A Good Shift

The first time I volunteered, I was maybe eight years old. My sister and I “adopted” grandparents at a nursing home. The experience of reading the news, playing games, and providing human connection to someone who was alone planted a lifelong service bug in me.

Throughout my life (minus that really self-absorbed time in my twenties, post grad) I have volunteered somewhere. I hadn’t realized it then, but my idea of how one goes about service was set too. Doing good was a formal arrangement between citizen and nonprofit.

Walking with Louie one day years ago changed that. It had poured rain. We were glad to get out for a walk after being cooped up inside. Everything was still drippy and puddly. At a corner, blocks from our house, a small lake had formed. The sewer drain was gunked up with who knows what.

Without a thought, Louie reached down into the murky water, and pulled out hunks of leaves, debris, and dark matter unknown. He cast it aside, clearing the grate at the curb, then swished his hand in the rapidly draining water to rinse off. It was the work of a moment, then we were on our way.

While I beamed at him, “What a good thing you’ve done!” he seemed surprised. “Oh… not a big deal.”

I get it – this is a small thing. But before then it had not occurred to me that I should be the one to unclog the drain. Realization was one thing, re-wiring to notice those “not my problem” opportunities to serve others has been a bit harder. It’s something I work at still.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Good Deeds. Explore a good deed – yours, or one from someone else. How is the world better for it?”

The Embarcadero

Our San Francisco flight had been delayed, which meant we’d be hard pressed to make it for the start of the Giants game. It was a frenzied dash, from landing to hotel check-in, then we rushed to AT&T Park to catch the game in progress.

Look at that blue sky. Hello, California.
Look at that blue sky. Hello, California.

Louie kept score as usual. I kind of tuned out, soaked up the sunshine and tried to recover from the hustle of traveling.

This hot dog and garlic fries helped the recovery situation tremendously.
This hot dog and garlic fries helped the recovery situation tremendously.

The Embarcadero picks up near the park. We planned to walk off our ballpark lunch and get a feel for the city. Eventually, we’d end up at the Ferry Building to explore the market inside.

Direct hit.
Cupid’s Span by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

After all of the sitting on the plane and at the ballpark, it felt good to get moving and listen to the water lapping up the shore.

San Francisco Bay from Sara McGuyer on Vimeo.

Obligatory bird shot.

One odd moment transported me from the place I’d just come – home. This sculpture along the waterfront so reminded me of our state flag, I couldn’t help but think of Indiana.

SOMA by Flaming Lotus Girls
SOMA by Flaming Lotus Girls

We made it to the Ferry Building ready for coffee. Good thing we found Blue Bottle inside, and a wonderful place to get a sweet treat too.

The Port of San Francisco.
The Port of San Francisco.
Macaroon from Miette in the Ferry Building.

Good job on the strolling situation, San Francisco.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “It’s All About the Journey. Where did you travel this year? Did it move or change you?”

Golden Gate Bridge Run

Since we would be in San Francisco for our last training run before the Eugene Marathon, we decided we should do it in grand fashion and run the Golden Gate Bridge. An article had pointed us to start in Crissy Field. To the bridge and back made for a seven-mile run.

Our SF run path.
Our SF run path.

I’m not often in the habit of stopping during runs, especially just a seven-miler – but this one was as much about exploration as getting in the miles.

Boats in San Francisco Marina.

This route included a nice steep hill (607 feet of elevation gain), which meant a breathtaking view of the sundrenched landscape, the city outlined in the distance.

Eye level with the sunshine.
Eye level with the sunshine.

Inching closer in run step increments, the world seemed wide and open, and we were on top of it. From this vantage, anything is possible.

Not to scale
Not to scale.

Running toward the bridge was a test of my sense of scale and time. From a distance, it was hard to guess at how far away we were from the abutment.

A stranger took our photo for us.
A stranger took our photo for us.

Running over the bridge is a whole other matter – the panoramic views are divided by suspensions, concrete, structural steel. 1.7 miles traversing 894,500 tons of bridge. Traffic zips by, high speed and in close quarters. Here the world tightened back up. We picked up our pace until we put the bridge behind us.

On the way back, we wandered from our path. Alcatraz gazing, run-ins with blue heron, a detour to explore the Palace of Fine Arts.

A palatial diversion in our activewear.
A palatial diversion in our activewear.

In those last two miles we “ran” 17:32 and 25:12 respectively, ending with an overall 11:09 pace over the seven miles. Not exactly a sprint, but enough to work up an appetite. Still in our running gear, we stopped at the donut place we’d been eyeing around the corner from our hotel.

Awesomefacing at Bakehouse.
Awesomefacing at Bakehouse.
Before, during and after our gluttonous donut frenzy.
Before, during and after our gluttonous donut frenzy.

