Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Aloha! A Throwback to the HI Life

B and I took a Hawaiian Honeymoon to Maui back in March, wherein I checked off a grand total of 5 items from my 2015 List, plus 2 bonus items.

And now here we are, some 9 months later, and I still haven't written about our incredible Hawaiian Honeymoon. Heck, my friend MK (who inspired my list) has already written up her recent HI life experience via several posts (like here and here and here), and her trip was just a month ago. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she wrote up her entries while she was still kicking it on the Big Island!

So here we go, better late than never. Besides, it's fun for me to reminisce about our Maui Vacation (achieving #71 on the list), especially now that the weather here in Minne has turned snowy and blustery. Plus, I only have a few days left in 2015 before the 2016 listing begins!

Despite cooler than average temps and a decent amount of rain, we had a wonderful time, filled with adventure, new experiences, tasty treats, and plenty of Hawaiian rainbows (a nice output to all that rain).  Here's a pictorial of some of the highlights from our romantic getaway.

B and I stayed in an ocean view room at the beautiful Westin Maui Resort & Spa on Ka'anapali Beach. The grounds are beautiful, and include a parrot that says "Aloha." We had a terrific stay.


We had fun checking out the Whaler's Village, a cute little shopping and restaurant district right next to our hotel. This is a view of the Whaler's Village from above, taken from our hotel room balcony.

We also enjoyed exploring various sites along the beach. Check out B, the surfer, and me, the hula girl :)


One day, we drove out to have a late lunch at the famous Mama's Fish House located on Maui's North Shore. It was absolutely 100% worth the hype! Next time we visit Maui, we think we may stay at the Inn at Mama's, just so we can eat at the Fish House every single day. Mmmmm!


We had fun exploring various parts of the island in our Jeep. The photos below are of Sun Yat Sen Park in Upcountry Maui, The Ulupalakua Vineyards/Maui Winery, and the famous Banyan Tree on Front Street in Lahaina.


My friend LWH recommended we check out the Feast at Lele, a Polynesian Luau that explores the culture and cuisine of several Pacific Island nations. One of the dancers looked just like my cousin, which added to our enjoyment of the evening. Going to a Luau was #73 on my 2015 list.


We also took in a day of snorkeling (#72 on my list) and whale watching. During our snorkel, we swam with sea turtles (#75) -- one even swam right up next to me -- I had to hurriedly swim out of the way so it wouldn't collide with me! Whale watching was also a wonderful experience. We were in Hawaii at the end of Humpback whale season, after the whales had their babies, so little whale families were surfacing often. In fact, the experience was so cool that I retroactively added "go whale watching" as a Bonus item (#104) on my list.


One rather eerie activity we did was visit the Nakalele Blowhole, a naturally occurring wonder that has claimed several victims, its retreating water sucking in unsuspecting lives through the blowhole. We kept a good distance. Safety first...


One of the most fun activities we did during our vacation was to zipline. I can't believe this one wasn't on my list either, so hey, what the heck - I added it as Bonus item #105. We ziplined with the Flyin Hawaiian, Hawaii's longest zipline adventure! The trip also included a surprise 4 wheeler ride up to the first zipline - so much rain and mud made four wheeling the only way we could get to the start of the course.


B and I also traveled the Road to Hana (#74 on the list) an incredible adventure that we enjoyed, but mutually agreed that once was enough (switchback city! The ride is a nail-biter.) Here are just a few of the stops we took along the way...

Generally speaking, the whole drive felt like being in the movie, Fern Gully. 50 Shades of Green! So lush!


Early on, we stopped to see Three Bears Falls for a few brief snaps. We had to park up a hill and hike back down the twisty turny road to see it, but it was worth it.

While we were waiting for the Lava Tube tour to open, we checked out the Kahanu Botanical Gardens and ancient sacred temple. A picturesque stop that was worth the visit. Also, watch out for falling coconuts!


The Hana lava tubes were awesome. Do it. Trust me. 'Nuff said.


We got a bit ambitious and took a hike on the Pipiwai Trail, a climb of nearly 100 vertical flights of stairs, according to my Fitbit. The hike included the rather ominous sign listed below, and an incredible stretch of bamboo forest that seems to appear out of nowhere and ends with a waterfall. Cool!


Just beneath the Pipiwai trail hike are the famous Seven Sacred Pools. Sometimes sharks swim in them - yikes! But fear not, the pools where quite dry when we were there...so no sharkies. Confession time: By the time we got to the pools, we were on nature overload, and I admit, we didn't stay long.

All in all, and as you can see from the photos, we had a spectacular honeymoon. Aloha, Hawaii, until we meet again!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Adulting (aka a Somewhat Boring Post about Long Term Fiscal Planning)

Money Money Money. Money.

I've thought about money here and there over the past several months, ever since I left my job back at the end of May. Funny how that works, once the money train stops a-choo-chooing, it suddenly becomes a top of mind topic.

While I was more than prepared with savings especially set aside for my time away from working professionally, I couldn't help but think about my net worth, and how I would secure my future.

So, I decided to step up my investment game with the help of a professional financial advisor (#12 on my 2015 List).

I ultimately decided to work with a trusted family advisor who managed my grandparents' estate, and one particularly arduous task on my to-do list with said advisor was to finally get around to consolidating my retirement accounts set up through my various employers over the years.

So...okay, YAY for my (ultra limited) 'savviness' and investing in my employer retirement plans, meeting at least the match, and for saving every last piece of mail and paperwork associated with said investments from the last 13 years in a couple of big file bins...and BOO for basically doing absolutely NOTHING else to help my future self financially (like, I never even opened any of the previously mentioned mail -- I would receive it and eventually get around to throwing it in a file bin to "deal with later." Yep, financial genius here).

