A Hike, A Hang Out and A Full Heart

So my last post was about this busy season I’m in right now, and it seems to be getting busier and busier.  But a sweet and fun part of this full season, is that it’s also my birthday season!  OK, I don’t claim the whole season for birthday celebrating, but maybe I stretched it out for at least the weekend.  And I might extend it even a little more still too.

I know a few other girls who were also born in May, so I took advantage of several reasons to celebrate and planned a little something.  I’d been wanting to host a get together at my house and also to do some hiking, (my spring hopes come true!), so I combined the two and we headed out after school on a Friday to hike and hang out.

IMG_6360We took the Continental Lane.  Washington’s army did a good job of blazing the trail long ago, so it’s a nice easy walk through the woods.  Which was good for us.  We had kind of a larger hiking party and lots to chat about, so we couldn’t really focus on rock climbing  or scaling boulders.

IMG_6364I had a few moments during the hike and at my house afterwards when I saw this group of ladies before me  and my heart was so filled with gratitude for the people in my life. All the people.  I feel truly blessed to have these gals and lots of other good, good souls in my life and many others who aren’t in my daily days, but who have crossed my path and I keep in my heart.  I wish they all could have been there.  I could probably go on for a while about something sappy like how walking this trail in the woods is symbolic of the paths of life we walk with each other, but you probably saw that one coming, right?  I’ll spare you.  Just saying, my heart filled up. And my eyes might have too a few times… and then someone was walking without a shoe (Not naming any names. Or even initials!) and we had to poke in tree holes and we laughed and talked and walked. IMG_6372I took my Ling Bling along and found a good place to leave it for someone else.  Part of me didn’t want to give it up, but I like the idea that someone else might find it, get a smile from it, feel gratitude and pass it on.

IMG_6369After we hiked enough, we went back to my house and some more friends came.  We muddled drinks and cooked on the grill, enjoyed the patio, toasted to birthdays and friendship, ate cake and lingered around the table.

IMG_6359Full heart!  And a happy birthday month to my May girls!

PS – I didn’t draw that heart.  We just found it there on our path.  I hope you find lots of love on your path today!

 

 

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Seasons

As I begin to type this post we are preparing for some more snow to fall here.  Also, it will be the first day of spring.  Are these two things really happening on the same day?  It’s got me thinking about seasons.  The literal season change from winter to spring of course, but also, the bigger seasons of our lives, which don’t change as predictably or on designated days.

I live in a location where we get to experience all four seasons.  And lately they’ve been a bit extreme, especially the winters – record low temperatures, like just one measly degree, and a parade of snow and ice storms.  One might ask why people would choose to live in such weather when there are plenty of places in the world where the sun shines and the air is warm most of the days.  In fact, I am that “one” asking the question to myself many a day as I strap on my glacier-grade coat for recess duty.  On those days, if I’m just considering the weather, it feels like there is no good answer.  I might nearly be tempted to start packing a U-Haul and head south.  But then…then…

…then comes this time of the year.  The light changes, the sun hangs out longer and one magical day…I don’t need a scarf!  I can see the grass again, it starts to turn green, the songbirds serenade the sunrise and little buds pop out on brown branches.  The winter seems utterly unbearable at times, but the spring always comes.  And after all, as John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

I’m sure that people who live on tropical islands do enjoy the warmth of their yearlong summers just fine without ever having to pull on their mittens, but there’s something to be said for coming through the cold and dark season.  It’s such a good lesson from Mother Nature to us about our own lives.  A few years ago I went through a pretty tough season which, (even though I do believe that nothing “just happens”) happened to coincide with winter, and a wonderful coworker-friend of mine gave me this beautiful book called, “Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered.” It’s filled with inspiring words and pictures by artist Nikki McClure. And to accompany the gift my friend wrote a heartfelt note to me in which she encouraged me to take comfort in the rhythm of the seasons.  She wrote, “just as the trees and the rest of nature, you don’t have to flower right now, you just need to survive.  Every day from now, the days are getting longer and you are heading out of the darkness.  Be guided by the healing power of nature which is always renewing itself.”  A little while later, she gave me another thoughtfully chosen card and it said, “Then, when it seems we will never smile again, life comes back.”

That was years ago. And she was right.  That season passed for me and life came back and seasons have come and gone in between. This winter was not at all like that one a few years ago.  Though the weather was a bit rough at times, my life actually had a good amount of growth, lots of good times and flowering.  But every spring since my friend gave those beautiful words to me, I have thought of them.  So if winter tries to linger on and keep us inside with one more day of dark and snow, or if life throws a storm of unwanted stuff our way,  we don’t have to worry,  the spring will come.  Even when it seems like it won’t, we can rest assured,  it will. It will.  Perhaps we just got a few extra dollops of sweetness for the warm days ahead.

