Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Perfect In My Imperfection!

Recent haul from Sprouts market
The other day I told a friend that veganism is an imperfect way of living. At best, you can only hope to do so much. Each decision is fraught with a "good, better, best" type of mentality. It's OK though (even though it doesn't feel that way but it has to be for my own sanity) because I feel that in the long run, each day I am helping some animal somewhere to stay alive, even if my decisions aren't perfect.

I think my take on veganism can be extrapolated out to life in general. Life itself is imperfect. Living is imperfect. There is no other way. Take the above photo as an illustration of the point. (And bear in mind that this is just one example.) Today was market day for me and the above pic shows part of my haul. Do you see anything wrong with anything there? I do. I see stuff  that I hemmed and hawed over, grappled with a bit and then settled for the lesser of several evils in my choices. Let's take things apart, OK?

Packaging: One of my goals this year is to reduce the amount of packaging that I throw away (and buy to begin with). It's a tall order. Our recycling company won't take a Whole Bunch of Stuff! Plastic wrapping (like on the mushrooms) is one of the items that is a no-no. Likewise for the plastic bag that the slaw comes in. They will however take the plastic container that the lettuce comes in so that is good. Why did I buy those "bad" items then if they can't be recycled? The reason is because I am a work in progress. Remember I said above that life is not perfect? Well, I am not perfect either. I really wanted to try out that slaw. And next time, I am buying the mushrooms in bulk. I already decided.  My reasoning though for the lapse in judgement is that I tried to use my own bags for most items that I bought and I also did buy some packaged things that can be recycled (see the cans of beans?).

What about those beans?: I bought those beans in case of an emergency. An emergency could be as simple as I ran out of prepared beans from the freezer or as dire as our electricity has been cut off due to fires and I lost the beans in the freezer because they defrosted and I couldn't keep everything cold. The good news is that the beans are organic (yay, for good farming practices!), "lowered sodium", and the cans can be recycled. The bad news is that the beans came from a processing plant somewhere that probably uses a ton of fossil fuels and water to get the beans to market. So, bad news there. I don't even want to imagine about the workers picking and dealing with those beans.

How about those potatoes?: Most of that produce is not organic. To me, the organic designation makes a difference in two ways: how the land is treated and how seriously a company takes things. (Pesticide usage matters a lot too but in terms of eating the food, I don't worry too much. I do worry about the soil, water, and animals, however.) Now, there are plenty of companies that follow best practices and take very good care of their land and their product. I try to buy from those folks. An organic designation is very expensive though and time consuming to acquire. Many companies do without but also are very responsible. That designation is important though and I hope one day it won't be so expensive for small companies.

What about the rest of the stuff not shown?: I bought dry goods too and used my own bags. All of my produce, save the packaged items, went into my own bags too. So, that's a win. I did buy a bag of frozen vegetables (bag is not recyclable) and some tempeh (wrapped in non recyclable plastic). I bought some things in tetra packs and those are recyclable (Think almond milk and vegetable stock).

What about your car and the mileage?: Well, goodness! Now we are getting down to the gnat's rear-end aren't we? Yes, I drove round trip about 5o miles to go to this store. My town has a grocery store but the produce isn't always fresh. I will be making some ferments tomorrow and the produce needs to be good to begin with. (Garbage in, garbage out!) I do this sort of long distance trip about once a month. The rest of the time I shop at my local store which, by the way, is also a split decision. The prices can be higher on some items but I have used less gas and non-renewable energy to get to the store. I am also supporting a local business which feels good.

