Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Tag: Food

On Sabbatical – Week 29: Gratitude For Authors, Monitoring Behaviors, and Living Deliciously

I kicked off this week by making a brand new recipe for my beloved Kristyn’s birthday. 

Our favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities is Bar La Grassa. It’s a hip Italian joint in the trendy North Loop neighborhood in Downtown Minneapolis, and everything about this place is spectacular: the craft cocktails, the entire menu section dedicated to bruschetta, the mouth-watering entrees, the housemade pasta… it’s all just so damned good. Kristyn has enjoyed their Gnocchi with Cauliflower & Orange in the past, and our neighbor so graciously mentioned that she’d found this recipe from a Minnesota food blogger who created a make-at-home version. 

And so, in a fashion not unlike one of our first dates, where I first had Kristyn over to my place and made her fettuccine alfredo, I rolled up my sleeves and did my best Bar La Grassa impression, gnocchi-style, complete with a couple of bourbon old fashioned’s. 

The dish turned out absolutely delectable. What really stood out about this evening, though, was not the lip-smacking tastiness of my concoction, but instead it was the deliciousness of the vibe we created in our home. Italian guitar strumming through the speaker. Candles flickering on the table. Cabernet in our glasses. Our kids were so into the peacefulness of the setting that, when we were done eating, they allowed Kristyn and I the space and time to slow dance in our family room while they busied themselves with their winter capes we’d just dug out of storage. It was a Monday evening as parents in the suburbs, but it felt like a Friday night on the town. These little touches made the evening feel special, indulgent. Even though it was my life, it felt like I had entered a nicer, higher plane of existence reserved for celebrities and royalty. It was an ordinary Monday made extraordinary with the addition of just two potent ingredients: effort and novelty. That’s really all it takes to keep life spicy. We can induce the pleasure of novelty simply by applying a little effort to find or create newness with the things we already have. 

Side note: if you try to make the Cauliflower Gnocchi recipe (which I heartily encourage you to do), use two pans, not one, so you can sauté the gnocchi separate from the cauliflower and shallot, and double the butter. I audibled both of these decisions while making it, and was very happy with both of those choices. 

THE FORMULA OF NON-FICTION BOOKS

This week I finished Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, a book about habits. I’m very curious about the power of habits, and this book offers a multitude of insights on the topic. One of the bigger takeaways of the book is that habit formation is an individual endeavor and that one approach will not work for everyone. We each have different tendencies (based on our life experiences and genetic dispositions), and only based on our unique tendencies (such as how we respond to inner expectations versus external expectations) will a particular approach to habit creation be successful. 

One of the habits I’m forming with fairly reasonable success is to take notes of books (and podcasts) as I consume them. Rather than reading an educational book or listening to an insightful conversation and then letting the knowledge slip out of my mind as I make room for the next content, I slow down and take notes I can reference later. Of course, the process of writing the notes down is often enough to cement the idea into my brain more permanently. These notes sometimes turn into mini book reports that I publish on this blog, like The Most Important Lessons from “10% Happier” or Lessons From “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer

As I was wrapping up my notes on Better Than Before, I noticed a pattern, a sort of formula with books, specifically non-fiction books in the self-improvement realm. The formula goes like this:

Pick a topic you’re curious about –>

Research the crap out of it, which includes: reading tons, talking to friends, and interviewing experts –>

Document everything as it unfolds –>

Observe connections or patterns that emerge –> 

Map out or define these connections or patterns in some sort of diagram, flow chart, table, list, or framework, and –> 

BOOM, there’s your book 

(Plus, you know, writing 50,000 or 100,000 words in a compelling, expertly crafted, and easy to digest way)

While it may sound a bit obvious (as I read what I just wrote above), this noticing felt like a revelation to me. All of these self-improvement books I’m reading share a common thread – they all have their own sort of framework that the author has “created” (although some authors note they haven’t created anything per se, they have simply noticed and documented something that was already there). In Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA, she shares a Venn Diagram she created with a large circle titled “Movement” and within it, a smaller circle labeled “Exercise,” explaining the paradigm embedded in the book’s thesis–we are too focused on exercise routines and are ignoring the much larger picture of body movement that affects every cell in our body every moment of every day. In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the framework he put together is so obvious it’s the title of the book!

