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Without a Trace

Coco posing for our cat-lover neighbor Alison

Six weeks ago, my 10-year-old torbie, Coco, disappeared. She hasn’t returned home yet, and she may not. Ok, at this point, she likely won’t.

My husband and I live in a densely populated urban neighborhood, sandwiched in between two main streets with heavy traffic and frequent construction. Coco spends the bulk of her days (and, sometimes, nights) gallivanting around the yards and driveways of our immediate city block. She has a kitty window open just wide enough for her 8-pound feline frame to squeeze through, and uses it daily.

A born survivor, she avoids moving cars, keeps a safe distance from other furry animals, and approaches humans with a healthy dose of caution. We worried about her penchant for tree climbing and snarling at other neighborhood pets, but never about the possibility of being hit by a vehicle or snatched up by a (non-human) predator.

My husband saw her last during a midweek, sunny, March afternoon. She was on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, rolling in the dust and debris like a maniac–one of her favorite pastimes. My husband thought little of it, that familiar scene, one he assumed he’d witness a thousand times more in the days and years to come.

I can’t remember the specifics of my last Coco sighting. It was that same morning, before I ran some errands. I didn’t think to pick her up and say good-bye, shove my face into her personal kitty space, to which she inevitably holds up a paw–no claws–and pushes it to my face as if to gently say, “Mom, I know this is how you express love, but please stop.”

I simply noticed her in my general space, inside, outside, inside, outside, inside…such is the way of cats. And then I didn’t. Her absence was more salient than her presence. It continues to be even now, but that stark contrast is slowly fading.

For a couple weeks, anytime I spotted movement–a leaf blowing across the driveway, a robin bobbing across the yard, a neighborhood rodent scurrying under a parked car–from the corner of my eye, I jumped and moved toward it, assuming it was Coco, even when my logical brain knew that was unlikely.

Coco in her natural habitat

I’ve told friends and family about the disappearance, usually with a stoic, matter-of-fact tone, focusing primarily on the details of the situation, and less on my feelings around it. I’ve had several cats throughout my lifetime, most in a rural environment, and all of them have either disappeared (fisher cat or coyote, most likely) or died (car accident, euthanasia).

I know the drill. I knew the risk when I adopted a pet. I accepted the likelihood that I would outlive my pe.

I mean, it’s a cat, not a child. I mean, I’m not a 5-year-old. I mean, I’m a grown ass woman who understands the circle of life.

My father insists she was likely hit by a car. I quietly disagree.

My sister believes she will return in 10 months, the way one of her cats did last year after it found a new home. I wonder.

My bff reserves judgment, and expresses disbelief at the lack of emotion I have displayed. I rationalize.

My neighbor (let’s call her Alison) is convinced that we will track her down and bring her home. I feel touched by her infectious optimism.

Baby Coco, ca. September 2010

She loves Coco perhaps even more than my husband and I do. Alison told me that her bond with our cat is what convinced her and her boyfriend to adopt their own.

When I told her that Coco hadn’t returned home after two days, Alison sent out the bat signal. Casting a wider net than I could have imagined, she informed and perused myriad platforms and resources.

  • Nextdoor
  • Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Animal Rescue League
  • PetFBI
  • MSPCA and local shelters
  • Local veterinarians
  • City sanitation services (they find animal carcasses in the streets–who knew?)

Armed with packing tape and a staple gun, she braved New England March weather to post flyers around our neighborhood with me. More than once. The long walks provided an opportunity for us to get better acquainted and discuss all things cats. I introduced her to the Facebook page CocaineKitties. I recommend it to all.

Last week, I texted Alison that I was beginning to accept the potential permanence of the situation. She asked if she could still post updates online. I said of course, and that I just wanted to prepare her for an eventual sense of closure.

Three hours later, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it, a bouquet of cut flowers graced my porch. On the card was a heartfelt message from Alison, her boyfriend, and their cat, expressing sympathy for Coco’s disappearance.

I smiled. Then I texted her a photo of the gorgeous arrangement.

She texted back a video she had taken of Coco pre-disappearance.

I cried a little. Then a bit more. Then I ugly cried for two minutes, which felt like an exhausting and cathartic two hours.

