Friday, September 4, 2020

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2

Do I go in the cave?
Sera in IllumiNITE Eclipse Headband,
Vigor Bling Singlet, and Reflective Shortie
Like most children, I had a favorite stuffed animal—a teddy bear named Theodore Bear, or Teddy for short. Teddy went everywhere with me; every night, I read him stories under my blankets with a flashlight long after bedtime, and I told him all my secrets.

I have photographs of me at eleven years old camping with my dad, happy as can be in the woods, with Teddy in tow of course. Yet, everyone who knows me now knows I am terrified of bears, the real ones. I don't know when this phobia began, but it's kept me out of the woods for most of my adult life. Until one day, I decided I had to face my fears. I started trail running and fell in love with the woods and the mountains all over again. This brings me to the second part of my two-week respite from the world: my White Mountains escapade with Mike (Missed Part 1? Read it here).

Date night
on the screened-in porch
After eight days alone on the Cape, I was ecstatic to get back home to Mike. I quickly did all my laundry (IllumiNITE athletic wear hang-dries so quickly, it's amazing!), packed our suitcase with hiking essentials, games, and new books, and pre-packed my hiking backpack—including bear spray and a knife! The next day, we set off.

Sunday was our travel day, so we checked into our cabin before heading out to find dinner. The one-room Pemi Cabin we stayed in was so adorable, perfect for a couple. Due to COVID-19, they also had contactless check-in as well, so we didn't have to interact with anyone. At dinner, we analyzed the mountains' weather patterns and decided that Monday was our best bet for our long hike: Mt. Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop.

Climbing the waterfalls was so fun!
The 9-mile loop included hiking up alongside a waterfall, climbing up boulders and tree roots, and walking up-down-up-down a ridge over three four-thousand-foot mountain peaks.

Being so deep in the heart of the mountain felt magical—like I was a kid exploring mystical lands in an imaginary faraway kingdom.

The only world that existed was one of massive entities: trees that stretched to the heavens, boulders stacked so high they created caves between them; waterfalls so powerful, they carved rivers into rocks.
This picture doesn't do this tree justice!
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird Shirt
When we arrived at the top, our view was obliterated by the whiteout of the fog. Mike was disappointed because he really wanted me to see the view, but I enjoyed the drama it created. People faded into the mist. Entire mountains evaporated into thin air. Miraculously, the fog dissipated just as we began our descent back down, revealing magnificent views of the Ridgeline we ascended as well as a view of Cannon, the next mountain on our agenda.
Reaching for my IllumiNITE Packable Jacket
while resting after a vigorous hike
to the windy mountaintop;
Sun came out as we hiked back down;
so thankful for my IllumiNITE Multi-Wrap
to protect my head from the sun and pesky bugs!

We saw enough people on the trail it curbed my anxiety about bears. The sheer beauty of the natural world around me truly made me forget all about my everyday life. Nine hours later, we made it back down to our car. I was exhausted yet invigorated.

The next day was a rest day, but we wanted to explore! We happened upon the Franconia Falls Trail in Franconia State park, a flat trail that used to be a railroad track (you could see the ties!). I'm so glad we hiked the 3.6 miles out to the promised Falls. The trail opened up to a swimming hole that gushed water through boulders, creating natural waterslides and surging waterfalls.

Enjoying the numbingly cold water of Franconia Falls;
love how quick-drying IllumiNITE athletic wear is;
made for a comfortable hike back
The water was so crystal clear it looked blue, and its numbingly cold temperature felt really good after the previous day's hike.

Walking back made for a total of seven-point-two miles, but we weren't done with our "rest day" just yet. We headed over to the Flume Gorge and walked the three-mile loop, marveling at the sites. Though, my anxiety came flooding back when I saw the Bear Cave. Mike laughed at the sign and suggested I go inside the cave so he could take my picture.

Don't let my smile fool you;
I hide my anxiety well

ME: Is there a bear in there?

MIKE: I'm positive there's no bears.

ME: Why deny you sit in there first?

MIKE: I'm pretty sure there's no bears.

Logically, I knew Mike was right. There were no bears. But Anxiety is so exhausting! Sometimes, I just have to prove Her wrong with real proof. I'm not ashamed to say I made Mike go all the way in the cave to scope it out first. In my defense, Mike knows I'll "leave you for dead" if a bear comes along. Being the greatest boyfriend in the world, he obliged me. Once he came back out of the cave in tact (as my logical self knew he would), I shakily walked into the darkness, sat on the cold rocks, and smiled for the camera, despite my fear. 

As we walked away unscathed, I laughed at the ridiculousness of my anxiety. But Mike stopped me, held me close, let me have a moment to recover. Before I met Mike, I always thought I had to manage my anxiety on my own. I am so grateful to have such a supportive, understanding, patient partner. We don't have to suffer alone. That's truly freeing to learn.

So accidentally, our rest day turned into a ten-mile hiking day. And while the terrain was relatively flat with little elevation gain, it definitely took its toll on our bodies....

