New Beginnings

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This week is stuffed with beginnings. A fresh month is upon us, one that ends in ‘ber’ which are arguably the best months. Wednesday is the first day of my last year of graduate school. And, today I kick off a months-long virtual race across the world with some of my neighborhood running friends.

I am a huge fan of beginnings. They are so special. There is something about newnesses that infects me with hope and confidence. I get overwhelmed with the possibilities, but eventually the “shoulds” and the notion of perfection take over. On day one, I tell myself, I will start over. All bad habits will be kicked and replaced with those that wellness influencers post about daily. Goals that I had been working on for years will suddenly become attainable. This is not just a new start, but this is the start line. This is when it all comes together for me and makes sense. This is the moment when I finally become the person that I think, I know, I can be.

That’s a lot of pressure. And, naturally, my problems don’t magically disappear and I don’t lose 20 pounds or become definitively richer. A thing or two might improve, and sometimes a start can be momentous, but rarely does it deliver me to that perfect life.

Beginnings look different in 2020. The first day of this year held so much hope, maybe more so than other years, but what followed has been continuous heartbreak. The months have bled together, and looking back, it’s hard to distinguish July from April. A new school year looks vastly different from previous years, and there is no indication where the classroom will be next semester or even next year. And the virtual-ness of this race is a reminder of one of the small parts of life that have been ripped from us, again, without an idea of when or if they’ll return.

Even though beginnings have tended to rage with hope, 2020 has dimmed them down to just a small flicker.

But, it’s still there, and it might be better this way.

We need fresh starts to help us recenter and redirect us, specifically annual ones, such as New Year’s birthdays. These are built-in moments to help us reflect about where we’ve come and where we are going. However, we let too many external messages of where we think we should be and what we should be doing clog us down. We put too much expectation into these and then are unexpectedly disappointed when we can’t live up to them.

Now though, with life disjointed, our expectations are limited, and because of that, we get to see our beginnings for exactly what they are: the next step.

The thing is that we don’t need big marks in the calendars to help us be the people we want to be; we get to do that every day. If we aren’t showing up the way we want on August 31, we likely won’t be able to fully transform by September 1. Instead, we take each day as a step to grow a little bit more.

Yes, life is still hard and uncertain right now, but we can use that to build resiliency. We can redefine our limits and expectations in order to locate a new kind of hope, one that is present in the the seventh month of quarantine and another virtual school year.

Here we are, at a new beginning. Rather than demanding it bring me a better life, I just ask that it helps me be more present in the one I’m currently experiencing and that it offers a bit of faith to keep moving through the darkness. I’m thankful for this beginning, because no matter what it will bring, I was brought to it. Something else ended, and here I am, and well to make it this far, that’s the special part.

 

 

 

Storms

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I hate driving through Wisconsin. But, in order to get to my family, I must. It’s not that I don’t like the WI—forests, beer, and cheese are all some of my favorite things—but often when I trodding along I-90 or I-94 I encounter weather. Rain, snow, wind. I’ve experienced it all.

One July weekend, my husband and I decided to visit family in Minnesota, which is a journey that requires crossing Wisconsin. On the way home during the seven-ish hour drive, we hit a rain storm. In a minute’s time, the sky went from being blue speckled with white clouds, like we were in a milk commercial, to ominous and dark. We watched the wall of rain come our way as if we were entering a car wash. Our little windshield wipers could barely keep up and visibility was less than a car or two lengths ahead. It reminded me of the many whiteout winter storms I’ve driven through in South Dakota. We had to slow way down, and at times, big gusts of rain and wind hit us as if they were waves.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve white knuckled my way through many winter storms on the highway, including spinning off the road a few times (thankfully, without harm). I am a bit scarred by these experiences, and often refuse to drive if there is anything but clear skies. My husband is a good driver, and he would rather be at the wheel than have me steering us through the elements, but even in the passenger seat, I am panicked and afraid while driving through storms.

During this summer storm, my anxiety was in overdrive. What if we hit another car or one hits us? I found the radar online to make sense of this storm, and the blobs of green and yellow seem to be headed in the same direction as us. These gusts of wind and torrential rains could be with us the entire trip home. The fear of what could happen was like an itch all over my body, and I kept adjusting myself in the seat, hoping to find some relief. “Should we pull over?” I asked my husband. I was willing to spend the night in a small WI town if it meant that this big scary moment would be over. “No, we aren’t stopping. That would be worse,” my husband said. Not to me. I just wanted this terrible feeling and situation to end.

This is how I approach a lot of big scary things in my life—looking for an out, searching for something to control so I can get to the other side. Here is the thing, though, I can’t control Mother Nature. I can’t even dictate what my husband, the driver, was doing. Rather, the absolute only thing I could do was to accept the worry and fear and trust that my husband knew he was doing. I had no other control beyond myself.

This is often what happens to us in life. We are presented with something terrifying and too big for us to control. There are no quick fixes or easy outs. Rather, we just have to endure. We have to trust ourselves, and we have to reign in our emotions. The only way to get through is to get through.

We are living through some really frightening and nightmarish times right now, and there doesn’t seem to be an end. Even once there is a vaccine or economic rebound or substantial changes to systemic racism (and none of those are guaranteed to come quickly), we will be feeling the ripple effects and trauma of this time for decades to come. We will likely never return to normal, but rather create a new one and try to put back together the pieces of our world.

There are little things we can do, such as wear masks, vote in the upcoming election, educate ourselves, etc., but there is more that is beyond our control. This is a storm we cannot dictate, and while we have every right to be afraid and scared, we can’t let those things become us. We can’t let looking for a quick solution or the easy out redirect us. Rather, we must learn to trust one another, acknowledge our emotions and feelings, and do our best to endure.

After about 20 minutes, the storm in Wisconsin that day lifted, and we returned to the clear skies of a milk carton. If we can find the will and faith to keep moving forward, all storms eventually pass.

 

 

Me and Social Media

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The other day I was listening to a running podcast with a guest who is a wellness influencer. He had been on this specific podcast before but came back to tell a story he hadn’t done so publicly — his journey to sobriety. It began by noticing that most of the people he admired had a freedom he wanted but wasn’t sure how to get. Then, he started to recognize how intertwined alcohol was in his life—after runs, with his kids, on airplanes—and he needed it that way. However, he limited his use, thinking that if he didn’t drink on specific days, he didn’t have a problem. He didn’t think he could give up drinking, but something pushed him to sobriety. When he started down that path, he knew this was what he was looking for all along.

As I listened, I recognized some of these patterns and behaviors in myself, but not necessarily with alcohol. The guest said he got sober because he wanted to be more present in his life. I want that, too, and there are a lot of obstacles for me, but my biggest is social media.