In the case of Better Than Before, one of Rubin’s frameworks is the Four Tendencies, where she groups every person into one of four buckets, based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations: Upholder (serves inner and outer), Questioner (serves inner, rejects outer), Obliger (serves outer, rejects inner), and Rebel (rejects inner and outer). She capitalizes each of these tendencies as if they are proper nouns with the same credibility and “properness” as Christmas or Egypt, even though this idea of labeling these tendencies was just a notion she came up with during the research phase of this writing project. Yet, as a reader, I noticed myself reading these labels and this framework as truth, as fact; a smart person wrote this well-researched book and is capitalizing these terms, so this must be the way things are.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin - Kara J Miller

Noticing patterns and creating useful frameworks and lenses to view the world through is the helpful work authors contribute to the world. It’s what transforms an idea into a useful idea. It’s what takes reams of research and converts the findings into something one can internalize. I feel like I have now noticed a pattern in how authors notice patterns, and it feels like I’ve just accessed a cheat code on how to write a useful book. 

Now the question is–do I have the courage and the discipline to play the game in which I can use my new cheat code? 

MONITORING MY BEHAVIORS

When I started training for a marathon in 2020, I stole an idea I’d seen a friend posting about on Facebook; I created a simple spreadsheet to track how many miles I ran every day. I also used the Nike Run Club app to track my miles, but apps come and go (I’ve since switched to Strava), but no matter what mile tracker app I use, my spreadsheet never changes. I found tracking my miles in this way to be extremely useful and also rather enjoyable. I’m not claiming this method will work for everyone, because not everyone shares my tendencies, but I really enjoyed having a numerical and visual account of how my weekly and monthly mileages were progressing. I was motivated by beating my previous week and by seeing my monthly miles stack up over time. I don’t know if I would have been able to complete a marathon without this system of monitoring my quantitative progress. 

This week, I returned to this idea, except I’m no longer training for a marathon. Instead, I’ve started tracking other behaviors, other practices I have decided are the practices that align with my values, that I believe in, that I want to hold myself accountable to practicing on a weekly basis. I created two separate worksheets: Mind and Body. For both of these, I’ve decided to use the measurement unit of minutes–the number of minutes I spend doing the practice each day.

On the Mind worksheet, I’m tracking: Meditation, Spanish, and Music. I considered adding Writing, because it is a Mind exercise I’m deeply interested in practicing, but I’m jotting down notes so often throughout the day, it would be too cumbersome to track.

On the Body worksheet, I’m tracking: Strength, Cardio, Yoga, and Being Outside. I’m not training for any particular physical endeavor. I am interested in developing a body that is well-adapted to a natural life over the long term, minimizing potential for injuries and maximizing healthy longevity. With what I’ve been learning about the body and movement from people like Tony Riddle and Katy Bowman, I believe that a variety of movement practices is the key to achieving my body goals, so I’ve set up a rotation of dedicated exercise practice six days a week with the following cadence: Strength, Yoga, Cardio, Strength, Yoga, Cardio, Rest. I included Being Outside on my Body tracker, because it is just so freaking nourishing to be outside, so regardless of whether I’m running, walking, hiking, playing with my kids, or sitting under a tree, I’m going to monitor how many of my daily minutes I’m spending immersed in nature. 

Time is our most limited resource. What gets monitored gets done. My intention is that by monitoring the behaviors I most want to develop into habits, I’ll have the same excitement and motivation that I did when tracking marathon miles, and eventually I’ll be living a life in perfect harmony with my aspirations. (At which point, I’ll probably change the goals again, ha!)

Probably not so coincidentally, as soon as I finished making this tracker, I felt compelled to go for a walk outside. I hiked around the trails at Westwood Nature Center in St. Louis Park, MN, and it felt invigorating. It was a cold day. I saw two other humans. I saw many deer hunkered down, turkeys squabbling, squirrels scavenging acorns, and pileated woodpeckers hacking away to prepare for winter. I felt more alive being in the midst of all these creatures working hard at their own survival.

Pileated woodpecker adding some sonic ambiance to my woodland stroll

THANK YOU TO WRITERS

This week I also started and finished the book The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, a memoir in which Flanders shares her journey of detaching from the habit of mindless shopping and consumerism. I’ve always been skeptical when people would claim to finish a book in a day or three. I’m a slow reader. But this book was a fast one for me. Upon finishing it, I felt compelled to send Cait a quick email. I wanted to thank her for writing the book, to thank her for the value I got from it (I hadn’t really considered making “internet friends” with similar interests until she mentioned meaningful relationships she’d made that way), and, more than that, I wanted to share how I related to her on several levels, to lob a hook into the water that I feel like a kindred spirit and am open to connecting more deeply than as just a reader of her book.

I then remembered hearing Dan Harris share on his podcast that one of the ways he first got into relationship with Dr. Mark Epstein was by reading his book and then reaching out to Epstein to set up a call, which Epstein agreed to.

Eureka! This gave me the idea to write the author of every book I read, as long as they are living, and thank them for the book. I don’t necessarily aspire to meet and become friends with all of these others, but as someone who’s dabbling in this whole writing business, I know how hard it is to put words down, so the very least I can do is to thank them for their effort. It feels karmically right. Plus, I’ve been in sales my whole career. I know how to do successful cold outreach, and that’s when I was peddling every business owner’s least favorite expense–advertising. It can’t be harder to write someone a thank you note. What’s the worst that can happen?

