A Happier 2017 – Month Four

It’s May already, and I can’t believe how fast the year is going. As we age, seasons become smaller and smaller percentages of our lives, but I’m still learning how true “blink and you’ll miss it” really is. That said, I’m a bit late in my April recap of my monthly goals:

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. Fail. For good reason: I finally went to a hand doctor…two, in fact. The first one told me to brace it, stop doing planks/pushups, and no more guitar/mandolin. He also mentioned “arthritis” and some other scary things, so I stopped. However, the second doctor believes it to be either a bad sprain or perhaps a cyst. He also mentioned rest and a brace, but none of the scarier stuff. So I’m still resting, but I should be back to playing soon enough. 

Pay off my student loan. No new degrees = no new loans!

Write 2 blog posts per week. Oops. BUT! And this is a big BUT! I’ve been getting paid to write elsewhere! Hooray! I’ve completed much more than the equivalent of 2 posts per week, and I’ve gotten paid for it. So I’ll let this one slide.

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. DONE and DONE! Yosemite was not at all what I expected it to be, but I’m glad to now have a better understanding of both authors and their contributions to the natural world in the US.

Leave my corporate job. Guess what?? SIX WEEKS TIL D-DAY! And by that, I mean Departure Day!! That’s right, we got an offer on the house, and it’s time to make our adventure dreams happen. But shhh…I haven’t put my notice in just yet. 

Hike the Long Trail. We’ll get to the trailhead at the MA border in about 7 weeks. SEVEN WEEKS!! I just ordered an extra pair of socks and a pair of crocs. This is actually happening!!

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Done, but I’ll have to pay for my retainers next month. I don’t currently love my smile, but at least I don’t have to worry about the fake parts falling out anymore because there aren’t any more fake parts. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I’m…struggling with this one a bit. When I’m bored, I often seek noise, and I’ve been bored often in the office. However, I don’t miss Facebook at all, and at home, I’ve been pouring myself into my freelance work. So, while I haven’t been particularly good at sitting still, I have continued to cut down on the “noise” and seek more enlightening pursuits.

Read 12 books (one per month). Eleven down. That means I read 4 books in the month of April, so maybe that’s another reason why I felt I didn’t have too much downtime. I finally read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. I should probably find something uplifting to read soon, or my brain will be full of hard-luck stories.

Do a guided meditation once per week. I think I did this – perhaps I missed one week, but I’ve been pretty consistently doing them before my piano students. It’s a good transition between the office and teaching. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. Done, with a surprise letter to a former bandmate whom I miss dearly. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I should just take this off the list. I know I won’t be doing it this month, and I won’t be doing it in the coming months. But – and this is important – I’m taking more time to be happy in general. I’m focusing more on what matters (sleep, reading, writing, fitness, cooking) across the board rather than trying to squeeze everything into 60 minutes once per week. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Look at me go! Travis turned 40 this month, and we celebrated in tasty, yet responsible manners. We both enjoy the taste of GOOD whisky, wine, and beer, but as we age, we’ve noticed the effects becoming more pronounced and less fun to deal with. Hitting up a brewery or a winery for a tasting has become an effective way to enjoy the flavors without going overboard. 

Based on the above answers, looks like I’ll have to write about our upcoming grand plans soon… 🙂

A Happier 2017 – Month Three

Another month is behind us already! I know as you get older time seems to pass by faster. It makes sense logically: when you’re five years old, a single summer takes up a massive portion of your time on earth. When you’re 30, 65, 80, a single summer is just a short blip of time out of the many seasons you’ve experienced. And I’m now officially a year older, as I turned 33 last Friday. In keeping up with my monthly tradition, here’s a recap of how I did on my goals throughout the month of March:

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. Fail. I didn’t pick it up once this month. My wrist is still bothering me but that’s not really a good excuse as I’ve managed to play both guitar and piano. Maybe it’s because I moved the case to the side of my piano where it’s partially hidden by a curtain and I sometimes forget it’s there. But I think there’s a bit more to it (as you’ll see in a few paragraphs).

Pay off my student loan. Obviously this is still done, although I’m still awaiting my payoff letter. Still haven’t received an official payoff letter although I did receive a request to “write my story” about how I paid off my student debt early. I totally wrote my story.

Write 2 blog posts per week. Look at me go! This makes my 9th post for the month. I thought I was slacking off but turns out a few recipes and some shorter posts really rounded out the imagined gaps.

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. “Silent Spring” has been read! Muir’s “The Yosemite” is staring at me from the coffee table right now. I don’t think I selected well for my first book of his. I adore the way he writes but having never been to Yosemite it’s a bit difficult for me to imagine everything he describes. I’ve actually looked up images of the places on Google to get the proper breathtaking feeling his words alone should give me. That said, I’m going to press on and complete it. I read through those physics books when I was 29…this will be easy.

