Positive Affirmations in Our Music

Positive Affirmations in Our Music

One the the things I said I was grateful for last week was Spotify. I have always been sincerely grateful for music, as it’s made me feel alive, put a spring in my step, and helped me dance through housework. Spotify is merely a vehicle through which to conveniently appreciate music and have all our favorites a click or two away. 

Each year, by providing us with a playlist of the 100 songs we listened to most in the previous 12 months, Spotify provides us with a glimpse of where our head was that year. I’ve been getting these lists since 2016 and in analyzing the songs they contain, I’ve noticed a few things.

First there are the songs that are consistent from one year to the next. These, not surprisingly, are songs that I’ve had as top songs in my head for a time that certainly pre-dates Spotify. They’d all be considered “oldies” by anyone’s account, and they all have a way of lifting my mood. Seriously, try listening to any of these and remaining in a foul mood. 

  • Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 
  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting me) Higher & Higher 
  • You Sexy Thing 
  • I Can See Clearly Now 
  • Do You Believe in Magic 
  • Sugar, Sugar 
  • I Won’t Back Down 
  • Let Your Love Flow 
  • Come and Get Your Love
  • You Can Get It If Your Really Want

Link to complete playlist: My Top Songs of All Time. 10 songs. 30 minutes.

Then I noticed the differences in the playlists from year to year. 2016, I was still in a bit of a dark place and the in the top 10 on that list was most of the melancholy, bitter sweet sounds from Teenage Fanclub’s 2016 Release “Here” including The Darkest Part of the Night, I’m in Love, and I was Beautiful When I was Alive

There is a place for melancholy, bitter sweetness and in music we can find mediation and reflection. Music can transport us back to a time and place we want to remember, and some we’d prefer not to. We avoid those songs, don’t we? 2017 showed I was moving forward. My number one song that year was the bouncy, Strangers by Langhorne Slim, that I found about the same time I got the convertible. It’s one of the highlights of my “Cruisin’ with the Top Down” playlist. 

2018 included a lot of memories that I put on my “NJ to IL Road Trip” playlist for my drive out here. My top 3 songs that year were Everybody Loves You Now (Billy Joel), Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays), and I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston), thankfully followed by many more upbeat selections. 

It was last year that I noticed that out of 100 songs, only six were not upbeat, lively, and positive. I also noticed that was also a reflection of how I felt about my life that year. 94% of the time I was feeling upbeat, lively, and positive. Did the music create my outlook on life? Or was it my outlook on life that was creating the playlist? I guess we’ll never really know for sure.

Just in case though, back in January, I created a playlist for 2020. With the idea that they would all be positive songs. We’ve certainly needed them haven’t we? I think the music we listen to can have a huge affect on our demeanor. Best to choose something positive, right? Here’s hoping “Your Top Songs 2020” is a reflection on not such a bad year after all.

20 Things for which to be Grateful – even in 2020

20 Things for which to be Grateful – even in 2020

The holidays are going to be very different this year. That’s okay. Taking on a perspective of gratitude for all that we do have – even this year – can go a long way toward improving our mood. So here’s what I’m grateful for in no particular order.

