My Hero. My Daughter.

I originally posted this four years ago. She is still my hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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My brother, Rick, my daughter, Natalie and I hiking in New Mexico

Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

Ways to Reset Your Happiness Set Point

I wrote this over 7 years ago and as I reread it now, I realize that I really have reset my happiness set point. Enjoy!

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about perfectionism. In the post, I brought up Hedonic Adaptation which involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. So whether it’s buying a new Mercedes or crashing your new Mercedes, your level of happiness resets to the same pre-event level. A reader asked that I expound on how I have tried to reset my happiness set point.

So I’ve tried to reset my “set point” and it turns out there is some science behind it. I think I first became aware of this by reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, she chronicles twelve months of changing her approach and raising her happiness set point. By the end of the year she felt like she had a sustained increase in her happiness. In another article called “Making Happiness Last” by Katherine Jacobs Bao and Sonja Lyubomirsky, they posit it is possible to reverse the effects of the hedonic adaptation. So here is some advice:

  •      Gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. All the authors recommended this and studies have shown that this has a positive effect. I have had a gratitude journal for over 5 years. I have varied it from writing actual paragraphs, to four bullets to my current style which is just to list events and names that had a positive impact on me or I had a positive impact on them. I don’t have a limited number but generally it’s somewhere between 4 and 12. I’m not a big fan of rules, so I just go with what works for me. Count your blessings.
  •      Kindness. Perform random acts of kindness. Apparently it matters if the acts of kindness are varied. It makes sense. If I always buy my team a dozen donuts every Friday, after a while, it has diminishing returns. So you need to shake it up. Buy a stranger a cup of coffee, offer to help the mother with the toddler and infant at the airport, compliment the cashier on her earrings, volunteer at the local triathlon, or bring the mail to your elderly neighbor. I have done all of these. If it becomes rote, it’s not the same impact. Spread kindness.
  •      Intrinsic. The things you do for intrinsic reasons have a much greater impact than those for extrinsic reasons. So I write this blog to inspire others. It brings me joy. If I was writing this blog just to make money, it would not bring me joy. It would be drudgery. Find things that line up with your soul. Paint, sing, play the banjo, run a half marathon, write, cook, bake, raise chickens. Find something that feeds your soul and do it.
  •      Friend. If you can find some way to make your activities social, it will add to your happiness. I have to say that when I walk my dog instead of walking alone, I feel much better. Cooking with my son is more fun than cooking solo. Finding or making a friend while volunteering at a triathlon will multiply the results and the impact is tremendous. All these measures stave off the hedonic adaptation and keep your set point higher.
  •      Perspective. It’s important to remember where you started. Gretchen Rubin had a checklist where she kept track of what she did and didn’t do every day. I tried this but I just couldn’t work it into my routine. But I do remember where I started. Three years ago when I started this blog, I felt self-conscious, overwhelmed and resentful. Working on resetting my set point has made me happier and, I think, helped me live in the present. If you just look back a week, there may not be a big difference but when you look back to where you started, you will be able to see that your set point has changed and is much higher. So start now. Record or journal where you are today. A year from now, look back and see how far you have come.
  •      Self. It’s important that you are doing this for yourself. So don’t go pick up some paint and an easel because I or anyone else told you to. It won’t have the same effect. What is missing in your life? What’s not there right now that you want to have there? Only you can answer that. Maybe you want to raise goldfish or have always wanted to make homemade gnocchi or want to write a book or play the oboe. Whatever it is. Go do it. For you and you alone.
  •     Aware. You need to be aware of the strides you have made. I have the evidence of 154 blog posts (wow that’s a lot!). Studies have shown that if you can appreciate the changes you’ve made, you are keeping Hedonic adaptation at bay or keeping your set point higher. I know that in general, I have a more optimistic view of life. I know that stress and conflict roll off me more easily. I appreciate that my happiness set point is higher. Acknowledge the changes you have made.
  •     Help. Sometimes this is a great opportunity to get help. I think the biggest advantage a coach or therapist brings is the space to reflect and create insight. To see where you have come from and all that is possible. We get so caught up in striving that having someone give you the space to just stop and think is such a relief. You may be able to find this in a friend or partner but having an outside, unattached, viewpoint can be life changing.

Happiness can seem elusive if you have had a recent catastrophic event. But even these downward resets in happiness can be overcome with time. Hedonic adaptation eventually will buoy you up. The secret is to keep moving it up or at least maintaining at a new set point.

