Friday, October 14, 2016

The great outdoors

Being wanderlust and all, I fantasize about being outside and on the go constantly. I spend 40 hours/week strapped to a desk, and though I love (adore, actually) my job and the people I work with, I still find myself dreaming of being out in the world as much as possible. It fuels me. I work to travel. Travel fuels my motivation at work. As soon as I get back from one adventure, I brainstorm my next. It's a cycle that I hope I never outgrow.

My entire childhood, we camped and hiked and played in creeks and roughed it in the great outdoors. Those were our vacations. (We even camped at Disney World!) It was overkill for me because I felt like I didn't have a say in those decisions--I was outdoorsy by birth and not by my own choice. I compensated by shunning the outdoors for many years of my young adult life and even tried to convince myself that I was a city girl.

These past few years that I've spent in deep introspection, though? I had an epiphany and found a gaping hole in my life: outside, fresh air, mountains, patches of earth few humans have ever trod, nature sounds, endless skies of stars and clouds. I would rather be away and separate from than included in any day of the week, any week of the year. I'm a mountain momma through and through. It's in my blood, deep down in the very cells of my being.

There is just something so thrilling and cathartic about conquering a trail, a mountain. For me, it's like I'm climbing over all the gunk in my brain to a place of serene mental clarity. Like when I'm so small--this teeny tiny cog in the great wheel of the planet--that I somehow become immense in power and assuredness. Flashy and grandiose? Nah, keep it. I am a speck out there in nature, but I am sure and steady and totally content.

The blisters, the screaming muscle groups, the sweat, the cool/sharp/humid/dry/hot air hitting my lungs, the soreness, the dull drone of too much uphill/downhill trekking all at once, the fact that I'm fairly certain I'm going to lose my left big toenail--none of it matters because what I'm chasing on that trail is so intrinsically worthwhile that it supercedes all the setbacks.

This summer I hiked to Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's a relatively simple hike, though physically taxing. 2.7 miles up a mountain; 2.7 miles back down--about 3.5 hours in all. I hiked it all by myself at a time when I was desperate for some time to soul-search. My daughter was visiting her family in Pennsylvania, and I was all alone with a mess of thoughts to contend with and make sense of. I spent a handful of hours on the trail, but I took home heaping buckets of insight into myself, my life, where I want to go, what I want to see, the person I want to be. I stopped to take a swig of water from my Nalgene at one of several creek crossings, and I was so overwhelmed by my clarity against the sounds of birds in the trees, rustling leaves, and the trickling creek that I burst into tears. It's a feeling I can't even begin to describe. It may even sound stupid to anyone reading this, but I don't even care. It was so meaningful to me that I've thought of this hike--this exact moment--every time I've felt down in the dumps since then.

4 days ago, my dad and I hiked Rainbow Falls all the way up to the top of the mountain (Mt. LeConte), where we saw the sights from LeConte Lodge. Though it had only been 3 months since I was last on the trail, I felt like I was an entirely new person. The same path that was covered in fallen pinky-white rhododendron blooms just months before was now coated in a vibrant splay of purple, crimson, green, orange, and golden autumn leaves. The same change that I could feel within myself was literally visible on the ground beneath me...a blossoming to a prounounced deepening and maturation. It's amazing to me how nature mirrors the phases of our lives.

On this hike, I knew I would be tested. I recently made a vow to myself to always hike with the Ten Essentials, even on day hikes, so I had a pack of at least 10 lbs on the way up and 15 on the way down (I had some t-shirts and snacks we purchased at the top and newly refilled water bottle/bladder). I knew we would have at least a 13-mile day. I knew it would be unrelentingly uphill to the summit and just as steadily downhill on our return. I knew we would have a very full day and would be physically and mentally tired. Despite knowing what I was in for, there were still surprises and adrenaline rushes. That's something else deeply beautiful about being outdoors: you can be as prepared as all get out, and nature will still have unexpected fortunes in store for you.

All that being said, I reached my actual physical limit on this hike. I think better-quality boots would make a slight difference for me, but I can confidently say that for now, 16.5 miles is my limit. I think that's a pretty cool thing to know about myself. Maybe the AT is in my future as a section hike series, and I'll gladly accept that challenge if/when the time comes. But for now, I'll keep seeking out these day-hike mini adventures; they are enough.

Adventuring outside is no longer an option for me, but an absolute necessity to my being. Life, time, thought, perception, emotion, and expectation all take on completely different meaning when you're in an environment over which you have no control. And all the creature comforts like hot coffee, ice cold beer, cars, steamy showers, lotion, deodorant, mascara, warm socks, and dry clothes all take on different comfort when you return to them from the great unknown. This will never not be worth it.

Until next time, Mother Nature.


Friday, October 7, 2016

A new phase of motherhood

The last few months have been really hard for me as a mom and just for our household in general.

