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.

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.

When You Want to Get off the Ride but You Can’t

*Photo of clover in the woods near our home in Nelson, NH.

As the world turns, I seem to have fallen into a hole of get up and work, go to work, come home and prepare for work the next day, go to bed, and get up and work again. On and on it goes, like a hamster wheel. It’s not ideal, and I have hope that I will regain my energy again one day soon, but for the moment I am not climbing mountains. Just thinking about climbing mountains makes me want to weep. Though I had the best intentions of getting out over the weekend to go hiking in the woods, my body simply could not comply. I needed to rest, since I have been so tired and stressed I actually got sick for the first time in years. Not sick enough to stay home, but sick enough to add weight to the existing exhaustion. This shall pass eventually. Until it does, I have been eating the best possible food, avoiding any junk at all, going to bed at obscenely early hours, and staring off into space at odd times during the day. Sleeping, resting, and eating good food. The only recipe for feeling better. Of course, there is also the food for the spirit, and I have been enjoying my return to the wonderful meditation center in Keene, where Monday evenings are like a lantern on a moonless night. They breathe life into the rest of my week.

One aspect of exhaustion which has caused me to ponder is the fact that this feeling of not having control over my own hours, my own time, serves as a reminder of my ultimate goal to truly have the freedom to work for myself. This discomfort of having to rise so early when I am a night owl, spending my days getting down onto the floor to work with young preschoolers (and then having to get up again—I am really getting great work-outs at the school), not always being able to use the bathroom when I need to go…all these things serve as reminders of what I really want. More than anything, I know I work best when I work for myself, or at the very least I work best when I am left to my own devices. Though I do enjoy those moments of wonder when a child’s face lights up with something they just learned, ultimately I know I must find ways to work for myself if I want to be truly happy. For the moment, the pressure of my discomfort will push me harder to find the creativity to make it happen. Rather than allow myself to wallow in misery, I will use the discomfort as fuel to forge ahead into the long hours of the night, writing my little heart out until I pass out in the chair with my computer in my lap. #Goals.

Though I did not find any trails to hike, I still find delight in walking the wooded road where we currently live, and I did take a wrong turn the other day which led to a serendipitous discovery of a nature preserve. I am excited to go wander the trails there, and maybe since I have it in mind my body will give me the needed energy to take the dogs for some fun soon. Our wooded road is lovely, but I require a change of scenery now and then. We’ve had a lot of rain falling lately, though; I hope we can get some respite from it soon. The sun hasn’t been out much, and the waterways in the North are full to bursting. If only we could build a pipeline for water from one side of the country to the other. All the rain of the East Coast regions could be sent to the West Coast to fight the fires and water the produce wilting in the summer heat. As the years wear on, we may have to do that very thing to help save the coasts from their unbalanced weather patterns. Sigh. Why does anyone still believe the propaganda of companies that profit from this sort of thing?

Today, much earlier in the day than I would ever expect to hear such a thing, an owl hooted from the trees right outside our house. It surprised me because it was so loud and unexpected, but I immediately smiled and got all excited that my rather large owl friend is still in the neighborhood. I thought the owl had moved elsewhere because it’s been quite a while since I heard any hooting, but apparently not. We also have a resident porcupine which likes to wander the woods around our house (we know this because we keep finding quills everywhere), and the other night I saw my first porcupine ever in the wild. It makes a very odd sound, a lot like a-dar-dar-dar-dar-dar, kind of like a duck and a goose together, but much stranger. It was fortunate that Michael knew what it was when I heard it that night, because a day or two later I came across another porcupine while I was walking the dogs. The darn thing was rooting around at the base of a small tree, somewhat hidden in the brush, and I didn’t even see it until we were within a couple of feet of it. Somehow the dogs didn’t notice it at all, which was good, because I high-tailed it out of there lickety-split. I had no desire to have to pull porcupine quills out of my dogs’ faces all night. Dogs, after all, are not known for their intelligent choices when it comes to chasing animals. Skunks, porcupines, deer, bears…dogs will go after all kinds of animals, regardless of their own safety. The thrill of the chase is too alluring, and they do not resist. What surprised me was the fact that I noticed the porcupine, but the dogs didn’t—so much for their keen sense of smell. Either way, it bristled as we walked past, and I escaped unscathed.

