Road tripping again: The dreaded planning process

We really enjoyed our road trip last year, especially all of the amazing new sites we got to see, so we’ve been chatting about taking another road trip this year. My fiancé likes to be exceptionally spontaneous and I’m more of a planner. To make this work, he gives me a budget and a general theme or location for the trip. I then go to town researching the areas we are considering and how that will fit with our goals and budget. We don’t usually pre=book anywhere to stay along the way, so we can play it by ear as we go. This enables us to stay longer in areas we like and not waste precious time in areas that aren’t holding our interest. It also comes with some challenges though, especially when things are booked and we have to drive further than expected to find lodging for the evening.

This road trip proves to be exciting and challenging at the same time. We plan to road trip for 10-13 days around the perimeter of the state of Michigan, visiting state parks along the great lakes. We have thrown in an added challenge in that we will be camping for most of the trip. This means that every time we want to move locations (almost daily), we will need to tear down camp and then make sure we arrive at our next location early enough in the day to have light to set up camp again. It also means planning our food ahead of time. Our diet since the juice fast has been drastically different than our previous camping adventures have been and I need to rethink our camping food choices to find something that works with our new diet. Our entire budget for the 10-13 days is only $1500-1750.

I began by trying to find out which state parks in Michigan might have something interesting to offer that we can’t see elsewhere. There are over 100 state parks in Michigan, so we obviously can’t visit them all. We live in Southwest Michigan, so we have already decided we won’t spend a lot of time on the western side of the state, since we can get to most of those parks as a day or weekend trip. The same is true of the southeastern corner of the state, below Detroit. So, we will focus the bulk of our time in the upper peninsula and the northeastern corner of the state. I have compiled a map of 36 state parks, plus other attractions, that we might be interested in visiting.

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Next step is budgeting. I’ve calculated basic driving distance between select points in the state and determined we will probably drive about 1500-2000 miles and our vehicle gets about 20 mpg; this means we will need about $300 for gas alone. Our basic admission to the state parks is free because of the license plate I mentioned, but we still have ot pay to stay overnight. Camping fees in the state parks vary from $17-35/night, so I’ve budgeted $30/night for 13 nights, totaling $360. Our menu is pretty simple also. I’ll make rice and quinoa ahead of time and bring canned beans for dinner. Since it’s summer, we will stop at farmers markets along the road and pick up fruits and veggies to supplement. For lunch we’ll have rice cakes and peanut butter with fruit on top. Since I’m a BeachBody coach, we’ll have Vanilla Vegan Shakeology for breakfast each day. The powder is easy to mix with water and keeps you full for a few hours. Our grocery budget for all of this (minus Shakeology, because I already have it) is $260. We also have 2 meat days each week. I don’t really like taking steak in the cooler, so I’ve budgeted $180 for us to eat in restaurants on our meat days. This leaves us $400-650 for miscellaneous spending like hotels (if it’s cold or rainy), extra restaurant nights, admission to other attractions, etc. I don’t count souvenirs in the budget; if we decide to buy them, they are extras.

BUDGET $1500-1750

  • $300 – fuel
  • $360 – camping fees
  • $260 – groceries
  • $180 – restaurants
  • $400-650 misc.

After all of my planning, I can see that our trip is actually doable and looks like it will be fun and full of new sights and adventures. When I told my fiancé it was a go, he decided we should leave in 4 days! I already have a camping packing list to work from (I’m a planner), so it won’t be too hard to get things ready in time. Fortunately for my fiancée, my obsessive planning allows him to be as free and spontaneous as he wants to be. This is why we work so well together.

Bucket List Item: Write a Novel

The first bucket list item I want to focus on for my Tuesday posts is very timely. The month of November begins tomorrow. Every year, I have wanted to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place every year in November. The idea is that you write about 1700 words of a novel every day throughout the month of November and at the end of the month, you have approximately a 50,000 word novel… actually, probably more of a novella, but it’s a manageable task with a huge outcome.

Back in September, I mentioned that I have a novel running around in the back of my mind, just waiting to get out. This is why my daily wring goal, and this blog, are so important to me. One day, I want to get that novel out of my head. You may be thinking that that is what I will be writing this November, but it isn’t. I need to test my hand at this novel writing thing first. I need to work on developing a story arc and creating dynamic characters that people want to read about; I need to come up with compelling obstacles and interesting ways for characters to overcome them; and most of all, I need to know that I am even capable of writing anything resembling a novel before I take on the great story in my mind. The NaNoWriMo program structure helps me break novel writing down into a manageable task… a SMART goal.