I joined Facebook nearly 15 years ago, in September of 2005. I remember it being such a big deal at the time because the site was only open to specific universities. I didn’t have a MySpace, but the exclusivity of Facebook drew me in. When the social media platform finally recognized my university email, I immediately made a profile.

Then came Twitter and eventually Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat and others that didn’t last the test of time.

For the next decade and a half, I’ve broadcasted my life over apps. Anytime there was news to share — from new jobs to race finishes to published articles to my wedding — it had to go on social media. Pictures from vacations, random Friday night outs, and scene scapes that matched my mod were posted to say, “I am doing better thank you think I am.” Social media also was a simple way to keep in touch with people without actually talking to them; we might not have spoken in two years but I know about your new house and the name of your baby.

It started as a simple way to share pieces of my life, but as the platforms developed and became more sophisticated, social media consumed my life. And not just mine. When I joined Facebook back in 2005, 5 percent of Americans used social media. Now it’s 70 percent.

My use of social media veered into excessive early on, especially with the evolution of mobile technology. Unhealthy habits started to become normal, such as logging on to Facebook at work, checking Twitter while driving 75 mph down the Interstate, and diverting my attention away from the people in front of me to what was happening on social. I knew I was probably spending too much time online, but what was it hurting? Plus, when I moved away from South Dakota, social media was really the only way to keep in touch with what was going on back home. I needed it.

The first time I deactivated my Facebook account came after a heartbreak. I was obsessively checking the profile of someone I needed to let go of, and I didn’t have the discipline to do it with a connected profile. So, I deleted the whole account. It was incredible. Not only could I finally distance myself from that person, but I felt lighter, freer away without a Facebook presence. I stayed off for four or five months, but eventually came back. My decision to return was due to guilt over losing touch with friends in Lesotho as Facebook was really only my channel of communication with them. Even when I was off of Facebook, I was still on Instagram and Twitter and not quite disconnected from social media.

In the last six years, I’ve taken breaks here and there, sometimes deactivating my account, other times just not logging in for weeks at a time. But, I always come back, and when I do, my use quickly ramps back up to overindulgence.

I use social media with rules to avoid facing the fact that I have an unhealthy relationship with it. I do not have the apps on my phone, even though I can easily log into my accounts from the web browser. I try to take the weekends off, but often break that rule. I tell myself I won’t log on today but cave. I only ever intend to be on there a second, but I lose 10, 20,30 minutes scrolling.

These days, almost always, when I go on a social media binge, I usually end up feeling terrible. Whether it’s the onslaught of bad news and harmful opinions or the comparison trap, I no longer get joy from social media, but yet it’s still a crux that I do not know how to let go of. I keep going back, more frequently and spending more time on the apps, because it takes longer to get my fix.

The second that I feel bored, I reach for my phone. When I am sad or anxious, I scroll. I visit the profiles of people I haven’t talked to years, to educate myself on what they are doing and how they feel about the matters of the day. I think about accomplishing something big just so I can post about it online, going so far as to decipher the exact writing I will use. When I do post something, I check it several times to see how many likes or comments I have, and I take note of who has interacted with this post. Or more specifically, who has not. I scan accounts of people I’ve never met, wondering how I can get what they have. My feed is there to remind of me where I am falling short. A post about someone’s new job, house, or baby can send me to depressive spiral for hours. The sadder I am about not having what I want in my life, the more I go to social media to punish myself.

In my training as a counselor, I’ve learned that mental health issues are not consider diagnosable disorders unless they are causing specific harm to your life. An addiction is only an addiction when it’s hurting you and the people you love. Anxiety is only a disease when it’s preventing you from living the life you want. This means that there are many people who can operate normally and seem fine with similar symptoms but aren’t not diagnosable because it isn’t causing negatively impacting their life.

Take my husband for example. He spends a large chunk of time online, passing through Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, likely passing more time on social than me. The biggest difference, though, is that he doesn’t leave these sites feeling worse about himself. He doesn’t use them to numb or avoid. He has banal interactions from social media, often just gaining information. Me, though, a visit to social media can ruin my mood for hours.

That’s how I know I have an unhealthy relationship with social media.

So, should I quit? I’ve done it before, why not again? I am afraid of deactivating my accounts for lots of reasons. There are so many groups and events that only take place on Facebook, so deleting my account means I would remove myself from those communities. Instagram is by far the most triggering for me, and I do try to limit my time there, but it’s also a really good way to build followings and connect with people who have similar interests. I really want to find a way to combine my mental health education and writing, and I would need a platform like Instagram to reach people. Plus, I am afraid I will miss out on events and happenings in my friends and family’s life. Once, during one of my Facebook breaks, my colleague invited everyone in the office to his Halloween party, except me. I joked about not getting invited, and he said, “Well, you aren’t on Facebook so I couldn’t invite you.” As if we have always thrown parties this way. If I deactivate my account, what else will I miss?

And what about other sites, like Strava and Snapchat, which are used for running and watching videos of my nieces and nephews? Would I have to go cold turkey and cut out everything to really get the benefits? (Side note: I deleted my Twitter account a year and half ago. I still go to the site from time to time to see why my Red Line Train is delayed 30 minutes and why I am hearing helicopters outside my apartment, but for the most part, I do not miss that dumpster fire.) Or, should I just enforce stricter rules? Would I even adhere to them?

This week I start training for my internship, and it would be a good time to reduce my online presence. Not just for the sake of being more present, but because it’s inevitable that my clients will Google me (all of my accounts with my name on them are set to private for this reason). Also, it’s not a bad time to leave Facebook on the precipice of an election, not to mention all the spam friend requests I’ve been getting (Hi, Russia!).

My relationship with social media is indeed not healthy, and it’s something I want to change, but I guess I am afraid. I know the right answer is to delete everything, even if for a while, but I am scared of what I will miss and who I will be without it. Right now, I am not ready to pull the plug, but at someone point, I am going to have to see that who I will be without it is probably not as bad as how I feel with it.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Part of my training in becoming a counselor is to learn about the different theoretical approaches and practice ones that align to my interpretations of therapy. One of my professors calls this “dating around,” but it hasn’t taken me long to zone in on one: narrative therapy.

As a writer, storyteller, and now soon-to-be therapist, narrative is a natural fit for me. In fact, a semester before I took the theories course a student further along in the program anticipated that this would be my theory of choice. She was right. Narrative centers on the idea that stories define a person’s experience in life and that these stories can be changed and altered to help empower a person to see their own strengths and build a life that they want. Narrative therapists believe that people are separate from their problems and that they are capable to externalize these issues and manage them in effective ways. Not only have I been exploring narrative therapy in practice counseling settings, but it’s become an added perspective in which to view my own life.