Let's just say it took a long flipping time to get my financial house in order to finally consolidate my moolah. All in all, I started the process in July, which included a lot of sleuthing, making frustrating phone calls, and sorting through mountains of paperwork and old mail to make sure I had everything I needed, and I only just finalized my new consolidated account, like 3 weeks ago.

I freely admit I dragged my feet along the way and didn't necessarily bank a lot of confidence with my new advisor who might think I'm kind of a moron (true), but I'm glad that I finally got my act together to take care of my biznaasss.

I now feel like a bonafide successful grown ass woman, with a legit financial planner and a positive net worth (until we buy a house, that is...), and a clear understanding of WTF is actually going on with my hard-earned benjamins. It's also comforting to know that I'm on track for saving for my retirement, despite this little career pause.

So hey. I adulted. It was boring, it was frustrating, and it involved me having to buckle down and think through some important decisions regarding my and Brian's future and use my brain when I thought I'd spend this whole down time period letting it atrophy (kidding...a little!). But, it was also empowering and freeing to see the fruits that I've worked so hard for all of these years -- knowledge is power!

No more adulting for me for a while now (kidding again...a little! winky face! ;))

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Small (and Tasty) Wins

I love cheesy grits. I'm not sure when I first discovered this love of mine, but it's a love that has endured for several years now, and I've always wanted to learn how to make them at home.

For some reason, I always thought that making grits would be super hard, so I put off figuring out how to do it myself.

I'm not a total moron in the kitchen -- though my previous statement about grits being a tough dish to make might suggest otherwise...because it turns out making grits is incredibly simple.

Also, did you know grits and polenta are the same darn thing? Really, I swear I'm not a total idiot in the kitchen.

Grits = Polenta. Who knew?!? Oh, YOU knew??? Smartypants!

Late last week while perusing Pinterest, I found a delicious sounding recipe for Basil Parmesan Polenta via a zippy, fun and healthy little website called The Slender Kitchen. So, I decided to make it, thus checking off #11 of my 2015 List to make grits. #goals

From the stove top to my gullet. Omnomnom!

The basil parmesan grits were a delicious accompaniment to the bone-in strip steak that B made and the phenomenal bottle of Horse & Plow 2013 Farmstead "Old Vines" Red wine (thanks for the recco, South Lyndale Liquors), all served up while binge watching Aziz Ansari's equally delicious, uber insightful, new original Netflix series called Master of None. We are party animals.

I wanted to get the TV in the background showing our Netflix selection, 
but the TV glare....and my lacking iphotography skills...oy.

Hey Aziz, in the extreme likelihood that you stumble open my blog, just wanted to let you know that you're invited to our humble abode here in MPLS ANYTIME for my Basil Parmesan grits, bone-in steak, mid-priced vino ($20 range) and semi-intelligent conversation on human truths, theories and observations. Also, do you like cats? Meeow!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Always In Transition

"Humans [are] transitional beings - beings who are neither fully caught nor fully free but are in the process of awakening...I'm in the process of becoming, in the process of evolving...I'm creating my future with every word, every action, every thought."

I love this excerpt from Pema Chodron's book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, which I'm currently reading. It's a powerful reminder that we are all transient; nothing about our lives is permanent nor guaranteed. 

I find a mix of both peace and apprehension with the knowledge of my own fluidity. It's easy to cling to certain perceptions and ideas we have about ourselves, both good and bad. It's a clear cut solution to set very specific goals and begin the steadfast march along a specific course of action. My natural tendency, my go-to inclination, is to attempt to control and corral the world around me.

I don't think I'm alone in this desire to want to control, to keep things fixed and comfortable. The irony is that, in that effort to control everything, when the world inevitably throws a wrench in our carefully laid plans, we often feel anything but easy breezy.

While it is scary and challenging to "let go" and "just be," I am learning that it is extremely empowering to grant myself the freedom to flow, to change my mind and views as I gain new insight from the world around me, to lean into the obstacles and explore new routes rather than resist them simply because they were unexpected. I am learning to accept the world as it is (in all of its infinite chaos), and me as I am (and my infinite chaos), while inviting in the room to evolve, to grow, to change.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"We Plan, God Laughs"

It's been just about four months since I left the corporate gig, and these days, I am a BUSY little bee! While I still find time more time than the average working bear to flop and laze (you might recall the "flop and laze" is pretty much the defining characteristic of my early weeks of FUNemployment), I now have quite the packed calendar. 

Four months ago, I could never have guessed that where I am now is where I would be. Oh, I had ideas...but reality was quick to remind me of the pure TRUTH of that old Yiddish Proverb, "We plan, God Laughs."

I'll let you in on a little secret. I am a burgeoning oenephile (though that is not really a secret to those who know me well). While I've imbibed in wine for many years, it's only been in the past few years that I've gotten more passionate and committed to learning the details and intricacies of the wonderful world of wine (especially those delicious sparklers!) In fact, I was SUPPOSED to begin a semester long, in-depth wine professional/sommelier certification program this fall...but my program was cancelled. I signed up for the program before I quit my job, so when the program was cancelled, I was bummed, to say the least. Sure, it's just a temporary road block and I'm exploring other programs (and keeping my eye out for this program to potentially start up in the winter), but that program was meant to be my fall anchor and provide the momentum to launch of a whole new career! Now what was I supposed to do?!

In the absence of a formal wine program at my finger tips, I decided the least I could do was visit a few new wineries, my own little independent study. I visited a Minnesota Winery (#79 on my 2015 List) called Warehouse Winery, conveniently located right here in the Twin Cities. While the space was cool, and it was fun to learn about Minnesota's cold climate grapes, including those grown in the St Croix river valley, I wasn't in love with the wines themselves. Additionally, I just returned from a brief vacation to San Francisco to visit my friends W+D and drink plenty of wine. My trip to SF included a day sojourn to Napa, where we visited not one, but 3 new-to-me California wineries (#81 on my list). We decided to focus on bubbles for the day and visited Domaine Carneros (my favorite of the 3), Chandon and Mumm. After our day of wine tastings, we even managed to score a table at Bouchon for dinner in the chichi Napa town of Yountville. Bouchon is a Thomas Keller restaurant, and I soon learned he is kind of a big deal chef. Dinner at Bouchon did not disappoint and was a great way to close out our Napa day trip.

