Close to my house is a forest, a state forest that I’ve claimed as my own. I’m willing to share it with people, but I prefer that they enjoy my forest while I’m not there. I’m not antisocial, I just specifically go there to be alone. Plus, other people on the trail tend to make me feel like I’m about to be murdered... or forced into unsolicited small talk. It’s kind of terrifying.
The joy of solitude.
Especially the ninja runners. How you can run and make no noise is beyond me, but I can't tell you how many times the first sound of a runner I've heard is the heavy breathing, like, a foot from my head. I jump and yell like I'm in a horror movie and it's awkward for both of us.
Then I feel guilty for not running. Then I remind myself that I could be sitting on my couch. Then I want to catch the ninja and be like, “I might just be walking, but at least I’m doing something.” Then I remember that the ninja doesn’t care about me, probably doesn’t want to see me in the woods either, and it doesn’t matter anyway because there is no way I can catch running ninjas.
So yeah, I’d prefer to be alone in my forest. That said, there is a person or some persons that I’m really glad share my forest. The person(s) that do this:
I love you, rock stacker(s).
My Mother-in-law taught me that a man-made stack of rocks is called a cairn. Typically they are used to mark something (like a trail) but sometimes they’re just there. I saw the one below more than 100 miles from my house at a place where I’ve been vacationing with my family since I was a wee lass. (The origin of cairn is Scottish, so, you should probably read this whole post with a Scottish accent. You know, for authenticity.)
Loyalsock cairn. Awesomeness in the water.
Turns out, people really like to stack rocks.
There is one particular spot in my forest where the cairns appear: on a boulder, next to the creek. Whenever I turn the corner, approaching the cairn boulder, I’m always excited to see one there and I’m a little disappointed when I don’t.
When I first started coming to my forest, many moons ago, the cairns were just stacks. Now, they tend to look like short chubby people -- cairns in my image, if you will.
This cairn is ready for a hug.
One day last December, I turned the corner and saw the whole area covered with them. It was a cairn party! I did a happy dance. For rocks.
Cairn Christmas party.
Why does the person(s) in my forest do this? I don’t know. I don’t care. And I hope I never turn the corner and actually see someone doing it (luckily, I’m not ninja-like at all, so they have time to escape). The point is, someone stops along their walk/ninja run and leaves something behind for strangers to enjoy. That, my friends, is awesome.
More of a tall, skinny cairn. Perhaps a runner.
And, I must say, anonymous awesome is the very best kind. I like attention and money as much as the next person, but when motivation is tied with recognition, awesomeness gets diluted. I offer my sincerest gratitude to the cairn maker(s) and everyone out there with an impetus to be quietly awesome. Seriously, thank you.
By the way, if you ever run in my forest and see me there, do me a favor and yell, "I'm not a murderer!" or something equally soothing before you are right up on me. Chances are I'll still scream like I'm in a horror movie, but at least this way it won't be out of surprise.
I love the idea of vacations. Who doesn't, right? You go somewhere, you relax, you see cool stuff... Only problem is, I'm not very good at them. I often get all stressed out when I go on vacation. So, I’ve been paying attention lately, trying to crack the code on how to enjoy something that everyone else seems to do naturally. Best I came up with are the five ways I tend to mess them up. I...
1. Forget sunscreen on the first day (or any day).
This no duh slip has caused more painful beach showers than I care to recollect. Plus, how stupid can I get? Not only is there A SONG, but, I have a good friend who survived skin cancer AND I often vacation with my sister who is a sunscreen Nazi. She brings enough sunscreen on any given vacation to keep the entire block pale for at least a week.
And, y’all, there is spray now (cause, you know, putting on lotion is exhausting). There is just no excuse. I’d love to say my good parenting kicked in on my last vacation and at least my kids didn’t get burnt... *hangs head in shame*
I’m a member of the MUST SEE EVERYTHING! contingent of vacationers. When I go places, I want to hunt down every headliner landmark there is to see. Ready, set, GO! GO! GO! The problem with that tactic is: running around all headless chickeny is not very vacation-like. It is exhausting. That’s a good way to need a vacation from your vacation.
This is exactly what I look like when I try to see *everything* on vacation.