There are many stories I tell about myself and who I am as a person, and not all of them are steeped in reality. Rather, many are framed around expectations and comparisons and focused on what is missing. When I hit a snag in life, these stories of deficit consume me.

Last week, my husband was laid off due to COVID-19. It’s specifically upsetting because he had had this job a few months and has been mostly underemployed for about three years. This job was to be, finally, his fresh start, but then a global pandemic and national recession hit. Not only is he now back enduring the humility of a job search, but he is doing so with fewer job options and more competition. With me still in graduate school for another year, we are hovering right at the line of being OK and not. Also, we lose our health insurance at the end of the month … during a pandemic.

At first, I didn’t take the news well. I tried to keep it together in front of my husband, who was reeling from yet another professional setback, and finally had to go outside to cry. The emotion spilled out of me so ferociously and audibly that a woman living nearby came to check on me.

In that moment all I could think about was reverting back to the emotional distress and despair that haunted me for months. How I held my breath each time as the cashier scanned my items at the grocery store, wanting to indulge in simple pleasures but hoping the total was one our bank account could handle. Or, how shameful the situation sounded when we explained it to friends or new acquaintances. Or, how exhausted and irritated I felt after taking an extra shift because I wasn’t in a position to refuse an extra paycheck.

Mostly, I was terrified of going back to the idea that our lives were on hold, of going back to the pause. Without a steady, sufficient income, we can’t make big choices let alone a budget. Things like buying a home or taking a trip have to wait. We’ve been trying to have a baby for some time, but that is another thing that can’t happen until there is enough money coming in. As our friends and family travel through these big life events, we just watch, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place so that we can have them, too.

The story I told myself for so long was that we were undeserving. We couldn’t figure out the basics, so we didn’t get to spend Saturday mornings walking a stroller down the block to get coffee. We don’t get to try out that new restaurant or get tickets to see a beloved performer. We dislike our small apartment with the thin walls, but it’s what we get. Somewhere along the way we failed, and so we must suffer.

I couldn’t go through this heartbreak again. It took so much from me last time—testing not only our marriage but both of ours mental health—and I wasn’t sure I could survive again. I tried so hard to find solutions for us, controlling every aspect that I could, doing everything I thought a loving wife did, and yet here we are, in a similar place. How could we go through this struggle again, but this time a bit harder?

Then I wondered, what if my constant heartbreak isn’t the situation that life keeps handing me? What if it’s the expectations that I continue to hold myself to? The ideas of what I think life should be? My pain and sorrow are not what I don’t have and who I am falling behind but that I only see what isn’t there. Would it be possible to stop aspiring for perfection and accept my life for what is, even the very real, scary, and uncertain parts? Could we survive if I didn’t worry about it every day? If I didn’t match our downs to everyone else’s ups? What if instead of the one where I am waiting for life, I am living it? What if my story became that life isn’t perfect, but I don’t need it to be to enjoy the simple but beautiful everyday pieces? What if I decided that as long our necessities were met and we were together then contentment was achievable?

What would happen if I changed the story?

So, I did.

My new story is about enough. With a greater sense of reality, it reminds me that we have the money we need to pay our bills and enjoy an occasional night out, that my husband is a good, intelligent man who will find his way to a career that enriches him, that as a couple we are building a satisfying life with enormous potential, and that there are small but nourishing blessings all around me.

It’s only been a week, but this time is different. I don’t wake up stressed about money. Rather, I understand that the white privilege I hold allows me to be a bit better off than someone of color in a similar situation, and I refuse to take that for granted. At the grocery store, I get whatever I want because I know that I am careful with other spending and this is the only place that I do indulge. And, when I think about what is missing and how far I am behind, I ask myself, “Will that really make you happy? Or, can you be happy now?” Now is always the answer.

Our circumstances are not ideal, but we do not have to be victims of the situation. Even in a financially stressed time, there is so much beautify in our lives, and we also know it won’t last forever. Eventually, my husband will get a great job with benefits, and I will graduate next year and get my own consistent job. We’ll have more money for trips and luxury items, and that baby and house will come. But, I’ve come to understand that if we can’t be happy now, we never will be. If we can’t change our story about what we need and what we deserve, we will always be plagued by it. I refuse to continue let circumstances write my narrative. I write my own story, and it in, I am deserving and worthy.

White People, Do the Work

 

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**Over the last few days, two stories have been reported that highlight racism in American, including the unlawful and horrific murdering of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On all of my social media accounts, White people are questioning why and how, and I felt like now was a good time to remind my fellow White people that this has been happening for centuries, and there are things we can do besides just post about our sadness. We have to do the work of dismantling racism in America. I am not perfect in this work, nor do I want kuddos for trying, but below are things that I have done, have tried to do, and still need to do, from now and until I leave this Earth. So, if you are upset about another Black person being killed by police or the audacity of a White woman to use fear to cover up her racism, here are so my suggestions of what you can do:

Educate Yourself. This does not mean go to you Black friend and ask them to help you understand what is going on. This does not mean hopping into the comments section of Black activists and asking them to help you navigate your feelings. Go to Google, put in the search terms, and start reading. There is a ton of stuff out there. Read books, watch movies, take virtual lectures. And don’t assume just because you read one book you are good. I admit that I do this sometimes, but unraveling our whiteness and being allies is a constant process. So, start learning and don’t stop.

Here is a great collection of resources that I plan to work through, but a couple of recommendations I highly suggest are “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad and “White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and ...

Additionally, learn about the Black men and women who are dying. Hear their stories. These are people. Their lives deserve to be remembered.

Pay for your Education and Support Black Activists. There are a lot of great free resources out there on social media, but behind many of those accounts are people of color who spending hours putting together that content. Pay them. Find their Cash App, Venmo, or Patreon, and send them what you can. You can also make donations to organizations that specifically support and hold up people from marginalized and historically oppressed communities, but you can also send money to an activists who are having a hard time getting groceries because the work they do pays so very little. Only recently have I started making donations to groups when these stories hit, and I am angered. Here are two I’ve recently donated, and I happy to provide others for your consideration:

Chicago Community Bond Fund

The Loveland Foundation– to help fund therapy for Black women and girls.

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Listen more than talk. When these events happen, as they do every day, before you go posting, listen. Take the time to visit reputable news sites and social media accounts of activists and take in their perspectives before you go off sprouting your own. You are not absorbing the weight of a situation if you need to react first. If you feel the need to intervene with a comment or question during your education, ask yourself why. Are you trying to make this about your or genuinely curious? Also, is your comment cloaked in white fragility? If so, work on that first.

Find the actionable items and do it. All activism comes with action items.