I started this new gratitude practice with Cait Flanders, and I’m looking forward to continuing this tiny way of giving back to my writer teachers out there. 

On Sabbatical – Week 26: Where I’m At After Half a Year of Uncovering Me

This week marks a half year. It has been a half of a year since I quit my job, left the workforce, entered a state of sabbatical, and started a new chapter in my life. Now that I’m six months in, it feels like more than a new chapter; it feels like a new book. Huge swaths of my days are filled with practices and activities I was not doing at all a year ago. My relationship with my partner is at an all-time high; our communication has leveled up, several levels. As I write these words, I’m listening to a 5-layered house music track that I recorded just earlier this morning. Neither writing nor music-making were in my list of weekly to do’s a year ago, save writing emails to clients or crunching out the occasional scrap of advertising copy.

When I initially started sabbatical, I told myself it was going to be roughly a two year period: one year in Minnesota, and one year in Costa Rica. That was and has been the tentative plan. I told myself, “once we move, once we complete this transition and get settled in to our neighborhood, a new school, a new community, a new way of life… that’s when I can start actually letting myself think practically, letting myself worry about the future.”

I am just now, in this moment, checking in with myself to reflect on the time so far. It’s not a question of what I’ve done, what activities I’ve done, what items I’ve checked off my bucket list. The question is – Where am I now? How do I feel now? What brand of Kevin am I now? How do I feel about the fact that I’m 25% of the way through this ‘plan’? And what path am I headed on? What is my trajectory? And what is my relationship to my current state and to my trajectory? 

I feel… comfortable with it. This time has had its challenges, mostly of the existential variety, but for the most part the common thread throughout the last six months has been joy. It has been a gift to untether from my old self, from my previous conditioning, from my past decisions that I have now grown away from. It has been a joy to spend more time with my kids and to act more childlike myself. Digging in to who I really am and who I want to be has its uncomfortable moments, but on the whole it has been a treat to afford the time to fully detach and to put maximum effort into starting anew. 

I like the person I am now compared to Old Kevin. I have asked myself what I value, and I’ve sat with that question until I’ve come up with some answers. I have more clarity about what I value, what I want my life to be about, what I want my time to be spent doing. It’s family, it’s outdoors, it’s the environment, and it’s being generous and giving to others, others now and others in the future. I love that I’ve been able to prioritize myself and doing what I want to do, being how I want to be. If I want to go outside, I go. If I want to listen to music, I listen. If I want to make music, I make. If I want to do nothing, I sit. If I want to let a blog post take four hours to make because I’m trying to perfect it or get it “just so,” then so be it! That’s what I wanted to do. I let myself do it. I’m not letting any external influences or thoughts or preconceived notions or conditionings get in my way. 

I know that I’m a better communicator. I’m more mindful of how I am, of what I say and how I say it. I’m more in tune with others. Friends have told me, observed this about Kristyn and I, that we have an ability to be tuned in to how others are feeling.

I know that this is making me a better father, not always having some place to go or some place to be or some project to work on, when my kids just want to play with me in that special time between end of school and bed. 

Life is not meant to be rushed through. I’ve really enjoyed slowing down and trying to actually live each day, not just move through each day. 

And yeah, there are days that are hard, days where I feel lost, days where I’ve told Kristyn, “I’m lost. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do today. But I want to know what I’m supposed to do.” There are a lot of “could’s”: I could write, I could exercise, I could cook, I could brainstorm a teen fiction series, I could make a new beat, I could go for a walk, I could meditate. Which one should I start with? Should. Should based on… what, exactly? Should does not exist. Should is a facade. There is no should. So yeah, I have days like this, days where I feel aimless, but that’s a small price to pay for the tradeoff of the joys of slowness and simplicity. In fact, the discomfort of that aimlessness is what I want to be experiencing, because that is where growth comes from. No pain, no gain. 

I’m still working on this, but as I reflect on the last six months, one of the underlying themes has been my effort to let go of yearning, of wishing, of wanting things I don’t have, experiences I haven’t had. I’ve been really trying to mindfully think into what is within my power to make today feel like a “dream day,” a day where I lived as close to being in choice that I could be. What can I do today to make it feel like a “million dollar day”? And I have to say, I’ve been having a lot of days that feel that way. It’s hard to put a price on that. 

I hold my privilege front and center in my mind as often as I can remember to do so. I hope that by unlearning many of the assumptions I had been operating under, by focusing on becoming the truest version of myself, and by generously radiating compassion toward those around me, I am putting my privilege to the best possible use for the betterment of my family and humanity. 

