Last week, I scheduled my time off for a February spring break trip to Sarasota, Florida. My husband and I enjoyed taking a winter road trip to Sarasota the past two years, and by now it feels like it’s turning into a regular event for us.

Work has been going well for both of us, and we’re not looking to escape from it. In fact, my husband, who has less vacation time than I do, plans to work remotely in the mornings. I thought about doing the same, but then decided against it. Even though I can’t picture myself being retired and spending many long, lazy days on the beach without much to keep my mind busy, I still need to allow myself enough unscheduled time outside the usual routine to enjoy quiet days and let myself unwind.

Word-art that says, "I want days without a schedule to keep. Hours left open for unplanned adventure. Moments of true stillness. I want a life outside of our busy schedule—a life with time to live." -Brooke Hampton

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

I like my new Garmin tracker, which allows me to customize activities much more than my old Fitbit did. In addition to pre-set activities such as walking and running, it has a menu with other options. I added rowing, indoor rowing, and yoga.

Photo of Garmin tracker showing activities: yoga, meditation, row, row indoor.

Meditation is one of the pre-sets, but I have not used it because I never track the length of time I meditate. Although I know that many people do, for me it seems to go against the purpose of meditation, which—in large part—is to free the mind from its cluttered thoughts of plans and schedules. When meditation becomes just another scheduled task on the to-do list, with every minute precisely tracked, that feels like a counterproductive approach.

So, after taking a photo for this post, I decided to delete meditation from the list of tracked activities. If, after meditating on any particular day, I feel that my mind has not been suitably refreshed by whatever amount of time I put into it, I probably would do better to take a walk outdoors or do some yoga, rather than fixating on the tracker and judging my meditation time as inadequate.

Sometimes it can be hard to stay confident in a world that seems full of challenges. I just did a rowing machine workout this evening with 25 fast intervals and not much rest. Even though I did the same workout last winter and got through it okay, it still felt daunting to sit down on the machine and get started. As it turned out, everything was fine, and my time was a little faster than last year.

Then my husband went to do his workout while I got in the shower. We follow the same exercise plan, and I was thinking about how much better off we are to have each other’s encouragement. Without it, we likely wouldn’t be pushing ourselves to do as much.

Because the modern world is so full of scheduled tasks with work, exercise plans, household chores, obligations to family and friends, and other duties that crowd in on us, we can easily lose sight of what matters. Every day, through ordinary interactions with family members and others, we are shaping their future as well as our own. We may not see it in the moment—but that is a truly awesome superpower.

Word-art that says, "You were born with the ability to change someone's life. Don't ever waste it."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

This is the eighth story in a series. Click here to read all parts from the beginning.

I hadn’t been walking much more than ten minutes before I saw a cabin through the trees, but by then it was nearly full dark. The two moons, which had taken on a greenish hue after sunset, had risen enough that they no longer seemed perilously close. Their light helped me to stay on the path when Ira, with his much longer stride, got well ahead of me with his lantern. Snow had started falling and already coated the frozen ground near the cabin, where the trees were sparse.

Photo of a snowy cabin at night with a greenish sky.

(Photo credit: US Bureau of Land Management)

The word “cabin” seemed to suit Ira’s house because it was a simple wooden building with the dimensions and general appearance of a hunter’s cabin, although sized for giants. The doorknob, which was barely within my reach with raised arms, came to shoulder height on Ira’s sturdy Sasquatch-like body, leaving me to wonder what sort of people might have lived here originally.

Inside, the cabin felt wonderfully warm after my sojourn in the frigid woods. A fire burned brightly in the large stone hearth across from the door, and a stewpot hanging above it gave off an enticing aroma. I hadn’t eaten since grabbing a quick breakfast at the Bucharest airport in what seemed like another lifetime, and I sternly reminded myself that I’d better keep my focus on looking for potential dangers.

Nothing looked ominous when I surveyed the one-room cabin. The furniture, all made of wood, consisted only of a table, two chairs, and a footstool. Boxes of various sizes were scattered along the walls. A rug covering the floorboards by the fireplace was the pelt of a large animal I might have taken for a brown bear, except that its paws were absurdly oversized and had seven toes. In a corner, another rug on a raised platform apparently served as Ira’s bed. It all looked spartan in the extreme. I heard squeaks and flapping wings from somewhere far above in the darkness of the rafters, but otherwise there seemed to be nothing of concern. Walking across the room, I held out my hands to the fire’s cheery blaze, trying to get some warmth back into my icy fingers.

Ira picked up one of the smaller boxes and the footstool, setting them down next to me and gesturing for me to sit on the box. When I did so, the footstool came to a reasonable height for a small table. Rustling around in the other boxes, Ira took out two chipped ceramic bowls with mismatched patterns, two dented metal spoons, and a ladle that I thought at first might be a shovel. I brushed some dried mud off my makeshift table while Ira ladled stew into the bowls.