When I think back on the trips I’ve taken, my favorite moments were the ones where I was stopping, not going.
3. Do no research and don’t have a plan.
This one I figured out mostly by seeing other people do vacations really well. I had no idea there was a right way to go to Disney until a good friend of mine schooled me on it. The key, it turns out, is to plan ahead (and reconsider sleeping in).
Yes, we are all wearing shirts with our names and favorite Disney characters that I had made for our entire traveling party before we left... And did I enjoy the cast members calling us all by name? Yes. Yes, I did.
My sister, who is a seasoned beach goer, doesn’t just have the sunscreen figured out. She takes being comfortable at the beach very seriously and makes sure that her site has proper seating, shading and food to keep the whine level to a minimum and to maximize relaxation potential.
"No child leaves empty handed." ~ Leah's rules of beaching.
Going to Disney with my good friend and the beach with my sister have taught me that the key to making trips low stress is having a plan. My goto *I’ve got a towel* approach turns out to be lacking.
Also, if I am going somewhere with a lot of history, like, everywhere, knowing something about it makes the trip so much better. My husband obsessively Wikipedias before we go anywhere. I used to think he was nuts until, one trip to New York City (a while back), he's all pointing out the interesting buildings he's read about and I'm all, "that's pretty, is it famous?"
I have two words: The Internet. It was one thing back in the day when you actually had to be in Paris to get a little model Eiffel Tower (that was still probably made in China). But, those days have passed. I can order little Eiffel Towers and Niagara Falls snow globes all day long if I want to. (Sounds like fun, huh?)
I’m not much of a shopper in my regular life so shopping on vacation is really just a habit. My mom is a vacation shopper. School field trips always involved bringing money for the gift shop so you could get things like giant pencils with “Baltimore” written on them.
Shopping when you go someplace new is just what you do. This was so engrained in me that when I went to London a few years ago I went clothes shopping at Gap. Yes, that Gap. Several Gaps, actually, where things are the same as at home, just more expensive. Smart thinking.
Gee whiz, I believe this to be true so I should totally get this... what is this?
It’s time for me to sever the tie between going someplace new and spending money on tchotchkes. I’d way rather spend my time relaxing or exploring and bringing home memories than to trade that time for milling through stores searching for the perfect souvenir.
5. Ignore Basic Physiological Needs.
Everyone knows that you don’t push a toddler. Bad things happen if you do. If she is tired, hungry, overstimulated, or, in general over it it’s time to go home. Quickly. The thing is, this never goes away. As a grownup, I’m just better at refraining from dropping to the ground, rolling around, and crying... most of the time.
I have a terrible habit of staying up too late on vacation because I want to hang with the grown ups after the children have gone to bed. Unfortunately, the children don’t get the memo about mom needing to sleep-in to compensate. So, as the week goes on, sleep deprivation catches up to me and my fuse shortens.
Sometimes the crab needs to return to her hole and regroup.
Part of getting along with others and enjoying a vacation (or life in general) means keeping the inner-toddler in optimal condition and knowing when it’s time to feed or rest the little beast for everyone’s sake.
The first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem, I guess. I may not have vacationing down yet, but, I'm willing to practice...
I used to think people who chose to live in a city were crazy. Not: haha, you’re so crazy, pass the margaritas and chicken wings; more: holy heck, you. are. crazy, pass the straight jackets and Haldol.
Why would anyone want to live all crammed together, surrounded by noise and concrete, when you can live all spread out and surrounded by trees?
I still don’t totally get that trade off, but, I’m willing to concede, finally, that I may have judged cities (and their inhabitants) a little unfairly.
My typical city experiences have usually involved going to the touristy places, spending the touristy prices, and in general wondering how people could live amidst the mayhem let alone afford it. In my most recent trip to New York City, however, my girlfriends and I didn’t run from attraction to attraction trying to see everything. Instead, we chose a few things to visit, including a couple of parks, and that made all the difference.
It's all about pacing...
Once I was able to see trees and people walking their little dogs and squirrels that would walk right up to you and practically shake your hand, I started to get how people could live there.
Hey, can I bum a peanut?
