Pumpkin Molasses Cookies

We wanted the house to smell nice last night so, of course, I had to make cookies. That’s the best way! I had about half a can of pumpkin sitting in the fridge, a bag of dark chocolate chips, and a hankering for something chewy and warm. Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies? Yes.

This time around I sweetened them with molasses instead of maple syrup and I switched up the spices. If I were going to go the molasses route again I’d up the ginger to make them a bit more gingersnap-esque, and I’d also like to try them with raisins instead of chocolate chips. Warming, cozy cookies at their best! These can very easily be vegan if you use vegan chocolate chips, and they have no refined sugar/flour.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp chai spice
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1tsp or more ground ginger, if you wish
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (1/2 a can)
  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • dark chocolate or vegan chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients until well mixed.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients until smooth. Tip: I melt the coconut oil RIGHT before I use it so it doesn't harden again if my kitchen is a bit chilly.
  4. Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir with a spatula until fully incorporated.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Wet hands and scoop dough out, roll into a ball, flatten slightly, and place on the baking sheet. They won't spread during baking.
  7. Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until fairly set.
  8. Allow to cool and harden for a few minutes before removing from the baking sheet.

Reading Books vs Reading a News Feed

Taking the time to unplug from social media gave back hours to devote to reading books and it’s been awesome. I’m remembering the joys of devouring words for an entire afternoon or evening. One of my goals for the year was to read one book per month. I’m already easily more than halfway to 12 books and it’s barely March. I’ve always loved reading, but as social media crept into my life, I spent more time reading news feeds, status updates, and “content, and less time reading actual books.

Is this really a problem? I’m still reading words, right? So it can’t be that bad.

Not so fast.

A cursory Google search pulls up studies showing how technology is rewiring our brains – and yet it takes about 50,000 years for the human brain to actually evolve, so we’re not adapting nearly as quickly as we think we are. Our attention spans are diminishing while our desire for instant reward grows. As a teacher, I’m seeing this happen faster with younger students. I’ve been teaching for about a decade and students today have far more distractions and far shorter attention spans. They don’t have the discipline to practice because they don’t have to work hard to win a game on a device. We click links to “learn” or “discover” something, but we’re mostly rewarding ourselves with clickbait. “Content” is, by nature, short and engaging, because we apparently get bored when reading an article approaching 1000 words or more.

Stepping away from social media is allowing me to enjoy actual learning, real reading, and delving far deeper into subjects than a status update would allow. I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and I’m continuously fascinated with how much more creative, intelligent, and innovative people were when we didn’t have so much information at our fingertips. If someone in the 1800s wanted to find out how old the universe is, or why the sky is blue, or at what temperature water boils, s/he had to devise, carry out, and record an experiment.

We live in the information age and yet so little information is sticking. We’re learning to store information outside the body and our brains are creating pathways to use search terms, not remembering the information. For example, our grandparents could bake pies without a recipe. These days, you simply input the fruit and type of pie you’d like to make, and endless options await in your search results. You no longer need to memorize the perfect recipe because you can try a new one every week.

I’d much rather read a book than a status update. I’d much rather write a book than a status update. I haven’t made too much progress on my book, but (as my post history will show) I have made progress on the blog, and that’s a big step for me. I’m focusing much more on long-term rewards, what TRULY makes me happy, and slowing down. I don’t actually NEED to know what’s going on with everyone in my social circle in order to be happy myself. Learning, storing, and recalling information in my own head is thrilling – even with challenging concepts like quantum physics and the size of the universe. It’s fun to challenge myself to grasp these big ideas at a time when it feels we are constantly bombarded by fluff. What really matters?

What would Laura Ingalls Wilder do? If she wanted to know how her friends were doing, she’d get in the wagon and go visit, take a walk to visit, or write a letter. There is no need to be so involved in the lives of everyone around us and the content companies generate to encourage us to click. Be at peace with yourself. Be at peace with the silence. Learn to let things go, and what’s important will find its way to you without being constantly connected.

