The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Daily Living (page 1 of 2)

Find the History…

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.

Historic Station, Train Tracks

gothic style, wrought iron fence

Ariel Park, renovation, factory re-used

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.

Mercy Hospital

Historic Block Ice Field

escape tunnel, underground railroad, local history

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…

An Epic Plan for Self-Care

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.

hiking, walking, glacier national park

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.

Next Steps, Barefoot, Grass

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.)

Ending…and New Beginnings

Are graduations epic adventures? No…probably not. They are simply the transition point marking the ending of one adventure and the uncertainty of what comes next. Is the time spent as a student an adventure? That’s harder. If those years are merely a slog of fulfilling responsibilities, taking required courses, and surviving in a fog until “real life” begins after graduation, then, NO, student days are nothing epic. On the other hand, if the student makes new friends, explores new interests (via classes or clubs), and gains new skills, it is possible that university days could be called an adventure…

I went back to university a few years ago and finally finished a Bachelor’s degree in 2015. That was certainly a season of new things! Finishing that loose end with a graduation but finding myself still “stuck” in life just made my mid-life crisis stronger. The uncertainty of that transition time was a big reason why I headed to the Appalachian Trail (with youngest daughter in tow). (Read about the start of this ongoing adventure HERE. Read about WHY we started backpacking HERE. )

Why am I writing about graduations today? Because as a proud mom I wanna brag. (Humor me, okay?!) Because that has been the focus of the past few weeks. Because one graduation became the excuse for an epic road trip adventure. And because all of us teeter on the brink of endings and new beginnings at least a few times in our lives.

Sometimes, even as one stage is ending, we already know what comes next. My daughter Nettie just graduated with a Doctorate in Pharmacy a few weeks ago. She is headed to a 1 year residency in another city where she and her husband have already found an apartment. (He is still job-hunting—wish him well!) All the hard work required to earn this degree is certainly something to be celebrated. In addition, there is some level of comfort in having navigated similar transitions many times in the past. Now it is off to the next adventure in life…

For most of us, uncertainty is draining. Facing the ending of familiar roles and expectations is hard, especially when the “what’s-next” is not yet visible. Youngest son, Jakob, is in this situation. He is happy to have finished his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. He and his wife know they are moving back to Ohio to job hunt and set up their next home. Right now, life feels less like an adventure and more like an ordeal. Hopefully, both of them can remember the perseverance and the life-skills they have gained from past adventures to give them confidence as they move forward toward this current unknown.

Like I said above, I’m a proud mama to these hard-working kids we have raised. I can’t wait to see where life takes them. And I will be cheering them on all the way…

Is YOUR life an adventure right now? Or are you in the transition time between endings and new beginnings? Do you have any words of wisdom from your experiences in these in-between-places of life? I’d love to read your stories in the comments below…

“Ta-Dah!” — Choose to Thrive (don’t merely survive)

Some weeks are bright, colorful, productive, full-of-life times. Other days are dark, only-managing-the-basics, blah times. Last week was one of the latter: supporting two friends who were suicidal, “holding space” for a family saying goodbye in a loved-one’s last days, listening to a friend facing a difficult divorce, hardly having time to cook or deal with laundry and dishes, and let’s not even talk about time to spend with my family! I’ve shared before how much I crave the BIG EPIC! But how in the world can I find any hints of adventure when I’m in survival mode?

Gray days. Blustery, windy, freezing cold days. Huddle under the blankets on the couch days. Days like this sap my energy and bury my motivation to accomplish anything. What about you?

winter tree

Dead flowers rattling through the winter. Brown leaves rustling in a cold spring breeze. Sometimes it feels like I’m in constant motion but am hardly living. What about you?

weary, survival

I don’t know about you, but all-too-often the to-do lists in my planner make me feel blah and gray, just like these photos. All I can see are rushing, busy days and zillions of things I might never get done. Staring at these foggy should-do lists buries my motivation to actually work on anything.  Where’s the life? Where’s the enjoyment? How in the world does a to-do list help me THRIVE??

gray day, blah

A few months ago, a wise friend of mine shared a happy secret. She chooses to celebrate her accomplishments with a “Ta-Dah” list. This is the place to write down all of the jobs completed each day. These are little bits of joy, even if not big adventures. I still keep a boring list of “Get ‘em Done” tasks in my planner. But, since I don’t want to just joylessly zombie-walk through my days, I also record Ta-Dah lists to remind me to celebrate the significant things accomplished each day. On productive, high-energy days this list will be filled with projects, business tasks, phone calls completed, and emails sent. On gray days when I’m struggling, I choose to celebrate different significant accomplishments–planning our next adventure, spoiling the dog, fixing daughter’s favorite meal, or simply making a friend smile. I’m choosing to THRIVE by celebrating the little and big things found in the ups and downs of life. What about you? Ta-Dah not to-do