Honestly, I am not complaining about the decision making. It's a gift to be able to choose isn't it? Many people can't and so that is important to remember when you are stalled out in the vegetable aisle. As I said above though and as I have been saying a lot lately, life is not perfect. I don't mean that my life is messy or chaotic. I work hard not to have that sort of stuff going on. But the choices I make every day are usually a split of some sort and the split is not always super. I believe strongly though in "the lesser of two evils" concept when making decisions. If I didn't take this tactic I would never make any decisions! This kind of approach has developed as I have gotten older and I think it works well. I am not advocating that you abdicate a conscientious approach to decision making because it is the easier way to go but simply that some degree of reasonableness has to come into the process. My belief is that veganism and whatever way of life you want to adopt is an ongoing discussion. It can't be perfect but it can't be put off either. Quite frankly, the longer you wait to act because things need to be 'just right", the more animals will perish, the more things will stay the same, and the less impact you will have overall. Now, go chew on a Beyond Meat burger and eat some organic vegetables!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 20, 2019

How To Shop at Costco Without Losing Your Mind

Something positive to think of along with the tips in the article:)

Why is it that shopping at Costco leaves me drained and depressed? Is it the overwhelming and insidious quest to consume? Marketing mayhem gone mad? Packaging overkill? I don't really know. Whatever it is, it gets me down. And what happens when I get down? I reflect. Reflection can be the antidote for anxiety. So that is just what I did after my last trip to the store. I turned things over in my mind and came up with some reasons for why a trip to this store is so bothersome and then some solutions for making those trips a little easier. 

Costco really can upset me. Part of my distress has to do with trying to live a "healthy" life and the way I feel grocery stores  undermine those efforts. There are whole aisles to avoid in a grocery store because the food there simply doesn't carry much nutritional weight. Those aisles contain "treats" (things that are for once in awhile) or foods that we know simply aren't great for us on a long term basis. 

Other reasons for being upset have to do with portion size. What's presented to us as consumers in the way of pre packaged items is a very large package indeed! And before you say anything, I know that large quantities of items are the point of Costco-you are supposed to save money by buying in bulk. The problem is that people are notoriously bad about portion sizes, myself included. When left to our own devices we will almost always eat more than we intend and part of that has to do with pre-portioned servings. We suck at cutting servings in half or saving some for later. 

In addition to larger portions of things, there is also the excessive packaging issue. Our recycler here where I live won't take a bunch of stuff, a lot of which I saw on my recent shopping trip. That over packaging and use of unrecyclable materials creates another problem with putting things into the ever growing landfill. It makes no sense to buy beautiful, frozen organic broccoli which is encased in miles of plastic packaging that will only end up somewhere and never decompose.

It seems like the list of badness is never ending but there must be a silver lining somewhere. There are some positive points. Costco (and other stores like it) do help in a sense. They are good for people who resell items in a retail setting. Large families can benefit from bigger quantities. Multiple households can also team up to buy together. There are foods there with stable shelf lives and so in theory, a family could stock up on essentials. People who give parties or who host family or work gatherings might also find the store helpful since it stocks prepackaged items meant for those occasions. And there are other services at the store such as an optical department and a photo center. 

The store isn't so great for individuals or smaller families, however. There isn't much there that you couldn't get for a comparable price, say at a store like Safeway or at Trader Joes. One person doesn't really need a whole lot of food all at once to eat healthfully. Seriously, are you going to eat 12 breakfast muffins? Is that huge bag of potatoes going to last? How about 4 cantaloupes? Can you do that? Probably not. 

I am certain that others have done the math and that most likely, there are charts detailing why a store like Costco may or may not be more economical in the long run. Statistics like that don't really interest me. I don't mean that I have money to burn. Far from it. What I am interested in, however, is how to continue shopping at this store and not losing my mind. I should explain too that my husband probably would not give up the idea of belonging to Costco so quitting isn't an option. If you know me at all, I have some ideas on how to cope. 

First, recognize that Costco is simply a giant grocery store. Take the Costco-generated marketing uniqueness out of the picture and it becomes way more manageable. Remember how regular grocery stores are set up. Healthy, perishable items are frequently found in the perimeter of the store. Things like fresh fruits and vegetables (also frozen), some meats, some breads and some dairy items are usually placed in a ring around the store.  At my local Costco, there is one long section of the store that contains rows and rows of foods that are a mixed bag. This section is akin to the center aisles of a regular grocery store. These aisles contain snack foods, foods meant to be eaten as treats or in limited quantities, and foods that in general, contain lots of ingredients, many of which might not be so great for you on a long term basis. The big catch here is that there are also some pretty good items mixed in with the not so good items. Staple items like beans and healthy grains, plain pastas, canned vegetables, and some reasonably healthy snacks such as hummus and pre cut veggies. The drawback is that you are exposed to all of the other items while looking for the good stuff. You could get derailed. 

