Unplugging

Scandinavians Share Secrets to Surviving Darkness

Posted on: Monday, January 18th, 2021
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, SoulTrain, Unplugging, Work/Life Hacking | Leave a comment

  • Danish art about getting hyggelig from a boutique in a small coastal town 

As a 100% Scandinavian mutt, I’ve enjoyed unforgettable travels in their lands, and maintain a stubborn habit of studying their ways of life.  Healthcare consortium Kaiser Permanente recently posted an article promoting the simple but effective ways that those Nordic folks deal with darkness, both literal and metaphorical.

This ain’t brain science. Yet these rituals may work brain-mind-body miracles. We’ll embrace the language barrier + share some ideas, in case these days have you feeling dark, hopeless, scared, anxious, intimidated, worried, numb, confused, lost, pissed, catatonic, bored, or otherwise not quite euphoric.

  • FRILUTSLIV (OPEN-AIR LIVING)

BreakAway has preached this until if we scream in the forest, no one will hear us. Point is, every moment outside improves your well-being. A long sojourn in the mountains might be idyllic, but even a walk in the park will work wonders. In my Scandi and Scandi-American Midwest memories, every farm and yard had chairs and benches all over the yards—among other toys and cues to lure you out-of-walls. And oh, those sweet porches…

  • GOKOTTA (WAKE EARLY; WORSHIP BIRDS)

Yep, it’s about that simple. Get up, sleepy head, and hear the birds when they are most robust. You start the day chirpy, happy, and ready to flutter into the to-do list. Hey, if the birds can do it, you can too!

  • FIKA PAUS (THE COFFEE BREAK)

In Sweden, work is scheduled around the break, not VV. And this is not just a slouch and stare at the phone moment. Rather, there’s conversation, calming, resting, and reset. I remember this ritual at both sets of my grandparents’ farms and beyond. So simple, yet almost transformative. The laughter, the sharing of thoughts and info, the camaraderie. And then…back to work. The fresh cookies and cakes were pretty good too!

  • HYGGE (COZINESS) 

This word has been trending so long I almost feel sheepish and ba-a-a-d to use it. But hey, I grew up with hyggelig, so who needs trends? Hygge, of course, means embracing the darkness by lighting a candle, a fire, a twinkling tree. Piling on another posh pillow. Hugging blankets and sipping something warm. And don’t forget soothing MUSIC! Just get comfie. Summer will be back soon enough.

  • LAGOM (BALANCE)

As BreakAway has always promoted, Everything in moderation . (Including moderation.) LAGOM, which might translate to “just the right amount,” suggests we avoid, say, over-eating and N’flix binging. And that we un-rest the butt and move more. Get the chores done. But then take enjoy coffee break!

Perhaps a shot of akavit at the end of the day? Just sayin’. Ha det godt! (Norsk.)

Og behold troen. (More Norsk.)

Translation: And keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: The End of a Year-a

Posted on: Friday, January 1st, 2021
Posted in: Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

  • Rough year, anyone? Even the snow knows… 

There will be volumes of verbiage written about this troublesome year. So for now, I’ll try to make no sense of it, and leave that to smarter Thought Leaders.

I must, however, note the challenge—nay, the absurdity!—of hosting a site that advocates career breaks, long-term travel, taking time off, unplugging, and such.

Why? Well, many (most?) of us experienced job insecurity or loss that made viable careers more valuable yet shaky than ever.  As for long-term travel, that became an ill-advised financial outlay that could make you sick and take you to a shut-down dystopia. Time off, while always welcome, this year was forced way more that most people wanted. And as for unplugging, forget it! I want my NTV!

Still, I found things to think and write about, even if it sometimes felt like filibustering. And frankly, there were unexpected gifts and pleasures too. My kids were home and together more than I ever would have expected. My house got C-19 but we got through it okay mostly. I spent more time outdoors and exercising than ever (never mind that it ended in knee surgery). And all that dead time forced some introspection and meaning-of-life pondering that, though often heavy, is important stuff.

I hope we can get back “normal” (whatever that is) in 2021, including struggling with finding balance and dreaming about BreakAways. Meantime, lay low, keep the faith and, don’t forget to SCREAM…

HAPPY NEW YEAR! ! ! ! !

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5 Selfish, Cheap Holiday Gift Ideas

Posted on: Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging | Leave a comment

  • That DIY tree has survived many iterations of traditions. We can too!