We don’t normally devour a box of donuts after a run, but, hey, we were on vacation. No regrets. Those pastries were amazing. And we had a marathon looming in our future…

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “It’s All About the Journey. Where did you travel this year? Did it move or change you?”

Lost Coast

The Lost Coast is a land without internet. We showed up in early spring. The off season, when all the vacation homes were shuttered up.

Surrounded by the sea.
Surrounded by the sea. The Lost Coast in California.
Waiting for action that may never come. A tiny boat in the off season.
Waiting for action that may never come. A tiny boat in the off season.

The Inn where we rented a room was kept up by one woman, plus a teenager who came in the morning to run the coffee shop. We saw no other guests as we arrived. We were more likely to meet a whale, if we sat on our balcony and waited. They’d been spotted just earlier, the inn keeper said. Lore and suspense? Maybe. We waited, but no whales.

Fog rolls in.
The view from our balcony. Not bad.

Sea lions and cormorants camped out on jagged rock. Like they owned the place. (They did).

Owning the place. Creatures outnumbered humans at least 20 to 1.
Creatures outnumbered humans at least 20 to 1.

The sound of the sea was constant and gushing. We slept with the balcony door open, salt mist lullabies pushing in. This is how to have a really good night’s sleep.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “It’s All About the Journey. Where did you travel this year? Did it move or change you?”

Hokey Pokey

You put your right foot in…

Dozens of times I’ve sung along, busted those moves. I’ve done the hokey pokey on roller skates, under spinning bedazzled lights. If called upon to do so, though I’ve never tried, I could do it with my eyes closed or in my sleep.

But when I stood, feet planted right in front of this step map of pokey moves, it was like I sprouted two left feet.  I made the moves in the wrong order, couldn’t quite toe into the brass footprint.

The Hokey Pokey dance steps, as emblazoned into the sidewalk in the North Shore, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It was entirely unnatural to follow a map for something I already feel in my soul. When it comes to dancing, which I do early and often, dancingeveryday please and thank you, I like to do my own thing.

As I stumbled over the steps, a couple walked up and said, “You should try the one down there! It’s impossible!” 

It was the Mambo.

Nope. Thanks for the invitation, but one dance by numbers was enough for me.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Strange Encounter. Share a story about a stranger this year. Was it something you overheard? Someone you accidentally met & bonded with? A funny…or strange!…coincidence?”

Rush Registration

On December 1st, Louie and I synchronized our watches. We had a phone date at 8:55 a.m., five minutes before registration opened for the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City.

bayshoremarathonOur friends Jason and Robyn had run this race before and sang the praises of the course. Flat and fast, and all along the lake front. Their praise came with a warning. Part of the awesomeness of the race is it’s not too big or too crowded. You have to register quickly, or they might sell out. They’d book up in the first day, for sure.

Their website confirmed the situation. Registration would open at 9 a.m. on the dot. Spots in the race were first come, first serve. Each person may only register one runner.

That Tuesday morning, we dialed in as planned. With each other on the line, we logged in to the registration site. The registration page had a giant timer, ticking down the minutes and second. As we tick-tocked closer to the opening, I got nervous. What if he gets in and I don’t? Or vice versa?

I felt like Ralphie decoding his Little Orphan Annie message, as we entered our credit card information and updated our process along the way. And then, sweet confirmation. We both got in! Our first race of the year, booked.

Later I found out the big rush is for the half marathon, and we’re doing the full. But it was sort of fun to have the rush of registering under that pretext.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Tickets, Tickets! What (or who) did you shell out or stand-in-line for this year? Was it worth it? What made you wait in line, log-on early, or form a lifetime attachment?”


“Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do… People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.”

from Creative Confidence, by Tom and David Kelley

Morning reading.

A photo posted by Sara McGuyer (@sara_mc) on

This. I want to send this quote to people everywhere. There are plenty of great ills in the world, and my heart can get heavy over many of them. What I really want to wage a war against is lost potential and self-doubt. I see so many people underestimate what they’re capable of doing.

Fair warning, I’m about to have a moment of what Drew calls transformational hippie shit.

Imagine a world more of us believed in ourselves. Think of how the heart center of humankind might shift. A more vibrant and warm world. Think of the problems we might solve.

What if you’re the one to make it happen? 

Maybe this is my individualization theme from StrengthsFinder talking (meaning I notice and value unique strengths in others). If I can see what you can do, maybe you can too.

Don’t give in to the first road block. Or the second. Keep going.
Remind your friends and neighbors they can do it too.
Believe in your ability to make an impact.