I’m working through the five stages of grief, and am on the precipice of acceptance.

Accompanying that is a melancholia that seems frivolous, even indulgent, especially right now. In this unstable world with unspeakable suffering.

It’s just a cat.

And yet, I miss her terribly.

When I look online for adoptable cats, I want every single one of them. I also want none that aren’t Coco.

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Miracle of Science Reopens for Business

After five months in a pandemic-induced hibernation, Miracle of Science Bar + Grill has reopened its doors to the public. Starting November 1, 2020, the Cambridge restaurant closed for the winter season to ensure the safety of its team and community due to the risks of Covid-19.

In recent weeks, the weather has gradually warmed up, people have ventured out more frequently, and overall activity levels have increased. In response, the Miracle of Science owners and staff have been preparing for a safe reopening.

They have deep cleaned, sanitized and painted the interior space. There are also menu and equipment updates, as well as a new website.

“After a brutal year, I’m excited to be reopening and reconnecting with our local community,” says co-owner and general manager Dennis Silva. “I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces again.”

Indoor, outdoor and takeout dining options are available. The sidewalk by the entrance is cordoned off with tables, chairs and space heaters for al fresco dining.

For the safety and comfort of the staff and customers, Celios air purifiers have been placed throughout the restaurant. The windows and doors also remain open for constant air circulation.

Periodic Table menu at MoS

The Miracle of Science team wear masks at all times and follow all Cambridge Covid-19 protocols. Customers can use the Miracle of Science QR code to download contactless menus on their mobile devices.

Miracle of Science is currently open daily, noon to 9pm.

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A Scammer Darkly

Do you receive those scam calls about consolidating student debt loan or extending your car’s warranty?

Wait, let me rephrase: HOW MANY of those scam calls do you receive daily?

Never took out student loans? Don’t own a car? Such minor details are barely a speed bump for these pros.

They will find you, and they will use that very particular set of skills they have acquired over a very long career on you.

When I was in middle school, I remember overhearing my father answer one of those calls on our landline (remember those?), pre-caller ID, so the caller’s identity was anyone’s guess. It was likely one of my friends–Nikki, Michelle, Andrew–but could have been a client calling my dad at home, or my sister phoning from her dorm room.

On this particular afternoon, it was some dude named Frank who asked if our address was 24 Spring Street (which, at the time, it was). My father, without missing a beat, replied, “Nope, this is 41 Main.”

Dad takes immense pride in his honesty and integrity, so this obvious fib struck me as odd, and amusing. He found his way of dealing with such calls, and straight-up lying was the strategy.

I have my own way, and it involves neither dishonesty nor avoidance.

Instead, I follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and LEAN IN.

This is a new approach, and it began recently when I received a text message from someone claiming to have found my lost cat.

When I saw that message, my face flushed and my ears buzzed. Could it be? The thought of a reunion with sweet Coco three weeks after she disappeared reignited a fading sense of hope.

That is, until I saw the follow up messages.

“I have sent you a 6 digit verify code..”

“If you are the real owner send me the code then I send you my location..”

Seriously?

Everything about the texts caused offense:

  • Attempts to prey on my emotions to gain access to…what, exactly? I didn’t check for any code, so I’m not sure whey they were trying to hack.
  • The underestimation of my intelligence
  • Assumption that I would acquiesce
  • The lack of proper grammar and punctuation

I thought of the New York Times story about Miriam Rodriguez, whose daughter Karen was kidnapped by members of the Zeta cartel in Mexico. Miriam relied on stakeouts, disguises, a handgun and vigilante justice to hunt down the kidnappers and try to find Karen.

I don’t purport to be anything like that badass heroine who ultimately gave her life to the cause; just that I thought of her in that moment and daydreamed for a moment of following in her footsteps.

Then, last week I received an unsolicited text about a potential job opportunity, in theory from Ingram Content Group, an actual company. He claims to have spotted my résumé on Ziprecruiter, where it is available. I hadn’t heard about jobs this way, but I’m also less tech-savvy than the average adolescent, and the initial message seemed professional and possibly legitimate.

The next one, however, piqued my suspicion. The clunky use of language is a jarring data point, and it gets my spidey senses going, even from legit recruiters.

