For the Days I Can’t Lift My Head

Sometimes when I run, I feel as though I could run for hours. It’s like I might run and run and never stop. Now, I’m not a die-hard runner. I couldn’t finish a marathon, probably not even a half-marathon. But it’s not because my legs wouldn’t take me the 26.2 miles to the finish line that I won’t be attempting a marathon (because in reality, my legs turn to jello after about 3 miles). No, it’s not my legs. No, I couldn’t run a marathon because I look at my feet too much.

I’m not sure if this is a problem for other runners, but when I run, I find myself staring at my feet. I look down at my feet for what should be only a moment and yet I am suddenly more tired, my body is leaning forward and aching quicker, and I’m watching my feet become heavier and heavier.

It would be nice to just stop staring down, but it’s harder than you’d think to force my eyes upward. And then if I don’t look at my feet, I’m thinking about not looking, so I have to look and then I catch my neck straining and… it’s just bad. On those days, I can barely get through one mile. My efforts and intentions to go farther are lost.

I’d like to tell you this doesn’t happen all the time, but to be honest, it’s more often than I’d like to say.

Some days seem to catch me off guard. The morning sweeps me up with a bad mood, full of comparison to others and a desire to never leave my bed. I don’t want to face the world those mornings. Onto work again anyway, feeling inadequate or undeserving.

Sometimes it’s these unmotivated, sour days that I catch myself looking down at my feet.

It’s like the days where I watched my feet hit the pavement of three part time jobs, becoming heavier each day. I stared down at myself as a college-educated barista, listening to comments like the sarcastic “That’s a good use of your degree,” and “Don’t you want a real job?” Another mile passes; I’m tired. Watching your feet is difficult. Feeling the weight of other people’s standards beats my ego down in a hurry.

I’d like to say this doesn’t happen all the time, but let’s be honest, it’s more than I’d like to say.

It’s as if I could just look up and move my eyes a few feet north, I could move more easily, I would be able to enjoy the run, I could be prouder of myself. Instead, I shamefully stare at my feet, letting people happily pass me by on the way to the next mile.

Is it just me? Am I the only one who allows the words of onlookers, and even my own standards, to bring me down? Feelings of needing to be more financially stable, thinner, more successful, married, or a better this or a better that, these are the feelings that make us want to look at our feet. These are the feelings that make the miles harder to run. Our bodies ache of disappointment. Our hearts are heavy. Why couldn’t I pull my head up and be okay telling others the place I was in, where I was living or how many jobs I needed?

Though some days I let myself get the best of me, I know I am not walking through these seasons alone. I know there’s still the opportunity to look up confidently.

Lately, when I grow tired, when my life looks vastly different than I had hoped, when I see others far more put together, I try to respond in a better way. I created a list, rather than a plan for my future, something that will help me lift my eyes upward, away from the shame and disappointment, away from judging comments and let down dreams.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
“Trust in Him at all times, O People; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5)
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)

These days, I run lighter, more freely than before. I can lift my head and be proud of where I am, wherever that may be.

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Putting Down Roots

Someone asked me recently, “Are you putting your roots down here?”

I almost threw up on the spot. “Absolutely not!” was the first thing out of my mouth, like I was denying a curse or some ridiculous accusation. Me? Putting down my roots? No, just no.

You see, I grew up an adventurer at heart.

I wanted to see more of my neighborhood, my city, the country, and eventually the world. I’m not a homebody – although I do appreciate a warm bed. I grew up wanting to search the world, not looking for anything in particular, but looking for everything at the same time.

I wanted to see more. Even if I love Lake Michigan and our hometown charm, I can’t help but think, “Somewhere out there people are waking up to the mountains, touring The Lourve, biking cross country, and riding elephants.” It might not always be in that order, yet it always makes me jealous. And when these experiences make me jealous, they give me more motivation to do them myself…soon. Putting my roots down, settling down somewhere, it was barely even an option. There’s so much more to see.