And then you will.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Read Up. Let’s explore the power of words. Did a writer delight you, make you think, or impact you in some other way? Write a review, or share a favorite line from something you’ve read.”

Bucket List

Today as I was crunching through some cardio at the gym, climbing imaginary flights of stairs, I had an a-ha about my bucket list.*

Some of my top items include:

Learn Italian.
Maybe go to grad school.
Learn cello (at least I’ve started!).
Write a book.
Run a marathon in all 50 states.

Notice anything? Pretty much everything here takes years to achieve, lifetimes to master. I don’t have “quick wins.”

In other a-ha moments today, I "visualized" my actually bucket for the first time today. Is yours a tin pail? An old wooden one like mine? Something else?
In other a-ha moments today, I “visualized” my actual bucket for the first time today. Is your bucket a tin pail? An old wooden one like mine? Something else?

I know my bucket list is mine to fill and empty, and making it such a challenge says a lot about how I’m wired. But, I want to open my mind to a bucket that isn’t put up on a shelf until one day when mysterious chasms of time open up to me. I may as well wait for Godot and the Great Pumpkin.

Our intern at SmallBox, Angela, introduced me to the idea of a hobby swap. (Seriously – how cool is that?)

So, what ya got? Tell me about your bucket list items that can be done in a day, a weekend, a month. Despite the fact that I’ve filled my bucket with mountains to climb, there’s plenty of space left in there and I’ve got some living to do.

* This train of thought was prompted by Denver, who lost her battle with cancer at the age of 28. I really admired how fiercely she went after her bucket list, even as she struggled with her health.

 This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “On the Fringes. Think of things that have piqued your curiosity. What leaves you with more questions than answers? Who or what do you wish you knew more about?”


Tick Tock

Fifteen years ago, my daily wake up call came via a big chunky CD/alarm clock combo. The contraption was a beast, easily taking up half of the real estate on my bedside table.

It wasn’t long after getting my first iPhone that the bulky alarm clock got the boot. I plugged that phone in just before bed, and for a good while this worked out nicely. A compact, convenient alarm with the occasional news story or two before bed.

And then the same thing happened to me that is happening all across the country, even right now as I write this. I wonder… How many people are reading something on their phones in bed right now? It became an obssessive last check in… a peek at email, a scroll through social.

In the morning, when the phone woke me, all of those read flags and notifications nudged at me too. Before I knew it, my daily early a.m. half-awake, still in bed reading habit was easily hogging 20-30 minutes of my morning. If you’ve ever done this, you too have probably dropped your phone on your face while reading in bed. The worst, right? Ugh.

Back in May I decided enough was enough. Browsing a well-curated designer-y store called Canoe, I spotted this Braun alarm clock. The alarm functionality was the one thing keeping my phone tethered to my bed. If I wanted to replace the bedside phone habit, this no-frills, battery powered number seemed just the thing.

The Braun Wonder!
The Braun Wonder!

Truthfully, I wondered if it would stick, but for thirty-two bucks, it seemed worth a shot. No wires, no electric glow. I can not set it to wake me up to robot beeps or chimes, as it has just the one “ring tone.” And get this: no snooze button. I myself was really skeptical about this last point, having been many years devoted to a hearty snooze habit. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say on average I pushed that snooze button 2.4 times per morning.

It seems such a small, simple change, yet it’s remarkable the impact this decision has had on my life. With eight months under my belt using this clock, I can say I’m a total convert.

Consider these perks:
I’m reading more actual books (and have more room for them on my bedside too).
I am sleeping better than I have in years.
I reliably get up before or at the sound of my alarm – no snoozing.
My mornings have become much more serene and productive.
I always seem to have time for nice things like breakfast and walking my dogs (things that were often cut, or very harried and rushed in days of yore).

Quite the transformational change. All I can say is, why didn’t I do it sooner?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Decisions, decisions… What was the wisest decision you made this year? Did it change your “everyday”, move something from Point A to Point B, or involve others?” – from #ThinkKit13


The corner of my office, underneath the wooden mobile.

Today, I did something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. I rented a cello.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

Day one of practice wasn’t quite what I expected. I sat with a pencil, re-reading and feeling out instructions that help you shape your hand for a bow. I learned how to tune the strings, getting a feel for the low tones of it.

Three notes. Aside from the open strings, that’s all I played. I spent thirty minutes, fumbling on the fretless neck to reliably find and hit those notes. Deep grooves formed in my fingers.

To play, you put the cello an arm length out, then lean it in toward your body. Swinging the bow over that low C hard and fast made vibrations swim through my chest.

It’s not so bad to be a beginner.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Choose Your Own Adventure. Take a pass on the prompts for a day. Write about whatever’s on your mind.