But, I wanna be productive! Don’t I?

The return trip back from any time away from home, whether a week or a long weekend, sets my brain and heart into motion. The parts of me I allowed to unwind begin to tightly coil once again.

I anticipate all that must happen in the next ten minutes, even when I’m still 30 minutes away from home: the unloading of the car, unpacking of bags, washing of clothes. The watering of plants, wrangling of cat fur tumbleweeds taking over the downstairs. The emails to respond to; the calendar plotting for the week ahead. Do I need to get groceries today or can that wait?

All of this is self-inflicted. And unhelpful. Remember how much fun we just had on vacation, Katie?

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Warning: that’s a genuine smile. Because I was having fun in the woods.

After spending the past two nights in the North Carolina mountains, I sit at this laptop with the goal of giving myself the gift of grace. Do what truly needs to get done in order for you to feel prepared to take on the week ahead. But, leave the “shoulds” out of the conversation today. BUT IT IS SO HARD!

Those “shoulds” are loud, often. Deafening at times, in fact. I will be the first to raise my hand and admit my cultural adherence to the notion of “productivity.” I prove my worth through tasks and outputs. Spending time on creative exercises, even writing this blog post right now, can provoke that small inner voice to speak up. “Psst, Katie, shouldn’t you go vacuum right now? The kitchen floor needs to be wiped up. And, why don’t you just check your work Inbox for a few minutes? You’ll feel so much better tomorrow…”

Will I, inner voice? Or will the small pool of “shoulds” morph into a tidal wave of anxiety, sweeping me into a vortex for the next two hours and then I look up and Sunday is over?

Do I sound like I am speaking from experience? Absolutely. Frequently. It has been a goal of this year for me to intentionally shift how I value myself and my time. Because, if I don’t, I will continue to miss out on opportunities to live fully.

Isn’t the notion of retirement weird? Our culture dictates that you have to earn your time to take adventure, develop hobbies, give back,etc. But, we have these mortal bodies that wear out over time. It becomes a heck of a lot harder to do all the things we may have wanted to do 30 years prior. (Unless you’ve developed erectile dysfunction. Then we’ve got a pill for you!)

We ran into many (perceived) retirees while hiking in the mountains on Friday. Of course — it’s a WORK day [note: “work” day in the dominant narrative of what constitutes “real” or “professional” work in a white supremacist society but NEWS FLASH: people work EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY and many of us take their schedules for granted — things still get delivered to ours doorsteps; our loved ones in the hospital are receiving care; office buildings are cleaned; fields are harvested; passengers arrive from one part of the world to another].

Back to my Friday morning hiking rumination. Aaron and I stuck out like a bit of sore thumbs as the youngest climbers of that time slot. Why would people of working ages be climbing a summit at 11:30am unless they were:

  1. Retired
  2. Vacationing
  3. Stay-at-home parent
  4. A person who takes time during their day to go hike a trail

Yes, number four is an option. (And no doubt there are a slew of other options so excuse my lack of inclusion. It is not meant to short-change anyone’s reason for being on a hike at 11:30am on a Friday. If you are on a hike at 11:30am on a Friday, you’re a badass. Period.)

Taking the time to make these moments happen, for me, can be so hard. Guilt of not feeling a contributing team member with my colleagues; fear of not being able to respond to the needs or questions of board members, donors, other stakeholders who are working on a Friday at 11:30am.

I like me some routine. I like me some dependibility. Funny how life provides neither of those. I can feel like I’m in a groove, that I’ve got things figured out. And then:

BAM.

A new opportunity. An illness. A phone call. An injury. A ticket to a sold-out show. Whatever it is, the exciting and excruciating, serve as reminders that change is constant. Which I know I know, but it doesn’t really sink it. I can still sing every lyric to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” as proved on our drive home today.

But, I refuse to grant space in my heart and mind that my perception of routine is false. Things are happening behind the scenes. It’s our own Upside Down from Stranger Things. Hopefully with fewer horrifying creatures.