  1. Family. While we may not be able to spend this holiday with all of them or maybe any of them, if they’re still in our lives, that’s something to be downright joyful about! Those of us who know the heartache of loss, know it’s not worth endangering the lives of our loved ones, to share a holiday meal or even a long weekend. There are 365 days before next Thanksgiving and 52 weekends. When it comes to family, I think everyday should be Thanksgiving! 
  2. Friends. Just because we haven’t seen as much of our friends over the last 8 months as we’ve wanted too, they are still there for us.  They are a phone call, a FaceTime, a text message, or a social media post away. I think one of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is that I’m no longer taking even the smallest interactions with friends for granted, and I’m making an effort to reach out as often as I can.
  3. Neighbors. With everyone working from home, I feel like I’ve gotten to know our neighbors better and I’ve seen many of us come together for one another – at a social distance and with masks of course!
  4. Health. Right now this can’t be overstated; heath is everything. If you are healthy right now, and also fortunate enough to not have any underlying conditions compromising your immune system, express gratitude for that!
  5. Adequate healthcare. Even if you’re healthy right now, not know how you will handle medical expenses should an issue arise can cause a lot of anxiety. I don’t have employer-based healthcare, and have been getting it through the Healthcare Marketplace since 2018, when the COBRA from my last job ran out. As precarious as that has felt in the past few years, it’s something and for that, I am grateful.
  6. Medical science. This is the only way out of this pandemic. The fact that two companies in the US and more globally are on the verge of having an effective vaccine so quickly is monumental. When we are back celebrating with family and friends next year, it will be because we relied on science. 
  7. Ability to exercise. Walking the dog is something I look forward to! I am thankfully every day for my ability to just get out to do that. My ability to run is the proverbial icing on the cake. This simple act of putting one foot in front of the other over the course of a few blocks or a few miles helps maintain physical heath and mental health; two things that cannot be taken for granted. Ever.
  8. Adequate nutrition and housing. We often take basic needs for granted. Most of us have a roof over our heads and food for Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. In Cook, Lake, and DuPage Counties here in Illinois, while 12% of the population lives in poverty, another 30% have household incomes below the survival rate (for my NJ friends, your numbers are very similar). Read about the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) population and see stats for your area HERE.  
  9. Internet access. One thing we learned from the pandemic was the importance of internet access because it’s what has enabled us to work from home, created a space for online learning, and has been a vehicle through which we have maintained contact with family and friends. But simply logging on was not an option for everyone and the “digital divide” came into view (review #8). You’re reading this because you have internet access.
  10. Smart phones. I couldn’t even begin to imagine WFH or online learning with everyone in the household vying for time on a shared landline – but just a short 20 years ago, for the majority of us, that would have been the case. 
  11. Zoom. Throughout this ordeal, I have often thought about how much more difficult things would be without some of the modern conveniences like the internet and cell service as I stated in #9 & 10. At least for me, Zoom was the new thing! I had video calls via zoom in the past, but had not embraced it the way I have in the past 8 months. I find it’s much easier to use than Skype and more adequate than FaceTime. 
  12. Freedom of expression. We are lucky that we pretty much have the ability to express our opinions, our passions, and who we are. While I’d like to see more people take on the responsibility that goes along with it, we still have that freedom.
  13. Activists. One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” While a good number of us voted, a much smaller group of people mobilized Get Out The Vote efforts, and created awareness for important causes. After the Women’s March almost four years ago, I wrote specifically about the efforts of thoughtful, committed women.
  14. NGOs. That is Non-Government Organizations, the organizations that help organize and fund the activists. While elected officials can dismantle important programs, it’s the NGOs that keep important efforts at the forefront. Organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, The Nature Conservancy, The ACLU, Equality Now, Rotary International, and United Way are just a few examples.
  15. Spotify. Music really has a way to brighten my mood. I have playlists called hugs and Mary Sunshine and the songs they contain give me all that and more (next week I’m going to write about the positive affirmations in the music we listen to because there is just so much more I want to say). I mention Spotify here specifically because I love that it’s an affordable, easy way to keep up on the latest music and listen to old favorite too. 
  16. Sunshine. I am so grateful for the sun whenever and where ever it makes an appearance. Sunny days this time of year are limited, so I try to not take them for granted. 
  17. Education. Even if you only graduated from high school, you have the ability every day to learn something new. See #9. My dad always said, “If you can read, you can…” followed by what ever it was I was struggling with at the time. So I’m grateful for my ability to read and therefore continue to educate myself.
  18. Motivation. It’s hard sometimes, especially these days, so when it comes I go with it and I’m grateful for it.
  19. Inspiration. There are so many inspiring people in this world. People in my neighborhood overcoming challenges, so many ordinary people throughout the world achieving greatness.
  20. Assets. We all have them. Yes, that may mean financial savings, a nest egg, or owning your own home, or having stuff. To me, assets are everything. All of the things in my “tool kit” – pretty much everything listed from 1 – 19 above. Assets are everything we collect throughout our life designed to make things easier: a network of supportive people, coping skills, talents, and abilities – and maybe a little bit of stuff

I’d like to challenge you to make your own list of 20 things. If you can do it, you are truly blessed and have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. If you can only state one thing, focus on that. Life isn’t always fair or joyful. It wasn’t meant to be. Life however can certainly be better if we remember to come at it from a place of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving.

