Flying with the Falcon

Flying with the Falcon

Hiking 102: Stay in Shape for the Trail

*Photo taken at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park. I took this photo during our hike up 600 stairs (at an altitude of about 4,000 feet from the bottom) to get to the top of the trail, a hike that would have been impossible if not for my regular exercise routine.

Hello, ducks. Winter probably has many of you hibernating, grouchy, sniffling, and feeling trapped by the cold and dark days. For the first time (maybe ever) I am sailing through winter this year. I think it’s because my doctor prescribed me vitamin D. It’s like I was living in black and white, and now I can see color. Have you ever seen those videos of people who try on the special glasses for color-blindness, or videos of people who are deaf and can hear after getting an implant? That’s how I feel this winter, thanks to vitamin D. Even without the vitamins, I still made a point of getting out to walk during the daylight hours every day. I learned years ago that living in the Northlands is unbearable for me if I don’t get outside for sunshine and fresh air. A lot of people use excuses about how icy it is, how cold, or that they can’t walk on unshoveled walks, but what I know about staying in decent shape is that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Waiting for good weather, especially if you live in the North, means you are willing to sacrifice your muscles, your hard work, and your metabolism. Stop doing that to yourself. You deserve to feel good about your health. Make the time to stay in shape, make it non-negotiable, and start immediately. Excuses will not get you on the trail for fun.

Last week, I wrote about prepping for the trail with ideas about footwear, food, maps, and other various and sundry advice. This week, I hope to whip you into a sense of urgency about maintaining your bodily health all year long so you can always be ready to get out into the world and enjoy yourself. If a friend walked in the door today and asked if you wanted to go on a trip to sunny California to visit a National Park, you would probably want to go, right? Let’s say you get the tickets and go all the way to California, drive to Sequoia National Park, and then just when you think things are about to be fabulous, you find yourself wheezing on the edge of the trail while everyone else speeds past. Is that really how you want to live? Did you used to be a mountain biker in your 20s, and now you believe that because you have kids you don’t have time to get out and ride? Do you work a gazillion hours every week and come home wiped out every day, so you tell yourself you don’t have time for exercise? Stop feeding yourself stories. You are the only person in charge of your health, not your spouse or your kids or your best friend or your job. No one is going to get your body in shape to go out and enjoy the world except you. Do yourself a favor and choose to commit to a few minutes of time every day, every other day, or even just three days a week to get in shape. No matter what anyone says, this is not a thing you will ever regret. Being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound is a wonderful way to be.

Here is what I know about being dedicated to consistent exercise: whenever I want to do an outdoor activity I enjoy, I am ready physically. The only thing that might stop me is whether or not I had a good night’s sleep. I eat to maintain my health as much as I exercise. This may sound like I’m a nutcase about staying on special diets and being a freak about getting to the gym. No. What I do is a simple behavioral routine. All week long, Monday through Thursday, I eat foods that nourish my body, no junk. I still eat chocolate every day, but only a little. Every morning I have my coffee, but only two cups. When I need salty food, I eat popcorn I pop myself. In general, I try to follow the Michael Pollan formula of eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Eating meat is something my body tends to require, so I eat it responsibly and mostly poultry and fish. I supplement with vegetarian meals now and then, too. Carbs, especially sugar of any kind, are off the table for the most part, except for brown rice, oat bran, and quinoa. Even though that may sound horribly boring, after eating this way for a while I have discovered that feeling energetic all the time is actually worth the sacrifice of being able to indulge in white foods that don’t give me anything but problems. On Friday night, I reward myself with ice cream, pizza, maybe some Thai food…a good meal I’ll really enjoy. Then on Saturday I might still allow for a little wiggling in the diet, and on Sunday I go back to eating well again. I find it makes a huge difference. Eat food that makes you feel good and stop eating garbage, and you will be amazed at the change in your mood, your energy, and your health.

Aside from diet, I take a no-nonsense policy to my exercise. Now that I have developed a habit of lifting weights every other day, I just make the time. You don’t have to go to a gym if you don’t want to spend the money, nor do you need to make it a big deal. Get some soup cans and do some flies while you watch TV, fill a couple of water jugs and do curls, start doing push-ups or squats, or even just some sit-ups will do wonders for your core. If you need encouragement, find a work-out buddy to keep you motivated. Try finding a group online to keep you honest. Keep a journal or mark your calendar. Do what you must to stick to it, because once you make it a habit, you’ll find it easier to keep going. If you need a reason, remind yourself that weight-bearing exercise tells your bones to be stronger so you are less likely to break them as you age. If you engage your entire skeletal structure, you are less likely to injure your back when lifting heavy things, or to injure body parts in general. Stretching before and after will also prevent injury during exercise, so make stretching part of the routine to save yourself some of the pain. Lots of programs out there can help with exercise from home, and depending on what you want, there are lots of choices. I have had good experience with DailyOm, which has some great yoga routines to keep you strong and limber (I like Sadie Nardini), and for strength training I had great success with DailyBurn. Both are low-priced options for streaming videos, and both have experts teaching their craft. The best way to get moving, I have found, is to do it first thing in the morning. If you start with a few squats, push-ups, and sit-ups (which you can do in less than 10 minutes), it gets you moving and jump-starts your metabolism. Start tomorrow. Why wait?

When you take the time to work your muscles and eat well, it means you get to have the freedom to live your life in whatever way makes you happiest. At any time, you can hop up and hit a trail, go for a bike ride, climb a mountain, go sledding, ski the slopes, or even just enjoy outside time with your kids. Imagine being able to keep up with your young children while they run around the back yard! Whatever your reasons for allowing yourself to make excuses, just stop. You can tell yourself the story that you don’t have time, but that’s not true. If your doctor told you that in order to keep yourself alive, you needed to start exercising daily, you’d find time. Well, the doctor’s orders are in: you need to exercise to keep yourself alive. Seriously, your body requires the exercise anyway, so you might as well make it fun. Get out on the trail even in winter. Buy snow shoes, learn to ski, go sledding, build igloos, get out and shovel the whole block (and make your neighbors happy), or find some other way to make snow fun. Instead of using your energy to complain about how you feel, go move your body. Get outside and find a place with a view of the snow right after it falls in the woods, see the mountains topped with white, or go for a picnic hike with hot food and drinks you bring in a thermos. If you have the right clothes to keep you warm, it will be a lot more pleasant.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make year-long exercise a deal-breaker. Once you make the commitment to feeling good, you won’t ever want to go back to being a couch potato. Your excuses will melt away as soon as you realize how great your life can be when you embrace taking charge of your time and your health. If you love the woods in summer, love it in winter, too, and then when summer comes you won’t have to bust your can to get back into hiking shape. You’ll be ready to enjoy those gorgeous weather days in the early spring as soon as they happen. Imagine climbing a peak as soon as the buds appear on the trees, when the color is still bright lime-green, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and your hike is just as easy on this early spring day as the last day of summer fun. A few minutes a day can keep you there, but you have to be hungry for it. Magical thinking will not give you muscles or stop you from eating stale Christmas cookies. Oh, yes, I see you over there! I was you once. Trust me, I used to eat very badly in my younger years, but middle age has forced me to behave better. If you’re young, take care of yourself now. If you’re older, the sooner you keep what you have, the better. It will not get easier with age. Love yourself enough to do what you love. Get out there and enjoy the beautiful world while you make muscles, and treat exercise like a religion; your body is a temple.

