Baby Steps at John Bryan

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4 miles hiked.

Difficulty: very easy

It isn’t much. In fact, it’s pretty similar to training for a race by running thirty seconds at a time (which incidentally is something else I’m doing). But it’s a start! It’s more than we did yesterday and it means that next time we’ll hike somewhere a little more difficult and we’ll carry more and eventually, almost by accident, we’ll be pushing ourselves further than we thought we could. I am a big fan of baby steps.

We spent our afternoon/evening at John Bryan State Park in western Ohio. Ohio is no mecca of good hiking and I will be the first to admit it, but my sore feet and tired legs by the end of the day also mean that the hiking wasn’t as easy as it should be for somewhere so flat. The important thing is that it was easy enough to be fun and encouraging, which is quite a good start. I’m more than happy to save the inevitable painful-and-discouraging times of getting in good hiking shape for another day.

Fortunately, spending time out in the woods was definitely as easy as it should be. It’s a remarkable thing to suddenly have a deer cross the path twenty feet ahead of you. Or, while exploring a small outcropping, to happen upon some woodland magic like this fairy house.

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I fell asleep on the car ride home, I don’t know whether it had more to do with a short night or a long day. But I was trying to imagine how it will feel a year from now to spend day after day hiking and falling asleep twice as tired every night. It’s a little beyond my imagination right now, but even getting a little taste by spending an afternoon walking through the woods is enough to keep us headed in that direction.

Spraining My Brain on the Universe

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My Astronomy class last semester was twelve weeks of reading textbook pages over and over while working homework problems. Twelve weeks of waiting for the physics muscles of my brain to stop being sore and start being buff.

There is something very knotty in trying to grasp the knowledge of planets, galaxies and atomic particles that I can’t imagine moving faster than I can imagine in a universe bigger than I can imagine. I can’t even completely comprehend that we’re hurtling through space right now, thousands of kilometers an hour.

Astonishing, ridiculous, unbelievable, huge. Those were words I thought a lot, times when I drove home blinking away prickly tears of wonder because it was just so COOL and my brain could not bear up under the weight of so much new enormous knowledge.

The week after classes ended we went camping. A few days filled with familiar woods, a small clearing with a small tent, a warm sleeping bag and friends. It was a lot of simplicity and joy.

We went hiking on our last day; strolling down that quiet, shady path life felt small, and immediate.  My world was nothing more than a cool breeze, the sound of birds, and feet plopping through soft, muddy ground. In that space of time it was exactly enough. To spend life wandering though a green forest, never thinking beyond what adventure I might have today and when my next food time is.

But into that little moment crowded the unimaginable universe along with our own beautiful, broken world: the wars, the droughts, the latest inventions, the newest masterpieces of science and art. It gave me such an achy feeling of juxtaposition, not sure if I wanted to change the world, or escape it.  

Which is worse? Forgoing simple pleasures and small wonders for the stress of grandeur and discovery, or forgetting the rest of the world in favor of a life lived in small, rich moments.

I feel like both are irresponsible and leave me missing out on some important piece of the human experience. So I’m left with the tricky, exciting task of finding some balance, and the ultimately comforting knowledge that the reach of God is both infinitely large and infinitely small.

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How to Scare A Wild Animal 101

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I love camping. Even in my younger years when sleeping in a tent meant lying awake for an hour worrying over the wild animals that must be prowling about our shelter. These days those thoughts only keep me awake for a few minutes.

Getting comfortable with the outdoors at night, the creepies and the crawlies and the snufflies and the howlies, is one of my biggest goals for the next year. Having married a fellow who grew up roaming the wilds of Pennsylvania, and now intending to spend a good four or five months hiking the Appalachian Trail with him, this goal has become very important.

I’ve made a lot of progress. Not enough yet to brave a solo nightimte trek to the outhouse, but enough that when we went camping for a few days last week I barely even entertained the thought of how many coyotes would be circling our campsite that night.

When we crawled into our tent the first night I fell asleep happy serenaded by the forest and the sleepy breathing of my friends. As the dreamer of many odd dreams, it didn’t bother me that sometime in the middle of the night I started dreaming that my fellow campmates were talking about a raccoon in the tent. As I confidently reassured them that there were no raccoons in the tent I slowly realized that I was awake and had woken up to a whispered conversation about a raccoon possibly in our campsite.

We had dragged the majority of our food into the tent the night before, but had left a small sealed cooler and a carton of eggs wrapped in a plastic bag on the picnic table. During my first moments of wakefulness there was quiet discussion over whether or not there really was an animal on the picnic table, whether or not it really was a raccoon, and whether it really was trying to get into the food.

