Seems like everyone these days is urging us to get outside, disconnect from our electronics, and connect with the non-human world. But what if we LIKE our indoor, multi-media, virtual world? Here are 5 ways to avoid the risk of nature connection. (On the other hand, if you want to access the enjoyment and the health benefits of time in nature, just do the opposite of these suggestions!)
(Learn more ways to connect with nature HERE. Read about how nature connection helps my daughter manager her anxiety HERE. Consider ways to be an advocate for others HERE. )
Vacation is about to start and we get weary just looking at all the things we still need to cross off our get-out-of-town To-Do lists. We have to arrange for all of our mundane chores to be covered by someone else while we are gone: feed the dog, water the plants, change the kitty’s litter box, and mow the lawn. Don’t forget to call the bank so they won’t freeze our accounts when we use our cards in new locations. Whew! If you are like me, you can’t imagine adding yet MORE things to that pesky list! But stick with me…taking time to do these 10 simple things will make your adventure much more enjoyable!
Give Yourself SPACE to be Spontaneous – Take another look at your itinerary. Delete a few things (or at least change them to “penciled in,” only-a-possibility status). This allows you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or wander through a store that looks interesting. Who knows? You might be lucky like we were on our Epic Road Trip. I found my long-lost Scandinavian ancestor in one town. Andowen found a dragon to ride in another store-yard!
Plan for DELAYS – Leave extra time in your first day and your last day of the trip. This way if there is a traffic jam on the way to the airport, or flights are delayed, or bus drivers are on strike, you have time to make an alternate plan. It helps to avoid planning activities back-to-back for the same reasons. (Besides…you need time to sit back, relax, and just do nothing occasionally…that gives more energy for finding adventure!)
Don’t Leave Your HOBBIES Behind – Bring a few art supplies (warning: not the entire craft room!) or a favorite card game. Do an internet search to see how you can access your favorite activities at your destination. Perhaps there is a game café, or a model rocket club, or a quilt store to explore. Your fitness club or zoo memberships might be reciprocal. Beyond enjoying an afternoon doing your favorite things, this is also a great way to meet local folks with similar interests to your own.
Make LISTS (and lists of lists…and a master list of lists…oh wait! Nevermind…that’s my own obsession speaking…HA!) – It helps to have your itinerary written out and a packing list so you don’t forget necessities. (Plus, a packing list helps ensure you bring home all the items you left with.) The fewer things you are trying to keep track of in your brain, the more you can relax and actually enjoy the adventure!
Choose Your RESCUER! – It is always wise to leave your expected itinerary with someone back home. This way, when an alligator swallows your cell phone (so you no longer respond to texts) or you quit posting photos on fb because you have been captured by a Yeti, someone will know where to start looking for you! Oh wait! Hopefully, you have a marvelous time on your adventure with the only unexpected events being happy ones. (But leave that itinerary with someone…just in case!)
LIGHTEN Your Load – The less you have to schlepp around with you, the happier you will be. Trust me on this one! Set out all the things you think you might need on your trip…then put half of it back in the cupboards. (Unless you are a travel guru who has already mastered safe travel with the least amount of “stuff”–in which case, I would love to have you write a guest post to share your packing wisdom.)
You Can (probably) BUY IT There – This is a corollary to the previous suggestion. Unless you are going to Outer Mongolia or Antarctica, there will most likely be a way to purchase any items you forget to bring. My husband assures me this also applies to food—there WILL be grocery stores at our destination. (I’m not yet convinced this is always true—thus we travel with bags of extra food, just in case. Unless I’m backpacking…then I’ve mastered the quick resupply in towns near the trail.)
Switch to Your Holiday WALLET – There is no reason to carry the zillion and one things you usually have in your purse or even in your wallet. Grab your medical insurance card, your ID, and a credit card and stuff it into a Ziploc baggie along with some cash. (Or separate these items into a few different bags and hide them in seperate dark recesses of your bags.) You won’t need your library card, your local coffee shop punch-card, or your craft store discount card. Really!
DETOX the Frig – For years after we were married, I was grumpy with my husband when he insisted we had to sweep the floors, clean the toilets, and empty the trash before we could leave on a trip. But it is certainly enjoyable to walk back into a clean, fresh-smelling house when we get home from a long trip! (Shhh! Don’t tell him I admitted he is right…)
Make a Final LIBRARY Run – Perhaps you don’t have a pile of books to return. Maybe you don’t “need” a few rom-com fluff books for the beach. But there are audio books to be loaded on your phone and ebooks to be added to your kindle. I’ve been told library accounts are free. Now if I could just get organized enough to avoid the fines!