Be Kind to Children

I will be the first to admit I’m not a typical baby/child fanatic. Case in point: a close colleague of mine just had a baby and everyone in the office is gushing over how cute the baby is. I’m mostly just happy my friend is happy, and a little bummed she’s not in the office to trade cute pet photos with now. Travis and I are not having children. I can’t have children, even if I wanted them (which I don’t).

However, that doesn’t mean I actively dislike these tiny humans.

To the contrary, I’ve recently found my aversion may actually be due to how much I truly care about children.

I LOVE teaching. It’s fascinating and energizing to engage young minds at a time during which they’re growing in so many directions. It’s amazing to see my work turn into a tangible skill in the hands of a child. Although I’m generally not a very patient person, I somehow find steel reserves of patience when teaching a child about the wonders of music.

But there’s a bit more beyond my chosen occupation.

Last year, whilst reading The Happiness Project, I came to a page where Ms. Rubin mentioned a statistic that stuck with me: 80% of the messages children receive from adults are negative. No, stop, that’s wrong, bad, etc. Since reading that, I’ve been far more cognizant not only of my interactions with my students but children in general. I want my students to feel comfortable, happy, and safe learning with me, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning.

Why children in general?

Well, a quick disclaimer: I’ve found I recently tend to have issues with parents, not children (see our previous post about the long flights to and from Hawaii).

I dug a little deeper into myself after a routine trip to the Post Office really bummed me out: I was in line to send something for work. A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, was standing quietly to the side, clutching a stuffed animal, with her mother who was filling out shipping forms. The greeting card display was precisely eye-level with the little girl. “Mommy, look, a mom dog!” the little girl cried with glee upon seeing a silly card with a photo of a dog on the front. I generally try to mind my own business as I’m fairly uncomfortable with strangers, but I looked down and met her eyes. She looked much like my cousin’s daughters: brown curls, deep brown eyes, a big, toothy smile.

Her mother didn’t acknowledge, didn’t turn around, didn’t say anything, and my heart broke.

I know that feeling.

I was that little girl, and although it’s been years, that little hope of sharing something special with another person is still in there.

When the mother finished filling out the forms she finally turned to the little girl, now holding the card she so desperately wanted to show her mother.

“You put that back right now!” the mother ordered.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I just wanted to show you the mom dog!” the little girl replied. My heart broke a little more. She was just trying to connect, to be sweet and funny, and instead it was shot down and instantly her fault for doing something “wrong.”

I have been that little girl. I once wanted to show my mother a Curious George book in the bookstore and she tugged on my arm so forcefully she dislocated my elbow, trying to get me to focus on whatever it was she had come to do. The next day, after the doctor put everything back in the right place, my mother purchased the book for me out of guilt.

Please don’t be the mother in the post office. Please don’t be my mother. If you’re going to have children, for the love of everything kind in this world, please be kind to them. I am aware parenting is a difficult job (which is why I am choosing not to take it on) and I know not everyone is perfect all the time. But please remember, when you’re little, all the little things matter to you. The way you speak to your child, the way you do or don’t show them respect, the way you do or don’t value their ideas and thoughts will all stay with them long after the incident has passed for you. Please try to treat your children (and other children with whom you may interact) with kindness. Kindness costs absolutely nothing and the rewards are great.

One of my friends had a mother similar to mine, and although she and her husband do not have a lot of extra money, they have a LOT of extra love. Their children will never have to doubt the love and kindness they find at home. My friend knows what it’s like to grow up without it, and she’s ensuring her children will never know that feeling.

Kindness is free, and takes just a little bit of forethought and a tiny bit of decision-making to work properly. Respond instead of reacting. Think before speaking. Actively listen, and try to see what the speaker is trying to show you.