Stop Sharing the Videos. Akilah Hughes had an extremely moving speech in this morning’s What A Day Podcast about how traumatizing it is to Black people to be bombarded with these horrific videos of murder. We do not do this for white deaths. Stop sharing the videos. Do not watch them. Even if they are in a news clip. Skip over that piece of the report, and maybe @ the news organization that these videos are unnecessary to the reporting. It is inhumane, and we can be just as outraged without having to watch the video or hear a recording of the sound. Speaking of videos,

Remember that this has been happening for a loooooooong time. Don’t think that just because we see videos around that racism is new or these acts are unprecedented. The video cameras are new. That’s it.

Don’t expect a gold star or a pat on the back. Just because you read a book or shared a resource, you are not entitled to any kind of applause, so don’t expect it. You are doing the work. Black people are dying. Your efforts here are not notable, but you definitely need to be doing them. As Layla Saad says, this is the bare minimum of work you should be doing to be a good ancestor. Also, if you are going to share stuff on social media, make for damn sure it is not about the likes.

Even as I write this, I have had to hold the back to the urge to tell you all about the things have done. I want you to know this because I am insecure and what to be known for doing the work. That is not helpful. I need to get over myself, because I am not at the center of this.

Stop being worried about making a mistake or being called a racist. White people are so scared about being labeled a racist that they are quick to point that they are not one, or they just don’t say anything. And know, if you do the work, and you should, you will make a mistake. That’s part of the process. You are not allowed to cry about that mistake and ask a Black person to comfort you and remind you that you are not a racist. Rather, if a Black person calls you out on your actions or words, listen to what they have to say, reflect on it, talk to your White friends about what you did, and learn from it so you don’t do it again. Now, if a White person comes at you about reverse racism, whatever. That’s not a thing. Or, how they were breaking the law, blah, blah. None of these acts deserve death as a punishment. None of them.

Talk about this with your communities. This part is hard. We don’t like to call our families or friends or acquaintances out for their racism. We just ignore it and move on. Oh, how many times I’ve done that. But, just because we don’t do anything, it doesn’t mean nothing happens. Instead, this kind of behavior is allowed to linger and be present. It can fester and lead to things like a woman believing she has the right to make up a story about a Black man threatening her because he had the audacity to tell her to follow the rules and leash up her dog. We have to talk to our White communities. And not just once. Over and over. It’s hard but not so much as dying because you are Black.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This work of dismantling racism and acknowledging our own white privilege and biases is uncomfortable. But, your small discomfort is not more than the trauma Black Americans experience every day. Get over it.

Utilize your voice. This list is a great start. Use Google to find others.

Please know that this list is not exhaustive, nor perfect, and I welcome any additional suggestions and resources. White friends, we can no longer just be outraged. We must do the work.

**This post has been updated to include the capitalization of Black and White. A reader sent me this article about capitalization of Black, and after some research and consideration, I decided to follow suit. 

A New Path Forward

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Most mornings I wake up and the absolute last thing I want do is run. With toddler-like protest, I claim I am absolutely not going to do run today, and I don’t press the issue. Instead, I go about my day walking the dog, journaling, and eating breakfast, and like a parent trying to woo said toddler to bed, if I just let it be, nature takes over. Within a few hours, I have an intense hunger to lace up my shoes and steal an hour outdoors.

Like most runners these days, I’ve had to change up my normal routes. Chicago’s two biggest paths—the Lakefront Trail and the 606—have been closed since, I don’t, maybe 2019? It’s hard to remember. Anyway, they are off limits, which means runners, walkers, and cyclists are forced onto the sidewalks. Summer in Chicago is an EVENT, and each year, the first nice day brings hoards of people outdoors to dust off winter crumbs, but without patio bars, farmer’s markets, beaching, and intramural leagues, all of that pent up energy can only be released with short walks and bike rides around the block. Meaning, more than ever, the sidewalks are busy and crowded. So, when I decided to run mid-morning or day, as opposed to 6:00 a.m. which is the time of most of my runs when I actually have places to be in the day, I have to avoid my tried-and-true paths.

This morning, when the urge to run was gnawing at me, I thought about which way I would go.  It was only 9:30 a.m., but it was also above 50-degrees, which meant a decent amount of people out. Now, I run with a buff to cover my nose and mouth, and I always dive into grass and even the street to separate myself, but those actions are cumbersome when there are so many people out. I live about a mile from the Chicago-Evanston border, and most of my runs lead me north, past Lake Michigan, and up to Evanston’s running path, which is still open. Again, though, I knew there would be enough families on bikes, runners who wouldn’t bother themselves with moving over, and neighbors trying to walk together at a “safe” social distance that it would make me anxious and zap all of the joy from the run, which is really the only reason I run these days. Well, that and because, for me, running works better than antidepressants.

So, to go north, I would need to take another path, and I decided on well-traveled road that was far from the lake and with more stop lights but would most certainly contain less people. At first it was pretty loud, making it hard to hear my podcast, and my body nearly met the front of a Subaru crossing an intersection too quickly with a driver who didn’t see the runner before her (who, by the way, had the right of way). As I crossed into Evanston, traffic thinned out, and it became the most lovely run. There were gorgeous houses and interesting things to keep me entertained, like a stuffed bear sitting in a porch swing, flowers making their grand May entrance, and the quaintest green door that should be a painting in an art museum. The sun was giving me enough warmth for the most ideal conditions, and there were a limited amount of people out that it was easy to scoot to the curb for a safe pass. I was so so happy. And grateful.

Grateful to be outdoors.

Grateful to be running.

Grateful to have taken a chance and followed a new path.

This run is an appropriate metaphor for the uncertainty that we face. Things are scary and uncertain, but we are given a new path forward. We must take it, and even though we can grieve for the route we had planned to go on, we also have to open our hearts to the possibilities. It’s not ideal, but we have to keep going. And, if we take this new route, we will be led to incredible beauty that we might have missed otherwise.

Wholesome Content

Hi, friends,

One of my absolute favorite things is recommendations. I love reading, watching, listening to something, and then being reminded of someone. They will LOVE this. And then the next time I see them, I throw that show, book, movie, whatever into their face. About half the time, people will come back and say, “You were right, I really loved it.”

I don’t know about you all, but I am really struggling these days. I am tired and unmotivated. Depression, a blanket I know well, is starting its creep on me, and I try to combat it the best way that I can. In caring for myself, I’ve revisited some of my favorite pieces of entertainment, and so I thought I would share some of my all-time favorite movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc. My goal here is not to take out all the best, but the things that really bring out the tears of joy and the warm fuzzing feelings that maybe are humans OK. Pieces of work that uplifting and rooting at the same time. Also, this is not my extensive list of everything I love because they are darker, more intense entertainment I like (See Barry), but I wanted to keeper it to the things that I know will brighten people’s spirits during this time. So, if you are looking for recommendations for wholesome content, here is mine:

SomeGoodNews

This pandemic is causing destruction that will be felt for decades, but some genuinely wonderful things have also come out of it. One such thing is John Krasinski’s Some Good News, or SGN. Each week, he produces a TV show about some of the best good news that happened recently. And, then he usually focuses on one story to bring even more joy. I have never not cried at these episodes. This week’s episode (see top), in which he marries a couple, had me cry/laughing. It was pure joy.