Once again, my body is drooping. I’ve prepared my vittles, my coffee, my clothes, and my shoes for tomorrow’s scheduled hours at the school, and now I absolutely must lie down. It took all my strength to just cook dinner and take the dogs for a walk, aside from the few things I did to prep for work tomorrow. Eventually I have to get used to this, right? I mean, I know I’m not 25 anymore, but I’m not that old. At some point, I have to buck up and get some kind of vigor back in my step. Life awaits, and I have every intention of living it. With that thought, it reminds me of a promise I made to myself at the last Monday meditation: I promise to live in the present. Something I have noticed about myself lately is that I tend to live for the future too often. I find myself thinking about things I want to do, places I want to go, people I want to meet, and then it seems as though I waste the present moment. Last night I got all wound up about how early I would have to get up, and how much I loathe the early hour at which I rise five days a week, and then I simply reminded myself that right now, in this moment, I am not rising early. In this moment, I am home, lying on my bed, resting. I reminded myself to enjoy the rest and to stop wasting the moment of rest with worry about what I would be doing hours and hours in the future. It helped. Live in the moment. That is my wisdom for today. Even if this moment is not the moment you want it to be, I am sure there is something in the moment that can be savored. A cool breeze. A warm sweater. A comfortable seat. A deep breath. All moments can be this way if we choose. Tomorrow I will endeavor to find those moments between the chaos of young children pulling the wool over the eyes of their teachers, and be grateful I can rise from the floor again and again in a day. I will be happy to breathe deeply when I am tired, and glad when I can use the bathroom. Little things.

Trees I Leave Behind Me, Trees Ahead

*Photo taken in Nelson, NH.

I’m posting a little later than I normally like, but going back to working with young children again is taking the strap out of my molasses. Also, I lost track of what day it is. Oops. The leaves are beginning to change. Fall promises to bring a welcome relief from sweaty, hot summer days with the light waning toward the equinox this week. Now that I drive from the woods to town for work every day, I get to watch the daily transition from green to bright yellow in the trees, with the occasional splash of red sumac or brush beneath the forest canopy. The hills around Keene provide a captivating backdrop for the color transfer, and I hope to find the energy for baking pies soon. This time of year holds all of my favorite aspects of living in the North, with pumpkins, mums, apples, winter squash, cider, and leaping into piles of raked leaves. My brother and I used to keep ourselves busy for hours when we raked leaves as kids. We loved heaping the leaves as high as we could, and then hopping into the pile over and over. Of course, we also often did other things like raking the leaves into mazes in the grass, wading through them like we would with snow, and eventually climbing atop the pile to lie in them when we finally got tired. Our yard in one of our childhood homes in the country was rather large, and we got used to having giant stacks of leaves in which to play. When we moved to Olean when I was in high school, the yard seemed like a postage stamp, and the leaves were nowhere near as plentiful. Raking then became a chore instead of fun, and neither of us enjoyed it much at that point.

Such is the way of life. We have times when life is a grind, and then other times when it can feel almost effortless and free. Over the summer, when Michael and I went to an amusement park with our families, it seemed so free and easy. Then we returned to the grind of working on our house and falling into bed every night completely spent. When we arrived in New Hampshire I had an idealistic hope that life here would somehow be easier, less grinding, but it’s still proving to be exhausting. Right now, though, I can look up at the view outside my window and see nothing but trees, hear nothing but sounds of the woods, and live by the light of what nature provides. It’s fascinating to me that when I come to the woods, my body acclimates to the sun and moon so readily. When the sun sets, I am tired within a couple of hours, and when it rises again, the light draws my eyelids open like shades on a window. A few nights ago, the moonlight cast its silvery-blue glow and provided the gentlest nightlight when I needed to use the bathroom during the night. And for several nights last week we had a few owls hooting in the woods, once in the trees right outside our door. I geek out on that kind of thing. Weirdly, I get excited when I get to hear or see wildlife so close, and I sort of think of animals and trees and plants as friends I look forward to seeing.

