Flying with the Falcon

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. 🙂

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Trees Bow to Bruce But We Are Cozy in Our Small Space

*Picture taken in Nelson, NH during winter storm.

Winter storm “Bruce” has come and gone today in New Hampshire, and the trees of the woods are frosted white, bowing low to the ground with heavy, wet snow and ice. Ominous cracking sounds emit from the woods every once in a while, followed by a cascade of snow thumping to the ground, sometimes accompanied by a large branch. Countless tree limbs are down all over the place, and we lost power here in Nelson once in the middle of the night, and again mid-morning. With all this excitement, what does one do? Well, one enjoys the fact that school is cancelled, which means time to play in the snow. What else would I do on a snow day? Very fortunately, Michael gifted me a pair of snow shoes only last night—who knew the perfection of that luck?—which meant I got to try them out today. They worked like a charm. I have wanted snow shoes for ages, and now that we are wintering here in New Hampshire, I have some. Winter hiking, here I come. Aside from the winter weather, I thought I should share thoughts on tiny living again. It’s been a while since I shared anything about our Airstream or living tiny, and it’s about time I write about it again. Thus, I shall share the ideas Michael and I are cooking up for our future in New Hampshire, and what we hope to do after establishing a cozy homestead.

Right now, Michael and I are renting rooms in a lodge which has shared common space in the kitchen and living room. Mostly, we don’t go downstairs much other than to cook and eat, so our living arrangement is actually rather tiny right now. It’s a good thing, since our intention is to stay tiny for good. After living in our Airstream for a year, we fell in love with the lifestyle of freedom, more time for fun (because you’re not wasting time taking care of your house), and the smaller footprint which meant smaller bills. So many good things come from tiny living, much of which came as a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to find myself so happy in such a small home, especially when I left behind a house full of stuff I thought I needed. Very little of what I left at home turned out to be important to me, and when we got back to Olean to clean out the house to sell it, we got rid of probably 80% of what we owned. Really, the things I found that mattered most were either items made for me, or were mementos of some kind. After that, books were my biggest thing. I mean, words are my first love, so I can’t help myself when it comes to stories. Art and pictures were another big one, but you can see from my list that all the things which mattered are less about the material and more about the inspirational value. As a result, we narrowed down our stuff to the bare necessities and sold or gave away the rest. It felt wonderful to be free.

Here in our little rooms, we have quite small spaces which remind me somewhat of how much room we had in the Airstream. Both Michael and I miss the Falcon (for you new folks here, that’s what we called our Airstream: the Aluminum Falcon) every day, and we’re still trying to figure out how to find the resources and space to be able to rebuild it. Until we figure it out, the Falcon is patiently awaiting us to rescue her from a kind friend’s yard, still a hollow shell with nothing but wires clinging to the aluminum ribs. In the meantime, we also have been looking for land in New Hampshire. We intend to build a tiny house on the property, a cabin no larger than 500 square feet. Even that might be too big, but we plan to make part of the space a sort of studio for art and woodworking. Both Michael and I miss doing things with our hands, as we didn’t have space to take any of our supplies while on the road with the Falcon. We don’t have space for it where we’re living now, either, so it will have to wait. The plan, once it comes to fruition, is to find a parcel of about 20 acres which abuts a state park or land conservancy of some kind. Our hope is to preserve the land against any future development and to keep the woods healthy and alive. We expect to live on a small portion of the land and let the rest be a sanctuary of nature.

At the moment, Michael and I are still deciding on details of décor, but the current idea is to build a log cabin. I’m not entirely sold on it, as I’ve never been too much of a log cabin person, but Michael insists that we can build it for virtually nothing if we can fell our own trees. I told him that sounds like a lot of work, but he says he can do it. Okay. Maybe. I’m still not sure, but I might be persuaded. My ideal was actually to build a tiny house in the style of an arts and crafts home, or maybe a contemporary build with burned cedar planks on the exterior. Still, if it saves money, maybe a log cabin would be okay. We think the interior footprint will be about 20 x 20 downstairs for the living space, which will be open floor plan for the living room and kitchen, with added space in warmer months in the form of a screened porch. Upstairs will be smaller at about 10 x 20, but we plan to stack the screened porch to have a second level off the bedroom as a sleeping porch. I get giddy just thinking about it. We have our eye on certain places we’d like to buy property, but we really need to sell our Olean house to make the transition easier. Fortunately, Michael’s brother found siding on Craig’s list that matches what Michael used on our Olean house, so that solves the problem of paying full price. Come warmer months, Michael can get the siding done, and hopefully we can toss it on the market.

