Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's a Sunny Day!

It definitely feels like spring today.  There still is a nip in the air that doesn't quite go with the beautiful sunshine, however, there is that imperceptible 'smell' to the air that signals to me the shift in weather.  I can't really explain it except it smells like melting, an easing up, a release of the grip that hard winter has had.  Except this year, winter's turned out to be a weakling. 

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed not having to shovel the car off and shiver in my living room to warm up in the morning but I miss my snow.  I was definitely going to learn how to cross country ski this year and everyday do a circuit or two of my 2 acres to keep in shape.  Cross off the cross country...NO snow, no sledding down the scary hill, no cold, red cheeks, no snowshoeing, no skiing or beautiful pictures of snow covered fields in Northeast Ohio this year. Nope, its 50 plus degrees outside today and the March wind is blowing.

Goldfinch Changing Colors a Month Early
So, what has this crazy weather done to the wildlife?  Well, the birds have eaten off the ground all winter or caught bugs and not had to depend upon us for food.  Those marginal migraters have only gone down to Canton for the winter or haven't left at all.  So, the birds that are harbingers of spring rolled into our area this week; Red-Winged Blackbirds, singing their spring 'gunkladee' song are now starting to look for nesting sites in the marshes around me.  A Grackle was pigging out on my suet feeder today and the Starling presence at my feeder is multiplying. Skunks wandering in a post-hibernation sleep walk ended up on the side of the road taking a most disappointing nap. The poor raccoon is so sleepy from staying up most of the winter he probably is in counseling for sleep deprivation issues.  The squirrels are fat and going on a weight loss program.

Human Gathering Winter Comfort Food
We humans have survived over the eons because we were able to learn and adapt to changing weather patterns.  Huddling in caves when snow hits, reliving the myths and  stories and working on repairing tools and things, socializing and building a society while weather forced us to shelter together.  It still brings us together over beer and brats after a snowshoe trip into the mountains, chili bubbling on the stove with hot cornbread in the oven for 15 after sledding or my favorite, steaming, spicy chicken soup with fat noodles to not only soothe the sore throat but to hit head on the germs with spicy seasonings. 

I think it is the juxtaposition of cold vs hot, life-threatening vs life-supporting, community vs solo that makes the normally difficult season of winter so interesting.  I've missed that livin' on the edge and huddling  together against a common foe this year.  BUT, we still have High School Basketball tourney time, there is still a chance for bad weather....and you Hoosiers know what I'm talkin' about.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yeah for Small Businesses!

Picture of Wildlife Babies display board at Nature Realm
while Metro Parks of Summit Co Naturalist
Many of you know about my search for employment up here in Northeast Ohio which has spanned the last 5 years.  Jobs have come, jobs have gone all improving my jack-of-all trades brand.  I have a lot of skills, I keep telling unbelievers and here is why I think I can say that. 

 In my life I have held the following positions:  Bird seed seller, Naturalist, Volunteer and Membership Manager, High-end Outdoor Gear sales person (canoes/kayaks/paddle boats, shoes, backpacks, paddles, outdoor apparel etc), caterer, janitor, babysitter, delivery truck scheduler, camp counselor, lifeguard, boating skills trainer, Outdoor & Environmental Program Manager (created, presented, evaluated all programs), Day & Resident Camp Administrator, volunteer editor, writer, Marketing professional, Administrative Asst to CEO of Major Company, Job Coach for MR/DD High School students....phew, ok these are all the jobs I can remember...think that is enough to have done in one lifetime?

Piliated Woodpecker outside Nature Realm Window
Yet in the current economic environment of NE Ohio, I seem to be under skilled or undervalued or perhaps, I am just too old.  I think that I am quickly becoming one of those people I used to look at and sigh saying, Oh they probably will never have a real job again.  Those words now have turned back on me.

 While hanging out at the Stow Community Job Club, I used to tell my friends that with the level of talent in the group we should be able to form a company and do anything, that we needed to start to "make it happen for ourselves".  Well, after nine months of looking, thousands of creative words penned into resumes and cover letters and lost, interviews, phone calls, learning Power Point 7 with nothing but dead ends and sorry, you weren't chosen, have a nice life ringing in my brain, I've finally decided to take my own advise and to make it happen for myself. 
Waterfront at Camp NaWaKwa where I was
Outdoor & Environmental Program Manager
The issue with this is that it takes lots of energy and generally money.  Two things that seem in short supply in my life right now.  So what is a woman to do then?  Maybe I'll break out and do something crazy, like hike 2100 miles, or perhaps leave everything and go babysit my grandbaby, or maybe even take off to New Mexico and hang out in the Taos Mountains knitting.  Sky's the limit I say.
Photo Credit: Greg Boone
Stacy, owner of Step Outdoors in CO

 I have the greatest admiration for those who have struck out on their own in these difficult economic times.  I cheer them on, I jump up and down when they succeed, I pat them on the back and give them a hand when they are downcast...mostly virtually since they are almost all far away.  The energy and effort it takes to market, do the work and plan ahead in a small business situation is extraordinary. 