I would love to celebrate your “Ta-dahs” with you! Please add a comment below to share the little ways you are currently thriving in daily life…

7 Ways to Fill Your Soul with NEW LIFE

It has been a long winter. I’m weary and lethargic; life feels stressful. Spring flowers are budding but my soul still needs tending. How about yours? Here are simple ways to fill our souls by connecting with nature:

1 – Spring CLEANING (physical & emotional)

Our physical gardens need pruning, raking, planning, organizing, and planting. Spring is also a good time to clean the “garden” of our soul: release guilt, let go of “should,” choose to forgive to make space for joy.

2—Choose a NEW RITUAL or routine for Spring

Put away candles, cozy blankets, and hot mugs of tea. It’s time for reaching out, for letting Spring into our lives. Buy yourself flowers each week; drive through nature on your way home from errands or work; open windows and doors and let in the fresh air.

3—REST

Winter hibernation is over, but quiet buds still come before blooms. Choose restful ways to relax as you fill your soul: get gentle exercise outdoors; re-read a favorite book; take a soothing bubble bath or relaxed shower.

“Your time here is short…it’s really important to do the stuff that feeds your soul.” – Paul’s Boots, AT Documentary

4—MAKE YOUR OWN Beautiful Things

I know, I know, this one is not a direct connection to Nature. But it IS a way to fill our souls! Don’t be passive but participate actively: make art, make music, try dance or movement, do some writing, re-decorate for spring!

5—CONNECT with others

Spring is the season for birds to migrate in flocks, for mating and raising young ones, for frisky animals chasing each other as they search for food. Spending time with our “flock” brings renewed zest for life!

6—PLAY with the exuberant joy of a child…or a pet

Splash in a puddle or walk in the rain; blow bubbles, explore a wild space. Throw a toy for a 4 legged friend; chase a squirrel; howl at the moon! (I tried to figure out how to get a photo of us howling at the moon…but you couldn’t have figured out what we were doing. We just looked silly!! HAHA)

7—USE EACH SENSE to find “treasure”

One of the best ways to feel fully alive is to experience life through all of your senses. Savor the flavors of the foods you eat; Notice beauty (once you see the obvious, go deeper); Enjoy sniffing a pleasant aroma (piney woods, flowers); Touch interesting things (pet an animal, put your hand in a stream); Listen to nature (birds, insects, spring peeper frogs).

What fills your soul with life? I would love to hear your ideas of what helps YOU to relax when you are worn out or stressed. Please add a comment below!

(For more ideas of simple ways to connect with nature, become a donor to help me become a certified Forest Therapy Guide and receive a week of emails with additional suggestions of how to add nature to your daily life. You can read more about the rewards for donors HERE.) 

It’s About TIME!

This week we changed our clocks in the US. Every spring and fall this seems like such a useless, random practice. I’ve been thinking about “time” this week. We waste time, make time, spend time. Our language makes it sound like we are in control of our time. But is that really true? What is our actual relationship with time?

For millennia, humans informally followed the passage of time as measured by natural events. Their lives were ordered by the movements of the sun, moon and stars and by the changing seasons. They understood the normal ebb and flow of NATURE’S TIME. Life was hard, often living at a survival level, but it was not a stress-filled, guilt-producing, never-ending quest for efficiency and productivity.

Following the rhythms of Nature’s Time changed in the past few centuries. “Progress” was the order of the day. Leaders in government and business felt a need to order time, measure time, and control time. They looked for ways to make workers more efficient. They sought to unify divergent regions of their countries into more-controllable homogenous groups. Accurate time keeping allowed sailors to more safely explore new places without getting lost; small businesses were consolidated into large industrial factories; mass transportation more quickly moved people and ideas across nations. Progress was exciting and new. But with it, the tyranny of CLOCK TIME had arrived.

Humans measure something to control it. (We do this with land ownership, recipe amounts for cooking, and time, among other things.) We are told to carefully manage our days, hours, and even minutes . We place a high value on being productive, on finding more time in our day. This feeling of CONTROLLING TIME makes us feel in charge of our lives. Too often, we fail to notice that we have actually become slaves to our planners and our to-do lists. Even worse is what happens when institutions control time—eventually, masters control workers and teachers control students. When we become drones, following schedules and expectations set by others, life becomes a plodding, joyless drudgery. And the cycle continues as we try to more tightly control our schedules to find more time for elusive pleasure in our days.