And please, be kind to your children. They need it more than you know. When they’re  just little and the world is so big, they need to know your love and kindness are there to shelter them as they grow. Encourage their creativity and willingness to share. Show them they matter to you, and you value their thoughts. The entire world could use a bit more kindness, and those tiny ripples can create incredibly beautiful waves.

A Happier 2017 – Month Two

Last month I followed up on my goals for the year with a recap of the first month of 2017. I outlined my progress with the goals I’d created prior to the year beginning as well as a few new goals. Now that we’re at the end of Month Two, let’s check in on my progress.

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. My wrist is still bothering me so I’ve continued to be lax here. However, I’ve managed to progress, and I can now play a range of standard I-V-IV folk/bluegrass tunes in the keys of G, D, A, E, and C, which is pretty great. Seeing how the chord shapes relate to one another (just like all other instruments) has been helpful. 

Pay off my student loan. Obviously this is still done, although I’m still awaiting my payoff letter. Come on, Navient…

Write 2 blog posts per week. I slacked off a bit here. I’ll have 6 posts for February by the completion of this post, and if I don’t write again tomorrow, that means 6 for the month. Still more than usual, but not quite as consistent. I’ve started a ton of posts with prompts about topics I want to discuss, so at least the ideas are actually out of my head!

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. “Silent Spring” has been read! Hooray! And boo for chemicals…wow. More on that later.

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. Patience, grasshopper.

Hike the Long Trail. See directly above.

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Done, although I had a little less in my bank account than usual since I sucked it up and paid it right away. But now I don’t have to worry about it. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I’m doing pretty well on this. My daily news emails didn’t show up for a few days so I had to sign up again, but in the meantime, I didn’t bother logging onto a host of news sites to dull my brain. I hop on Reddit here and there, mostly to check out the wedding planning forums, and I limit my NPR listening to my commute home instead of both ways. 

Read 12 books (one per month). Four down, currently reading two which must be returned in a month, so I have to get cracking. 

Do a guided meditation once per week. I’ve been doing them Tuesday afternoons between leaving the office and going to my piano students. They’ve helped me shake off the day before I go do what I love doing, and approach the students and the lessons from a more peaceful place. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. I wrote TWO this month! Go me! One was to my aunt because Travis and I found her a little gift from an art museum in Philly. The other one only half-counts as it was on the back of a (very large) postcard, sending guitar strings to one of my old bandmates. His girlfriend makes awesome handmade jewelry and I’d been saving strings for her for a while. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I mentioned Happy Hour last year and I’ve been wanting to incorporate them into my regular routine a bit more but I’m still not doing very well with it. I have been making a much larger general sweep of reading, writing, making music, and working out without setting the timer, which is probably better in the long run. Still, on those busy days, it’s good to make sure I set aside time.

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Epic utter failure. That wine and pizza night I mentioned last time? I haven’t had any red wine since. Our tolerances have really gone way down. I’ve been fine with a glass of white wine or a couple beers here and there, but whew boy was I in rough shape after a “normal” amount of wine. I still love the taste but I’m in no rush to crack open a bottle of wine at the moment. I’ll stick to a post-workout refreshing, replenishing brew for the time being. 

A Happier 2017: The Foundation of Your Nature

Last weekend our Happier calendar read the following: “You can build a happy life only on the foundation of your own nature, your own interests, your own values. Your happy life will look very different from the happy life of someone else.”

This is very true, and yet so easy to forget.

When I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo (because seriously, at this point, who hasn’t read it?), I discovered the same thing. So much of our happiness is tied into who WE are as unique individuals. My happiness has absolutely zero percent to do with yours or anyone else’s happiness. What makes me happy probably won’t make you happy, and that’s okay! Reading that book helped me dig deeper into what my “ideal life” looked like, how it felt, and what it meant to me.

Why, for example, am I drawn to an aesthetic best described as modern rustic? On the surface, it’s warm, cozy yet simple, and created with natural elements. But why?