Interview through WhatsApp? And no response when I ask for more details?

This is the third shady unsolicited text of this sort in a week. As if a year in a pandemic and constant state of low-level agitation wasn’t enough for everyone to endure, now we must battle schemers edging their way into our lives with bogus job offers in an impossible market and info about my lost cat who may in reality be dead.

For a hot minute my blood pressure spiked and a fusillade of F-bombs exploded from my mouth. The exasperated mantra, What is wrong with people?, skipped through my head on repeat.

Then, within the hour, I applied my daily yoga practice and Getting Unstuck meditations to the situation, reframed my thoughts around it, and landed on a solution that made me laugh out loud.

Nearly every day, I text the three mystery numbers a message of my own. Nothing offensive, angry, or threatening. Just questions about their day, their work, how the lost cat business is going. Things of that sort.

Just innocuous yet persistent messages like these.

So far, I haven’t received any responses, but I do hope I’m irritating them a little, or possibly softening them a bit. Either way, I’m on their radar and am now a cheerful dingleberry they can’t quite wipe away.

And that brings a wry smile to my pandemic-weary face.

When I shared this story with my father, his reaction surprised me. He laughed, hard, and then he said, wiping away amused tears, “I’m so incredibly proud of you, Astrid.”

I’m not entirely sure where the pride comes in, but I think it’s because of my reframing of the situation. He would likely be more vengeful, and for good reason, or avoidant, like when he lied about our home address.

My father has what he calls “the killer spirit”; I do not. My failure to inherit that instinct used to irk him, but over time I’ve seen that he admires my gentleness and willingness to turn around and playfully engage scammers rather than hate them or exact bloody revenge.

This light-hearted approach works for me.

Feel free to borrow this idea for the scammers in your own life. If you don’t have any, what kind of magical unicorn are you?

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Getting Unstuck

“As the author of your life, you can rewrite the story by changing your perceptions.” -Oprah Winfrey

Last week I started a 21-day meditation series co-hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra titled Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. It is available for free for a limited time, and you can find it and other meditations and gems of wisdom from these two powerhouse self-help gurus here.

I like to call it my Ch-Oprah meditation, and I’m sure I am the first person to create that witty portmanteau.

This morning, I completed the Day 6 meditation, titled You Deserve More Than Second-Hand Experiences, along with its mantra and brief journaling exercise.

Oprah recounts a story about her days as a young TV anchor:

“Early in my career I would imitate Barbara Walters. One of the most enlightening days of my life was when I realized I could actually be a better ME than I could be Barbara. Once I stopped imitating her and becoming more of my true self, infinite possibility opened up for me.”

That blew my mind, and I hadn’t even started the meditation part of the video yet.

Ch-Oprah help me get unstuck

She and Deepak discuss what they call “second-hand experiences.” According to Deepak, these include the times when you:

  • Do what someone else tells you to do
  • Live up to someone else’s low expectations
  • Do things that really are not true to yourself

Oprah encourages listeners to think about their own second-hand experiences and asks, “Were you following someone else’s script instead of your own life story? Are you allowing the past old story that’s stuck on Play in your head control your experiences?”

Well, don’t. That’s basically the duo’s message.

JUST STOP. Do things differently. Rewrite the story.

I agree. Every day, we can rewrite our own story and start creating first-hand experiences.

Oprah was born to an unwed teenage mother in the segregated South in the 1950s. She grew up poor and wore potato sacks as dresses at times, which made her the object of ridicule. As a child, she was sexually abused by family members and family friends. At 14, she became pregnant and gave birth to a premature baby who died shortly thereafter.

That is quite a story to rewrite.

Now, Oprah is the wealthiest woman in entertainment, is recognizable with a single moniker (adding Winfrey feels superfluous, doesn’t it?), and has touched countless lives in ways far beyond entertainment and daytime television consumption.

Love her or hate her, one cannot discount the overwhelming odds Oprah has faced and overcome over her lifetime. She hasn’t done so without rewriting her story and creating first-hand experiences. Imagine what her life would be like had she continued trying to be a second-rate Barbara Walters.

What are some second-hand experiences in your life?