I made that cute (?) and crafty Christmas tree at age 10 (approximately), with leftover decorations purchased for 50% off at Walgreen’s on 12-26. How has it survived so long? Who knows? But it shines on every year, assuring some holiday luster regardless of family riffs, broken relationships, and whether or not some competing tree is all aglow.

For most, this holiday season looks like no other. And that’s okay. Because expectations, like promises, are often silly and later broken. But the sun comes up anyhow, lakes freeze and then melt again, and the most meaningful traditions and observances can carry on despite pandemics and a host of other obstacles.

Here are a few—make that 5—ways to “gift” yourself that I’ve found restorative during these restless holidays. They remain unbreakable, timeless, and free…

  • SING!

Your pipes want to stretch out. In the shower, in the kitchen, in the car. At my age, I’ve noticed my range has shrunk. When I asked my musician-dad why, he said, “You just need to practice.” So I am, like nobody’s listening, because nobody is. Maybe we can’t sing in church and such these days, but still…what is the season without singing?

  • GO SILENT 

When you’re voice gets hoarse, listen to the winter silence. The winds blowing. The red squirrel scuttling through snow the yard and scolding his gray rivals. Oh sure, some are sure that the world is falling apart. But if you listen hard enough, all is calm; all is bright.

  • SURPRISE SOMEBODY, BUT TELL NOBODY

Drop $100 in the Sal Army bucket. Or tip that delivery guy more than the meal cost. Or snow-blow a neighbor’s driveway before they wake up. If karma is for real, you’ll soon receive a warm fire in your heart. I karma’s a hoax, you still will.

  • FORCE SOME FAITH

It’s cool to drop out of church (and other places of worship) these days. But what are we left to believe if we practice nothing, revere God-knows-what, and get stuck in our own noisy minds? Let’s not go there. Instead, go ahead: Read the Christmas story. Light (and stare down) some candles. Ponder a power that’s bigger than the Grinch’s heart.

  • EXPERIMENT WITH SELF CARE

Oh yeah, we’re all sick of self-care shticks. And yet, a holiday season sans family raucousness, spirited parties, and bustling malls does free up some time. And maybe the mind. So take a nap. Take a bath! And of course—as BreakAway is always preaching about—Unplug!

As the omnipresent masses used proclaim at Christmas time…

Peace be with you!

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11 Reasons Why COVID Is OK

Posted on: Thursday, November 19th, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Rants & Roadkill, Sabbatical Shuffle, SoulTrain, Unplugging | Leave a comment
  • C-19 is serious. But so is coping. Here’s a light-hearted look at ways to get through the day…

You know me: Always the optometrist. So I just can’t help but clearly see the silver lining of our murky pandemic Reality. Oh sure, the arguments are thinner than the cheapo TP we all hoarded from Sam’s Club.  But we also need alternatives to gloom-scrolling. And chintzy TP is better than none at all!

So, if you’ll pardon this overdose on Pollyanna pills, please consider… 

  • 11 Reasons Why COVID Is OK 

1. OVER-CROWDED EATERIES ARE OUTRE’. Remember wandering a cool neighborhood looking for food and fun? Recall being unable to get in the door—any door? And who can forget fighting for a drink at the popular pub or monster truck rally? Sometimes the crowds were part of the entertainment, but other times just heinous. And I’m also okay with…

2. $16 HOUSE WINES ARE CORKED UP. And BTW that’s a glass, not a bottle—and sometimes a paltry pour. I do love tasting red wine and seeing new places. But price creep (on all sorts of treats and experiences) taking a breather? That’s okay too.

3. THE ELECTION STAYED SO MELLOW. You think I’m joking? I’m not! Ya sure, this year’s politics were more repugnant than turds in a hot tub. But absent COVID? We’d have likely seen crowds and destruction that would have put this strife to the pale.

4. STAY-CATION IS SURGING. (Quirky coincidence with pandemic #s?) But seriously, even we travel buffs know that there’s no place like homestead. If folks are giving their abode some TLC and finding R&R in their oft-empty McMansions, that’s a soulful win-win.

5. HOME SCHOOLING IS IN SESSION. This one’s a stretch; many families are challenged and many students (40% in St. Paul) are struggling. On the upside, though, families are more involved than before with their kids’ education. A new appreciation for teachers has blossomed. And we are forced to re-think education and the outsized role of screens in learning.

6. “I’M SO BUSY’ HAS TAKEN A BREAK. You know these people: They’re so busy telling you how busy they are that, well, you hardly manage conversation at all. And it’s true: We have become a bafflingly busy culture. Too busy? Maybe. It might do some rat-racers good to take a cool-down lap.