P.S. If you might be interested in backpacking, but need some help deciding if it’s for you, I have a course for backpacking beginners. It’s called “Take a Hike!” and even if you’re a novice, you might find some useful stuff in there. I have it set up as a donation-based course, so you can pay as little or as much as you want. It delivers to your mailbox every day for a week, with all kinds of goodies about gear, meals, getting in shape, tents, animal encounters, and more. Here is the link to the page. Happy trails, my friends!

 

Flying with the Falcon

Hiking 101

*Photo taken at Jack’s Valley Conservancy in the Carson Valley of Nevada. You can see Michael and our sweet Luna walking the trail into the sunset. The mountains covered in snow to the right are the Sierra Nevadas, where Lake Tahoe is nestled.

Hello, my lovelies. I hope wherever you are right now, you’re having a moment of respite, a deep breath, a seat in the sun. If not, I hope you can make time for it soon. In the past, I’ve written up some good hikes I’ve taken, some of which I have done alone, others with company, but I thought it might be time to write up a quick little set of tips for people who might not be hikers yet. I know you’re out there: the people who love the idea of getting out in the woods on a trail, but you never quite get there, or maybe you get there but you don’t go very far. When you go hiking without the right shoes, without simple things like a little water or bug spray, a hike in the woods can become a nightmare instead of an adventure. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I would love to offer a bit of advice about getting out in the woods (and this is not just for you newbies—folks who love the woods and don’t make time for it, this is for you, too). Let’s get into it!

First, let me regale you with the real reason I hike. It’s not just because I’m some kind of granola-munching, tree-hugging nature lover who wants everyone to save the pandas. I like pandas, I have hugged trees, I do love nature, and I actually make my own granola, but I go in the woods for two reasons: 1) I feel calmer and happier under the trees, and 2) it’s a lot more fun to walk on a trail than on a sidewalk. If I’m going to get exercise (which I like getting, because I would like my body to work when I’m 90), I prefer having some fun. A trail in the woods is a wondrous thing to get your heart pumping, and every trail offers different things to see. Just today I talked with one of my coworkers who was delighted that I shared a new trail with her, a trail right down the road from where she lives, and she had never been there. She told me her kids loved it! The view at the top of the hill, the fun little bridges, the foundation of an old historic cabin…all of it was such fun to them that she said they’ll probably go back again and again to explore and enjoy it. It made me happy that I took the time to tell her about it because it brought her such joy. That’s what I find on the trail.

When you get out in the woods, the sounds of water running over stony creek beds, the wind rustling the leaves, birds singing, and vistas of hills and valleys all delve into the part of your brain that still remembers how to be part of the natural world. Even if you live in a city, your body still remembers the rhythms of hunting, gathering, and living under the trees. If you have trouble finding that part of yourself, you may just be underprepared for the experience. For me, it all begins with a good pair of shoes. I love my Adidas Swift R hiking shoes (no, I am not getting paid to say that—they are just awesome shoes). They offer great support for your feet, which is good for the rest of your body’s alignment, they are also waterproof (a must for me, because wet feet while hiking equals blisters), and have great soles for climbing up and down inclines. The soles grip rock surfaces very well, which I love. Recently I got a good pair of insoles for my shoes, which I now use in place of whatever comes inside any of my shoes. They have changed my life. I no longer have hip pain, and my knees are improving now that they are more properly aligned from the proper foot placement. It matters. Get good shoes. I advise going to a place like EMS or REI if you can, because the people who work in those stores actually go out in the world and do the things you want to do, like hiking, backpacking, cycling, mountain biking, canoeing…you catch my drift.

After shoes, I would say the next biggest thing for me is clothing. If you’re going on a long hike and it’s hot, don’t wear jeans and a hoodie. Avoid stiff jackets or pants, or any clothing that restricts your movement. I shouldn’t have to say these things, but I’ve actually seen people going out on trails—in the Adirondacks High Peaks area, no less—in dress clothes. Please be smarter than those people. What I love most on the trail for my own comfort is a good pair of stretchy cotton pants that are loose, have lots of pockets with zippers, and also either roll up to capri length, or zip off the legs. When on the trail, conditions can change to be warmer or cooler than when you start. Wear loose layers for ease of moving, climbing, and even sitting down for a rest. My favorite shirt is actually a cotton tee, though my husband swears by his “breathable” polyester shirts and nylon pants. I do not get along well with synthetic clothing, so cotton and wool are my standards, but you have to try things to know what you like best. Whatever you do, save your money and just use what’s in your closet for now. It’s hiking, not a night at the gala. Nobody in the woods cares if you wear Northface or LL Bean or whatever other outlandishly expensive brands you think you need. Be sensible. That goes for socks, too. I wear my wick-away cotton or wool socks. Not fancy.

Aside from clothing, make sure you bring water. I love my Camelbak because it sits well on the back and shoulders, and has pockets for snacks and other little things you might want. It also keeps your hands free so you can walk without carrying anything. If you don’t have one, just use a good backpack you have at home and carry enough water to be able to drink about 8oz an hour. If it’s hot, bring more water, but use your own common sense. You don’t want to carry gallons of water for an hour-long hike. You won’t need that much water even in the desert, unless you left the house already dehydrated. For longer hikes, use your best judgement. Even when I hiked in the hot Nevada sun for a couple of hours, I never emptied my full Camelbak bladder, which holds a liter and a half of water, and I tend to drink a lot when hiking uphill. Save your fancy sports drinks for when you get home. You are unlikely to need the electrolytes unless you’re hiking in Death Valley in midday sun. Of course, you know yourself better than I do, so use your best judgement of your own body’s needs.

When heading out into the woods on the East Coast, expect bugs. You are going to be very unhappy in the woods without bug spray, even if you wear clothing that covers everything. Ever encounter a mosquito in Maine? They’re more like helicopters than bugs. Black flies in New Hampshire will feast on your flesh, and leave you covered in pock marks. In Western New York the mosquitos rely on sheer numbers to eat you alive in swarms. Farther south, the bugs get longer life cycles, and are often rather diligent when getting after their victims. Trust me, wear the bug spray. I actually like the Herbal Armor from All Terrain or even the “Natural Insect Repellent” from Repel. Both contain Geraniol, which is what I believe is the secret ingredient that keeps the bugs at bay. You do need to apply it every few hours because sweat will cause it to run off your skin, just like sunscreen. Both of these brands are DEET-free, which I recommend. DEET is a fairly frightening chemical. I avoid it at all costs. For the record, I know several people who have used Herbal Armor in Africa, and said it kept the bugs away even there—so I think you’re covered. Spray yourself before going on the trail, and then bring the bottle with you to reapply if you plan a hike for more than an hour or two.