So… what now? What are my goals for the next six months? Knowing what I know now about these last six months, what does that make me think about next semester? What do I want to do differently? How do I want to be different? What do I want to continue? 

I know I want to continue many of my recent practices: morning meditations, exercise routine rotating strength, cardio, and yoga, writing on this blog, building up the Naturally Better idea, and plunking away at the keyboard to make fun little tunes for myself. 

One big difference for the next quartile of sabbatical? The move to Costa Rica. In the past six months, I have done very little to prepare for this transition relative to how much I’m going to need to do in the half year ahead. In this situation I think using some labels will be helpful for me to give some structure to my time.

Labels that feel right for what the first quarter of sabbatical was like are: Unplug, Reset, Rebirth, Childhood, and Unlearn.

The labels I intend to uphold for the next half year are: Practice, Adolescence, Authenticity, Minimize, and Transition. 

Practice: having the discipline and devotion to practices that align with my values, and not allowing disruption of these practices by things I value less than the practice.

Adolescence: when I was a teenager, I went through phases where I practiced stuff relentlessly. There was a semester in high school where I played saxophone five days a week. I would play volleyball every chance I got. I did these things not because someone was making me; I did them because I loved doing them. I want to embody that passionate spirit again, of not worrying about the practicality of an activity or hobby and letting myself get absorbed by something for the sheer joy of it and for the satisfying feeling of improvement. 

Authenticity: as I learn about new concepts (such as meditation or barefoot running), can I actually walk the walk? If I learn that beef is the most harmful food for the environment, can I actually stop eating it? If I discover that spending more time barefoot can unlock huge health benefits, do I have the courage to actually kick my shoes off around the neighborhood? 

Minimize: it’s time to get rid of my crap. I have no choice but to do so; the house we’ll move to in Costa Rica is much smaller than our current house. Less stuff.  More space. 

Transition: while the last half year was a time of detaching and jumping off a moving train, the time ahead will start to feel like movement toward a new direction, a transition in to something new. 

That’s a wrap on reflecting about my sabbatical so far. Onward to reviewing the experiences of the past week! 

 

A WORK MEETING? NOT EXACTLY. 

I kicked off this week with something I haven’t done in half a year – a professional networking Zoom meeting. I should put “professional” in quotes; I had a conversation with one person I knew from my most recent job as a TV advertising sales rep. She had worked on the Marketing team at one of my best clients, had seen my post on LinkedIn where I shared my departure from the workforce and my intention for the time ahead, and had reached out to me to set up a time to chat. 

When we hopped on the Zoom, I learned she had also since left her position and was pursuing self-employment as a freelance marketer. As she explained her situation, what she was working on, what she was feeling stuck with, I noticed myself going into a sort of “counselor mode.” I listened intently. I gently probed for her to expand on her hesitations. I did my best to help her see her own answers were already there. At one point she even joked, “I can’t believe we’re talking about this; this is starting to feel like a therapy session!” Even though our conversation carried on without missing a beat, when she said that, I strangely felt a rush of pride. The idea of someone talking to me feeling like therapy for them… I liked that idea. It was a tiny hint, an iota of a clue that, perhaps, I’m on the right track, that everything I’m doing, every choice I’m making, every book I’m reading, every uncomfortable conversation I’m having with Kristyn, every word I’m typing is what I’m supposed to be doing. Validation feels incredible. 

After this conversation I also learned that I want to practice framing up “what I’ve been up to” more succinctly. Most of the time, when I tell people I’m on sabbatical, they ask, “So what do you do all day?” or “What have you been up to, then?”

I wasn’t adequately prepared for this question in the context of a more professional, career-oriented conversation, of being more mindful of my conduct, of my words, of how I carry myself. I wrote these notes down after the call as I brainstormed how to give a tighter elevator pitch to people of what my sabbatical has been about thus far:

  • Doing less and being more.
  • Reading lots. Writing some. 
  • Focusing on mindful living.
    • Being present with my kids.
    • Being present with my partner.
    • Being present with myself.
  • Cooking (almost) all my food. 
  • Moving my body when it wants to move. Letting it rest when it needs to. 

After that last bullet point, I was struck with an idea. Maybe it would be helpful for a large number of people if I could put together ways to detach from the nine to five and reinvent your life. Creating a roadmap for this. I know I could’ve used one! As soon as I had that idea, I realized there must be thousands of books and courses designed with this exact idea in mind. In fact, I know there is at least one, because I’ve read Tim Ferriss’ 4-hour Workweek and even reference that book on the Resources page of this website. A quick Google search and indeed, this is not a novel concept. Still, what would make my idea unique is that it would be mine. It would be of my thoughts, of my experience, and of my learnings. And it wouldn’t be too hard to create, because in a way, all I’d have to do is document exactly what I’m doing. I’m fling this one away in the “ideas” folder, for now. 