7. WE ARE RE-WORKING THE WORKPLACE. While always in flux, there still must be billions of people who are working 9-to-5-plus and jamming up the freeways for hours on end. If more freedom and flexibility is a side-effect of the pandemic, many employees will be grateful.

8. STOCKS AND REAL ESTATE ARE BOOMING. So far, anyway, mostly. Of course, that only benefits those who have such holdings—and (as the Armchair Economist noted in these pages) the haves truly are getting richer. But for now, it’s okay—versus the alternatives.

9. WE’RE LEARNING SOME NEW VOCABULARY. Did you know that America’s vocab is shrinking faster than your Thanksgiving guest list? It’s true. So let’s be thankful that C-19 has upped our usage of fine words like asymptomatic, antibodies, and pod—while politics made slang out of vitriol, discord, and narcissistic. Quiz Tuesday!

10. POST-PANDEMIC, WE WILL APPRECIATE BREAKAWAYS EVEN MORE! Here in MN, we live by warped mantras like…The sooner winter happens, the sooner summer comes back! But it’s true! And someday, someday, we WILL get to travel again—whether to a family gathering, the cabin, or a coveted dream vacation.

11. MUSIC. When your mind is racing or you’re otherwise about to go completely bat-shit, play music. With your own instruments, or whatever you call your stereo. Turn it up. Let it bathe your blues and blast your brain.

After (God knows how) many months of quarantine, we’ll enjoy travel—and restaurants and parties and schools and mask-free living—more than ever. So in the meantime, let us try to find gratitude for the things that still bring comfort, and the fact that, yep, it could be worse.

Keep the faith.

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15 Killer Ways to Avoid Viral DoomScrolling

Posted on: Sunday, August 23rd, 2020
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, SoulTrain, Unplugging | Leave a comment

  • Doom? Gloom? Play ball instead!

Yep, it’s a thing. As if we don’t already have enough to freak us out, people (who already obsessed with their digitalia) can’t stop seeking bad news. It’s like admitting that banging your head on the wall is bad for you, but doing it all day anyway.

Many major media outlets recently exposed this unfortunate trend. They’ve  talked to experts, of course, who wisely told us to do things like acknowledge the issue. Plan and schedule activities away from your screens. Take more breaks from your tech and work. Meditate. Connect with someone (friend or family) for 15 minutes a day. Pick times and places to get your bad news, and limit your intake to those times only (how about only when sitting on the toilet?).  The pundits offer us the usual good ideas for mental health hygiene.

Good stuff, all of it. And I must confess that the more Real News I ingest, the more sick I feel. So I second the this emotion and would like to add my 15 worthy distraction—from an unfortunately experienced and deeply disturbed citizen of this sick planet…

  • 1. GROW A GARDEN

If you have a yard or patio, get dirty with it. If you lack that, hoard some houseplants. Or plant some seeds. The miracle and promise for the future sprouts naturally and just keeps on growing. And growing.  

  • 2. TAKE A HIKE

Or at least a walk. Peruse your neighborhood routinely, and note the simply amazing ways that things change daily, and more so over a season. If time and conditioning allow, wander anywhere and everywhere, keeping in mind that, “All who wander are not lost.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

  • 3. STRETCH

There’s enough instruction help online to hyper-stretch both body and imagination. You could buy a bunch of tools and toys (or go yoga). But you can also easily loosen up those tight glutes on the floor while watching bubble baseball. Your body will thank you.

  • 4. EXERCISE NEW REGIMENS

Kayak like a madman. Shoot hoops. Get that old bike working again. Dust off the yard games in your garage. Or toss around my old fave: Frisbee; there are also lots of Frisbee golf courses these days—often for free! Bounce a tennis ball, anyone? Or pick up that new (and superb!) not-just-for-geezers sport: Pickleball!

  • 5. WRITE POSTCARDS

You probably have a bunch stashed away from those trips you took back when, well, you could travel. Or create some. Write by hand to old friends or journey mates or—aha!—folks you met on the road. You’ll spark priceless memories and make someone’s day. 

  • 6. PLAY MUSIC

There’s a reason you can’t quite throw out those old LPs, CDs, cassettes, and 45s. And this time, really listen. Skip playlists; jump back into albums. Few pastimes can be as therapeutic and spiritual as hearing song.