So, in an effort to help some of my favorite people along the way, here's a list of fine independent business people.  Solid skills, good service and a smile is what you'll get when you visit these entrepreneurs.  Remember that if you do not visit the small, local, speciality business because they are a little more expensive, out of your way or its faster to do it online or at the local Megastore, the next time you need some good advice about organic gardening, why your hiking boots don't fit anymore or need a good book to read, or want to go outdoors with others, they might not be there.  I support the 3/50 project which means that each month I try to visit 3 local businesses and spend $50.  Small businesses are the backbone of the financial recovery.  Visit some of these folks why don't you? 

Photo Credit: Nervous Dog Coffee Bar
Stow, Ohio
 Many of these shops are local to me in Ohio, some are online and run by friends.  Please forgive me if I've forgotten you and send me a reply so I can link to your website.  All of the owners are everyday Americans just trying to get by.  I am sure you have many places in your town, in your neighborhood who you could support. 

Step Outdoors,                        Vertical Runner Hudson, OH       Dots Tavern, Damascus, VA
Elemental Horizons Packs          Nervous Dog Cafe, CF, OH        Mt Rogers Outfitters

Mocha Joes, Stow, OH              Lightheart Gear, Asheville        AntiGravity Gear
Appalachian Outfitters, OH        Learned Owl, Hudson, OH        
Katie Lehmkuhl, Massage Therapist, Indpls
Clark Fine Photography             Catalyst Homes & Investments, OK City       

Judy, Lightheart Gear
Dean of Clark Fine Photography

George "Tin Man" Andrews
Owner, Anti-Gravity Gear
 In the next weeks, in order to make it happen for myself I will try to add some more informational pages to this blog since I do know a thing or two about a couple of subjects.  I may even try to sell you some stuff like photographs or jewelry or maybe a handknit scarf in your favorite colors.  I have some antique Haviland china or a backpacking sleeping bag you might like to take off my hands.  I might even put on my ninja clothing and secret shop or maybe I'll just chuck it all and go hiking. So, as I attempt to launch myself into the air, free falling into the unknown, I know that I am in good company and that even if I fall flat on my face there will be someone there to give me a hand up.    
Left to Right
Owner Massage Therapy Business, Future Small Organic Farm owner, owner Catalyst Homes


Monday, February 20, 2012

Friends, Especially When They Show Up Unexpectedly, Rock

Photo Credit: Amy Forniash
Vera in Tom Hennessy
Original "hat"

   I've been trying to write an article about friends all week long and I just can't seem to get it done.  Everything I write arrives onto the page and either sounds maudlin or stilted.  The fact is, when I talk about my friends and what they mean to me I get all choked up.  I'm just totally the biggest fan of all my friends. 

I wasn't always this way.  In fact, its taken a long time to get me to a place where I even thought I had friends.  I knew a lot of people but didnt' really think that they thought too much of me.  Now, I'm giddy because over the last couple of years, the universe has wacked me over the head repeatedly proving to me over and over again that I had people who cared about me.  This was amazing to me but I also realized friendship comes with responsibility. 

Having friends means that I have to work harder to be the best me I can be.  I owe it to them.  They like ME and when I veer from my true path or personality, they let me know.  So I've learned to be true to myself and listen to the advice I give to others.  It most often applies to me too.

I tend to be kinder to people because when I hurt my friends feelings, they get quiet and lower their eyes and sometimes don't call me for a while.  When I hurt others, I hurt, so I try to make sure that while trying to be myself, I don't run over them with my opinions or demands. 

Friendship has made me a better person.  I'm far from perfect for sure but I do try to consider how my actions will affect those I love.  In the long run, this attitude spreads to others and I find that in my daily interactions I now see strangers as potential friends and treat them with kindness,   respect and consideration.  Being kind takes practice.

My friends are my biggest cheerleaders and from them I've learned to say things like Great Job or Oh, I'm sorry or WOW that is terrific! or Are you SURE you want to do that? 
 Being a friend means that you've got each other's back, that you become enthusiastic when friends attempt scary things that are good for them but drop guarded warnings whenthey're about to do something silly. Do I make mistakes, sure do and so I've learned to say, I'm sorry, too.