Despite my misery, I smiled all the way up;
check out the video of my ladder climb
and more White Mountain adventures
on my Instagram
...which might explain why our third day on Cannon Mountain, a six-mile hike with just 2,400 foot elevation gain, made me so miserable I couldn't even stand my miserable self! My anxiety tested me on that mountain more than I could have anticipated. Besides the steep ascend 2,400 feet straight up a darkly-shadowed mountain that loomed over me, the trail was so narrow in places I feared I'd fall off the edge. Oh, and then there was that ladder bolted into the side of the rock-face I had to climb, followed by the narrowest trail that dropped off the edge of the cliff. There were the boulders that were so steep I had to  scale them with my hands and feet, and the ones even steeper Mike had to hoist me up. I cut my knee, cut my ankle, and bruised my shins. We were the only people on the trail, and that amped my anxiety even more. Not a single soul in sight the entire way up. 

The terrain would have been magical if I wasn't so scared. It reminded me of my childhood fairytales: The Labyrinth, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—a place where mystical and mythical creatures safely hid away from the world; a place where ominous monsters lurked, waiting to capture their next victims. There were mossy carpets so lush with green that sprouted tiny red mushroom houses, and forests so dense shadows danced ominously around me on all sides. 

The silence and shadows
made for a dream-like state
I wondered if I'd see
a caterpillar smoking 

I am not amused...

On our way back down, the boulders were so big and spread so far apart, they created caverns in between them. As I stepped down, I wondered what creatures might snatch me. When we ran into our first humans, two women climbing up as we climbed down, one of them said, "Be careful. We heard a growl a short way down, the direction you're heading, but we didn't see anything."

Did she say a growl? As in a BEAR? When we were out of earshot, Mike said, "Bears don't growl. They grunt." 

"They growl!" I said. "When they feel threatened...Or, hungry!" I shouted back. "I know. I've seen it before!"

Despite my growing fear, I couldn't hasten my pace. The descent was just as steep as our climb up.

By the time we got to ground level, I was so miserable I refused to walk around the beautiful landscape of Lonesome Lake. I wondered if it got its name from the number of break-ups that occurred after climbing Cannon. "You better ply me with drinks tonight," I told Mike. "Or we're through." 

The best thing about this miserable hike
was knowing if we got lost in the dark, my
IllumiNITE would shine like a beacon
so the rescuers could locate me

Don't worry, don't worry. I was totally joking. As we sat on a log recovering from our exertion, we laughed about my misery together. But in all honesty, Cannon Mountain truly slayed me. I'm determined to go back next year and conquer it. In hindsight, I was in a real-life fairytale, but I couldn't appreciate it until after the fact.

This picture captures my inner child;
exploring with no cares in the world...
dreaming of endless possibilities
After three days of hiking with a total mileage of 26 miles (that's a marathon!) and almost eight thousand feet elevation gain, we did reward ourselves with drinks that night! The next day, we lounged by The Basin, reading books in the sun before heading back home. It was a nice to get away, to push myself physically and mentally, and enjoy the natural world around me like I used to do as a child.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe in exposure therapy. I won't let anxiety rule my decisions. But just because I face my phobias head-on doesn't mean I do so gracefully. And I'm okay with that. I've accepted that my anxiety is a part of me, lingering in the background, making me slightly on edge at all times. But our quirks are what makes us who we are, and I love the woman I am. It took me a long time to love me for me, but it's a beautiful discovery. 

When I set off on my sixteen-day respite from the world, all I knew was that I needed to escape everything and everyone so the loudest voice I heard was my own. I knew there'd be introspection, but I didn't expect to discover my inner child; the girl who loved her Teddy more than anything; my purest self before world experiences influenced me. When is the last time you've been alone with your thoughts? Maybe now is the time to listen again. 

I'm alive! I shouted inside my head;
Every nerve of my being on fire;
I'm alive!

So I ask you...

What do you fear? 
How do you cope with that fear? 
What do you do to face that fear? 

Please share in a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice.

Check out the clothes I'm wearing (and more!) at Use my discount code RunBrightly15 for 15% off your order.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 1

Soaking in nature, Lafayette State Park
Wearing IllumiNITE Vigor Singlet
and Stretch Eclipse Headband

I just got back from a two-week respite. Sixteen glorious days of no work, no Internet, no phone, and mostly, no people. The first part of my vacation was spent in solitude on the Cape; the second half was spent with Mike in the White Mountains. I decided to divvy up this vacation recap post into two parts because each week felt entirely different, and there is so much to talk about—so much I've discovered about myself...again.

I've been taking solo vacations for the past ten years. I started taking them because I was actually terrified to be a woman alone in the world. I knew exposure therapy was the only way to cure that, so I started off small—a trek to Cobleskill, New York, for a weekend exploring Howe Caverns and built my solo-travel bravery up to Scotland, a country I've never visited, to run an ultramarathon in the remote wilderness.

