltdown talking to my coach yesterday, and she led me to take a small step that would make me feel a little more in control. I wanted a taste of civilization …. a city … something different than the same four walls I’ve been looking at for almost a year.

Of course I would love to go to the Hotel Monaco in Chicago. But Chicago feels a bit overwhelming given the COVID situation. I’ve been wanting to explore Grand Rapids so I found a sweet little pet-friendly boutique hotel downtown and made a reservation. My spirits lifted a little as soon as I hit send. I know it won’t be the same as it would have been pre-COVID, but it definitely will be a change. As much as I love our St. Joe, I just need to have some conveniences that a rural lakeside town does not offer.

The Blue Bridge

The hour and 20-minute drive flew by as I listened to one of the Joe Pickett mysteries and enjoyed the passing snowy landscape. Ashok slept and seemed content just to be away from the cats for an hour or a day. It was 12 years ago the day after Valentine’s Day that I adopted my girl. I remember picking her up at the woman’s house who found her. She hopped in the passenger seat and looked at me quizzically. I promised her I’d take her camping and running and hiking and that she would have a great life. In turn, she has given me way more than I ever gave her. So, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day together iduring a pandemic in a hotel in Grand Rapids MI. I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll figure it out.

Sam welcomed me to the AC Hotel and gave me instructions on where to park. He saw Ashok from the car and told me he had a treat all ready for her. Ashok was so excited to be greeted and loved on right off the bat. We unpacked and headed out for a walk on the Blue Bridge which crosses the river downtown. It was cold and beautiful, and there were quite a few other walkers. Two men were running sprints across the bridge, and I found myself envious that I can no longer keep up that kind of pace.

We walked downtown and past the ice skating rink in the Rosa Parks Circle. After returning to the hotel and assessing the lay of the land I asked Matt and Sam where I should eat. Matt was so enthusiastic about the Cuban Street Food that they serve at the hotel that I decided to stay in and take his advice. He treated me like a queen as I was the only guest. I got a short tour of the amenities in the lobby. Comfy pit sofas piled high with pillows surround a cozy fireplace. He showed me how to make my own Nespresso and pointed out the library. I’ll be cozied up by that fire with my coffee tomorrow morning. I can hardly wait.

The chef hooked me up with a sampler of small plates of Cuban Street Food. My favorite was the Provoleta with crispy chorizo, curtido salsa and crostini. The bubbling bowl of melted cheese topped with the most flavorful chorizo I have ever eaten was worth it’s messiness. I’d pile big globs of cheese on top of the crostini and top it with the chorizo and salsa. I ran out of it way too fast but didn’t dare ask for more. I did, however, ask for an order of the Churros with hot chocolate. Every bite of everything they brought out was outstanding. My next trip might be to Cuba.

Cuban Street Food at the AC Hotel … YUMMY!

My friend Liz and I tried to get reservations for tomorrow night, but with restaurants only booking at 25% capacity it was too late for us to find anything at a decent hour. We decided to get takeout and eat in this beautiful lobby. We might even get a good cup of espresso as a finisher. I know tomorrow I’ll be enjoying some time in that library and in front of the fireplace. I may not be able to get out and do a lot, but staying in at this lovely hotel is definitely an upgrade from my living room sofa.

Cozy spot in the library

So, I’m here. My frame of mind is already improved. The thing I’ve missed most about traveling is the people I meet. It’s harder to meet people in masks because it’s more difficult to communicate. But Matt and Sam were so happy to have the hotel open that they went above and beyond to be friendly. I don’t care if I don’t leave the hotel at all. Enjoying some good food, a nice environment and having inspiration to write is a treat. And it’s kind of cool to walk across a blue bridge and watch the ice skaters, too.

More to come…..

Harnessing the Power of Decision

This morning’s meditation in the Calm App was on Distraction. I can’t tell you a lot about it because I was so distracted for most of it, but the narrator said that our brains are extraordinary machines. The one exception is that they are so sensitive to interruptions. ‘How interesting‘, I thought. But then I immediately started worrying that I didn’t have enough muesli for breakfast.