Bring snacks. It gives you an excuse to sit down when you catch a nice view. So many of my favorite moments on trails has been sitting on a log or rock snacking on something while I looked out at a rushing stream, a stretch of mountains, or listened to birds calling across the forest. I love those peaceful moments of well-earned rest on the trail when I can put up my feet and refuel for the walk back. Enjoying a picnic can be even more satisfying, especially if you know a really beautiful spot on a trail you’ve already traveled. I can’t think of many more lovely ways to spend an afternoon. Many of the best meals I’ve ever had were on the trail, if for no other reason than food always tastes best when you’ve worked hard to carry it. I don’t know what it is, but the satisfaction of hauling a meal on your back is like none other. A word of caution, though: if you plan to bring a picnic, pack it in a bear can or Op bags. The bear can will ensure that animals cannot get your food, even if they try, and bears in some places of the country already know the scent of bear cans and will leave you alone. Op bags, if used correctly, can be bought at EMS (last I knew) and are military grade plastic to prevent odor from escaping. I tried these with my dogs, so I know they work. I put a raw steak in one of the bags and put it on the floor; my dogs walked right past it without any clue that a steak was sitting right under their noses. Believe me, if they knew the steak was on the floor, they would have eaten it. Really, you’re smart to carry any food in an Op bag if you can, just to be safe.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, now all you need to do is find a trail. All Trails is a fairly good app to use on your smart phone, though I have found that it doesn’t always show all trails near you. I know several trails near where I live now that don’t show up on the app. It does, however, have good maps and directions for hikes, as well as geeky stuff like elevation gain and difficulty level (which I totally love). I use the app in combination with Google searches for parks and hiking trails. If you’re not an experienced hiker, try a state park near you. Park rangers are full of knowledge about the trails in the parks, and they can give you great directions to pick a trail right for your level of ability. Usually I like a moderate to difficult level with a little elevation gain, but some people prefer a flatter walk in the woods. Whatever your level of interest, I guarantee you can find a surprising network of trails near where you live. Almost everywhere in the country is covered in trails, and you may not even realize they’re around you unless you go looking. I also like finding trails in books at the library, on websites set up by local trail conservationists, or even local hiking groups (which you can sometimes meet at the local library, just ask the librarians—they may know). Please remember to bring a trail map with you. Print one at home on paper, or make sure your phone is charged with the screen of the map still up when you leave to hike—once you get in the woods you may not have cell service. Keep that map saved on your phone as a screen shot. If you aren’t certain you know how to use trail markers or follow the directions on the map without getting lost, please bring a more experienced hiker with you until you learn the ropes. Getting lost in the woods is not what you want, so be prepared with either knowledge or help to stay safe.

With all these resources and tips, I hope you feel inspired to get out there and see beautiful things. If you lack in motivation, remind yourself that you need to live for today. We never know if we’ll have a tomorrow. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Just go and do it. Make a plan for the weekend or a day off from work, and just get everything together by the door. Have it all ready so you can just jump into your clothes and walk out the door into the bright morning sun. You’ll be so happy you took the time to appreciate what the earth created near you, and the sense of pride you’ll have when you realize how good you feel while you breathe all that oxygen from the trees. Nothing cures the blues like sunshine and fresh air, unless you combine it with endorphins from exercise. 🙂 Be good to your body and stretch before you leave, and if it’s been a long time since you hiked, plan a nice hot bath when you get home. Savor all of it, and remember to save the camera for just a few snaps here and there. Appreciate the time under the trees, at the top of the hill, or alongside the stream. Make the time, and you may discover that you want to make it happen more often.

For anyone interested in learning about backpacking (not to be confused with day hiking, which is what I describe above), I happen to have a course for beginners on my “Resources, Courses, and Short Stories” page. The course is titled “Take a Hike,” and is an email course delivered over several days. I set it up as a course offered by donation, so you can pay whatever you feel it’s worth to you. I go over gear, food, clothing, tents, sleeping apparatus, animal encounters, and much more. If it interests you, here is the link to the page so you can check it out for yourself. Do send me love letters, readers! I enjoy hearing about your experiences in the outdoors, and getting feedback about my content. My aim is to please.

 

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Begin the New Year with More Than Resolutions

*Photo taken near Ely, NV. 

Social media is full of New Year’s resolutions right now, an infinite number of promises people will probably break in less than a week. Why are we so willing to give up on taking care of ourselves? The layers of suffering we inflict on our own bodies, minds, and spirits are incredibly heavy. In the last several months, I’ve been getting very serious about getting my mental and emotional house in order—even though I have actually been working at the problem for a long, long time. Like since I was a teenager. And I’m middle-aged now. Interestingly, something about traveling had a lot to do with it. Ever since Michael and I hopped into our truck and drove to Casey, Illinois to pick up our Airstream, my life has been drastically altered. Obviously, traveling across the country is going to change anyone’s life, but when we traveled, we stayed away from our hometown for a long time. Years. Throwing miles and miles in our rear-view mirror became so much more than just a fun adventure: it became an opportunity to realize the mirror would force me to see myself in stark relief, and the dark places in my head finally got yanked out into the bright Nevada sun.

I’ve made arguments on this blog on plenty of occasions that travel will benefit anyone who gets out there to see beautiful things in our wondrous world. What I don’t think I’ve explained very clearly is how the world changes you when you make yourself a part of it with fresh eyes. Staying rooted in one place your whole life isn’t a bad thing—lots of people happily live in the same town their whole lives—but if you want to really explore who you are and what you want out of life, the road will show you. Countless movies and books and songs and poems have been created to describe the experiences of people who went on life-changing road trips. It’s not just to give us all a sappy night out or a cutesie song to sing at school events; it’s to send out a message that the road will change you if you allow it, and if you don’t, it might just wreck you. When Michael and I first came out to New Hampshire for his first travel job, we loved it here. But our travel adventure had just begun, and we were itching to get out and see where else we could go. We never really intended to go across the country right away because we weren’t sure how much we would like the travel life, but then the jobs Michael found on the East Coast weren’t paying as well as those out West. It became necessary to follow the money, so we ended up in Ely, Nevada. Holy cow, was that strange.