What I love most about my solo vacations is they often come up unexpectedly—an urgent impulse to escape the world. The calling for solitude starts weeks, sometimes months beforehand, and a mystical, faraway place lingers somewhere in my bones until it possesses me so strongly I must go. Magically, when this urge to escape takes over, a serendipitous opportunity like the Kintyre Way Ultramarathon presents itself to me.

But with this time of COVID-19, I couldn't imagine such an opportunity. Plus, I'm working from home and my social lifestyle has settled down to such a domesticated routine, did I really need to escape the world? Didn't quarantine already provide that escape? This is also the first time in twelve years that I've been in a significant relationship. Did I really want to leave my partner? The calling for solitude pulsed, coursing through my bones in a restless pattern. I ignored it, but it didn't ignore me.

Remembering collecting seashells
by the seashore when I was a little girl
My sister is getting married in October. As the maid of honor, my responsibilities include all the celebratory pre-wedding parties: bridal shower, bachelorette, sisters getaway (am I missing something?). But COVID-19 had messed all that up. Until I remembered a friend of mine had a cottage by the sea that she rented out. I sent her a message. Is your cottage available this summer, despite COVID-19? She responded that it was and asked if I wanted the rental for me, for a writing retreat. She's a writer like me so her response is a typical writerly response. But it startled me. No, I wrote. A girls' getaway for my sister who's getting married. But then I thought about it: a solo writing retreat by the sea. Then I joked about it to Mike.

You should go, he said. You should write. The very next day, I booked the cottage for eight days.

Writing spot for the week; first day,
it took 5 hours to write my daily goal
of 2,500 words; by week's end,
I wrote 4,100+ words in just 4 hours

West Harwich, Cape Cod

I shut off all notifications on my phone so that no one could get through to me via text, email, social media, not even by phone call. Only Mike could get through in case of an emergency. I packed my bag with only essentials: my bathing suit, a couple pairs of shorts and tank tops, my IllumiNITE tanks, shorts, headband, and multi-wrap (which doubles as a face mask!), sports bras, flip flops, running shoes, my computer (for writing only), groceries for the week, wine, and a large stack of books that took up an entire backpack. Upon arrival, I instantly fell in love with the cozy cottage and found my writing spot immediately.

The first day of solitude always feels strange, electric, as if the outside world is pressing in, trying to keep its hold on me. But after a much-needed twelve-hour rest, I fell right into my creative zone, and words flowed out of me. I wrote 15,000 words of my novel rewrite; I wrote a letter to a friend who was just diagnosed with a serious medical issue; I wrote a letter to Mike pouring out my soul about everything and anything; I wrote a letter to Future Sera, reminding myself how much I need Sera Time. And I walked everywhere.
Enjoying a glass of wine while listening
to Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I walked to the beach and back. I walked to the bike path two miles away and then up and down the bike path for miles, taking in the beauty of the marshes and nature conservatory around me.

I read those books I bought. Six books to be exact. I "read" audiobooks as I drove to the cottage and as I walked the bike path. I read hardcovers and paperbacks by the sea and in my private backyard and on the couch and in the bed.

Each day, I woke up to silence, strong black coffee, and a simple breakfast of peanut butter on toast and a bowl of strawberries. I felt a strange luxury as I slipped into the same familiar clothes every day to write and then the same cozy IllumiNITE athletic wear that carried me all through town on my walks.

I read.
I wrote.
I walked.
I sat by the sea.
I read some more.
I walked some more.
Occasionally, I wrote some more.
Each night, I fell asleep listening to an audiobook.
Each day, I fell more in love with words and the new
vast worlds they brought me.

Being solely in my head with no one to talk to all week brought the nostalgia of a simpler time I couldn't quite place. But it comforted me.

I always feel larger than life, and integral part of the Universe
when I travel solo and wander places I'd never see otherwise
Every time I travel solo, I wonder: What am I really looking for? Where am I really going? The physical destination hardly matters; the real destination is me. My thoughts, my company. But why?

It wasn't until I arrived back home from this solo vacation that it dawned on me during the walk in our neighborhood that Mike and I take every day. Sometimes, we talk nonstop about everything under the sun; other times, like this time, we walk in silence just marveling at our existence, enjoying a quiet solitude together. In this silence, a memory bubbled up.

Serenity found on a 6.5 mile walk on a bike path
from West Harwich to Dennis on Cape Cod
I was a child, somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. I was in my bedroom writing a story, completely in the creative zone. A knock came on the front door, and then my mom stood in my doorway. My best friend stopped by. Do you want to go play outside? my mom asked. Not wanting to hurt my friend's feelings, I begged my mom to tell her I wasn't feeling well or I was grounded or I was in the bathtub—anything to not have to leave the comfort of my solitude and creativity. Another memory flashed, the same scenario, only I was reading a good book; another similar memory flashed, but I was playing with my stuffed animals, creating entire worlds and lives for them. I know you're not really sick, my friend said one day, when I tired of being in my head and longed for company again. She didn't understand, and my childhood self couldn't explain why I needed that solitude. But I desperately did. I still do.

