Clearing Off

My dear friend, Lisa, told me a story about a colleague she once had whose habit it was to, each Friday afternoon when the workday came to a close, pull a trash can up to the side of his desk and swipe everything on it into the trash. His argument was that whatever project/correspondence/etc from that pile of paper that ended up in the trash was important, someone would certainly bring it back to his attention when the next workweek began and that if no one brought it back to him, then it clearly wasn’t that important nor worth any additional time or attention. 

I LOVE this.

There are lots of reasons that this habit isn’t perfect and we could spend all day arguing about its merits and shortcomings. But conceptually, it is GOLD. He clears his desk each Friday afternoon and comes back each Monday to a fresh start and a clean workspace, uncluttered by last week’s unfinished business. His energy is free to apply to whatever is before him today. It also puts the burden back on whoever’s “baby” a given project is to follow up. This likely falls into both the merit AND shortcoming category of the method (we’ve all had to chase people down over and over ad nauseam to get them to finish something they’ve committed to, which seriously sucks). But it’s kind of the ultimate “no” isn’t it? How often does your daily to-do list include tasks that aren’t really yours but you’ve somehow ended up accepting responsibility for? People are really, really good at passing off to others things they don’t want to do. Sometimes this looks like work projects, but sometimes this looks like chasing down the random socks your kids have left all over the house when you go to do laundry, or dishes mysteriously left in the sink, or bills left unpaid. Figuring out how to say no to work that isn’t truly mine is one of the great projects of my life, so any metaphor that helps me “clear my desk” is welcome in my world.

We leave New Hampshire in less than 48 hours. I haven’t done any laundry or sorting or packing. I haven’t caught up my bookkeeping or set up my autoresponders or checked in with my insurance company to confirm my coverage as we travel. I don’t have next week’s post planned (or even any idea of where I’ll get internet to make sure it goes up on time). I haven’t marked a single line item off the enormous to-do list I created on my plane ride home from Texas on Monday. I’ve spent the last 24 hours brainstorming a personal project and shooting a few final photos of this little town and catching up with some last minute friends and family. I’m sure I should be worried by now. I’m sure I’m going to inconvenience someone with something I haven’t gotten to. I’m sure some piece of unfinished business will come back to bite me in the ass.

But I’m officially "clearing off my desk" right now.

What is important will most certainly make itself known. What must get done will certainly get done. And the rest will wait. It will simply have to. As it turns out, I am not a neurosurgeon on call who is the sole person able to perform life saving brain surgery. I’m not the president. I am not doing cutting edge cancer research. I write words and take photos for a living. I love this work and I love my clients and I have goals and dreams attached to all of what I do that require time and energy and discipline and attention. But no one dies if whatever is on my to-do list doesn’t get done.

So right now, I’m deleting my to-do list. It’s gone. When I finish writing these words, I will hit “publish” without going back and revising or second-guessing. Which is not ideal and not the way I generally work. But today, it’s the reality. I'm metaphorically (and, well, not-so-metaphorically actually) shoving what's on my desk into the trash bin.

I want to drive away from here in 48 hours without lugging a bunch of burdensome baggage along with me, without having my brain still attached to what didn’t get finished. I want to drive away and apply my energy to what is before me, to what is at hand. I want to start my “Monday” fresh and free and with a clear “workspace” to fill with what is important in this moment. When we eventually land wherever it is we are going (we don’t have a next assignment yet, so our plans extend only as far as retrieving Kippee from Reno), I will once again sit down and see what is still asking to be done (*cough* bookkeeping *cough*). But in the interim, I will enjoy my free “weekend” knowing that my desk is clear.

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A little piece of South Dakota, y'all...

Effort and Ease

If you’ve ever had a regular yoga class with experienced teachers, it’s likely that you’ve been instructed at some point to find some "ease within the effort,” to find places where you can soften or release while still doing the work of the posture, still maintaining focus and awareness. For example, if you are in virabhadrasana (warrior 1 pose), the posture may require effort to stay strong through the legs and shoulders, effort to remain in the correct alignment for your body, but there is no reason to clench the jaw or furrow the brows or press the tongue against the roof of the mouth and these are areas that can be released without interfering with the work of the pose.