I first heard of NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I have friends who write a lot and have participated in the past. They seemed to enjoy the challenge and many wrote novellas that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. None of my friends actually published their NaNoWriMo work, which actually seems less threatening to me than the thought of trying to write a book that is intended to go out into the world and be read by millions, or even dozens, of people. I think that type of work needs more planning than the structure and timeline of the program allows. This means that I can simply work on writing a story with a beginning, middle and end. While, 50,000 words in a month seems overwhelming, I have learned through this blog that 1-2 thousand words a day isn’t. It’s given me the confidence to sign up for my first ever NaNoWriMo. I’ve finally realized that life isn’t just going to pause and open up a perfect window long enough for me to write. If I want a novel written, I need to make the time and do it, so here goes.

That’s right, I start writing a novel tomorrow and , if all goes according to plan, should be 50,000+ words in by the end of November. I’ve brainstormed a few ideas and may post a few excerpts here for review from time to time. I’m hoping this will give me the push I need to get moving on my main novel again. Architecture school was a big distraction, but if I cross writing a novel off my bucket list, I’ll be halfway there. Publishing and selling a novel is the other half of this bucket list item, but I’m now realizing they don’t necessarily have to come together. Maybe I have more than one story to tell and my biggest challenge is simply to get started and get one out of my head. The fast structure of the program won’t allow me to get hung up on any one little element, I just have to keep writing. I’ll definitely keep you up to date on how it’s going in my Monday morning check-ins, so stay tuned.

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The Bucket List Job

It’s been a few days since I’ve written here. It’s not that I’m not sticking to my writing goals… I’m actually exceeding them. I’ve been hard at work 6+ hours per day writing complete project descriptions for all the items in my architecture portfolio. Unfortunately, I did not get in the habit of doing this as I worked on and completed projects; so I have to go back and write them now. It’s not as easy of a task when some of the projects happened five years ago.

One of my bucket list items involves working for the top architecture company in the world. That doesn’t happen easily. I need a tightly wrapped up and polished portfolio and a killer resume. I’m working on ensuring I have that right now. Instead of going to work, I go to “work” on my job credentials. I try to spend at least 6 hours a day on this process, as well as increasing my knowledge base by learning a new skill. I am hoping all of this extra work will help me get in the door and get that coveted interview. I usually do well once I hit the interview stage, and have never not been offered a job after an interview (knock on wood).

I don’t write this to brag. I write it because many people have a specific job or employer in their bucket list and that doesn’t happen by just sitting around and waiting for it. If you want that job, you need to prepare for it and be the absolute best candidate for it. Depending on the job, that could take days, weeks, or months. In my case it is taking quite a bit of writing and editing. I am finding myself often stretched to my mental limit by the end of the day and just unable to write another sentence. Today I took it a bit easier and went for a nature walk in the afternoon to refresh my mind and found that helped me be able to write more here. I’ll try to keep up that process so we can stay in touch, but please be patient with me if I miss a few days during the writing period.

The architecture portfolio is a unique process. Once the project descriptions are complete and edited to perfection (or as close as I can get), I will begin working on the creative layout for the portfolio and collecting all the necessary pictures and scans. Things get moved around and blended with the project descriptions until it all looks like a slick magazine that someone would actually be interested in reading. A lot of architecture students just create boards of each project, but a compelling narrative enhances the overall appeal of the portfolio and encourages people to take more than just a cursory glance… hopefully.

Living the bucket list isn’t just about buying things and experiences, because some of those experiences can’t be bought. Sometimes you have to put your nose to the grind and do the work required to reach the goal. I’m hoping all my work will pay off and I can soon check this item off the list as accomplished.

Needing to Focus

As I review the first couple weeks of my Level 10 Life, I’m noticing some disturbing trends. It seems that certain habits aren’t getting done at all and others are done every day. Writing this blog is an exercise designed to improve the career segment of life and it has been going well. I’m enjoying the writing process and hopefully you’re enjoying being along on this journey with me. Reading 30 minutes every day is designed to improve my personal development sector and something I generally don’t have a problem accomplishing. But there are other categories, especially 3 of them, where I’ve given myself the simplest habits and still can’t seem to accomplish them.

