Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 195: Love on Lockdown

Masks on!
Sera in IllumiNITE Ambition Reflective Hoodie 
Today is day 195 of quarantine, and while I still refuse to accept that this is the “new normal,” I can’t dispute the fact that other than my eight-day solo writing retreat, Mike and I have been together 24 hours a day, every day, since the pandemic started.

That’s 27 weeks of social isolation. In other words, six months—half-a-year!—trapped (ahem, blessed) together.

When the pandemic hit and we both transitioned to working from home, the days and nights blurred together (they still do!). Mike and I learned that creating an accountability schedule was key to giving us a routine and keeping us active—it’s worked wonders!

Still, when I watched Mike change the quarantine day on our whiteboard to 190 last Friday, it shocked me. On our morning walk, I presented our current situation. 
Accountability Schedule and
Quarantine Day Tracker
“How are we not sick of each other?" I asked.

Mike, being the methodical, list-making, strategizing side of our relationship, had us review the past six months; then, we made a list of all the things that work for us:


Every morning, Mike and I start our day on the couch with our cups of coffee. We compare our workday schedules so we can plan meals/domestic duties/errands accordingly. Once I’ve woken up completely—which often takes at least thirty minutes for caffeine to work its way through my veins—we venture outside.

Since we no longer commute to/from work, our morning walk/run now
Cold 13.1 miles on our morning run
Grateful for warm IllumiNITE Multi-Wraps,
Early Riser, Ambition Hoodie
and Velocity Mittens 
serves as that transition. To keep us motivated, we challenge each other to go faster or father; sometimes, we take detours, and we often take pictures to capture special (and silly) moments.

When we get back, we make breakfast together before. Some mornings, we even have enough time to eat together before work begins—added bonus.

I love our morning routine; it allows us to connect first thing.


Burgers w portabello "buns" and
fresh zucchini and tomatoes

Last year, Mike and I tried Whole30, which taught us a lot about ingredient labels and healthy eating habits. We learned how to cook fun, new recipes that were both nutritional and delicious. So, when everything shut down, eating every meal at home didn’t phase us.

We make our staple go-to meals, but we also like to experiment with spices and cooking methods we’ve never tried before. We cook together as often as we can. It’s a fun way to connect, and it also serves as a transition from “work to home” as we share about our workdays.


In addition to keeping active during the week, we plan our weekends to include hiking and other outdoor adventures. We research which mountains we’d like to hike, which trails to wander, or which
Capital "A" in its natural state
bodies of water we want to visit. Then we plan how many miles/hours we want to explore and what supplies/food to bring. This always gives us something to look forward to during the week. We have so much fun exploring different places, some practically in our backyard!

We started a game to find all the letters of the alphabet in nature. The one rule is the letter cannot have any man-made aspect to it. We’ve found most letters, but we’re still searching for capital “Q” and a few others.

I’ve also discovered that eating a picnic comprised of fruit, mixed nuts, and the occasional Lara bar on top of a mountain overlooking a vast valley below is far more romantic than eating at a fancy restaurant. Who knew?


Mike and I both love to read, and we often snuggle on the couch reading our own books, each in our
Listening to Wild via AirPods on a morning walk
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird Shirt (final sale)
Mike in IllumiNITE Sentinel Shirt
own world. We always share about what we read and discuss the various topics we learn about. Recently, we’ve begun listening to audiobooks together. We just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed; it spawned so much conversation about solo-hiking and thru-hikers and about our own traveling goals. When we finished the book, we watched the movie and then compared the two.

Now, we’re listening to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. We’re only an hour in, but it’s brought us quite a chuckle…especially as we compare our own relationship (and personal) habits to the main character’s.


When you’re together all day, every day, what is there to talk about?

Surprisingly, Mike and I never run out of topics. In analyzing our conversations, we realize we always have things to discuss because we spend a good amount of time doing our own thing. During the workweek, we
Mike drops off grapes to
my office, with a side of love
work in different parts of the house and do not physically see each other all day—except for the occasional snack or lunch drop-off to each other’s office (Thanks, Mike!).

We also make sure to schedule alone time outside of work hours as well. Whether I’m in my office
Snuck a pic of Mike enjoying
Joyful on a sunny day
writing (like now) while Mike’s outside gardening, or one of us visits with a friend/family member on the phone (or Zoom!), or we read different books, we acknowledge the importance alone time plays into our relationship. It gives us the space we need to explore our own interests and stay in touch with our own selves. And it broadens our topics of conversation.


While having a routine has kept us sane through this pandemic, we also recognize the importance of adaptability and spontaneity. For example, now that the days are getting shorter (and colder!), we’re discovering that it’s getting harder to motivate ourselves to get outside in the early morning. But we also recognize how much better we feel when we move first thing. So, we’re switching up our schedule to include a shorter walk in the morning (about 20 minutes) and then our longer walk or run after work. We’ve also decided to add some more core training into our schedule, so we’ve implemented squats, sit-ups, and pushups on

our walk days. This minor adaptation keeps our daily routine feeling fresh and fun.

We also find so much joy in spontaneity. “Wait, you finished work early? I just wrapped up my day!
Mike surprised me with peonies
from our garden!
Impromptu date night! You get the wine; I’ll get the cards! Hooray!”

It’s fun to switch things up on a dime every now and then. Mike and I look for these special impromptu moments to do something out of the ordinary, like go for a drive and pick up our favorite Mexican food, discover a new movie we both haven’t watched (that’s a tough one), or surprise each other with a gift “just because.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but Mike and I recognize that we’ve managed through this pandemic because we openly communicate about what’s working and what’s not. We respect each other’s perspectives and support each other’s needs. We check in with each other to see where we’re at— Sera’s at 40% capacity; Mike, can you cover that extra 10%
Much needed apple and kiss after a grueling
hike on Cannon Mountain
Sera in IllumiNITE Multi-Wrap; Vigor Singlet
today?—and we adapt accordingly (Thanks, BrenĂ© Brown for the family gap plan!).

We actively work at keeping our romance fresh and exciting while also stable and comforting. Love may be on lockdown, but it doesn’t have to feel like punishment! 

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to keep sane through this pandemic! 

Please share in the comments below.

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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.

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