I’ve been coming back to this idea a lot lately. If there was ever a yoga concept that felt applicable to day-to-day life, this is it, don’t you think? We all have our work, whether that be the work that pays our bills, the work of dealing with our emotional baggage so that we can move toward the best version of ourselves, the work of life minutia (the folding of laundry and the cooking of meals), the work of mending and sustaining relationships. How often do we make that work harder by the equivalent of clenching our jaws? How often do we bring unnecessary difficulty to this work? What small things can we release that would allow this work to have a bit more ease?

We head out of New England in a mere 9 days and I am writing this morning from Texas, where I’m spending a bit of time with my family before we head back out on the road. When I return home from this visit, I’ll have only four days to close out what I can of life there and pack up for the coming weeks of travel. I meant to get more done before I left. I meant to tie up some loose ends that I won’t have time to get to after all. There is a great deal to sort and organize before we drive away and it’s possible that I will need to put in a few late nights to pull it off. This is just fact, the work of living this way. But there can be greater ease within that work than I often allow. There is nothing gained by my getting snappish at Justin or getting caught up in some idea of perfection (I can be very guilty of needing things to be “just so” before moving on). There is nothing gained by frantically rushing about or needless stress. Yes, things must get done. But I don’t need to be a crazy person in order to do them, as it turns out. As a matter of fact, it could be strongly argued that they could be done with far more efficiency if I’m NOT a crazy person, actually.

As we go about daily life, it is fascinating to observe the ways that we bring unnecessary effort to our work. Preconceptions about someone’s response before we’ve even given them the opportunity to behave differently, the clinging to old ideas or identities that may or may not be true any longer, the stories we tell about relationships or tasks. Maybe folding laundry isn’t your favorite task ever, but is it made easier by repeating the phrase “I hate laundry” or is that something you can release? How about the way we brace ourselves for certain interactions? What happens when we soften those tensed shoulders and save our defensiveness for actual affront rather than anticipated, imaginary ones.

Where can we bring a bit more ease to our efforts? What can we release? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? As you make your way through this mid-week hump, give it a try…let’s see if we can bring a little less unnecessary work to our lives together and perhaps in doing so, make space for a little more focus, a little more joy.   

Happy Wednesday, friends!

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Sustainability

Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for being here and for including me in your life as we begin this year together. I so deeply appreciate the time you share with me out of your full lives and I strive to make this blog a place worthy of you.

How do you approach the new year? Do you set a laundry list of resolutions? Do you do some careful reflection and goal setting? Do you see January 1st as the same as February 1st or August 1st- simply another new month in the ongoing rotation? Or have you let go of all such notions and find yourself liberated from the yearly ritual? I’m honestly curious…what works for you?

Over the years, I’ve arrived at some kind of new-year-new-you middle ground. I admit that I relish a sparkly new calendar and the sense of “clean slate” that comes with one year sliding into the next. As I said recently, I like to mark time, to bring my awareness to the days and months and years as they pass. And I like ritual, whether it’s taking a few moments to cup a steaming mug in the mornings or lighting a candle and pausing to say thank you when I sit down to meditate each day. And piled on top of both of those things is my inherent and fervent belief in our ability to begin again and again and again, that we are always able to start fresh whenever we are ready and willing to take on the work. This applies, of course, to any day of the year, but I can’t help but believe there is a natural inclination toward new beginnings in this season in particular. After all, in addition to it being a new calendar year, we’ve also just celebrated the solstice, meaning that the days are growing incrementally longer and the promise of spring and growth lies ahead. These long mid-winter days and that promise would lend themselves to reflection and planning even without the turn of the calendar, but the fledgling year just begs us to to take stock and think about what we want.

I mentioned a few years ago that I don’t really do resolutions anymore, but that I choose a “word of the year” instead (btw, that post has some great resources at the end if you are looking for some extra tools...). That’s not entirely true. I do set resolutions…I resolve once again to do my work-  to continue to strive toward greater kindness and compassion, greater understanding and openness, less fear (and certainly fear-based decision-making), to be fierce in my love and my passion and my honesty and my integrity, to find humor and lightness tucked in with heaviness and pain. These are standing resolutions and I will always have work to do here. I also set goals for the year, both personal and professional, as well as review what worked and what didn’t in the year behind us, where I grew and where I stalled. But the “word of the year” continues to be a cornerstone of my approach to the coming year. 