In the family and friends category, I find myself avoiding my “call or meet a friend once a week” habit despite it’s apparent simplicity. Only, it isn’t simple. You see, as I reflect on why I’m not making those calls, I’m realizing that many of my friends are in very negative places right now and I’m struggling to not feel drained. I am usually the one who reaches out and then I feel emotionally drained after the conversation from being supportive of all the stuff they’re going through and never getting reciprocal support for the things I’m struggling with. While I do want to continue to be there for those friends, I’m considering an amendment to the SMART goal. I’m thinking my goal needs to be to find additional friends who can be mutually supportive to balance out my time with the other friends. On the surface, this feels selfish, but as I look closer, I think it’s probably better for all of us. No one deserves to have a friend who is resentful of the time they give you, and I’ve become that; I’ve become resentful of one-sided relationships that take away all of my energy. In order to be a better friend, I need to stop relying on those relationships for something they aren’t giving and expecting to get something our of them that I’m not. I am not really sire if changing goals is “technically” allowed, but I think this is a good call.

Which brings us to the Health and Fitness category. I’m struggling with 2 of the 3 goals in this category and doing pretty well at the third. The problem is, that this category is one I feel really needs a lot of work right now. I quit smoking 5 years ago, when I started school, and have doubled in size since then. I get out of breath easily, ache all over, and feel like if my body & health don’t get the attention, I might not live long enough to accomplish the things on my bucket list. I’m just now starting to have grandchildren and I want to be around, and actively able, to participate in their lives for quite some time. So for the remainder of this week, I’ll be heavily focused on the 3 SMART goals for that category. I will be getting on the treadmill for at least 10 minutes, 5 days each week. I will be getting to sleep (or at least laying in bed in the quiet dark trying to sleep) by midnight each night. I will continue to restrict my calorie window to no more than 10 hours. The 10-hour calorie window has been going well, but neither of the other 2 have happened a single time in the last 3 weeks and that just cannot go on. For the next couple weeks, these will be my priority and I will “Eat the Frog” by trying to accomplish the treadmill first thing in the morning. We’ll see how it goes.

The third area I’m currently struggling with is the Physical Environment category. This was going quite well initially. You might remember reading about emptying out my storage unit and letting most of it go. The only problem is, I brought home some of the more valuable and unique items with the intention of selling them and they are now cluttering my daily personal space. I need to spend a day photographing and posting these items for sale so they can move on to new homes where they will be useful or bring their new owners joy. Their presence (this overwhelming clutter) has also alerted me to the added items I have laying around the house that are not useful, or beautiful and don’t bring me joy. So after everything is photographed and posted for sale, I need to go through every corner of the house again and purge the clutter. I think once the physical clutter is gone, I will feel much happier in my physical space and hopefully be able to focus better on the other habits I need to work on.

So those are my 3 struggles and how I plan to tackle them in the next few weeks. I hope you will stick around to hold me accountable here and maybe find a couple things you need to work on as well. If you are looking for someone to be accountable to, feel free to share in the comments and I’ll check in periodically to see how you are coming along. I hope we can all help one another get closer to lives we want and deserve!

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Working Through Unexpected Obstacles

My goal was to write five blog posts this week and I was off to a great start…. three in a row. So of course, the universe decided to throw me for a loop. I had a nice part-time job at a small, local architecture firm for the past 2 years of school. It provided me with real-world experience and flexible hours during school and the people I worked with were nice. Unfortunately, the salary was about half what I should be making and the job offered no benefits. In addition, I’d kind of peaked and was simply doing the same thing over and over again. As an architectural intern, it’s important for my education to continue at my job, so that one day I will be a better architect. So, I left the job in July.

Tuesday I got a frantic text from a former co-worker. She is pregnant and was suddenly put on bed rest and wondered if I could come back in to work this week to finish up a project she was working on that is due Friday. I checked my schedule and let her know that, yes, I could help her. I’m now worried that I might regret that decision.