TEN PERCENT HAPPIER

I’ve really gone headfirst into the podcast Ten Percent Happier. I can’t seem to recall how I first came across this gem of a resource, but now that it has made its way to my awareness, there’s no turning back! I started at the beginning and have been downright plowing through the episodes. I’m loving the guests Dan Harris has on this show to talk about their various experiences and expertise within the world of meditation, from well-known veteran teachers like Sharon Salzberg, to Buddhist figures like Thupten Jinpa (the Dalai Lama’s English-language interpreter), to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. I love how its exposing me to many people I instantly admire and want to emulate and learn from in various ways. This week I enjoyed the incredible stories and outlook of author and Buddhist meditation teacher Mingyur Rinpoche and the candor and communication prowess of author and mindful communication teacher Oren Jay Sofer

I’m getting a lot of value from this podcast. Listening to it is giving me ideas for my own giveaway, my own creation, my own collection of conversations that will include the topic of meditation and also many natural living topics. The Naturally Better podcast is in development, folks! 

CREATION PROGRESS

Part of my journey is learning, and one of the main ways I learn is by reading. If the book is good and I’m getting value from it, I enjoy the process of reading a book, taking down notes and excerpts that jump out to me, and, when I’m done with the book, compiling these notes into a blog post and add it to my growing collection of blog posts about books. This week I’ve been realizing that oddly I can read an entire book faster than I can write up a summary with my takeaways from it. Hopefully getting caught up with this sabbatical blog will help! 

Right now I’m reading Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, which is a book about habits and how to harness the power of habit to improve your life. There are a lot of useful nuggets in the book, but one thing I really love is the open of the book, where Rubin takes a moment to talk about the process of writing the book: of an immense amount of reading at the beginning stage of the project, and about capturing those “eureka moments” that happen along the way as she reads, examines her own life, and starts having conversations with others about the world of habits. 

It got me to thinking about my own habits, especially around reading. For most of my adult life after college, I didn’t read much. I’d read the occasional business book or biography if it came highly recommended by someone I trust. Once I quit my job, I’ve upped my reading substantially, but it’s been a bit all over the place. I haven’t had any real “system” to it; I have just been adding books I learn about to a reading list and have been plowing through the list with no real rhyme or reason, other than to say that I read only one book at a time. (I don’t understand how people can read multiple books at once.)

As my thoughts about Naturally Better continue to coalesce, one of the challenges I face is – where do I start? There are so many things one can focus on in the world of self-improvement, and there are too many that I personally want to focus on to do them all at once, but I also don’t like the idea of limiting myself to one avenue or niche like habits or meditation or nutrition. I understand the conventional wisdom with creating a book or a podcast or a brand or a business is to be very specific, hyper-specific, so that you are speaking to a very narrowly defined niche, and in that way, your product will have much higher value to that group of people. The thing is, I’m not on this journey for other people; first and foremost, I’m in this journey for myself. I’ve always identified as a sort of “generalist.” I’ve said many times that “I’m the kind of person who’s pretty good at a lot of things, but I’m not an expert at any one thing.” I enjoy the variety that life has to offer.

In pondering this dilemma, I came up with the idea to treat my reading a little like a batting order in baseball (which is a bit ironic, because, while I having enjoyed playing and watching many sports in my life, I’ve grown to loathe baseball. So slow and boring!). In baseball, the hitting team has a batting order, with the player whose turn it is to hit “at bat,” the next player “on deck,” and the next player “in the hole.” I’m going to try taking this approach to the development of Naturally Better, where I have an “at bat” topic that is my primary focus and taking up, say 70% of my time dedicated to this project, but to avoid the feeling of limitation, I’ll have a second topic “on deck” that I’m starting to dabble with, and a third topic “in the hole” that I’ll allow my brain to casually wander into every once in a while. The rest of the areas I want to explore will just have to wait their turn. 

From this point, I felt compelled to start listing and mapping out the topics I really want to dive into and learn more about. My kids have countless sheets of barely used paper in their playroom (with a touch of marker here or there, which means, in their minds, it’s no longer suitable for them to use in future days), so I picked up the closest piece and eight of their markers. I started jotting down topics about nature and aspects of humanness, grouping them by theme. In the picture below, I started with the word “Food” and what sub-topics might be grouped under it. Then came “Body” and “Mind” and also “Resources,” with their associated sub-concepts. Next was “Community/Social,” because humans are the most social beings on the planet. Once I had written down a few thoughts under “Community/Social,” though, I got stuck. I was uncertain where to go next, but I knew my map didn’t feel quite complete. I had written down “spirit,” “heart,” and “compassion” on the side of the paper… all these words were important and needed a home. And all of a sudden, a Gretchen-Rubin-style eureka moment hit me like a lightning bolt – LOVE! The next marker color I had up in the rotation happened to be pink. It’s the focal point of every song in the history of music (almost). And my kid had already written the words “I LOVE YOU” on this very piece of scratch paper. Eureka! 