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This morning– the sun shines, the trees are dotted with sweetness…”Be conscious and hold on as we spin around the sun one more time.” ~Nikki McClure

 

 

Bend Toward the Light

To start, I’d like to say that if it should ever seem like I’m telling you what to do as I write here in this space, such as maybe with that title up there and maybe towards the end of this, I want you to know that I’m not.  I am not at all telling YOU what to do.  I am, however, telling someone what to do, and that someone is ME!  Writing helps me wrangle and sort through all the thoughts and ideas that swirl around in my mind trying to catch my attention while I’m doing other things. When I put my thinking onto paper or the screen, sometimes I notice that a pep talk pops out.  Now I don’t know if you need a pep talk and I don’t wanna shove an advice column down your throat, but maybe if I tell you a little story and something I write sounds like something you might want to try, well then, best of luck, we’re in this thing together.

So, right before the new year, I went to the grocery store to pick up some, well,  groceries. And as I was walking to the checkout line, I passed the flower department.  There was a table full of little glass jars, and each one had a bulb sitting on top.  Thin white roots were hanging down from each bulb into some water and a few short green leaves had sprouted up out of each one.  I thought to myself that a growing plant might be a nice thing to have around the house as the new year began and the winter season kicked into high gear.  It could be a  little reminder of life and green while the world outside was gray and bleak.  So I bought one and placed it on my nightstand next to my bedroom window. I happily watched the thing grow over the next few days.  It sprouted buds and, as plants do, the little guy began to slowly bend itself toward the window, toward the sunlight, so that its leaves were curved a bit and leaned to one side.

One morning while I was sitting in my chair, the plant on the table next to me, as the sun was rising and beginning to shine through the blinds, I absently turned the jar around so that it’s leaves were now curving away from the window and then I said to the plant, quite out loud, “Go ahead now, bend yourself back to the light.”

Don’t you dare even judge me for talking to a plant!  Because it did exactly what I said.  Now we both know it wasn’t because I told it to, but because, that’s what plants do and it occurred to me that we can do the same thing.  We can turn ourselves toward the light, toward happiness, toward good things, toward joy and love. We can do it whenever we need to, whenever something comes along and spins us in the wrong direction. We can do it every day just for good measure.   And so, even though I wasn’t in dire need of a pep talk that morning, I was quite happy and content, but still, I spent some time making a little list of things that bring me to the good stuff — time with my friends and family, reading, running, cooking, hiking, riding my bike, gazing at the sky, yoga, meditating, doing kindness for another…just to name a few.

I recommend every day.  Every day think of that plant and give yourself a little reminder–YOU can bend yourself toward the light! Now go do it!

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I tried to recreate the bending for my students, however we are blessed with big classroom windows that let in lots of sun and so this plant grew straight and tall and bloomed right where it was.

I tried to recreate the bending for my students, however, we are blessed with big, wide classroom windows that let in lots of sun, and so this plant grew straight and tall and bloomed right where it was.  PS — That ‘You’ rock was from a little school kindness lesson, totally unrelated to this post, but it fits well, doesn’t it?

 

 

In the Way of Beauty

So, I stayed in on New Year’s Eve and didn’t do much of anything.  Well, to be honest, I did quite a few things, but not your typical New Year’s Eve agenda. It was relaxing, fun and even a little productive.   I made a really nice dinner–salmon with orange and ginger, roasted on a cedar plank, along with sauteed spinach. I also vacuumed. And I was asleep before the ball dropped. I did other things too, but since I already confessed to vacuuming,  I’ll try to save myself from appearing extra, extra dorky here and not list them all.  Let’s just go with my regular amount of nerdiness, ok?  Along with resolutions, I feel like there’s a lot of hype and expectation surrounding a person’s New Year’s Eve plan.  This wasn’t the first time that I’ve stayed home on New Year’s Eve though, so I knew that I could not go out and still be ok.  Better than ok actually. We all agree that waking up with no hangover is better than ok, right?

Still, I wanted to do something to celebrate and welcome the new year, to begin 2015 in a special way.  So here’s what I did…

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I woke up early,  I went out in the cold, I drove to the beach and I watched the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon and shine light on this new year.  It was beautiful!