I am also filling the void by hitting the fitness beat hard. I've always enjoyed working out, but it was something I consistently downgraded and sacrificed back in my consultant days in favor of bending over backward for demanding clients and colleagues on projects that really didn't fire me up. Well, now that I don't have that pesky JOB thing to deal with, I'm working out 5-6 days a week, and sometimes twice in one day. My workouts include OTF interval training 2-3 times a week, running 2-3 times a week (gearing up for the Medtronic TC 10 Mile race next weekend), and practicing yoga 1-3 times a week. Also, over past 6 weeks or so, have cleaned up my eating quite a bit, and am on a 40+ day streak logging my foodstuffs into MyFitnessPal. My newfound healthy habits seem to be paying off. In fact, I've lost 21 lbs since I left my career at the end of May. I haven't felt this strong and healthy in years!

Perhaps the most unexpected development is that I have a JOB(ish)! I'm currently volunteering four afternoons a week at a Title I Saint Paul public secondary school, serving as the Stage Manager for the Fall Musical production of Little Shop of Horrors. What's funny about this is that I have ZE-to the-RO experience working in any kind of theater. Thankfully, I'm an enthusiastic learner, I have plenty of experience volunteering with kids, and I'm pretty tight with the director (he was a groomsmen in our wedding). I'm learning a ton, and I even had the opportunity to meet with a professional stage manager to help me learn some of  the ropes. Essentially though, I'm an extra pair of hands to help further the efforts of a theater program that has limited resources, and I want to do the best job I can to make a positive contribution.

The most fulfilling thing about volunteering with the production so far is, of course, the kids.They are fricking awesome, and I love them. They are so passionate and fun, and it's a thrill to get to know them and share this learning experience with them. According to some of the kids, my selfie game is strong, my outfits are on fleek, I'm way younger than they thought I'd be, I'm not too annoying, I'm sort of cool, but I really cannot dance. Hey, I'll take what I can get! I also now know what "BAE" and "THOT" stand for. I'm a little behind on today's slang, but nothing like hanging out with 6th thru 12th graders to get up to speed.

So, that's where I am now. Each day, I'm growing more comfortable with living life without a storyline (Pema Chodron's words, per the link) opting instead to do my best to roll with ebbs and flows of life versus trying to commandeer and manipulate every darn little thing to my liking and resisting life's natural currents and inevitable obstacles. It's not easy, but I am happy to be learning to live in this more open-minded way, a way that acknowledges that my life's script is one of infinite fluidity, never to be set in stone. I feel more free, more empowered, and more aware of new opportunities and paths that I might have otherwise overlooked; paths that have perhaps been there all along, just waiting for me to be ready to explore more freely. And the journey continues...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Great Minnesota Get Together

Do you know what time it is? It's time for the State Fair! This is the only acceptable answer to such a question at this time of year. That is, if you're from Minnesota.

These Minnesohhhtans, they are vee-ary seeerious fair goh-ers, don'tchya know! Also known as the Great Minnesota Get Together, aka the Great Minnesota "Sweat Together" since the temps almost never fail to rise up into the 90s at the time of the fair (and this year is no exception, extra entertaining given that a week ago the temps were barely scraping the 60s), the festivities last a sweat-covered, mullet-infested, fried-and-doused-in-butter, greasy-and-gluttonous 12 days, wrapping up each year on the unofficial last day of summer, Labor Day.

Attendance is basically "required" if you live in here in MN, lest you want your state residency status revoked. At least that's what we were told when we were issued our MN driver's licences 3 years ago. Like I said, Minnesotans mean business.

Confession time - B and I purposefully opted out of the fair tradition last year. We had a lot going on getting ready for our wedding, and neither of us are big on crowds. However, this  year we wanted to regain our residency status, so we plotted out our plan to tackle the fair.

We graced the fair with our presence last Friday afternoon (before the heat and humidity rolled in, I might add!), and met up with our favorite fair-going veterans, Aaron and Heather. These two born-and-bred MN locals are seasoned pros, and we were more than happy to tag along and follow their lead.

B and I had a pretty short fair to-do list, and might I add, highly manageable for our one-and-only afternoon of planned attendance for MN State Fair 2015. It turns out many Twin Cities locals will hit up the fair multiple times (A+H are going 4!!!! times I think?!), and as such, the multi-trippers tend to have a more intricate and detailed list of "fair requirements" to complete. B and I though, we're "one and done." Multiple visits to the fair are not our jam, so we keep our list short and sweet.

Here's what we tackled:

Visit the baby animals. CHECK!
This was a key item on my list. I have an odd love for barnyard animals, and if there is a place to see barnyard animals, it's the fair. To meet this requirement, we decided to bravely visit the "Miracle of Birth Center", where the sows, heifers and ewes birth their young. I don't do "biology", so I didn't actually want to SEE a live birth, but I did want to see the brand new babies! At the time of our arrival, a sow was nearing the end (hopefully) of her labor, having birthed 17 (!!!) little piglets and counting throughout the day. Thankfully, there was a big crowd around Momma pig, so no up-close lessons on the miracle of birth were learned. BUT, we did see day-old piglets from another sow momma (below) - and I even got to pet one (squeeeee)! We also saw fleecy new little lambs (a few pictured), and baby calfs (90# at birth, whoa baby! sorry I forgot to grab a calf pic, but they were pretty adorbs too).

So much cuuute! B, do you think Timmy and Little Cloud would be cool if we got a baby lambie or piggy? It could sleep in the bathtub!