5 Reasons to Prioritize Sleep

I recently finished Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep. It’s changed my view of sleep and I have a new focus on making it a priority in my life. If fact, since finishing the book over two months ago, I can only think of one night when I stayed up past 9:30 PM. I have always been a lark (someone who rises early) and 9 PM was my standing bedtime for decades although I made exceptions for parties, movies, travel and events.  Since finishing the book and realizing the importance of sleep in my life and wishing I had read the book before raising my children into adulthood, I have staked out sleep as priority one.

Here are 5 reasons to prioritize sleep:

Cognitive Performance

Before reading Walker’s book, I figured that 7 hours of sleep on most nights was pretty good.  I thought I was a slumbering bad ass. Apparently, 7 hours isn’t enough. As written by Walker, “After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours. Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.” So even if you are consistently sleeping 7 hours a night, you are diminishing your cognitive ability. This gives me pause. I wonder just how much I could have accomplished in my life if I had been getting 8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis.

Immune System

I think of the times I’ve tried to recover from surgery or the flu, sleep has been the single best ingredient for repairing my body. As Walker posits, “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.” As I write this, we’ve been 18 months into a pandemic. I have been working almost exclusively remotely and have had a much greater sleep opportunity because of the lack of commuting and travel. I haven’t been sick. Not even a cold in that time frame. Yes, I’m vaccinated and am rarely in a crowd, but perhaps it’s my focus on sleep that’s been a boost to my immunity.

Driving

This is the single most shocking statistic from the book. Alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation had the same impact on driving skills. Drinking and lack of sleep together? It’s abysmal. Walker wrote, “It is disquieting to learn that vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.” Since reading the book, I have made it a priority to not drive after dusk if I can help it. I’m concerned about my driving and everyone else on the road.  Lack of sleep is unilateral in its affects. No one is exempt from its affects.

Learning

A good night’s sleep has a powerful impact on your ability to learn and retain information. Walker espoused, “If you don’t sleep the very first night after learning, you lose the chance to consolidate those memories, even if you get lots of “catch-up” sleep thereafter. In terms of memory, then, sleep is not like the bank. You cannot accumulate a debt and hope to pay it off at a later point in time. Sleep for memory consolidation is an all-or-nothing event.” Sleep has a way of hardwiring the information you learn into your memory bank.  If you lose that opportunity by pulling an all-nighter;  the opportunity is lost forever. 

Emotional Regulation

I’ve been sober for over four years now. Alcohol has an enormous effect on quality of sleep and restorative REM sleep.  I know my sleep quality is better over the last four years and I believe it’s had an impact on my ability to regulate my emotions. I’m not saying I never get angry or upset, but I do feel much more able to roll with the punches. As written by Walker, “More specifically, the coolheaded ability to regulate our emotions each day—a key to what we call emotional IQ—depends on getting sufficient REM sleep night after night. (If your mind immediately jumped to particular colleagues, friends, and public figures who lack these traits, you may well wonder about how much sleep, especially late-morning REM-rich sleep, they are getting.)” I’m fortunate. Between getting sober and working from home, I’ve been able to make sleep a priority and the impact has paid off.

While reading the book, I realized that I needed to give myself a 9-hour sleep “opportunity”. As my iWatch sleep app “AutoSleep” captures, I’m not sleeping the whole time in bed. I’ve worked hard in setting boundaries for my sleep opportunity each night and my average sleep length has increased to 8 hours and 2 minutes. It’s had an impact. I feel healthy, rested, agile and happier. I must give a shout out to my boyfriend, Roy, and my dog, Baci, as I have been pretty hard core about maintaining my 9-hour sleep opportunity.  What would it take for you to get more sleep?

It’s OK to Not Be OK

There. Be with that for a moment. I read that line in an insightful post from Marita Fridjhon, the CEO and Co-Founder of CRR Global. She wrote an eloquent piece called “The Case for Taking Space: A Bigger Picture Approach.” I am writing this article in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve found myself on auto-pilot when friends and co-workers ask, “How are you?” and I, on auto-response, say: “Good. And you?” No. Actually, I’m not good. I’m not ok. I’m getting by. I’m coping. I’m trying to find some semblance of control. I so appreciate when there is permission to not be ok, whether I give that permission to myself or it’s offered by someone else.