This memory brought an epiphany: These solo vacations bring me back to a simpler time, a time before instant access to everyone through the Internet and cell phones. A simpler time when being outside all day, every day, meant no one had access to me until I returned home. A simpler time when I spent hours lounging in the grass with a book; other times, racing my bike down the path, the wind hugging me, whispering that nothing else matters but this very moment. Vacationing alone brings me back to my childhood, when I was completely and utterly in my head, my imagination running wild, my curiosity of the world still innocent enough.

He fluttered his wings so loudly, I jumped. What is this insect? I discovered
it was only half an insect. I didn't have my phone to film it. The next day,
 I took a photo. Zombie cicadas in 2020? What else is next?!

Mike and Sera wearing IllumiNITE Multi-wraps
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird short sleeve shirt (now final sale)
After eight days, I packed up my belongings and drove back home. But I dwindled in my head, sharing with Mike all I discovered with my novel and on my wanderings and the stories I read. After washing a week's worth of laundry and getting a good night's sleep in my own bed, I once again packed up my belongings, exchanging the books I read for new ones.

Mike and I set off to spend the next five days in Lincoln, New Hampshire, where everything is green and vast, and anything is possible.

Stay tuned for Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2, where I go from lounging around all day to nearly plummeting off a mountainside, three-thousand feet above ground. In the meantime, I'll share with you a sneak peak video of what's to come.

ME; Is there a bear in there?
MIKE: I'm positive there's no bears.
ME: Why don't you sit in there first?
MIKE: I'm pretty sure there's no bears.

Everyone who knows me knows I'm petrified of bears! Did I go inside the cave?

Do you ever you feel the need to escape the world? Where do you go and what do you do when solitude calls you? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your stories!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 139: Where Have All the Masks Gone?

Even the trees are shocked!
When the pandemic first started, right before we went into quarantine, Mike and I went to the supermarket and saw one or two people wearing masks. Everyone stared at them as they walked by. 

But 139 days later, Mike and I finally took a chance at going into a grocery store, and I was relieved to see that everyone wore masks. Then we saw ONE woman NOT wearing a mask. Everyone stared at HER. I honestly don't know how she was allowed in the store. 

During an 8-mile hike on Mount Greylock last weekend, Mike and I came across another couple on the trail. We pulled up our IllumiNITE MultiWraps to cover our nose and mouth and stepped off the path to let the other couple pass.

They said: "Thank you for wearing masks." 

The new IllumiNITE MultiWrap keeps us cool, dry, and safe
when we encounter other hikers!

We said: "Thank YOU for wearing masks."

The woman said: "We wear masks to keep US safe, and to keep YOU safe. I don't understand why some people don't!"

These two experiences made me think about my friends at IllumiNITE who have been making masks for essential workers since the pandemic shut everything down, and then found inventive ways to make new products versatile to double as mask-wearing. I'm impressed with how quickly they rallied despite the many obstacles the coronavirus has created. So I decided to sit down with them and talk about their mask-making ventures.

How many face masks has IllumiNITE made for hospitals and other essential workers? How many people are making masks? 

Model wearing IllumiNITE Neck Scruff in Black
Photo courtesy of IllumiNITE
We made about 30,000 masks. Our factory collaborated with several companies from Rhode Island and South Eastern Massachusetts to get the mask production up and running as quickly as possible. Most of the masks were sold to essential businesses and some were donated to certain non-profit organizations in and around Providence, RI. These were not FDA approved masks, so we didn’t feel comfortable selling to hospitals directly. 

As IllumiNITE, we developed face coverings that combine the best of IllumiNITE reflective technology with a functional product for our active customers. We know how hard it can be to wear a mask while exercising! We designed our MultiWrap with that in mind. We have about 40 people in the whole operation and about 16–20 stitchers. 

Who is the fastest mask maker? Do you have friendly competitions? 

All of our stitchers have their own area of expertise and we work collaboratively. Since many of our stitchers are already related (sisters, sister-in-laws, etc), we don’t need any more (friendly) competition. 

How have your business practices changed since the pandemic started? What new processes have you adapted? What positives have come out of changing the way you do business?

IllumiNITE designers making masks
Photo courtesy of IllumiNITE
It has certainly been challenging finding our best practices. We have, of course, taken up social distancing. Fortunately, due to the size of our factory, this was not a big challenge as all workstations were already 6 feet apart. Certain office people have been working from home and are slowly starting to come back to the office. We clean daily and have sanitizer all over the place. Masks need to be worn in all common areas. We currently don’t allow any visitors without an appointment. One big positive that came out of this is the manufacturing community in Fall River coming together to help each other and to pool our resources to make PPE of all kinds. It’s heartwarming to know that we have such a great community around us. 

What is something that’s surprised you during this pandemic?