  • 7. PLAY MUSIC 

It’s a lovely release and savvy exercise for hand-to-eye coordination. So noodle around with that old guitar, keyboard, or flugelhorn. Heck, you were probably pretty good…back in the day. Relive those days, rejoice in the noise, and play like nobody’s watching. (They aren’t.) 

  • 8. JUMP INTO LIVESTREAMS.

I’ve been blown away by the musicians, groups, festivals, and beyond that are entertaining online, usually for free. And some bands are releasing coveted concerts for ravenous fans. (I’m hooked on many groups’ shows, including Phish, Radiohead, and the Grateful Dead.) Museums and other venues are adapting too. So join the virtual party!

  • 9. COOK UP A STORM

No, you can’t go out as much as you used to. Yes, you probably have more time on your hands. So put your hands into creating tasty (and healthy!) meals. The CDC would approve.

  • 10. PURGE UR CRAP.

Does anyone enjoy sorting (and eliminating) old stuff? Nope. But does everyone enjoy the feeling of a lighter load and cleaner closet? Indubitably yes. So what are you waiting for? The next pandemic?

  • 11. TAKE A PRETEND VACATION

Watch movies filmed in exotic locales whether Fellini-esque or lampoon-y. Open up old scrap books and photo albums. Or better yet, pack a picnic and visit some popular area nearby that you normally avoid cuz of crowds and Karens. For a change, the traffic and congestion may be less of a hassle—and Karen likely stayed home to bemoan the closed restaurants. 

  • 12. BECOME A NATURE FREAK

Find Jeremiah. Take wing with birds. Look for creatures in the clouds. Watch the grass grow, for heaven’s sake. Nature never fails, and Toady doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about our stupid pandemic. PS Pick up a birdbath; you’ll make the birdies giddy, which will make you happy.

  • 13. HEAD TO THE SHORE

Any shore—whatever’s nearby. Water: Symbolic, calming, essential. And with any luck, there’s got to be a lake, stream, or sea somewhere close to your crib. 

  • 14. HOST A SOCIALLY COMFORTABLE EVENT

Some worry that C-19 is turning some people into premature curmudgeons. Overzealous anti-socialites. Hissy scare-dy cats. Could it be? Meantime, I’m cheering for the local senior softball league that plays on and then stretches out for some post-game beers in the parking lot. I will show up for the neighbor’s spacious bonfire. I mean, isn’t the risk of loneliness and isolation (to say nothing of lost relationships) a credible medical and mental-health concern, too?

  • 15. GIVE HELP 

Folks are getting sad, mad, and tense. Worse yet, someone you know is sick, locked-in, or otherwise limited. So pick up their groceries. Paint their deck. Or just ask, “How can I help?”  They’ll be so grateful, you may solve their problem, and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself too.

  • Please Resist Doomscrolling   : ) 

So turn off that newscast. Just peek at—rather than pore over—the news feeds. And pooh-pooh the politicians that have proven they are talented at very little beyond fueling fear and animosity.

Doomscrolling. Yep, it’s a thing. I’m sorry. We’re all sorry. 

May you stay safe and sane and (with apologies to poet Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”) find better things to do with your wild and precious pandemic.

Keep the faith.

 

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FOTOFRIDAY: Vacations & Odd Ducks

Posted on: Monday, August 3rd, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

FF is late this week. Because the Crew has been on vacation. Nothing exotic, not long enough, but…away. Most people dream about getting away and things, but the sad fact remains that more than half of US workers’ vakay days go unused. It’s the Odd Duck who actually takes care, takes advantage, and takes off for some frolic and fun.

In this picture, you can see what happens to that Odd Duck. Co-workers attack and ostracize. They splash water on your visions of work/life balance. They quack behind your back and peck at your beak because they are jealous you might find bliss and pissed that your absence may increase their work load.

You, meanwhile, may be a closet territorialist—afraid that ditching the job may result in lost opportunity, a back-breaking backlog, or the realization that you really aren’t essential anyway. Yes, it’s complicated. All the more reason to step away for some fresh perspective. (Just don’t think too much. Watch waves and ducks.)

We’ve been carping about this since at least 2009. And yes, the pandemic complicates time off, as it does everything. But maybe the unprecedented stress and uncertainty of these times makes getting AWAY and UNPLUGGING more important than ever! Because hanging with that white duck and the other curious and revitalizing experiences of this BreakAway did much to calm my turbulent waters. For now, anyhow.

Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Seek Silence; Create Beauty

Posted on: Friday, July 17th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

“The whole world is at sixes and sevens and why the house hasn’t fallen down about our ears long ago is beyond me.” So says the omniscient maid, Sabrina, in the opening scene of Thornton Wilder’s 1942 Pulitzer-winning play, “The Skin of our Teeth.”

The show is about the never-ending vulnerability—and the resolute endurance—of the human race. The play’s three acts take place during an ice age, a great flood, and a horrific war. Were there a fourth act, a pandemic would fit right in.

Of late, lines and scenes from “The Skin of Our Teeth” sometimes echo through my head. (I was in the play as a child.) But such reveries feel like a luxury, because what’s often happening in our heads is the news of violence. Of scary health threats. Of disunity and anger and, above all, unprecedented uncertainty.

My wish for myself, and for all of us, is some silence. Stay informed and make your statements. But then turn off the noise. Seek the stillness—and listen to it. Create something of beauty, however esoteric or secret or temporary. After all, most of us are mostly stuck in place with some extra time on our hands.

Some day in the future, when we have returned to our busy, self-important routines, we may look back longingly at this unscheduled BreakAway.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Staycationeering

Posted on: Friday, June 19th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment
  • My daughter quietly making art in a moment of staycation calm

It’s funny. Most people spend most of their lives answering “How are you?” with the impressive reply, “I’m so busy!” In normal times, we therefore likely long for a long BreakAway, a relaxing vacation, or even a therapeutic staycation. That word’s gotten super-hot lately, yet now many folks are screaming, “I’m so stir-crazy!”

Well, here’s your staycation opportunity, friends—a topic that deserves a closer look in a forthcoming posts—and certainly in my own muddled world. Have you made your wish-list? Clean closets? Plant shrubs? Read The Gifts of Imperfection? Zoom your faraway rellies?

My daughter often surprises me with her staycation instincts and gift of spontaneously launching projects that make something out of nothing. Like this watercolor of a recent picture. Who know she could even paint so well? Drawing (and sailing!) the Hjørdis isn’t easy! (I know; I took sailing classes on her!)

Oh sure, this photo is a mere memory snapshot; I didn’t want to interrupt a moment of peace, of inspiration. But it reminds us to use some spare moments during this gift of (messy) time to seek some calm, creativity, and beauty.

We need it, right? Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: The Silence of the Loons

Posted on: Friday, June 12th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

Recently, friends took me out on a pontoon ride to share the secret location of the oh-so hidden loon nest. Lake Owasso, like most Minnesota lakes, gets one beloved loon pair per year. Loons are fiercely territorial, remarkably fearless, and absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

In the Real World, problems keep becoming more explosive. Sad. And Surreal. So seriously: I recommend loons. Or whatever miracle of nature may be in your path that takes your anxieties away, fills you with reverence, and inspires a moment of peace.

Loons can be loud. But my response is silence. And for a fleeting moment—when the loon allows—that quietude and awe is the best therapy I could ask for.

I shot this photo alone at dusk, via kayak and a long zoom lens. The loon was aware of my intrusion, but somehow trusted my intentions. And my desire to coexist with respect and silence.

Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Escape COVID: Go OUTSIDE!

Posted on: Friday, April 10th, 2020
Posted in: Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

Let’s face it, most of America endures bothersome winters of some sort, literally and metaphorically. So when spring arrives—which happens sporadically at best—everyone should drop everything (including their stupid dumb phones) and head to the great outdoors!

That Nasty Virus makes fresh air, open space, and nature even more alluring and vital. After all, we’re mostly locked-down inside inventing new hyper-definitions to for “stir crazy” and “testy.” In normal times, folks head out in swarms here in Minnesota when a heat wave of, say, 42F finally arrives. But lately, the traffic jams have abandoned the highways and hit the sidewalks! (Never mind that they all turn their heads and sprint 6’ away when they see me coming.)

Walk the dog. Walk the rake. Rake the yard. Rake the dog. Play catch with your kids. Invent new sports with your kids. Try social-distance bonfires, driveway happy hours, and pontoon rides (on vessels large enough to keep your space)—like when I took this “Super Moon Pink Moon” shot with the iPhone 11 this week.

A bit blurry, sure. But better than my (very few) crew-mates took with their devices. And why not…since reality is becoming one big blur? Better take pictures to remember these epic days, even while they run together like weird chalk art in the rain. Oh, and did I mention: Go OUTSIDE?

We’ll get through this.

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