What is your morning routine?
My routine these days varies depending on whether it’s a bike-riding day or a walk-in-the-park-with-Bear day. (Bear is my seven-year-old Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog.)
Tuesdays and Thursdays are bike days (weather permitting). On these mornings, I wake up at 4:45am, hit snooze once, check the weather to be sure we won’t be rained out, and then get out of bed. I wash my face, brush my teeth, put on seasonally appropriate biking clothes, and head downstairs. Bear usually trails me around throughout the morning, so I feed him, make myself a Nespresso, and once we’re both done we head out for a walk around the neighborhood. Getting outside before leaving on the bike ride is helpful because I can tell if I’ve dressed appropriately. To be on time I have to be out the door and on my bike by 6:15am. Right before leaving I give Bear a treat so he lets me go without a fuss.
I always turn on MapMyRide when I head out because I keep track of my annual mileage. Every year I try to make it to 2,000 miles. In 2017 I was at 2,075, so I only just made it. In 2016 I hit 2,200. I was aiming for 3,000 this past year, but it didn’t end up working out. Next time…
The guys I ride with have fall-out-of-bed-and-get-on-their-bikes routines, but I need some time in the morning to settle in to the day. When I oversleep and have to race to get out the door, I just don’t ride as well. I meet my two friends at the “Parkthanon” in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I have no idea what it was originally built for, but we’ve dubbed it that because it reminds us of the Parthenon. From there, we do five laps around the park, and after we say goodbye I usually sprint up “Look Out Mountain” (another landmark name I’ve made up) on the way home. I have a love/hate relationship with hills and like to do this for the challenge of it.
After finishing the sprint, I head home—that’s about nineteen miles total. Once I’m back home, I eat breakfast, which is almost always high-fiber flakes with raisins and nuts, fresh fruit in the summer, and almond milk. Sometimes I read the paper or look through the New York Times on my phone a bit, and then I shower, get dressed, kiss my wife (who is still asleep nine out of ten mornings), gather up Bear, hop in the car, and go to work.
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are my walk-with-Bear-in-the-park mornings. I set the alarm a little later for these days—5:30am instead of 4:45am. The same single-snooze ritual usually occurs, and then I get up, brush my teeth, shower, and check the weather. When I head downstairs I feed Bear, make some coffee, and have breakfast. Once Bear and I finish eating, I pick up a poop bag and am out the door by 6:30am. Our house is only a block and a half from the park, so I walk up through the Parade Ground and enter through an “unofficial” side entrance on Parkside Avenue.
Typically we walk clockwise around the lake and follow a path into the Peninsula area. There are lots of wooded paths with undulating twists and turns, and all of it is right in Brooklyn’s backyard. There’s a path we usually follow around to the Nethermead (the Peninsula and Nethermead are designated dog areas until 9:00am), and then we walk around the boat house, past the skating rink, and begin to walk home. The whole thing is more than three miles, and it usually takes an hour and a half. It’s such a beautiful way to start the day. In winter the park is usually quieter and still dark at that hour, and the sun comes up while we’re walking. In the summer months you have to get out earlier to catch the sunrise; that’s one of the nicer things about winter. The whole thing gives me time to walk under the trees and think about life, as well as what’s in store for my day. When I see something beautiful I take a picture and post it on Instagram. I often run into people and dogs whom I know—I’ve actually made some really great friends from our morning walks. We’re usually back home by 8:00am, and then I grab my bag, get Bear in the car, and we head to work together.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
For about seven years. I got Bear in the winter of 2011, and my interest in biking started when Theo, my son, was a senior in high school in 2009. His high school baseball team often played down in Fort Tilden (about ten miles south of our house), and a friend gave me the idea to ride my bike down there to watch their games. My interest only grew from there.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I’ve always been a person who relies on a specific morning routine. I believe I’m operating at my best in the mornings, so I like to take advantage of that time before I head into the workday.