At one point, we randomly came across a parade. You do not randomly come across parades where I live. And certainly not ones with half naked people in it. (I think heads would spontaneously explode.)
Edie Windsor being escorted to the front of the parade...
And then I really started to get it. City dwellers aren’t surrounded non stop by mobs of people taking pictures of absolutely everything unless they choose to be. They go to work, eat at restaurants in their neighborhood, and hunt down some trees to sit under, just like I do. The difference is, I have way more trees and they have way more restaurants. They also have random parades and roughly a zillion landmarks to check out on the weekends.
We have a Pagoda. I’m not likely to ever move to a city, but, I think I finally get you crazies that do. (Margarita crazy, not Haldol crazy.) I also get that I’ve been vacationing all wrong for a long time now, but, I think I’ll save that for another post.
When my daughter was born, she couldn’t breathe. Time went by and that precious sound of newborn crying just didn’t come. There I was, in that precarious, exposed childbirth position, helpless. I saw my midwife’s worried face as she said, “call it” to my nurse. And almost instantly, I watched my room flood with people, running in to code my new baby.
As they worked on her, I looked over at my husband and asked in desperation, “will she be okay?” and the man, who, to this day does not realize there are times I WANT TO BE LIED TO, said, “I don’t know.”
I laid there while a team of strangers tried to save my girl, who I had yet to see, and I wondered whether I was going to leave that hospital a mother... or not. Finally, I heard her, and the man in charge of her resuscitation said, “she’s going to be okay, mom.” And that was it. My title was official.
Abby spent most of her first day in the NICU for observation; where I was repeatedly told by the staff that she was the fattest baby in there. (Who you callin’ fat?) When I got her back that night, I spent hours staring at her and thinking of all the things I would do to protect her. I thought how I would jump in front of a train for her, because, that comes up so often.
Of course, parenting is not a single act of valor. It is much harder than that. It is years of relentless effort and worrying and feeling fairly certain you are doing it all wrong -- interspersed with rare moments of sheer bliss where you are pretty sure you must be doing something right.
When I was young(er) and foolish(er), I’d look back on my childhood and question my mother’s decisions. I have no doubt my own children will question mine. But, I’m willing to bet that once they are old enough to realize life is not a series of obvious, logical choices, but rather a bunch of shoulder shrugging, ‘let’s try that and see what happens’ moments, they, like me, will look at their mom and say, “thanks for doing your best.” (And if they don’t, hell with them... ungrateful little degenerates.)
I’ve been a mother for nine years now; not seasoned, but no longer a rookie. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if I’m doing the right thing for my kids. I’ve met many women who feel the same way. The advice I offer all mothers out there, struggling to keep it together, is the very first advice I gave my own child: just breathe.
Hang in there, moms, and...
(Abby gave me this card this morning... while I was using the bathroom. And so it goes.)
Thank you to everyone who attended the 11th Annual Souper Bowl
If you chose one of my bowls (or bought my platter from the Silent Auction), thank you! If you are here because you would like to purchase more of my work, even better! But, I currently do not have any for sale. Please check back this fall as I will be working this summer on pots for the holiday season.
It’s been almost two months since I joined the gym. And in just eight weeks I’ve lost 25 pounds and two pants sizes! ...At least, that is what I fantasized I'd be able to say at this point. In reality, my weight loss number is closer to zero. In that, it is zero. I’ve stepped, I’ve swam, I’ve weight lifted, I’ve Yoga-ed, I’ve Zumba-ed, and nothing.
Well, not quite nothing. I haven’t lost any weight but I also haven’t gained any more either and that’s something.
In nursing school, we learned that if a patient is getting a med or blood in her IV and she has a bad reaction to it, your first priority is to stop the infusion. Part of fixing the problem is keeping it from getting worse. It seems obvious, but sometimes in noisy situations the simplest, most obvious solution gets lost. I’m pretty sure that is why the instructors drilled it into us. It’s a panacea.
I think about stop the infusion a lot, actually. Cutting up the credit cards, backing down from an argument, and putting the preschooler to bed are all examples of stopping the infusion. As is going to the gym...