How quickly we could turn things around to start manufacturing masks. From design to production—something that should have taken months!—we managed to do in weeks. It was challenging to shift focus so quickly, but we knew it needed to be done and done quickly. 

It was a big 180 for our IllumiNITE team to put on pause our new fall and winter development in order to devote all our energy into developing and producing PPE. 

What advice would you give independent, local businesses at this time? What advice would you give customers?

To other small businesses: Know that everyone is struggling right now to find their way safely through these crazy times. No one has the perfect answer, but we need to come together as a community and help each other out. 

To customers: Please support all your local businesses. IllumiNITE is fortunate to be based online. However, all the brick and mortar stores, bars, and restaurants out there are really struggling and need your support in any way you can, now more than ever. Thank you for your support through these times.

IllumiNITE Featherlite Packable Jacket

Have you been able to start designing a new fall/winter line? What is something that IllumiNITE customers can look forward to in the coming months? Any new product or design you’re hoping to implement soon or are working on?

We do have some new products coming out in the fall. We are doing a Packable collection as well as designing new colors with new and improved fabric in some of our best sellers for men and women.

In the next two weeks, we are going to release a new Day Bright Wicking Short Sleeve Shirt for Men and Women. We have a lot of ideas for this coming winter and spring, and we hope that we are able to get them all done! 

I LOVE my Featherlite Packable Jacket. I cannot wait to see new products in the Packable line! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to inform readers about mask-making and business during this unprecedented time.

These are scary times we're living in, and I don't quite understand why some people are so against
wearing masks. We don't protest the rule "No shirt, no shoes, no service." We don't protest the speed limit while driving. And, we don't protest other societal rules, such as getting our bags searched before entering concerts, sporting events, and other large-crowd gatherings. We all want the economy to recover, and independent businesses are a big part of that. The best way to bounce back is to buy local and wear masks while out in public to keep us all safe. Please wear a mask so this pandemic can end and we all can move forward with our lives.

As an incentive, use my discount code Sera15 to receive 15% off your entire IllumiNITE order, including the MultiWrap,  which is so versatile it can be used as a hat, a headband, a face covering, or a scarf!

Watch the video to see how!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 125: Where Has All the Accountability Gone?

I'm wearing IllumiNITE
Synergy Reflective Headband in black; and
 Women's Reflective Bling Singlet
Don't worry! We are running! Since my last blog post, Mike and I have put together a new running, hiking, and walking routine for every day of the week. AND...I'm proud to say that we've stuck with it these last 19 days! But, I'm still struggling with my daily posting on social media. What is it about this time of social isolation that I feel less inclined to be online? I truly think I'm mentally burned out.

I started a new job in January and was only six weeks into learning my role when we were all sent home to work remotely. What a huge adjustment! I'm used to working remotely, as I have for many jobs in the past, but not when I'm learning a new career. In addition, I had been going, going, going nonstop for quite a few years until I lost my previous job last August. I think I am still recovering from such a chaotic lifestyle. This year is all about finding balance, and the key word here is "finding."

I think it's time that we all give ourselves a little slack for not having it all together. We are living in uncertain times, and we forget that uncertainty takes a greater toll on our mental capacity than we realize.

Sleepyheads ready to run brightly early morn!
Mike: IllumiNITE Endeavor Tank in Graphite
Sera: IllumiNITE Featherlite Packable Jacket
The good news is, I am getting outside and exercising every day! Mike is a great accountability partner! And he's such a good sport for waking up at five every morning to run with me before work—especially because I am not my sparkly, talkative, funny self before my coffee. haha 

So, what are we doing every day to get back to healthy living? Here's our schedule:

Mondays: 2–3 mile walk
Tuesdays: 5k run
Wednesdays: 1–2 mile walk (rest day)
Thursdays: 5k run
Fridays: Long run (marathon training) or 5k
Saturdays: Hike/swim/walk (or long run if not done on Friday)
Sundays: hike/swim/walk

We're getting our exercise in early for two reasons: It's less humid in the early morning and it jumpstarts the rest of our day. Running this early also gives me a bit of time to write afterward before my work day, so I feel doubly accomplished.

Caves at Mt. Toby Wearing IllumiNITE
Singlet and Jammer Mid-length short
I've noticed that for my shorter walks and runs, I prefer my IllumiNITE shorties; whereas, I prefer my IllumiNITE mid-length shorts for longer runs and hikes! When the weather is super humid, I'll grab one of my IllumiNITE headbands to run (it also secures my AirPods in place), but I prefer my IllumiNITE Multiwrap when hiking or walking because it keeps the sweat off my face while also doubling as a face mask if we happen upon other hikers. Mike is enjoying his new IllumiNITE Long Running Shorts for all our running excursions. He pairs them with his IllumiNITE Sentinel Short Sleeve Shirt for most runs, or his IllumiNITE Endeavor Tank when it's super humid. I'm seriously loving how Mike looks in his new tank, but I digress (the things that keep me motivated haha) We still debate whether he needs water on our shorter runs/hikes, but fortunately, I always win this argument. A small 12 oz bottle fits nicely in his IllumiNITE Shorts' pocket.