We must fight back. It is time to recognize and change the deadening effects of being controlled by our planners or by the institutions we live under. Let’s regain control of our daily lives by focusing on PERSONAL RHYTHMS based on balancing individual needs with the work that must be completed. When we follow natural rhythms, allowing an ebb and flow to our activities, we are actually more creative and more productive.

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”  — Richard Louv

ASSIGNMENT: Look at your calendar and choose a day to experience Nature’s Time: eat when you are hungry, work hard at tasks, take short breaks to walk around or rest before going back to work, talk with others, spend a few minutes alone, alternate work with your hands and brain-intensive work. Steeped in a culture of Clock Time, it is important to regularly reset our expectations of how we use our time. It is possible to follow Personal Rhythms in our workplaces. It is easier to find these rhythms when we are outdoors, surrounded by Nature’s Time.

Isn’t it ABOUT TIME to let go of controlling every moment of our days?! Let’s choose to live in Nature’s Time!

(I’m excited to be starting training and certification as a Forest Therapy Guide this fall. A large part of this practice is helping others get free from Clock Time and experience Nature’s Time, at least for an hour or two. Read more about this opportunity HERE and learn how YOU can help me reach this goal!)

Looking for Treasures in the Every Day

I’m sure I’ve told you this before: I like adventure, Big Epic Adventures! But that’s not where most of us live our everyday lives. Realities of money, time, and responsibilities get in the way of wandering. What’s an adventurer to do? Look for treasures while exploring the local surroundings, of course!

“Walk your small town day after day, and you will find treasures along the way!”

Rather than mope around at home, after our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail last fall, Daughter and I made a drastic change. We now WALK whenever possible. For local errands, our car is left behind, looking lonely and abandoned. (Poor car…) We walk to the library. We walk to meet friends. We walk to buy snacks…or fast food. We walk just to walk. We even walk to church…wait, nope, we take the car to church. We don’t want to be all sweaty and grimy by the time we get there. Haha!

Sometimes we walk in the historic shopping district of our small town; oohing and aahing over the treasures in the windows. Most of the time, however, we walk through neighborhoods. We notice little details on porches and around windows. We find tiny parks and pretty landscaping. We are learning to recognize where we are by what we feel under our feet: cobblestone lanes, broken sidewalks, upscale brick walkways, steep hills, flat rail-trails. Author Terry Pratchett describes this way of knowing place: “Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.”

When we slowly walk through town, we notice different things than when we whiz down the main roads in our car, hurrying to check errands off our to-do list. We learn about old buildings: this one was a hospital, that one was a tiny jail. We find out bits of local history: an early airplane engine was made here, civil war debates occurred, now empty land once held thriving factories. Other landmarks have been reclaimed and renovated: a new science center in a warehouse, a party center in a train depot, a walking path on an old railway.

Slowly, surely, we learn our little town through our feet and through the tiny details we see. We add landmarks to our mental map. We add stories to our memories. We have become a new kind of Indiana Jones as we find treasures in the everyday!

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and special perception together.” – Rebecca Solnit

Go for a walk in YOUR town. What small treasures do you discover along the way?

Lessons from my Mama

In January, I participated in a snail mail group. Each week, we were given a topic to exchange notes with our assigned partner. The final assignment was to summarize life lessons we have learned from our mothers (or other women/mentors in our lives). Here is some good advice for anyone dreaming of living a life filled with “Big Epic” adventures:

Never Travel Without Your SwimsuitBe prepared to say yes to unexpected opportunities!

If needs be, Travel Cheap! There’s always a way to reach for dreams, even if you have to adjust your expectations to make it happen.

Spread the Love—Invite Friends to Join YouOne year even the mailman came to Thanksgiving dinner! … yes, really! (It’s a long story… )

Here’s the summary of Big Epic Advice I have learned from my mama: Be ready for unexpected opportunities to reach for your dreams—and invite others to join you along the way. THANKS, MOM!

(Click HERE to read another post about my adventuresome Mama! And click HERE to read about my family’s heritage of women who love to wander.)

New Year–New Adventures

Raise your hand if you have (yet again) set New Year’s Resolutions. Raise your hand if you have (yet again) already broken those resolutions two weeks into the new year. Tired of repeated “failure,” I decided to try something different this year. Rather than setting big goals, I chose to find what is working and build on that. I took time to look back through my planner and summarize the activities of past year. Next, I decided which things I wanted to continue in the coming year, and which activities I wanted to change or add.

Far too many days, I find myself wishing for something new, something different,  something more exciting. (Please tell me you do the same?!) The most interesting thing to me about this reflection process was realizing how content I am with my current life, overall. There actually isn’t much I really want to change!