Make sure your tickets and ID are in hand and there is gas in the car. Lock the doors behind you. And ENJOY your adventure!
(Read about my Wandering Spirit HERE. See my tips for planning your own adventure HERE.)
So you can’t get time off work for the next few months. Or you’ve already used up all your vacation days for the year. What in the world can you do in your boring corner of the world? Try going on a History SCAVENGER HUNT!
Some places are obvious: the restored train depot beside the tracks, the fancy mansions hiding behind wrought iron fences. The factory ruins turned into event center at the local park.
GATHER INFORMATION: Find the stories that go with the obviously old buildings in town. But also look for hidden treasure! Do a quick internet search for the history of your town. Stop by your local tourist information center to ask about maps of local landmarks or walking tours. Talk to the old-timers in your neighborhood. They often have stories to tell about long-ago businesses or events in your area. Even the gift shop or local book store might have clues—found in the books and post cards they sell.
GO FOR A WALK: The best way to discover local history is to walk. At the slower pace, you will notice cornerstones, dates on buildings, and signs describing historic events. (We found out that the county office building used to be the local hospital. Even some of the old-timers didn’t know that tidbit of information!) Talk to folks as you pass by. Workers explained the reason for the swampy low spot near one house—it used to be flooded and frozen in the winter to harvest ice blocks to be stored and used year round. Another family proudly told us about the blocked off passageway in their basement—possibly remnants of a stop to help protect runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.
WANDER THE SIDE STREETS: Pay close attention to what might be around the next corner! There will most certainly be hidden gardens and quirky architectural details. But you never know what other treasures you might discover. We found a colony of gnome-homes in our little town. But that’s another story for another day…
When I describe the practice of Forest Therapy, many folks assume it is merely doing meditation in an outdoors location. There are actually three different practices which look very similar to each other. Traditional Meditation, Forest Meditation, and Forest Therapy all have the goal of balancing life, resetting priorities, and bringing inner calm. However, the actual practices are different. Let me explain…
Meditation focuses the mind inwards; Forest Therapy focuses the senses outwards to Nature…
In Traditional Meditation, we are taught to withdraw our senses and focus inward. We work to find peace inside of self. As part of the process, we need to resist multiple thoughts, coming back over and over to an inward focus.
Forest Meditation is a blend of traditional meditation with the health benefits of being outdoors. In this practice, we are taught to open our senses to our surroundings as we observe the world around us. We connect with nature in order to make outside peace become part of our inner being. With this practice, we allow our thoughts to just “go with the flow.”
If meditation works well for you, that’s great! Personally, no matter how many times I have tried to meditate, I end up either agitated or bored. My mind usually jumps from thought to thought to thought. Plus, emotion plays a big role in how I perceive the world and interact with it. Doing meditation outside is a help, but it is still difficult for me to find calm when I’m focused on the hard work of clearing my mind.
Forest Therapy is a perfect fit for me! In this practice, our goal is to reawaken the senses as we immerse ourselves in the forest. Noticing what we are feeling in the outer world (physically) and inside ourselves (emotionally/spiritually) is a much more intuitive practice for me. Often with the help of a guide, we learn how to allow a focus on nature to clear the mind and lessen negative emotions. In addition to reducing stress and bringing peace, Forest Therapy is a gentle way to rejuvenate energy and add strength to inner healing.
I am excited to find a calming practice that fits well with my personality and passions. Traditional meditation feels like a difficult task to master. But Forest Therapy simply brings new dimensions to spending time in nature, an activity I always enjoy. I am intrigued to explore this practice in my personal life. And I’m excited to help others learn this method of connecting with nature. I have been accepted into the 6 month training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. My cohort begins our mentoring program with a week-long intensive in September. (You can read more about this HERE )
I invite you to join me in exploring Forest Therapy practices. If you make a donation to my Go-Fund-Me Campaign, one of the rewards for donors is a week of daily emails giving mini-invitations to try on one’s own. (Find more info about rewards HERE and donate HERE). Late this fall and through the winter, after I complete my initial training camp, I will need local “guinea pigs” to take on practice Forest Therapy explorations. And by this time next year, I will be offering 7 week sessions to help stressed-out folks experience Nature’s healing via guided Forest Therapy walks.
What do you think of when you see a weeping willow tree? For many people, these drooping trees remind them of grief and crying. For me, these graceful trees bring a feeling of comfort and contentment. Why the difference? I have happy memories of spending many hours under giant, peaceful willow trees.