When he put a bowl in front of me, steam rose from the bubbling stew in the firelight. Mushrooms were recognizable, and there were chunks of a red root vegetable that looked like beets, along with the mystery meat. No, rodent meat, I corrected myself, noticing part of a tail. Doing my best to look on the bright side, that at least meant Ira probably wasn’t a cannibal.

I hadn’t quite gotten up enough gumption to start eating my big helping of alien rodent stew when Ira, now seated at the table, spoke. Although he was looking directly at me, his voice had the cadence of a ritual chant. Guessing that he might be saying grace, I stayed still, politely waiting for him to finish. Not having grown up in a religious family, I then mumbled awkwardly, “God is good, bless this food, amen.” I picked up my spoon and silently added a more fervent prayer that it wouldn’t kill me.

Ira’s chant had left me feeling calmer, though, as if his words—even though I couldn’t understand them—had somehow brought peace to the cabin. I managed to relax enough to eat the stew like it was an ordinary meal. It didn’t taste half bad, honestly. I wasn’t adventurous enough to eat the tail, however, and left it at the bottom of the bowl. So that Ira wouldn’t feel insulted, I rubbed my belly and let out a loud belch to make clear that my skinny little body had been very well fed.

Chuckling, Ira gathered up the remains of the meal, took a pail of hot water from the hearth, and poured some water into a basin to wash the dishes. The familiarity of that simple chore left me, for just a moment, nearly forgetting that he wasn’t human.

The wind has been howling outside my house this afternoon, and colder temperatures are forecast to arrive over the weekend. As adults, we tend to grumble about winter weather because, for many of us, it seems like an annoyance when we’d rather enjoy the outdoors on pleasant summer days. When we were children, though, we’d go out any time of year, and a snow day was a fun day, just right for sledding and adventures. There’s no reason why we can’t keep those memories in mind, even now, and look on the bright side.

Word-art with children sledding that says, "Bright hopes for the future, sweet memories for the past."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

Last night my husband and I went to our rowing club’s white elephant gift exchange party at a pub. As usual, there were funny gag gifts, including a calendar of “Sexy Men Doing Chores,” which none of the women had enough gumption to take from the guy who had the misfortune of unwrapping it. We came home with what we thought were the best items—a decorative miniature oar, a vanilla candle, and a set of cheese-cutting utensils. Of course, everyone has different ideas about what is best for gifts, as well as in life more generally. It wouldn’t be as much fun otherwise!

Word-art that says, "All that is best, that best I wish you."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

Considering the outcome of my previous New Year’s resolution on a dark, misty afternoon, I judged that it hadn’t amounted to much. Although I had resolved to feel unburdened by self-imposed tasks, my to-do list snowballed instead. It all started innocently enough; I decided to spend a little time improving my coding skills. That led to my manager deciding I was tech-savvy enough to help another group with technical writing.

Meanwhile, with a big push for AI development underway, my workgroup had to do software testing in addition to our regular tasks, and by June that had expanded so much that we had overtime hours available every week. At the same time, my husband was making plans for our mixed quad crew to row in October at the Head of the Charles, which would be our first time traveling to this extremely competitive regatta in Boston. I earned some overtime money to put toward rowing expenses, while keeping up with both my regular workouts and rowing practice in the quad.

The Boston trip was exciting, and I was glad that we did it. Still, this was a year in which I felt exhausted and fragmented more often than not. I couldn’t honestly say I’d gotten anywhere with my resolution to unburden myself. What I really wanted to do was to soar through life free and easy, floating weightlessly above it all, kind of like this old-fashioned image I came across recently:

Word-art that says, "A Joyous New Year to You!"

(Image credit: The Graphics Fairy)

“So, go ahead and do it then.”

Dot, my personified to-do list, stepped out of last year’s resolution post and tapped one of her shiny red shoes impatiently.

“Okay, that sounds good as a resolution and a word of intention,” I had to agree. “Soar. Let go of the burdens, becoming so light without them as to lift up into the air. Yes, I like that idea—but how can I take any practical steps toward doing it?”

“You don’t, really.” Dot opened her hands, showing their emptiness. “You just let go, and everything else takes care of itself. Here’s a question: What were you doing last week?”

“Not much. I was on vacation.”

“Did you feel unburdened?”

I thought about it for a moment before answering. “Yes. I suppose so. It felt quiet and calm, with nothing much going on. I didn’t feel that I was carrying any burdens in particular.”

“Well, there you go.” Dot smiled. “That means there’s nothing to stop you from soaring. Maybe your feet already have lifted off the ground, just a little, whether or not you’ve noticed yet.”