What are some ways you can change your perceptions and get unstuck?

Reach out and let me know. I’d love to hear them!

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Got Crutches?

Crutch (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition):

  1. a support typically fitting under the armpit for use by the disabled in walking
  2. a source or means of support or assistance that is relied on heavily or excessively
What’s your crutch?

My father had surgery the day after Christmas and spent the initial days of recovery in bed, then in a wheelchair, and then on crutches when he returned home. Eventually, he used a walker for about a week, until he could move around on his own.

Now, after months of physical therapy, perseverance, and sheer will power, dad shuffles around like a champ.

On occasion, he uses a cane I got him, primarily while at the grocery store or post office. I think he uses it as a conversation starter, but his loved ones take heart in knowing that he has backup, especially while the sidewalk is still covered in ice and snow.

In this case, the crutches, and other assistance, have played an essential role in my father’s recovery. If, in three years, or even eight months, he were still using them to hobble around, I would wonder about his progress and worry about his overall well being.

Perhaps a family intervention would be warranted. Luckily, he is motivated and fiercely independent, so that won’t be necessary. If we do stage an intervention, it will be for something besides over-reliance on his physical crutches.

While he has jettisoned the walker, dad relies on invisible crutches to get through this challenging phase of recovery. Like most of us, he has used them to navigate through the harshness of life.

Invisible crutches are harder to identify and differ from person to person. They can serve a purpose, but ultimately outlive their usefulness.

Invisible crutches? What might those be? A superpower, special weapon, futuristic device?

Nope.

Invisible crutches are those sneaky, less obvious patterns of behavior that start out as helpful support, but can gradually become destructive. They often have addictive qualities that result from unconscious conditioning.

These pesky assistants can manifest as go-to activities, substances, relationships. Sometimes they started out as healthy or necessary coping mechanisms that, over time, hinder long-term growth and well being.

Yes, denial and avoidance both qualify, and there are myriad others.

Here’s a start:

  • Alcohol
  • Approval
  • Drugs
  • Exercise
  • Food
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Social media
  • Tobacco
  • Work

Any of those sound familiar? Keep in mind, none of them are inherently bad or unhealthy. Any virtue in excess becomes a vice. A glass of wine for one person could be a helpful social lubricant while it’s the bane of another’s existence.

What are your invisible crutches?

OK, I’ll go first. I have a few, but my favorite is sugar.

Original, eh?

My husband finds my sugar addiction innocuous, even adorable. What’s one little cupcake? Or a box of macarons? They’re so sweet, saccharine, harmless. Billions of marketing dollars wouldn’t lead us down a destructive path…

Some days Bridget Jones is my spirit animal

The amount isn’t necessarily the dead giveaway. I’m not overweight. I don’t have diabetes. I don’t down pints of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting (anymore). I’m not an alcoholic–the booze for me holds only as much interest as the sugar I can extract from a cocktail.

What goes on inside my head is the key factor, and no one but me can see it.

  • The blind grasping for comfort and numbness
  • The lack of reason employed during these autopilot sequences
  • The avoidance of the issue or problem or emotion in favor of sweet escape
  • The dissociation from the present moment and potential consequences

All of those things are invisible to the naked eye. To the outside world, I’m enjoying a treat, perhaps a well-deserved one. It looks as though a grown woman is acting like an awestruck child who takes delight in a frosted brownie.

But at the root of that fleeting joy is a potentially destructive impulse, one that perpetuates self-sabotage and personal growth. The invisible can take up a lot of space.

Who knew that a peanut-butter cup wielded such power?

Sugar thoughts

Over time, I have learned to manage the sugar impulses more effectively. Experience, trial and error, and good therapists have helped me slow down, introspect, and check in on my emotional state.

Gradually, day in and day out of doing the work–baby steps, not quantum leaps–I have evolved from the insecure teenager and avoidant young woman of years past. Make no mistake, insecurity and avoidance still accompany me wherever I go, but they are no longer in the driver’s seat.

The impulse to grab the invisible crutches remains, and on occasion I succumb to it. But less frequently and for a shorter period of time. Once in a while, when reality feels overwhelming, I opt for oblivion.