Here are some thoughts on being not ok:

Don’t rush.  Marita writes: “Let’s not rush through to the ‘everything is okay’ stage. Otherwise, the steam is going to continue to build and reactivity is going to direct our choices. Instead, we could take some time to be with this. To process what we’re going through and to grieve what is lost.” This resonates for me. I want to push through to get on to the next step. I don’t want to scrap a trip to visit my mother in her new home on the west coast. I want to wave a magic wand and make this all go away so I can get on an airplane (again) and just go. My absolute fatal flaw is impatience (inherited, ironically, from my mother). I want to skip all the chapters and get to the end of the book and see how this all ends. This is like pushing a rope, it’s frustrating and gets me nowhere closer. Don’t rush.

Feel the feelsThis is not the time for a stiff upper lip. I think of Marita’s analogy of continuing to build up steam. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of steam billowing out of people. The steam shows up as anger, frustration, tears, shutting down and stonewalling. Co-workers crying at work (virtually), managers popping off in knee jerk reactions, and directors passive aggressively ignoring urgent requests. Some of us are releasing the pressure while the rest try to keep it bottled up. Let the pressure go. It doesn’t need to be public but don’t be surprised if it is. I was taking a walk two days ago listening to a podcast and suddenly, there were tears streaming down my face. Marita wrote, “Take the pressure off yourself to be super positive and cheery so that you don’t end up feeling stressed about being stressed or sad about being sad. These emotions are understandable and taking space to honor them will help you to eventually shift them into something else.” Let go of the pressure and feel the feels.

You have permission to just process.  You have a hall pass on your exercise regime, starting your book, clearing out your closet, learning guitar, planting a garden, reading War and Peace, or painting. It’s fine if you do and it’s fine if you don’t. Take time to reflect on this experience and see what is present for you. It’s great to invite others to process as well. Marita suggests asking: “What’s been the most challenging thing for you about working from home?” I’ve tried this out and it can have humorous results from, “I’ll be a big fat drunk by the end of this” to “I had no idea my dog was so neurotic” to interesting insights like, “I like these four walls, I just want four different walls.” I need to give myself permission to be lazy. To process. To let go of expectations and be safe.

A step back.  Marita posited, “Before we innovate and create, we need to take space. If we create space to process reactivity, we can choose to respond differently. Instead of letting fear and worry drive the show, we can step in with the response pattern that will best serve us, and others, in the situation.” For me, this is about slowing down and letting things be. It’s allowing what will happen unfold and to be an observer. I let go of my inclination to be the fixer and to have the broom out in front of the mess before it happens. Taking the space to be curious instead of consumed by anxiety and dread. I wonder what career my daughter will pivot too.  I’m curious if my son will be able to compete in Korea in October. I’m curious if world travel will be as accessible going forward and how will my life change if does. It’s about stepping back and responding with an open mind and heart.

Annie Grace wrote an interesting quote, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay, We’re All Not Okay.” There is that comparative suffering where we feel guilt for not being in worse shape. Not exactly survivor’s remorse but close. It’s ok for me to suffer even as there are those who are suffering as well. Process this time in our lives and try not to skim through as fast as possible. Be present. Be safe. Be here right now.

The Best Way Out is Always Through

This is a repost from a year ago. Enjoy!

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost.

This seems counter intuitive. Why go through if there is a faster, seemingly easier way around? Why not just avoid the gnarly, ugly problem, conflict, or ordeal? How about just escape? Perhaps just numb out? I am an expert at all of these attempts at avoidance and procrastination.  I have tried them all with little success. Like right now, I do not want to write. I’m forcing myself to “go through” as I want to get this written and…”it’s not going to write itself.” It is not that the writing is painful. It is the reliving of the grief, betrayal and suffering I’ve experienced that feels like picking at a scab. I reflect back on the last four years and it’s amazing how far I have come, but it was not easy and I can assure you that I “went through.” The hurricane, the end of a marriage, the decline and death of my beloved father, and the endless, costly fight over property with my ex. At every milestone, there always seems like there was one more hurdle.

The best way out is always through.