Our first month of living in Ely came as a rude awakening. Both of us struggled with normal, everyday things like making the bed or walking up a slight incline because the altitude is 6,500 feet. When you’re coming from about 1,000 feet or less, that’s a lot of height to gain. We struggled with everything for a while because we weren’t used to the thinner air, and then it wasn’t very warm. Like many East Coasters, we had absolutely no idea that Nevada is the state with the most mountain ranges in the contiguous US (only ranked behind Alaska for the most peaks), nor did we realize that much of the West is high elevation and quite cold. Living in our Airstream in what amounted to winter right away was not easy, but we managed. We’re resourceful. What really made the trip to Ely hard, though, wasn’t the elevation or the weather, but the fact that the town was so isolated it took three and a half hours to get to the next town. The local grocery store was always out of things, even staple items like bread, milk, and eggs. Sometimes it would be a week, sometimes longer before shelves would be restocked. We only found one restaurant—a pizza joint—that had food either of us was willing to eat. In general, the town had little to offer in terms of entertainment, either. While we were there, I generally went out and explored the wild places near town. If nothing else, Ely had lots of hiking. It’s the only thing I miss, and surprisingly I miss those wild places now. They grew on me while I lived in that lonely, forgotten place.

After Ely, we next ended up in the Carson Valley near Lake Tahoe, very fortunately stationed just below the chain of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and every morning when we woke up we pinched ourselves over the view. Even in Ely I would pinch myself to see the mountains across the road from our RV park, and I studied the odd cloud formations that formed around the mountains, creating strange patterns of rainfall, wind, and visibility. While living in the Carson Valley, we were introduced to wildfires, even occasionally seeing them up close. It’s an eerie sight to see the hills glowing red at night while the fires burn through the brush on the mountainsides. Once a set of fires were started alongside the road near our RV park, and on each side of the park the fires were burning close to the gas station and propane tanks. The firefighters were hasty about getting those fires extinguished rapidly, and we were thankful. Meanwhile, Michael worked his hours at all these hospitals, and I worked hard on my writing, and after a while I got lonely. Even though I loved the road, loved the places we were exploring, and truly felt amazed by how much I began to feel a part of all these places, I realized I took for granted the relationships I had when we were rooted in one place. And yet, at the same time I began to change. I became more of who I always was meant to be.

Spending so much time away from where we had lived for so long really drove me to be more open and vibrant. Without expectations of the familiar people in our lives, it’s easier to just be who you want to be. No one is going to walk up to you and ask why you’re acting so strangely, because they have no idea what you used to be like. They only know you in that moment, and then you may never see those people again. It’s both delicious freedom and terrifying loneliness. And in that loneliness lies your lack of self-love, your willingness to accept less than you deserve, all the promises you ever broke to yourself, all the opportunities wasted. You both free yourself and have to face what you have allowed to happen over the years of your life. All the crud you allowed to be heaped upon your heart, it all rises to the surface. My poor, wonderful husband had to listen to me rant about the misery of my soul on many occasions over our time on the road, and he was mostly very patient. What I came to realize is that I had work I needed to do to clean house so I could start living the life I was meant to live, instead of the life everyone else expected of me.

Now that we’re sort of full circle and back in New Hampshire, it’s a good time to get my house in order. We have plans to build our tiny house in the woods as soon as we save enough to buy land. The plans for the house are hanging on the wall, a constant reminder of where we want to go. I’m meditating my brains out so I can clear my mental clutter. Recently I decided to go on a news diet so I could stop hearing constant negative streams of information, and instead I listen to either music or audio tracks of inspiring thought leaders like Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, and a wonderful Instagram account called Her Namaste Life. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but they reinforce the positive thought processes that are instilling in me a new sense of purpose, a means for letting go of the past, living in the present, and enjoying my life instead of always wishing for the future to hurry up and get here. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start really living your life. What I love most about what I learned from the road is the fact that I fell in love with this country in a way I never expected, and now I feel as though Nevada mountains are as much a part of me as Western New York hills and New Hampshire forests. My heart grabbed onto those beautiful places, the endless miles of empty desert, the caves, the rock formations, the rivers, and especially all the animals we saw roaming through all of it. I loved every minute of looking out the window of our truck to take in the open spaces still left, smiling to see our Airstream coming along behind us. I am so ready to do it again. This time, I might even be ready to do it with my head on straight.

Listen, if you’re in a place in your life that allows for you to travel, don’t hesitate. Get out there and see the world. I think about how so many astronauts have come back from their trips to outer space and felt a new sense of awe and responsibility for the planet and all its peoples. Their hearts were ripped open by seeing the earth from space. When you get on the road and roam the countryside, travel to new places, have to contend with new situations and people, and you’re totally out of your comfort zone…it changes you. The air you breathe will smell different, the weather will surprise you, the plant life will make you wonder, and you’ll be uncomfortable in the best possible way. Nothing will be the same after you step onto the dirt of a new place. It gets under your skin and becomes a part of you. Because it’s part of you, your heart will want to take better care of it. While you stay rooted, we forget to look at the beauty of where we live. We forget to see the things we see every day, but even if you’re good about paying attention, the familiar allows us to take things for granted. Getting out into the world once in a while can give you a sense of both how big and small the world is, and how very important it is to treat it with love. Step gently in the desert to avoid killing the biomes in the sand. Keep hands off the ancient trees so they might stay healthy and live another thousand years. Only slip your canoes and kayaks into the clear lakes so they can be free of the oil and gas of motors. Pack out your trash in the woods. These little loving gestures make such a huge impact to save the wild places of our world, and if you see these places, you won’t want to spoil them. They become part of you, and you are part of them. We are one. We give and take. Oxygen and carbon dioxide. Water and air. Rain and soil. Ocean and land. Humans and plants. We rely on each other, and it becomes so clear when it’s you and a ribbon of road that leads into distant mountains capped with snow.

Instead of a new year’s resolution, maybe try new things, or maybe jump into a love affair with finding out who you really are. Forget the gym membership and that stupid diet. Eat your vegetables, drink your water, and go for the road trip. You only live once, and you never know when your time will end. The world is here for you. Really, it’s all for you. Go enjoy it.

Flying with the Falcon

Tradition!

*photo taken last year at the Wynn in Las Vegas, a holiday display in the lobby.

Hello, wonderful readers. I hope you have either survived or thoroughly enjoyed your holiday festivities to date, and have plans to find fun before you must return to the grind of daily routine again. Yesterday was Christmas, and I spent it—gloriously—alone. I watched movies, read books, ate pizza and ice cream, and generally goofed off all day. No one expected me to be excited about getting presents I don’t want, nor did I have to navigate a harrowing family affair. Those days of my past are long over, thankfully, and I am quite content to have spent the holiday petting the cat I am caring for until the owners return from their vacation. When I mentioned at the school last week that I would be alone for the holiday, one of the other teachers felt bad for me, but I quickly informed her that I was very happy to have the day to myself. Being alone on a holiday doesn’t have to be miserable or sad. Last night I took the dogs out in the yard, and the moon had just risen. The sky was still mostly dark and filled with stars, but a strange cloud formation gathered at the edges of the dome of the heavens to frame Orion overhead perfectly. Clouds surrounded the constellation in an eerie silver glow of moonlit wisps that resembled Northern Lights. I stood in wonder for a few minutes, just marveling at the sight. Later the moon rose higher and lit up the woods again, bright enough to see into the trees down the hill. It filled me in a way no holiday gathering ever did.