Gourmet Makes

If you and I have talked recently, I have definitely brought this web series up to you. I started watching it a month, and I have watched almost every episode. This video series comes from the magazine, Bon Appetite, and features the divine pastry chef Claire Saffitz in her attempt to recreate popular snack foods. From Starburst to Pringles to Snicker Bars to Pizza Rolls, Claire uses her skills and expertise to reverse engineer these over-processed foods into something delicious. It’s incredibly satisfying to see someone who is smart and good at her job fail over and over. Sometimes she produces something infinitely better than the original and other times it’s just good enough. But, it’s incredibly human and binge worthy. Here she makes Combos:

The Good Place

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First of all, I will watch pretty much anything with Mike Schur’s name attached to it (Parks and Recreation is probably my all-time favorite show), but this show is unlike any others. Mike came up with the concept for the show when he noticed that when he was at coffee shops and he moved to put change into the tip jar he only did so when the barista was facing him. He wondered why it was so important for him that the barista knew he was tiping him, and thus the show was created. It’s about the moral and ethical dilemmas we face as humans, and it is simply wonderful. It’s bright, funny, and makes you believe in the good. Also, the finale was simply perfect. My cheeks were not dry.

Replay of Sports

I know that many people are sad that we basically don’t have sports right now, but I’ve found this a wonderful time to back and watch some of my favorite sports moments. On Boston Marathon, the Olympic Channel played races from the last five years, and I watched nearly all day. I only took a break to hop over to the NBC Sports channel because they were recasting all of Michael Phelp’s gold medal wins in Beijing. It was so fun to rewatch those races, and I felt almost as nervous and excited as I did the first time. Sports run on a continuum, and rarely are we lacking something new to watch, but this pause in time has given us a chance to go back and relive some of those athletic triumphs:. It’s pretty special. Here are two of my favorites:

One of the most epic relay finishes in Olympic Swimming history:

A championship 108 years in the making:

Heavyweight

This is the most charming, heartwarming podcast out there. Each episode, Jonathan Goldstein helps people go to a piece of their lives that they wish they could redo or re-explore, and he helps them make amends with who they became along the way. It’s a podcast that shows you that most people are good people, just trying to do their best.

Stand By Me by Ben E. King

I remember hearing this song for the first time during music class in the sixth grade, and since then, it has been my all-time favorite song. Even before I met my husband, I knew this would be the song I danced to at my wedding. Now, when I am sad, I listen to it and think of that gorgeous day in June.

Making It

There are LOTS of competition shows out there, but none are like Making It. First, it’s hosted by Amy Poeler and Nick Offerman, arguably the two best hosts on television. It invites crafters from all over the country who specialize in different mediums to make gorgeous beautiful things. Not only is everything they make done with incredible amounts of skill, precision, and talent, the contestants are genuinely good people who help each other out. It’s a hug for the heart. Plus, there are so many puns.

Let the Sunshine In

On Sundays when I am not working, I attend church with my friend Kera, and each year, the church holds an auction as part of its annual fundraising efforts. An item up for bid is to pick a song that the choir will play during its yearly music service. During the first time I attended this service, the winning bidder chose “Let the Sunshine In.” I had heard this song before, but to be in that gorgeous church with it’s floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the blue sky, green trees, and passing birds brought a whole new way of listening. On bright sunny days, I listen to this song and dance as I walk to the train.

Modern Love

I can’t remember when I first discovered this column in The New York Times, but it’s always been a favorite of mine when I need reminding of the hope and love in the world. Each essay is different, and not all are written by professional authors, but the column reminds us that love is often complicated and messy and always worth it.

Sabli by Amadou and Mariam feat. Theophilius London.

This is a song we listened to a lot in Peace Corps Niger. It’s a remix of the Mali’ band, Amadou and Mariam, with an American-Trinidadian rapper. The sweet lyrics—”Avec toi cherie, la vie est belle)—always take me to a different place, and for that, this song will always be special.

Holocene, Instrumental Version

Bon Iver’s Holocene is my second favorite song of all time, right after “Stand By Me.” That album came out shortly after I returned home from Niger, and I listened to it on repeat as I pieced my life back together. I saw Bon Iver in concert a few months later, on a perfect September night in Nebraska, shortly before I left for Lesotho. Over the years, I’ve written thousands and thousands of words to this song on repeat, and when I was planning my wedding, I knew it had to be a part of the ceremony. We found this perfect instrumental version, and it played as I walked down the aisle.

Honorable Mentions for Things I Love but Didn’t get into Here:

Schitt’s Creek

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Parks and Recreation (anyone else cry super hard at the reunion show?)

The Great British Baking Show

This American Life, specifically “Rest Stop.”

In My Life by the Beatles

Things You can’t Binge but are Still Wonderful and Wholesome:

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Cheering on Friends as They Find a Way to Run Their Race Anyway

Playing with Face Filters with my Nieces and Nephews 

Friends who Deliver Baked Treats/Delivering Baked Treats to Friends

Games over Zoom/House Party

 

 

We Are All Runners Now

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Don’t let that smile fool you; I was trying not to die at this moment.

Sheltering in place has brought out some weird behaviors. An example is puzzles. Four months ago I would have never done a puzzle, now I love them.

For some people, that strange new hobby, one they would have never ventured to before, is running. Running has become one of the last forms of exercise that we can do with gyms being closed and all team sports essentially cancelled until further notice. Sure, you can do workout videos in your home, but with the warming weather, running is an excuse to go outside.

I know that running is gaining in popularity by the sheer number of people I see outside. I run nearly every day. I’ve been running in this neighborhood for almost two years, and I know most of the faces of other local runners. In the last month, I’ve seen A LOT of new people out there.

This is great, of course. As a longtime runner who is extremely passionate about the sport, it’s wonderful that so many people are finding their way to this activity that is more than just good for your body. Running has been a lifeline for me, both in joyful and uncertain times, and I know the therapeutic effects that simply going out for a run can have on one’s soul.

That being said, the running world is incredibly intimidating. Running is branded as cruel; the sport other sports use as punishment, as the t-shirt saying goes. It comes with a complex stereotype of what you have to look like and barometers you have to reach to be considered “a real runner.” There is also so much information on where to start and what you need that it’s often too much to sift through. Also, running hurts. No matter if you are going out for your first mile or 20th marathon, at some point, it will be painful.

But it will also be glorious, and that’s why so many of us keep coming back.