I love the process of figuring out my word. Trying to find a single, succinct, encompassing word that will act as a filter in each decision I make. I’ve used Susannah Conway’s word-finding tool in the past, but I find that I haven’t needed it lately. When I allow myself a little time and space, it seems that the word I need most tends to present itself (or, you know, scream at me from my subconscious at the top of its lungs). As you may have guessed by now, this year, my word is SUSTAINABILITY.

Sustainability.

With every decision I make, from how I approach my work to the energy I give to relationships to whether or not I make time for my run in the woods, I will ask myself, “Is this sustainable? Am I creating sustainable habits and practices?” To proceed, the answer must be yes. I find myself decidedly uninterested in short-term results, in superficial band-aids. I want to build a life that is sustainable over time, that has a strong foundation of intentional decision making, clear and reasonable boundaries, and that prioritizes the truly important things in my life (as opposed to the simply “urgent”). This means being okay with things taking time. This means being okay with people sometimes being disappointed or irritated with me. This means being okay with saying no to projects and opportunities that don’t move my life and work in the direction I’m going, even when they are appealing or I could use the money.

This also means choosing to trust in the idea of abundance and to continue to let go of the fear that comes from a scarcity mindset. The life I build is only sustainable if I recognize that I have enough (food, friends, love, money, talent, ideas, etc etc etc) and that I am enough. It’s that last part that is a doozy for me. But I am. And you are. And when we really and truly let go and believe that, whoa nelly- hold on to your hats because magic happens. And work, of course- so much work- but work that is thrilling and energizing, work that fills your tank and lights you on fire. I’m not just talking about professional work, I’m talking about life work. The work of relationships, the work of self-care, the work of growth and adventure and dream chasing. We have it within us. We are enough and we have enough to make the necessary choices to build truly sustainable lives.

So that’s what I want as I move into this sparkling new year. That's my primary goal. That's my word.

Sustainability. 

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Can you guys believe I'm still sharing photos from our trip east from Reno? A few more will be heading your way (Glacier and Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks after these last few from Yellowstone!)...just think, by the time you see all of these, I'll have more for you from the next leg! Ain't traveling grand?!?

2017 In Pictures

I will warn you right out of the gates...this post is a beast! So. Many. Photos. But 2017 was a big year and these images still barely skim the surface. In a nutshell...

  • We visited 22 national parks and monuments (and a bunch more state parks, national forests, and wild and scenic rivers!)
  • We road-tripped a total of just over 12,000 miles (these are road-trip miles, not the miles put on in daily life or excursions made from where we were located at the time...our truck actually put on more than double that!)
  • We lived in 4 locations: Alna, Maine / New Braunfels, Texas / Reno, Nevada / Hollis, New Hampshire
  • We took just shy of 13 weeks of designated vacation time total, generally in three-week increments
  • We visited six whiskey/bourbon distilleries (and more micro-breweries than I could even begin to quantify...)
  • We spent more than 50 nights sleeping outdoors either in a tent or the back of the truck (the camper doesn't count and I stopped counting calendar dates when I hit 50...)
  • I guided close to forty whitewater trips down the Truckee River (with just the one "dump-truck" that ended my rafting season!)
  • I shot more than 25,000 images for myself and for clients

There are a million things I can't count...number of campfires sat around, wildlife seen in action, hours spent in the hammock, friends visited and made, belly laughs, wrong turns, gps failures, mountain lakes swam in, moments of awe, moments of growth, moments of clarity.  

This year was harder and better and fuller than I've had in longer than I can guess and I am deeply proud of what we've done with our time. As we begin winding up our time here in New Hampshire and prepare to head west in just a few short weeks to pick up the camper and begin the next year of adventure, it's been a gift to go back through these images and my journals from the year and to step back and process just a bit. I suspect that I will continue to process these experiences for years to come, but for this one moment, I'm simply going to revel in the reflection of this year in review.

 

Maine > Texas (mid-January through April)

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Pulling away from the Alna house...

In front of our wedding venue in Williamsburg, VA...