I got the idea the day before when I was thinking about a quote I heard recently.  It’s from the movie ‘Wild’ which is based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed.  I wrote about that here. I think this quote is in the book too, but I couldn’t find it when I went back and looked for it.  In the movie, Cheryl recalls her mother telling her, “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day.  You can choose to be there for it, you can choose to put yourself in the way of beauty.” That’s good stuff, right? And what better day to soak up some beauty, than the very first day of the new year?

I’m so glad I went!  I kind of felt like doing some sun salutations right there on the sand, but it was a little chilly for that sort of thing. (22 degrees!) And the Alaskan-grade boots and coat I was wearing don’t quite allow for maximum flexibility.  Then,  I remembered something that Elizabeth Gilbert (of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ fame) has talked and written about – creating your own ceremonies to mark the beginning of a new year.  So I just made up a little new year sacrament.  I thought of some things I’m hoping for in the year ahead, for myself, and for my people.  I found a little piece of a shell and I wrote those things in the sand. Then as the waves came in and washed the words away, I made a little wish and entrusted my hopes to the world, to the universe…

Now, I worried that admitting this little ritual publicly would move me a few notches up on the dork-o-meter, but I don’t care.  Because it made me pretty happy and because I have some big dreams for this year, and I started right there at the very crack of dawn making them come true.  Happy New Year!

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I’m hoping for joy, love, health and beautiful moments for me and mine and that we will be truly awake to really see and feel all of these things this year.

 

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I also went for a little walk…

 

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… and found a heart-shaped rock, not a perfect heart shape, but that’s kind of the point, right?

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Sunrise, January 1, 2015 – “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day, and you can choose to be there for it.  You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” ~Bobbi Lambrecht, Cheryl Strayed’s mom

 

 

 

#3 – Caving

Would you be afraid to go inside a cave?

I was a little bit...

I was a little bit…

Jen was a lot!

…Jen was A LOT!

It’s a good thing this cave was MAMMOTH!  I mean, it’s really huge!  No need for headlamps and spelunking equipment.  Not even any crawling or squeezing.  Just walk down 160 stairs and you’re in!  See here…

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Cave Entrance

Back in October, when we were in Kentucky for a weddin‘, a couple of my college girls and I took a little drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.  Now, the cave wasn’t scary at all.  But the drive, was a different story…

One time, we took a wrong turn and had to drive down a very, very, very steep, steep hill on a very, very, dark, woodsy, out in the middle of nowhere, scary, scary road. From the beginning we knew it wasn’t the right way.  It wasn’t paved.  It was barely even wide enough for our car to fit. There was a very steep hill.  There was no place to turn around.  There was a rickety bridge that barely held up as we crossed over.  We either passed no houses or houses that were so old and run down that it seemed like people couldn’t possibly live there but you could tell people did. You could tell because you could hear their music. Did I mention there was a steep hill?  It was very steep.  And there was NO CELL SERVICE!!!!!!!  We didn’t have any choice but to keep going.  The road twisted and turned.  I drove the rental car right over a log because it seemed like a safer option than getting out to move it.  Finally, just past the cemetery, the scary road intersected with a normal road and our phones began to work again.  So we called for directions. But then we found out that the only thing to do was to u-turn and drive back the way we came.  I couldn’t do it. My nerves were shot and I didn’t believe that our rental car or any car for that matter could actually make it up that steep hill that we had come down.  So I got out of the driver’s seat and let Nicole handle it.  While I had a panic attack in the backseat, Nicole figured that the best way to do it was as fast as possible.  So she gunned it along the road, past the cemetery, somehow the log wasn’t there this time, rattled across the bridge,  whizzing by the houses and straight up the hill.  Somewhere along the way a woodsman on a four wheeler started following us.  He didn’t seem concerned about the hill.  I thought he might flip over backwards.  Or kidnap us.  But no.  We all made it just fine.  And then we went to the cave.  Feeling brave.  Well, not the woodsman.  He went back to the woods. I think.

OK.  It may not have been that scary in reality.  But, "that's how it felt."

OK. It may not be such a  scary road  in reality. Maybe I exaggerated a bit. But, “that’s how it felt!”

The park ranger gives us cave instructions.  Sometimes I want to be a park ranger.

The park ranger gives us cave instructions. Sometimes I want to be a park ranger.

Ranger teaches us about the cave.  It feels a bit like Disney World inside there.  It's crazy to think of how it was all created naturally.

