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?!?

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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Traditions

Green eggs and ham. 

The eggs were scrambled, enough food coloring added to complete the transition from yellow to a sort of chartreuse. Ham leftover from yesterday’s big Christmas dinner was fried in a big skillet before being piled onto a platter in the center of the kitchen table. Still in our pajamas and buzzing with the excitement of recently unwrapped gifts, Mat, Karissa, and I would pour red ketchup over green eggs, and devour one of our family’s most notable traditions- green eggs and ham for Christmas breakfast.

This wasn’t our only tradition. My dad is a talented guitarist and our family always kicked off the holiday season with friends and neighbors and a motley assortment of young sailors from the Navy base all gathered at our home late on Thanksgiving for pie and singing Christmas carols. We closed the holiday season the same way, those same neighbors returning Christmas night, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and the ringing of off-key voices filling our home. There were the usual customs, of course, cookies and stockings and decorations that become iconic over the years, the putting up of the tree and whose turn it is to place the star atop the (in our case, artificial) branches. There was midnight mass and new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and the family- my grandmother and uncle- who I can’t recall ever being absent from a childhood Christmas, no matter where the Navy sent us.

Looking back now, I can see other “traditions” at play. The late nights that my mom stayed up cleaning and fixing up the second-hand toys she’d spent Saturdays yard-saling for so that Santa could visit our home regardless of the salary the Navy paid its enlisted sailors. The careful planning, the saving of wrapping paper, the making of homemade decorations with popcorn and salt dough. How my mom, especially, had a talent for infusing the season with ritual and celebration as she went about the tasks of daily life singing along to old Statler Brothers and Kenny Rogers and Amy Grant Christmas records. 

We get older and often the holiday season begins to lose its magic. We get caught up in complaining that the decorations go up in stores earlier than we think is appropriate, or that the mall parking lots are full, or that our kids' wish lists are full of expensive technology that they disappear behind. We say to each other that the holidays just aren’t the same as when we were kids, that things just don’t sparkle like they once did. We can forget that, quite often, it was the combination of someone else’s hard work (thanks, Mom!) and our wide-eyed openness to the magic of the season that made our childhood holidays so special. When was the last time you heard an 8-year-old complain about carols playing at the grocery store in November? You don’t. They simply grin and sing along to words that fill them with excitement. 

As adults, we have to do our own hard work. We have to pull out the decorations on a Saturday morning instead of sitting on the couch continuing to scroll through our phones. We have to set aside our snarky eye-rolling and sing along to Jingle Bells for the eleven-thousandth time in our lives. We need to go to that tree-lighting and bake those cookies and watch Elf yet again and do whatever things allow us to open up to the very best parts of the season. Even better, we have the opportunity to smile at the sparkling lights and festive cheer, and then reach out further, to extend forgiveness where we once gave anger, to share our love and our compassion where we once held back, to renew our resolve to carry that love and forgiveness and compassion into the new year with us as we work to be kinder and more empathic in this world that can sometimes feel so full of pain.

For years, I put all of this off. I didn’t take any kind of active stand against the holidays, I simply didn’t put any effort in, didn’t go out of my way at all. I assumed that someday I would have kids and then I would pick up where my childhood left off, complete with Statler Brothers and Amy Grant and maybe even a little Dolly Parton thrown in for good measure. The first holiday season after I knew for certain that I would never have children, I was shocked at the waves of grief that would hit each time I realized that this would not be the case, that the images I’d carried for as long as I could remember of turning eggs a bizarre shade of green on Christmas morning to the delight of my kids would never actually take place. 

The holidays have a way of bringing our losses home to us. The absence of my grandmother and my uncle on Christmas morning reminds me every year how very much I still miss them. The shimmering ghosts of the children I thought I would raise, the mother I thought I would be, often dance at the edges of the kitchen as I bake cookies or put the star at the top of the tree. But those losses and ghosts and the bittersweet nostalgia of holidays past only lend more texture to this time of year, I find. These things allow me to see some of the scaffolding under the celebrating, erected of love and duty and hope and grief. As a child, my wonder could extend only to the magic and the gifts and the delicious food. As an adult, I can see the great depths of love and the sacrifice that provided those things for me, and my wonder can now more fully embrace true gratitude as well as the deep joy of reciprocity, of contributing and giving of my own heart and hands. 

