A Fresh Start

We arrived in Tucson late last week and have spent the last few days simply getting our bearings as we introduce ourselves to this brand new place we’ll call home for the next twelve weeks. Justin began his new job yesterday and I spent the day reacquainting myself with how to fit the entirety of our life into 83 square feet. This morning has been cup after cup of coffee as I pour over my planner, review my goals for the year, and organize my thoughts around what I want to prioritize for this three-month period.

It’s been an unexpected gift, this break up of my year into three month chunks. Every new place offers me a fresh start, a defined space to course correct and begin again. Three months is enough time to dig into a project and make big strides, but not enough to allow for procrastination or too much hemming and hawing. One of my biggest takeaways from 2017 was just how quickly three months goes by and how easy it is to overestimate the amount of time available for things…we have to hit the ground running on every level to take full advantage of each location. Each time we land in a new place, I find myself coming to it with a miniature version of the same mindset I have at the start of a new year- a closing out and releasing of what did or didn’t get done in the last timeframe and a fresh resolve and re-prioritization as I turn toward the next one.

I think there is value in this and I deeply appreciate it. But it can be misleading, too. Upon realizing that something isn’t working or I haven’t made the progress hoped for, it can be easy to allow myself to fall into the trap of thinking I have to wait for the next chunk of time to begin again. Which, of course, isn’t true at all.

We can ALWAYS begin again. Always. Always. ALWAYS.

If there is a single truth I have come to believe in more fervently than any other, it is our inherent ability to begin again as many times as we need to. Over and over and over again. Every new moment is an opportunity to make different choices, to tell different stories, to find the fresh start that we are looking for to make the changes we want to make. It is never too late and “now" is always better than “someday.”

Sometimes there is a handy starting point that screams “clean slate!” at the top of its lungs and we know that this is an ideal moment to implement change. But let’s not forget that those moments aren’t the only ones that offer us the chance to begin anew, that there are less glamorous but equally qualified moments in the in-betweens that are patiently waiting for us to notice them, to take advantage of the space that they offer as well. 

We don’t have to wait for a new year or a new month or a new week or a new place. Our fresh start is always right here, always ready, whenever we are.

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In case you missed this month's newsletter (go sign up if you haven't yet...there are lots of fun tidbits and freebies that don't show up here on the blog or over on Instagram!), from now on, the print shop will be changing on a monthly basis and its theme will be tied to a charitable cause to which I will donate 10% of my gross sales from that month. If you have a cause near and dear to your heart that you would like included, I would love to hear from you!

In honor of Valentine's Day and celebrating love, this month’s print shop theme is “Feel The Love- My Love of Our Public Land” and 10% of all gross sales this month will go to The Access Fund. If you aren’t familiar with The Access Fund, they work tirelessly to protect our public lands and their website is a fantastic resource to turn to when you feel impotent in the face of the many ways our public lands are threatened. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go spend some time on their site and support them in any way that you can.

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We had a fantastic (if too short!) trip back across country and I can't wait to share some images with you over the next few weeks! 

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?!?

Coming To Winter

I am writing this morning from the little “office” nook that I carved out of a tiny corner in the upstairs storage space in my in-laws’ home. To my left are the boxes storing Justin and my meager possessions- mostly books, family photos, and the street art we’ve collected on our travels together over the years. To my right is a small window that looks down on the front yard and road below. The last of the windblown autumn leaves are piled along the edges of the driveway and at the base of the gnarled apple tree that dominates the yard. As the sun peeks up over the trees in the distance, its bright morning rays set the crystalline frost on those leaves sparkling like a sea of facet-cut gems. My coffee steams invitingly and I pull the blanket draped over my lap up snug to ward off the morning chill in the room.

This modest little workspace is one of the gifts of this time here in New Hampshire. The quiet space to concentrate and focus, the ability to leave my projects up on my screen and out on my “desk” (really, a sweet little drop-leafed table I found buried in the garage) so that I can pick them up quickly when I return in the morning, the luxury of my enormous desktop screen which makes editing images significantly more efficient. And, most significantly, it allows for a routine to form around my workdays, my creative process.