Of course, we also plan to keep traveling once we do purchase land. The whole idea of living in New Hampshire arose for the sake of Michael’s nursing career (aside from the fact that we love it here). New Hampshire is a compact state, and being residents means he can enjoy the reciprocity of the 30 or so states which also honor the compact licensing for nurses. It will make traveling much, much easier when we go back to it—lots less paperwork and expense by avoiding the fees and time of applying for a new license in every. single. state. For now, we expect to establish ourselves in the lovely community of Keene and the surrounding area to enjoy the rewards of New England life. It’s a gorgeous place to explore, and we’re happy to be here. Even when we travel again, it will be nice to have a place to call home, and the goal is to eventually build a couple of other tiny houses on the property so we can invite friends and family to stay comfortably. We want a place to bring people together, but also a place to pass on to people we love, a spot in the woods that we hope to keep sacred and alive. Living tiny is giving us a lot of benefits we never expected, and we want to pass it on to the next generation if we can.

If you’ve been thinking about living tiny and are having trouble with the idea of giving up all your space and all your stuff, trust me when I say you won’t miss it. The US has become such a throw-away society (along with other countries in the world), but if we start cultivating a space just for the things which bring us joy, it changes your perspective entirely. Go watch a few videos about tiny living if you aren’t sure about it, or even better, find a way to test it by living in an RV or cabin for a month or two. See if you can handle it. I’ve said that before, and I’m saying it again because it bears repeating. Tiny living offers benefits far beyond the wallet. It’s a lifestyle of freedom, joy, wonder, and lightness. If you have dreams, start working toward them because you only live once. Don’t wait for the future. Do it right now. Hang those photos where you can see them, write down your ideas where you can read them every day, and keep telling yourself those dreams are your fuel. They will grow when you give them the water of your hope-filled mindset.

Flying with the Falcon

Otter Brook State Park and Giving Thanks for Truth

*Photo taken from bridge over Otter Brook, at Otter Brook State Park in New Hampshire.

Right around the usual time of year, snow coats New England. As a child, I remember most Thanksgivings being snowy and cold, though in the last decade or so that has changed. Winter seems to be starting later in the year, often waiting until after Christmas for the big snowfall that freezes the ground and makes it stick. We’ll see if this most recent snow will be the one that begins the season, but either way the world outside my window is dusted with white powder, and several inches are projected to fall throughout the day today. School has been cancelled, a new concept for me. In Western New York, we could expect to see several inches of snow with every lake effect storm, and if we cancelled school every time we saw that amount of snow, we’d be missing school every week. For the amount of snow falling today, we probably wouldn’t even delay, but I won’t complain about getting to stay home and write. Yesterday at school, we took the kids out to the playground to play in the small amount of snow left from the storm last Friday, the Noreaster that was supposed to dump lots of snow. We barely had enough snow to pull the sleds over the newly-mulched playground, but we had fun anyway. The older students went to the hill on the playground to sled, and it was fun to watch them enjoy the weather. Over the weekend I had time to enjoy a local state park which is minutes down the road, and I am pleased to report it was lovely. I’ll get into the description in a minute, but first I want to share a few thoughts about Thanksgiving.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media that talk about abolishing Thanksgiving for the same reasons we should abolish Columbus Day. Understandably, we can and should be more sensitive to being honest about what our holidays actually celebrate; are we celebrating family, or are we celebrating European occupation? Both Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have roots in celebrating a misrepresentation of true history, in which European colonists came to the US when it was still rightfully occupied by indigenous peoples, and then Europeans savagely abused their power. Make no mistake: European settlement everywhere in the world did much the same thing to any culture it chose to dominate, and the saying “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a true statement for hundreds of years. Though much of that empire has been reduced in size, the lasting effects of pillaging across the globe for resources, wealth, slaves, and land still exist today. Because much of our culture in the US is based in traditions which do not question the source of why we celebrate anything, I am not really a believer in holding to traditions. I know most US citizens who celebrate Thanksgiving believe the holiday is about giving thanks, eating turkey and stuffing, remembering a mythical story about puritans and indigenous people having a meal, and watching a football game, but it’s not really about that at all. Really, Thanksgiving is partially about maintaining an idea about history which doesn’t actually exist, and continuing to honor a false story of our nation’s bloody truth. Honestly, what holiday celebrates the truth of its origin? Definitely not Halloween or Easter, but don’t let me get you down.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved Thanksgiving. It has been one of my favorite holidays because I loved the food, loved the time our families usually spent playing games, and the fact that I often got to go on a trip. In my adulthood, I loved Thanksgiving for the time I got to spend with family without having to do the stunts of other holidays, in which I needed to spend a lot of time and money on gifts or decorations or festivities which often didn’t interest me. Most holidays, if celebrated the way a majority of my Christian friends did, were too intensely oriented to expensive, time-consuming activities like those around Christmas or Easter, but even Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and other holidays often meant a lot of time and money (don’t get me started about consumerism and holidays—ick). In contrast, Thanksgiving was only about the meal. I loved that we just made a great meal and sat down to enjoy it without any other contrived activities attached. This is the idea of Thanksgiving which most appeals to me: spending time with people we care about, not pretending the history of such a holiday is roses and daisies. I don’t believe we should stop celebrating Thanksgiving, but I do believe we can be more honest about what happened to Native Americans, how the Europeans sold them up the river after enjoying that generous meal by killing them and enslaving them, and then we didn’t actually celebrate this as a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln penned the proclamation during the Civil War. All this information, by the way, can be found through a simple Google search. Lots of sources from Wikipedia to scholarly journals to personal transcripts of family history can be found on the internet, and I advise reading about it if you want to be informed. Let me just say here that public school should not be your main source of information about history—and I used to be a public school teacher.