Back in Olean, I had certain walks I would take to restore myself, and one of those walks took me along the Allegany River. Ever since I first lived in Olean I loved walking there because it was fairly peaceful and quiet, and a track along the top of the dike allowed for a nice, easy walk. At one point along the river where the dike curves away from the river’s edge, a spit of forest grows along the riverbed—the place where there is now a paved trail which crosses over the dike and into the woods. In a triangular-shaped grassy bed at the forest’s edge stands a large, gnarled oak. Its girth is large enough that probably two adults could wrap their arms around it and not touch. As a teen I loved that tree, and every time I passed it I felt a warmth for its presence there. Sometimes I would sit under it and enjoy the shade. It was a nice spot to sit and think. For more than 30 years I have walked past that tree and been so happy to see it standing there in all its mossy, twisted majesty, and I hope to be able to return to see that tree still there for the rest of my days. That may not be possible, since the last few years have been hard on that old oak, and it’s showing signs of waning in its life. My fondness for that tree runs deep, and I worry for it like I might worry about a sick friend.

Going back even further in time, when my parents finally sold the home where my brother and I so enjoyed raking leaves, shortly after that the house was renovated into apartments, and then the yard was bulldozed, much to my horror. I will never forget the first time we drove past the house where I used to pick berries from a massive raspberry patch behind the barn, climbed a pine tree taller than our house, ate vegetables straight from our garden, and picked flowers from the many beds which bloomed over the seasons; it was devastating. That yard with all its many flora was a place of wonder for me as a kid, and I had grown attached to all the trees and plants which I could recognize: a dogwood which bloomed white and fragile over the courtyard next to the house, tiger lilies nestled into a stacked stone dividing wall in a section of the back yard, a jack-in-the-pulpit which popped up its head from a patch of ivy surrounding a lone birch tree, and our raggedy apple tree in the “very back yard” (as we called it) where my father attempted to build me a treehouse. Having all of that beauty lost made me terribly disappointed. All those lives I came to love as a child—gone. I was similarly upset when a tree in front of one of my homes in Savannah, GA was cut down. The tree once masked the balcony porch outside my room, and I loved the way the light filtered green into the windows. After that ugly incident, I felt like the subway might as well have been taped off like a murder scene. Is it strange that I feel such kinship to the plants and animals? I used to look forward to catching glimpses of a pair of mallards, a rabbit, a pair of finches, and a few red-winged blackbirds along one of my walks in Olean, too. They felt like little acquaintances I had made on my walks, like neighbors.

Right now, the sun is slipping toward the horizon, and its orange glow peeks through the leaves which are just starting to turn. The weather felt cooler today, and the woods is almost ready to take on the scent of falling leaves, that crisp, woody, mouldering aroma only fall delivers. Soon enough, we’ll catch the scent of winter in the air, too, but not yet. For now, we get to enjoy a slipstream of light jackets; bright, flame-like vistas rolling past our car windows; and the return of baking comfort food in the oven again. I may be exhausted from the grind of work and settling in a new state, but the woods cradle me to sleep every night in a magical whispering of birches and pines and oaks and maples all talking to each other in the wind. As soon as we get a clear night when the moon shines near full, I plan to take Michael and the dogs for a moonlit stroll under the trees. If you’ve never done so, I recommend it. When the moon is full or even a few days away from full, the light is bright enough to walk without a flashlight. Seeing the shadows of leaves on the road by moonlight is a treat. My lovelies, do yourself a favor and make a romantic evening of a walk by moonlight in the woods. To heck with the beach. Listen for the owls instead. Next week, I hope I have had time to explore the woods and share some fun from a trail. Be still my heart. Wouldn’t that be nice? Until then, my dears. Be wonderful, be loving, be true to who you are, and think kind thoughts to the trees for me.

Galloping Forward, Possibly Headless

*Photo taken in the woods of New Hampshire, overlooking the rolling hills.

I have missed living in the woods. It is so very wonderful to be here again, and I am so glad we finally made it to New Hampshire. Our first couple of weeks in the Keene area are keeping Michael and I busy while we work on switching ourselves over from New York to New Hampshire. It’s a lot of work to change states, because it means changing your driver’s license, registration, insurance, employment, mailing address…you get the picture. I will have to register to vote, and do my research on candidates. A whole slew of homework came with my new job at the school, much of which I have to do in the first 60-90 days, and most of which is online course work. Yikes. Meanwhile, we still have work to finish at our Olean house, and this weekend we will have to return there to continue moving things we need with us, but didn’t have room on our previous trip. Can I just say here that I feel like I need a rubber room? Does anyone have a straight jacket I can borrow? My stress level is getting a little out of control.