Vernon Hills, Illinois. November 2020.
A “How-To” Guide to Running (or Walking) Every Street in (your) Town

A “How-To” Guide to Running (or Walking) Every Street in (your) Town

It may be more challenging to get workouts in right now with gyms closed. Exercising, however, is a necessary tool to maintaining our mental health. Especially important right now. Where I am in northern Illinois, we are again being asked to adhere to some strict guidelines around social distancing including a new “stay-at-home recommendation” which went into effect yesterday. 

The stress of this is compounded by the fact that we have been dealing with this for eight months, and aside from perhaps the hope of a vaccine on the horizon, there is no real immediate end in sight. Working from home may have also made us a little more sedentary this year than even the average desk job that probably included a commute and moving throughout a much larger office building setting.

Getting up and moving around is a must for both mental and physical health. Luckily, running – and walking – are not cancelled, and offer the best solution for staying active. Getting out in the winter, if it’s cold where you are, will require appropriate clothing, but other than that, these activities don’t require any special equipment. They may require some motivation. 

Transversing the same routes every day may get boring. Boredom is what first motivated me over three years ago to run every street in my town (at the time that was Ramsey, New Jersey – read about that HERE). With no races to train for this year, I decided to do it again (this time in Vernon Hills, Illinois – read about that HERE). The competitor that I am, making this game out of running gave me motivation to put in the miles I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So how does one go about running every street in their town, village, or city? Here’s how:

Determine how you will track your progress.

When I did this in New Jersey, I used a paper map and highlighter. I also used a GSP watch. At the end of the runs, I compared the data generated by my watch on Garmin Connect with my map and highlighted the completed streets. Since then, I learned about CityStrides, a website that you can connect to a GSP tracker app like Garmin or Strava and it does the highlighting for you!

For those that may be walkers, or beginner runners, and not interested in incurring the expense of a GSP watch right now, an app on your phone will work just fine. I recommend Strava. Even though my data was recorded on my Garmin watch, it’s automatically uploaded to Strava as well and therefore, CityStrides. This provides some back-up. In the event my watch dies in the middle of a long outing, I can simply switch over to Strava on my phone for the remainder of the miles/streets.

CityStrides offers Advice for Beginners. If you don’t like waiting for your data to upload after your activity, I recommend paying for the $2/month membership. The site was pretty good but did have a few glitches, both in terms of occasional syncing and what it defined as a street (the Wendy’s drive-thru, a dirt maintenance path through the woods). 

Doing research for this blog, I learned that CityStrides isn’t the only option. Another is StreetFerret. I haven’t actively used StreetFerret but did connect it to my Stava account (their only option right now) to see how each site compared. The interface is a little cleaner than City Strides and I did like the way it eliminates any requirement to cover roadway not safe for pedestrians (like a state highway). But like CityStrides, it had a couple glitches. There were a few portions of streets it didn’t give me credit for which I clearly ran, although last I checked – after 24 hours – it was still uploading my data.

These tracking sites aren’t perfect. Don’t go nuts over the data. You know what you covered. 

Plan your runs or walks

CityStrides offers planning tips. StreetFerret, advertises  “LiveFerret mode” which “shows a StreetFerret map of your local area, with an icon for your current position. LiveFerret mode will continually move the map based on your current position so that you can efficiently ferret out missing streets during your run. Just navigate to the streets in red on your map and off you go.” That could be a real plus.

When I started out I just enjoyed the run and didn’t worry so much how I was covering the streets, but since I had set a deadline goal for myself, I had to get a little more efficient. All but one of the 39 runs that made up my recent challenge were run from home. I needed to figure out the quickest way to get to a new street and make the best use of every run.

When I did this somewhat manually in New Jersey, I took a picture of the paper map and could check it periodically. This time, I used Map My Run to plot a course for each run. I then used their map to guide me through the route.

Just Do It!