When I was growing up, we visited my grandparents in rural Minnesota every summer. The house filled up with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Sometimes I loved the chaos and the fun. Other times I needed an escape. The giant weeping willow tree behind their house provided both enjoyment and respite.
The tree was so large that its drooping branches swept the ground. The quiet, green grotto around the trunk was a perfect place to hide for a raucous game of hide-n-seek amongst the cousins. Other times it made a quiet hideaway to sprawl on the ground and read a book. For that matter, it was a calming place to just lay there and stare up into the branches that were softly dancing in the wind.
Eventually, the family farm was sold and my grandparents moved to town. I could no longer go outside and stand under that venerable tree when I visited them. It felt like something was missing from the family gatherings.
Many decades later, my husband and I moved to our own little farm. The bank of the pond was a perfect place to establish my own weeping willow tree. It was ironic that only days after the sapling was planted, my grandma passed away. The new willow tree has grown and spread. Its drooping branches now sweep the ground. It still transports me back to those days of fun and comfort for a young girl amid the chaos of gathered family.
Read about special trees HERE and HERE. Do you have a childhood memory of a favorite tree? I would love to hear it! Please tell me about it in the comments below.
Are you tired of taking the same vacations year after year—eating the same foods, going the same places, doing the same things? Consider an Epic Escape instead! Not sure where to start? Here’s a glimpse at my process. It’s easier than you might think to Plan Your Own Adventure!
Gather Your TOOLS:
Planning an Epic Escape means charting a new course, not just repeating past travels. This takes a few “specialized” tools: (or at least using your tools for specific purposes…)
Calendar – discover conflicts and juggle schedules
Computer – for on-line research, social media recommendations, and eventual reservations
Colored pens and LOTS of paper – capture lists, plans, alternate plans, packing lists, and lists of lists
Coffee – or chocolate or chips or something else to fuel the frenzy of researching all the possibilities!
Determine Your NUTS n BOLTS:
Know what limits you have. Figure out the details for this particular time and trip.
Identify preferences (dates, place, activities)
Set a budget (then add 50%! Really!)
Re-evaluate your priorities to scribble down a final list of details to keep in mind.
Choose Your FLAVOR:
Don’t settle for a plain-jane vanilla vacation, just like all the ones you have taken before. Consider all the possibilities within the parameters of this particular Epic Escape.
Carve out some empty space in your schedule/itinerary to be spontaneous
Read & Research. Search on-line (or in books) for “Things to Do Near …” “Best Food In …” and “Things to Do With Kids In …” (even if you don’t have kids with you. These are the fun, hands-on activities in any given location.) Don’t forget to check nps.gov to see which national parks you could visit!
When you get to your location(s), talk with locals and check the local visitor center for more ideas of unique things to do or see.
No matter how well you Plan Your Own Adventure, the unexpected WILL happen! Most of these things will be outside your control: weather, delays, changes, illness, etc.
Before you leave, consider potential problems and brainstorm possible responses. This way you won’t be blindsided when the unexpected actually happens.
Remember WHY you chose this particular Epic Escape. You were excited about it while you were planning. Focus on your main objectives and let go of the details.
Choose your attitude! Often, it is the challenging moments that are the most exciting and thought-provoking later. Once we get back home, those problems frequently become the most entertaining stories.
Read about my Wand’rin’ Spirit HERE. Read about the Research involved in our first AT backpacking trip HERE. If you want some ideas for fun activities to add to your next vacation, drop me a note in the comments. I love to brainstorm adventures!
We’ve all heard the list of suggested wellness practices a million times: Maintain proper sleep/nutrition/exercise. Practice self-care. Choose a good attitude/positive thoughts/thankfulness. Pursue a passion. Find life/work balance. Build a spiritual practice. Get outside. Find supportive friends. Challenge oneself.
…an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation.
Check! Check! Check! I’ve generally got the basics down. Isn’t that good enough? And if I wanted to make changes, an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation. Just give me a detailed list with bullet points to follow and I’ll try to implement it all immediately—at least for a day or a week until I slide back into comfortable old routines. Ugh! This large-scale self-improvement thing too often becomes a guilt-producing merry-go-round.
A few years ago, I heard a seemingly simple phrase that changed everything for me. “Just do the next, best thing.” By following these little words, I’m happier and healthier today than I was as a young adult. These words help me filter the large amounts of information swirling in my head from all of the books and blogs and articles I read. This phrase helps me focus on tiny steps that eventually form better habits, without causing the self-care to come to a screeching halt because I’m overwhelmed.