Aside from getting settled in our digs, I am still trying to keep at my writing goals (and sometimes failing, which kills me). My heart has been telling me pretty much my whole life that I am a writer. The problem is that I still haven’t found the secret sauce for living on it yet. While that isn’t the end of the world, it does make me sad that I have to misdirect myself with pesky things like getting a job to have an income, and then take away from what I would much rather be doing: holing up in a room alone with my writing. Instead, I have been plundering my brain for my Montessori training of 30 years ago and spending my first week at a local school as a teacher’s assistant. It’s good to be in Montessori again, though I have to admit I’m really exhausted. Toddlers are a tough age for me, even though they can also be adorable and sweet. I do love their purity of motive and id-like discussions, since they usually just tell you the truth and rarely hold back asking about anything. It’s refreshing to be around such honesty, but it’s also challenging to try to manage some of the difficult behaviors. Over time, hopefully that will improve. We just started the school year, so we have a lot of learning ahead to help us all blend better. If it doesn’t, I might just keel over suddenly. Even though I take great care of myself and don’t really feel my age, I’m not 20 anymore. Getting up and down from the floor for six hours a day without a break is taking a bite out of me.

When I’m not running errands, filling out paperwork, or struggling to keep up with toddlers, I make time to walk my dogs. Though Michael does come with me when he can, I am usually the one with the serious walking schedule. Firstly, I HAVE to get outside every day. It’s a nearly religious ritual for me. All my life I’ve been an outdoor girl, and that is never going to change. My walk time is something I have to do for myself, and now that we’re back in the woods, I find myself absolutely delighted to walk this lovely, quiet dirt road again. The view from the top of the hill where we live is glorious. Birch trees, pines, oaks, maples—endless trees of the forest line the road, and now that fall is beginning, all the fields are turning yellow with goldenrod and purple from the asters. This road is where Michael and I lived when we first came to New Hampshire and fell in love with this state, and it feels fitting that this is where we are camped until we find a place to buy. This road almost feels like home, and I love the familiarity of the curves, the lichen-studded rock walls marking property lines, the boggy pond, and the farm at the top of the hill. Even if we move elsewhere, I think I will always enjoy walking up this road, and will probably come back here just to enjoy it when I can.

The trees are just now showing a tinge of yellow here, too, and I am beside myself with glee that this year Keene is bringing back its pumpkin festival. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I am over the moon to be able to enjoy it in New Hampshire. I have plans to go for a nice, long drive to see the gorgeous foliage when the peak hits, but I also plan to explore the fun of my favorite season. The pumpkin festival of Keene was once the largest display of jack-o-lanterns of all time (according to Wikipedia), but a few years ago a riot caused the town to stop having the festival all together. I don’t know what convinced the town to try again, but I am stupidly happy that I get to go see all the carved pumpkins. I might even carve one myself if I’m allowed. Now that the summer is waning, I am thinking about apple and pumpkin pies, Halloween, cider, haunted hay rides, and all the other wonders of autumn. When we lived in Olean, we went on a haunted hay ride, but it was only mildly scary. Maybe there’s a better one around here.

Last time we lived in Keene, we took a trip to Salem (yes, that Salem) because Michael was intrigued. Though it was interesting to learn about the history on a guided tour we took (there are several companies that run tours in October, and maybe even longer), I felt the rest of the carnival-like atmosphere wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was interesting to see Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home there, but I was largely underwhelmed. If you have a hankering to go, by all means, experience the town in October. Be warned: crowds are massive, parking is difficult, and tours are packed. Plan ahead, darlings. I actually might be more interested to try going at a different time of year, when it’s not near Halloween. Maybe exploring would be more fun without so many people plugging up the streets. In any case, I think I plan to seek out a good bunch of festivals and activities so I can fully enjoy my first official fall as a New Hampshire resident. It seems like the right thing to do.