I am not a professional at grief and betrayal, but I have learned a few things along the way. I am resilient and much more aware of what is important to me than I was a decade ago. Here are few things I have learned about getting out by going through:

Feel the feels

If I have learned anything, it is to feel the feels. I stuffed, drowned, ignored, and glossed over my feelings for most of my adult life. I was a temper tantrum adolescent. I can remember vividly stomping up the stairs in my childhood house and slamming the door when my parents either grounded or forbade me from some (at the time) life-altering excursion (say roller skating or going to an R-rated movie). I was, to say the least, a bit melodramatic. At some point, most likely in college, I found other ways to disregard my discontent. I numbed it instead of feeling it. Got dumped? Pour a glass of wine. Failed an exam? Bloody Mary’s with Julie. Parking ticket? Pitchers with the gang. To feel the feels is to acknowledge the feeling and pay attention. Accept the onset of what is going on in your body and feel it. Seems strange that I needed to learn this. As an infant, I’m sure if I was hungry, lonely or wet, I cried. I spent the next twenty years trying to ignore or avoid whatever ailed me. I let the heat rise in my neck, my stomach turn, the tension mount in my shoulders, I let it in. To go through, you must feel it.

Label it

This has been the most important learning for me. It is to not only feel the discomfort but to label it. It is the same as labeling thoughts while trying to meditate. By acknowledging and labeling the thought, it is easier to let it go. Name it and let it rise. I remember vividly being angry at my ex’s betrayal. I labeled it “betrayal”. So, this is what betrayal feels like: tight stomach, clenched shoulders, tears running down my face. It helped me be with the feeling but announcing it to myself as “betrayal” somehow let me observe myself.  So allow the pain and it will dissipate. The loss of my father and labeling it “grief” as I felt the heat on my face, the tears streaming and the shuddering of sobs. This is what “grief” feels like. It turns me into the omniscient observer as I watch the feelings rise and lift away once labeled. Going through you must label the path.

No judgement

This is the heart of it all to me. If I feel it, I will judge it and then hold on tight. The key is to not allow judgment in. People grieve. People get angry. People cry. All of us, if we let it, experience feelings. I can think, why is a 50 something grown ass woman crying for her Daddy or I can think, it’s completely natural to grieve. I have found that when I allow the feelings to rise and don’t try to hid it from the daylight, it passes more easily. It’s when I try to bury it, blink away the tears and stuff the feeling down so that I won’t be judged a cry baby that it lingers, sometimes for years or decades. August Gold wrote, “To enter the conversation with Life we only have to change one key word: We have to stop asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and start asking, ‘Why is this happening for me?’ When we can do this, we’re free.” Going through is accepting each twist in the path and seeing the gift in it.

Getting sober over three years ago was a game changer. Everything is available with clean edges. No longer muted by Chardonnay or Gin. Somehow numbing out only increased and prolonged the suffering. I feel an empty vessel that permits it in, acknowledge it and then softly, setting it free. The best way out is always through.

Memories of My Lake House

It’s the one year anniversary of leaving my lake house and here is the blog post I wrote:

This house has been home for over 17 years. My children grew up here. My parents built onto the house. My dog has fought tirelessly against squirrels and honed her fly catching skills (yes…she can catch a fly) in this house. My friends have visited to stand on the deck and take a selfie with the lake as a backdrop. My boyfriend has observed all manner of wildlife with his morning coffee while perched on a deck chair. I have documented and marveled at countless sunrises. It’s been home and the center of my life for seventeen years.

My last sunrise picture from the lake house

My son came home this past weekend to say goodbye to the house. We moved here when he was eight and his sister Natalie when she was ten. Their heights and weights are marked on a closet door. The slow evolution of my son’s height lagging his sister until a growth spurt propelled him ahead. It’s all there. Each penciled line and scrawled date. Years in the making. Time marches on and, so do my children. He is in Miami and she is in Seattle. My father passed away, my mother is on the West Coast. The boyfriend Roy is in Carteret County or as he refers to it: “God’s Country.” All that is left is me and my dog and the move to an apartment about 8 miles away.

Memories of our lake house:

Remodeling

The house was built in 1975 and for almost every minute I have lived here, it’s been in a perpetual state of remodel. When we first moved in the kitchen was completely gutted and I remember trying to feed a family of four with a microwave in the family room, a refrigerator in the dining room and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. I think back now, why the heck didn’t we just eat at McDonald’s every day? There was the porch and carport that eventually became a sunroom and garage. There was the three weeks of summer camp when we decided to surprise the kids by completely remodeling the second-floor bedrooms, bath and all (and yes, I actually painted). The dining room and living room remodel where my dog would not walk across the new floor for weeks (yes…she’s that neurotic). And the addition of the in-law unit and a front porch; my parents moved in six years ago. Finally, the reflooring of the first floor and a brand-new deck across the back of the house. The paint colors have changed, the seventies wood paneling is gone, and popcorn ceilings were scraped off, but the bones are still there. It’s the same steps my kids came down each Christmas morning to see what Santa left.