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Let the Kentucky distillery tours begin...

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Not every night is a scenic campsite...there were plenty of Wal-mart parking lot nights this year!

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New Braunfels, Texas...

One of the perks of being in Texas was getting some time with my family, especially some outside time with my little brother!

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Texas > Nevada (May through September)

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Driving out of Death Valley's 100-degree temps and into the high Sierra's freezing ones in the same day was mind-boggling...a 70-degree difference in a matter of hours!

My love for Reno began with the bulging snowmelt currents of the Truckee...

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California > Oregon > Washington (12 days in September)

Nevada > New Hampshire (October through January 2018)

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Once back in New England, it's been a whirlwind of client work that has taken me all over this region as well as to New Orleans combined with reuniting with friends and family we haven't seen in a year. Snow and walks in the town forest and laughter over dinners with friends. I haven't had my camera out for much of the personal stuff, but I can feel that itch beginning and you can bet you'll see a bit more before we leave this place in a few short weeks...

A safe and happy New Year to all of you. My gratitude for your presence here is unceasing. Onto 2018 we fly, my friends!

Marking Time

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the longest night. 

I like to pay attention to such things. I like to notice when the moon is bright and full and also when it’s dark and making room for the stars to shine. I like to stop and look with wonder when the first crocuses push through the snow in spring or when the maple trees begin getting tapped and feel the stirrings of spring potential begin to rise within me as well. Or when there begins to be light late enough in the day for a post-dinner run in the woods. Or when the very edges and tips of the leaves begin to fade from green to orange or yellow or red.

I like to pay attention to the seasons and the cycles and rhythms that are always circling around us, beckoning us if we’d only pause in our bustling long enough to notice. Part of this is trying to better attune myself, my life, to the natural rhythms around me in hopes of flowing more seamlessly through the seasons and cycles of my own life, to do the work of embracing where I am right now, this age and this stage, rather than looking back on youth with rose-colored nostalgia or aging with fear and regret. I'll turn forty this spring and as I continue this shift into and through middle age, I want to appreciate the true beauty of this stage of my life honestly. To recognize this summer season and make use of its long days as I move toward the fall and then finally the winter of my fleeting existence. By noticing the seasons and cycles of the natural world, I practice drawing strength and enjoyment of each season in turn and work toward integrating those patterns into my attitudes about myself and my life and my work.

But just as important (maybe even more on a day-to-day basis) is that noticing these shifts and cycles allows me to mark time. This is absolutely vital in my life. I think it was Gretchen Rubin who famously said “the days are long but the years are short” and boy howdy, is she ever right. Between grocery shopping and deadlines and dealing with the laundry and cooking dinner and the general minutia of daily life, I often feel like weeks go by where I fall into bed too late and the alarm goes off too early and the days begin to blur together taking care of I’m-not-exactly-sure-what. The pause to notice the moon or the tides or the smell of woodsmoke or lilacs on the air helps me roll back that blur and see the days that make up my weeks, the weeks that make up my months, my years, my life.

I find myself naturally turning inward this time of year. The long nights and the end of the calendar year simply lend themselves to reflection, to looking back over the year, over the hundreds of days of errands and alarms and conversations and hugs and all the things we did and didn’t do. After tomorrow the sun will begin its return, each day growing infinitesimally longer, and it’s impossible not to turn toward the year ahead with fresh hope and resolve, to see the renewal of spring off on the horizon, even while we allow ourselves the space and rest of long winter nights.

Tomorrow is the longest night of this year that is drawing to its close. I will take the pause and I will mark the time, ever grateful for the reminder to be right where I am.

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Have you ever seen the incredible geothermals of Yellowstone? Make sure you get there someday if you haven't yet- they must be experienced in the flesh, the warm sulfurous clouds that kiss your cheeks as they pass through you, the jewel-blue pools and their mysterious depths, the white mineral crusts on the tree trunks. It's ethereal and primeval and taps something primitive. Get there. 

A Morning Walk

I took a long walk in the woods yesterday. It was early, just after sunrise, and I’d brought Tessie along with me to pick Justin up after his night-shift at the hospital. On our way home, Justin dropped Tessie and me off at one of the entrances to the town forest so that we could walk home through the woods in the morning light.