But, my question is this: If I'm not posting our activities on social media every day, does it really count towards my accountability? What I'm really asking is:

What is the definition of accountable?

New clothes motivate us!
Sera: IllumiNITE Synergy Reflective Headband in black;
Short Sleeve Savannah Shirt in Red; and Shortie in Black;
Mike: IllumiNITE  Sentinel Short Sleeve in Black;
Multiwrap; and Endeavor Long Running Short
Like I said, in this uncertain time, it's been difficult to "do it all!" And I've discovered that maybe trying to "do it all" is what's killing my motivation. Mike is a lists guy, and I truly appreciate that. I've found that writing down a DOABLE schedule, having an accountability partner, and actually sticking to our written schedule by getting outside and "just doing it no matter what" is what's most important.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. How can I  help you stay motivated? And please, share your tips and tricks that help keep you accountable and on track to a healthier you!

And don't forget to use my discount code Sera15 to get 15% off your order at IllumiNITE!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 106: Where Has All the Time Gone?

It's been 64 days since my last post. Where have I been these last two months? I've been so caught up inside this little universe I've created since we've gone on lockdown that I can't comprehend that it's already the end of June. Time feels like a concept more than anything these days. And if I'm being honest, I'll admit, I started writing this blog post at 100 days....adding a day, then another, then... well, here we are!

One-Hundred! Six! Days! Of social isolation!

Where has all the time gone?

Back in March, it was easy to tell myself that it was okay to take a break from marathon training for a little bit. After all, we're living in a pandemic! Back then, I thought I'd be back at work within two weeks, four weeks tops. Now, I'm wondering if I'll go back into the office at all before 2021. Mike and I haven't been total sloths since our social quarantine. We've gone hiking on various mountains and we've run around our neighborhood, but we haven't been consistent. Some days, it feels too mentally exhausting to gear up to run after working a long day on the computer. Logically, I KNOW that's even more reason to get out there and run! Being stationary all day is not healthy! I'm more grateful than ever for buying my standing desk; sitting all day, every day was killing my lower back!

Finding zen in the middle of the mountain
Even though I haven't physically fallen off the face of the planet, I feel like I've disappeared virtually. I've been terrible at posting my activities on social media. I've found myself thinking, I'll post this later tonight. Then later tonight turns into a week, and we're already out on our next hiking adventure!

It's been difficult to find technological balance when we're on the computer all-day-every-day for work—emails, phone calls, Zoom meetings—all in addition to my actual work. Without my morning and evening commute, I don't get that downtime from my computer screen; that little break to reset. So I find myself ignoring phone calls and texts from friends, and sometimes I forget that I even have a social media community. Oh! There's all my friends! HiHiHiHiHi

I need to get out of this rut, and find a NEW routine that works during this social distancing lifestyle.

Where has all the time gone? I don't even know anymore.
My motto used to be: "Write a five a.m.; run at five p.m!" That motto motivated me finish a novel revision and train for my first marathon! What helped me stay accountable was an online group of writers who also wrote early mornings. Knowing I wasn't the only one cuckoo enough to wake up at the crack of dawn to write before work really kept me motivated. To keep me accountable for marathon training, I found a group of newbie runners also training for their first marathon. Again, knowing I wasn't the only one spending all my free time running, running, running when many of my friends were busy doing literally anything other than running for hours on end kept me going.

But it's been a long while since I maintained that level of productivity.

Since all of my races this year have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely, I've been finding it difficult to hold myself accountable to get into marathon shape. The less active I am, the worse I feel. And the worse I feel, the less motivated I am to get out there and move! But enough is enough, already. This pandemic may not be the new normal, but social distancing is not going away anytime soon. I need to stop making excuses and jump back into training. Races canceled or not, I feel my best self when I am marathon ready!

But how do I get out of this rut-ine?

I've started plotting out my novel's emotional arcs
to show character growth as the plot unfolds
A couple weekends ago, I participated in a virtual writing retreat. The "retreat" was two full days of writing. To hold us accountable and motivated, the organizers set up check-ins via Zoom in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of each day. I could only participate in one of the days, but it was the most productive writing day I've had in a long while! It was so great to connect with my writing friends who I've seen every year at in-person writing retreats for the last ten years, except this year due to COVID-19 shutdowns. It made me realize how motivated and supported my writing community makes me feel. My writing routine is back on track (though, admittedly, not at 5:00 a.m anymore, though in my defense, working remotely allows me to sleep in a tad bit more).

I knew if I could get myself out of my writing rut, I could get my physical self back on track too.

My friends at IllumiNITE have been so great at checking in on Mike and me to see how we're doing. Mike and I were supposed to go on a spring fashion photoshoot in May, but clearly, that had to be postponed until it's safe to gather. In the meantime, the IllumiNITE team has been busy making masks for essential workers the past few months. I'll be sharing more on that in a future post!