How then do you keep from going astray in the process of shopping? There are some ways to work the store more effectively. Some of the tips have to do with simple psychology or with being practical and some have to do with the foods that you select to buy. Keep in mind that this is my personal list and that I am a vegan. Everyone has their own definition of what "staples" are, what is "healthy", and what foods are for snacks, treats, and everyday consumption. 

1. Make a list and stick to it: 
It doesn't matter if it is electronic or written, a list is key. I believe firmly that you are less likely to overbuy if you have a list. Make sure to stick to the list. Cross items off as they go in your cart. (That also gives a sense of accomplishment and validates your list making efforts.) If something looks interesting and it isn't on the list, don't do a mind trip on yourself (Libby) about how you could use that item, just write it on the list and mark it as "saved for later." The strategy works pretty well. I only bought 3 extra items on this last trip (which is better than what I normally do).

2. Get psychological:
Part of the problem with Costco is FOMO-fear of missing out. Absolutely everyone in the store is consuming...and likely getting a good deal...and might buy what you are looking at too...and they are in a hurry. Somehow, being in that store creates a frantic sense of urgency. Maybe Costco pipes in some chemical through the air ducts that makes you crazy, I don't know. Whatever it is, it's bad news for us anxious types. In order to combat the above issues, I do a little self talk. It sounds like this: "I, personally, am not in a hurry. I can always come back for whatever I see and don't buy." 

3. Do not shop when hungry!:
This sort of goes without saying but we all do it. The store opens at 10 and it usually takes me an hour to finish. My lunch time is between 11 and 11:30. I have to have my lunch with me or all Hell might break loose! I also eat a snack on the way there so as not to be hungry when I walk in the door. Whatever it is that you do, don't go into that store hungry to begin with and certainly don't end your trip with needing to eat lunch. Go after lunch if at all possible. Just don't go hungry.

4. Focus on staples: 
If you look carefully enough, Costco has some great staple items. Apples keep very nicely in the refrigerator. Bread can be frozen. The store does carry some basic, unadorned grains such as quinoa, rice, and oatmeal. There are also canned beans and vegetables-just rinse them prior to use to alleviate some of the sodium. (They are also good in a pinch when you are pressed for time.) I also buy canned tomatoes (organic and very low in sodium). There is a good selection of unsalted nuts (may not be organic) and lots of dried fruit (great in small amounts as a snack or on top of that oatmeal). Costco now carries almond milk and they of course have regular milk and if you are into it, some cheese and plain yogurt. I don't buy the meat (except for Rich) but you can get salmon (of different origins) and skinless chicken. They also used to sell organic frozen chicken which I haven't seen in awhile. Organic peanut butter is another staple along with chia seeds and some unsalted spices. Please note that I am a vegan so these are all staples of my diet. As I mentioned above, everyone has their own staples. Make sure you know what they are.

5. Make up your mind about prepackaged food:
Many, many people eat prepackaged foods and for a variety of different reasons. They are convenient and do take the guesswork out of cooking. That convenience does come at a price, however. Prepackaged foods often have lots of additives which helps them to be tasty and shelf stable. It helps to look at the nutrition label when deciding. Many foods can fit nicely into an otherwise balanced diet. Some foods are special treats and some should probably be avoided. Only you can decide. I will say that I pass up whole aisles of food items because they just won't give me the nutrition that I want. I have the time to cook from scratch and that is what I do. Do your own thing please.

6. Don't be fooled by healthy food that is over packaged:
I mentioned above about the frozen broccoli. It seemed like a total win until I saw that within that plastic bag each serving of broccoli came in a smaller, microwaveable plastic bag. That's a ton of plastic that my recycler won't take and that will go into the landfill. That stinks! Back it went. Look for other packaging gaffs like this and pass them up, even if they might be organic and good for you. Try to get them at the regular grocery store fresh and bring your own bags, for goodness sakes. 