Visit Princess Kay (of the Milky Way) and her "butter bust." CHECK!
I kind of forgot about this one, so visiting Princess Kay and her literal butter bust was a late add to the checklist (thanks, Heather, for the reminder on this one). In typical Molly fashion, I didn't take a photo, so a description and a link will have to suffice. Each year at the fair, a new Dairy Princess is crowned "Princess Kay of the Milky Way". The winner and finalists sit in a frozen glass room  for all to see while a sculptor commemorates her...in a butter bust. According to Wikipedia, sculptor Linda Christensen has been the official butter sculptor at the fair for nearly 40 years! The lucky ladies then get to keep the sculptures at the conclusion of the fair. What she does with it then, I do not know. Wrestle in it? Bathe in it? Butter a thousand baked potatoes? Bake a thousand cookies? Popcorn party? Lordy. Can you say "high cholesterol"? How about "heart attack"? Peep the link in the header above for more specs on this cray tradition, yo.

Ride a Ride. CHECK!
Ride a ride at the Minnesota State fair also happens to be #57 on my 2015 List, and I'm happy to say that I can check that one off...forever. To complete my mission, I selected the "Giant Slide" that you ride down on a potato sack type contraption. It seemed innocuous enough, and everyone, including the little kids appear so fun and fancy free gliding effortlessly and eagerly down the slide.  For my part, I screamed the whole way down. I was the only one screaming. I think I scared small children with my hollering. Also, I almost slid into the wall at the end. So, there's that.

Highly accurate reenactment of my Big Slide adventure. 

Play Midway games. CHECK!
Not surprisingly, this was a Brian-specific item on our combined list. He loves anything with a little bit of a competitive edge. We bought enough tickets for a handful of Midway games, but alas, the glory of the win would not be ours...well, Brian or mine anyway. The old hands, Aaron and Heather, nabbed a few small prizes. We played a ring toss, a ball toss and some other throwing type game, I think. Sadly, we spotted Skee-Ball after all of our tickets were spent, though I would have been happy to ante up if B had insisted. He is a former Skee-Ball Wizard, after all! (true story, apparently he was like a baby phenom or something, and once won so many tickets playing as a little kid that he commanded quite an audience!) I'm pretty sure a name candidate for B's future memoir is "I was Once a Skee-Ball Wizard."

B and A, trying to win the big bananas.

Eat all of the things.  CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!
Nothing quite says "State fair" like stuffing your face with all things fried, greasy, salted and handheld and getting wheeled out on a gurney when your clogged, buttery heart skips a few beats. Some people like to get experimental at the fair and try all the new food things that debut each year. I prefer to go for the classics, which for me include beer (just regular, not the mini donut beer), cheese curds, Corn Roast, fried pickles and Sweet Martha's Cookies. I did branch out and try a bite of Heather & Aaron's Tikka-on-a-Stikka and the Chicken Samosas from Hot Indian -- both very nom-nom-worthy! I kind of wish I had gone back for my very own Tikka. However, considering I ingested more than 2000 calories at the fair, according to MyFitnessPal, maybe it's better that I refrained. Egads!

B posing in front of Sweet Martha's. That "cone of shame" contains 15 chocolate chip cookies, and is the smallest size available. We ate all the cookies in 5 minutes flat. We are the champions.

And that, my friends, is how we earned back our MN residency cards at the State Fair. What are YOUR favorite fair attractions and foods?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Going the distance

After nearly 4 weeks of travel, I'm back in the "Minnie Apple" for the foreseeable future. I spent a fantastic 2.5 weeks in Michigan visiting friends and family, with a brief stop back in MN before departing on a long weekend to Vancouver BC to run the Seawheeze half marathon and have a kick ass weekend with a great group of runner gal friends, new and old. Incidentally, this also checks the box for #52 on my "100 Things" 2015 List to run a destination race.

The race itself was simultaneously a high point and a low point of the weekend for me. The course was breathtaking (and not just because I was running!), with the first half winding through the vibrant and eclectic Vancouver city proper, and with the second half scrolling along the perimeter of the rocks, trees and cool, deep turquoise waves and mist that define the Stanley Park seawall. In hindsight, I wish I had taken photos of the spectacular course during the race, not to mention the awesome entertainment along the course (synchronized spinners! bands floating on platforms in the harbor! bubbles! dancers! mermaids!). However, just completing the run took an intense slice of my focus and effort. Unfortunately, despite my consistent and diligent 10 weeks of training leading up to the race, I fell severely short of my time goal and finished the race in a disappointing 3+ hours.

Prior to this race, I've never been the victim of the dreaded "runner's stomach." Unfortunately, I can claim that feat no more. I felt great for the first 12 or so kilometers, but disaster grumbled and threatened soon after. Let's just say it felt like a true gift from the running gods to spot, right before the start of the seawall portion of the race, a full restroom facility with NO LINES, shining like a lighthouse beacon to this lost sailor, visible just beyond a lineup of porta potties. Strangely enough, I also witnessed a stream of runners waiting for said potties, because HELLO, there was a REAL BATHROOM with NO WAIT just 50 steps over yonder! What are you crazies doing in that long line to enter those stinky caves of despair?!

I'll leave out the dirty details (runners know what I'm talking about)...but I will say that little side trip not only added several minutes to my time, but really zapped my energy and my confidence for the remainder of the race. After dealing with my stomach woes and rejoining the race, I became keenly aware and overly focused on my flaring plantar fasciitis, my aching joints, my hunger, that super loud talker behind me who wouldn't shut up...and my inner monologue took a turn to the dark side.

I won't lie, I almost (almost) broke down and cried during those final kilometers of the course, disappointed because I couldn't go the distance. Until I realized that wasn't true at all, I just wasn't going to be able to do it according to my original plan, training and vision. Instead, I knew had to reinvent my vision to match my current circumstances. In this case, that meant to turtle-style the remaining kilometers of my run...slow, steady, breathe in and out, one foot in front of the other, even if that meant a slow walk. I gave myself the best pep talk I could muster, allowed myself to receive energy and inspiration from the beauty of nature that surrounded me, and I managed to very slowly chug along for another 3k or so before giving into an even slower shuffle/walk for the final 5k.