I have no idea where this map is headed, but I’m going to follow it and see where it leads me. 

All good business ideas start with gently used scratch paper and children’s markers

A FRIENDSGIVING OF TRIFECTAS, FOUR-FECTAS, AND ALL THE -FECTA’S!

On Saturday of this week we had four friends over to our house; two married couples who are dear friends of ours. There were two standout memories of this gathering that I want to document. Both are related to music. 

Earlier in the day, my partytime preparation included compiling a playlist of songs, custom-made for this group. I really enjoy having music as a part of social settings, and I love how the music can both set the mood and also be a reflection of the mood, depending on the flow of the environment. I made sure to add at least three or four songs that each of the six people in the group would really enjoy, would feel like the song was on the playlist “for them.” Of course, if one of my favorite songs happened to be Got To Give It Up by Marvin Gaye (which it is), it may very well also be a special song for one of my friends, and so we might both feel like this song was on the playlist “for us.” 

As I pulled up this playlist to play over our basement speakers, I announced that I was putting on music, that anyone was free to suggest adding a song to the rotation at any time, and that I had personally curated this specific playlist with my guests in mind.  

As the evening proceeded and new songs came up, we all enjoyed the game of guessing who the song must be for, which combination of us I must’ve had in mind when selecting the song for inclusion. If three of us felt like the song was “for us,” then it was a trifecta of song awesomeness! Four? A four-fecta of head-bobbing, hip-shaking sonic bliss! It was a fun way of stringing moments of connection together throughout the evening, and it’s a practice I’m going to continue for future get togethers. 

The other immensely satisfying memory I have of this evening is when the men retreated to our guest room, which is now doubling as our “home recording studio” (emphasis on the quotation marks). I had one friend in there already, and I was playing him a song, really just the early seedling of a song, that I had created, over the studio speakers at a medium volume (so as to not disturb the vibe in the other room). As the third guy strolled into our room, as my music made its way through his ears to his brain, I grinned as his body hopped into the groove: toes tapping, hips swaying, head approvingly nodding. I asked him, “What do you think of this tune?” To which he replied, as he kept his gentle body groove going, “Yeah, it’s good. I can dig it.” Sensing that he might not know, I then commented, “I made this song.”

As much as it made me feel good that I had made a collection of sounds and rhythms that made a person move, it was an even lovelier experience to behold the fleeting expression on his face as he processed what I had just said. He hadn’t known I made it. The flash of surprise followed by approval on his face… it’s hard to express how gratifying that felt. I created an artistic thing that someone liked! They didn’t like it because I made it, because they know me and want to be supportive of me; they just flat out enjoyed it. And not just anyone, a close friend! This experience acts as fuel for my creative fire. I don’t sit in my basement and tinker around with making music for other people; all I do is make what sounds good to me. But that taste of validation from someone else, that they too can share in the joy of these sounds that I birthed into existence… man that is a juicy feeling for me. As scary as it can be to share stuff that I’ve created, this night makes me more inclined to share in the future. Thanks to you, friend.

FOOD OVER FOOTBALL

The next day I took my kids to the neighbor kid’s birthday party. Afterward, we went over to their house under the guise of “watching the Vikings game.” I haven’t been paying attention to the NFL or any professional sports this year (other than a little bit of AVP, of course); no fantasy teams, no gameday watching, and definitely no following of players, trades, injuries, and current events in the league. It has just seemed so unimportant to me. It’s an entertainment source that has lost its entertainment value. I remember past years where I’d be in three fantasy football leagues, and the hour of 11am-noon on Sunday wasn’t fun, it was stressful – checking all the last minute injury notices and waiver wire pickups. Meanwhile, I had a ton of leftover snack foods that didn’t get gobbled down the night before, so I loaded up our wagon with fixings for a fairly substantial spread to share. In the course of this neighborly Sunday afternoon get together, I realized that while Old Kevin would have been in his element watching football and tracking his fantasy team’s stats, New Kevin can’t really hold a conversation about the NFL anymore, but he can talk about food, recipes, and what cheese would perfectly pair with mango habanero jelly all day long!

(And when you think about it, which is really more important to you: watching large sweaty men give themselves concussions or discussing fun and delicious ways to fuel your body?)