We can continue to complain about mall crowds or consumerism. We can take offense at which words the cashier at the grocery store uses to wish us well during this season. We can sink into sadness over who is missing from our tables or how time has changed our dreams. 

Or...

We can take responsibility for our holiday season ourselves. Grief and sadness are not mutually exclusive with joy and gratitude, after all. Sometimes I think they are all more powerful when paired, actually, and to take responsibility for our holiday seasons means that we embrace the tough parts too. That we acknowledge our own pain and that of those around us so that we can add sparkle to not only our own lives, but take the opportunity to sprinkle it around for others as well. We can put up trees and string popcorn and bake delicious things that have too much sugar and butter involved. We can beam at the photos on the holiday cards that arrive in the mail and leave them up way past the season just because they make us smile. We can pay for a stranger’s coffee or leave a toy under a tree for an unknown child or stop by to sit and play checkers at a nursing home. We can choose to wait patiently in long lines and still smile and be kind to our fellow shoppers as well as the exhausted and abused clerk behind the register. We can hug the people that are at our tables and tell them an extra time or two just how much they mean to us. We can look with love at the ghosts of other lives we may have led and then turn with real and genuine gratitude at the many gifts in the lives we are actually leading. 

As for me, I think I’ll go with belting out some Statler Brothers off-key, baking up a storm, holding Justin’s hand tight, telling my family and friends how much I love them, saying thank you to anyone and everyone, and maybe even seeing if I can find organic green food coloring for my Christmas morning eggs.

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Home...Sort Of

We are home…sort of. We arrived in New Hampshire a few days ago and getting settled has been an utter whirlwind. We are staying with Justin’s parents, who have so generously opened their home to us and allowed our work routines and silly mutt and fragmented belongings to disrupt their laid-back retired lives. For the next three months, Justin’s childhood bedroom, the streets along which he learned to drive, the towns and highways and mountains of New England, will be our home once again.

It feels so odd in so many ways to be here. Our camper, home these last ten months on the road, feels far away as does the life we were leading up until crossing back to the eastern side of the grand ol’ Mississippi. Were we really in Wyoming just two short weeks ago? Did we really call the Sierra home for the last four months? Or have we been here in New England all along, having dreamt the whole adventure? Thankfully, there are threads that connect us back…a sweet and funny postcard from our dear friend Geoff (remember him from this trip?), a truck window full of stickers from the twenty national parks and monuments we’ve visited since January, journals brimming with sketches and notes from moments tucked in among towering trees or flowing water, hundreds upon hundreds of images shot along the way. And of course, the onslaught of cherished memories…the ways our lives have been touched irrevocably by the people we’ve met, the grandeur we’ve stood in the midst of. 

There are things about life on the road and in the camper that have been truly challenging for me, things I’ve touched upon but want to share more deeply here in the next months, because it’s important to recognize that travel and road life and tiny-space living is not all sunshine and roses (or mountaintops and micro-brew!), that the daily reality is not as glamorous as people often imagine. In just these few days of being in a real house (complete with a bathroom I don’t have to walk outside for, a shower I don’t have to wear flip-flops in, AN OVEN!), I am already relishing the luxuries large and small afforded by our current situation (and I haven’t even begun to soak in the fall leaves and Currier-& Ives-esque farm stands and apple-picking and town squares that come along with a New England autumn). I am eager to make the most of this time, these luxuries, and my gratitude is beyond words. 

But we’re not done yet. We will make the most of this lovely time here, the access to family and friends, to the ways home can make you feel, the creative spark that can come when you find a place of rest amidst the movement. But we’ve only begun our love affair with the west, with the serrated skylines of mountains we are only just beginning to know, with the wide seemingly-empty spaces between ranges. After years of promising ourselves more time outdoors, we have finally made good on it…over three full months of “vacation” time outside with so many more days enjoying the trails and rivers and mountains around where we’ve lived. We've quite likely had more time outdoors since January than we’ve had over the last 13 years together combined. That’s something.

So we’re home. Home in Justin’s childhood haven. Home in a region of the country that we truly love. Home to seasons we’ve missed. Home to people we’ve ached for. But we’ve left another home on the other side of the country. And another region we love. And other people we ache for. 

So we’re home…sort of. And that’s an adventure all on its own.

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I have just begun the process of sorting and editing the nearly 2000 images I shot on this last trip…I cannot wait to share them with you! Here’s the tiniest peek in the meantime...

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