Routine is one of those words that seems to so often make us cringe. We picture drudgery and mind-numbing predictability and an unrelenting sameness that leaves one day undifferentiated from all of the rest. And, of course, routines can feel that way if we don’t balance them with movement and challenge and spontaneity. But they also have the ability to lend rhythm to our days, to allow our energy to be focused on the work that is most meaningful to us rather than problem-solving the basic logistics surrounding that work. I think often about an article I read years ago about why President Obama wore the same basic suit each day, how meaningful productivity stems from systemization that minimizes what is known as decision fatigue, the exhaustion that results from making too many decisions (this is why a day at the mall is so taxing…it’s not the walking, it’s the overwhelming number of micro-decisions made over the course of the day, from which kiosks/stores/advertisements to pay attention to, to which color/size/fit/etc to purchase). I notice this in my day-to-day life and also on a broader, seasonal level. It’s not only the longer days jam-packed with activity that leave me feeling a bit wrung-out by the end of the summer, it’s also that summer, almost by definition, resists routines of all sorts. Which is liberating and exciting and fills us up in so many ways- I find my creative fodder in those months that seem to be a constant whirlwind of spontaneity and adventure. But when the first signs of fall show themselves, I always feel a certain relief at the prospect of rest and rhythm, and I begin to anticipate taking that creative fodder gathered over those sun-drenched days and processing it, molding it into something more polished, more connective.

In our final few weeks in Reno, the crisp nights and mornings made it clear that our long summer days were wrapping up. Snow began returning to the mountain tops and the edges of the leaves on the elms in our little RV park were beginning to turn more golden than green. As we drove toward Idaho and Wyoming and Montana, it seemed that we jumped seasons on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Sunlit grasses gave way to mountain valleys filled with aspen trees the color of turmeric and then to enormous evergreens whose limbs bowed under the weight of heavy snow. As we moved once again into the valleys, back again were saffron trees and honeyed meadows, only to wake to frozen windows and the blanket of quiet that accompanies gentle snowfall. It was a bit surreal to move so quickly back and forth between fall and winter each day, and then even more so as we left the west behind us to be greeted by the unseasonable warmth of New England’s very extended late summer. 

I have known for a long time that I am a paradox, that who I am is made of seemingly contradictory halves. I have struggled over my life to figure out how to exist between those halves, often swinging all the way to one extreme until the other half was so emaciated and malnourished that I was forced to abandon where I was and swing all the way to the other extreme until the reverse happened and back I went. As I’ve grown older and learned a few lessons in the hardest ways possible, I’ve come to see how this wild swinging to extremes simply doesn’t work, and, maybe more importantly, that it’s simply not necessary. We are surrounded by cycles- day to night and back again, summer to fall to winter to spring, the planting to the harvest to the field that lies fallow. Why do we insist that we are the only exception to these cycles?

We have spent the last 10 months in an “endless summer” of sorts. We left snowy Maine in January and meandered south to settle for a few months into the balmy spring of south Texas before dipping into summer’s heat along the southwestern deserts and then returning to the spring of the high Sierra. We spent our summer there among those golden hills and craggy mountains, the long days and seemingly endless string of sunshine and bluebird skies. We moved and lived in a state of spontaneity and non-routine, filling our pockets to bursting with raw experiences and creative fuel. 

And now, as I look out this little window at the shimmer of frost on the faded leaves, as I cup my hands around this steaming mug and gather myself at this makeshift desk, it is clear that winter has arrived and I can embrace this rhythm, this routine. Just as my summer was sprinkled with small routines and quiet moments, my winter will be sprinkled with unexpected adventures and spontaneous bursts- very few things in life are all-or-nothing as it turns out. But this cycle is important, this coming of winter and its routines, the space it creates to take those raw experiences out of my bursting pockets and look at them carefully, to process and appreciate them fully so that I can see all the ways they add shine to my life, to take all that creative fuel and set it alight to become a warming fire fully realized. By embracing these cycles, I feed my extremes more equally and so allow them to work cooperatively, strengthening one another in ways I never imagined.

We always know that winter is coming (for who can resist a Game of Thrones reference when it presents itself so obviously), but it can be easy to forget what can happen when we allow ourselves to come to winter, to its rest and routines, to its call for quiet and inner listening, to its challenges of cold and stillness. What happens when we step forward and into the cycle instead of resisting it? Let’s find out, let’s come to winter this year and just see where it takes us.

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I Forgot

I’ve forgotten to take my camera along with me a lot this summer. On at least five separate occasions, in my eagerness to go explore or in the excitement of our preparations, I drove away from home only to realize upon arriving that I left my camera behind. It’s frustrated me and at times induced me to wonder at my legitimacy as a photographer…I mean, what kind of photographer forgets her camera?!?!?

But.

On one hand, I have been beginning to feel a surge of creative energy over the last few weeks that I have come to believe is a direct result of having spent most of my summer not being especially creative. I’ve believed all along in the importance of creative rest, but hadn’t realized until I spent a couple of months rafting instead of creating that I was in dire need of it. Not that I haven’t been creating at all- on the contrary, I have doodled in my sketchbook and scribbled away in my journal and dipped my toes into art that I don’t make my living from and, of course, I’ve maintained this blog. But I have done very little work for clients this summer and that break, I’ve come to see, was very necessary for my long term creative health. I suddenly feel energized to experiment and push myself, and doing some writing and shooting only for myself has allowed me to step away from “safe” work and allow failure to return to my process. It’s thrilling, really.