After years of giving to others on every holiday, I decided that being alone on certain holidays is not a bad thing. I used to slave over the stove cooking enormous amounts of food for gatherings, baked dozens of cookies, wrapped hundreds of gifts, traveled hundreds of miles, spent time with people who didn’t really like me, ate food I didn’t enjoy, and often felt sorry for my poor exhausted children when they were young. Some people are fortunate and have wonderful families who laugh and play games and enjoy each other’s company. Some people struggle to get through the day with dysfunctional people who trigger troubling past memories. Either way, the holiday traditions do not require you to honor them as they are. Traditions are not written in stone. You are not bound by law to go to gatherings you hate. If you feel sick at the thought of going to spend yet another Christmas with your in-laws, your own extended family, or anyone else, why do it? And who says you have to go? What’s the worst that could happen if you simply say no? Would your family hate you forever? If they did, would that be terrible? I know that may sound harsh, but I cut a lot of ties with people who brought me down because I no longer wanted to waste my energy trying to get along with people who clearly detested me. Family does not mean I have to put up with abusive, hateful, cruel, or dysfunctional behavior.

While we still lived in Olean, I gave up worrying about doing anything on Christmas once I split with my ex. My kids spent Christmas with their father, which left me free. For a while I felt sorry for myself because I missed my kids, but despite missing my kids, I felt immediate relief that I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t have to pretend to be happy when what I really wanted was to escape the loud parties, the endless Christmas music, and the atmosphere of constant activity. Some people love the boisterous excitement of being in large families, but I don’t. I like quiet. Rarely do I enjoy a large party where I have to mingle with people—only when I get to have meaningful, interesting conversations do I actually want to engage. Small talk is not my thing. Put me in a room of people who want to talk about books, science, writing, social justice, equality, or any number of other interesting topics, and I could stay all day. But this is a thing I had to learn about myself after years of suffering through conversations that sucked my soul. We don’t have to suffer, not even for our mothers. We can say no to holiday traditions if we want, and even if your family gets angry about it, maybe one day they will realize they don’t like the traditions, either. Maybe in a few years everyone will decide to do a getaway holiday in the Caribbean, you’ll ditch giving each other useless gifts no one needs, and instead enjoy a trip that restores your spirit.

Then again, maybe you enjoy your holiday tradition. If you are one of those people, more power to you. It’s wonderful to meet people who are self-actualized enough to be doing what they already love, and embracing a holiday with joy. Such people are like unicorns to me. I think most of us have to create new traditions for ourselves in order to enjoy holidays, but whatever makes you happy is what should drive the vehicle of where you spend your time. Often I believe we get locked into doing things because we believe it will make others happy. Over the years I have learned that making other people happy doesn’t really work. If I am going to an event to make someone else happy, but I feel miserable about it, then my entire time spent at that event will be energy wasted on pretending to feel good, faking smiles, and watching the time until I can escape. Even if a person who wanted me to attend accepts my faked enjoyment, my lack of authenticity won’t really make that person happy. Pretending doesn’t make anyone happy. Only when we express true joy, and are sincerely excited to be somewhere does anyone in our company benefit from our attendance. Being joyful is contagious, and the more your time is spent fulfilling that joy, the more people will sense it and feel it, too. Likewise, even if people refuse to see how unhappy you are at a gathering, they are only denying what is obvious—that you don’t want to be there.

People often avoid change because they are fearful of what might happen. What if the holiday dinner we’ve been having for 30 years stops? We might never see our family for the holidays again! Everything will be different, and we won’t be able to sit around the table with all the grandchildren while we pretend that Santa is coming later. No one will be there for the Christmas ham, or eggnog around the tree! We won’t sing carols by the fire! Who will fill the stockings? Who will hang the lights? If you love all that stuff, go for it. Go crazy with lights and mistletoe. No one’s stopping you, but don’t do it for someone else. Do it because you love it, and because it makes you happy. But if you hate it, ask yourself what you’re getting out of doing it. Tradition? Shall we talk about where all these traditions came from? Many Christmas traditions originated in Pagan celebrations of the solstice. No one can actually pinpoint the date of the birth of Jesus; December 25th was appropriated by the Romans (according to some sources, but I encourage you to dig for yourself) as a former holiday to celebrate the return of the light. They used to give gifts and decorate their homes like we still do today. Lights were a popular part of the décor, honoring the sun’s return. Go read up on all the origins of our “traditional” Christmas decorations, and you might be surprised about why they got started. Then again, most people know a lot of things like trees, wreaths, holly, and lights are Pagan in origin. My point is mostly to suggest that maybe we attach too much emotion to worrying about honoring tradition, especially if we don’t even know why we do it. If your purpose is to honor and spend time with the family you love, that’s the best kind of tradition. If you spend the holiday feeling like you’re in a straight jacket, it might be time to find a different way to celebrate.

We live in a new economy now with the advent (pun totally intended) of the internet. With Amazon bringing every last whim to your doorstep, we don’t even need to leave the house to go shopping anymore. I know a lot of people who are limiting their holiday spending to avoid too much expenditure at the holidays, are choosing names in large families instead of spending on everyone, or are forgoing purchasing presents in lieu of handmade goodies. Now that everyone can buy whatever they want for so much less, giving at this time of year seems unnecessary to me. Donating to a person’s favorite charity has become popular, along with naming celestial bodies after someone you love, buying a brick for a foundation, or just buying lottery tickets. Whether we like it or not, times are changing. Traditions change with the times, and that’s okay. We get to keep what we like and ditch what we don’t. Honestly, I believe that when we take care of ourselves, follow our hearts, and follow happiness and joy, we are led to a better world. When we stop torturing ourselves for the sake of others, we do the world a favor. Give your best to the people you love, instead of your fake smile while you suffer through another year of traditions. Today I feel rejuvenated because I spent the day in solitude and reflection. I still baked cookies and sent out gifts to those I love, and I sent out messages to the people I miss. Before you spend one more day doing for others, ask yourself serious questions about what you’ve done for yourself lately.