Games

My fondest memories are of playing games around the kitchen table. My son remembers Tripoly, using macaroni to ante up and dreaming of ending up with a huge pile of macaroni by the end of the evening. I remember playing Uno and prefacing each +2 draw card (a really bad card) with “I love you!” to try and soften the blow. I remember always wanting my Dad on my team for Trivial Pursuit, especially for the history questions and my Mom for all the science questions (Medical Technologists know a bunch of medical and scientific terms). I looked forward to every Christmas break when my college-bound children would come home and play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. I can hear Natalie laughing and screaming at her brother as he always seemed to be charging ahead and taking advantage of his sister’s good graces. There was also the brief stint of playing with the Wii and having endless sword fights. There is a ton of laughter in these walls.

Boats

I remember when we bought this house and the original owner pointed to the boat slip and said, “You’ll need to get a boat.” Well, sure enough we did. This led to knee boards, beginner skis, wake boards, single skis, and a tube. You name it, we tried it. Benson was amazingly tenacious on an innertube as we tried in vain (most of the time) to kick him off banking the boat on a tight corner. I remember the one and only time I got onto an innertube behind the boat and I could not stop laughing from fear and exhilaration. My poor kids stared from the back of the boat forlorn yelling, “Mommy, are you OK?” I survived. Later there were kayaks and paddle boats. I have truly learned this lake from stem to stern. It’s an amazing eco system that changes from cormorants to martins to mallards in an endless cycle with the ospreys and herons being the only apparent constant. There are a multitude of memories in that lake.

Neighbors

For almost seventeen years we have had the same neighbors. I can remember the original owner, Pat Jones, pointing to the houses and saying, “Well, there’s Fred and Pete across the street and the Nuns next door.” I was a recent transplant from California and I remember thinking: “Wow, a gay couple across the street and catholic nuns next door…pretty progressive.” Of course, this was incorrect, “Pete” was Marilyn’s nick name and the catholic nuns were actually “The Nunns.” Terrific neighbors all. We didn’t need neighborhood watch because I’d get a text or call if anything out of the norm was happening in my yard while I was away at work. The best story that Natalie remembers is that the original owners let us drop the kids off at the top of the driveway to be picked up by the bus at the beginning of the school year (before we moved in). We had instructed the kids not to bother the owners and that we would swing by to pick them up. One time, Natalie desperately had to use the bathroom and she ran across the street to Miss Pete’s house. Natalie asked to use the bathroom and, of course, Miss Pete obliged. This started a family friendship that led to many shared gatherings and Thanksgivings together.

This week has been a week of lasts. The last loaf of bread baked in the oven. The last sunrise photo posted on Facebook. The last evening watching a lone Great Blue Heron pacing the lake bank searching for a fish. The last cup of coffee. The last shower. The last walk through the neighborhood. The last post written from my chair looking out at the lake. As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Goodbye, Sweet House – thank you for the memories.

Finding Magic in Maine

I’ve just finished five days in Abbot Maine in a cabin by Whetstone Pond with my boyfriend, Roy. It’s been a terrific visit.  I had initially tried to plan this in October of 2020.  The pandemic, at that time, had so many unknowns, that a trip to anywhere beyond my home state of North Carolina seemed foolhardy. I’m glad, in retrospect, it took a year to get here.  I feel like I appreciate it more because I anticipated it for over a year. The waiting made it that much better;  that, and a good deal of luck with weather and health made it a magical trip.

A lone loon on Whetstone Pond in Abbot Maine

Here is where I found magic in central Maine:

Loons

My summers as a child were spent in New Hampshire.  There must have been loons at some point.  I don’t remember them.  But the minute we arrived at our cabin by the lake, I went out on the deck that sat precariously close to the clear, lapping water of the pond (which would in any other state be called a lake).  I heard this echoing, mournful sound reverberating across the pond. It touched me so deeply.  It was sad, and mesmerizing, and resolute. Throughout the five days, there were pairs and solo loons swimming on various parts of the pond and their calls and yodels could be heard at all hours of the day or night.  There was no pattern. No way to predict when the next cry for attention would come but it was such a magical soundtrack that it punctuated the experience.