Sometimes sh*t happens (and sometimes it literally happens...ahem...oh, eff it all, I should delete that but I'm NOT GONNA). Let's try this again...sometimes life has a funny way of not giving a crap (oops, I did it again) about our carefully laid plans. And when that happens, we can choose to roll over and give up...or we can choose to adjust our plans and go the distance anyway.

I chose to go the distance.

LM and me (pre-race) in front of the Olympic Cauldron at the Vancouver Convention Center, 
sporting our freshly applied Lulu race tattoos. (photo credit to CWK!)

That's me! Day before the race, with the seaplanes and the Vancouver Harbor as the backdrop.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

## Hashtag BLESSED (and also hashtag sorrynotsorry for that obnoxious hashtag) ##

Greetings from the Mitten State! I do apologize for not putting up my "out of office" so to speak, and leaving my blog to collect dust for a couple of weeks (as if that hasn't happened before!) I'm nearing the end of an 18 day Michigan trip, bouncing around along the I-94 corridor. I haven't been "home" to MI for a stretch this lengthy since I moved away to Chicago 9 years ago, and it has been such a pleasure to have more than a second to spend with my MI friends and family - and it still doesn't feel like enough time!

Brian joined me for the first half of the trip. We drove to MI together, with a quick overnight stop in the CHI to pick up our friend Matt. I dropped the fellas off in New Buffalo, a cute little beach town just inside the MI border, where they met with 8 of Matt's friends in a rented "beach bungalow" for Matt's bachelor weekend, complete with plenty of steaks, golf, boating, gambling and beach time. During their dude bro weekend, I spent some time near South Haven to camp with my sister and brother-in-law in their beast of a camper, and to celebrate my sister's birthday at their campsite, along with a gaggle of family members. I'm rather impressed with myself to say that, during my time camping with them, I successfully managed to slow down time enough to enjoy a beach side sunset, and a sunrise run the next morning before heading south down the lake to pick up B.

I picked B up on Sunday, and we spent a better part of the week at my Mom and Step-dad's in Portage. B had to work during the day, but joined in the festivities in the evening. My mom and I made him carrot cake cupcakes for a belated birthday celebration that night (they were pretty delicious!!) The next evening, B and I trekked back out to S. Haven to have dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and dads. The next day, I was in S. Haven AGAIN, sans B this time since he was working, but with my mom and step-dad, to enjoy one last get together with sis and bro-law before they packed up their camper to make the long return to their home in TX. And for our final evening together on the Westside, I took B on his first trip to Bell's Brewery (home of OBERON), and we treated my two early twenty-something cousins and their gorgeous gals to brews and dinner.  Of course, we also had plenty of trips to Meijer throughout the week - one of my strange addictions every time I come home to MI!

The two of us headed to A2 on Thursday to celebrate my mom-in-law's 65th birthday with dinner at Pizza House. We also spent some time enjoying dinner with one of my BFF's and her husband, and the next morning, we also squeezed in a 5K that this same friend organized, before heading to the D to attend a #geekwedding of a neighborhood friend of B's from childhood. The wedding was plenty of fun, with a geek theme mashup of everything from Dr. Who to Star Wars to Video Game couples. Bonus, the in-laws were also invited to the wedding, so it was a great chance to continue to enjoy some extended family time.

After dropping B off at the airport on Sun, I had the pleasure of grabbing brunch with a friend from my childhood, who I haven't seen in ~17 (!!!) years. Serendipitous circumstances made our brunch possible -- neither of us lives in SE MI, but we both happen to be in the area at the same time, and it was such a treat to catch up.

Following brunch, I headed back to the Westside, to again stay at my Mom's for a quick stop-over. My mom, stepdad and I gabbed way into the night while enjoying a couple of beers. Although our late night beers (and the wild rainstorm that night!) made for a somewhat extra challenging 9 mile run the next morning, it was well worth it.

I'm currently at my Dad and step-dad's in Gun Plain, and I will be here until tomorrow evening before I head off to a girl's weekend near Holland, at a lovely home right on Lake MI. We've been enjoying plenty of QT here in the "country", including some time on Pine Lake Beach, a private little beach that is only for the use of those who live in my Dad's neighborhood, along with some kayaking and also some running around the lake. We've enjoyed a few nice meals, including dinner out with my aunt and cousin last night at a little Plainwell Brewery. And today, my dad and I went into Kzoo to volunteer at the Food Pantry, where I helped to bag groceries for those who came in for food. Tomorrow, we'll squeeze in a final kayak around the lake in the AM (and maybe I'll fit in a run), and a trip to the movies in the PM to check out the new Amy Schumer flick.

I cannot express how wonderful it has been to spend time with so many different loved ones over the past few weeks. Clearly, one of the voids I've been feeling has been related to the absence of family, and my heart is now so full.  #BLESSED, y'all! I cringe cringe CRINGE when I see people type that trite little ##, but EFF it, right now I can think of nothing more fitting. Life is damn good!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Witching Hour

It's the middle of the night and I am wide awake. I woke up well over an hour ago, overheated in the summer of my bedroom, pillow too warm and comforter too heavy, further aggravated by my two large and furry cats, one outstretched on each side of me and both leaning heavily and against my shoulders, slightly pinning me down and making it difficult for me to turn over. Why they choose to flank me in this way each night, instead of B, is a mystery.

It's a common scenario that plays out almost every night around the same time, and usually results in me turning over the pillow to the cool side, gently nudging the kitties for a little more room, usually until at least one of the fluffballs gets annoyed and relocates. I then roll to my side and tuck the sheets and comforter between my knees and position myself so that one leg is elongated beneath the covers and the other is bent atop the coverings, open air. Feeling cooled and realigned, I can fall back to sleep within minutes...unless the little mind gremlins of witching hour decide to wreak havoc.