I dug into it. If I could create my ideal home life, it would involve a light-filled, airy cabin in a wooded, mountainous area. That setting is important to me because I love the peace I feel when surrounded by nature. But I don’t want to feel like I’m locked or stuck anywhere, hence the airiness of the cabin. Think large windows showcasing the view and lofted ceilings with exposed beams.

I would have a living room complete with a grand piano, built-in bookshelves, and a fireplace. The piano is, of course, because music is so important to me. If I could afford a beautiful grand piano of my own, that would mean I’m financially stable enough to spend that sort of money. I’m not materialistic and I don’t need much money, but knowing I could purchase a piano (in my ideal life) and still live comfortably would be a source of happiness and peace. The bookshelves would hold books (because I love to read) as well as photos and treasures from travels. I think it’s important to surround oneself with happy memories and continue to expand your mind. The fireplace would encourage the coziness and relaxation at home. I grew up in a very chaotic house and have intentionally made sure my living space as an adult has always been peaceful, zen, and cozy.

My kitchen would have windows and shelves to grow herbs. I love creating food with fresh ingredients. The bathtub would have an old claw-foot tub to soak and relax in. The bed would be covered in a quilt made by my grandmother, with matching nightstands and reading lamps for symmetry. Outside I’d have a garden and grow enough vegetables for us to eat and preserve. We would have a few chickens for eggs and bees to pollinate. And those expansive mountain views would surround it all…no nearby neighbors.

This probably isn’t your idea of a happy life. Maybe a vacation, or a long weekend. Or maybe this sounds great to you. The point is, it sounds great TO ME, and happiness comes from within. So, while the walls in which I sit don’t look like this, how can I do my best to create this happy life?

I’m bundled in a blanket given to me by one of my grandmothers. My digital piano sits across the room. My cat’s purring stands in as the background noise instead of the crackle of a fireplace. Travis sits next to me, reading a book, and my stack of library books is on the table in front of me. We can afford the piano (it was a gift from a former employer) and the books (thank you, libraries everywhere!!) without any impact whatsoever on our financial well-being. There’s no need for us to worry about having enough of what we NEED in order to enjoy some of these wants.

It’s not perfect, but when I think about the details, I really have it pretty good. There will always be room for improvement as I work toward my ideal, but I’m very goal-oriented, and I like having it that way. I don’t expect to have my dream happy ideal home anytime soon, but I can stay on the path toward creating it.

What’s your happy home life? What would it look like?

No-Bake Chocolate Protein Brownies

I’ve been on the Black Bean Brownie kick for a couple of years. I have a major sweet tooth but once I started focusing on cooking and eating for health and nutrition as well as taste, I’ve been phasing out a lot of traditional sweets. The one recipe I keep and continue to make is my Grammy’s Pumpkin Bread…I’ve modified it here and there and it still tastes great, but the original is the best.

I digress…

When I want brownies but I don’t want to have a crazy sugar rush afterward, I go the black bean route. The first ones I tried were the Chocolate Covered Katie Black Bean Brownies. I even made them for a baking contest at work. They’re delicious, fudge-y, and chocolatey. Everything you could want in a brownie, minus the feeling of eating a bowl full of sugar.

It’s no secret I love making treats with Orgain.  I’ve made protein shakes (obviously), overnight oats, cheesecake, cookies, and more with this awesome, simple, vegan protein powder. So of course I decided it was time to take the Orgain to the black bean brownies and devise the ultimate protein-bar brownie. Still chocolatey and fudge-y, a bit lighter than the original black bean brownies (no chocolate chips, no cocoa powder), and you don’t even have to wait for them to bake.

Success!

As usual, I don’t measure too carefully. I tend to eyeball most of my recipes, so feel free to modify the amounts to suit your tastes. Love peanut butter and no so keen on maple syrup? Great – add more PB and dial down the maple syrup (you may need to add more almond milk) – you get the idea.