Much as I would love to rattle on about all the many things I love about being here right now, my brain is fried. Are toddlers actually zombies in disguise? I think they might have eaten my brain—they had ample opportunity today while I was discombobulated by their silly antics. Still, there are those moments when the heart clutches, like when I asked one child to help another because one child was having a tough time, and without hesitation the help is given so sweetly and gently…such moments are priceless. Tears well up in my eyes once in a while when the little ones take care of each other. No matter what most adults think about the capabilities of young children, think again. They are blossoming with galaxies of compassion and kindness, even if in the next moment they are consumed with a tantrum. To see the meticulous care of those tiny fingers carrying a cut glass vessel of water without spilling a drop, or to watch them use a pair of tweezers to place tiny beads into small cups is a pleasure to behold. Even if they exhaust me, I learn multitudes from the littlest people. They are genuine when they like you, and they will not hold back when they don’t. Nothing but authenticity will do. Such clarity is a treasure, and I hope I can hold it together to do my work well. My body tells me it is time for rest, and so I hope next week will offer up more opportunity to explore. This weekend promises to be another lesson in brutality, since we must go back to Olean to carry more boxes, fix more things, and drive seven hours one way. No rest for the weary, but sometimes dreams take sacrifice. We’re keeping our eyes on the prize. Get out there, my friends, and enjoy the wealth of autumn where you live. Or perhaps help a person who must survive yet another monster storm. We’ll need to be all hands on deck in the next few years, methinks. Let’s take care of each other, shall we?

Bright Beginnings

*Photo from our room at the lodge in the woods with my birthday flowers gracing the space. 

After a long, hard month of constant work, finally my husband and I are rewarded with a small respite in the woods of New Hampshire. It’s been two years, nearly to the day, since we began our travel life in Keene. Both Michael and I fell in love with the region around Mount Monadnock for so many reasons, not the least of which was the woods; being here still feels like a dream or a vacation. When you dream about doing something for a long, long time, it can take a while to believe you’re actually doing it. We took a lot of time to deliberate the decision to come here to make ourselves a home base, a safe little cove in the woods where we hope to be able to enjoy the splendor of the outdoors for the rest of our lives. Our eventual goal is to build a tiny cabin in the woods, along with another cabin or two for guests, and to have plenty of acreage to preserve against development. We want to make as little impact on the woods as possible, to be able to enjoy it and hand it off to future generations of our family to enjoy, too. That’s the goal, eventually. For now, we are renting a pair of rooms in a lodge, the same place we rented when we first came to Keene, and we are searching for property to buy. Meanwhile, we still have lots to do.

Last week my birthday came and went with only a quick dinner at a local ice cream stand in Olean (Twist ‘n’ Shake on Constitution Ave. is my favorite spot) in the midst of a flurry of packing what we would need to take to New Hampshire the next day. Michael still worked on a few finishing flourishes around the house while I ran from room to room digging through the many boxes containing what’s left of our worldly possessions. It amazes me how much stuff we still own, despite selling the majority of our furniture and giving away so much of the unneeded clothing and household junk. We’ve had a lot to sort and shuffle from place to place, and we will have to do it again when we find a home to buy. Though I think a lot of people are stressed by such circumstances, I honestly feel excited about where we’re headed with our lives. It’s a lot of work, sure, but I get to wake up every day now to the sound of trees and birds, the fresh air, and the green. Even if this place isn’t mine, I have a screened porch where I can sit and enjoy the quiet anytime I want. What could be better? I actually enjoy the fun of exploring new homes, too, so as we get to imagine the possibilities for where we plan to live, we get to tour lots of places with a real estate agent. I love it.

Since our arrival in New Hampshire only a few days ago, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. We did take a day off from work to give ourselves time to recoup from all the hard work, but we had to unload our supplies and find a place for everything in the lodge, and then I had a job interview while Michael squared away paperwork for his new job at the hospital. Since he’s taking a big pay cut to have a regular position at the hospital (travel pay is quite a bit better), I am taking a job at a local Montessori school as a teacher’s assistant to help make up the difference in income. It won’t cover all the loss, but it helps, and I’m excited to be around little ones again. Young children help us remember what’s important in life, and remind us of the delight of exploration and the wonder of discovery. I’ve missed that energy lately, and I began my education career at a Montessori school in Olean nearly 30 years ago. Working at that school gave me the foundation of so much positive influence for parenting and teaching later, and I am thrilled to begin serving as an educator in that environment once again. It makes me smile to think about getting civilized about school again, and look forward to the positive influence of the orderly, creative, and intelligent design of Maria Montessori’s legacy in my life. Years and years ago I discovered that Maria Montessori’s birthday is the same as mine, one hundred years to the day. She was an incredibly ambitious woman who revolutionized education so much that even decades after she developed her scientifically-proven method, it still seems progressive to most of the education world in the US. Working in public schools squashed my spirit, especially after being in the calm, nurturing classrooms of a well-run Montessori school. And now I shall return to my education roots. It feels right.