B and I leave for MI (via a brief Chicago stopover) tomorrow. The anticipation of the forthcoming itinerary has jolted the on-switch in my brain (in a good way! I'm excited for the events ahead!), and I am therefore wide awake.

Back in my working days, this scenario of witching hour sleeplessness would have revved up a cycle of understandable anxiety.You know, the kind where you tell yourself "I have to wake up for a long day of work in 4 hours, go back to sleep! SLEEP already!" Consequently all of that worry about not sleeping just haunts you even more. So then another hour creeps by...and another...with the night eventually ending with the decision to just get up and start the day well ahead of schedule (which can sometimes be empowering...until the inevitable crash at 10am), or the (even worse) alternative, finally falling into the deepest sleep ever, just minutes before the stab of the alarm clock. Either way, it's a given that day ahead will involve venti plus levels of caffeine infusion.

My alarm is set to wake me at 7:15 for an early workout followed by a morning of household chores and final trip preparations while B gets a half-day of work in before we hit the road. Despite a busy morning followed by a 6 hour drive to Chicago, I haven't cycled into the sleeplessness dread and gremlin mind takeover scenario. After all, I don't have a stressful day of demanding clients, meetings and heads-down analysis ahead (packing toiletries doesn't take a lot of brainpower), I'm more well rested than I've been in years so a little lack thereof tonight isn't that big a deal, and I'm a wizard at sleeping in the car. Something about the hum of the highway and a reclined front seat knocks me out every time I take a lengthy road trip.

It's a little feeling of victory, actually, to know that even though sleep has eluded me tonight, I've eluded the mind gremlins of witching hour.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Escaping a Hijack

Yesterday, I cried. No obvious reason presented itself in the moment, except that my brain decided I needed to open up the tear valves and relieve the shock waves of pressure I put on myself - an imaginary, illegitimate pressure caused by momentary cases of malfunctioning circuitry inside my head.

What gives? I have temporarily eradicated any work-related pressure, and all the other external peripherals suggest I should be, by all accounts, enjoying a carefree ride, at least for the near term. And yet it seems my brain is on a constant search for ways to get me all worked up. Such is life when an anxiety disorder is always running in the background, like a useless, oversized, preloaded computer program, wreaking semi-(un)predictable havoc on an otherwise smoothly running system.

My tears lasted just moments, and B helped me to pull me out of my drive-by-funk and had me laughing and smiling again in no time. I recently learned that intense emotions have a biological life expectancy of about 90 seconds, and my mini anxiety tornado and its short-lived trajectory before dissipating into the cloud recesses of my mind suggests this new found knowledge just might be accurate.

It's a compelling little rule of thumb, The 90 Second Rule, that even the crappiest and turdiest of feelings can let go just as quickly as they grabbed hold in the first place...particularly if we are conscious enough to pull the plug on the negative circuitry to keep the pattern from reocurring. In related news, this rule on the biology of emotions was discussed in Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight, which I haven't yet read, but is now on my must-have read list after watching her incredibly popular and compelling Ted Talk of the same name (it's well worth the 18 minute view).

"Curiosity" is a cognitive behavioral tool I often use to help quell the potential for an "amygdala hijack" and the resulting deep dive into the abyss of destructive thinking. I've learned to read the signs that I'm about to get sucked into a black hole of my own making. Usually, it's a mix of biological responses (tightness in my chest, a feeling that my body temperature is rising) combined with hyperbolized self talk in the form of catastrophizing and/or speaking in absolute terms ("never" "always" "best" "worst"). If I have the awareness to recognize these signs, then my next step is to allow myself to be a curious observer to my emotional experience. I like curiosity as an approach, because by definition, curiosity is all about genuine, open-minded, non-judgmental exploration. Approaching my emotions with curiosity keeps me from getting caught up the negative hype of the annoying shock jock deejay that is waiting to hijack the turntables that are the hemispheres of my brain.

So, I slipped a little this time around, and opened the door to a temporary hijack. But, even when things are good (which they, like, SO are right now, omg) the anxiety program is always running in the background, waiting to hijack my system. Diligence, practice, therapy, awareness, curiosity...that's what helps me to escape a long term hijack.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's Not Exactly "Eat, Pray, Love"...

I'm not traveling to Italy. Or India. Or Bali. My big enlightening will unfold (hopefully it will unfold, anyway!) right here in Midwest Minne, with a few jaunty, Western-centric excursions to Michigan, British Columbia and Mexico, and possibly a few other destinations dotting the map as well.

I'm not in the midst of a divorce. Au contraire mon frere! Quite the opposite for this newlywed!

I do not make my living as a writer. No one is paying me for my dazzling prose as I get down and dirty with my amygdala. Very few people are even reading my words (about 9 readers, according to my Google stats -- don't worry, I have no clear way to know who you are, though I can educate a guess that one my mother, one is my sister, and one is my husband...). No matter, since I'm mostly writing for my own amusement anyway versus attempting to achieve some sort of sense of posterity.

However, just as Ms. Gilbert detailed in her acclaimed "Eat, Pray, Love" memoir, I too am searching for that elusive thing called purpose. My version of the journey is just a bit more "everyday average gal", and with considerably less wit, lacking in the charm or any level of profound insight.

Here's where I'm at so far on my magical journey to enlightenment, give or take a few steps and stumbles:

Step 1: Wear stretchy pants daily and watch a lot of TV. Sometimes do laundry, and try not to forget to feed the cats.

Step 2: Feel guilty for wearing stretchy pants and watching a lot of TV daily. Even though I'm doing other stuff too. Come on now, with the Netflixing four straight episodes of Drop Dead Diva. Good lord, it's a cancelled Lifetime show, for the love of Pete! Bad, bad Molly!