Also: be careful with your food processor/blender. I think I actually killed our Ninja last night. I’ve had my eye on a Vitamix for a while and my birthday is coming up…anybody want to donate to the domestic cause? You will after you try these!

No-Bake Chocolate Protein Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed well
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • dash of salt
  • dash of baking soda
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 rounded cup rolled oats
  • 3 scoops chocolate protein powder (I used Orgain)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk, as needed

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until very smooth. You may need to add more almond milk as the mixture comes together. It should stick to itself but not be runny (if it's too runny, add more oats or protein powder).
  2. Pour into an 8x8 or 7x9 baking pan and press down.
  3. Refrigerate until firm and cut into squares.

A Happier 2017 – Habits

Today’s “A Happier 2017” asked “Are you more likely to indulge in a bad habit in a group or when you’re alone?”

First I thought, “well, obviously, in a group. I keep a pretty healthy home.”

Then I thought about the times I’ve done things alone I normally wouldn’t do with others due to judgement or consequences (nothing that bad, I promise, but we all do things like eat peanut butter straight from the jar), and now I’m not so sure. I’m fairly certain I tend to make worse decisions in social settings because it’s easier to go with the flow. It’s easier to skip working out to have happy hour with friends (both indulgent choices) or order dessert as long as someone else does.

But, left to my own devices, I’m not totally self-motivated to be good. I’ve eaten Nutella for dinner. Wine and cheese has been dinner. When I’m tired, I might scroll through my computer instead of working out. I’ve managed to discipline myself by not purchasing Nutella, closing my Facebook account, and putting a timer on my computer for anything more than 45 minutes spent on certain mind-numbing websites. Nature and age have tempered my ability to subsist on wine as an entree.

I could still be better, and not just to look good on paper, but to be better to myself. I don’t always sleep well, and I could do better to actually go to bed when my bedtime alarm goes off. Although I mostly eat well, I could still dial down some of the sweets I enjoy. I could probably even enjoy one less glass of wine or beer and still be just as much fun as I am now. And I could make myself work out every single day, no matter what.

Would I be truly authentic if I did those things? Are those slightly-bad habits just who I am, or can I improve upon this framework? Is the juice worth the squeeze?

I’ll have to spend some time examining my indulgent habits over the next few weeks and report back about how I can be happier, healthier, and better to myself.

The W Stood for Woman

I recently submitted this piece into a contest but didn’t win, so you get to enjoy it instead. My brain is toast from lots of exciting new developments this week. I’m doing an abysmal job of two posts per week at the moment, but the ideas are here. I have a ton of recipes I need to post at the request of friends, and those will come (promise) but first, since it’s Valentine’s Day, here’s my favorite love story.

***

“Obie! Shhh! He’s nice!” I called out to my four-legged canine companion while he barked at an approaching fellow hiker.

“I am nice!” the young man grinned back to me. Looking up at him, I thought to myself, he is nice. He walked up to my hammock with a map in his hand. “Do you know where the nearest water is?”

“There’s a lake maybe half a mile up the yellow trail, but that’s the nearest water I know of. I have some whisky if you want!” I offered. I’d finished the majority of my four-day loop, leaving myself only about a mile to go back to my car tomorrow morning. I was celebrating my hard work by hanging in my hammock, barefoot, while my socks dried.

“No thanks. My map said there was a spring around here somewhere.” I hopped out of the hammock to grab my map and check it against his. Mine didn’t show a spring nearby, so I pulled out a PDF map I had on my phone. While we scoured the maps, the conversation flowed. His name was Travis, he was out just for one overnight, and he was hoping to tackle the AT in sections. We talked about where we lived – me in New York, him in Philadelphia – and where we’d traveled. I admitted Obie, the dog, wasn’t mine, and I was dog-sitting for a friend, but I couldn’t have chosen a better hiking buddy for my solo trip. After about fifteen minutes of conversation, no closer to finding the spring, Travis headed back to his site, and I climbed back into my hammock to watch the sunset.