Enjoy it. Have Fun. Make up your own rules. If you’re walking, driving to each neighborhood may make more sense. I was fortunate each time to live almost dead center in each of the towns I was running. If I decide to tackle other cities (and running every street in Chicago has crossed my mind), I’d need to drive. No harm in that. If you’re looking for more ideas and some inspiration, read about these runners who ran their cities:

Good luck! And please report on your progress.

Fall Running. Vernon Hills, Illinois. November 2020.
You voted. Now what?

You voted. Now what?

The past two weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I put off finishing the post I had tentatively scheduled for last Wednesday (November 4) with the results of the election still up in the air. Although I went to bed that night feeling much better than I did four years ago. 

Two of my group coaching gigs are winding down now for a holiday/winter break as we all prepare to go into hibernation. This year we know with increasing COVID-19 cases, “hibernation” may take on a more stark meaning. I had hoped to offer weekly small group runs over the winter, but plans are “wait and see” at the moment.  

Saturday morning as election news broke, I was elated. The four years of what in my circles became known as “our national nightmare” would, for the most part, be over. While knowing we must remain diligent about many wrongs that need to be righted, I was overcome by a sense of optimism.  

“It’s good to be a humble winner. Remember when I was here four years ago? Remember how bad that felt? Remember that half the country, right now, still feels that way. Please remember that. Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there, that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad because they think nobody cares — maybe they don’t, but let me tell you something, I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels.”

– Dave Chappelle (Hosting SNL 11/07/2020)

As the president refused to admit defeat, based on what all legitimate sources agree are baseless claims of voter fraud, things got more tense – even among those who should be on the same side. When Kurt posted on FaceBook about the coup beginning to take shape, I had it. I accused him of fear mongering. My mood worsened as I fact-checked all the claims he had made. I just wanted to celebrate! And he was spot on.

While any actual celebration may be on hold until noon on the 20th of January, I am cautiously optimistic that regardless of which side you are on, true Americans – true patriots – are on the side of democracy and democracy will prevail; our tradition of a peaceful transition will prevail. That doesn’t mean we sit back and stop paying attention. We still have a very important role to play. 

CNN’s Van Jones, in a TED Talk two week’s ago, What happens if a US Presidential candidate refuses to concede, outlined the loop holes in our system that could actually give the current administration four more years regardless of what voters had to say. He also offers some hope.  He explained that it is up to us to get informed, get loud, and get active. For many of us, keep doing a lot of what we’ve been doing. 

Regardless of who you voted for, if you value democracy, if you value a peaceful transition, make your voice heard. Start by making your views known to your elected officials. Let them know you want them to respect these values. Then take to the streets peacefully. This is what democracy looks like.

Some attempt to leave bad stuff in the past. Vernon Hills, Illinois. November 2020.

More lessons learned running every street in (a new) town

More lessons learned running every street in (a new) town

Yesterday morning on an 8.5 mile run, I ran nine new streets in Vernon Hills, Illinois and with that concluded my quest to run every street in town. I took on this challenge because without any races on the calendar I needed a way to stay motivated to keep up a regular running schedule. I also wanted to get off the park trails where social distancing was becoming difficult. I started on August 2.

Some stats…
43 – the number of Vernon Hills’ 441 streets I had already run prior to August 2.
229 – total miles run
398 – streets completed Aug 2 – Oct 31
1.74 – average number of streets completed per mile
39 – the number of individual runs (38 of which I started and finished from home. On one single run, I drove to 2 two streets – Benjamin Drive and W Apple Orchard Lane because they were on the opposite side of Milwaukee Avenue where there was no place to safely navigate a crossing).
5.87 – average number of miles per run
38 – most streets completed in a single run (Sept 13, 20k run)
10.5 – most streets completed per mile on a single run (Aug 21, 4m run)
1 – least streets completed in a single run (Oct 28, 5m run)
13.1 – longest run (Sept 26 & Oct 18)
1.5 – shortest run (Oct 30, when I drove to the 2 streets I couldn’t safely get to otherwise)

Crosswalks, sidewalks, and bikes paths made this quest fairly easy.

I did this before.