Step 3: Screw the guilt! When else will I ever get to sit around and just wear stretchy pants and watch a lot of TV?  I don't have any kids! I don't have any major time or life commitments! And, I worked my butt off for years to earn this lazy payout, and I'm going to relax and enjoy it already, dammit!

Step 4: Cycle back and forth between Step 2 and 3 for a bit.

Step 5: Consult with therapist about the discomfort I feel for not being more 'productive', and not knowing clearly what I want, because hey, I mean it's been over a month now, where's my enlightenment already??? Discuss many important truths that stem from this pain and discomfort, including its origin and its pervasiveness. No Balinese gurus for me, I have the wisdom of my licensed psychologist, thankyouverymuch!

Step 6: Noodle on themes from therapy, including observing my emotions and reactions without such harsh self judgement and criticism, accepting that I can love who I am, just as I am right in this moment, full of flaws and conflicts and stumbles (e.g. maitri), inviting in my own preferences as being valid, even if they differ from the preferences of others, and generally reflecting on the impermanence of, well, everything. And what the heck, let's share these vulnerabilities of mine in a public digital forum!

Step 7: Did you read step 6? Shit's heavy. I think I better stay on Step 6 for a while, before I try for step 7. And when I do start to tip toe onward, let's be honest, Step 6 is going to be a tandem effort with all other steps, from here on out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Month One Recap - Running, Sock Puddles, Par 3s and a Sense8 Plug

How is it July already? June's collection of sunrises and sunsets felt like a flip book, each day a page, turning so effortlessly! While I am still recovering from years of over stress and under concern for what I really want and need to navigate this topsy turvy life maze, the key word is that I am, without a doubt, recovering. And, I'm just beginning to rustle the dust and debris off my psyche, to see what's been hiding underneath.

Health-wise, I'm back in the habit of taking daily vitamins along with my regular meds, which currently consist of plenty of allergy cure-alls, sine mine have been HORRIBLE this year. My little old lady, days-of-the-week pillbox, featuring adorable lady bug renderings on each day box, has been a huge help informing this daily habit (Thanks, B, for picking up that little treasure for your old lady wife!) I'm drinking more water, and I'm getting a full 8 (plus) hours of sleep each night. I'm also meeting with my therapist every week to help me remember that I am allowed to take this time off for myself, that I am worthy of it, and that it's ok to focus on my wants and needs, first and foremost. She helps me with that pesky negative self-talk and quieting those raucous voices that have a tendency to bucket drum and drone and hiss and tsssk inside the old noggin.

During "week the second", I started incorporating daily workouts, and for the past 3 weeks, I've worked out at least 5 times a week, including a mix of 3-4 outdoor runs (I'm training for the SeaWheeze half marathon in VC, BC this coming August), along with 1-2 interval workouts at OrangeTheory (btw, I am obsessed with OTF! And I can tell it's helping to amp up my running game). On my "off" non-workout days, you'll find me at the driving range or more recently, practicing Yoga at my favorite studio, where I started up again this past week.

I am so happy to be running again, and what's especially great about training for a race and not working is that I can fit in my longer training workouts on my favorite lakeshore paths and trails during the work week (usually heading out around 9 or 10 am) -- which means I can avoid the work crowds and the weekend warriors that pack the trails during the early mornings, evenings, and weekends. It's glorious to have my favorite running paths (almost) all to myself!

I am reading a fair amount, though to be honest, nothing all that noteworthy as of late. I keep my reading list up to date on Goodreads, and if you're a big reader and a Goodreads lover like me, then look me up and we can swap titles. My sister just got me a copy of Gretchen Rubin's new book on forming happy, healthy habits, and I'm looking forward to digging into that. I promised my sister I'd read it before we meet up back in MI later this summer (I'll do my best, E!), so I'll probably get cracking this weekend. The book found its way to me with a perfect sense of timing, since I want to use this time off to form new habits that will bring more peace and satisfaction to my daily life.

Speaking of new habits, aside from the ones I've already mentioned, I am working on embedding a daily/weekly household chore routine into my life (thank you, Pinterest, for helping me to put together what appears to be an eventually manageable maintenance schedule). Right now, I'm hit and miss on locking down the chore endeavor. But, that's ok. I'll get there, and I want to get there, because having a clean, orderly home makes me feel like I am taking care of myself, and Brian, too. For the record, Brian is not "off the hook" with chores even though I'm not working, nor did he expect to be, and he is great about pitching in on the weekends (and is still the go-to chef in our house). But I like being able to take more of the pressure off during the work week now that I have the time, so that when he gets home, we can relax together, free of the visual noise of a sink full of dirty dishes or an abandoned sock puddle on the floor (defn of sock puddle: a pile of socks, usually mine, that builds up at the foot of the couch when I inevitably kick them off while watching TV).

I'm starting to jump into new(ish) hobbies and interests with more fervor than I could muster up during my work work work life. For the past ~4 years or so, I've been a passive learner of golf, with sporadic trips to the driving range, and a loosey goosey commitment to the sport. I've gotten to the point where my driving range record is not always horrible, and B took me to golf my 9 holes at a nearby par 3 course. We opted not to keep score (thank goodness!), and although I lost 6 balls (yeah, that's right -- 6 balls lost on a par 3!), I still had a blast and cannot wait to get out their again for another 'whack' at it. I've got the name of an instructor, so I plan to get in a lesson this July to help me adjust my swing, which I've been told is actually pretty good, but I have a tendency to hit a little left, and as a lefty, this means I'm leaving my club face a bit open. And, now that I've finally been out on a course, I have learned that I need to pay a lot more attention to reading distance and adjusting my swing accordingly -- for the record, my revised new favorite club is the pitching wedge. I knew it was versatile, but now I "get" it with much more clarity than before with all of its pitching and and chipping prowess!