That’s meditation. Many people don’t meditate because they can’t stop their thinking. That’s actually the point. You can’t stop your thinking. That’s what the mind does. It thinks. And when it finds a wide open timeframe when you are are sitting there doing nothing, it thinks even more. Meditation practice is not about stopping your thinking. It’s about stopping yourself from going down the rabbit hole. It’s a practice that encourages a looser relationship to our thoughts.

We are so entertained by our own thoughts. I believe it’s our greatest addiction, and it leads to all other addictions. After all, do you ever grab that brownie – or drink or caffeine or engage in a hookup – without thinking you want it or that you need it to distract you from something else you’d rather not think about? I’ve spent a large portion of my life following my fickle thoughts down whatever rabbit hole they have opened. How much sleep have I wasted racing through the vast tunnels of my mind? And to what end?

Thoughts come and go and are often contradictory or nonsensical. It’s as if my brain is lobbing ideas to see which ones stick. I have to decipher what is grounded in reality and what are just random thoughts. A yoga teacher once said, “The brain that is calling you a fat pig because you ate that piece of apple pie is the same brain that told you 15 minutes ago that you deserved a treat.” Our job is to decide which of those thoughts are meaningful input and which are just distractions. The power is in the deciding.

In the grasp of my anxious mind, I listen to too many suggestions and judgments thrown at me by my brain. Rarely are any of these informative. When I get serious about dealing with my anxiety, I increase my meditation practice. My meditation practice develops my concentration muscle so I am NOT reacting to my churning thoughts. I have the power to decide if the input is meaningful or just junk. That can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a restless one or a wasted life and a meaningful one.

Lessons From the Trail: Off-Trail Adventures

My hiking buddy Liz and I decided to go hiking at Muskegon State Park yesterday. The sun was out and, for a Michigan January day, the temps were mild. I just met Liz in a Hikerbabes community on Facebook. She has recently moved to the Grand Rapids area, and I’m still in the friend-making zone in Southwest Michigan. It’s been fun exploring a new friendship and having someone to hike with who is dog-friendly and eager to get outdoors in Michigan.

We parked at Snug Harbor and decided to hike around Muskegon Lake and end up on the Ridge Trail to catch some glorious views. There was snow on the ground, and it was fun to catch glimpses of the ice fisherman on the lake. The lake wasn’t frozen through. In fact, at the edge near our start, there was open water. We couldn’t believe people would actually hike out on that ice and fish when it seemed likely some of it was not frozen. But those concerns came from a Southern girl and a Midwestern city girl with no ice fishing knowledge. Maybe we just didn’t get it.

Our hiking conversation turned to binge-watching Sex and the City, the travesties and adventures of online dating and the challenges and joys of being footloose and fancy-free during a pandemic. Ashok patiently hiked along with us enjoying the shoreline ice and grateful when we stopped to take in a view. The sun was warming, and the snow was deep enough to be pretty but not deep enough to cause us issues.

As we left the shoreline, we opted to hike across the dunes off-trail. To be honest, we spent our time trying to avoid steep climbs rather than following the trail, and we were doing pretty well. We finally meandered to the top of the dunes. The views were amazing. Muskegon Lake was clearly visible, and to our right Lake Michigan glimmered in the sun. We ran into a few other groups and started to head back on the easy trail.

I reached to grab my phone for a picture, and it was not there. I tried every pocket. It was not there. I even tried pockets I would have never used hoping for some dumb reason I had stashed it there. Somewhere among the dating stories and the worry about the ice fisherman, I had dropped my iPhone. And a quick run back a few yards told me it wasn’t close by.