Let me leave you with this thought: just like a paycheck, you should always pay yourself first. When you earn that money for which you traded your precious time, the first portion should always go to your savings. Pay yourself first. Whatever is left, then you pay your bills, buy your groceries, fill the gas tank—you’ll make do with whatever amount remains. Do the same with your time. Before giving time to others, give to yourself. The first part of every day should belong to you and your betterment. If you take those few minutes to yourself every day, and truly use it to reflect on what you plan to do, you will waste less time and energy on what steals your joy. If you can also end your day reflecting on your intentions and whether or not you honored them, imagine the change and the growth. Moments a day is all it takes. Traditions melt away in the face of truth, and we keep only what we love. If you’re interested, I plan to start a weekly reflection on Instagram every Sunday. I haven’t decided if I plan to worry about a time when I’ll post my videos to my channel, but Sunday is the day I’ll post, starting after the New Year. The reflections will be writing prompts designed to get participants thinking about intentions, becoming more self-aware, and investigating what brings us joy. I’ll be doing them, too, so it will be a communal effort. You can find my Instagram in the sidebar to the right of this post, and if you follow me you can join. All are welcome, and I plan to include at least one post a week on Instagram where you can share your progress if you want.

My beauties, I am so happy you came here today. Thank you for taking the time to sit with me, read my thoughts, and honor my message with your visit. I think of all of you out there in the world, and I wish you love, joy, peace, and laughter. While I work on myself, I will keep sharing because I want to give back what I learn. If it helps you, I’m glad. That’s why I share. Now I need to get outside in the sunshine with my dogs. How will you fill your spirit today? Go out there and get after it. Don’t wait. Now is the time.

Flying with the Falcon

An Abundance of Moonlight

*Photo taken at Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, NY. I know, it isn’t a picture of a moon–my camera takes lousy photos of the moon, so this is the best I’ve got. :/ At least the photo is festive, right?

After a long day at the school on Tuesday, I had to go shopping and get gas, which meant that by the time I got home it was dark. Typically I walk my dogs almost as soon as I get home from work because I prefer walking them during the day. Our road isn’t lit at night, and some parts of the road are narrow and difficult to find a safe place to stand when cars need to pass. It makes for treacherous walking at night, though most people who drive the dirt roads here seem to be watchful of their neighbors. A lot of people have dogs to walk here. In any case, I pulled onto the road which takes me up the hill to our rental home in the woods, and just as I turned around the first big bend, the moonlight blasted me in the eyes. My face lit up like a Christmas tree, because the clear sky, the snow, and the moon waxing toward a three-quarter fullness all meant I could walk the dogs without a flashlight. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I love walking by moonlight. It’s not a thing you have to worry about if you live in a town or city, but when you live in the woods, walking by moonlight is enchanting.

When I got the groceries unloaded, I immediately encouraged the dogs out with me (though it didn’t take much more than me saying the word “walk”). Off we went up the hill, the tough slog up a couple of inclines and little valleys that bring out the burn in your legs. Mostly, I chose that direction because the moonlight shone so brightly on that part of the road. I was simply drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Wind blew in the trees, still dragging in the cold Arctic air which kept us inside at school instead of going out to the playground. A constant whooshing of the wind combined with trees groaning in the cold, but the light was about as bright as a distant floodlight shining into a yard, except it was the moon shining across the whole woods. All the snow lit up silvery-blue, and as we walked up the hill, golden lights from houses tucked deep into the woods peeked out from between the bare trees. Despite the moon being so bright, a few stars still managed to compete for their place in the night sky. I happily spotted Mars, still such a bright orange orb it almost looked like it wasn’t real. Usually I can spot Orion this time of year, but he either hadn’t risen yet, or the moon blotted out the recognizable stars. I’m not enough of a sky observer to know; I just like looking up and enjoying the view.

We must have walked between twenty and thirty minutes in the brisk night without a flashlight. Perhaps there are people who think this is crazy, that it’s dangerous because I might run into animals or get hit by a car. I had a flashlight to turn on in case a car came, and I had my two dogs with me in case of animals. Even a bear would probably hesitate to bother me with my two dogs by my side. I can imagine why some people might be afraid to walk in the woods at night, because I think about diving deep into the ocean with nothing but a wet suit and a tank of air and my belly gets squishy with fear. The ocean is not my bag, but get me out in the woods and I feel alive. Some people live for the ocean. Maybe some of those people imagine going into the woods at night and their bellies get squishy. We all have things we love, and fear is part of life. If it really matters to me, maybe one day I’ll challenge myself to go snorkeling or take a trip across the ocean. Or maybe not. If I find a good enough reason, I’ll try almost anything at least once.

By the time I neared the house to get inside to cook dinner, a smile had plastered itself to my face. I felt so refreshed by the magic of my walk in the woods under the stars, I can’t imagine anything that could have made me happier. On Monday, I went to meditation and our Sanga leader shared with us a lovely idea about shifting the way we think about new year’s resolutions. Instead of making a resolution, he suggested we consider making an intention. With intentions, we don’t feel quite the same pressure to uphold a promise, and the mind recognizes it as a more relaxed kind of state. We might be more likely to keep up with an intention, he said, so as I sat and listened to his ideas about intentions, I realized a perfect intention for me was to notice abundance. I have a nasty tendency to notice scarcity, as so many of us tend to do when we take things for granted, and I felt immediately the shift in my own mind when I imagined how beneficial such an intention could be for me. Since then, I have had moments where I swim up from my unconsciously busy thoughts and realize I have a chance to notice abundance. Yesterday as I drove my car up the highway, I realized what an abundance of freedom I have with my car, and to even have a car was a load of abundance. As I cooked my dinner today, I realized what abundance it was to be able to eat such wonderful, healthy food, and that I didn’t need to check my bank account before I went to the store to buy it—I just went and paid for it. Once upon a time, not in the too-distant past, I would have had to count my pennies to scrounge for a meal like the one I ate for dinner.

Noticing abundance will hopefully open my eyes to all the good things in my life, and to be grateful for them. I could just try to practice gratitude, but I’ve tried making lists and didn’t stick to it. I think instead I needed to find something a little deeper and more true to what I need to balance in my own life. After enough experiences with scarcity, it can be scary to let go of the feeling that at any time scarcity could return. But I don’t live in scarcity right now, even if I may have to do it one day again. I’ve survived some fairly rough times. I think it’s okay to let go of the survival mindset for now; those skills are still there if I ever need them again. Either way, even in times of scarcity we can find abundance, and I’m glad for the idea to try a new year’s intention. And why bother waiting? I decided to start as soon as I left meditation.

Flying with the Falcon

The Longest Night

Next week the solstice will manifest as the longest night of the year. Now that some of my social circles have widened recently, I am learning about new ways to think about this dark, cold time. For most of my adult life I have dreaded the coming of December, when the sun sets so early, stealing my daylight to get outside, forcing me out of my bed when the sun has yet to rise. I never liked how the world seemed to freeze over with the oppressive darkness that gave me such terrible cabin fever. I’ve known people who celebrate the solstice as a happy time, a cheerful welcoming of the lengthening days, and yet to me it always seemed to take so long for the sun to return. January has never been easy for me. How could I be happy about all the cold and dark? The sun’s return came so incrementally it didn’t make an impact until long after February. Lately I have shifted my mindset about it somewhat. It might also help that I’m taking vitamin D now, but I’m working hard at changing the way I think about things, a daily attentiveness that seems to be making a difference. Recently I also noticed a few people posting things on social media about nature-related celebrations which sort of take stock of the year, a look back at what has been accomplished. Rather than making new year’s resolutions, I think I like the idea of taking stock of what I’ve completed. Things like writing a novel, moving to New Hampshire, tearing the guts out of our Airstream so we could remodel it, seeing a couple of National Parks, creating a new website, starting this blog…there’s a lot on my list this year.