So, if you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, please consider questioning your knowledge of why we celebrate. Be thoughtful of all the people in the world who suffered before this holiday was created, and be thankful for your life today. Remember that colonization created a narrative of literally white-washing history, erasing the true contributions of people of color from all over the world. If you are fortunate enough to have the money and time for a wonderful meal with your family—even if you don’t enjoy spending time with them—be thankful for that gift. Many people across the nation will not have a warm, safe place to eat, and many of those people are the same color and culture as those we slaughtered and enslaved because of misguided beliefs about religion and God. No matter what your religious beliefs, I don’t believe any higher power desires the death of other peoples or cultures simply because one group has a vision of a different future than another. Celebrate with the gratitude of truth, be kind if you can, and rethink the traditions. Traditions aren’t set in stone, and we reserve the right to change them anytime we want. It’s still a free country. If you dare to be uncomfortable, have conversations with your family about the true history of Thanksgiving, and maybe donate some time or money to organizations which are helping indigenous people, immigrants, or others in need so we can help them heal from their current strife. With that said about the upcoming holiday, allow me to share my exploration at Otter Brook.

On weekends, I do my best to make time for hiking. Now that I work Monday through Friday again (for now), I don’t always have the time or energy to hike during the week. I always make time for a walk, which is very fortunately in the woods due to my current location, but it’s not quite the same kind of fun as exploring a trail—at least, not for me. A couple of years ago, on our first stint of staying in the Keene area for Michael’s first travel job, one of our house mates took the time to explore Otter Brook and she said it was a nice spot to walk. At the time, Michael and I were busy enjoying other things in the region and never got around to visiting the place just down the road. Over the weekend, I decided that a place only minutes from my door sounded like exactly what I needed. Thus, I headed down route 9 toward Keene from Nelson, heading west. Only a short stint down the road from the Granite Gorge ski resort, one access to the park is located off route 9. If you’re coming from Keene and you get to Granite Gorge, you’ve gone too far. A small parking lot along the highway is located next to the road which accesses the park. At this time of year, cars cannot drive through because the park is considered closed for the season. Despite this, plenty of people park and walk the trails or roads, some of whom may be hunters. If you walk here during hunting season, wear bright orange to indicate you’re human. That’s a smart choice if you walk in the woods or explore the wild areas at any time of year, since hunters may be allowed in places you don’t realize until it’s too late. In the desert of Nevada, I encountered lots of public wild spaces which were open to target practice and hunting all year. Be safe.