It’s not like I haven’t seen the world either, because I have. I’ve taken a train through the Alps, hiked around Italy, gotten tea time in England, spent summers by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. I’ve lived; my life has not been sheltered. Yet with my eyes exposed to the outside (the midwest) world, I’ve known there’s more out there and the idea of settling down has never been near.936676_10151641435904810_685137423_n

At 23, my friends are all over the place. Some married, some with kids, some still in college, and some just in between. Some put down roots and they’re still alive. They still adventure and breathe fully. And I think that’s okay.

But, hold tight while I roll up my honesty sleeves for a hot second, I think my roots are down. As much as I’ve been nervous of letting go of the searcher in me and being in one place for over 9 months, putting roots down isn’t as scary as I once thought. Putting down roots isn’t bad. It’s not something I should fight against, I know. Little by little, I actually think I’ve been putting down roots and parts of myself all along.

I don’t think I’ll stop being an adventurer anytime soon, or ever stop wondering what else is out there. What I do know is that when it rains for days on end, my mind floods with memories of the UK (and the roots I left there). When the sun seems almost permanently bright, San Diego (and those roots) don’t seem so far away. Hiking in my own city certainly isn’t Italy (or the roots I left there), but Lake Michigan doesn’t seem so bad anymore. It’s all perspective and it’s all a choice.

I’ve put down roots a lot of places, and get this, it didn’t hurt me. Sure, pieces of my heart are scattered, but they have made my heart bigger not broken. The world and it’s adventures have pierced me straight on and I’m okay with it.

But here and now, in this place, my friends, my roots are down.

xx

Still an adventurer at heart // now available in a slightly more vulnerable, rooted addition

The Closing Shift Lens

I almost always work the closing shift at the coffee shop.

It’s usually quieter at night. I can watch the sunset through big bay windows, read in my down time if I’m lucky and chat away the night with co-workers and quirky regulars. It’s not half bad actually.

The closing shift does have some negatives though. Not only are there far less customers than the morning but also less positive attitudes. Customers haven’t woken up eagerly looking forward to their morning cup of joe. No, I’m serving some people that have had crappy days, people that need an afternoon pickup, people who just want the day to be over.

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And sometimes, by the end of the night, I think their exhaustion has rubbed off on me. I’m so ready to wipe the counters, the espresso machine, dump the remaining coffee and prep for a whole new day.

Serve customers. Clean up the mess. Start all over.

It’s a cycle. But it’s missing something.

My closing shift cycle is missing the part where I get to see everything through new lenses. It’s missing the part where I walk behind the counter to sparkling counter tops, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and start my day clean.

What I’ve been seeing instead, is the dirt and grime at the end of the day. When all I see is splattered opportunities and spilled mistakes, it’s difficult for me to remember what it looks like at the beginning of the day.

What am I learning though? That every day can start new. Yesterday could have been messy and less than ideal; Today is clean and prepped for a whole pile of possibilities. No matter how many lattes I dropped the day before, the floors can always be wiped spotless the next time around (although I may have to pay for a few of those mishaps).

The last blog I wrote was about me choosing the future with a positive outlook. I think lately, my life has been day after day of lessons – lessons of choosing, having options, and just deciding to turn things around. I don’t believe it’s a mistake that I work closing shifts or don’t always get to see the neat and tidy part of the coffee shop. My life hasn’t been neat or tidy, but I’m learning that even the uncertain and unorganized seasons can be changed.

Thanks for reading about my lessons. I hope by following me, you too can know the choices you have and the hope you can hold onto to turn your season around.

// xx

Where the Rubber Meets the…No, It Gets Thrown Out

This thing happened today. I went running. outside. in March.

That wasn’t all though: I went running and it was sunny and I threw my shoes.

I guess… I should explain.

When I was growing up, my mom used to yell at me for crossing my arms. “Defiant” is what she called it. “Don’t cross your arms in front of me, young lady,” I can still hear her say. It was apparently a sign of disrespect, stubbornness and a whole lot of sass. I tried to get out of the habit over time (the arm-crossing, not the sass :) ), except when I wanted my mom or another adult to know I was mad, then I would cross my arms more often. It was sort of my own childish way of slamming my bedroom door, but in front of their face.