Karen Kilgariff, who cohosts My Favorite Murder, one of my favorite podcasts, said this at the end of episode 51, aptly titled “A Little Bit of Oblivion”:

“Everybody copes in different ways. My therapist said to me one time, when I had quit [drinking] and I had quit sugar, I had quit this and that. She goes, ‘Well, you gotta do something because everybody needs a little bit of oblivion.'”

Although the focus of My Favorite Murder is true crime and murder stories, Karen and her cohost, Georgia Hardstark, openly discuss mental illness and their own struggles with anxiety, depression, and emotional crutches. Episodes are peppered with valuable morsels like that quote.

The next time I mindlessly grasp for the sugar, I will likely pump the brakes. With greater presence of mind, I hope to either opt for a healthier alternative (like a true-crime podcast) or shrug and remind myself that everybody needs a little oblivion, especially when real life in a pandemic is fucking bonkers.

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Accountability Buddy

Do you remember using the buddy system? It’s when two people (buddies) pair up as a single unit to help out and monitor each other’s safety, progress, or well being.

I grew up in the 1980s, so that system was an integral part of my development in a number of contexts:

It’s hard to gauge the extent to which the buddy system benefited me or my growth, but I’m sure it facilitated some meaningful human connection with classmates and cohorts. At the very least, it provided structure and an extra layer of oversight.

The practice has stayed with me decades later, and I now use it in my personal and professional life. Doing so during the last year of a pandemic has helped me remain productive while maintaining remote relationships. It looks a little different than the chain gang of pre-schoolers escorting each other across a footbridge, or a pair of socks accompanying their match into the spin cycle.

I currently have three regular accountability buddies: two former colleagues (and now friends) and my sister.

Every Monday morning, my sister and I text each other our respective goals for the week. We’re both writers and are prioritizing our craft in a way we haven’t done before.

The process is a cinch and takes all of two minutes. It usually looks something like this:

Happy Monday! Here are my goals for this week:

  1. Journal at least twice
  2. Practice yoga every morning
  3. Write and publish one blog post
  4. Meditate every night before bed
  5. Read for fun for 30 minutes at night

Sometimes I’ll mix it up and add things like bake lemon poppyseed bread for my neighbor, or send a birthday card to my uncle. My goals have mellowed evolved over the years, especially during a forced Covid lockdown.

Every Friday, we call to follow up and check the status of each other’s progress. If we reached our goals, fucking hooray! We discuss the process. If not, that’s ok, and we discuss the reasons why.

In a recent conversation, my sister said, “I’m 20 percent practical and 80 percent philosophical, so let’s get the practical stuff out of the way first.”

The best part of our exchanges are the deeper dives, the whys, the implications, motivations, self-sabotage, the sneaky unconscious reasons we get in our own way. That is where the wiggle is in the squiggle.

My new bumper sticker idea

The system I have with my former journalism colleague, who now works as a freelance writer (mostly solo, from home), is less structured. She texts me a heads up on any given morning that she will need a check in later in the day. Her messages involve simple yet specific instructions like:

“I’m working on a story about city council. My self-imposed deadline is 4pm today. By then I want to have interviewed three key people and written 500 words of the draft. Will you check in at 3:30 to see if I have talked to all three and hit that minimum word count?”

The answer is always yes.

Is her achievement consequential to my life? No. I’d love for her to succeed, but my life remains unaffected if she doesn’t reach that goal.

Is there any punishment if she fails to meet her own expectations? No external ones, at least not from me.

But the confirmation of a follow up from her accountability buddy suffices in motivating her to focus. That expectation applies enough pressure to stay on task. No social media, no distracting cleaning, no solo day drinking. Conduct those interviews and write those 500 words…usually with palpable success.

The process with my former home organizing colleague is similar, but with design and organizing projects. The same concepts apply, even if the goals differ.

Do you have any accountability buddies in your life?

Here are some areas where they come in handy:

  • Writing projects
  • Exercise programs
  • Dietary changes
  • Professional assignments
  • Any creative endeavors

They are helpful in nearly every process that involves positive change or meeting a concrete goal.

Almost anyone can be your accountability partner, but there are some characteristics that lend themselves more to success. Check this out for more tips. You don’t need perfection (nor will you find it), but if some elements are in place, you maximize your chances of progress.