Taking account of my year sounds like a good way to check in with my intended goals. I never worry about comparing myself to what everyone else is doing. Mostly, I compete with myself. Am I in better shape than last year? Did I improve my writing skills? Am I closer to my desire to live on my writing so I can quit my day job? I like thinking about how I can improve on what I’m doing so I can do it better. Maybe this year I should start a new tradition of doing something outdoors in the dark with lights and have a little quiet contemplation. Maybe I’ll build a winter fairy house out of pine cones and bark. One thing I will not be doing is celebrating the holiday which has become a carnival of capitalism, a holiday which has never really been my favorite: Christmas. Well, except for making cookies. I’ll do that.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and not everyone who celebrates finds this time of year fun (I think I wrote that same phrase last week, but it bears repeating). I’ve grown up being aware of this fact simply because I wasn’t Christian, but the rest of our extended family was. We celebrated Baha’i holidays in our nuclear family, but still observed the Christian holidays with the extended family. I don’t remember minding the doubling of celebrations—if anything, it made life a little more exciting—but I do remember being excluded at school because I was different. Most of the time I felt keenly aware of how different I was, and sometimes my “friends” could be cruel; more than once I was told I would go to hell because I hadn’t been “saved.” My usual response was to say I didn’t believe in hell, which was satisfying, but the hateful comments still hurt. In my adulthood I no longer feel obliged to care what people think if their main goal is to exclude. Too many religions preach their intention to be peaceful and compassionate, but then their members willfully look down their noses at anyone who does not prescribe to their beliefs. At this point in my life, I would rather spend my time being kind than wasting my energy fitting into capitalist or religious culture. Most people I know don’t really need anything, thanks to the internet shopping era, but few people know how to bake anymore. I pay homage to the past by giving cookies, and that’s my contribution to the holidays of Christianity-ish.

A couple of days ago at meditation I found out about a candlelight vigil to honor the homeless and those who passed away, so I thought it might be one thing I can do differently around the solstice. I should say I realize a vigil isn’t going to solve any problems for the homeless, but at least thinking of the people who tend to be invisible is a start. Awareness is a good first step to begin changing anything. Here in Keene, NH there is apparently a large population of homeless people, many of whom live in several make-shift camps in wooded areas in various locations. I know some people choose that lifestyle purposefully, but I worry for the people who must be struggling with the recent cold temperatures dipping into the teens. When it drops below zero, I can only imagine what they must do to stay warm. It reminds me of the first night I walked the streets of Savannah, GA, alone with my backpack, surveying the park benches as I walked by and wondered how I could sleep there safely. I knew I couldn’t. Only by chance did I find a spot to take shelter for a few nights, thankfully because a kind man took pity on me and let me stay in an empty store front he rented. I shudder to think what might have happened to me if he hadn’t been so kind. Not everyone is so lucky. I’ve come such a long way since then, and every day I spend in the woods now is a day I can be grateful for a warm home, plentiful food, and a full closet of clothes.

I know the light is coming, and I know I can choose a new way to celebrate this time of year. No one can tell me to celebrate a holiday that doesn’t belong to me. It’s never been a particularly happy time of year, and my family was such a disaster over the holidays (like so many families in the world) that I don’t have many fond memories of Christmas past. Why continue the misery? Instead, I can decide to honor the sun’s return and maybe I can finally see the hope others see in the longest night of the year. Maybe I’ll make a bonfire or an effigy in the woods—I could burn my memories on sheets of paper and give them back to the stars. I’ll figure it out over the weekend. I hope you are all finding comfort, my cherished readers. You deserve to pamper yourself with a cup of hot cider or a warm bubble bath, a good book or podcast, or maybe just to sit for a while under the night sky to appreciate the sight of Orion, who makes his appearance now that winter has come to the north. One wonder of the cold, clear nights is that the stars glitter brightly without the haze of humidity, so step out for a stroll on a dark road and say hello to Orion, remember the people you love, give a little extra to the food pantry, or buy a homeless person a new coat.

Flying with the Falcon

Winter or Holiday Blues? Goth Dancing and Yoga Kicked It for Me

*Photo taken at Colony in Woodstock, NY, featuring Queen Reaper (under the black veil) and Amanda Palmer at the piano.

Despite being somewhat rooted in New Hampshire at the moment, I think I’m really a gypsy at heart. No matter how much I enjoy living in a place, my feet want to wander, my eyes want new things to see, and my spirit needs to be inspired by variety. I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to feel this way. Many of us enjoy the adventure of exploring new places, whether near or far. When Michael and I went to Olean for Thanksgiving, we sort of drooped through the time there, both of us only confirming to ourselves that it’s not home anymore and we were right to make the choice to move. After living in a place for over 30 years, you learn the lessons you need to learn, and sometimes you need to go elsewhere to learn more. Both of us love New Hampshire, and I especially love the opportunity to rove around a new region to find special places like Franconia Notch State Park, or little towns like Peterborough. After traveling for a year and a half, I have missed getting on the road to discover new sights. Thus, when an opportunity arose to get out of dodge, I grabbed it. Over the weekend, I drove down to Woodstock, NY (yes, THAT Woodstock) for a dance party with none other than the fabulous Amanda Palmer. You may know Amanda as a singer/songwriter who first became known as one half of the Dresden Dolls, and now she has her own Patreon platform with about 13,000 supporters (that’s huge, and I am one of them) who help fund her art. Amanda also happens to be married to the writer, Neil Gaiman, and if you are one of her supporters you get to read funny anecdotes of their life together. It’s very entertaining. In any case, I needed a weekend getaway, so I went.

Because I have Google maps set to avoid tolls on my phone’s navigator, I drove all the way to Woodstock on a series of insanely twisty roads. There was no avoiding the twisty road through the Green Mountains of Vermont without adding a lot of extra time to my trip, but that road is mostly a familiar route after all the times we’ve traveled it back and forth from New York. What I didn’t expect was to drive ten miles here and twenty miles there on crazy back roads through Upstate New York in the dark. I mean, it gets dark at like 4:00 up here in the north now, and by 5:00 it’s really, really night. I’m glad it didn’t snow, or I would have been one sore puppy by the time I got there. Fortunately, I booked a great Airbnb with a lovely host who very thoughtfully showed me around her place to get me situated before I headed to the venue, and she set me right at ease before I headed out for my fun. When I arrived at the Colony (a performing arts theater), I had no idea what to expect. I mean, Amanda Palmer had proposed this idea once before—a goth dance party—as a fun surprise gift to her son’s nanny. At the time, I couldn’t go, but this time it worked out, and I had no sense of what would happen once I arrived. Somehow, for once, I forgot about my tendency to have all my ducks in a row, to plan for every eventuality, and simply walked inside the front door alone. I’ve done plenty of things alone, like going to movies, eating out, hiking, taking weekend trips…but this was a first for me. A goth dance party? I mean, I love the Cure, Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails, and might even still have a small soft spot for Depeche Mode, but I wasn’t sure how much fun it might be to dance by myself at a party full of strangers.