Myself, I’ve been running for 23 years. I’ve completed two marathons and an ultra marathon, along with a handful of half marathons and 5Ks. I even work (or I did, but plan to go back to the store when I can) at a specialty running store fitting people for shoes and talking them through race nutrition, socks, and other things running.  Throughout my running tenure, I’ve been more consistent, as I was this past winter when I ran 100 consecutive days. But, I’ve also taken breaks for months at a time, such as when I had hip surgery and expected to never run again. I’m not super fast nor do I have the thin yet muscular legs of many runners, but I run like real people do. I’ve run to lose weight, I’ve run to chase the pain away, I’ve run to celebrate, and I’ve run to understand my own strength.

With so many people now running, many new, I thought that I would share some of my running advice that I’ve learned over my years of running. I am no means a doctor or a running coach, but the below are things that I’ve learned and thought I would share in case you are thinking about running and had some questions.

How do I even start?

Go to your closet. Find comfortable shorts, a shirt (try to avoid cotton, if you can), some athletic shoes, socks, and a bra. They don’t have to match, and in fact it’s better if they don’t. They don’t have to be this brand or that, rather today we are starting with what we have. Put them on. Then go outside and try to run 10 minutes. If you can’t do that, try running for five minutes and walking for five. If it’s easy, add another 10. Don’t worry about pace or distance, just run. When you are done, stretch your legs using any of the moves you remember from high school P.E. You will be sore, and if you are extremely sore, rest the next day. If you feel good, try again tomorrow. Either way, go again. It’s easy to run once, but going a second, third, fourth, or fifth time is where the grit comes in. When you feel good, try running for 10 minutes, walking for five and then running another 10. Or, start with equal amounts walking and running or any amount that feels good to you. As you can, increase the time. There are lots of couch25K plans you can follow as well as walk-run programs. You can start with something simple and then look for a plan, or start with a plan. Just start.

But isn’t bad to walk? 

No. I know lots of people who walk-run marathons and walk as they need. Walking-running is a good way to ease into running, and it’s OK if you always need to walk a bit during your runs. The key is your moving your body and still getting the benefits from running. If someone is shaming you for walking, they are the foolish one.

Do I really need shoes that cost more than $40? 

Yes. Most good running shoes will cost $100-$180, depending on support and cushion. I’ve seen a lot of people come in with bad ankles, knees, or whatever because they’ve been running in improper shoes. I promise you those Kohl-sale shoes are not doing your joints any favors. Especially, if they are old. A good set of running shoes last anywhere from 350-500 miles, so depending on how much you run and what else you use them for, that’s 6-9 months. You may get a year out of them, but then it’s time to replace the shoes. If your knees suddenly start to hurt, that might be an indication it’s time for a new pair (don’t quote me on that, though, I don’t got an MD).

What kind should I get then?

I recommend going to a run specialty store to get fit. They are going to tell you your size (which IS different than the size you wear for everyday shoes), how much you pronate, and what kind of shoe would not only fit your foot type but the activities you do. Most retail shops are closed, but Fleet Feet Chicago is doing virtual fittings. These are ALWAYS free, so even if you just want to see your options, it’s not costing you a cent.

But, Heather, I just want to know what brand to get. I don’t want to have talk to anyone. 

Fine. Brooks is my favorite. New Balance is also good.

I heard Nike is putting out these really amazing shoes that will make me faster like that guy who ran a marathon under two hours. I hoping to do a real fast 5K when I can race. Should I get them?

No.

I really hate running and need music to listen to. Is that OK?

Yes. Do what you need to do to get through the run. I often listen to music or podcasts on my runs. But then there are times where I am really in the zone, and I prefer nothing at all except the songs of the birds and the beat of my breath. However, when I do have something in my ears, I try to be safe. Make sure you can hear your surroundings. Try one headphone in and one out. This is incredibly important, especially in a city where cars and bikers like to sneak up on you. I highly recommend AfterShokz, which sit on the outside of your ears and offer bone conduction sound.

Do I need any special clothing or gear?

For now, not really, especially for the warmer months. Stay away from cotton to avoid chaffing, but really anything that is comfortable works. I have lots of secondhand clothes for running that my mom picks up when she is at garage sales. One of my favorites is a used Under Armour turtle neck that is my favorite base layer for colder runs. If you decide to start training for a marathon, you will need gear to carry water and nutrition, and winter running requires more layers, and while I’ve done it in all Target-purchased pieces, quality (like wool over fleece) does make a bit of difference here. But don’t worry much about those things now. Just get yourself a good pair of running shoes and maybe some non-cotton socks, and you should be good. If you really want, put on a hat and some cool sunglasses.

Should I stretch?

OK, this is my dirty secret, I am terrible at stretching, but you shouldn’t be. Most experts recommend a dynamic workout before hand (think high knees and grape vines) and static stretching after.

What pace should I be aiming for? 

Pace is irrelevant and is not nearly as important as you think it is. Go off how you feel. If you start entering races and want to achieve a specific time, then pace becomes more important. However, most people run easy runs way too hard, and that leads to injury and burnout. When I was training for my fall marathon, I was concerned about what pace all of my runs were and would get discouraged when an easy run was slower than I thought it should be. My marathon was terrible, and I bonked and ended up running about an hour slower than what I thought I was capable of. Then, I started running whatever pace I wanted to during most of my daily runs and tried not to care about pace. When I raced a half marathon three months later, I PRed by about eight minutes and hit a huge time goal. My easy runs (outside of workouts) were an average of 90 seconds to 2 minutes slower per mile than my race pace. So, yeah, pace isn’t everything.

I need to run alone now, but I want running friends. Where do I make them? 

First, I will be your running friend. Second, join Strava. It’s like MapMyRun meets Instagram, and it tracks all of your runs. I’ve made a lot of running friends this way and have found different and fun places to run because of it. Then, when this is all over, find a local running club. I know, I know, you don’t like running with people, but give it a try. I used to think I was a solo runner, but then I started running with my neighborhood group and it forever changed my running. It’s way more fun, and I’ve made really good friends from it. Like people-who-will-go-out-of-their-way-to-do-really-nice-things-for-me friends.

So, I see neighbor out running and she is way faster than me. It sucks. 

I know that I of all people shouldn’t be handing out advice on comparing oneself to others, but I promise you that is a quick way to end up hating running. Run for you. You will be much happier.

What kind of precautions should I take running with COVID-19?