In June, I also took a somewhat unplanned trip home to MI. I've got a big trip planned for late July/early August (for 2+ weeks!), but my grandmother died at the end of May (during my last weeks at work, just to add to the stress of my final days), which lead to this added sojourn to the homeland. Our family opted in favor of a smaller, family affair a few weeks after her death (versus a big church funeral), in part to  allow some of my family abroad more time to arrange and make the trip. The memorial included a really nice family lunch and a visit to the cemetery to visit my grandmother's grave, and the graves of other family members as well. While death is never easy, I'm so happy my grandmother had 99 years on this earth, and I shared just a few small threads from her life in my previous entry.

Let's see, what else in June...Oh yeah, I ate a lot of ice cream and I watched a lot (lot!) of television - so much that I earned an Xbox "achievement" badge for using Netflix 7 days in a row. I didn't even know that was a thing, and I have an inkling that maybe I shouldn't add that achievement to my LinkedIn profile. Yes, I admit I am a completely TV junkie. TV and reading are my reality escape methods of choice. Anyone looking for a summer TV reco? If so, check out Sense8, one of the newest Netflix original series, developed by the famous Wachowskis (of Matrix fame). The series chronicles the lives of 8 people from different walks of life and from around the world, who discover their lives are interconnected across many dimensions, and in extraordinary ways. Their rare and unusual connection is seen as a threat to some circles, and they learn they must work together to stay in tact (e.g. not get killed). The reviews I've read about the series are polarizing, and I fall firmly on the "like" side of the fence, though at times the sex and violence is a bit much for my taste, and it took a good 4-5 episodes to lay the foundation (e.g. a bit of a slow start). I do have to give an especially rave review for whoever is in charge of the music for this series -- powerful stuff! Is Sense8 available as a Pandora Station? I must investigate this!

...And that, my friends, is more or less how I rocked month one. More adventures, big and small, to come!

Monday, June 29, 2015

To Gram, With Love

On May 21, 2015, after 99 years of life, my maternal grandmother, Rose Van Dussen passed away. About a week and ahalf ago, my sister and I traveled home to Portage for a family memorial lunch, and for a trip to Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery, where my grandmother was laid to rest alongside my grandfather, Russell, who died 20 years ago.

Langeland Family Funeral Home provided my grandmother's final arrangements, and as a part of their service, they put together a very sweet memorial video using photographs that my mother shared, and they also created physical memory books with the photos for my mom and aunt. I'm not sure if the video will be permanently available online, so I wanted to create a little digital memorial on my blog to honor my grandmother. Here are some of the photos (not in chronological order), along with some accompanying tidbits about her life.

Here is a photo of my grandmother when she was a little girl in Manistee, MI. Rose was the oldest daughter to Walter and Cassie Jarka, and she had 3 younger siblings, Kathryn, Robert and Bernice. I don't have a great side-by-side comparison photo, but I can tell you that the family resemblance is strong -- I looked just like my grandmother did at that age!

In 1940, Rose married my grandfather, Russell, a self-made business man, who put himself through college in part by playing piano at bars and jazz clubs. I still remember going to my grandparents as a little kid, and my grandpa would play Tiny Bubbles on the piano, among other musical stylings. My grandfather especially loved a good celebration, and I think he helped to bring my grandmother out of her shell. This photo was likely from a New year's eve celebration, or some other holiday party, maybe even a celebration related to  the family business, American Cordage Co. (formerly on Wealthy St. in Grand Rapids, MI), which my grandfather co-founded. My grandmother was a partner in the family business, and kept the books for the business for many years. How glamorous they both look in this photo!

My grandma enjoyed traveling, and as a family, we took several memorable trips over the years. I earned my International flyer status at the ripe old age of 3, when my grandparents took my parents, sister and me to Spain to visit my aunt (their youngest daughter), uncle and cousins. It would become part of the family lore that, following that trip, I would refuse to swim in lake water, announcing that 'I only swim in the Mediterranean.' We also took trips as a family to Disney World (with my cousins), as well as trips to Vegas (my grandpa loved Black Jack), So Cal, and Hawaii.

My grandma also enjoyed fine dining, cooking, Michigan Football (her brother, Bob, was a wolverine and so am I, of course!), and watching golf. She LOVED Tiger Woods in his heyday! In fact, in the early 2Ks, my grandmother went out and bought a Buick Rendezvous, giddy with the knowledge that Tiger was the Buick spokesperson. My grandmother's guilty little indulgences included ice cream (she could always count on me as her dessert partner!), and a glass of wine or a cold domestic beer.

I was the youngest of the 4 grandchildren, and I loved going up to East Grand Rapids to visit my grandparents. Look at how cute my grandmother and me are in this photo! It's one of my favorites. My grandmother was so proud of all of us grand kids.

Speaking of the grand kids, this photo is of all four of us with my grandmother, my mom and aunt in front of my grandparents' house.They had a charming little house in a beautiful neighborhood, just across the street from Fisk Lake. My grandmother stayed in that house, with the help of her housekeeper, Goldie, the neighbors who looked in on her, and my mother's weekly visits, until well into her 90s. She would eventually move to Portage, where she could be around more people in a retirement assisted living home (and be safer with the medical and care staff close at hand) and where my mom could more easily tend to her and visit with her on most days.

This photo is from my sister's wedding shower in '08, and includes my sister, mom, aunt, and grandmother. While my grandmother was unable to attend my wedding years later, I'm so happy she could be at E's wedding.

Although my grandmother could not attend my and Brian's wedding this past October, we stopped by to visit her on our way back to Minnesota. I feel lucky that Brian got to meet her several times over the years. She loved hearing about our adventures in Chicago, in Austin and eventually in Minneapolis, and I enjoyed telling her about the happenings in our lives.

Gram, I will miss your smile and your spark. You had an undeniable presence, and a certain sass and spirit that can never be matched. Your legacy lives on in your two strong and independent daughters, your four grandchildren and your three (so far) great grandchildren, and I know you loved us all very much. I love you!