Here are a few key components:

  • Reliability: No flaking out
  • Positivity: No Debbie Downers–you both need to keep each other’s spirits lifted
  • Consistency: Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel–or whatever agreement you both make
  • Cheerleading: No pompoms or clapping necessary, but genuine support and enthusiasm are
  • Commitment: You both need to be on board for accountability and goal reaching, even when it gets dull or lackluster

Intentional accountability is a powerful tool. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!

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Progress is Not Linear

Backslide: to lapse morally or in the practice of religion; to revert to a worse condition.

We know this already, but it bears repeating: PROGRESS IS NOT LINEAR. BACKSLIDING IS PROBABLE.

I’m not particularly religious, but I did backslide yesterday. The secondary definition is apt, and likely applies to us all–perhaps more frequently during a yearlong pandemic.

The entire day played out like a giant middle finger aimed at my life, goals, recent progress, or the sound advice I would offer a friend, loved one, or blog follower seeking a more enlightened path.

Despite a solid night of sleep (I aim for 9 hours and feel like a half-decent human being when I actually get it), I woke up irritated, almost imperceptibly. The sun was shining during an unseasonably balmy March day, which should have been enough to kickstart my spring optimism.

Nope. Over the course of the day, the irritability worsened.

I picked a fight with my sweet husband about a perennially cluttered closet. He didn’t take the bait, but instead saw my valid, if shrill, point and made an effort to organize.

That didn’t help. I did not truly want to solve the problem in that moment; I wanted to lash out, and for no apparent reason.

So, I sat down to write. That always improves my mood and helps me feel connected. Except…

Every. Fucking. Idea. Was. Lame.

Or so it seemed.

Why bother? Maybe I’m not really cut out for this writing thing, I told myself. I’ve only been doing it for decades, have two degrees in the subject, and have published a plethora of stories. Enh, that’s irrelevant. Clearly I have no talent and am exposing myself for the fraud I really am.

Great self-talk, right? The opposite of what I would encourage any advice seekers to say to themselves.

Steven Pressfield would call this Resistance. Jennifer Pastiloff might call it the Inner Asshole (IA).

Regardless of the name, it caused me to abandon the Word doc and transition to online yoga, a no-fail way to move my body, clear my mind, and feel better.

My usual adorable, genki yogi led me in a kundalini chant, which I gave a lackluster attempt. I made it seven minutes into the video before the instructor emitted a giggle that would typically earn a wry smile. Instead, I thought, “Oh, just shut up!”

It felt like mentally scolding a wood nymph faerie. Only an asshole (inner or outer) would do that.

In that moment I realized that I–not writing or yoga or my husband or anyone else in my sphere–was the problem, and the common denominator in my hot mess of a day.

The obvious solution?

Pouring myself a chilled glass of pinot gris and mixing up some green cookie dough for St. Patrick’s Day. Except, I knew that regressive response would exacerbate the situation.

Honey badger don’t care. I was determined to drown out the discomfort with vino and sugar and butter and green food coloring, knowing they would further aggravate it. Old habits die hard and self-sabotage lurks around every blind corner, especially when I’m on a trajectory of healthy, productive choices.

The bane of my existence

What invoked the resistance, awoke the IA, provoked the shit-talking inner editor?

Hormones? Probably.

Change? Sure, even welcome transitions can throw me off my game.

Missing cat? Yah, my little feline wandered off a few days ago and hasn’t yet returned.

Who knows? The cause is secondary to the lessons learned during this stint of regression.

For me, backsliding looks like:

  • Self-doubt
  • Wining and whining
  • Sugar (and Netflix) bingeing
  • Stressing about disorganization
  • Telling online yoga teachers to shut up
  • Nursing a cookie-and-booze hangover

Do any of these sound familiar? What does regression look like for you?

Follow up question: What does progress look like for you?

For me, it is reminding myself that success can, and often does, take a meandering course. I’m not a linear person, and my path of progress isn’t going to be a linear one either. The faster I see that in the moment, the more enlightened I feel. Accompanying greater enlightenment are compassion and humility.