I had come out to the woods this weekend alone to test myself. It had been over a year since my previous solo trip and the long northeastern winter had made me restless. I’d rather be outdoors than have a roof and four walls encircling me, and there’s something so strengthening about carrying your home and food on your back for miles as our ancestors did.

I lit a small campfire of collected downed wood in the fire ring as dusk set in. While I helped my little flame grow, Travis came back around the rocks.

“Did you find the water?” I asked him.

“Nah, but it’s all good.”

“I still have some whisky.”

“No thanks.” We talked a little more about what brought us both out this weekend as I stoked the fire. I felt like I could talk to him forever. I finally got up the nerve to ask him for his number.

“Let me get your number – I’ll send you that link to the PDF map I have to help you plan your next trip. I don’t have service here though, so I’ll text you tomorrow.” He gave me his number and I had him check to make sure I typed it in right, and I put my phone back in my pocket. A little while later, he went back to his site for the last time. Obie the dog and I hung out as dark descended, watching the fire burn, listening to the sounds of the forest and the caterpillars falling from the trees. I wondered if we would see Travis in the morning on our way out, but I was in no rush to wake up early. We had a short hike and a long drive, and I didn’t want to leave the woods.

Obie and I were among the last to leave the William O’Brien shelter area the next morning. Day hikers were beginning to come through the area while we packed up and hiked out to the car, past the lake I’d told Travis about.

At the car I changed into sandals and texted Travis to tell him we’d made it out and hoped he enjoyed his weekend. Then it was a two-hour drive back to Long Island, a huge burrito for dinner, airing out my gear, and a hot shower.

The next day I went back to work – back to the office, a computer, four walls, and a roof. I sent Travis another text in case the first hadn’t gone through – my service in Harriman was so spotty, I couldn’t be sure. That evening I finally got a response, but not the one I was hoping for: “My name is Kathy, I don’t know who you’re looking for, but please stop texting me.” By this point I’d told a few friends about Travis, and they all told me he must have given me the wrong number on purpose, or he was married and that was his wife, or something. I didn’t believe it. I’ve met lots of people during my travels, and there was something different about Travis and our conversations on the Appalachian Trail, but I didn’t know what to do.

Two days later, I was sitting in a bar alone when one of my friends met up with me and asked me why I was sad. I told her about Travis and the wrong number and how I was at a loss as to how to find this guy. I hadn’t given him my number and I didn’t know his last name. All I knew was the general area where he grew up, where he lived now, he enjoyed hiking, he was in his mid-30s, and he had traveled extensively through Europe.

My friend asked to see my phone and the number as I’d typed it in. She took one look at the number, said, “I don’t like that 6 in the middle. Change that 6 to a 5.”

Skeptically, I did as she suggested, and sent another text. “Is this Travis?” Immediately, the little dots popped up on the screen that showed someone was typing back. I looked at my friend. No way.

“Who’s this?” came the message.

“Sarah from the woods?” I’d meant to type an exclamation point, but I was so excited I hit the question mark instead. I knew it was him.

“Where’s the map you were going to send me?” he replied.

“It’s him! It’s him!” I said to my friend. I couldn’t believe it.

Our conversation had started in the woods at a shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Harriman State Park. We lost each other for a few days, and found each other again with the help of my friend’s wacky idea about his phone number. That text conversation started around 7:30pm and we didn’t stop talking til past 10pm. Texting turned into phone calls, and, three weeks later, phone calls turned into visits. Travis drove what should have been just under three hours to visit me. Instead, with traffic, it took him nearly seven. He still walked in the door with a smile – the same smile that had crinkled the edges of his eyes and made his face light up in the woods.