7. Know the reason for your visit to Costco:
This is another psychological view on things. Are you headed to Costco to shop because you are bored or otherwise trying to fill some empty time? Nothing wrong with this of course but if you find yourself making multiple trips in a month, maybe more than you want to admit to or that are necessary, then perhaps it's time to reexamine your recreational habits. My point here is that you may end up overbuying (and overspending) because you don't need to and are shopping out of habit or boredom. There could be something else to fill your time that would be less costly and cause you less grief.

It's likely that come January, I will once again make a trip to Costco. My husband likes the coffee that we buy there and shopping at the store is a deeply ingrained habit in my household. I have my list though and will be girding my loins for the psychological fight to stay sane.  I hope the above ideas will be useful for some of you that belong to Big Box stores. And if you don't belong to one of these outfits, good for you! Hang on to your money, your time, and your sanity is what I say.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Toast, Toast and More Toast!

BLACK+DECKER TO1950SBD 6-Slice Convection Countertop Toaster Oven, Includes Bake Pan, Broil Rack & Toasting Rack, Stainless Steel/Black Convection Toaster Oven

This is hardly a revelation, but everything you own and everything you do takes up space and time. 

I just purchased a new toaster oven. After years of owning a traditional toaster, I decided to try something different. My move was prompted by a bread recipe. I make this bread that doesn't contain whole wheat flour and hence, no gluten. Gluten gives structure to bread. I like gluten, nothing wrong with it, but I started to make this quinoa/oatmeal bread to broaden my nutritional horizons. The issue is that the bread tends to fall apart in a traditional toaster. It just doesn't have the wherewithal to stand upright and to be subjected to the toasting process. So, laying the bread flat in the toaster oven works really well. The toaster oven works great for this purpose but now, what do I do about that toaster? (My husband still wants to use the regular toaster so it has to stay.)

The answer is that I had to make room for it on the shelf in the pantry. That means that I had to move items on that shelf elsewhere which also means that I had to create space in another place. Furthermore, I now own two toasting appliances. Granted, they do different things but I own a traditional oven too. It uses propane. My toaster oven is electric. We pay a whopping amount of money to fill up our propane tank so using the propane powered stove for all of my cooking makes the best monetary sense. It just goes on and on. 

Many years ago I read a book about simple living. In it, the author discussed what it means to own a lot of things. Every time you buy something, you must care for it in some way. Make room for it, clean it, service it, etc. It's there, taking up space in your home and it requires your effort and time. The author's point is not just about dealing with your possessions. Her larger point has to do with how you choose to spend your time. The more things you buy, the more you have to deal with those things and the less time you may have to do something else. 

That broader concept of what you choose to spend your time and energy on has stayed with me. These days, I tend to ask myself this question: How would I spend my time differently if I wasn't doing ______? (Fill in the blank.) My purchase of the toaster oven reminded me of this idea and the need to question where my efforts go. Are the activities and tasks worthwhile to me? Are they going to further one of my goals? It sounds a little mercenary and maybe it is. Asking questions is OK.

Am I sorry I now own two appliances that do similar things? No. I spent time researching the toaster oven and I am satisfied with the results. It's a luxury to own two appliances that will toast your bread. The experience has made me think though about how I want to spend my time. I am reminded that time is precious and how I choose to spend it matters. Do I want to take care of one more thing or could my time be better spent doing something else? I think I know the answer.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Walk in The Woods...

Lots of wildflowers!

Seems peaceful enough...

Bad selfie taken shortly before incident

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been hiking regularly for about 3 years now and I have been lucky. Let me tell you what happened.

On Friday I took myself off to Big Trees State Park in Arnold. I needed some Libby-time. I know that I am home with myself all day and that should be enough time but really, I just needed some space not to think about the laundry and dinner and everything else like that. So off for a hike I went.

I have been to Big Trees State Park many times over the years and have always felt very safe. The park, particularly the North Grove where the visitor's center is located, is well populated. I haven't ever really been nervous. Yesterday was no exception. I hiked around the floor of the North Grove and headed up to the overlook. I got up there, slowly, and hiked out onto a kind of plateau/rock outcropping to eat my apple. I sat down, looked around, ate my snack and sort of spaced out. It's what I do when I hike by myself. I try to empty my mind as much as possible. I try to relax. 