On the other hand, this camera-forgetting has also reminded me what it can feel like to simply have an experience without any requirement to capture it. I consider the noticing that photography has taught me to be one of the great gifts of my life and very often my camera is the tool that best allows me to move past the superficial and truly see. But sometimes that same camera can create a barrier between me and experience, allowing me to keep my distance on the edges instead of fully engaging. And, even more disturbing, is when I catch myself in the photo-or-it-didn’t-happen mindset, the idea that the value of my experience is somehow diminished by my lack of photographic evidence to present to the public. What blarney. To be deeply embedded in a moment, to cry-laugh with new friends in the light from a campfire or to stand by the edge of an alpine lake and share the awe of the Milky Way’s perfect reflection on its silver surface doesn’t require public approval in order to be treasured. Photos are photos and have their own power, but memories are memories and the two are not interchangeable terms. Sometimes it’s simply worth making a memory and missing a photograph.

Maybe I’m simply justifying my own laziness or forgetfulness, but I suspect more has been behind this forgetting of my camera this summer. As the season begins to shift and the very first hints of autumn’s impending beginning nip at the early morning air, I feel my own shifting. A readiness to return to the work, to pick up what I briefly put down, to dig in deeper than ever before. Sometimes we must step back in order to move forward…it’s a simple truth that takes me by surprise again and again. But truth it is and I am no more exempt from it than any other. We cannot produce without end, without break, if we want our truest and most creative work to pour forth. And we cannot always remain on the edges of experiences, capturing but not fully participating, if we want depth and meaning and life to infuse our work. 

So...sometimes I forget my camera.

I did remember to bring it along a few times, so here is a bit of miscellany from the last month or so...

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DIY Truck Bed Build-Out

I received a few emails after last week’s post asking about how we built out our truck bed for storage and sleeping, so I thought I would pass along the how-to and step-by-step that we followed!

We really began by simply scouring both our memories and the great interwebs for how other people have done it…we’re big believers in not re-inventing the wheel unnecessarily! My years working as an outdoor guide exposed me to the myriad of ways people can live out of their vehicles and I may or may not have begun with some lofty visions of custom welded exterior racks to go around the camper top (GEAR, you guys! I wanted more space for GEAR!). Reality (as well as time and budget limitations…pesky budgets…) set in and we settled on a copy of how the ever-fabulous Becca Skinner rigged out her truck, Happy.

So we gathered measurements and drew out an oh-so-high-tech plan (stop judging us…I hadn’t planned on sharing this publicly...) and materials list and headed down to Justin’s folks’ to borrow tools and expertise (remember how we sold all of our stuff…we maybe should have held onto our tools just a little longer…). We headed to the hardware store, made our purchases, and spent the entirety of a cold, rainy December weekend pulling the pieces together.

Iphone shots of our "plans"- side view and tailgate view on left, view from top on right...

Iphone shots of our "plans"- side view and tailgate view on left, view from top on right...

iPhone again...

iPhone again...

And more iphone...

And more iphone...

A few things to note:

  • We have a Toyota Tundra with a full 6’ bed
  • We already owned the bins we knew we wanted to use and built with their measurements in mind:
    • 4 medium-large clear Sterilite bins that we picked up at Target 
    • 2 smaller clear Sterilite bins that work in the wheel-well area 
    • 2 large Rubbermaid bins I’ve had since somewhere around 1998
    • 2 shallow clear Sterilite bins 
  • We wanted to have the flexibility to have a full sleeping platform across the entire space when both of us were utilizing it OR to remove the center piece in order to have more headroom if it were just one of us (also, it gives us some flexibility of we want to load in, say, bicycles or kayaks…)
  • Everything is freestanding, nothing is bolted to the truck bed itself in any way
  • We opted to NOT use pressure treated wood…the chemicals just seemed like a terrible idea. We did compromise and use Thompson’s water seal on the pieces that are sitting on the bottom of the truck bed itself as there is no way to make the bed perfectly watertight, but everything else is basic pine and plywood.

Our supply list with cost:

  • (1) 4x8 5.5mm plywood underlayment - $12.99
  • (2) 4x8 5.8" pine plywood - $49.74
  • (8) 2x3 pine stud (96”) - $16.56
  • (5) 2x4 pine stud (96”) - $13.05
  • (6) 1.5 x 12 piano hinge - $59.88
  • Thompson’s Water Seal - $11.48
  • 2 brushes - $2.96
  • screws (1” and 3”) (already had on hand)

Our total cost: $186.62

Total time spent (would definitely have been more without the help and expertise of Justin’s dad!): approximately 28 hours

What do you think? Have you guys done this? Would you have done anything differently?