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. BUT: I got my first TWO freelance clients and a handful of potential clients. I am STOKED! All it took was a little courage…and a LOT of time and patience. I believe this point is the real reason behind my lack of mandolin practice: I spent HOURS this month crafting profiles on freelance sites, bookmarking the top freelance writing job boards, applying for projects, and finally, WRITING AND GETTING PAID FOR IT!! HOORAY!!! So I can now say I’m heading in the right direction on this one.

Hike the Long Trail. Still gainfully employed and also, weather. Soon. 

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Still done, and more trays keep coming. I can’t wait to see my smile when I’m done…I will need to pay for retainers when that dally finally comes.

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. Overall I’m doing okay with this one. I don’t miss Facebook nearly as much as I thought I would. I’ve started using Reddit to help find clients and homestead ideas instead of brainless memes. (Here’s what I did: I went through my subscribed subreddits and unsubscribed to anything I never visited. Then I looked for subreddits that would actually add value to my life: homesteading, camping and hiking, wedding planning, recipe planning, freelance writing, and subscribed to those instead. Now my homepage is a list of interesting points of view, pretty wedding dresses, delicious healthy food, and potential clients. Score!)

Read 12 books (one per month). Seven down. I finished Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” along with JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” last month. Both interesting reads. I should write about them.

Do a guided meditation once per week. I did a couple, but definitely not every week this month. It was a strange month as Travis had his surgery and I didn’t go to work as usual for a whole week. Then some students were sick so I used the extra time to write instead of meditate. That said, I DID get in touch with my therapist and have had Skype therapy sessions each week. They’ve been helping me process some things that don’t directly impact my day-to-day life but have been indirectly impacting how I feel. They’ve also helped me get back to the right mindset and remember how to reframe situations that happen to be less than ideal. I won’t be needing weekly sessions going forward but will probably touch base on a monthly basis, just to make sure I’m taking the best care of myself.

Write one handwritten letter per month. Done, but barely. A dear friend and I send each other bracelets when we travel and my bracelet for her from Hawaii had been sitting on my counter for four months. Sorry, Linda. I hope you like it.

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. Nope, nope, nope. But all is not lost as I’ve done a great job ensuring I read and work out almost every single day anyway. I just haven’t given it a name and hit “start” on my stopwatch app. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Hooray and go me! I had a beer with lunch today. I had a beer with dinner last weekend. I drank a bottle of red wine – over the course of an entire WEEK, one (properly-sized) glass per evening. It now feels much more like a treat to enjoy a drink instead of “something you do.” I truly enjoy wine and beer, but, as with all my other treats, all in moderation. I know it’s a terrible idea to come home from a bad day and dive into a box of cookies (homemade or not), and thus I also know it’s a terrible idea to dive into a bottle of wine. We all do it sometimes, but I’ve definitely started to look at drinking as a bit of a reward to celebrate instead of a background activity to dull the mind. And that said, I’ve been sleeping pretty well too. I picked up a Somnilight reading lamp  and it’s AWESOME! I love reading at night now and I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep. I want to get all their lamps now…and even the glasses. Who knew using a different reading lamp right before bed would actually help me stay asleep? I think I look less tired in my eyes now too. Thank you, Somnilight!

I Got My First Client!

It’s been a surprisingly productive week! Although last week was pretty quiet  due to Travis’s surgery, I spent a lot of time looking into freelance writing gigs while I was home with him.

And…crickets. Not a single thing came through. It hasn’t been too long, but I figured the freelance world probably moves pretty quickly. I’d keep on keepin’ on and submit proposals as I could.

Then, yesterday morning, I got not one, but TWO projects, in the span of a couple hours! I wanted to jump out of my chair and dance around, but I was at my corporate job, so I just texted Travis with a ton of smiley-face emojis.

Last night, after a glorious first run in the beautiful spring weather, I got to business on the first project – editing business documents. I delivered before bedtime and was paid before I arrived at my job this morning. WOOHOO!!

At the moment, I’m taking a quick break from copywriting on project #2. It’ll probably be delivered tonight unless I feel I want to revise it with fresh eyes tomorrow.

AND – on top of those already-great developments – I was invited to cover an event in NYC this weekend for my previous employer. I’m stoked to be back in the fold and to be able to spend some time connecting with other musicians and music educators. I’ve been talking with them for a while about how we could work something out, and although I’m terribly impatient, keeping those lines of communication open is finally paying off.

Speaking of paying off, I ran some numbers and found I could cover my current bills working just forty hours per MONTH as a freelance writer/musician/teacher. It’s all starting to (very slowly) seem feasible now. Baby steps – but life is too short and too precious to not spend it doing what you love.

Don’t give up your daydream.

Parenting Isn’t For Me

I know I just wrote about being kind to children – and absolutely everything in that post still applies. This post isn’t about that – it’s about how I know parenting isn’t for me.