In the midst of the peace and quiet, all of a sudden I heard a very loud air horn. That sound was followed quickly by the noise of a truck speeding off and going very fast down the road back towards the main parking lot. For the briefest of moments, I wondered if that sound was an air horn/bear horn sort of noise. (I even laughed at that expression!) People carry air horns to scare off wild life so that is why that thought entered my mind. My next thought, followed quickly on the heels of that one, was that couldn't possibly be the reason for that noise. I can't tell you how quickly my Rational Mind squashed my Speculating Mind. Kicked it to the curb in about ten seconds flat. That was that.

I finished my apple, got back onto the trail, and started down the hill for the rest of my hike. I hadn't gotten very far before I saw two rangers coming towards me. As they approached, I asked them both what that air horn noise was all about. The one ranger spoke up and said that there had been a bear sighting at the top of the trail (where I had just come from) a few moments ago. They (the rangers) were coming up the trail to see if there was anyone up there (presumably to warn them). I said, well yes, I was up there. Or had been up there. I have a knack for stating the obvious so I asked them if they were telling me that there was a bear in the vicinity. They answered that yes, that was true, and she was there with her cubs. Three of them. Wow. Just wow. The ranger went on to say that they have several bears in the park and the bears are all very safe. (Safe? Seriously? A funny choice of words I would say.) This bear, however, was kind of a problem because of the cubs. She evidently had taken to putting them in the trees, at which point I glanced nervously upwards and then back at the rangers. They assured me that everything was fine (right) and that it was safe to go back down the hill. They had just come from that direction after all (right again).

Down I went, in a hurry. The quickest way to get me off a hillside or mountain apparently is to let me know that there is a bear in the area. I made some good time and didn't trip over anything in the process of descending. I finished my hike and got back to my car, crisis averted. For now.

I say for now because as crazy at it seems, I am likely to go back. Maybe even alone. I can't always find someone to go with. People always wind these types of stories up with the fact that we live in the bears' territory and we need to get used to that fact. Duh!, is what I say. That isn't a consoling or helpful kind of comment. The fact that we have encroached on wild habitat is not new and that isn't what I was so interested in actually regarding the entire episode. What really got me going was how quickly Rational Mind squashed Speculating Mind. Rational Mind stepped right in and pushed all thoughts of bears out of the picture. I convinced myself in a heartbeat, without consciously deciding to do so, that the air horn sound had nothing to do with a bear. I wonder if that is some kind of survival technique? Sort of like if you fell over the edge of a cliff. Would you know for a very long time that you were going to die or would that part of your mind just shut off? I guess no one has lived to report on this question.

I am laughing about things now but in reality, I have been soundly shaken. Every time I hike I am in someone else's home. I am the visitor. Being negligent by not paying close attention because you have become complacent or because you think you have a "right" to be there is a very dangerous thing. I am lucky that I got off with just a slap on the wrist, so to speak. When I got back to the forest floor where all the visitors were walking around, I wanted to tell all of them to pay attention, to wake up! I can assure you that I myself am now awake and will be vigilant the next time I go hiking. Oh, and I am ordering an air horn/bear horn from Amazon.

Thanks for reading and commenting,
Libby PS-Happy Hiking!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

On Mothers, Mothering, and Memories

Carol Fahrbach, my mom
Photo by my Aunt Corliss

That is my mom pictured above. She sure loved her Red Hat Ladies and all of their fun events. Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of my mom's passing. I can't believe it has been that long. In many ways, the night she collapsed and was hospitalized and the following day that she died seem like things that just happened yesterday. Though there is an immediacy to my memories of that time, there is also a remoteness. The passage of time can soften the edges of things if you allow it to. There really is truth to the fact that there isn't a day that goes by without thinking about someone who you have lost. 

Wednesday was no exception. The days leading up to that day were kind of vaguely hard for me. I couldn't really put my finger on why though. The best I can do is to say that I miss having someone to "mother" me. The last couple of days I have been considering how most of us need some kind of parental figure regardless of how old we get or who that figure might be. Even when our own parents are gone or absent in some way, I think we seek out the company of others who will fill that missing role for us. 