When I get frustrated with lots of new runners out on the road, it’s because they aren’t thinking of others. Running is still something we can do, and to keep it that way, we all have to do our part. Run alone and at off-peak times if you can. I recommend a buff around the neck to pull over your face. I like this because when there aren’t as many people out, I can push it down. The one I have is super low-tech and something I got from a race, so you can probably find them online easy enough. Also, this is the big one, distance yourself six-feet from other runners and walkers. Yes, this may mean going into the street if it is safe to do so, onto the grass, or to the edge of the curb. If another runner is coming at you, and they can’t move any further on their side because there is a fence or wall, it’s your responsibility to move. Please don’t be the jerk who could move over but doesn’t.

It’s raining. I guess I can’t run today. 

Running in the rain is the best kind of running. It’s cool, refreshing, and there are less people out. I run outside all year because a treadmill is slow-form torture, and I suggest you try running in the elements. Just once.

I think I really like this running. Where can I get more running inspiration? 

Books! I love running books, and here are a few favorites:

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way To Victory by Deena Kastor

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal 

26 Marathons: What I’ve Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, And Life From Each Marathon I’ve Run by Meb Keflezighi

Hansons Marathon Method: Run Your Fastest Marathon the Hansons Way

Strong: A Confidence Journal For Runners And All Brave Women by Kara Goucher

Podcasts are also big, and honestly, unless you follow the sport of running and know the major players, they may not be as interesting. But, here are a couple that I like are: I’ll Have Another With Lindsey Hein,Ali On The Run Show, and C Tolle Run.

And, watch some fabulous race finishes. Some that are incredibly inspiring are:

Meb – 2014 Boston Marathon

Shalane Flanagan – 2017 New York

Des Linden – 2018 Boston Marathon

Eliud Kiphchoge – Fastest Marathon at 1:59:40

You’ve written almost 2,500 words and I STILL have questions. 

Great! Leave a comment with your question, and I promise to respond!

Baking in the Time of Isolation

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For most of last week, I was on edge.

I stayed up late reading article after article, and then worry aroused me before my alarm. My mind drifted during class or while I was trying to finish homework assignments. I fretted over what to do next and if I had a mistake so grave, I couldn’t undo.

The world is in complete disarray, with death counts climbing every day, corporations squeezing as much money as possible out of vulnerable people, and those who typically oppressed are naturally being hit worse during this pandemic.

However, the source of my current anxiety is a jar of flour and water that sits on my countertop. It’s not rising, and I cannot figure out why.

Like many people, I’ve used this time in isolation to dust off hobbies that I thought the perfect version of me would inhibit if I had more time and resources, such as writing poetry, learning Italian, or adopting a dog. My magical fix-it wand is baking. Now, I know I am not alone in this idea to use these extra holes in my schedule to bake as evident by the number of social media photos of items fresh out the oven, the onslaught of think pieces about baking during a pandemic, or that it took visits to five separate grocery stores before I found yeast. However, for the past few weeks, I’ve dirtied, clean, and dirtied my pots, baking sheets, and measuring spoons more times than I can count. Using Pinterest recipes, I’ve made, from scratch, quiche, mini apple pies, cookies, vanilla ice cream as well as a chocolate custard, bagels, a rustic bread birthed in a Dutch oven, strawberry scones, banana oatmeal muffins, and buttercream frosted cupcakes. All of these turned out rather tasty, and I started to build an ego that suggested I could tackle a baked item with more chemistry, which led me to the mecca of baking: sourdough.

 

Maybe it’s the rise of stress baking or just getting older, but tinkering in the kitchen has become one of my anxiety antidotes, earning it’s place with writing and running in my mental health toolbox. It started when I was in the Peace Corps and forced to make almost all of my food from scratch, but with hours upon hours of free time, it was a nice way to keep my hands and mind busy. Back in the U.S., I had access to a real oven, a plethora of ingredients, and a refrigerator, and I found my ultimate taste tester who will eat pretty much anything I put in front of him. Often, it was a good way to end the day, cooking up a meal for E and I, or spending a Sunday shaping and boiling pretzels. Then graduate school started, and almost all of my hobbies got lost like greeting cards shoved into a dusty shoebox. I often daydream about making gnocchi from scratch or French baguettes, but either I never get the block of time to take on such projects or any energy I had to do so is long gone when there is a free block in my schedule.

For a few years, I’ve wanted to try making my own sourdough starter. I’ve made some really fantastic rustic breads, but I wanted to up my bread game with sourdough loaves. Of course, I didn’t have time to do that with school and two jobs, but when we were put on lock down, I knew that this was finally the time to create my own starter. I probably wasn’t going to work on that novel or clean out the closet, but this is one of those long put-off projects I wouldn’t let myself ignore. It was now or never.

For the first few weeks, I browsed different recipes, looking for one that seemed authentic but doable. Five to seven days, it said. That’s all I need to incorporate enough wild yeast from the air into a flour-water mixture to create a heavenly rise in my bread. The motivation came after a pity party I threw myself in which I played my favorite game: comparing myself to both friends and strangers. I couldn’t have a baby, buy a house, or travel to Peru, but I could make a starter. I pulled out an old glass jar, measured equal parts water and flower, mixed it all up and covered the white goo with a tea towel that my great grandmother embroidered for me when I was a child.

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Rustic, no-knead Dutch oven bread.

Each day, I woke up to attend to all the living beings in my house that weren’t me (or my husband, although I often made the coffee for both of us). I fed and walked the dog. Watered the plant and moved her to the sunny part of the ledge. And then, fed my starter by dumping more than half of it out and adding equal parts water and flower. After a few days, I noticed a liquid on top, which I read is hooch and a sign that my start is hungry, so I upped my feedings to twice a day.

The process seems so quaint and simple, just flour and water, but it’s wasteful and messing. Streaks of dried flour coated most surfaces in our kitchen refrigerator handle, the inside walls of the sink, even the buttons on the coffee maker. My husband would go to make lunch and groan. I didn’t have to ask. I know what this verbal frustration was about.

I had my own irritation with starter. While little bubbles were spreading across the top, it wasn’t growing as much as it should. A ripe starter should double in size after a feeding, but mine wouldn’t move half an inch. More Googling brought me to several articles and videos, and all of them said that it was so easy to make your own. But, they also said, based on how mine was rising, it likely wouldn’t be strong enough to support a bread rise.

For days, I wondered out loud about whether I should attempt to use the starter in a bread or toss it. One more day, I kept telling myself, only to have no changes in results after two more rounds of feedings. My husband was getting very tired of hearing about it, and in fact, after one unrelated fight, he said, “You either have to bake the bread or give it up.” The starter was stressing me so much that I even had dreams about it.

Of course, this is sourdough starter is not just about bread. The starter represents a complicated task that takes skill, patience, and knowledge. With so much of our lives flipped upside down, we need the little wins more than ever. We need to feel accomplished and productive and that we can do hard things, even if they aren’t meaningful.

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Bagels, deliciousness. 