Travis had surgery last week – it was planned and he’s recovering on schedule, thank goodness, so all is well – which rendered him nearly incapacitated for most of the week. Thankfully, the weather cooperated (if you can call it that) with a winter storm, so although I missed days of work, the weather would have kept me home anyway.

That said, although we prepared for the surgery by making a massive batch of soup, making the bed as comfortable as possible, and renting a slew of DVDs from our local library, his recovery has shown me time and again I’m not cut out for parenting. I know, I know, people often say it’s completely different when you have a child, when it’s your own, etc, and while I think that’s super awesome (and I’m secretly very thankful as this isn’t easy), I’m glad I won’t be finding out firsthand.

This week I’ve had to scrub the toilets, take out the trash, vacuum, do all the laundry, change the sheets, cook EVERY SINGLE MEAL (and this man eats a LOT), wash every single dish, play with the cat, draw baths and help Travis in/out of them, remind him to take his medication even when he didn’t want to, help him bandage his wounds, drive him to/from the hospital and subsequent doctors’ office visits, find out answers to surgery questions he asked, run errands for food or other necessities as requested, PUT ON HIS SOCKS FOR HIM, and – oh yeah – go to work myself.

To parents out there everywhere, my GOODNESS, thank you for dedicating your lives to doing this day in and day out, for about a decade or so, until your kids decide you’re only cool enough to drive them around for another eight years, and then dropping them off at college, and finally breathing. This is temporary for us, and it’ll be fine, but I couldn’t imagine doing all of this every single day, especially for a tiny human who wouldn’t understand any of it until much later. It felt like a very solitary existence – Travis up in the bedroom while I buzzed around the downstairs prepping food and cleaning. It felt like that cycle of prepping and cleaning never ended, and by the time everything was put up for the night I was exhausted. I didn’t have any “me” time – no time to read or journal or go for a walk or take a class or play music or anything I would have preferred over cooking and cleaning.

I couldn’t do it. I’m happy to take care of Travis now while he recovers but I personally wouldn’t be a good parent. I am far too selfish – which isn’t always a bad thing because I think it’s good to know yourself – and I am okay with that.

Parenting isn’t for me.

A Happier 2017 – Be Yourself

One of Rubin’s resounding messages in her book and blog is to “Be Gretchen” – meaning, of course, to be who YOU are at the core. Yesterday’s Page A Day calendar spelled it out with a bit more verbosity: “It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations.” (Bertrand Russell)

In our oversharing society it can be all to easy to mistake another’s goals, dreams, and visions for your own. Seeing a photo or reading a story about an amazing trip, location, or adventure can absolutely inspire us to want to recreate it – and that’s great! It’s good to learn more about the world around us. However, it’s important to focus on doing what you TRULY want to do. If all your friends are going to Cuba because it’s hip now, but you don’t speak Spanish and you’ve been dying to hike through Japan…then go to Japan, Instagram hashtags be damned.

And on a smaller scale, don’t waste your time reading books you don’t like.

Most of the time – I would say probably 92% of the time – I finish absolutely every book or movie I pick up. I strongly dislike leaving anything unfinished, regardless of whether I like the characters or storyline. I feel even if I disagree with an author or director, I’ll have something to discuss with others after the fact. However, I occasionally come across some I can’t get into, no matter how hard I try – this is coming from the woman who spent a considerable amount of time one year reading books on string theory and quantum physics just to attempt to grasp the theories.

Last night I was pumped to begin reading a book about the history of vegetarianism in America, especially since I’d just posted about my personal history of vegetarianism. I got comfy, opened the page, and dug in. The introduction alone put me off – an awful lot of references to religion and religious leaders. The author’s bio at the end of the intro confirmed a position as a professor of theology. Okay – it’s not my jam, but I can learn something from most people. I pressed on to Chapter 1.

It was the shortest chapter in the book and I couldn’t book it down fast enough. I made myself finish the chapter but I could do no more. The book touched on Pythagoras and a handful of other non-religion-based historical vegetarians, but the vast majority were Christian vegetarians. I have no problem with vegetarians of any faith (nor lack thereof), but I was expecting to read about how vegetarianism took shape with early settlers due to growing conditions and crops, not how early settlers came to America to escape religiously-based vegetarianism persecution. No thanks. I’d recently read Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression and was expecting something of similar quality and scope. Not so with the book on vegetarianism.

I put it down at the end of the chapter and returned it to the library this morning. I could have read it, but I gave myself permission to stop because it wasn’t enriching my life. I have other books on hand to dive into (John Muir, anyone?) and if I’m going to devote a few hours of my life to learning something, I’d like to enjoy the subject at hand.

Be yourself. Give yourself permission not to do what everyone else is doing. Give yourself permission to change your mind on something if you find it’s not to your liking – that’s the only way we can grow.

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?

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.