We were all four awake by this time, lying nervously, our ears straining for stray rustles and snuffles. Until in the silence came the sudden loud crash of the cooler falling off the bench. I sat bolt upright, all disorientation gone. Visions of a fat, greedy raccoon feasting on my precious bacon danced in my head. Peering out the tent window I clapped my hands and loudly shouted “Hey!” No reaction. No one moved.

“Guys! he’s taking our food!”

But the time for talking was gone. Throwing off the sleeping bag and unzipping the door I spilled out onto the dewy grass. I couldn’t see a thing without my contacts but my blindness only made me bolder. With a shout I bolted towards the picnic table, hissing and clapping and prancing as ferociously as I knew how.

With a sudden scuttle and a frantic rustle of plastic bag came the sound of a startled raccoon dashing off into the forest leaving me and my adrenaline rush standing victorious.

As I rounded the end of the table I could see scattered eggs glowing in the moonlight. The carton, the bag and the coon were gone, but they had left a trail of eggs in their wake, eight of which were miraculously unbroken. I gathered them together and piled them into the empty spaces of the cooler. Climbing back into the tent confidently carrying the rescued cooler, I felt like a conquering hero.

Curling up in my sleeping bag with a few giddy giggles I closed my eyes peacefully and didn’t wake for the rest of the night.

Lara- 1, Scary Wild Animals- 0

Rites of Spring.

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Its’ busyness, busyness, busyness that is so full of sunshine and rain and counting down the final weeks of school.

But then there is the fun of a full life that doesn’t feel like busyness.

Foraging around in the damp, still chilly, early afternoon to collect an entire drainer full of dandelion leaves for spring salad.

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Making some fantastic No Knead Skillet bread for the first time. It was tasty even though I foolishly substituted plain old table salt for the fancy kosher salt that was meant to be sprinkled on top. Story of a plebe.

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Dying Easter Eggs with my one and only little brother. He waited quite patiently till the very end to dye his special egg, which spent time soaking in each and every color and was the grandest experiment.

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Pretty eggs. I’ve loved doing this for truly as long as I can remember.

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The first canoe trip of the year!
Yes, it is a little scary transporting it on that car, but more adventure for everyone.
We were a nervous and twitchy when we first got on the water. Coming off of a long, cold Winter and our brains calling up memories of last fall when our final canoe trip was fraught with disaster and our first, second and third capsizes ever.

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These weeks have been bubbling over. Fresh flowers, fresh happiness, fresh plans to appease the annual Spring rush of fresh restlessness…
Once again, the beginning of each new Season completely convinces me its my absolute favorite. So for now, hooray Spring! I love you with all my heart!

“You can’t stop this love”

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Where else could I possibly have been on a chilly Saturday evening?

In the upstairs of an old antique shop in Mutual, OH we gathered on a motley collection of chairs and benches to listen as Daniel Dye and the Miller Road Band filled that room to the creaking rafters with their playing.

I think it was the rawness that made it wonderful, the fact that the cracking plaster and weather worn window panes weren’t there for a trendy vintage look, but because the building has seen a hundred of these winters. It was the sincerity of the people on stage, bundled in their hats and sweaters, who play because they love the music and the stories of these songs.

Anyone could have come to the show and felt like family. A bowl of hot food and a cup of coffee from downstairs helped with that. Taking a seat on one of the benches along the wall surrounded by the smell of kerosene heaters doing their best to keep the chill at bay could only have added to the feeling. The easy, familiar interaction between the band and their audience would have topped it off. Until, at the end of it all, circled around the last heater, under the gritty glow of bare bulbs strung across the stage, you felt the fellowship and joy of honest artistry and story telling among friends.

Spring Fever: 3 Tools to Turn Around Your Day

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1. A plastic, fast-food fork 

2. A small pair of nail clippers

3. A juicy, ripe mango

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There are two things that usually make my day feel grumpy and groggy: spending too much time in front of a screen, and shopping. Yesterday was a fantastic combo of both these things. After spending a lazy morning “recovering” from the first half of the week with some Dr. Who and hot coffee, we decided to go out.  It was a bleary, rainy day and Dr. Who somehow turned into binge watching Scrubs and the coffee turned to tea and then back again and we got quite restless. So shoes and socks and jackets and we were out the door with not much sense of direction.

I had very responsibly clipped some coupons from the Sunday paper for useful things and had the brilliant idea that we should go use them. Unfortunately, we are extremely distractable and between the store entrance and the body wash aisle we ran into more than a few things. Pickles, strawberries, an exacto knife and a five pound bag of whole wheat flour, and the list goes on. At least our impulse buys are wonderful things!

But having spent more time, money and good humor then we planned, we were short on all of those as we left the store. With an unhappy drive home under an angry sky, things were looking bleak. So when we took the short cut home that ran past a pull off overlooking the river we knew exactly what needed to be done.