I try to be aware of decision points throughout the day: what to eat, what to do with my time, what to do with emotions, how to respond to frustrations. I take a moment to ask myself “what is the next best thing in this situation?” Then I do that little thing—no stress, no fuss, no angsty inner debates. Devour a rich piece of chocolate cake? Sure, have one or two bites. Make a difficult phone call or read a junk book? Get the call out of the way, and then savor the story. Need some milk or toilet paper? Forget the car—walk the few blocks to the store. Spend time on creativity or chores? Okay…this one gets messy (pun intended)! My house unfortunately shows that I much prefer enjoyable hobbies to cleaning or organizing. There is freedom in this routine: if I make a bad choice, it is easy to get back on track for self-care with the next decision I make, or the next one after that.
The point is that improving self-development and personal wellness practices is most effective by focusing on taking small, incremental steps in a few areas at a time. Currently, I try to walk for local errands. I choose to spend time outdoors every day—noticing beauty and savoring the changing seasons. And I focus on looking for God in the mundane details of daily living. Hopefully, as I become more consistent in these small life changes, they will eventually become epic transformations!
(Read about how “Ta-Dah” lists are changing my life HERE. Find 7 suggested ways to add calm to your life HERE.)
I wonder if you are like me—quickly bored with a blow-by-blow account of someone else’s trip? On the other hand, I like to see quick summaries which often demonstrate just how epic the adventure really was. With this in mind, I’ve put together an infographic which will hopefully give you details about our most recent road trip without boring you! (Making the chart was new territory for me—a mini-adventure in its own way. But that’s a different story…)
Feel free to ignore the rest of this post if the summary was enough. Just in case you are a detail person, here is a bit more info about our Road Trip. If you want links to specific places, please ask via comments! I’m happy to share more in-depth reviews for those who want them.
PARKS WE VISITED:
8 NATIONAL PARK SITES included Badlands National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, Glacier National Park, Fort Union National Historic Site, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Pipestone National Monument. As usual, daughter added to her collection of Jr. Ranger Badges. Andowen liked Knife River the best because it had an earth lodge to explore instead of tepees.
2 CANADIAN NATIONAL PARKS (adjacent to each other) included lakes, canyons, and mountain views in Banff National Park plus Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park (technically in British Columbia, a second province). I love spending time in mountains anywhere…but the Canadian Rockies are the most stunning with steep mountains reflected in turquoise blue glacial lakes.
2 STATE PARKS included a simple overnight in Stone State Park in Iowa (the stone cabin was cheaper than a hotel) and a few hours exploring Ft. Mandan State Park in ND. Having read many books about the Lewis & Clark expedition, it was interesting to actually walk through the recreation of the fort where they wintered along the Missouri River.
1 WORLD HERITAGE SITE: I had Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump on my don’t-miss-this list years ago when we wandered the West in an RV. But my family rebelled at the thought of yet one more museum. I didn’t allow any arguments on this trip! The site has an excellent museum with a gripping movie to explain what one sees in the outdoor landscape. Yes, it was worth exploring the grounds—even on a cold, windy, rainy day!
TRIP DETAILS: The main goal of this trip was to attend our son’s graduation from Carroll College in Helena, MT. But when someone lets me get behind the wheel, it never remains a simple drive from point A to point B and back again. We ended up taking 20 days to wander a large circle, visiting places, and friends/family along the way. When I added up everything, we drove more than 5,625 miles in 20 days. We visited (or drove through) 10 States in the United States including OH, IN, IL, IA, SD, WY, MT, ND, MN, NE. We spent a few days in Alberta, Canada. (We also entered British Columbia for an hour or so…I didn’t count that in the stats.)
PLACES WE SLEPT: We always enjoy staying with family and friends when that is possible. THANKS for excellent hospitality from those we visited on this trip! We chose to stay in a hotel for the days surrounding son’s graduation. Logistics for a larger group of family was easier that way. In Canada, we stayed at a hotel with an indoor pool to keep daughter entertained (under Grandma’s supervision) while I spent some one-on-one time with a good friend. (Plus, it was COLD at night in Alberta in May…) I initially planned that on most other nights we would be tent camping. Unfortunately costs ballooned because I wimped-out and paid for extra nights under a roof to avoid freezing temps and heavy rains. On a whim, we spent one night in a stone camping cabin at a state park in IA—great choice! It both saved money and was a pretty place to stay. And, of course, we spent one night in a tepee campground near Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (You can read more about that mini-adventure HERE.)