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That’s essentially the face I make when confronting anything outside of my routine. IF IT IS NOT WRITTEN DOWN, I AM NOT SURE IT CAN HAPPEN. (Photo credit)

Here we are: on a Sunday afternoon, fretting about living up to standards set by society and me. The shadow of having to justifying taking a Friday off, of not doing another load of laundry today. One could be done, sure. There are a thousand things that could be done; there are a dozen tasks that I could list as “should be” completed.

Today, I started my morning, sipping hot coffee while leaning on a window ledge as a fog swallowed the homes, farms, and gardens enclosed in our valley. I heard the call of the rooster, alerting the masses that it was time to stretch our limbs from a good night’s rest. I smelled the rich earth, dotted with dew, and breathed in the cool, crisp air one would never expect in a North Carolina August.

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I should sit in that memory for a bit longer. It will fade, in time. But the feeling it has imprinted will serve as a reminder of why I choose, today and each day, to live. Productivity, be damn.

That time we visited Scotland and Ireland

Both countries lived up to the hype and my own personal hopes.

Rather than sketch out a full narrative on our 10+ day excursion, I’m going to challenge myself and aim for the 10 words or less review of each place (accompanied by a few photos to give, you know, context)

Edinburgh: birthplace of Scotland. Old meets tourist on cobblestone streets.

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St. Andrews: must-stop for golfers, botanists, beach walkers…and single ladies.

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Dingle: agrarian paradise held together through kindness, culture, and beer

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Dublin: Guinness-built international destination; class lines, once deep, now blurred

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Without hesitation, I would recommend putting both countries on your list for your next vacation. With nearly 86 miles under our feet (and 400+ in the car), we only scratched the surface of these nations.

We change from the insides out. When the joy is sparked, you can’t hide it:

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Traveling anticipations

What are you most looking forward to?

I posed this question to Aaron over drinks last Friday. Our conversation had drifted to our upcoming vacation to Ireland and Scotland, two countries that our respective ancestors called home.

Both of us had been dreaming of these visits for years. In fact, when I was an undergraduate student in Arizona, I had pursued a study abroad program where I would have enrolled at the University of Cork in Fall 2005. I could have spent the days reading acclaimed Irish writers, playwrights, and poets or mused over the prevailing political theories that had resulted in Western European’s attempt to paint itself as colonialists with compassion (note: you’re only fooling yourselves, colonizers.)

Alas, I did not make it across the pond that year. Instead, I was elected to serve as the Chairperson for a student-run nonprofit called Camp Wildcat…and I never looked back. To satiate a small taste, I did enroll in an Irish Literature course that fall, falling in love with “Eureka Street” while remaining in a state of confusion over “At-Swim-Two-Birds” (that has remained through present day).

What I was most looking forward to regarding our adventure wasn’t unique to our destinations of choice. Rather, my anticipations and expectations are borne from the very essence of why I desire to travel: it’s about being surrounded by not-yet-known people where I’m given the chance to listen, absorb, and experience a different way of being.

Recently, Shankar Vedantam, host of “The Hidden Brain” podcast, dedicated an episode to research showing how diverse groups of individuals generate more creative solutions. Whether it is a gathering of musicians from different cultural traditions —

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Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble is a perfect example of how incredibly talented musicians from all over the globe and create harmonies together

or top scientists in the relentless pursuit of a cure, we are able to tap into creativity in unprecedented ways when we sit around a table of people who are not cookie-cutter images of us.

Exposure to other cultures through traveling gives us the glimpse, even briefly, of what exists beyond the walls we have built. We may claim to hail from diverse areas of the country. Yet, when we look at the people who make-up the various constituencies in our lives — co-workers, friends, neighbors, congregations — how often do the people in these groups look/sound/think like us?

It’s not wrong to build relationships with others who do fall more in-step with our way of being. In fact, it’s important for us to find partners and companions who share our identities and experiences, to a point. Where it gets murky is when we only begin to allow individuals into our lives that resemble what we consider our best selves.

Yes, it may feel safer or easier to engage in conversation, as we can say: “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been there.” But, we can be empathetic and understanding to individuals whose life experiences are vastly different than ours as well. It may take more work. We must be willing to abandon our bias and actively listen. We must be able to let go of our singular perspective, which has been shaped by a lot of luck and a little bit of our own accord.