Eventually, I outgrew that surly teenage, cross-your-arms-defiantly phase and started learning how close minded I became in that position. Overall, crossing your arms seems negative to most people anyway. I tried to stop.

Well, lately – and I’ll be honest here – I’ve figured out that ever since I moved back home in September, now 6 months ago,  I’ve been walking around from job to job, room to room, day to day with my arms crossed.

It’s like I’m a teenager again and my parents have forced me to go somewhere and I decided that if I have to be there, I certainly will not put on a happy face for it. I’ve moped through days sad, upset and with a whole lot of sass. No, I didn’t want to be here and I wanted everyone to know just how miserable it was for me. I’ve been unwilling, defiant, arms-crossed and close minded about this season I’m in.

I lived in a place of paradise with a dream life, next to the ocean, and consistently sunny days. It was a season of adventure and newness. It was a season I looked forward to until it changed. And when it did, when things stopped going my way, my arms found their way back into that comfortably negative pose.

I’ve learned along the way that you don’t make friends when you say No to every invite and you can’t leave your house if you never open the door.

It’s like this season I’m in is where I make decisions that will change my future. It’s where the rubber meets the road, except not really. It’s more like where the rubber gets thrown out on its ass and decides to change.  The moment of truth – if I was going to continue to cross my arms and not enjoy my future (whatever it holds) or learn to accept it – wasn’t waiting around any longer, it came with a vengeance, demanding a decision.

Today, you must decide. Displaying photo.JPG

So, back to today, where it’s the first, 45-degree day on the opposite end of winter and my running shoes are lodged in the back of my closet, way in the back with the rest of my optimism.

I looked out the window for what seemed like ages. Do I dig my shoes out or leave them there for another day when the sun returns? And then I made the choice.

I grabbed my mismatched socks and my $12 Target Kids running shoes (suck it to everyone who’s ever laughed at my infantile shoe size) and I opened the door.

I stepped carefully over melting snow and waterlogged drains. I slowly and metaphorically uncrossed my arms, taking in every ounce of sunshine I possible could and happily welcomed the positivity.

Today, I chose the future.

It doesn’t have to get to the place where the rubber stubbornly meets the road. Instead, the rubber can decide to get up on its own, open the door, and say “Hello” to the road ahead.

Growing Expectations, or Killing Them.

I used to think growing up meant a lot of things.

Independence. Glamor. Older. Wiser. Full of Direction.

Growing up means you know how to make a pot of coffee (and drink it).

Growing up means you can eat pizza and donuts all you want and have no curfew.

Growing up means you know what you like and don’t like – for the most part. (I still can’t decide how I feel about water chestnuts).

Growing up means you have it all together.

Growing up means a lot of things, right?

I used to think a lot like Jenna Rink in 13 Going on 30. Once you make it passed the awkward teen years and the mean schoolgirls, you hit 30 with style, or as Jenna says, “30, flirty and thriving.” And only after the magical fairy dust settles, transforming Jenna into the so-called fabulous 30 year old, does she realize it might not be all she’s dreamed it could be.

I’m not 30. (whew, thank heavens I am NOT 30 yet.) Nope, not 30. I’m a few weeks shy of 23 and being a grown up hasn’t quite matched up to what I had dreamed.

I never sat around picturing my 20s, or held tightly onto a fashion magazine hoping I would magically become like the pictures, as Jenna did. But I did have expectations.

I had ideas of what my 20s would look like, of what me as a “grown up” would look like. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t figured more of life out. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned it’s not really about figuring it all out. It’s not about supposedly knowing what an adult looks like. It’s not even about living up to who I thought I would be when I was a young and naive preteen.

To me, growing older has been more about me letting go of what I thought this season of my life would look like. I don’t want magical fairy dust or Jenna’s wishful dreams of adulthood. I think I’d like to proudly become older knowing I’m choosing to do it my way rather than the way others are telling me.

I’ve had many suggestions on how to change my perspective to make more money or get a husband or find a real job. I’ve had plenty of those ideas, but I’ve only had maybe one or two comforting and unknowingly very welcoming “It’s okay’s.”