After waking up feeling full of green cookies and wine, tired, and worse off, I decided not to lose another full day to poor choices.

Instead, I took these baby steps:

  • Went for a walk (not run, not HIIT, not yoga)
  • Posted flyers of my lost cat around my neighborhood
  • Called my sister for our weekly accountability check in
  • Apologized to my husband for misplaced blame
  • Gave him a long, oxytocin-inducing hug
  • Brewed a mug of herbal tea

And this image posted on social media by a friend, who didn’t know how I was feeling yesterday.

A little boost I didn’t realize I needed

Guess what? I felt better. Only marginally, but noticeably, and encouraged to continue taking baby steps toward incremental improvement. It was preferable to another cookie binge and self-loathing.

It’s all in the wiggle of the squiggle.

I sent this diagram to my sister and her response was, “It’s all in the wiggle of the squiggle.”

Yes indeed. In the squiggle is where all of the magic happens. That is where we plant seeds, grow, learn, develop character, cultivate compassion, connect with others, recognize our shortcomings, and develop patience.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Regression provides contrast, data, and choice. It creates an opportunity to appreciate the distance I’ve come.

All of that is taking place in the squiggle. The messy, disorganized middle part of the arrow is where richness lies. It’s where most of life takes place.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. Would you?

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Morning Routine

Don’t underestimate the power of your choices first thing in the morning.

My mother touted the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and now my husband does the same. (If you want to learn the history of that statement, check out this historical conflict of interest.)

I rarely follow that advice, but if I do, my breakfast is consumed during the final minutes of morning. The idea of food before 11am consistently invokes mild nausea. By noon, though, I’m famished. Go figure.

However, I do have a regular morning routine, which I find essential for providing structure and setting a tone for the rest of the day.

I’m not alone. The importance of a daily routine is promoted by many successful folks, including Tony Robbins, Oprah (do we need to include her last name anymore?), and Tom Brady (TB12).

Not a fan of those particular celebrities? Ok, here is a list of AM routines of six other successful women. And here’s another brief list of morning habits of highly effective people.

You might notice some themes:

  • Movement
  • Head-clearing
  • Planning
  • Gratitude

Do you follow a routine of your own? If so, what does it entail?

This covers the essentials.

For nearly two years I have fine-tuned my own combination of morning rituals, which (*sheepish grin*) sometimes begin long after the morning has ended. The time started or elapsed is less important than the consistency of the activities.

Every. Single. Day.

Build a routine. See a pattern. Start a habit.

Watch your life slowly shift toward a preferable, more deliberate, possibly more meaningful place.

Author, podcaster, and angel investor (among other roles) Tim Ferriss has shared his routine, which inspired me to start my own.

This is his list:

  • Makes his bed
  • Drinks Titanium Tea
  • Meditates
  • Does some form of light exercise
  • Writes in a journal

This is not a directive to perform any or all of these tasks after you wake up. There is not one straight line to success or improvement. I do recommend each of them, in some form, at some point in the day, though.

Think of this as a starting line, launch pad, friendly suggestion, anecdotal self-enhancement story.

On your mark…

I have adopted my own version, tailored to my preferences, night-owl schedule, and energy levels.

Astrid’s (ideal) modified morning routine:

  • Brush my teeth and eradicate morning breath
  • Pull the duvet up to the pillows and fold the top sheet over
  • Drink a cup (approx. 8-12 ounces) of water
  • Brew some black tea, matcha, or chicory/coffee mix
  • Go for a “shuffle” around my block for a burst of fresh air and a shot of natural vitamin D
  • Write morning pages a la The Artist’s Way (three 11×8 pages–no more, no less)
  • Kundalini yoga to get my energy going

FULL DISCLOSURE: I don’t always complete, or even start, each of these activities every day. Some days, I’ll straighten a pillow, spend 30 seconds in downward dog pose, and pop my head outside in the cold, only to opt out. Kinda like this…

Some mornings this is as far as I get.

But I do always–ALWAYS–brush my teeth. I’m not a heathen.

My list may invoke nausea or an eye roll. That’s ok. I’m not forcing any stimulants, kriyas, or Tom’s of Maine on anyone. What you do between REM sleep and lunchtime is your business. Obviously, I feel strongly about getting the day started off strongly, though, or else I wouldn’t bother dedicating an entire blog post to the subject.