Leaves

There was no way to know eight months ago when I made the reservation what the state of the trees in central Maine was going to be during the first week of October.  As we drove to Abbot from North Carolina, the trees started to faintly change as we drove through Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Upon arriving in Abbot, they were just coming into the burnt orange, buttery yellows and crimson reds.  As we looked out over the lake and drove north towards Moosehead Lake, the colors became vivid and vibrant. It was like turning up a dimmer switch with the peak of the color coming the day before we planned to leave; the afternoon sun sinking and becoming a spotlight to enhance the colors as if on cue.  The mountain tops and lakeside trees stood in line to take a bow in full fanfare. The tree right next to the deck of the cabin lets its leaves loose to float down like snowflakes onto the water below. The leaves had shown up magically and brightly.

Pond

The water on the pond was in a constant state of change.  I was excited to wake up at dawn to see what present awaited me as the sun started to illuminate the landscape.  One morning the pond was still, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was just a sliver of a sunrise bolstered by a dark blue sky and waters.  The next day, a misty fog swept up the water and created a lavender smoke floating across the water in wafting billows. The third day, we kayaked across the water and saw the willows and lily pads and an otter swimming across the pond. Water can be still, or glistening in the sun, or creating white caps from the wind. It’s never the same experience from moment to moment. It’s hypnotizing with its magic.

Quiet

There was a stillness there.  A quiet that enveloped everything.  No trains, no cars, no airplanes or trucks.  The lapping of water at the pond’s edge, the tick of a clock, the footfall on crushing leaves on the deck, the heater turning on or the pump for the water; those were the only disturbances to the silence. It was a quiet that brings you into the present moment. It brought me back to the time of my childhood, sleeping on a cot in the cabin I lived in with my parents at Camp DeWitt, where moments seemed long and hung in the air with the lack of distraction.  The quiet was magical.

It was a sensory experience in Maine.  The smell of pine while hiking a trail, the visual kaleidoscope of autumnal color, the echoes of loons across the pond, the need for a sweatshirt to stay warm in a cabin and the unadulterated view of the milky way on a moonless night.  It was magic and I wish I could have bottled it up and taken it home.

Going to the Sun Road

Glacier National Park is referred to as the “Crown of the Continent” because of its spectacular peaks and glacier sculpted bowls. It’s one of those places, like the Ocracoke Island, where you can’t there from here. It looks close on a map but there isn’t an interstate taking you quickly and efficiently to the destination. It sits astride the border between Canada and the United States with the U.S.’s Glacier National Park on one side and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park on the other.  As my boyfriend, Roy and I were journeying across the country, we arrived at the park from the east side having traveled through the grasslands and wind turbines of Montana.  This ended up being fortuitous as most visitors arrive from Kalispel on the west side of the park.

Here are some highlights from the journey:

Lake McDonald, the largest lake along the Going to the Sun Road

Shelby

We found a hotel in Shelby, MT to stay the night before heading to the park.  Shelby is mostly a railway center.  It was established in 1892 as a junction between the Great Northern Railway and the Great Falls & Canada Railway.  Besides miles of railroad tracks and a Main Street that has seen better days, there is not much to do for the 3,000 some inhabitants.  Our hotel was right next to the railroad tracks, and I was amazed that I never woke up to the sound of a train or even a whistle during the night.  I was really astounded when, in the middle of a pandemic, a passenger train arrived in town. Apparently, Amtrak has service between Chicago and Seattle.  I can imagine that it must be a spectacular train ride as the only way to Seattle is through Glacier National Park.  It’s off the beaten path, which practically everything east of the park is, but it was a nice spot to launch our travels into the park the next day.

Sun Road

In July of 2021, we had to have a reserved ticket to drive on the Going to the Sun Road that I had reserved 60 days in advance.  If you don’t have a reservation, you must arrive early to get a same day pass.  This two-dollar ticket saved us an immense amount of time, so make sure you “splurge” and get a ticket if you plan on taking the drive.  I had a colleague who was in Glacier in early July and he was unable to go on the road because the spring…er summer plowing had not been complete.  The road officially opens on July 8th in 2021 after the herculean task of plowing the 50 miles the road traverses. This has to be one of the most scenic roads in the world between the pristine lakes, shear granite cliffs and glacier laden mountain peaks.  We traveled east to west which is by far the direction less traveled and was by far the best way to travel based on my acrophobia. When you head east to west, most of the ride is on the inside of the road but there are plenty of pull offs to enjoy the astounding views.