My friends live all over the United States, so, it isn't often that we are in the same place at the same time.  But when we are, there is a great amount of hugging, laughing, crying, big fish tale-like hiking story-telling and fun.  At the end, we sigh and wave good-bye and promise to get together more often or say, YES, we will hike with them in this or that month.  But truly, we all are aware of the fragility of life and my crowd of friends is aging. 

We've learned to value those special times of sharing.  We box them up, wrap them in bright paper and bold ribbons, store them on a prominent shelf in our minds so that we can get them out often to page through them.  We remember that friend's hearty laugh and how it just makes the room light up and all of us smile. We remember the confidences and the promises of support we've made.  As we wave good-bye, already we are planning the next get-together and counting the days until we see one another again.

At this most recent gathering, I had the  opportunity to meet several people who I think will become good friends.  Already, one who is traveling across country, has stopped to visit on his way west.  Another, just got a job after 3 months of unemployment.  Others are planning long hikes. 

Oh and I my lovely children have become good, good friends and  are in the midst of their own exciting changes like graduating from college, starting new enterprises and raising well, my lovely grandchildren.  I am, giddily, proud! 
So, when new people come into your life welcome them openly.  Let them blow into your life like a breeze through an open window, let them catch the dust laying in the corners of your life, move the curtains to and fro and stir things up.  When everything settles down again if you're like me you'll feel renewed, and want to climb mountains or stay up all night sharing thoughts.  Or maybe you'll just sit for a while and consider how great it is to be exactly who you are.    

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wow, Walking #2!

WOW! I just walked 2 miles, I thought happily as I arrived back in the parking lot at my car.  I patted myself on the back feeling full of joy and accomplishment.  Despite the waning, evening sun's attempt to warm me and the effort I had expended on that last climb, I was chilled.  As I stood in the 40 mph wind at the car knocking the mud off my shoes, my thoughts wandered into the past to 2005. 

A clear vision of myself standing atop Silar's Bald in North Carolina came to me in a flash.  At that moment on Silar's Bald, I was full to the top with mixed emotions,  laughing and crying for the revelations I'd had there  It was at the end of this 100 plus mile hike that I'd realized that up there, on that mountain with my world on my back, I was more, ME, than I'd ever been before.  This realization changed my life and since then I've never been the same. 

Really, I'm sure you've noticed me staring off out the window with a come hither look in my eye or possibly disappearing into my thoughts in the middle of a conversation.  Yes, I've left you and this place and even this body I am now hauling around and gone back to that moment, that day.

So, it was with surprise that on this chilly Thursday in February standing in the cold wind at my car door after walking a small distance in comparison, that I found myself feeling, well, full of myself at my accomplishment. 

The last several years of underemployment, office jobs and lack of paid time off has left its toll causing me to not only inevitably age but also lose muscles and gain weight.  Throw in the knee issues which sideline me at whim and well, I've not stayed in shape.  Let's face it, I'm about as out of shape as I've ever been.  However,this year I've made a vow.  Irrevocable and demanding its due, I will have to pay it at the end of this year.

Most would think maybe I've made excuses and I'll take that because when faced with difficulties, I think a portion of that is ok.  When a bunch of adversaries come at you, all at one time, in a fierce group, nashing their terrible teeth, trying to bring you down, well, a person can only fight them one at a time, the rest of those nasties you just have to push to the side the best you can. 

Photo by Restless Jim Davis
So, this year the vow includes walking 2 miles, then hiking 8 and then backpacking again if the knee allows.  Only the knee will create the inability, I've decided, not the psyche, not the excuses, not the time, not the lack of funds.  I will lay all my chips down and let them fall as they may to win it all.  I want to get that edge back, that feeling that I have the moon and stars in my hands.  I want the confidence to know that I can climb to the top of the mountain again with the wind at my back and the mountains in front of me knowing that I can go, do and be whomever I want to be. I want to feel that exhiliration again before I sink too far into the barcalounger and end up staying there.

As the sun sets over Tallmadge Meadows Park, I thought, I'll take the 2 miles today and raise them to 4 next week and then 6 in a month.  I'll get there and if I don't, it won't be because I didn't try.  If the knee fails me then I'll find a way to recreate that top of the mountain feeling again by finding new risks to take, like publishing my poetry or FINALLY sending in a submission to a magazine.  Yup, THOSE things REALLY scare me. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Beautiful Howling-Moon Night

Luckily, my driveway and house face east affording me a free and clear view of all orbs which rise in the east.  Tonight as I arrived in said drive, the full moon was up and had already sailed over the small tree line.  The night sky stretched clear and beautiful before me, a black velvet dress of a sky, an off-the-shoulder affair worn with a brilliant diamond necklace made of stars.  Howling-moon nights like this with a bite in the air, meaning it's about 32 degrees and chilling, are my favorite kind of backpacking weather.  Why you say?  Well, because on a night like this when out in the wild, I know I am fully alive. 