WHAT WE ATE: We frequently bought food from grocery stores—ready-made wraps and salads, or fixings for sandwiches and snacks. This was both cheaper and healthier than a diet of eating-out. We fed my caffeine addiction at 6 different local coffee shops. Honestly, the drinks are similar everywhere—but seeing the different settings and talking with local folks is always enjoyable. We ate at 3 nice restaurants—a restaurant with unique pizza options to celebrate son’s graduation (MacKenzie River Pizza & Pub) , a fancy restaurant with views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with our good friends in Canmore (Murieta’s), and a simple restaurant with amazing omelets and salads with a cousin in Omaha (Summer Kitchen Café). Of course, we grabbed fast food from gas stations and chains occasionally. And Grandma buys herself a Mocha Frappe from McD’s when she is travelling—being on the road for 20 days caused a dilemma of deciding how often to indulge!
For more photos of our adventure, check out a recent post HERE. Another post about the Epic Road Trip can be found HERE.
Have you ever dreamed of sleeping in a tepee? For many of us, tepees and Indians on horseback were one of the mythic stories from our childhood. In the past six months, daughter A and I have had the opportunity to sleep in a tepee not just once but twice!
The first time we were in a tepee was in the backyard of Woodchuck Hiker Hostel in Damascus, VA. (More details HERE ) On our recent Epic Road Trip, we stayed at the Devils Tower Tipi Camping near the National Monument inWY. (More details HERE ) At both locations, we enjoyed wandering the surrounding areas. Damascus, VA is a friendly small town with restaurants, outfitters, parks, and a little library. At Devils Tower I explored their private land, ending up on a point with deep, red-rocked canyons falling away on each side and the Devils Tower rock formation floating on the horizon in front of me.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Sleeping in a Tepee is a form of primitive camping…not a hotel or “glamping.” Although tepees bring feelings of romance and adventure, there is nothing glamorous about sleeping on the ground in a structure with no screens, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. The Devils Tower Tipi Camping location includes a small table, a bench out front, a propane stove and lantern, and filtered water. For an extra fee, the owner will set up a mattress and nice bedding inside the tepee. Otherwise, it is typical to provide your own camping gear bedding. For us, a tepee is a special treat since it is much fancier and larger than our tiny backpacking tent.
If it rains, when you sleep in a Tepee everything will get damp. Unlike a cabin, a tepee lacks a shingled roof to keep out the rain. Unlike a tent, a tepee has no rainfly. There is a hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the traditional fire in the center of the tepee floor. If big storms are coming, there is some protection by adjusting the high flaps. Even if no rain falls directly into the tepee, the moisture in the air makes your bedding and clothes feel damp. Yes, this was a worry for me. On the other hand, I loved the art and symmetry of looking up to the roof peak!
If the forecast predicts a cold night, bundle up! Because tourist tepees have no fire in the middle of the floor or electricity for a heater, when it gets cold outside, you need to have proper gear to stay warm. We used our sleeping pads (insulation from the cold ground), plus sleeping bags rated to 20 degrees, plus layers of sleeping clothes. This is the same thing we do on cold nights in our tent. The biggest difference is that a tepee is too large of an area for your body heat to keep it warm through the night. The tepee in Damascus had double-walls which add to the insulation value of the structure.
Figure out how to adjust the tepee to deal with various weather conditions. As mentioned above, if it is cold, close the top vent and hope that there are double canvas walls. If it is rainy, close the top flaps. If it is extremely hot, open the vent at the top of the tepee and roll up the side walls to leave a gap at the bottom of the walls. This flexibility is an advantage of both tents and tepees in contrast to staying in a cabin.
And one bonus only found when sleeping in a tepee: We enjoy waking up in the mornings in a tent, with sunlight glowing through the walls and hearing birds singing. Some tepees add another layer of magic. When there are pictures and animals painted on the outside walls, the bright sun makes it appear like the images are watching over us as we wake up. And going to sleep with others still sitting around a campfire outside, makes the ghostly images “dance” on the tepee walls. I’ve thought about painting a few animals on our backpacking tent…if only I could figure out how to do that without risking damage to the waterproofing!
In our wandering, we have discovered other structures that would be interesting to spend some time in. Someday I hope to stay in a yurt…and a treehouse…and even an earth lodge.
Have you ever slept in an unusual structure? I would love to hear about your experience! Please share in the comments below…
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