Two weeks later, we headed back to the woods for our first backpacking trip together. Since then, we’ve continued to hike, backpack, and adventure as a team. Our first week-long vacation together included a thru-hike on the Presidential Traverse along the AT in the White Mountains – one of the most challenging hikes either of us have done. A year after we met, we went back to the O’Brien shelter and covered more miles on the AT in New York. We’ve also logged some miles on the AT/Long Trail in Vermont and are hoping to complete it as a thru-hike in 2017.

I moved in with Travis last year, and he proposed to me after we hiked (of course) down to a secluded black rock beach on the Big Island of Hawaii in November. We’re planning to elope on a hiking trail – just like how we met.

I’d taken that solo trip to challenge myself, to remind myself that I was capable of more than the daily grind, and to shake off the long, cold winter. I had no idea I would meet my adventure buddy, my soul mate, my sweetheart, while barefoot and sweaty, covered with dirt, with my socks hung on the hammock straps next to me. Perhaps I would have tried to clean up a bit, but I think there’s something to be said for how we met. We were doing what we both love: being outdoors, being self-sufficient, being active. There was no pretense about why were there. We had no need to impress anybody else – and thus, our solid friendship grew into a beautiful partnership.

And about his map, the little piece of paper that started this whole thing? We looked at it again. I noticed it didn’t specifically say there was “water” where I’d been sitting. It simply had a large blue W in the spot. I first joked it was for the whisky I’d offered him, but we both know now why his map had it and mine didn’t.

The W stood for Woman.

Why Should I Care?

I’m not having kids, so why do I care about the future?

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true. People often say they’re concerned about the world their children are going to grow up in…yet they don’t seem concerned about the world TODAY. I’ve had conversations with people who say climate change issues are so far away we shouldn’t worry about it today. Well, if we don’t worry about it today, who’s going to worry?

Travis and I have been reading and watching a LOT about climate change, pollution, and garbage lately. We’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth and Before the Flood. We’ve been reading Green Barbarians, Silent Spring, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and more. We’ve been talking about these issues amongst ourselves for a couple years, but not with the urgency and action we have now. Digging deeper into an earth-conscious lifestyle has been a great focus for us. We’re making better choices and also spending our time learning. We’re focused less on gathering knowledge and more on taking action – using less water, re-using vegetable scraps, and making homemade cleaners.

But we’ll both be dead within 100 years, and we aren’t having children. When we leave, we’re leaving the planet with our lasting contributions being only how WE treated the earth while we inhabited it. And perhaps that’s why we care. We aren’t leaving the responsibility of choice up to any future generations or children. We know, at the end of our days, what matters to us is how WE treat the earth.

This matters to us because we’re learning more about how we are, truly, all stardust. Diving into the combined science and history of the planet, of the universe and its enormity, and the minuscule amount of time in which humans have been here really hammers home the reality that we’re destroying the planet that gave us life. Nature has, of course, run into issues of overpopulation, weather pattern changes, and more, but – always – with time, nature can recover and correct. With the introduction of human industry and invention, we’ve done great things, but we’re also attacking the planet at unrecoverable rates. Our brain power is allowing us to create materials and chemicals nature can’t break down and reuse.

I know making small changes in my personal life won’t save the planet entirely, but I can’t in good conscience make choices that damage the planet further. We are simply visitors here on earth and it’s too easy to forget that in a world where anything you can imagine you may want can be delivered to you almost instantaneously, via drone, car, plane, or courier. We forget what goes into creating what we “want,” or, perhaps more accurately, we simply don’t see what’s behind the scenes. In a grocery store, a chicken breast looks NOTHING like a chicken clucking around on a farm. How much has to happen to that chicken between the farm and grocery store? We don’t see it, but it happens, somehow. What about a cotton plant becoming a t-shirt? I’ve never even seen cotton formed into thread, much less into cloth to be cut and sewn into a garment.