IllumiNITE is giving away beautiful wraps (like my
floral one) w every $50 purchase while supplies last)
IllumiNITE just started back up on clothing design and production, and we just had the most fabulous phone meeting! Chatting with the designers about upcoming styles truly inspired me to get out there and run again! We discussed some of the adventures Mike and I want to go on this summer and we brainstormed what would keep us dry, cool, and comfortable in this hot, summer heat—as well as what would keep us warm on New England mountain tops where the weather can be anything from windy to rainy to icy and bitter cold—yes, even in the summer.

Lucky for Mike, IllumiNITE just came out with new tank tops, among other clothing items and accessories for men! We just received our latest shipment from IllumiNITE, and I'm so excited to incorporate these new pieces into our running and hiking activities! I'll share our product reveal video soon! In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at what we got!

So now, Mike and I have the clothing and accessories and support from our IllumiNITE team to help us get out of this rut! But what will help us maintain accountability?

The "U" in Community

Our latest IllumiNITE shipment.
Could there be something inside for YOU?
I'm turning to YOU—my online community—to help us stay motivated, inspired, and accountable for getting back in shape! Hopefully, we can motivate and inspire you, too!

Stay tuned for a series of blog posts and social media posts on Instagram for our new workout schedule, running and hiking tips, and a few IllumiNITE GIVEAWAYS!

Let's wrangle time back into a tangible tool to get us all back on track to become our most healthy, most active, most illumiNITEd selves we can be. Until next time, run brightly, my friends!

What are you doing to keep yourself motivated? What would help you stay motivated? Are you interested in an accountability group? Post your comments below!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Story Slam: Five Minutes Or Less

Local Dirt Productions "The Unexplained"
Spooky Concert and Story Swap, Oct. 2019
 I fell into story slamming by accident when I was a creative writing instructor. I was about to start a new eight-week session, and I was searching the Internet for topic ideas. I came across a call for auditions for the Valley Voices Story Slam, hosted by New England Public Radio and Academy of Music

I clicked the link. A theme was presented, and to audition, you had to call into a phone line with the first line (only) of your true story. If you were chosen, you had to perform on stage with no script or prompts. And you only had five minutes maximum!

What a perfect premise for the next eight weeks of writing, I thought. I chose an upcoming theme for the Valley Voices audition line that coordinated with my writing session timeline and presented it to my students.

"Here's the catch," I said. "We're going to perfect those stories, and then perfect those first lines, and then you're going to actually audition." I explained we'd also hold our own story slam on our last writing night of that session with their finished stories.

My students are clever. They all agreed that if they had to audition, I had to audition. "Fine," I said. In my mind, I added, What are the odds I'd get chosen?

Who knew? One of my students got in as well. Proud teacher moment!

I didn't win that story slam, but it was the first time I ever performed on stage in my life. I had no idea how exhilarating it felt to perform! I fell in love with the rush of nerves, the energy of the crowd, the captured attention of an entire room—even if only for five minutes. I was hooked!

Valley Voices Best of the Best Story Slam
on the Academy of Music Stage, April 2015
Since that first show in 2014, I've performed in multiple Valley Voices Story Slams, twice making it to the Best of the Best competition on the Academy of Music stage. I've also had the honor of performing at other events, such as a Halloween storytelling event that Local Dirt Productions hosted at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, The MOuTH storytelling event at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and a few other local events. I even got into the filming of Stories From the Stage, and I felt like a celebrity for an evening. My story wasn't chosen for the aired show, and I'm okay with that. You can't win them all. For me, it's about the experience of performance more than the win. Though, I can't deny it feels incredible when my name gets announced as one of the winners!

The writer in me really enjoys the writing aspect of story slams. It's a lot harder than it might look to tell a complete story in just five minutes. A story must have a strong opening hook, a meaty middle that's compelling enough to keep the audience engaged, AND a complete story arc that ends with a punch—all that in about 700-ish words! Every single word counts. Text for speech is written differently than text for reading. It's quite a fun puzzle to put all the parts together and rearrange-rearrange-rearrange until the words magically snap together. I'm often editing in my head until the very last minute as I practice out loud without a paper in front of me—sometimes I'm even editing on stage as I'm telling the story live! Yes, I'm a word nerd, and proud of it!

Valley Voices "Sweet & Salty" Story Slam,
March 2020
Right before social distancing was placed in order, I won second place at the "Sweet & Salty" Valley Voices Story Slam competition at Hawks & Reed. I'll be heading back to the Academy of Music for my third shot at the Best of the Best title when it's safe to gather again. Here's hoping that's sooner than later.

I'll admit, I've been bummed that the next two Valley Voices Story Slam for this season were postponed due to COVID-19. I love attending shows as much as performing in them. I get sucked into someone else's world, five minutes at a time, and it mesmerizes me. But it's for the best that we all do our part to stay home to help save lives.