CLOSING THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BLOG AND MY WRITING

I’m so close to being caught up to realtime with the weekly blogging about my sabbatical. It feels exhilarating to know that time is also here. I’ve been feeling buried under the weight of getting caught up. It’s starting to feel like I can actually write these weekly sabbatical posts the way I want to, the way I want to feel like I have the freedom to, not just by cataloging the events and documenting the actions, but also by giving myself the space and the permission to expand, to open up, and to share freely my thoughts, feelings, and reflections of the week’s transpirings. Plus, I’m holding on to this notion that once I’m caught up to realtime, I’ll be unburdened by the “catching up” and will have more time and energy to commit to other writing projects. I don’t know how much of a crutch that thought is right now, but I do know it’s been enough of a motivator to keep me going the last couple of weeks, so… if it ain’t broke…! 

On Sabbatical – Week 24: Improving Communication With My Partner and With Myself

HALLOWEEN & REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Monday of this week was Halloween. Due to my bushy, unkempt sabbatical beard, I slapped together a last-minute costume and attended our neighborhood Halloween driveway get together as the cross-country-running version of Forrest Gump. I still hadn’t done anything with the beard in the days after Halloween, which you can see proof of in this week’s featured image. 

Ever since enrolling our children in Spanish immersion childcare, pre-school, and public school, and being more exposed to aspects of Latin culture, we have grown an admiration of the traditions around Día de Muertos. We have made it a tradition to create our own ofrenda (home altar) in the entryway of our house around this time of year, to remember loved ones who are not with us any more, particularly Kristyn’s dad. She wrote a great piece about this on KristynWithAWhy.com, which I encourage you to check out. 

The Carlow Moravetz Ofrenda, 2022

(I realize I’m a white American man that’s now talking about a tradition that is not exactly of my own lineage, and of the trickiness that brings, but at the end of the day, I know how I feel, I know my intentions, and I know that the way we acknowledge the spirit of it in our house feels right to us and is done in an honorable way, so for me, that’s what counts.)

It was also quite adorable this year to observe how my children, while Trick-or-Treating around the neighborhood, cared much more about petting the animals of the homes we visited than about snatching up their candy. They would’ve stayed and pet the 9-week-old kitten all night if we’d let them. 

STRIKING A BALANCE WITH MY PARTNER

On Tuesday I had a lengthy conversation with my partner about food. In many aspects of our relationship, we find a balance that works for us. With any given task, though, a “balance that works” does not always mean we split the task 50/50. We each have our own strengths and our own chores that annoy us less than other chores. She doesn’t hate folding clothes, I don’t hate cleaning out the fridge. Over the last ten years or so, we’ve been tweaking and refining how we tackle all of the responsibilities of home ownership, adulthood, and life so that, on the whole, things feel balanced to both of us. 

Food is one of those unavoidable aspects of life. We need it to survive. But when it comes to food, there’s more to it than just cooking the food. Someone has to plan what food is going to be acquired. Someone has to get the food. Someone has to organize how the food is stored. Someone has to prepare and cook the food. Someone has to clean the dishes used to prepare and to eat the food. And, if you care about food waste (we do), someone has to monitor the aging of all the ingredients and factor in how and when the leftovers will be eaten and/or incorporated into future meal plans. It’s a job with a bunch of sub-jobs underneath it. 

On the whole, I get less stressed about food than Kristyn does. I like cooking, and I like being intentional with the ingredients used to nourish the bodies of myself and my family. I don’t want to speak too much on Kristyn’s behalf, but the short version is – years ago one of my roommates had said that he wished he could just take a pill and it would satisfy his hunger and his nutritional needs so that he didn’t need to think about food at all, and upon hearing this, my reaction was, “Oh that sounds so bland and boring, and think about all the flavors and connection to your fuel you’d miss out on,” while Kristyn’s reaction was, “YES absolutely me too.” So, the balance that works for us is that I am the primary food person in our house. 

Before I go on and get myself into a heap of trouble, I want to be clear – she does make food and does get groceries and does do many dishes. It’s just that we’ve come to an understanding that I am the primary food person. And, like with any big job that has one person shouldering a larger share of the job, it can get to be a lot. There are times where I feel “kitchened out.” In those times, a break from the kitchen would feel great. The problem is, I feel resistance to ask for help. I’m terrible at asking for help in general. When I worry that the favor I need or the assistance that would really make my day is in direct contrast to my partner’s wiring and preferences? Forget it! I know that meal planning and prep can be more stressful for her, so I tell myself this story that I’m putting an “extra burden” on her by asking her to take over making dinner for a night. 

What I learned through the course of this conversation, though, is that by not asking for help and trudging through another slog in the kitchen, I’m not actually helping the situation. I’m not resourcing myself. I’m operating from an imbalanced place. This has downstream effects, and those effects aren’t positive. 