These bike-or-Bear routines have stuck for a little over seven years now. Looking back, I’d say they developed naturally out of the need to find something to replace the previous morning ritual of writing notes to my kids before school, which I had done for fourteen years. In 2009, my youngest, Theo, graduated and went off to college, and I was left to find another way to make a mark on my mornings.
The note writing spanned two different homes, each of which required a slightly different ritual, but every morning during the school year from when my daughter Joanna was in the second grade and my son Theo was in preschool, I would sit down and write/illustrate a note to my kids to take with them into the day.
I’d wake up every morning at 5:00am, go to the bathroom, take a shower, and get dressed. This was all pre-iPhone, so I couldn’t check the weather at the time the notes started, but our dog was named Sunny (also a Sheltie), and I’d take him for a walk around the neighborhood to start the morning and get my thoughts moving (Bear has it a little better than Sunny did). When I got home from the walk, I’d make a pot of coffee (there wasn’t Nespresso at the time) and then light a candle at the dining room table; get out my box of markers, a pen, and a pad of paper; and sit down to write. I didn’t always write to one kid before the other—it always varied. Depending on what thought was at the front of my mind, what we had talked about the day/night before, or some situation going on in our family or in the world—that’s usually what dictated which note came first and its content. I’d sit and write and draw and write and draw again. Two notes. By the time the notes were done, the kids would be stirring and getting ready to come down for breakfast. Usually I was on time and the notes were ready and waiting on the counter for them. Some mornings I was a little behind, and I can remember folding up the notes as the kids came bounding down the stairs.
I had never really thought about how ritualized my morning routine was or is until this past year, when my daughter moved back home with us to begin working on a project called Folded Wisdom, which chronicles the notes I wrote. It’s been moving to watch her work, and the whole thing has illustrated for me just how much I value my mornings. Whether I’m sitting and writing or biking and walking, I’m able to think my best, express my best, and be my best in the morning.
What time do you go to sleep?
Depends on who you ask… My wife would say I’m in bed by 8:00pm every night. I guess there are nights when it’s true that I’m happy to get in bed at 8:30pm with a book and fall asleep. But I’d say my more normal bedtime is around 9:30pm. On Monday nights, when I know I’m waking up at 4:45am, I might say goodnight early. On Wednesday nights, when I have my chorus practice, I don’t get to bed until almost 11:00pm (that’s a long day).
Of course, much of my morning routine depends on what happens the night before: how late I stayed up, what I was doing, how much I drank, how I slept, etc. When I need to switch things up in the morning because of any given factor, I allow myself to do that.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I check to make sure my bike clothes are clean and ready on nights before I ride, but besides that, not really. I don’t iron my shirts or have a pre-loaded coffee grinder or anything like that.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use the alarm on my phone, and I usually hit the snooze once. I have different sounds for the 4:45am versus the 5:30am alarm. I think they’re what Apple calls “waves” and “crickets.”
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
It depends on the day as to whether I eat breakfast before or after I get moving. But I’m committed to my high-fiber flakes with whatever extra spice I find in the fridge.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
I’d say my own personal take on meditation has occurred over the years during these various routines.
When I was writing the notes, I was very self-reflective while also thinking about each kid individually. My mornings were consumed with trying to figure out how to best relay what I wanted to say to them—usually about something that was going on in the news, in our family, or between us personally. I was in relationship with those thoughts. That’s not the same as focusing your thoughts inward on yourself like you do in meditation, but it’s something. When I’m walking with Bear, I’m aware of him but also of the beauty and wonder the park provides—I think about the coming day, the increasing light, the season. But on work days I’m also thinking about what I have to do, solving whatever problems are coming up, writing whatever proposals I have outstanding.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I usually do check my emails at some point before I head out the door. I’m in a business where I never know when the phone is going to ring. When I have projects going on, I may have an email about problems or questions about an installation. Other times I may get an email from someone reaching out about a job they want me to look at. I’m always looking at my email optimistically hoping that I’ll find some good news there. Is that weird?