I was so embarrassed. I thought back to how we hiked across the dunes sans trail. The piles of snow and sand behind us stretched for what seemed like miles. Images of trekking across the Sahara desert flashed through my mind. They were quickly overtaken by estimates of how much it would cost to replace my phone and a search of my memory of whether or not I’d bought the insurance.

Liz asked if I had had “Find my iPhone” turned on, and I did. We tried to sign me in, but it kept asking for the verification code they just texted me. Well, if I had my phone to get a text I wouldn’t be trying to find it. Somehow security has gotten so ridiculous that it doesn’t even make sense anymore. Somewhere in the sand and snow a text landed on my phone with a code that I needed. We tried calling my phone in the hopes it was nearby and could be heard. It wasn’t.

We ended up calling Apple. It took about 30 minutes to get through as we walked across the sand trying to catch a glimpse the tracks of a pair of humans and one dog. The agent across the world sent us back to the webpage, but we got the same result. He did something on his end, and we were finally able to get through. So now we had a visual of my phone, and it appeared it was back in the car. That really would have been embarrassing, but I knew I had my phone when I took pictures earlier. Nothing seemed to be working out. We decided the best thing to do was to at least go back to the shoreline and hope I dropped it back there.

Lake Michigan sand dunes are challenging to climb. They are towering piles of sand that are not incremental in their rise. You can go in between the dunes to some extent, but you have to climb. When you climb these steep piles of sand, it shifts beneath your feet. And when you descend, you slide. At one point we both fell down trying to get up one of the dunes. And I slid down one on my butt. By the time we were out of the dunes, our legs and our glutes were toast. We finally made it back to the place where I took the last picture but found no phone. In fact, we never even found our trail. It was disheartening.

I had accepted the fact that I would not find my phone. I was just going to have to cough up the money and get a new phone. I knew if I got bent out of shape about it, it wouldn’t help. Then Liz realized my phone was not located back at the car. Once we got to the lake, the GPS shifted and it looked totally different. Or maybe we were looking at it wrong. Whatever the case, we had a lock on the location now. It was back in the dunes, and we were on the way back to the car. But with a location and what looked like a road that got us close to it, we had a glimmer of hope.

We got back to the car and drove over to this road. I offered to come back today. I didn’t want to make her hunt for it, and I felt bad about all of this drama. But she said she was determined to find this phone, and we were going to do it. We both decided it was an adventure, and it was going to have a happy ending. Even if I ended up buying a shiny new phone, we were going to have fun doing it.

So we spent the next hour navigating through the forest and over the dunes trying to find that little dot in the middle of the sand dunes. If we could find our trail, we surely could find that phone. Up and down dunes, around and through grass and trees we searched. We laughed about talking with that agent on the other side of the planet while we were standing in the wilderness. We shared stories of things lost and found. And we despaired and we searched. Sometimes the GPS freaked out and put us in the middle of Lake Michigan. Then it would straighten itself out. And our little GPS dot kept getting closer to the iPhone dot. Finally we were really close. We climbed over the top of a dune, and I spotted our trail. There were dog prints and at least two sets of people prints. Liz went one way, and I went the other. Not 100 yards away, I saw my trusty iPhone lying facedown in the snow.

It WAS an adventure. Our feet hurt and our muscles were starting to get sore. We were both starving and had long drives back home. But we were both so happy to have utilized our technology and our wits to find that phone. We even thought about calling our helper in India and telling him we found it.

Driving home I reflected on my day and what I could learn from this little adventure. I thought of my current job search. The number of options I have feels a bit like a lost iPhone in miles of sand dunes. I literally could make a hundred different choices and none of them would be wrong. Much like we traversed the dunes, I’ve opted to go off trail this time. I’ve used technology, my friends and other resources to help me navigate. I often question my decisions and wonder whether or not I will find my way. I’m getting closer to that dot of where I will land, but I also know that if I don’t get there – wherever there is – I will be okay. I may have to spend more money, and I may have to try something new, but, whatever happens, it will be an adventure. And, whatever happens, I will handle it.

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