I wake up every day by 4:30 AM— without an alarm clock

Row of trees with sunrise in background
Row of trees with sunrise in background
Photo by Niels Weiss on Unsplash

I have always been an early riser. Partly this stems from my youth, when I had to stagger to the street corner before the school bus promptly arrived at 6:05. Years later, my lifelong habit of waking by sunrise is reinforced by a four-legged friend who paws at my side in the pre-dawn hours.

There’s a lot of publicity out there around how early morning risers are less likely to procrastinate, experience improved mental health, and achieve greater success in school and business. …

I thought I knew what not to do. I was mistaken.

Woman’s legs and running shoes on sandy surface
Woman’s legs and running shoes on sandy surface
Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

The running manuals are very clear on common mistakes beginning runners make when training for and undertaking their first long distance races: don’t go out too fast, don’t wear new shoes or clothes that you haven’t trained in, and don’t eat or drink anything new on race day.

When I was preparing for my first full marathon in 2017, I kept these tips in mind. But there were several other pitfalls I wasn’t warned about, so I’m sharing them with would-be marathoners so you can learn from my mistakes.

1. Don’t overemphasize the long run.

After I signed up for my first marathon, there were nights…

Three years in Afghanistan prepared me well for a life under lockdown.

Hindu Kush mountains, Afghanistan

A few weeks ago, on the one-year anniversary of our office switching to mandatory telework, a colleague asked my team over Zoom, “How has the pandemic changed you?” One woman lamented about trying to find ways to occupy her time; others noted the cost savings of not going out to lunch or coffee.

I did not have an answer to the question, though, as I’d already survived lockdown of a different sort. In late 2003, just two years after the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan, I…

Man in black shirt holding tabby kitten
Man in black shirt holding tabby kitten
Photo by Ramiz Dedaković on Unsplash

Ever since the Egyptians first tamed felines in the Fertile Crescent roughly 8,000 years ago, there have been men who’ve doted on these lions in our living rooms. Here are a few famous cat daddies from history who prove that loving cats is not a female-only phenomenon.

Muhammad, prophet of Islam

If you’ve ever visited Turkey or seen the documentary Kedi, you know that many Muslims treat cats with the utmost reverence. That may be because the Islamic prophet Muhammad was known to have a special affinity for his feline friends, even letting them sit on his lap during sermons.

What to think about before you make the leap into graduate school

Woman writing manually on paper with coffee mug
Woman writing manually on paper with coffee mug
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

It’s been just over 20 years that I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. Back in the mid-90s, MFA programs were in their infancy; today, would-be candidates are spoiled for choice of programs available both online and at universities across the country.

If you’re a writer considering whether to apply to such a program, here are a few things to consider about whether a higher degree might be right for you.


1. You will read and write — a lot.

One of the…

Thank you card with fountain pen
Thank you card with fountain pen
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

You can never go wrong sending a thank you note.

Well — perhaps you could go wrong if your note strays off into some sort of weird revenge/sex fantasy/stream of consciousness territory, but we’ll assume your intention is to keep it simple.

After writing and receiving hundreds of notes in my lifetime, I’ve managed to crack the code for keeping thank you notes painless and easy to compose. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Handwrite your note whenever possible.

Sure, you may text a smiley emoji and thanks to a close friend or colleague for offering to pick up coffee for…

Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

As a runner, one of the things I was taught early on was how the sport is as much mental as physical. Adopt a mantra is what all the experts and guidebooks said, so that when the going gets tough, you have a guidepost to get you through.

While I’m still working on finding the right mantra to help me power through the last miles of a marathon, I have found one that works elsewhere in my life.

Nobody is a mind-reader.

When I was in college, I had a roommate who rowed crew. This meant she awoke before dawn…

Woman holding a latte cup
Woman holding a latte cup
Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

Certain financial advice columnists will have you believe that retirement is unattainable for those who spend $4 on a daily cappuccino. There’s even a whole theory (the “latte factor”) regarding how small choices in beverage consumption add up to significant losses in long-term savings. Or as Suze Orman puts it, spending money on coffee is like “peeing $1 million down the drain.”

I’ve been a fan of Starbucks since the now familiar green and white logo started cropping up on street corners in my city two decades ago. A year ago, after reading one too many articles shaming me for…

Anatomical model of the human brain
Anatomical model of the human brain
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

I lost my mother over four months ago, but in reality she was gone from my life three years before then. That’s when the tendrils of Lewy Body dementia took over her brain, rendering her a different person than the woman who raised me.

Dementia is a common visitor to my family. My maternal grandmother and her siblings had Alzheimer’s disease and slowly lost their ability to recall recent facts, then communicate whatsoever. My paternal grandfather also acquired dementia, losing his short-term memory and then sense of time and direction.

So while I was prepared for the eventuality of their…

Close-up for female runner’s legs as she goes up stairs
Close-up for female runner’s legs as she goes up stairs
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Running gives me hives. The official medical term for this condition is exercise-induced or cholinergic urticaria, but I didn’t know anything about that until I began a quest to find out why, in certain conditions, my arms and torso flared up in red, itchy wheals.

Throughout my life, I’ve been allergic to a variety of things, from dust to ragweed pollen to peppermint. (I sneeze every time I open a tin of Altoids; it’s a minor annoyance I suffer to have fresh breath.)

Likewise, I’d had one or two episodes of hives in the past. The first incident occurred a…

Brandy Bauer

Avid runner, reader. Lover of cats, tacos, and personal finance.

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