What is especially great about not only this specific conversation but also the general state of our relationship is that we are having these conversations, we aren’t leaving things unsaid, and we are having them in a calm, constructive way which leaves both people feeling better than when we start. I’m really grateful to have Kristyn in my life to teach me and to practice with me communication and attunement to others. 

IMPROMPTU SONG-MAKING WITH MY CHILD

From 2:30pm-5pm Monday-Friday, we have our eldest child at home with us (before the younger gets picked up from Spanish pre-school). We try to mix up how this time is spent, with some togetherness as well as some independent work and play. 

On Wednesday of this week, she and I headed down to our ramshackle “music studio” in the basement to mess around with the funny sounds we can make on the microphone. She immediately requested the “robot voice” (a sound setting in Garageband). As soon as she started talking in that voice, we got the idea to make a song about a robot. Over the next fifteen minutes we created a super simple track with two verses and a bridge. We didn’t write the verses, though; she improvised them on the spot as a basic musical accompaniment played in the background! It was such a cool experience to watch as my kid’s brain came up with clever things a robot would say and sing them on key and to a beat. 

“I Am A Robot” is not quite ready for release yet, but when it does make its way to the web… you’ll know. 

WHAT IS MY DREAM? ANSWER: THAT’S TOO BIG OF A QUESTION TO ANSWER

On Thursday, I once again fed myself a prompt in my journal. The day’s prompt: What is my dream? When I give myself journal prompts like this, I try to write with a brainstorm mentality, to free the mind and the pen to write without filter or direction. Anything goes. Any thought counts. If the though enters my brain, write it down, no matter how ridiculous or (seemingly) off-topic it might be. This particular day, even with the brainstorm mindset, I was stuck. Like, majorly stuck. I couldn’t quite picture anything concrete. Then I started judging myself for not having a solid dream. “How ridiculous is that?! I don’t know what I want? What I yearn for? Even kids know what they dream of. Why are you having such a hard time with this? You don’t even have a job right now. This is all you’ve been thinking about for months and you can’t even write down one stinking dream?”

It was time for a hike (see featured image). Not only did I have exhilarating encounters with two different sets of deer partners (buck and doe) mere feet off my trail, but I unlocked an insight while thinking on the prompt “What is my dream?” and talking out loud into my Voice Memo app as I walked. This insight came after 20-30 minutes of fruitless pondering. My mind was easily distracted. It was looking for any excuse, any thought to pull me away from the discomfort of sitting answerless to this question. Every time I noticed my mind following another train of thought, I re-centered on the prompt “What is my dream?”. 

Eventually, when I finally was able to just linger in that question, really embody it, I realized that, for me, in this moment, the question was too big. It needed a time constraint. What if I broke the question into small time increments? What if I changed the prompt to “What is my dream for today?” and then expanded from there? This approach was game-changing. 

In breaking this big question down into tiny chunks, I was able to figure out the following (these are the notes as I wrote them on that day):

  • My dream for today is to simply be doing what I was already doing – hiking outside. Eating delicious food for supper with my family. Spending quality time with my family where we are making each other laugh and enjoying each other’s company. Have an easeful time putting my kids to bed where I am in lock step with their desires of what they need to have an easeful bedtime. And then connect with my partner, have some mutually incredible sex, and close the day with an effortless meditation. That is what would make today a “dream day,” and I’m already on the path of living it. 
  • So, then, how is my dream for any other longer stretch of time any different than stringing a bunch of those exact days together in a row? Wouldn’t I just repeat this day again tomorrow? And the next? In a way, yes! But also, life has certain requirements; not all minutes of all days can be play, unless you happen to have access to unlimited resources. Ok, so let’s zoom out a little.
  • I then inquired “What is my dream for the month of November?” … My mind immediately gravitated toward Thanksgiving, a holiday landmark in the month of November. I dreamt of preparing delicious, crowd-pleasing dishes and of delighting in the joy they bring to my family. And I then felt compelled to think of a prayer to offer before the meal. I went on a twenty-minute tangent writing out a Thanksgiving prayer that flowed effortlessly out of me. 
  • And finally when I returned again to my question about my dream for November, and I finally stopped the many distracting thoughts my mind was taking me in, in the split second that I finally cleared my mind and just left space for that question, the feeling rushed in that I want to be making more progress toward our move to Costa Rica next summer. It is starting to feel like time to be tackling that project more enthusiastically and prioritizing it at the tippy top of the list. This is broken into three parts: learning Spanish, completing the project of building out our property, and getting rid of our unneeded possessions. 
  • I quit the exercise here. This seemed like far enough for now. Let’s make November my dream November. And that starts right now. 

If I can live out my dream day, and my dream week, and my dream month, all I have to do is start stringing those together and I will be living my dream life. 


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