I care because I’m here. I’m not trying to save the planet for my children. I want to treat it kindly while I’m here. And I want to continue to enjoy the natural gifts of the earth while I’m here. It doesn’t add up to me to love being outside more than anything, and then create tons of garbage to simply sit in the ground or poison our oceans. I need to know for myself that I opted out of the system and got more in tune with nature.

I care because I’m here.

 

A Happier 2017 – Month One

About a month ago I outlined my goals for the year. I don’t call them “resolutions” because I don’t like the idea of “resolving” to do something. Rather, they’re my goals for the year – achievements, milestones, and actions to take pride in. To keep myself accountable, here’s my first monthly recap of how I’m doing this year so far.

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. I’m doing pretty well on this one, actually. My callouses have come back with a vengeance. Those tiny, tightly-wound strings really do a number on your fingers. I will say I was a bit lax this past week due to a wrist injury, but I’ve been pretty consistent.

Pay off my student loan. Done, as soon as we returned from our holiday family trips. What a relief! That said…Invisalign is back (see bottom of post). 

Write 2 blog posts per week. I’m doing it! Once this post is complete, I’ll have 8 posts for January, and for most four-week months, that’ll be a solid average! Downside: January was a five-week month. I have a little work to do, but the habit is definitely sticking. 

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. It’s sitting on my living room table and I’m about 15% of the way in. In my defense, I read three OTHER books this month, plus I have a fourth on my nightstand. I’m doing really well reading more in general. 

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. Patience, grasshopper.

Hike the Long Trail. See directly above.

I also mentioned I’d likely have some additional goals as the weeks went by. I sure do. Here they are, in no particular order:

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Oh boy. Now that my top teeth are looking great, my bottom teeth are looking (and feeling) comparably worse. Luckily, Round #2 is only about a third of the cost of Round #1. This won’t take too long, but I was hoping to bank all that extra money for at least a couple months. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I logged out of Facebook maybe six weeks ago and I honestly haven’t missed it. I keep a page for my teaching, writing, and music, but nothing personal anymore. There are occasions I’ll think, “Huh, I haven’t heard from so-and-so for a while, I wonder what she’s up to,” but the thought will leave my mind just as easily as it enters – unlike before, when I could type any name into the search box and find out unnecessary details about anybody who crossed my mind. Outside of social media, I signed up for a daily news digest and deleted the News app from my phone. No more mindless scrolling. That’s been super helpful as it prevents me from falling down the headline rabbit hole. I will admit to listening to more NPR and less classical music during my commutes over the last two weeks as the country’s leadership has drastically changed and I want to stay informed but I am trying not to let it control me. 

Read 12 books (one per month). Killing this one. I better keep it up. My 12-year-old self would be disappointed in such a low goal. 

Do a guided meditation once per week. I could improve. I think I’ve done four, but I doubled up during a particular emotional week. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. Tomorrow is the last day of the month. Who wants a card? I forgot about this one. Whoops. My grandma turned 80 last week so she’ll probably be the lucky recipient. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I mentioned Happy Hour last month and I’ve been wanting to incorporate it into my regular routine a bit more. However, I’ve been pretty bad about it. I HAVE been making a point of working out, reading, and playing music, but I haven’t actually set the timer to do “whatever” on any of these days. I need to get to it. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Meh…I had some whisky when we went to the jeweler to design a setting for a Colombian emerald I have. And by some I mean I’m glad I wasn’t driving. Otherwise, I’ve been pretty good, although I’m meeting a friend for wine and pizza Wednesday and I may have more than two glasses there as well. Still, now that Travis and I have both cut back on the booze, we’re sleeping better, waking up more easily, and feeling more alert. The problem is we really enjoy the taste of a rich, dark beer or a full-bodied red wine – we just don’t like the effects. Le sigh. 

And there we have it. My list of goals grew, but remember, I accomplished my 30 Before 30 list in a year, and those were some pretty big goals. These are more like habits – much easier to achieve.

How are you doing with your resolutions? Do you prefer goals or resolutions?