Though we still have plenty to do to settle ourselves in the Keene area, we also still have plenty to do in Olean. It weighs heavily on Michael, because he is the one who really has to do the hardest work on the house. We still have siding to finish, a big job which will require help, and we’ll need to do it in what little time we have on weekends. It’s not going to be easy. Plus, we still have the Airstream sitting patiently, waiting for us to come to its rescue while it sits forlorn in a friend’s yard. The innards having been removed may make it impossible for us to use it as a means to transport the remainder of our belongings, since we aren’t actually sure how roadworthy an Airstream is without the structure of walls on the interior. If anyone knows, we’d love to have you comment below. We don’t want to compromise the Airstream’s integrity with too much weight inside it, especially since we have to travel over the Green Mountains of Vermont to get here. Hopefully when we buy a house here we’ll have a driveway or spot in a yard where we can park it. We still want to rebuild the interior so we can travel with it again. Baby steps. The Aluminum Falcon will be reborn one day, better than ever, a phoenix from the debris of demo.

Now that we are living in New Hampshire, I will be grateful to have more time to dedicate to my writing again. It’s been such a grind every day with the Olean house that I haven’t had much time to write. After years of building my writing up to the point of publishing and daily goals, it felt awful to give up so much time to reno work. I hated it. Though I needed a little break for a week or so to get back some creative flow, after a month it almost felt as though I was crushing my creative energy under the exhaustion of so much physical exertion. I’m so glad to finally be away from that house and getting back to a routine of what I really need to be doing. Writing is what I do, it’s when I feel most myself; without it I am a rudderless boat in a fast-running current. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t give up writing entirely, but a lot of writing I would have been doing needed to wait until the reno work was done. What I discovered in the process, however, was that I need to have more work balance so I can stay true to my writing goals, even when we later have to build our cabin in the woods. I dropped the ball on a lot of projects I had started, including the publish date of my sequel, and my August newsletter to my email list. These are bad things to let go, and I have already decided never to do that again, not for any reason. When you work for yourself, it can seem to others as if it’s okay to do other things, especially if your work is still not putting out big financial returns. Mostly I’m good at ignoring what others think I should be doing, but I allowed the reno work to consume me for the last month. Never again. Mistakes are how we learn, and so I shall move forward with knowledge and experience.

So, while I stare out the window at the trees as they wave in the wind, and I continue to enjoy the flowers my hubby got me for my birthday, I think about what’s next. Day by day we inch forward into the life we want to build. We are finally living where we want to be, we have jobs secured, we are in the woods for the moment. While we consider homes to buy and time for finishing the Olean house, we also must still sally forth with the mundane tasks of cooking meals, shopping, walking the dogs, and cleaning. Balance is a fine line, a tight rope of stability where you have to focus on every step carefully, rather than thinking about the height. It’s hard to stay in the moment, but it’s worth the attempt. Living in the now means enjoying the taste of your food, breathing deeply, being grateful for what you have around you right here and now. Though Michael and I feel relieved and happy to be in New Hampshire—and it does matter where you live—I still believe that mindset is the biggest asset in any situation. No matter what is happening around you, if you can center yourself with goals, be present, find even a small tidbit of gratitude, and see the good…all things are possible. All things. Begin by finding your strengths, and build on them. Find your worth in what you’ve survived, and be the good. When we look for ways to help, look for the moments to be of service to others, to contribute in even the smallest of ways, beauty arrives at your doorstep. I stand at the threshold of possibility now, just as I did two years ago, and again 30 years ago. The cycle of what we learn returns in many ways if we pay attention, and none of our mistakes are wasted. We carry them with us as unpolished stones until we decide to take them out and notice them again. Life is a river full of stones. Ride the current without a rudder, or stick your hand in the water to find out what’s beneath the surface—the choice is yours.

The End Is Nigh, and We Begin Again

*Photo of the tile mosaic I created for the foyer to our Olean home.