I’m here to tell those who are like me and in the in-between, those who are unsure and undecided, those who have only felt discouragement lately:

It’s okay.

It’s okay to be where you are. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to leave behind your expectations of what growing up looks like. It’s okay to be figuring it out.

It’s all okay.

Windblown Changes

There’s a window at the coffee shop I work at. Behind the barista’s counter, behind the dishwasher, there’s one, big window facing Lake Michigan. In the summer, the baristas gather near the window during lulls, hoping for a cool breeze, some relief to the beating heat. The window was wide open then, with a barely-there screen separating the outdoors to those stuck inside the working walls of espresso machines and surly customers. During the summer, the window stays open all the time. It has to be jimmied shut (I mean, I’ve heard a hammer and a crow bar are sometimes necessary) so we aren’t allowed to close it. No questions asked, the window stays open until it gets cold. Sort of like turning on your heat, you wait until you just can’t wait anymore, probably when there’s already a foot of snow, a frost advisory, and you’ve had to shovel once so far. That’s how our window is, once we close the window, it stays shut for the winter.

Last week, I came into work and it was some time before I noticed something was different. The other baristas swore everything was the same, but I had this feeling, something was out of place. And then I saw it… the window. The window was closed.

I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but my heart twinged a little. I was hurt. The window was closed and no one told me? How did this happen so soon, it’s only November!

Later, I found out the owner had walked behind the counter one night when the weather dropped below 40 and made the executive decision to shut the window. Obviously, she didn’t need my new-employee approval to close the window, but she could have asked, right?

I don’t mind change. I actually kinda like it. The newness, the fresh looks, the brand new challenges that change bring, they keep me on my feet. But I only tend to like change when I know it’s coming, when I have time to talk myself into it, consult my faithful lists, and prepare accordingly. When I know it’s coming, I like change.

Somehow though, every year, more specifically every three or so months, I’m surprised by seasonal changes. They hit me like a slap in the face. *Ouch* How come no one told me it was already time for the leaves to start falling? Or, I didn’t get a personal invitation to spring? Or, I just wasn’t ready for the window to be closed. The kind of change that hurts.

Graduating college felt something like that. Sure, it was inevitable for me, like the seasons, but I just wasn’t ready yet. I wasn’t ready to actually see the window be closed, even though each of the baristas had told me at one time or another that we don’t touch the window and when the boss finally does, the window is closed for good. I wasn’t ready to actually graduate and find my successful, career footings, even though professors and meetings and final exams were all building up to the culminating graduation. I just wasn’t ready yet.

Yes, I had time to prepare. Plenty of time in those four years, actually. It happens to other people all the time! They graduate, they find jobs, they move on. So how is it different with me? I had my trusty lists, I talked myself into it, but then what? Then I got rejection email after rejection email. One after another, employers were passing on what I had to offer. My encouraging motivation and excitement for finding a steady, full-time job was thrown into the wind with each “Thank you for your interest, but…” line I read. I just wasn’t ready for that yet.  No one told me what to do if I can’t find a job. No one prepared me for how to get back up on your feet after hearing so many reasons why I’m incompetent or unqualified. No one told me what to do or how to handle this seasonal change.

I shouldn’t be expecting a personal invite to winter, like I shouldn’t be expecting a handwritten instructional guide to “the post-college, job-searching, in-between-life” months (or years). It just happens. And when it does happen, we figure it out.

Sometimes seasons change, whether we are ready or not, and sometimes we work at coffee shops with windows that shut. We put on a coat, we apply for another dozen positions, and we keep going.

___

P.S. I probably should mention, as you may have noticed already, I changed my blog’s name (yes, again). The title now reads, “Steeped in Sunshine.” The phrase comes from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:

“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.”

More than Dickens poetic description – and my love for a well-steeped tea – I know all too much how the sun and the seasons can affect moods and emotions. I think rain or shine, snow or sleet, our lives have the opportunity to feel steeped in all the sunshine life has to offer us. We can live each day as if it’s the sunniest, most perfect day there ever was, and that’s how I want to live: Steeped in Sunshine.