You see, I’d gotten away. I have been looking for one of those jobs out there that I know is a better fit. It’s uncomfortable and scary to be out of work and searching, but I was doing it. Going back was too easy. They love me there, and they miss me and they have repeatedly asked me to come back. It would be an easy thing to do. They offered to keep my hours down to 20/week so I could still look for work. I’d have a few more funds coming in, which would definitely help right now. They even offered me a raise. But I’m not going to do it. I can’t.

I need to value myself before others will see that value. I graduated top of my class. My skills are worth those big firm jobs with competitive salaries, seemingly endless benefits, exciting work culture and a clear pathway to licensure. I am worthy of a job that will move my career forward instead of pigeon-holing me into a role that doesn’t allow me to grow as a future architect. I need to say no. Despite the fact that I think my co-workers are fantastic people, despite the fact that it is comfortable and easy there; and despite the fact that I know they really need my help for more than just this week. So I will help them meet this deadline, because I made that commitment and I am a woman of my word. But then, I will say goodbye and I will walk away. They will find someone else to fill my position, as they should have done when I left the first time. They may struggle for a few weeks, but it will be better for all of us in the long term.

I will continue on the path towards the job I need and want to move me forward. These past few days back at my old job have been busy (but not necessarily productive) and I’ve found myself too busy to meet my own goals and deadlines; and that can no longer continue. I have to keep telling myself, “It’s ok to walk away from things not meant for you. It’s also ok if not everyone understands your path as you do so. Many people take what life gives them and don’t understand someone who is actively looking for something better. That’s ok. Wish them well on their journey and continue on yours, without worrying about their criticism. If you know it’s right, you owe it to yourself to go for it.”

With that in mind, I’m going to continue to value myself and follow my path; and I know someday soon the right company will value me as well.

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Getting it Done

Today I’m looking at my Level 10 goals new habit list and I’m finding myself completely unmotivated to do any of them. It just seems to be one of those days. I really didn’t even feel like getting out from under the covers this morning. This happens once in a while, but usually only when it’s cold outside. Right now it’s over 80 and sunny here in SW Michigan and I’m a little confused about why I’m not in the mood to do anything. Now some of you can maybe relate… maybe you don’t like working out, or cleaning the house, or studying for monstrous tests, or eating healthy? The problem is, that I also have things on my list like… call and talk to a friend, sketch, walk in nature, read for 30 minutes, and write for 15 minutes… and I don’t even want to do any of those today. So what am I going to do?

Well, I may have procrastinated a little bit, but I’m forcing myself to pick 3 items off the list and do them anyway. The first of these was to call a friend (Friends & Family goal)… Done. It wasn’t hard, it didn’t hurt, and despite the fact that I didn’t want to do it, I felt a little better after it was done. The next one I’m tackling is right now… write for 15 minutes (Career goal). Writing about the fact that I am not in the mood to write seems a little awkward, but I’m getting it done, and maybe working through this mental block at the same time. The third task I’ll tackle today is to go walk in nature (Personal Development goal). There’s a beach down the road and only a few more pleasant days to walk on it this year… plus the vitamin D may help with this funk I seem to find myself in today.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Progress in life usually isn’t made in big changes; it’s in small daily habits that we barely notice. Today I may not have wanted to participate in my new, better daily habits, but I know they are for my own benefit, so I did them anyway. I also may not feel very good about having gotten them done, or the way I got them done, but that’s ok. Some days are always going to be better than others, but when I look back on my habit tracker in 6 months, I’m not going to see any of that. In 6 months, I’m just going to see that check mark in the box that says, “I did it!” and because of that I will become the person I’ve intentionally decided to become instead of just the person who takes what life throws at them. Because of these 3 check marks today, I may eventually move closer to level 10 in 3 different areas of life. Because I chose to something, anything, instead of nothing, I have accomplished something I set out to do and can feel successful.

The lesson I’m taking away is that life, and achieving your dreams, is not always going to be easy. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes just showing up is enough, and sometimes showing up is the hardest part of all. Today I showed up, even though it was hard, and I am a better person for it.

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I’m writing, again!

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So one day doesn’t make a habit, and neither does two… but two days is twice as many on the way to starting a habit and I am on day two of my daily writing habit. Yesterday I talked about how I worked through a Level 10 Life assessment and generated 3 SMART goals in each of the 10 categories (read that post here). Well, one of my goals in the career category was to start writing daily again. It’s something that scares me and that I sometimes drift away from every now and then, and therefore it’s actually one of the more important habits I want to get back into.