By this time next week, Michael and I will be in New Hampshire. It’s exciting to be in the final last days of renovations on our Olean house, though it’s been a horrible grind to get all the work done. Despite the fact that Michael had already done so much work prior to this summer, we still had a lot to finish. Trim work is a beast, and even though a lot of it was done already it became apparent how much still needed to be done when it came time to complete it ALL. On top of the trim (which Michael is making himself, very painstaking and detailed), we also have to paint EVERYTHING. If you’ve ever painted the interior of an entire house, you know our pain. It’s just the two of us doing all the work alone, so it’s slow, grueling, and both of us crawl to the bed each night groaning with aches in our necks, hands, and backs. I’ve been employing liberal use of pain relief meds and creams to get through this month. Michael also created a last bit of concrete countertop for the kitchen, a step for the back patio, finished out closets with drywall, and cut thresholds for several doorways. Months ago, I created a tile mosaic for the foyer, and that came with its own set of problems to be solved. Now, however, we’ve been enjoying it for the short time we have left in the house. In my mind, I hope it will be a deciding factor for someone who walks into the home and, upon seeing it, will have to buy it.

As we continue the endless bits and pieces of reno around the interior, we also have work on the yard (like digging up a garden, trying to clean up all the yard waste, trimming trees, and pulling weeds). The one really big thing left, though, is the siding. Years ago Michael started the siding, got about half-way done with it, and then he had to stop either because he ran out of time and money, or he went to the hospital—he can’t remember which. One of those things stopped the work, and so it sat waiting while he went back to school for nursing, had to start working right out of school, and then subsequently had no time or energy for construction work. We expect to have to wait until we start our new jobs in New Hampshire before we can come back to Olean and finish the siding, which we hope we can complete in a couple of weekends. We’ll see what happens. No home improvement ever gets done in a timely fashion; usually these jobs are double what you expect to spend in both time and money.

The hardest part of all the last-minute balls-to-the-wall work is the fact that I really want to see people before we leave town. I have a lot of friends I want to see, and so little time to do it. I did get to have a last supper of sorts with my family over the weekend, and they threw me a little surprise birthday party. They made me cake and gave me gifts, and then we played a round of “Dictionary,” a game in which a person chooses a word from the dictionary, and we all make up definitions. It usually results in a lot of hilarity. Though dinners like this will not be so frequent anymore, we will only be a day’s travel away. We can always come back to Olean when we have a free weekend, or we can have people come visit us. A lot of people would probably think of a seven-hour drive as long and tedious, but after traveling across the country and living in Nevada (where several hours of travel between cities or towns was absolutely normal), seven hours seems like nothing. It’s a short stint. Already I find myself dreaming of life in New Hampshire, now that we finally made our decision final, and my heart is full. What fun it will be to wander the woods, take roads trips through the country, discover new parks, and meet new friends. We have a temporary place to live until we find a more permanent home, and the excitement of building our own place in the woods promises to be an adventure, even if I know the work will be hard.

Monday I met with my niece to work on our children’s book together, a project I had hoped to finish over the summer. We spent the afternoon in the library, drawing furiously in a quiet corner, whispering ideas to each other like kids in a classroom. Alas, we still have a good deal of drawing to do, but I am excited that we got to spend this summer in Olean to be able to start some of the collaborations I got going while we were here. I am lucky to know some very smart, inventive, wonderful people with whom I can create all kinds of art, especially my niece. She has been a delight to work with over the summer, and she has made my original idea so much better because of her creativity. Today Michael and I drove a washer to my sister-in-law in Jamestown, NY, and got one last dinner in with Michael’s family. Once upon a time, I might have felt sad about leaving behind the people we love, but now that we’ve spent so much time on the road already I feel as though distance no longer matters. Love travels long distances, connecting us regardless of where we go or what we do. Love doesn’t care how far away people live, and those people who truly cherish our relationships readily pick up right where we left off, even after years of not seeing each other. I know so many people who choose not to leave a place because they believe they will miss their family and friends too much, but now that I have gone away and returned, I find that those people who really matter to me are still there, still care, and still love me. If anything, the distance has made it more apparent that relationships matter, and we must make that special effort to keep them alive. If we spend time with those we love when we can, those moments become that much more poignant, rather than blending into the rigamarole of daily life and being forgotten.