Ranger teaches us about the cave. It’s the world’s longest known cave system.  There are more than 390 miles of cave passages and “rooms” down there. It feels a bit like Disney World in some parts since the park system has installed lights and protective rails in the tour areas.  It’s crazy to think of how it was all created naturally.  It’s huge! Hence the name.  I think I remember that Ranger said they used to make gun powder in there.  We did not see any bats.  Ranger says they stick to lesser toured areas.

Comfy ancient cave slippers.  For when the cave people were relaxing.

Comfy ancient cave slippers. For when the cave people wanted to relax.

You have to walk on bio-security mats after being in the cave to prevent the spread of some fungal disease that affects bats.

You have to walk on bio-security mats after being in the cave to prevent the spread of some fungal disease that affects bats.

Here's some info...Did you know that some parts of Kentucky are in the Central Time Zone???   We didn't. Oops.  Good thing you gain an hour and we weren't late for our friends' wedding!

Here’s some info…Did you know that some parts of Kentucky are in the Central Time Zone??? We didn’t. Oops. Good thing you gain an hour and we weren’t late for our friends’ wedding the day before.

#23 – A Tour of My Own Backyard

OK.  So it wasn’t my actual backyard.  No tour needed there.  Walk out the door and you see the whole thing. It’s a tiny yard but I love it and I’m grateful for it because I love to be outside.  Lucky for me, there are lots of parks with hiking and biking trails and plenty of space for stretching out and exploring that are super close to home and feel just like part of my neighborhood.  Even luckier for me, my pal, Jenna, knows some of these trails like the back of her hand and way back in July, when it was summer play time, Jenna gave me a personal tour of Washington Crossing State Park.  Here’s the trail map:

Washington Crossing State Park

You can click it to see some details or I’ll just tell you a little bit about it.  There are about ten trails that crisscross and loop around each other.  There are horse trails and hiking trails and multi-use trails. Maybe you can mountain bike here? I don’t know.  There’s a nature center and camping and picnicking areas.  There’s even an outdoor theater where you can see plays and movies under the stars. (I haven’t done that though. Add it to the list? Maybe.) The park’s website says there are over 15 miles of moderate hiking trails in this area.  It’s definitely not the biggest park around here.  It’s downright small compared to some places I’ve been hiking, but I loved it just the same.  Maybe even more.  Why?  Because it’s home, it’s my backyard and because when you’re out in those woods, it’s not what people expect or think of when they think of New Jersey. Jenna and I talked a lot about traveling as we hiked that day and I got thinking about talking to people about my home when I’m not here.  I’ve traveled away to other states, as far away as Alaska, and people have actually cringed when I told them I live here. I blame TV.  Now I’m not gonna link to the Jersey Shore show anymore cause I’m sure these ladies aren’t helping much either (even though I completely admit to watching full day marathons!), but I’m just sayin, here’s another way to look at Jersey:Well, anyway that’s some of the stuff I like to look at around here…trees and green.  I’ll work on taking some better pictures, that’s #22.  You should also know that Jenna led the walk that day and didn’t need that map up there at all and I think we did about half of those trails in some combination, maybe more.  She just knew where to turn and connect them, to walk out on the road for a little bit and add an extra mile or two here and swing past the theater there and cleared the trail of logs and debris as we went and then looped back to where we started.  I think the total hike was around 7 miles.  PS- Jenna RAN that BEFORE she met me for the hike! Jenna, you’re AWESOME! Thanks for the tour! Where we going next?

#s 27 & 28 – C is for…

…camping and class(es)!  Two new additions to the list!

So y’all know I’m 34, right?  And I consider myself to be an outdoorsy kind of girl.  I hike.  I kayak.  I love nature.  I spent a fair amount of time in the Pocono Mountains as a kid. I went fishing.  I hung out in the crick. (That’s what you call a woodsy kind of creek area when you live in Philly.)  But I’ve only ever gone camping one time and it wasn’t until I was 31 years old.  So I was thinking I should/want to camp again and what better way to make it happen then to add it to my list.

Getting ready for my first camping and white water rafting trip down the Salt river in Arizona.

Beautiful moonrise over the desert mountains. We rafted for 3 days and camped 2 nights along the banks of the river. Great guides from Wilderness Aware hosted us the whole way. Amazing trip!

You might also know that I’m no stranger to school.  But, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken a class myself so I want to get back in the desk.  Well, not really.  I’m not interested in a whole semester long college credits kind of gig.  More like Knife Skills 101.  (For cooking!) Or maybe I’ll finally enter a gym and do a spin class.  Learn to eskimo roll in the kayak?? Yikes!  Look at these guys!  You get the idea, something fun!  No homework required!

Now who’s got a tent?