When the producers of Valley Voices asked me to participate in a virtual story slam, I jumped at the opportunity. What a great idea! It definitely made for an exciting week of putting a story together, figuring out the lighting and staging of the kitchen, and recording a story—over and over and over again—until it felt natural. Talking to a camera feels so bizarre. I can't gauge the energy like I can with a live audience, so I focused on my own excited energy, like when I tell a story to a friend. The nerves remained so hopefully my story feels alive and fun. Thank you to the Academy of Music and New England Public Radio for continuing to bring joy to our community during this unprecedented time.

The Game Plan virtual story slam, April 2020
I hope you take the time to watch the stories on Around the Dinner Table this week. Stop by a different storytellers home, virtually of course, to see what story they've cooked up for you. My story The Game Plan was aired on Monday night, but it's still up for you all to see. And you can VOTE for me starting Sunday, April 26th!

Welcome to my kitchen! I can't wait for you to hear my story The Game Plan. If you like it, please vote for me at SURVEY MONKEY! Voting is open through Tuesday, April 28th and it literally is just two clicks!

And hopefully someday soon, I'll be able to see you from the stage at a live event.

What new can't-live-without hobbies/projects have you accidentally discovered during this time of social distancing? 

Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Overwhelmed: COVID-19 Is Not the New Normal

Grateful for the sun while I work remotely;
though it's mighty chilly in this room lol
It has been three weeks since I started working remotely, and two weeks since I've stepped foot in a store or have seen a friend or loved one outside of the house. I'm so grateful to have Mike, and we've done our best to keep to as normal a routine as we possibly can with us both working from home. We set boundaries on work time, we take daily walks, we make meals together, and we have alone time and virtual time with friends. But despite this new routine we've settled into, I am feeling vastly overwhelmed. And I know I'm not alone.

Friends and colleagues have shared how overwhelming this "new normal" is, and one person this week said something so profound; it hit me right in the gut. It was something like:

"We're going about business as if everything is normal except for the fact that we're working remotely. But everything is NOT normal. This new normal is NOT normal. People are really sick. People are dying."

"Kindness counts;" "Spread love;"
I know people whose loved ones have fallen ill with COVID-19, some have lost lives. I have friends who are essential staff, many in the medical field. I worry about them and their families every day. It is a thankless job, and I appreciate their dedication to caring for sick people on a regular basis.

This is a serious pandemic, and I'm shocked at how many people are still carrying on as if this isn't a big deal. I'll admit, way back in January (god, that feels so long ago), I was one of them. I thought COVID-19 was all media hype. These days, it's hard to believe what's real and what's fake news. But, by this point, we should all recognize that this is serious.

I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the amount of time I'm spending on my computer, not just to perform the everyday functions of my job, but also for Zoom meetings, messaging with friends, virtual visits with my son who is isolated (safely) in another state. Then there's texting and phone calls and personal emails and social media, and I feel like my eyes are glued to a screen every waking moment of every day.

I've become that friend who flakes on people because I'm in the middle of something when someone contacts me, or I'm mentally drained and just can't handle anything other than the task-at-hand, and then I forget to message back—for days, weeks (what is time right now, seriously?). Anyone who knows me knows this is not my norm.

But we are not living in normal times, right now. So, I am being extra kind to myself. I am not beating myself up for needing to sleep in, even though that may mean not writing in the morning. I'm forgiving myself for not texting someone back in a timely manner. And yes, I am eating more chocolate. It's the comfort I need right now.

Thursday night "Cocktail Hour" with running friends
I don't mean for this post to be all gloom and doom. I have seen many wonderful things in my brief moments away from this virtual world.

I have seen sidewalk chalk messages and "bear hunts" in the neighborhood that let me know we are all in this together.

I have had meaningful "visits" with my friends on Zoom

I have had silly moments with my son on FaceTime.

I am reading Stephen Chbosky's newest book Imaginary Friend (though, it's beginning to feel like a premonition to COVID-19).

I am enjoying quiet moments on the couch with Mike drinking coffee before the world wakes up in the morning.

And I'm enjoying family dinners together every night, sharing highlights of our day, to remember that we can still communicate in real life.

Our first picture together as an official couple!
But I realized I need a bit more. I need to reset. Mike and I are taking Monday off work to celebrate our one-year anniversary. HOORAY! This seems like an opportune time to break from the virtual world to just live in the real world, despite how small "my world" is right now. So, I am signing off social media, the internet, my computer—hell, even my phone—until Tuesday. I want to take the time to celebrate the love we share with no distractions. I want to live in the here and now—even if it's just for three days—to focus on what's most important in life.

Our last picture together: working remotely!
(yes, I might be wearing pajamas)

Are you feeling overwhelmed? How are you managing during this stressful time? 

What will you do this weekend to recharge? Please post a comment below.

And please, stay safe, be well, and practice social distancing. Let's help end this pandemic!

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2

Do I go in the cave? Sera in  IllumiNITE Eclipse Headband , Vigor Bling Singlet , and Reflective Shortie Like most children, I had a ...