I set my tent in a clearing after hiking a PUD filled trail full of amazing views, cook my dinner over a backpacking stove while reviewing the days events with my hiking buddies, pee for the last time in hopes that I don't have to get out again and freeze my patootie off and then hit the sleeping bag before I can't feel my feet.  I like to put my boots in the bottom of my sleeping bag so that they aren't stiff and frozen in the morning.  As I snuggle into the fluffy softness of my 15 degree bag, I offer up a silent "thank-you" to the gear gods who design and make this lovely, lightweight backpacking gear which allows this cold-weenie to experience nights like this.  As I turn out my headlamp, I start the nightly ritual that we've developed over the years, I say into the darkness, "Good-night Debbie" and in a litany of laughing name-calling the group says good-night to each other until one of us ends saying what we all know ends this ritual, "Good-night John-boy". 

The night creeps in upon me and within minutes soft snoring starts but I remain awake enjoying the sounds which creep up next to my tent and sit there waiting to scare me like imaginary monsters in a closet.  Small scuffling, snuffling and noises of breaking leaves and twigs come from the edges of the clearing.  "What is out there", I think and while imagining what really COULD be out there, I fall asleep.

Later, deep into the full moon-howling night, I rise, exit my tent following the call of the wild, the need for a potty break.  It's about 25 degrees or colder, the frost dusts the tips of the bushes and paints the leaves on the forest floor with fairy dust and the moon makes it all sparkle with the colors of the rainbow, blinding me at times with the brilliance.  My breath floats before me where hot meets cold and everything is bathed in moon glow.  No one else is awake and it's freezing.   My fleece is all that protects me from the deep, clear cold and as I pull down the long underwear the icy air hits my nether parts.   Yikes!!  Oddly, enough pottying in the middle of the night is the best part of winter camping for the stark contrast between beauty and cold is mind-numbing, literally!  At this point, when done and returning my clothing to their proper place on my body, I stand, tilt my head back, stare into space and suck in the cold, cold reality of the immenseness of the universe.  I want to howl for the life within me.

And that is why on nights like this when I enter my safe, comfortable home, my wild side stays outside and sits on its haunches in the yard until the moon rises so high that it no longer reflects the colors of the rainbow off the hair on my head.  That is when I rise and walk, into the woods, into the wild, following the call of my self.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It's a Wonderful World

I stopped at a stoplight this afternoon and while sucking the last bite of Handel's All Heart ice cream from the end of the sugar cone, I noticed 3 girls on bicycles to the left of me waiting to cross the street.  They were headed for ice cream also on this sunny, beautifully warm February day in NE Ohio...that is just what Buckeyes do eat ice cream all year long ..in the cold, in the rain, in the snow...its funny and heartening.  Anyway, the girl's faces all of a sudden lit up and they started waving their arms yelling to friends exiting a car in the Handels parking lot.  I heard nothing but It was such a genuinely happy gesture, so free and easy and without care it caused tears to come to my eyes.

What kind of world are we leaving our children and grandchildren was my first thought. I'd just finished hearing about a war in Sudan, a possible war between Israel and Iran which our law makers would jump all over, the war in Afghanistan, other global disagreements happening everywhere.  I just read on FB a friend's post celebrating the fact a man felt like he needed to kill a teen who was acting like a butt when into my head jumped a picture of the gap that is ever widening between people because we cannot seem to listen without judgement or anger to people with differing opinions anymore, as a country we are divided and unable to accept other's who have differing opinions or are different. 

These young people, so oblivious to what is going on around the world, were caught up in what was happening at that moment..they saw their friends and were happy.  They were so focused that they failed to see the light change providing them with the opportunity to cross and join their friends.  How much happier might we be if we could enjoy the moment and not worry about the consequences of things...just be happy that we are here, alive and have friends.   This interaction made me think of some people who I try to emulate, so I'll share some words to live by from them.  Maybe if we all try to enjoy the moments more, stop sweating the big stuff and learn to focus on the small stuff (like my daffodils are up!!), enjoy just being with our friends and not worry about how different our opinions are and well, love each other more just 'cuz we're all humans and alive in this great, big beautiful world, maybe if we do this we can turn this bus around and head in a better direction...let's think about the kids, the future and how if we keep fighting there isn't gonna be much left for them to inherit...except maybe a desert wasteland.

Namaste all!

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.