In Ramsey, New Jersey. Read “16 lessons learned by running every street in my town.” After I competed two Vernon Hills runs and 33 streets, I found myself back in New Jersey on August 6 for a week finishing some unfinished business. When I ran those streets in 2017, I was not aware of City Strides which I could connect with my GPS tracker (e.g. Garmin or Strava) to get an accurate picture of where I’d been and where I needed to go.

Since I did Ramsey manually, meaning I just highlighted streets on a paper map, it was up to me to decide what constituted a street and where it started and ended. When I linked my Strava account to City Strides in early August I was shocked to see I was only 97% complete. So while I was there, I knocked off the remaining streets. A couple were from a day my watch died and were never officially recorded on Strava. Others were streets that went farther than they appeared to go, streets not marked as completed because they extended into a neighboring town and I had stopped at the border, and a couple streets that I couldn’t navigate to safely because they were off the state highway. 

I didn’t, by the way, run on the state highway. Technically, I finished Ramsey at 99.5% or something like that. Since running on a state highway is not only dangerous, but perhaps prohibited, I just marked it completed manually. The City Strides map for Vernon Hills was a bit quirky too. But nothing I couldn’t handle. My favorite was “Wendy’s Drive Thru”. Why Wendy’s and not McDonald’s of KFC? I also ran on two roads identified as “Access Road” and “Maintenance Road” that weren’t anything that resembled a road.

Ramsey, New Jersey: 267 Streets, 5.5 square miles (26 miles Northwest of midtown Manhattan), population: 14,473 (Wikipedia)  
Vernon Hills, Illinois: 441 Streets, 7.75 square miles (37 miles Northwest of the Chicago loop), population: 25,113 (Wikipedia)

Lessons Learned

All the lessons – especially the life lessons – from the 2017 effort in New Jersey hold true here too. Some additional lessons…

  1. We can always find the answer, if we are open to possibilities. The Dalai Lama says, “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.” You might think that would be difficult to achieve this year. And yet, somehow in spite of the pandemic, travel restrictions, and cancelled races, I found 398 new places to go just a few short miles from home. 
  1. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Until I started this challenge, I hadn’t seen much of Vernon Hills. The Park District provided ample opportunity for recreation and adequate and ascetically pleasing places to run. That I knew, but most of my travels around town since I live right off Town Line Road didn’t go beyond the main thoroughfares. And honestly Town Line Road, Route 45, Butterfield Road and Milwaukee Avenue do not have a single iota of charm. Most days I was missing Ramsey’s quaint little Main Street. As I began to venture deeper into each neighborhood though, I found a lot of charm, diversity, and caring, thoughtful people (see #5).
  1. Flat is good. While Ramsey had less streets, Vernon Hills is basically flat. Roads that are not hilly, curvy and narrow, are much easier to navigate.
  1. Sidewalks and bike paths are even better. When I ran the streets of Ramsey, I called it the “Complete Streets Challenge” and made a note of how the town was no where near having “Complete Streets” (“A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. This helps to ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.” – National Complete Streets Coalition). Vernon Hills, on the other hand, is a pedestrian and bikers dream in comparison.  Although I was surprised that those main thoroughfares had a significant number of spots that lacked pathways or safety measures. All-in-all though, of the 229 miles I ran, I would estimate that less than 5 miles of roadway fell into that category.
  1. I miss running with others – one in particular. Yesterday, since I had made a few posts in the Vernon Hills Moms FaceBook group, one mom organized her neighborhood to provide a cheer squad as I passed through. This group made it fun. They had noise makers and a sound system playing the Rocky Theme! For the first time in more than eight months, I felt like I was running a real event! This quest involved a lot of lonely miles, and the one thing that I’m happy about now that it’s complete, is being able to run with Kurt again.

These lessons of course translate to life. Flat and straight, with lots of space to maneuver is the safe way to progress, but we meet challenges by considering new possibilities. Those possibilities are often found by just looking a little deeper. Ultimately, we need the support of others.

At the end of the last street. Vernon Hills, Illinois. October 2020.

A future blog post will include a “how-to guide” to running (or walking) every street in your town.