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Right away to shut off the alarm and to look at the weather. I don’t spend much time in bed looking at it, though.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
I always have a cup of cold water when I first go into the bathroom in the morning. I try to have a couple more cups of water before drinking the espresso when I get downstairs.
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
My wife Gia is typically sound asleep while I go about my morning routine. When I leave the bedroom, I always walk around the bed and give her a kiss on the head. Sometimes she wakes up, sometimes not. Sometimes there’s a little semi-conscious “Are you going? Ride safe.” But that’s about it. We’ve been together for over forty years and have never really shared the morning.
There’s part of me that feels like I wouldn’t be able to have my morning hours the way I do now if she were involved. Mornings when Gia has to be awake for something often upset my routine; suddenly, my time to myself (meaning me and my friends on the bike or me and Bear in the park) gets off track. As they are, I’m not disappointed that I don’t share my morning hours with her. But I don’t want that to sound wrong—if she wanted to get up and do these things with me, that would be thrilling. But that’s just not the way our relationship has ever been. I knew going in that she wasn’t the morning person I was. I would always need to go to bed early because I had to get up, she’d have to stay up late because she had to work, I’d wake up and she’d be going to sleep because she had stayed up late. We’ve just never been on the same biological time clock like that. And somehow it’s worked for us all these years!
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
On the weekend, I still wake up early. I’ve become very close with my two friends whom I ride bikes with. Usually we choose one day during the weekend to go on another ride. We start a little later (around 8:00am) and have breakfast afterwards. It always depends on the weather and everyone’s schedules.
The thing I love about bike riding in general (unlike running, which I can’t do for a variety of reasons, namely my knees) is that you can ride and converse. When we ride bikes, we ride together and we talk. We tell each other about things going on in our lives, we give advice, we listen to each other. It’s a wonderful bonding experience, and I’d recommend it to anybody who wants to get out and connect with friends. It’s funny because after all these years, we’re never at a loss for things to say. There’s always something somebody’s seen, something that’s happened to someone, good things, bad things. It’s become so important to have this group of friends who know what’s going on in my life and for whom I know what’s going on in theirs. On the weekend we get to carry it into the luxury of having coffee and food, and then we can talk more leisurely and don’t rush it. Most of our families don’t get up early on the weekends, so we can usually sneak out and do all this before our kids/wives are awake.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
Traveling is a challenge. When we drive somewhere and I think I might be able to ride, I put my bike on the car. When we go somewhere I can bring Bear, then we walk, but it’s not our same park experience.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
There are occasional days when I have to get up extra early to get into work or race up to a meeting at a museum or something. Those days aren’t really ever “good” days. When I can’t walk Bear or go on the bike ride, my day seems a little thrown off… but only momentarily (I don’t like to hold grudges). So when it’s raining, I’m disappointed that I’m not getting miles or seeing my friends or getting out in the park, but I don’t let it throw off my whole day. It usually just throws off my entrance into the day. I guess I keep a healthy expectation that another morning will come, and my routine will be picked up once again. And that’s nice.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’m sixty-four as I write this, so my routine has really evolved through the life of my family over the course of those years. I’m not a single guy in my thirties, preoccupied with myself and my career. I’m a father and a husband and a business owner and a dog lover and a friend and a biker—all of those things. And my relationship with all those things has affected the amount of time and space that I have in the morning. It also affects the things that concern me in the morning. When I had young children, up through when they were eighteen, their days, their lives, their childhoods, and their growth were the most important things to me. Having the morning time to meditate on them, their personalities, what I wanted them to know about me, about life, how I could contribute to their growing up—that’s what was important to me.
When my children went off to college to look for life and love in the big world, my routine shifted. I was able to spend more time with friends; four-legged and otherwise. It’s not that I forgot about my kids but that part of my morning routine morphed into time to think about my own life, my wife, and our next phase of life. I now think about that and so many other things and bounce those thoughts off of my friends and the trees.