To really get things moving in the downward direction on the scale, I probably need to change what I eat, i.e., stop the infusion of ice cream. To that end, I totally bought salad greens and have kept them in my refrigerator for the last couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure being near healthy foods is the first step.
As I mentioned before, though, I’m not going back to counting and logging and fretting about what I eat. It’s just not worth it. I know that, eventually, I will build muscle and my body will become more like a furnace and less like a storage unit. I am willing to wait it out a bit longer before I take drastic measures... like eating salad.
In the meantime, I no longer feel like I’m going to drown while swimming laps. (Or “laps” as my 9yo daughter likes to say, complete with air quotes -- because she’s condescending.) I can make it through a step class without spending half the time marching in place and the other half watching the clock. And my back no longer aches every morning in that dooming, future-Percocet-addict kind of way. Zero pounds lost is not the whole story.
Also, I really like my gym routine. My instructors are quirky and fun. And the older ladies who are doing Aqua Zumba while I swim my “laps”, with their imperfect skin and fluffy bodies, who obviously do not care at all what anyone thinks of them in their bathing suits, serve as a powerful reminder that being out in the world and moving your body is a beautiful thing, no matter what you look like.
Oh, and I am happy to report that my supernatural tailors haven’t returned lately to take in my pants while I sleep. I don’t think they like the smell of gym clothes.
What I’m saying is, either my house is haunted by the ghosts of tailors who sneak in my drawers at night and alter my pants to make them smaller, or the exercise I’ve been doing hasn’t exactly been working. While I’m not completely ready to discount the ghost/tailor explanation, I decided to up my game a little.
Since self-motivation is not exactly at the top of my positive attribute list, it became obvious (i.e. pants cutting off circulation to vital organs) I needed help. So, I joined a gym. The last time I belonged to a gym, I managed to coast along in my self-delusion that I would exercise on my own and be successful. That didn’t exactly work out.
This time, I got a copy of my new gym’s class schedule and picked one for each day. It turns out, being trapped in an hour long class with women who are skinnier and bouncier than I am is a powerful motivator. Their very presence shames me into pushing myself harder. (I kind of hate them, actually.)
When I leave these classes, I’m red faced, dripping with sweat, chugging water, and in general ready to collapse from exhaustion. Which is to say, I look like I am actually exercising. Or having a heart attack... but, so far so good.
I also joined this particular gym because it has a pool. After seeing my daughter do swim team for the past few years, I’ve been dying to swim laps myself. Let’s just say I have a newfound appreciation for what my nine year old girl is capable of...
Three quarters into MY FIRST LAP my limbs staged a revolution. Above the din of the splashing I could hear them wail, “are you freaking kidding me?!” and then they just stopped moving altogether. Luckily my body composition is conducive to floating or I’d have dropped to the bottom of that pool like a rock. I’m going to have to work up to swimming a lap, let alone many laps.
So, I’ve committed to a year at this gym with the hope that I'll make actual exercise a habit. I’m going to give it a couple of months on my own (taking classes, swimming lap(...s)) and if I don’t see results, I’m hiring a trainer. The plan is to get healthy or die and/or go broke trying. And if I still can’t fit into my pants this time next year, I’m calling Ghost Hunters.
I had a conversation over the holidays with someone I don’t see very often that went like this:
Me: So, what’s new?
Him: [thinks for a while] Well, I got new track lights.
Me: That’s something! Track lighting can add a lot to a room.
Him: Actually, the tracks were already there, I just got new fixtures.
And that’s when I laughed (somewhat) hysterically. Because, right? What is new?
Life starts out as a non-stop barrage of newness. Every school year you got a new teacher, new lessons, and new classmates. You even got new teeth. Twenty or so years later, you’re out in the world getting a new job, maybe a new spouse, and/or some new kids.
It was the Christmas after I turned fourteen that my mother gave me a pair of skis. I had begged her not to. I knew that my sister wanted skis and I knew my mother, in her ultimate quest for fairness, would not be able to help herself. I knew it, and I begged, but I still woke up Christmas morning to a shiny new set of skis.
It was a fun morning. My sister and I geared up and pretended we were hitting the slopes. That winter, my mom took us on a ski trip. That was the only time I used them. Ever. I have not been skiing since.