Once I navigated into the park, I chose to stick to the roads for ease of access because I didn’t have a good map of the trails. A map of the park was posted at the entrance, but it was rudimentary and I didn’t want to think too hard. Another day I’ll get back out and try the trails for sure, since I discovered on my walk that a disc golf course lies hidden in the wooded area of the park. That looked fun, and I plan to have a little adventure to see where that goes when hunting season is over. What I found while walking the road was a pleasant small park loaded with family-oriented outdoor activities. I crossed a bridge which took me over the picturesque Otter Brook, for which the park is named, and walked along the road toward the lake fed by the river. On the shore of the lake is a beach and boat launch where people most likely frequent the park in summer. Places to picnic along the river are plentiful, and despite its proximity to the busy highway, the park was fairly quiet. The view from the road isn’t much to write home about, but the lake is pleasant, and the river is beautiful. Apparently pets are not welcome in the park, which is a shame, as too many parks in this state do not allow for people to walk their dogs. I may need to find out how I can make a change to this policy, as I do not believe I should be punished simply because a few pet owners were irresponsible. In any case, people are welcome to enjoy the water, picnic areas, and wooded preserves. The website for the park lists lots of sports activities, and recently I was told about a place that sells snowshoes for a low price; I might start snowshoeing this winter. 🙂

Soon I may need to get outside and shovel so Michael can get out of the driveway and go to work tonight. For the moment, I am enjoying a little quiet day in the brightness of new snow. Sometimes I marvel at the brilliance of nature in the way it provides more light in the darkest time of year. Without the leaf canopy of the woods, the snow provides plenty of light to be reflected even when the sun is hidden behind the clouds. As long as the snow stops falling in time for our travel to Olean tomorrow, I don’t mind the weather. I wish all of you a day of honest gratitude over the next few days, and a chance to consider how we can more deeply connect to the land on which we live, the people who live on that land, and how we can all be good to both. Changing the world starts with small acts between people and places, not necessarily huge impacts with large audiences. Each of us is a steward of the planet and its peoples, and your contribution to the betterment of the world matters just as much as everyone else’s. Believe. Listen. Act. Do it for love, and do it because it’s right. Your love is worth the effort.

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

How to Say I Love You

*Photo taken from the Congress Trail at Sequoia National Park in 2017.

I had another post all set to go, but I just couldn’t publish it. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to say what’s been on my mind lately, because my feelings are still too mixed up about it. I’ll go ahead and say it has to do with racism and white supremacy and oppression and sexism…but I don’t feel ready to put my post up about it yet. Instead, I think I will fall back on what I know is far better to send out into the world at any time: love. It’s what I believe is missing from too many conversations, not just now, but all the time. We forget to see people for who they are, and we forget that all people have beauty in them, just as all people can be ugly, too. No matter who we are, we are both perfect and imperfect at the same time. Rather than focus on all the ways the world is wrong, it might help if we start to see all the ways it is right, and to remember everyone deserves to feel loved.

Let me begin with a beautiful story about my friend, Ola Mae Gayton. Several years ago, I was sitting at a table with a group of friends. We just finished eating a pot luck dinner which was the traditional end to a local celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every year for (I think) about two decades, a celebration has taken place at the First Presbyterian Church in Olean, NY. Every year, most of the church pews are full of people who listen to stories, music, poetry, and presentations about Dr. King’s work for civil rights. After we sing “We Shall Overcome” as a group holding hands all the way around the church, we all eat a meal together. It’s usually a beautiful tribute to Dr. King’s life and work, and for many, many years I looked forward to the day. In any case, it was after the dinner that I found myself sitting at a table chatting with friends, and one of the people sitting at the table was Ola Mae Gayton. Somehow we got onto the subject of Ola Mae’s former restaurant, and the fact that I missed her delicious banana cake when the restaurant closed. In my usual way, I made sure Ola Mae knew how much I appreciated her cooking, because I believe people deserve to know when they are appreciated.

In her usual way, Ola Mae smiled her beautiful white smile and laughed her rich, contralto laugh, and she thanked me for the compliment. We finished our chat and got the room cleaned up and we all went home. It’s been years since this happened, so I can’t remember how long after the celebration Ola Mae called me on the phone, but she did. Ola Mae had never called me before, so I was surprised to hear from her. I was even more surprised when she asked me if I was busy right then and could I come over to her house. If you are friends with a black woman and she asks you to come over, you are duty-bound to say “Yes, ma’am,” and do it. It’s in a rule book somewhere, I’m sure. Being a good listener, I of course went straight to Ola Mae’s house, just like she asked. She was very cryptic over the phone, though, and said I should look for her husband, who would meet me on the porch. “Okay,” I said, not really sure what to expect, but Ola Mae had never steered me wrong. I went.