LOOKING BACK:

  • Regular activities included church, getting together with friends, and taking Daughter to the city for church organ lessons (and visiting) with my Mom.
  • Significant time was spent getting Daughter to 4H meetings, homeschool co-op, Equine Therapy, and finding her an emotional support dog.
  • We continue to put down roots in our friendly small-town. In addition, hubby found a local job (after 4 months of unemployment) and we eliminated the hassles of commuting and of home ownership in multiple locations.
  • Family time included wonderful visits from grown kids, spoiling grandbabies, having our future daughter-in-law live with us for the spring, and celebrating their marriage when son got home from a semester spent in Ireland. On the other hand, there were far too many deaths this year (my dad, an uncle, and parents of friends and extended family).
  • Daughter and I had wonderful adventures last year: a few days at the Outer Banks for Spring Break (thanks, Sis!), taking my mom on a mini-adventure to celebrate her 80th birthday, dayhikes and local camping with friends. Of course, we spent time on another month-long AT adventure!

NO REASON TO CHANGE:

  • We enjoy regular contact with others and will continue most of the activities in the first three areas listed above.
  • Family will see changes this year as grown kids visit, graduate, change jobs and move around the country. But spending time together never gets old!
  • We are committed to enjoying Nature and going on adventures large and small. We will continue local exploration, hiking, and camping.

NEW ADVENTURES: We have a few big things planned. These are things you can expect to read about here on the blog in the coming year.

So many new possibilities to explore!

 

  • We anticipate an extended road trip to attend son’s university graduation in Montana in May. There are a number of National Parks we haven’t yet visited. We are updating passports so we can head into Canada for additional sightseeing. Heads up friends and family along the way—we hope to stop by for coffee, late night chats and sleeping on your couch!
  • Our AT Adventure this year will likely be a summer trip through the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. Looks like we may also get to introduce another friend to the joys of backpacking!
  • I found my “Dream Job” and can’t wait to tell you more about it! I’m working out the organizational details right now. I’ll share details soon…

What about YOU? What are your plans for the coming year? What things are going well enough to continue largely unchanged? What new adventures do you hope to have? I’d love to hear YOUR story in the comments!

Climb Every Mountain…

Lessons for the trail…Lessons for life!climbingThe Appalachian Trail seems to be constantly climbing up one side of a mountain and clambering down the other. This gets exhausting when it is repeated hour after hour after hour. Sometimes we just wanted to drop our packs and quit…but even that is difficult to do when there is little flat ground to be found. A common grumble when hikers get together is wondering just what the trail-makers were thinking and why the trail has to go up and over every mountain along the way rather than staying on ridge lines or meandering along the sides of mountains. Complaints were louder when the trail headed straight up and down. Sections with switchbacks or at least with log or stone steps were much easier to hike. (To be fair, those types of changes would be much harder to build when making trail…)

Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream. –from Sound of Music

Eventually we figured out how to conquer the steep climbs. It took trial and error to figure out what tips and hints from other hikers worked well for us.

  • Never look too far ahead. It can be discouraging to see how far you still have to climb!
  • Focus on the next step and the next one. Counting steps can help. (I used 25 steps, not 100 like some hikers suggested.) Take a short break for deep breaths and a gulp of water each time you hit that number.
  • Don’t hesitate to take a longer break and take off your pack if you find a good seat (boulder or fallen tree). Just don’t sit too long or your muscles will stiffen up and make the final climb more miserable!climbing break
  • Readjust the weight you are carrying. Tighter straps on the uphill and looser straps on the downhill use gravity to keep weight better aligned over hips.
  • Don’t fight the mountain. Work with the terrain and with your own body to find a rhythm that can be sustained.
  • Celebrate when you reach the top! Take time to look back on what you accomplished before moving on to the next challenge. Downhill climbs are also exhausting, but at least there is relief in switching modes and stressing different muscles…

After a few weeks on the trail, we realized our muscles were stronger and our energy had increased. With each mountain we put behind us, our confidence grew. We really CAN do this. In fact, now that we are back home, we quickly get bored with flatland walking. It’s not just the lack of beautiful views. It simply feels too easy. We walk up and down the little hills around here without getting out of breath or tiring muscles.

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

Looking back, we realize we did not just learn how to thrive while climbing up and down physical mountains. Those same techniques can be applied when facing difficult challenges in life:

  • Never look too far ahead
  • Focus on the next step
  • Take self-care breaks
  • Readjust expectations/manage heavy burdens
  • Don’t fight against the challenges but find a workable rhythm to move forward
  • Celebrate milestones reached and look back on what you accomplished

Wishing all of us JOY in the journey, even in the midst of difficult ups and downs! reaching the top

(Note: we finished this year’s big adventure on October 21. We will continue posting photos and thoughts from our AT hike for the next few weeks.)

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