It’s also about who I think I really am. We all like to believe that there is a better version of ourselves hiding within, someone who is just waiting for more money, time, love, or whatever to water us so that we can bloom into the people we know we truly are. The better me only shops from sustainable, ethical businesses, lives in an apartment overrun with plants, and bakes her own bread, if not daily then weekly. This is my time to find that version of me, and if I let go of the starter, then I am afraid I will never find her, that she isn’t as real as I long for her to be.

But more, it’s about the anger and lack of control I feel right now. Sure, my husband and I both lost our incomes, but I am more frustrated about the deficiency of a national paid sick leave policy and affordable healthcare, that big businesses are putting low wage employees on to the front lines and shrugging their shoulders when they die, that certain leaders refuse to admit the gravity of this situation and would rather play to their party than protect their citizens, that people of color are disproportionally affected by this disease and all of us with white privilege don’t get why, and that this never had to be this bad. Also, I miss my people, and I really want to hug them. Right now, I feel so helpless, and every time, I try to think about what more I can do, my anxiety immobilizes me.

What I can do, though, is practice a centuries old tradition of growing a starter, or so I thought. It was easy for me to funnel all of my anxiety and despair into this one activity because I thought I could actually make this work. That if I just kept pushing through the challenges, and gave it enough patience, my sourdough starter would eventually grow. I could feel a sense of triumph in the little things and maybe that could lead to hope for the big things.

After about 10 days, when it should have been ripe and ready to use, my starter was still fairly flat, but I decided to attempt bread anyway. I made the autolyze, and let it rise overnight. It should have been fluffy enough that if I picked off a piece it would float. It did not, so I put some instant yeast into the dough, kneaded it a bit, and let it rise again. It still didn’t go much further, but I baked it anyway.

With some research, I realized that likely my biggest problem was that my proportions were off. For most baking, but specifically bread baking, weight is more accurate than volume, and I was using measuring cups. I probably didn’t have equal amounts.

As the bread was baking, I decided to dump the starter. It wasn’t where it should be, and I knew that I could buy one from a local bakery and feed that to keep in the back of my fridge for whenever I wanted a loaf. Plus, I would have likely need to buy another thing of flour to keep it alive, and it didn’t seem worth it.

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Pale, dense, but tasty. 

The sourdough was, to my surprise, tasty. It was incredibly dense, and Paul Hollywood would NOT have shaken my hand, but it was good enough for my husband and I, so much that I regretted throwing out the starter (when I said as much my husband replied, “Stop.”) But, instead, I will support a local business and get a really healthy starter that I know will give me those big lofty holes in my bread.

Even though the starter didn’t last, and it won’t be something I pass along to my children, (“Kids, I started this back in the pandemic of 2020”), I still made the bread, and that is an accomplishment. But, it also showed me that I can still win, and while I can’t control everything, I still can control me. That night, I made a few small donations to local charities and vowed to do more as I am able and to quit complaining about money and what I don’t have. Also, I am going to keep making bread, because both the baking and the eating of it make happy. I may not be able to save the world, but if I can make myself happy, I have at doing some good in the world.

 

A Pep Talk

IMG_2078Let’s talk.

For me, the fog started Sunday. It yanked on my self-esteem, picked at all the things I should be doing, that I could be doing. It grew over the next few days, until I was doubting who I was and how I was letting everyone down. As it got darker, I started to hear from others. They had their own fogs, too. Maybe theirs looked like mine, dipped in anxiety, or their version had more fear or sadness. Either way, we were all feeling it.

It seemed like this was the week when all the emotions finally engulfed us, like a biting cold January day. The fear of leaving our house, the uncertainty of what’s next, the unending awful headlines, the loneliness, the grief, the growing numbers, and the continued injustices. No amount of binging TV, cleaning closets, snacking, or virtual happy hours could stop it. The emotions are too strong.

So, I thought I would come here to give us all a pep talk, or maybe just me a pep talk. Either way, I need to write the words I want to hear, and I prefer to share them will all of you. Grab a cup of something warm, and pretend that we are sitting on comfy couch in coffee shop with acoustic music in the background, a hazing afternoon sun streaming through the window, and plants nipping at our elbows.*

Friend,

March was a long month, I know, and there isn’t much hope for April. Your emotions are heavy bricks. They vary in size and color, but they sit on your throat, making it impossible to ignore. You are OK, you say; others have it worse, so you don’t want to complain.

Still, it’s scary. This is an unprecedented time, meaning there is no playbook on what to do or what to feel. Outside of staying at home, especially if we are sick, and washing our hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday, there are no tips or tricks. There was before this event, and there is now. We don’t know what after looks like yet, but it’s so far away that we can’t even see its outline.

We cope with scrolling, ingesting, numbing. We apologize for our tears, our irritable moods, and our lack of productivity. We make fun of ourselves for too much sleeping, TV, and eating.  We pretend that if we aren’t hit in the hardest of ways—with illness, death, loss of income or resources—then we should be OK.

But, we aren’t OK. We don’t have to be.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t predict how we will come out of this, but what I do know is that the human spirit is threaded with resilience. We are all capable of resilience, and it will look different for each us, as we face different obstacles, but it’s a tool we’ve been given.

Like almost all things in life, most of what is happening in the world is beyond our grasp, and the only thing we can control in this situation is ourselves and our reaction. That’s our focus for now. And the absolute greatest thing we can do during this time is to be gentle with ourselves, which allows us to be gentle with others.

So, friend, I ask you to take care of yourself. Give yourself the space to feel your emotions. Know that they are just and valid. As they stretch around you, comfort yourself. Use that warm voice you have when speaking to a friend. Do whatever you need in the moment, making sure no “should” enter into this sacred space.

Let go of expectation. You do not need to work on that passion project or tick off every item on your to-do list. Move your body only because it brings you peace. Eat without regards to weight. Sleep, watch TV, learn a language, read a book – do the things that bring your soul harmony, and only those things. This is not a time for pushing and punishing. Talk to friends and family but know that’s OK to take a day or a couple to hide under the covers. Ask for help, if you need it.

When the fog hits, be extra gentle to yourself. Take whatever time you need to usher yourself through the emotions, making sure you don’t numb them out but feel them and understand their purpose.

Because, one day, it will be clearer. The situation might not be over, but you will feel hopeful and renewed. These emotions are waves, and so when you are on the top, someone else will be on the bottom. If you have done the work of caring for yourself, only then will you be able to reach out to those with their own fog and give them a guiding light through it. Then, when you are down, others will be your light. That’s the way we get through this, with gentleness to ourselves and kindness to others.

It’s OK to be wherever you are in this journey as one bright spot in this devastating global crisis is that we are all in this together. We have each other, and because of that, we will endure.

Be safe. Be kind.

Love,

Heather

*(Sioux Falls friends, think Michelle’s, circa 2009.)