When I walked through the door of the main room, the bar stands just about across from the main entry, and a woman with rainbow hair sat on a stool. For some reason, I gravitated right to her. We ended up talking for quite a while, and then she gave me a beautiful spoon shaped like a daffodil. She told me to look up “Spoon Theory,” so I did. It’s interesting. If you’ve never heard of it, go look it up and see what you think. Anyway, she eventually meandered up toward the stage, and I began to wander the venue in search of a woman who promised to help me get into a corset (yes, I have an actual corset, though I originally got it for a Renaissance Fair). Don’t ask me how I managed to elicit help lacing a corset from a total stranger, but I did. We were supposed to meet up in the bathroom, but the Twitter account she gave me wouldn’t send her a private message. I gave up worrying about it, since I was already dressed in black, and then I saw my rainbow-haired friend speaking to a woman who looked suspiciously like the photo of the woman who agreed to help me with my corset—and she had just received a spoon, too. Well, I walked up and introduced myself, and she had brought a friend, and we all got chatting, and then the evening began. Not having a corset on turned out to be a good thing.

We listened to a great NYC band called Weeknight, which played a good set that got the crowd moving, and then Amanda got her friend the Queen Reaper to take the stage. It was a fun set of spoken word comedy played to Amanda’s piano music. Then Amanda got another friend to play a few tunes with guitar, and she played two songs of her own, one of which was a new song due to come out on an album she plans to release in 2019. She got the audience to sing “The Twelve Days of Feministmas,” which was a hilarious mouthful to sing, and after all the stage fun Amanda had the DJ spin more goth tunes so we could dance the night away. She joined us on the dance floor and the lot of us enjoyed ourselves immensely. At some point during the stage show I met a friendly guy named John, and by the time the dancing started, all of us were on the dance floor together. What fun to hop around to songs I hadn’t heard in decades, dancing with people I had only met that night, and who were so wonderfully kind and inclusive. I expected to be back to my Airbnb by 12:30 at night, but it was closer to 2am, and I was probably awake until 3. Now that I work a day job at a school, I’m amazed I managed to stay awake enough to drive. I’m also glad I went without the corset. Dancing for four or five hours might have become even more painful–I limped to my car in the parking lot. Totally worth it.

In the morning I drove myself to town for a terrible breakfast in a nasty joint in downtown Woodstock after I realized I didn’t have what I needed to cook breakfast at the Airbnb. (Why I didn’t take the recommendations from people about good places to eat is beyond me—I blame not having coffee before leaving the house). Somehow my stomach didn’t rebel against the tasteless omelet and dry muffin, and I made it to the scheduled yoga class in a lovely, light-filled studio. If you’re not into yoga, you might not understand the benefits of such a thing after a hard night of dancing for hours, but trust me when I say yoga is good after hours of dancing. Especially when you’re over 40 and your knees need more love than they used to need. That night of dancing with strangers, followed by the hour and a half of yoga was truly a release I didn’t even know I needed. When you spend time with people you’ve never met, there’s a freedom in being able to just be yourself. You don’t have to impress anyone. What a delicious two days. On my way back to New Hampshire, I sang to my CDs and felt refreshed. I’m working on making happiness my choice, rather than to fall into the continual trap of complaining or feeling sorry for myself. Happiness is a choice, and even when bad things happen, we have a choice about how we react. I could have been brought down by the drive, by my social anxiety, or by having to go on a long trip alone, but all of it rolled off me and I fell into a state of bliss. Divine.

A short note about Woodstock itself: it’s lovely. If you live near enough to drive there, take a road trip. Though it’s known for the iconic rock festival, that didn’t even happen in the town proper—the festival took place on a farm in Bethel—and Woodstock has a life of its own now. Certainly you can wander the downtown and peer into all the quaint shop windows where people sell hippie clothes and art, but there’s also great food to be had, a wonderful bookstore (my personal weakness), and fun places to stay in the woods. Apparently Kate Pierson from the B52s owns a motel near there, and it’s a wacky, colorful extravaganza of exactly what you might expect from a woman who wailed “Love Shack.” Music and theater are also alive and well in Woodstock, at least at the Colony, where the dance party took place. After hearing Amanda Palmer share a little story about an event she attended in Woodstock, it sounds as though plenty of famous artists live there—probably as a sort of retreat from New York City. No doubt you could find plenty to do if you had a hankering to get out of the city to enjoy a little country getaway. If nothing else, the area boasts the same kind of beauty I love about New Hampshire: shelves of rock covered in lichen rising out of the wooded ground, hanging precariously over roads, or glimmering beneath riverbeds. The Catskills have a similar flavor to the landscape of Vermont and New Hampshire, a sort of continuum of mountains and woods and rivers and lakes. To me, it’s exactly what feeds my spirit. I see the woods as a sort of treasure hunt where I find giant boulders on which to climb, unexpected waterfalls tumbling over shelves of shale or granite, or surprise appearances of all sorts of animals.

If you haven’t been out of your house in a while because the weather is gloomy or it gets dark so early, do yourself a favor and plan a walk in a park or on a trail soon. So many people get miserable in winter in the north because of the weather, but I find that if I push myself to get out every day I don’t get depressed. Even if it’s cloudy, the light still brightens my mood, and the exercise gets the blood moving. Fresh air and sunshine is how I grew up, and I dare say I can’t give it up after all this time. Also, if the winter/holiday blues are setting deep into your bones, make time to go have fun. Go dancing, go see a band, take in a theater show, do something social where you will mingle with other humans. We spend too much time in front of screens. It doesn’t replace human connection, no matter what you believe about your social media accounts. Nothing is as good as being in the presence of people whose company makes you happy, and if you don’t have much in the way of friendships, go interact with people you don’t know. I used to be painfully shy, socially awkward, and easily embarrassed. If I can get over myself after being bullied ruthlessly in high school (name the reason, I was teased for it), you can, too. Buck up your courage and go make new friends. There’s someone out there for everyone. Yes, even you. This is the time of year that isn’t always so happy for everyone, even people who seem to have happy families. We all struggle, and we all need reasons to find relief. Rather than stuff your face with too many cookies, get out there into the big, beautiful world. I mean, have some cookies, too. We have to live, right? Cookies do make the world go round. 🙂