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with some people who became "surrogate" mothers for me. For a time, I worked at a bank and had a group of older ladies that kind of "mothered" me. They provided different examples of mothering, ones that I hadn't considered or perhaps didn't think applied to me and my own mom. One woman showed me how to both love and be pissed off at her family at the same time! Another woman showed me how love is something that can be elastic and can overlook deficiency; her love for her wayward daughter showed no monetary (or emotional) boundaries. My manager at the time, also a mom of three older, married men, was the master of diplomacy. She seemed to be able to test the boundaries with both her sons and daughters-in-law just enough to get her point across. She was also the same person who "adopted" another young woman at the branch whose mom lived far away. They really were like mother and daughter. I got to see up close too how a mom's idea of the parental/child relationship can be unrealistic and that a parent can be disappointed and sad when those expectations don't work out. As a group, the ladies that I worked with turned their mothering focus on me occasionally. I was included in after work activities, events that included socializing at dinner, going to the movies, and attending concerts in our local park. I felt "loved" in a way and like I belonged somewhere. This all came at a time when my relationship with my own mom was still pretty good. I did find myself floundering however with regard to having "family" and these ladies helped to fill in that gap.

There are also times when I have received "mothering" from women who are older than me but who aren't moms, per se. My oldest and dearest friend is seven years older than me. She isn't a mom (to a human child at least, she is a dog mom though) but her experience is invaluable and when she offers advice or observations, I listen. Additionally, my oldest sister-in-law has been a tremendous help, giving me some gentle prodding and poking when I needed it most. Her support of me through a very difficult medical time (and at all other times as well) is a true gift and one I won't forget. Over the years too, I have had women friends who are without exception, older than me. I find that the age gap helps me somehow and draws me to them. I pay attention when they tell me things that they have learned over the years. Their life experiences help me to fill in the gaps that are missing in my personal education. 

As I had a chance to reflect these last couple of days, I know in my heart that mothering can come from a place where you least expect it. When my mom was dying, my aunt (her sister) came to help my dad at the hospital. Because my relationship with my mom at that point had been strained for awhile I hadn't really seen my aunt much over the past couple of years. She was there though at the hospital and was a tremendous help to me. My mom's passing created an additional "hole" for me. There is some extra pain I think, an added layer of grief that exists, when your parent passes and you haven't always gotten on well with them. My aunt though stepped right in to fix things. I now meet regularly with both my aunt and cousin (my aunt's younger daughter) for lunch. We are frequently joined by my other aunt too. She is technically my cousin's aunt but I consider her to be my aunt too. The three of them have provided some real comfort to me over the past five years. They are a gracious crew; no one says anything to me about past transgressions. There isn't anything but love and kindness. Every time I drive away after finishing one of our lunches, I am so grateful for the blessing of their company.

As I mentioned above, the old adage of not a day going by without thinking of a loved one who has passed, is very true. Thank goodness that there are other people who are willing to step in, whether knowingly or not, to provide support, care and love; to fill the gap that a loved one leaves behind when they pass away. No matter how old you get, you still need a "mom" or "dad" to help you along on your journey. Thank goodness that families and friends are there for us when we need them.

Thanks for reading, 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

On Being Your Own Worst Enemy!

Pardee Reservoir, Calaveras County

This is as green as our county gets!

This creek was difficult to pass two years ago. Yesterday it was just a hop, skip and a jump!

See that little clearing at the top? We were on that ridge!

There was a profusion of flowers towards the end of the hike. A real treat!

That's me, on Patti's Pt, with the Mokelumne River and Pardee Reservoir in the background.

The hillsides were covered with all sorts of orange and yellow flowers.

Yesterday, Earth Day, was my birthday. I turned 49 this year, no mean feat! My friends, who are older than me, tell me that I am just a baby still. Let's hope so.

I also went on a memorable hike yesterday to celebrate, quietly and inwardly, and to see what I could do for myself physically and mentally. It was a kind of perfect day really: great weather, an abundance of wildflowers, and enjoyable company. In short, a great day for a very long hike.