Thanks for reading today, on this ironically dreary day.

-Al

Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

The glazed-over look in my eyes? No, I’m not daydreaming. I’m not off in another world. I’m dreaming, or rather reliving my todays. Sometimes I don’t even believe it’s my life.IMG_1901

For years I thought about how there’s so much more than the Midwest. So much to see, so many adventures. I thought about it, researched it, and yet there was a part of me that doubted I would ever see outside the cornfields and cheeseheads.

Little did I know, an exploration was nearing. It didn’t last as long as I would have hoped, nor did it end as I would have liked, but I did it. From Wisconsin to San Diego and up the coast, my car (and my wallet) took me as far as it could go. And until my car passed out of exhaustion, I trekked from city to city, in love.

33 hours Dad and I drove. Through Chicago traffic, alongside the flat lands of Kansas, into the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of Utah until we made our way to the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful, dreamy San Diego, filled with surfer crossing signs and no-cloud-73-degree weather met us lovingly. IMG_1945

As I wrote to my heart’s content, searched for jobs and basked in sunshine, I breathed in all California had to offer. I was met with high taxes and bro tanks too often to count, but overall, it was a dream. After graduating college, I knew I needed something new, something different, and this journey surely crossed out the quota. What I didn’t even know was a possibility became a reality.

I began my first barista job (read here for full story). I hiked. I swam. I drove some more.  And although I came to the realization that Southern California may be slightly out of my price range, it was an experience to remember. With a higher paying job and an apartment, It wouldn’t surprise me if I went back to that sunny place one day.

Leaving San Diego, my travels didn’t end. Up the West Coast I went – to Santa Monica and beyond. I walked the Santa Monica Pier, watched street performers nearby, and stopped at Muscle Beach (where yes, I passed buff gentlemen actually working out on the beach). I ate delicious organic, vegan food in Venice with my wonderfully welcoming, and extra-fashionable cousin.

I got stuck in traffic in L.A. My car overheating during the every-hour-L.A.-rush-hour. I saw Reese Witherspoon driving through Beverly Hills. I bought a flannel and some holey, high waisted cutoffs at L.A.’s best “thrift shop,” Buffalo Exchange (which I still partly imagined to be Kim Kardashian’s leftovers).

And before I left, I made sure to hike up to the Hollywood Sign. Obviously, I IMG_1968sported the beloved Milwaukee Brewers hat in the 90 degree heat while the resident stranger I met along the way kindly showed me the way. Near the top, I received a fist bump with a “Go Brew Crew,” that made me feel at home.

Highway 1 was my companion through Malibu and Santa Barbara and into another section of California. All around me looked vastly different I wondered if I had missed a state line. I spent the next few days, and what would turn out to be the last leg of my trip outside of Sacramento. Still sunny but a little cooler, northern California is just as beautiful. Another cousin welcomed me with warmth feelings of home. We rode cable cars in San Francisco and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. And I realized just how much I had missed green grass in San Diego, or just grass in general.

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We entered wine country with only the best intentions (drink wine) and ended up loving it. Vineyard to vineyard, I tasted the freshest wine of my life. Purely delicious wine that made me believe I could someday become a wine-sniffer, swirler and slurper. All this to say: it was great.

Not long after these wine-drinking, cable car-riding, seafood-eating days, my poor car was laid to rest. It seems my car had dreams of its own that didn’t include another 30 hour drive cross country. So I said goodbye to Ronnie, my cherished and well-worn Volkswagen and hopped on a plane.

For what it’s worth, It’s probably for the best that I didn’t see Portland yet, or I may have fallen in love and never returned. I’ll save that for another day (written with a sly smirk, secretly planning already).

Back to the Midwest I came. It seemed like those 8 weeks flew by quicker than I realized. I also know that in those 8 weeks I did more, dreamed more, and grew up more than I can thoroughly explain all at once. I believe I left part of myself in California that one day I hope to return to, whether on vacation or longer.

A thank you goes out to those who hosted and helped and became vital pieces in my life and adventures. And the sun sets with me dreaming again of palm trees and beaches.

– A

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