For those of you who have never witnessed our dog walk, let’s just say that if Tessie walked any slower, she would go backwards. Seriously. She ambles and pauses and occasionally simply lays down and refuses to get up. The less-than-two-mile walk home was not going to be a “fitness walk” to say the least. But that was fine with me. I feel as though I’ve been hurrying a lot lately. Rushing about hither thither for reasons that escape me as I sit here now to write. Perhaps it’s the holiday season, all bustle and preparation. Perhaps it’s living in a household of four adults running on schedules that vary wildly, rarely a moment when someone isn’t making their way to or from. Perhaps it’s the sense I often get in December as the final days of this calendar year seem to be barreling toward me and I look with panic at the unchecked boxes on my year’s to-do list. Whatever the reason, there has just been too much rushing and we all know by now that “busy” and “productive” are not the same thing. We all know that we rarely put our best selves forward when we act from a place of urgency instead of a place of calm decision.

So I decided to take a long walk in the woods at Tessie’s pace. I let her lead as we moseyed along in the morning chill. There was just the slightest frost on the fallen leaves lining the wide bridle path trail and every now and again, one of the long, bony, fingers of light cast by the sun as it rose low on the horizon would catch one of the frosted leaf edges and set it alight and sparkling. It’s been an unseasonably warm fall here and there are still patches of green ferns dotting the forest floor as well as soft moss carpeting the tumbling rocks of the piled fieldstone walls that meander through the trees. I love those walls, so ubiquitous in New England. They are beautiful, of course, but they also make me pause to wonder about the farmers who worked so tirelessly to wrest this land from the forest, and the trees who simply would not yield their ground indefinitely. The white pines and eastern hemlocks and paper birch fill in those old cleared fields alongside sugar maples and red oaks and balsam firs. Moss and lichens cover the stones and gravity conspires with time to pull them out of their pile and return them to the ground. 

The only wildlife we spotted, despite the early hour and our slow and watchful pace, were squirrels and chipmunks. No foxes or deer or the coyotes I suspect call this forest home. But I love the little rodents despite their mischief, and I often feel downright inspired by how earnestly and unapologetically industrious they are as they scurry to and fro, always preparing for the lean times ahead. I also love their fondness for pausing in their labors to chatter a lecture at me about sloth, yelling at me for my leisurely pace, reminding me that the days grow ever shorter. They are certainly the worker bees of the woods and yet, somehow, they never manage to let their labors interfere with their curiosity. I imagine a sophisticated rodent communication pipeline where everything that happens in their forest is sent out for report.

I wandered along at Tessie’s lolling pace, tarrying with her when she stopped to sniff a twig or turn her head to the breeze so that the fur around her ears could flutter while her eyes half-closed in contentment. I breathed in the chill air and felt it in my lungs, watched its fleeting cloud as I exhaled. I listened to sounds that sing life in a forest, branches rubbing and creaking, small creatures hopping along in the papery dry leaves, the winter birds and their intermittent songs. I felt the tension that rushing brings with it begin to melt away. I gave my attention to the lectures of squirrels and the lessons of tumbling down rock walls and recalled the balance that must be struck between pursuing our labors, earnestly putting our greatest efforts forth, and keeping our curiosity and humility, lest we mistake those labors for important in the grand scheme of time. 

Mostly, I just reveled in the sublime joy of taking a minute to enjoy the fresh air and lovely trees and the pause. It took us nearly two hours to make it home and having made the choice to embrace it, to let it simply take as long as it takes, I felt released from the constant push of faster, faster, faster, more, more, more. Which was amazing. It’s not rocket science or some kind of major revelation. It was just a walk in the woods. Afterwards I poured another cup of coffee and sat down at my desk to begin what ended up being a long workday at my computer. But I didn’t mind the long workday as much as I sometimes do, and I spent a little less time than usual staring longingly out the window at the swaying trees. 

Sometimes that’s all we need to reset. Just a simple walk in the woods. Just a simple refusal to rush. That’s it. That’s all. May you find the space to do just that today. 

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

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I promise a whole slew of photos next week, but in the meantime, here's a favorite from a different walk one sweet evening in Yellowstone...

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