Originally, I was just going to start out with my friends, hike about 4 miles in and then turn around without them and hike the 4 miles back alone. I hike alone all of the time so no problem there. Turning back seemed like a good option for me because I felt it would be too hot to hike the full distance of 11 miles. I also believed that 11 miles was too long of a distance for me, physically. Eight miles is about my comfort level for the weather and terrain that we have here. (Note that I mention the weather and terrain. People always assume that it is the distance that makes a hike difficult or not and that is really only partially the truth. Factors such as the weather, elevation, elevation gain and loss, terrain underfoot, health conditions, sleep status and mental game are all variables to consider.)

Anyway, that was the plan. Well, as they say about the best laid plans, things can change. And change they did! We got to hiking and arrived at a section of the trail that I hadn't seen in awhile. It was so beautiful. There were so many flowers to see already but my friend told me that there were more to come, particularly towards the last 2 miles or so. Physically, I felt good (we were about 4 miles in) and the weather was just right-warm with a cool breeze. Perfect as I said above. So, I felt I could walk a little farther. Who am I kidding? I knew I was just going to continue walking. And so I did. 

At about the 5 mile mark I knew that I couldn't turn back so that option was off the table anyway. That made me nervous. Real nervous. What if I couldn't complete the hike? What if some body part hurt too much and walking wasn't possible? What if the heat made me sick? Did I really have enough water? Enough food? What if, what if, what if!!! I can "what if" myself to death. So, I just stopped and mentally decided that whatever happened, I would handle it. Just shut up, and handle it.

All of the above mental discussion is typical. My friend pointed out to me that I worry a lot. Really? I think it is OK to worry. It's one way to work through things. The problem arises however when your worrying prevents you from enjoying something or worse yet, keeps you from doing something. In that way, it's possible to become your own worst enemy. 

How to get past it though. It depends. It's helpful to ask if what you are concerned about is realistic or not. Could it actually happen? One of the things I was concerned about was getting overheated and possibly becoming sick. I have had that happen before on a hike so the possibility is realistic. I was drinking plenty of water though, had on a wide brimmed hat, and was wearing sunscreen. There was shade on much of the trail too and the breeze was cool. So, I kind of talked myself down from that ledge. 

I was also worried about getting hurt and not being able to continue. This is a realistic concern to some extent though I haven't had it happen yet. I try to be careful and I use a hiking pole. Still. The last part of the hike involved a somewhat short but steep descent. Could I do it if I was injured? The answer is likely "yes." I say likely because honestly, if I broke some bone or something all bets would be off. But what if I got a sprain or strain or scraped something? I could probably power through that and get down the hill. So, I mentally worked past this objection too.

In the end, things worked out. I deliberately set the mental chatter aside and kept walking, carefully, one foot in front of the other, and as steadily as I could manage. For those of us with anxiety, fears can be addressed with logic and you can get past them with a little mental chit chat. Positive and realistic self talk can be a very effective tool. I am not sure how often people use it but in my experience, it does work.
I want to stress though that there really are times when your reservations about something that frightens you are valid and those feelings shouldn't be ignored.When considering whether or not to do something though, it's important to ask what is really real. A little "risk assessment" helps. All sorts of things could happen but winnowing down the likely possibilities and seeing how they might be handled is a useful exercise. When considering risk, remember that not every outcome can be anticipated. Taking that into account is a must. And sometimes things really are dangerous. I am thinking about weather conditions here or medical issues that might impact your outcome or you may not have the skills needed to complete the task. Those are important things, things that could be life altering. The rest of it though? Just mental chatter as I mentioned. 

What did I learn yesterday? I learned that I have nice friends who will hike with me and make my day enjoyable. Being 49 is pretty good so far. I also learned that sometimes all conditions converge to make a day "perfect." What a gift that is. And I learned that it is possible to turn your "enemy" in to a "friend." It just takes a little convincing:)

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Even a Housewife Needs a Vacation!

Looking northwest, Point Lobos Park

Looking  northwest, Point Lobos Park

On the trail at Big Sur State Park

Looking towards the Santa Lucia Range at the top of the trail.