We didn’t have a knife but a short search of the car turned up a (still wrapped) fork from Wendy’s, and a pair of fingernail clippers hidden inside the grimy change in the dashboard. The wind outside was a little more than we bargained for but I was determined to have my mango and enjoy the muddy spring scene of trees and dirty water. It turns out I am an expert at fingernail clipper and fork wielding and I got my mango, delicious and juicy. Watching the juice drip off my freezing cold fingers and blow down to the water I started to feel a lot better. The moral of this story is when feeling restless and grumpy it often helps to go get a little gritty. Eat a mango and get chilly and sit on the dirty, broken asphalt that used to be a bridge to watch a muddy river flow by.

Bonus: Levi found some Lego pieces in the dirt, so all together a very successful trip!   

They Didn’t Tell Me About the Brain Knots

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Brain knots. Thought tangles. Spaghetti mind.

I have used all three of those terms in the last week to describe the heavy cramping feeling invading my head space. I have an itchy feeling it’s what they call “stress,” although I normally refer to these episodes as an existential crisis. I’m not old enough for midlife ones yet.

It has been one of those fun weeks where I felt, upon driving home late one night, that I could split myself into five different people. They would each have the dreams and drive they needed to live their lives. The likes, dislikes, passions and intentions that could take up every one of those elusive 24 hours in a day. But I can’t split myself into five people, and all those thoughts and dreams and intentions collided into a giant stress-ball in my one brain.

I think this must be a common feeling, because there are six billion people in the world, and I’m sure a lot of them are like me. All those decisions and indecisions and the desires pulling you every which way like a personal hurricane.

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

A scientist, artist, traveler, entertainer, woodcarver, builder, gardener, gamer? Because I think I would choose every single one of those if I could, and believe me, the list goes on.

But that’s the beauty of choosing to be a writer. I am going to take all of those things, I’m going to bundle them into a great big ball and I will spend the rest of my life telling the stories of where all they take me.

Now hold me to it.

Indiana Round Two

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There’s nothing that keeps you coming back to a place as much as family does.

Indiana is not one of the places I think of when I’m daydreaming about trips I’d like to take and good places to have some fun. Although I rarely admit to this, it’s pretty much just like Ohio and I see a lot of Ohio. However, Indiana has something no other state currently holds for me: nephews! Along with their fantastic parents. They are more than enough to convince me to rattle through the 4.5 hour drive in my uneasily noisy car to spend several days wiping snotty noses and catching up with the only person I can call “older sister.” And it is absolutely worth it. When there is not adventure and excitement in a place, there is often adventure and excitement in people.

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Like this little guy with enough excitement to fill several people twice his size. One of his daily adventures is watching Daddy wait for the bus, standing on his special chair by the window.

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Not to mention the undeniable adventure of caring for a two month old baby. And the equally undeniable excitement from catching one of his grins.

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Well, I know I was excited for these fresh cinnamon rolls. Just me? Ok…

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And my sister. She’s a mommy now, she has two little boys that certainly are the cutest there ever were and every day she walks a road I’ve never set foot on.  But I’m grateful that on these long weekends I get to hear every detail and add some new stories to my own new adventure of being an aunt twice over.

Here’s to Indiana!

In the Bleak Midwinter

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Winter. Those dim, cold months of short days and long nights. We have kept inside so much from the snow and cold, building up our warm cocoon of blankets and frosty windows.
And we have been scheming.

Appalachian Trail 2015! Already two years in the making. It started with a handful of change Levi had collected from work. He jingled it into a giant empty pickle jar and plunked it on the counter.

“This is for the Appalachian Trail.”

And we’ve been doing it ever since. On slow shifts of serving when people leave piles of coins on the table there is the comforting knowledge that those noisy bits of change in my pocket get emptied into our jar of dreaming. It’s important having this plan, it’s something to talk about when we’re tired and feeling a little hopeless with life.

Or to write about when the thought of homework and another year and a half of school is frustrating and old. Which is also a good time for looking up the perfect lightweight backpack!

Granite Gear Crown VC 60

For a touch of technicality, but as quite an amateur, I like this pack because it looks to be a lovely blend of lightweight comfort and durability. I’m hoping to break it in with a wintery Spring Break hike in a few weeks.

What dreams keep you warm and hopeful through the short days of winter?

Revolution in Kiev

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Revolution in Kiev

I don’t know what word I could use to describe what these pictures from Kiev have made me feel. Shaken? Inspired? Or some word that captures the heavy, solemn feeling of historical events taking place.

Aside from brief updates I hear on NPR and pictures here and there online I have been out of touch with what is happening in Ukraine right now. These photographs and reports from Ilya Varlamov put a face to all sides of this revolution.

Take a look.