Kimmy and I have had a huge routine adjustment. We've transitioned from having our awesome babysitter and her 2 sons in our home every day to earlier mornings of getting ready for school and work together and rushing out the door. In addition to preschool, we've added in dance class (and an inevitable fast-food dinner) on Thursday nights. We don't get home until 5:30pm most days and 7:15pm on Thursdays. Dinner happens soon after we get home. Then it's bath, books, and bedtime with lights out at 8:00pm. We're exhausted. We're cranky. We have a hard time listening attentively. We lack patience with each other. There are lots of apologies. Days are long and full.

But we're happy.

Kimmy is learning so, so much at school. She knows all her letters and can count to 20 (higher with my help). She asks me to spell every word under the sun, and she's starting to read beginner sight words with repetition. We read all the time, and she's so very interested in it. I love watching the gears turn behind her eyes. Oh, and she gets a TON of playtime. I really love her school.

Our life is filled with book fairs, kids' birthday parties, stacks of preschool artwork, playdates with school friends, long Saturdays of errands, and a messy house we're never in, except to sleep.

I guess I didn't realize how quickly it would happen once Kimmy started school and new activities, but I'm finally making friends in this town. This has been my biggest challenge in Bloomington--since it's a college town, people come and go and move on to different states and places in their lives. It's hard to make and keep friends because before you blink, they're done with this town and off and away. I haven't clicked with anyone in a close friends type of way until now. It's such a relief! Our next door neighbor and her kids rock; we have a ton in common. I know a few dance moms. I know a handful of school moms. I don't feel so isolated anymore! It's really nice to have a few people who are in the same phase of life with me. The introduction and hand-shaking phase is awkward at first (just like networking, which I suck at), but the rewards are great. I'm really excited to ride this wave.

Anyway, I'm just thankful for this phase of motherhood. My heart has been wavering a bit lately between trying to pull me back home to WV (where my friends and family and the great outdoors are, but where jobs and good benefits and a liberal mentality are not) and staying here. Now that the dullest part of my life is filling out a bit, I think I'll stay awhile--at least until I'm done with grad school.

Bloomington will forever be the place I remember as my growing place, no matter where I end up. This is where I found myself again and where I chose to plant my feet firmly, even when the soil was slippery wet. One day I'll look back on these challenging few years and smile knowing that I got to a place where the stress isn't quite so heavy, all while taking it in stride. If I've got one thing going for me, it's grit.

Now if I could just find the time and motivation to get in shape. Or maybe that's in a season up ahead, too.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016


I'm an introvert. As if anyone didn't know.

Sometimes I can't function in an out-loud fashion. I have these bouncing, fleeting, swirling thoughts that I need complete quiet to assess. I have to hole up and retreat inside myself and connect the bigger picture in my head. I'm always searching for profundity in all things, big and small. (There are actually a bunch of cool words for this phenomenon.) It's just my thing. I have been this way for as long as I can remember.

I holed up on Saturday.

When I go into myself like this, I just stop talking to my peeps for days on end. I avoid small talk at all costs (but let's be honest: I do this all the time because if I have nothing worthwhile to say or think that I'm responding to something that has no depth, I would rather not talk at all). It's like I can't come back out of my shell until I'm defragmented on the inside.

Until recently, I couldn't even put words to what this process is like, but here's my crack at a semi-articulate version. It's kind of like the 5 stages of grief as I weave back and forth through the different steps until I'm at resolution.

Step 1: Self-analysis. I like to see if I can boil traits and characteristics and flaws I have down to the events or people in my life that may have caused or shaped them. Basically I try to figure out why I am the way I am...why I do things, think things, and interpret things as I do.

Step 2: Complete radio silence. As little speaking as possible. Lots of reading. Lots of sleeping (well, as much as my hectic schedule will allow). Lots of calm and quiet surrounding my in-process thoughts.

Step 3: Synthesis. I start to think in essay-like structure about the dots I've been connecting, and then I write in my journal a lot. Though last night I couldn't find my journal ANYWHERE. I tore my house apart. I am so bummed. But I absolutely had to write in that moment to get clarity on a few things, so I made due with another notebook. It's amazing how cathartic it is to purge onto the page.

Step 4: Music. I go on a total music binge. I will stay awake hours past my bedtime to soak in as many tunes as possible in this phase. Last night I was up until 2:30am listening to Wild + Free on Spotify.

Step 5: Revamp. When I'm almost done cleaning up my insides, I start to goal-set and focus on a handful of very particular things. This week I've been hyper-focused on homework, clean eating, and drinking tons of water. My goal has been 1 gallon of water per day, and today will be the 3rd day in a row I've hit it. I tend to be kind of chronically dehydrated all the time (a bizarre holdover from my aversion to drinking water when I was pregnant with Kimmy), so it's good to feel hydrated and refreshed!

Once I'm revamped and in a groove, I re-join society.

Kinda weird, right? But it's me. Introvert through and through.