Banana slug!

Controversy! Could be wild morning glory or a non native invasive monster!

I just got back from spending 3 days on the California coast, down in the Big Sur area. Big Sur is south of Monterey and Carmel, maybe about 30 miles or so. I was actually in a little spot called Lucia, about another 20 miles or so away and staying at a monastery! The place is called New Camoldoli Hermitage and the men who live there are Roman Catholic Monks. They run a retreat/hostel kind of place where people can come to do whatever they wish to do, in silence. It's a spot for religious contemplation of course but also a place where a person can be quiet for awhile. There is no available Internet, no television or radio, and no talking on the grounds. I live in a small rural area that I thought was quiet and not busy. Boy, was I wrong! This hermitage is the essence of quietness and non busyness. That is a good thing!

Anyway, while I was there, I went to a couple of spots to go hiking. The first place was Point Lobos State Reserve, as shown by the first  two shots above. I also popped in to Big Sur State Park (next 3 shots). While I love the ocean, I really, really love a good redwood forest. Big Sur State Park had everything that you might want: redwoods, chaparral, bay trees, manzanita, wildflowers, and banana slugs! When I got to the top of all of the switchbacks, where the bees and manzanita were, I could see 360 degrees all around. I saw the ocean and then turned to see the mountains. What a treat all in one go!

As I was hiking, I must have greeted and talked with at least two dozen or so people. I was heartened to see all sorts of folk-people of color, kids, older people and everyone else in between. Good news I think. I have to say too that this was possibly the most joyful hiking experience I have had to date. I can't remember feeling so connected to my fellow hikers and being so appreciative of my surroundings. I think sometimes you are simply in sync with what is happening around you. And thank goodness for that. 

Before I left on my trip, my friend (and hairdresser) asked me why I was going; what I hoped to get out of the vacation. I honestly couldn't answer her. I didn't have a real agenda other than to be able to pry myself out of my routine and to go somewhere on my own, a place that I picked, and do something. I was kind of amused by staying with the monks and going to a service but that was it. I knew too that I wanted to hike, and I did that. Beyond those things, I didn't form any ideas of what might happen. 

What was the takeaway? I found that with the silence I was able to think a bit (big surprise that the Internet sucks up your thinking time and makes a bunch of mental noise) and to actually hear myself for once. I was able to do some personal writing which helped. I was also able to answer the question of what I was doing. I think that over time, a person can stop paying attention to themselves; can stop taking in new things that add to their own personal experiences. Those new things are part of what "builds" a person. If you are just focused on being part of a group or couple, or focused on working or being on the Internet or whatever it is that has you twisted up, you might stop "feeding" yourself, so to speak. You might even get a little lost. And it's insidious. It sneaks up on you. You might think that you are taking care to feed yourself well enough, but the truth is that you are probably falling short. You won't know it until it's a little later than you might like.

I will share one of the questions that I wrote down. Maybe it's one you might want to think about too? "How will I continue to form my own ideas about God and my place in the universe?" This question, it isn't small! It's worth considering. My answers had to do with openness and flexibility of thought. Keeping an open ended attitude towards both the new ideas of others and your own ideas is important. I think where many of us fall down is in our rigidity of thinking. How often have you stopped hearing someone because you thought you already "knew" about that subject? Or you stopped listening because you already had an opinion on something? I call this a general kind of resistance and frankly, I do it a lot. I don't mean to suggest that every kooky idea must be considered but you can at least stop yourself from totally shutting down and can then say, "Hey, wait a minute. What about that idea?" I think that in the long run, a willingness to consider something (even if it makes you uncomfortable or you suspect that it is flat out wrong) will create a kind of fullness in your life and that may in turn help you to form your own ideas and to see just exactly where it is that you fit in to the world.

All in all, I am just as pleased as punch that I went. I was able to make the drive which is no small feat considering the shoulder, neck and back pain that often plagues me. The weather was pretty great and there were plenty of wildflowers to check out. My room was spartan but serviceable, I had my quilt and electric blanket, enough to eat and lots to see. Not a bad trip for a housewife!

Alright, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment.

Perfect In My Imperfection!

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