They say that everyone has a book inside them waiting to come out. I know that to be true because mine started to come out and I shoved it right back up in there and tried to ignore it. In 2009, I found my career in marketing (like so many others) to be a victim of the recession. I had quite a bit of time on my hands and I’d always wanted to write. My marketing background made me decide to start a blog. I figured I would use it to learn about social media marketing, which was the latest buzzword in the marketing world, by signing up for a couple mentorships and promoting my blog writing. Turns out, people enjoyed it. I soon had a nice group of readers, we got on well, and they supported me as I entered and won contests on other websites for my writing. It was a great feeling. Writing the blog every day was easy; there were few other obligations to get in the way. I was a divorced stay-at-home mom writing online and I loved it.

After a year, I decided to get a little more ambitious and write a novel. I had an idea running around in my head that was dying to get out on paper. So I dug in. I created character charts, working hard on developing characters that weren’t black and white, but varying shades of gray to make them more believable. I outlined my plot arc and found it to be sufficient to probably write a trilogy instead of a single story. I worked through where those arcs would end, so that if you finished a book it felt like you had read a complete story and yet still wanted to know what happened next. I edited other authors’ works so that I could gain experience on how the story would progress and how the books would ultimately be structured. I worked on my book every day for at least an hour, but often more. It began to kind of take over my life and sometimes my blog writing suffered for the sake of the book, but it was all writing, so that was ok.

It was an amazing experience, and then something happened. I had to create the environment in which the characters interact. The story takes place in a semi-fictional location (but still on earth), giving me the opportunity to create it any way I wanted within the framework of basic physics. I started planning a city. I thought about the way the streets were formed; were there cars or carriages or another form of transportation that hasn’t been invented yet? What was their technology, and how would that effect the design of buildings. Were people comfortable enough to have their homes infused with technology? At the time, the idea of a device eavesdropping on your home (Alexa), waiting for you to order a pizza, or request a song be played, or to remind you to call your mother in an hour was still pretty scary stuff. Most people were still skeptical of who or what would be listening and how that information might be used against them. Many people still are. I thought that might make a “utopia” with advanced technology somewhere that an average person might find a little creepy, to say the least. An excellent place for more character development.

I spent so much time envisioning the design of the buildings that I started to look at the buildings around me and wonder why we couldn’t have buildings like I was envisioning. I wondered if what I was thinking was impossible to build. I started to become obsessed with architecture. The more I tried to write, the more I questioned the architectural environment I was putting my characters in. I would take out paper and sketch instead of writing. Even if I wanted to write a description of the environment, I would sketch out the basics of it in order to properly describe it. I found that I liked working on the architecture more than writing the story. I was beyond distracted.

By this point it was 2011. I started to look at the possibility of going back to architecture school. I had been out of work for 2 years at this point and thought I must clearly have flipped my lid if I thought I was going to incur mountains of debt to obtain a fancy degree halfway through life, but the idea persisted; it just wouldn’t let go. I enrolled in a community college first and spent a year in art classes, loving every minute of it. I went on to architecture school and felt like I’d finally found what I was meant to be doing. It’s not that it wasn’t hard, or frustrating, or full of moments where I just wanted to quit; but it just felt like it was where I was meant to be.

Now architecture school leaves little time for anything else and writing was quick to fall to the wayside. To be honest, I was so busy that I hardly even missed it. When I really needed a writing fix, I found a way to argue with one of my unfortunately unlucky friends on Facebook; not the good friends, because I happen to be really good at arguing and often find myself blocked when the poor soul can no longer come up with replies to my arguments. Yet for the most part, writing had become a thing of the past.

It wasn’t until I graduated and started to look at how mono-focused I had become that I realized how much I really enjoyed writing… it’s part of who I am. That story is still stuck inside me, wanting to get out; the blog is still in me, wanting to be written; and most importantly, I’m running out of casual friends to argue with (and potentially lose) on Facebook. So when I looked at the career spoke of the Level 10 life wheel, I just couldn’t envision that area ever becoming a Level 10 unless writing was part of it. I set the SMART goal to write for at least 15 minutes a day… so here I am today, ready to finish up my second blog post and make it through one more day of rebuilding my daily writing habit. It feels cathartic. It feels good. It feels like coming home, and I thank you for following along with me.