The good news: we don’t have to travel around the world to gain such insights through new connections. Sometimes it is literally us knocking on a neighbors door — you know, the one you’ve maybe thrown a hand up at in acknowledgement as you mutually wheeled your garbage bins to the curb or seen carrying a bag of groceries after a morning of errand-running.

Each day, let’s challenge ourselves to chisel into the walls we’ve built in our own lives. And, when we have the chance to explore, let’s say yes whenever it is possible.

After our “family meeting” on Saturday to walk through our trip logistics (does that really surprise anyone who knows us?), the hunt for the next adventure was on — sketching out itineraries in Colombia, Vietnam, or Peru….for 2019.

Time moves fast. We have to be intentional about creating those opportunities to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and surround ourselves with difference. Which is why I am most looking forward to being in Ireland and Scotland — to hear fragments of conversation that I may or may not understand; to inhale fragrances from the local flora and fauna; and to arrive with a sense of wonder. I am thrilled by the sense of possibility of what I will learn and who I will meet.

That’s not such a terrible mindset to adopt each day, no matter which side of an ocean we wake up on.

 

How to get better with stress

Three weeks ago, I knew that sickness was descending upon me. It always begins in the center of my throat, radiating out like a germ-filled sun. Did that stop me from attending Bootcamp at the YMCA?

Of course not because I am stubborn. And, I like to develop theories that I could simply “sweat it out.” This theory became quickly disproven as things worsened, forcing me into bed starting the evening of July 4th until the morning of July 9th – also the morning we departed for our northeastern adventures.

A friend asked me last night: “how do you get an upper respiratory virus in summer?” I didn’t have a great response besides “my doctor said something was going around.” Regardless of what microorganisms are swimming by right now, threatening to cast a dark shadow on upcoming plans and life routines, I had put myself in a vulnerable position by allowing stress and negative energy to consume me.

I recognize that I have never been “great” at managing stress. Unfortunately, it often manifests in me lashing out at people I love in subtle (or not so subtle) ways. I have worked to combat this reaction. While making positive gains into curbing that behavior, I have begun to internalize the stress rather than process it, allowing it to fester and likely eradicate my internal defense systems.

Things have been stressful at work: the CRM we migrated to is an absolute bust, throwing up road blocks every day, which leaves me beyond frustrated that I simply cannot do my job; the NC General Assembly’s ignorance/hate/intolerance/call-it-what-you-like boils my blood; and growing to-do lists and commitments created a fruitless search for more time that simply doesn’t exist.

The truth is: I can control how this stress impacts or doesn’t impact me. It is so easy to remember this now. The hard part is remembering this is the moment when I would rather scream/cry/yell.

In order to get better at this, I am working on becoming a more mindful person, creating space for positive energy to be shared from me and to receive it from the broader universe. Yeah yeah, I know: hippy-dippy stuff, right? I recognize that if I don’t mind this effort, I will allow the cycle to repeat. And no one wants to spend another week in one of two positions: propped up in bed or propped up on a couch, especially while hacking up a lung or two.

As I ease back into this week coming off of vacation, I am especially conscious of initiating new, beneficial habits today. I have added five minutes of mediation to my mornings. When I arrived at the office yesterday, I spent 20 minutes cleaning my desk. Clutter creates chaos, even on the subconscious level. Despite another incident our database provider again (welcome back Katie!), I remained calm, took a few deep breaths, and then worked with my team to sketch out a plan. It would have been much easier (and more fun, let’s be real) to complain and use expletives. But that’s not going to ensure those duplicate transactions get refunded. That’s not going to move us closer into finding a solution. I would only be sharing negative vibes with the world.

And as you clearly know: our nation, our world, needs all the positive energy imaginable.

How else to remain rooted in positivity? Reflecting on the incredible adventure I had the privilege to take with Aaron last week.

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On the water in Portland, Maine

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A look back at Portsmouth, NH, from the bridge

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It’s clear how Vermont earned its nickname

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Vegan ice cream at 10am? Thanks Ben & Jerry’s!

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How did I get so lucky?

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Where do we get one of those?

 

My intention today is to listen with my ears, my eyes, and my heart and be mindful that the loudest parts of my conversations may be unspoken.

Cheers & love.