My husband has his own morning rituals, which may sound more appealing:

  • Brews coffee in his Italian moka espresso maker
  • Stretches or does a series of core-training exercises
  • Reads news headlines and a select few stories
  • Plays one game of solitaire on his phone
  • Makes a light breakfast (smoothie, toast, oatmeal)
  • Plays one move in Words With Friends against Nana C.

There is some overlap in our respective routines, and some rubs.

He insists that I eat more before noon, and I discourage reading anything, especially news items, from a device. Covid arguments, climate concerns, and political clashes will still be around later in the day–why fill your brain with that sludge while greeting the day?

At least he isn’t on social media, so we agree on avoiding that first thing.

The overlaps tap into more general themes:

  • Ritual (teeth brushing, bed making, coffee brewing, tea steeping)
  • Physical activity (yoga, jogging, calisthenics)
  • Mental clearing (meditation, morning pages, journaling)
  • Minor intellectual challenge (news reading, virtual games, also yoga)
  • Addressing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs

If these hold appeal and make sense to you, choose your own version for the same fix. Scratch those itches in your own way and create some degree of beneficial structure. Over time, you may notice some enhancements in your life.

Try one or two and see how you feel. If they don’t work for you, mix them up! Maybe, like Mr. Robbins, you want to take a cold plunge for some icy mind clearing. Have five dogs like Oprah that you need to take out for a stroll (after brushing les dents, of course)? Or you might prefer to emulate the health-conscious GOAT with some avocados and all things anti-inflammatory.

You do you.

And feel free to let me know what you decide. I’d love to hear about your morning routines! Maybe there’s something I’m missing that could enhance my own start to the day.

Leave a comment and let me know!

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March Fo(u)rth

Today’s date is the only one in the calendar that doubles as a command.

And triples as inspiration. March forth, my friends. Carry on. You got this!

According to Urban Dictionary, my primary resource for nearly everything:

This day is “A holiday where you work towards achieving your dreams, noted by many to be on March 4/March Forth. This holiday is used as an excuse to make an effort, take a risk, or refuse to let reasons come between you and your goals.”

That is a reminder I could use most days, but especially toward the end of a New England winter.

Shoveling snow is a winter sport in the Northeast.

After months of vitamin D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder, and likely a series of Nor’easters slamming the region with various forms of precipitation (my personal favorite is the innocuous sounding *wintry mix*), I am overdue for some encouragement.

Aren’t we all?

When they are built into the date, I take heart in knowing that mud season, and then spring, are nigh. That means daylight savings, seasonal allergies, and Marathon Monday are just around the corner.

Nope, I am not preparing to run in the Boston Marathon, but I do view goal-setting as a proverbial marathon for which I am constantly training.

It is, rather, a calendar landmark. Tax Day. A turning point. The unofficial start of spring. Hope is in the air, along with the pollen.

In my last post, I wrote about goals and asked you about yours. Have you thought about them? If not, today is the day to start.

My biggest goal this week, like every week since 2021 commenced, has been to write. Guess what, I have been doing that every day this week. I even managed to eke out a blog post revolving around an Urban Dictionary reference.

If I can do that, you can inch toward your own goals–whether for the year, the month of March, the week, or even just another winter Thursday.

Easier said than done? Need a nudge in the right direction?

  • Make your goals SMART
  • Enlist the help of an accountability buddy
  • Step outdoors for some fresh air and natural sunlight
  • Take action toward your goal, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant
  • Have fun! Life is too important to be taken seriously.

Over time, you will want to weed out the time and energy wasters. Even the seemingly innocuous ones (Instagram scrolling, anyone?) may be sabotaging your efforts more than you think. Today, no matter how big you’re thinking, you can start small.

Remember: This is a marathon, not a sprint.

For a handy list, check out this article about the 8 Things Successful People Never Waste Time Doing.

Use this March Fo(u)rth *holiday* to work toward achieving your dreams and refusing to let reasons come between you and your goals.

If you can’t trust the wisdom of Urban Dictionary, then what can you trust?

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