Saint Mary Lake

We entered the park and the Sun Road by Saint Mary Lake.  This is the second largest lake in the park and sits at 4,484 ft of elevation. It is a stunning lake as the Sun Road rises parallel to the length of the lake with the Rocky Mountains on the opposite side.  After a several days of riding through the grasslands of the mid-west, this was a stark contrast with Little Chief Mountain looming high above the lake. As we stopped at Rising Sun boat dock, dark ominous clouds rolled in and it started to rain.  As suddenly as they rolled in, they almost immediately rolled out. There are boats that tour the lake and drop hikers off at trailheads.  Because it is near the end of the Sun Road if you are traveling eastbound, there are very few cars and tourists.  Just the drive along this 10-mile-long pristine lake was worth the price of admission.

Grizzly Bears

Glacier has about 300 grizzly bears living inside the park boundaries.  When we arrived in late July, it was prime berry season.  Bears depend on berries to store up for hibernation.  We pulled off at Sunrift Gorge to take a trail down to a waterfall.  It was only about a mile down but Roy and I had left our bear spray in the car.  As we headed down the trail, it seemed to close in with vegetation covered in berries.  There were no other folks on the trail at the time.  After about a half a mile I chickened out and Roy and I headed back to the car.  There are so many warnings about grizzly bears in the park and at every trailhead, I felt like it would be impossible to not see a bear and we had no way to defend ourselves.  At a pull out close to Logan Pass (the highest point on the road at 6,647 ft), a ranger had a skull of a grizzly and was showing it to onlookers and warned that bears were loading up on berries.  Between the bear spray videos Roy and I watched on YouTube, the ranger and all the warnings in the park, I was too spooked to really enjoy a hike.  No, I didn’t see a bear in the park.

Lake McDonald

Towards the end of the Sun Road are the clear waters of Lake McDonald. This is the largest lake in the park and it is the big draw for all photographers.  Since most folks enter the road from this end, it was little bit more congested but it is a must stop.  We stopped near Lake McDonald Lodge and walked along the stony beach. The water is crystal clear and the colorful stones carpet the bottom of the lake as it sits beneath a crown of glaciered peaks. As we walked long the shore a family of three deer came sauntering by.  It was one of those moments in nature I will not soon forget.

As we left the park headed to Kalispel, we headed out the West Glacier entrance. The western end of the park has by far the most services both in and outside the park.  It was about 4 PM and we passed a line of cars waiting to get in and on the Going to the Sun Road as least 5 miles long sitting at a standstill. We had such good fortune to be heading east to west, terrific weather, and no bear encounters. The Going to the Sun Road was worth being on my bucket list and I’m happy I was able to check it off.

The Magic Pill for Learning

I’ve been reading Dr. Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep. It was recommended by a client of mine and the book has some terrific insights and revelations related to sleep.  The most profound for me is the affect of sleep on my ability to learn. Sleep is the magic pill for learning.  The problem with this finding is that it’s so hard for me to set up my day to make sure I get enough sleep to create the environment that will let me do my best thinking and learning.  It would be so much easier to just take a “learning” pill.  In today’s world of constant distraction, twenty-four-hour connectivity and incessant demands on time, sleep seems to be on the short end of the stick. 

Here are the reasons to make sleep a priority for learning:

Preparation

Sleep prepares your brain for encoding memories and learning. As quoted on News In Health, “We’ve learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for initial formation of memories,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.” So, getting at least 7 hours of sleep before preparing to learn something is important to set up your brain for success.  A good night’s sleep before your guitar lesson, before your Spanish class, before your study session with your classmates may be as important as the sleep before the exam or recital.

Storage

Your capacity to store information is linked to the amount of sleep you have received. As written on Found my Fitness, “Sleep also facilitates the more permanent storage of new information that has been stored in the hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for the formation and consolidation of short-term memories. Sleep that occurs after exposure to new information fulfills the role of the brain’s “save button.” I think back to my undergraduate days at Cornell.  I always crammed for several hours right before I went to sleep.  I rarely looked at notes on the day of the test.  In retrospect, I was storing the information the night before.  I don’t remember if I was getting a good night’s sleep but I was definitely putting my sleep between me and the exam. Sleep creates a space for better storage.

Transfer

Sleep is the mechanism by which your new learning is transferred into long term memories. As posited by Found my Fitness, “The intake and storage of mere short-term information are insufficient for optimal learning, however. The final, and perhaps most critical, way in which sleep aids in learning is that it provides a mechanism by which new information can be permanently stored – the formation of long-term memories via transfer to the brain’s cortex, where they can be retained and then retrieved for future use. Without this transfer phase, we run the risk of hippocampal-associated memory impairment.” I rarely, if ever, did an all-nighter while in college. Perhaps I realized that it was futile.  Like when I reread a sentence or bullet over and over again and couldn’t remember what I’d just read, I realize I’m too tired and go to sleep. The transfer of information won’t happen without a good night’s sleep.