For me, it’s more important now that I taste life with vigor. Ever since I hit my 40s, I have risen to a desire for more. Perhaps it has to do with a sense of oppression in my past, in which I felt I didn’t have the freedom to live the life I wanted to live, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters now is that I want to see beautiful places, to work with people who are excited to make the world a better place, and to share this beauty with those who want to enjoy it with me. I want more art in my life, and less time wasted doing things for people who don’t value my effort, my time, or my input. For a long time, I used to believe the people in my life who told me I shouldn’t expect to enjoy my work, money is the root of all evil, and life is hard. Life isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be devoid of daily joy. Yesterday I ate strawberries over my sink, thinking a silent thank you to the person who plucked those berries from their vine so I could eat them. Farm work is hard labor, and I don’t think many people in today’s world appreciate it enough. In making an effort to just think to myself that I am grateful someone else is willing to do that necessary work so I can do the work I must do, it somehow draws to mind the importance of paying attention to details, living in the moment, and just appreciating the little things, like good food.

What I feel most happy about on the cusp of moving is that a new effort to be more mindful in my life began in Keene, NH while we lived there for our first of Michael’s nursing contracts. We were just beginning our travel life together, and both of us fell in love with New Hampshire while we lived there, especially the woods. But I also began visiting a meditation center in Keene, and became enamored with the Monday night meditations because of what I began to learn from the insightful conversations and subsequent inner discoveries. In those months of meditations, I learned a great deal of priceless knowledge about the way gratitude changes a person’s inner landscape. I learned a lot of other deep-thought kinds of things, but ever since I began the habit of going to those Monday night meditations I have gone on an inner journey which has been just as important as the outer one in the last couple of years. It’s as if the travels we took somehow reflected the wandering of my thoughts, or maybe vice versa. The philosophical jumble is moot. I am changed. The world is still scary, lots of people have it tough, most people live with a lot of stress and anxiety, and bad things happen to good people every day…yet even though the world is the same, I am not. Instead of the dark, somber side of things I might once have chosen to see, I now stand at my sink and think a silent thanks to the person who picked the berry I am eating.

When we first took the Airstream across the country, I threw a horrible fit one night because I lost my shit and couldn’t handle the stress anymore. Granted, the evening was not going well. I can’t remember the exact turn of events, but I was beyond exhausted, we had no where to park the RV to have power for anything, lots of other things went wrong, and I fell apart at the seams. At one point I actually bashed my metal water bottle on the table so hard I dented the bottle (kudos to Airstream for building a table that didn’t even chip when I slammed that bottle on it repeatedly). Ridiculous. In a year’s time, on our way back across the country again, we had another bad series of events which I wrote about while we were driving. You can look back through my blog posts to find some of the stories about the drive back in the beginning of March of 2018. It was brutal, but this time I didn’t come unglued. In just a year of being on the road, paying more attention to my thoughts, and being more mindful, my head is now in a different place. Five years ago I never would have expected to be moving out of Olean and living a dream, but we are doing it. We didn’t need to become independently wealthy to drive across the country, but we did it by getting creative. So much of what we want out of life requires only that we SEE what is around us, waiting for us, ready for us to take it into our attention. It’s a magic of becoming aware of possibility, to see what can happen if you don’t just dream, but DO things. Plan. Seek. Enjoy. Such verbs are more than just action, they are possibility. Am I always happy every minute? No. Am I generally content? Absolutely. And there is room for more, for better, for bigger. More love, more gratitude, more joy. Always.

In a matter of days, we will travel again. Off we’ll go to the mountains, to the woods, and to the quiet. Fall is my favorite season, and I am beyond ecstatic to spend it in New Hampshire. I am also beyond ecstatic to not have to paint anything for a while. My body is ready for a break from all this reno work, and I will be so glad to finally be able to get back to writing in earnest again. The computer calls to me from the pocket of my bag, begging me to come type out my thoughts, tell my stories, finish my novels, and start the new ones. I have lots of projects waiting in line, rolling eyes and tapping toes while I slog through yet another coat of paint on the woodwork, slap more joint compound on a nail hole, or shift yet another box from one location to another. Sigh. It will be done soon. Days instead of months. The curtains draw closed slowly, but they are closing. My dear readers, go make a wish upon the lovely, glowing orb of Mars in the heavens. Tell yourself how lucky you are to see that planet without a telescope, its bright orange presence one of many beautiful things to enjoy. No matter where you are or how you live, in your life I have no doubt there is at least one thing for which you can be grateful, one thing that made your day better. Look for it, and it will be there. Like a wish. Like magic.