When I pull up in front of the house, it’s already dark outside, so I can’t immediately see that Ola Mae’s husband is waiting for me on the porch. I get out of my car, ready to go knock on the door, but here he comes holding something in his hands. He’s got a big smile on his face, and he greets me with his usual friendly hello. When I see what’s in his hands, I immediately say, “Oh, no she didn’t!” Jim just laughs and comes to give me the container, a Tupperware cake carrier. Oh, yes, she did. Ola Mae baked me a banana cake. I can’t remember all of what I said, other than to exclaim repeatedly that I couldn’t believe Ola Mae baked me a cake. Honestly, I felt so honored by that kindness. Maybe it seems silly to you, but it meant a lot to me. Ola Mae remembered what I said about missing her banana cake, and then she took the trouble to bake one for me. How many people do you know who would do that? I mean, this was a passing moment in a conversation, but she remembered. And she baked me a delicious, love-filled cake. It was heavenly.

When I returned the cake carrier, I made sure to fill it with some of my homemade granola, because I learned from another friend that you never return a container empty. Let me tell you, Ola Mae knows how to say I love you, and I will never forget that cake.

On a few occasions when I was down on my luck and low on cash, a wonderful pair of friends, also from Olean, NY, took it upon themselves to bring me a much-needed gift. Two particular occasions stand out in my mind. The first was when I was pregnant with my son, having just returned from living in Savannah, GA. I was at a crossroads in my life, but determined to do everything in my power to be the best mother possible to my unborn baby. It wasn’t easy to crawl home pregnant, unmarried, and ashamed of my lifestyle choices at the time. Truly, I was making the best decision I could have made for myself, which was to take good care of my health and go back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. Once I finally got settled in a tiny new apartment, my friends (who also happened to live next door) came over to welcome me to my new neighborhood. They also brought me a couple of bags of groceries, a gift I really needed at the time. I will never forget how loved I felt when Jan and Mike came over with those brown bags stuffed with healthy food. I can’t remember exactly what food they brought me, but I remember the love. At a time when I felt so lonely, so misunderstood, they showed me I mattered, they cared, and they loved me.

About two decades later, right after I separated from my first husband, Jan and Mike showed up at my door after I moved into another new apartment. Once again, I was lonely, depressed, and felt abandoned by all the people I thought were my friends. Few people came to see me after my separation, at a time when I desperately needed comfort and solace. Because I left with little cash, and nowhere near enough money coming in to pay bills and buy food, I was struggling to feed my kids. For a while I found myself redeeming soda bottles just for the little bit of change I could get, and then I could buy enough food to feed my kids when they were staying with me. Jan and Mike once again brought me groceries. When everyone else seemed to treat me as though I had the plague, Jan and Mike brought me groceries and love. I needed those groceries more than they probably knew at the time, because I didn’t broadcast how hard I had it. Most of the time, I keep my problems to myself and just try to take care of things on my own. But no one lives in a bubble. We all need love.

One last story I want to share has to do with my husband, Michael. While we were living in Ely, Nevada a year and a half ago, he told me I needed to pack a bag for a trip. I actually hate surprises, but I was trying to go with it until he told me I needed to prepare for temperatures ranging from below freezing to 100 degrees. At that point, I put my foot down and told him to tell me where we were going. He fessed up that we were driving to Sequoia National Park, and I just about died. My whole life I dreamed of seeing the sequoias, and because Michael knew this was a big deal to me, he planned a trip to take me there. Even though the first leg of the trip was kind of a mess (you can read my post about that trip here), the part of the trip where we finally got to see the trees was absolutely magical. I still think about it sometimes, and have to pinch myself that I got to go. The first time I saw one of the sequoias, I squealed with joy, jumped out of the truck, and hugged that tree with all the love I could muster. My hubby gave me one of the best experiences of my life when he took me to that park. That’s love. That trip changed my life, and I am still in awe of both the trees and my husband’s kindness.

When you learn of a way to make a person happy by doing a little thing like buying groceries, or a big thing like taking someone on a life-altering trip, do it for love. You may never realize how much that little show of love will mean to someone, nor how it may heal a heart. So many people have been kind to me in my life, and because they were kind, I felt loved. It matters. Make love the reason you do anything, and do it selflessly, without needing anything in return. When you do, it comes back to you tenfold.