Replay

There are studies where they were able to cue up study participants to remember certain aspects of learning.  As written by Dr. Walker, “When we sleep, memories and their associated events acquired during periods of wakefulness are reactivated. Essentially, the brain “replays” the events that occurred prior to sleeping, a process that stabilizes memories by serving as a pruning mechanism, selectively strengthening strongly associated memories and weakening weakly associated ones. A surprising fact is that this process can be amplified by “cueing” the reactivation during sleep with sub-awakening threshold sounds, odors, or other sensory cues – based on the context of the learning received the previous day.” Unfortunately, they haven’t figured out how to do this outside of the laboratory, but I think of cramming for an exam and how I would prime myself to remember certain aspects and try and disregard the periphery. Of course, there were the uncomfortable moments on an exam when the one section I didn’t study showed up and caught me up.  It was not “cued” up in my memory regardless of my sleep the night before.

I teach an evening online Human Resource Certification class at Duke University.  I polled the students the other night and almost all were tired and exhausted from the three-hour fire hose of information. Now I realize that they need to make sure they get a good night’s sleep the night before and, a good night’s sleep after to make sure the information gets solidified in memories. I had no idea that sleep was the magic pill for learning.  Are you getting enough sleep around your learning?

Stark and Serene Little Big Horn

On our summer coast to coast trip, my boyfriend Roy and I had the opportunity to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  In talking with my brother Rick later, I believe that I had been there as an eight-year-old with my family on a cross country trailer trip.  It would make sense since my dad was a history buff and what is known as “Custer’s Last Stand” would have been a place he would have wanted to visit. So, in driving from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to Billings Montana, there appeared on the map Little Big Horn.  We decided to venture into the park.

On June 25 and 26th of 1876, “Custer’s Last Stand” took place with the U.S. Army losing 268 and 55 severely wounded; 31 Native American warriors and 10 bystanders lost their lives.  It was a great victory for Lakota leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Among the Lakota people it is referred to as the Battle of Greasy Grass. It is a place for reverence for all who lost their lives.

Here are my highlights from the battlefield:

Stark

This place is in the middle of vast rolling grasslands.  We arrived on an unusually hot, windy day.  It was 113 degrees and it was very gusty. I almost felt transported back to the dust bowl.  Dry, hot and windy.  Amid this starkness and undulating grass are headstones, a single lane road and several monuments.  It is barren.  As you drive from one vantage point to the next or walk from one monument to another, there is nothing but wind and infinite space.  Among that space are headstones dotted in hilltops, gullies, and plains. This place is stark and austere.

Horses

We spotted several groups of wild horse roaming free on the grasslands. There was a mix of graceful chestnut, palomino and pinto horses communing close to the banks of the Little Big Horn River. It’s fascinating to me that these beautiful beasts are roaming free in the Montana grasslands.

Crow

As we traveled across the west, many of the national parks have a good bit of their land that is Native American property. Depending on the tribe, that portion of the park can be closed.  At Little Big Horn, we were able to travel through the whole park. I felt fortunate that we were able to see the whole park. I was really touched to see that the Crow people had donated a good portion of the land on which the national monument sits “in hopes that people of all races could enjoy this place of beauty together.” I felt honored to be able to enjoy it.

Two fallen Native American warriors

Serene

I felt as if the place was utterly serene.  Roy described it as spiritual.  There is reverence here.  In the quiet beauty of the swaying grass, the roaming horses and the headstones dotting the hills where warriors fell. I was most struck by the headstones that were side by side.  Two by two randomly across the countryside. There is the main graveyard where most of the U.S. Calvary and Lt. Col. Custer lost their lives but beyond that, scattered on the hillsides there are pairs of head stones. The white stones were of the fallen army soldiers and the red stones were of the fallen Native Americans.   Somehow, I found it comforting to know that perhaps when they fell, they were not alone.

In 1992, this hollowed place was renamed Little Big Horn Battlefield (from Custer’s Battlefield) to recognize the Native Americans on both sides of the conflict, Custer had Crow and Arika scouts working for him while there were over one thousand Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors on the other side of the fight. There is a beautiful sculpture called “Peace through Unity” to create understanding between all races.  It’s a place of serenity, reverence and stark beauty, I highly recommend taking it in.