On Living in the Present

As one who is forever letting go of work she is no longer interested in and picking up new pursuits, I find I’m very “forward” thinking – not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that I’m always thinking about what lies in front of me.  What interests will I pursue next?  How can I adjust my schedule so that I can pursue a newfound interest?

Something I struggle with is the ability turn off this forward thinking and look around once in a while to accept and enjoy what is here and where I am in the present.

I believe that there can exist a happy medium – a place where I can both enjoy where I am while also thinking about where I next want to go.  However, I have not yet been able to master living in that space.

But I’m on a new path.  Now that I’ve recognized how stressed I make myself in thinking about the future, I realize the benefits of recognizing and appreciating the present.

And that’s where gratitude comes in.  Because isn’t part of living in the present being grateful for all it is that you have right here, right now?  So here are some things and people for whom I’m grateful:

My family – who seems to be quite accepting of my lifestyle, though I know it took some getting used to

My friends – who pull me “back from the ledge” when I think I’m going to ditch this life and go for the standard 9-5

Anyone I’ve met who is curious about how it is I manage to make a living – I love answering your questions.

I’m also grateful for the local farmer’s market that didn’t exist in this town when I was growing up here.  And for the winter CSA share I’ll be getting.  (Check out localharvest.org to find local food and/or restaurants that serve it near you!)

I’m grateful for the friends I have that come over and eat whatever concoction it is I’ve cooked that night.  As a woman living alone, it’s hard to get motivated to cook for just me, but much easier (and an absolute joy) when friends are coming over.

For my local library – one of the best sources out there for people who are curious about all sorts of things.  And also for that fact that they are on-line – which means as soon as someone recommends a book I should read, I can request it and have it delivered to my local library.

So take some time today and join me in being grateful for the present:)

More on Following Your Heart

Following your heart is not to be confused with following your head.  How do you tell the difference?  Well, here’s what I’ve learned:

1

Your heart’s message is usually pretty simple.   (For example, “Give them one more try.”)

Your mind’s message is usually a never-ending stream of debating what you should do.  (For example, “You’ve gone in that place a few times, and they haven’t had what you wanted.  You’re running a little late this morning besides.  So why waste your time stopping when they probably don’t even have what you want?  I mean….”)

2

Your heart’s message doesn’t usually have any “good reason” to go with it.  It just “feels” right.  If someone were to ask you why you were going with your heart, you wouldn’t easily be able to explain it.  In fact, you’d most likely say something like, “I don’t know…I can’t really tell you, but I know it’s the way to go.”

Your mind, on the other hand, presents you with all kinds of “logical reasons”.  See above examples.

And that’s pretty much it.  Some of you are pretty clear on telling the difference, but for those of you that aren’t sure, try to distinguish between the two.  Then, if you really want to see some amazing things happen, go with your heart:)

Follow Your Heart – part 1

You’ve probably heard it before.  It has many forms: follow your heart, follow your bliss, go with your gut, etc.  Some refer to it as the “voice” in their head, some even refer to it as a higher power speaking to them.  Whatever it is, I’ve learned that when I follow it, I can’t go wrong.

It’s opposite, or complement, is your mind.  The logical part of your thinking, the one that tries to justify all your decisions with a “good reason.”

For example, I stop at my local coffee shop once a week for their Morning Glory Cookie/Muffin.  It’s full of good-for-you stuff and keeps me going until lunch.  Lately, though, whoever was baking the Morning Glories was cooking them a little bit longer than I would have liked.  So I went in a couple weeks ago, looked at them, and when the usual woman went to get my usual morning order, I stopped her saying, “They’re a little to well done for me today.”  She expressed her concern.  I said not to worry about it and bought a fattening sugar coated goody instead.

This past Tuesday, I was debating to stop in to see if the Glories looked any better.  My logical mind said, “You went back a couple times and they weren’t good – why try again?”  But my heart said, “Just give them one more chance – trust me.”  So against my better “judgment” I went with my heart.

“You’re back!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed as soon as I walked in the door.  “LOOK!” she said, and spread her hands out before her encouraging me to look at the plate of Morning Glories.  They were perfectly golden – not too dark or overcooked.

“Perfect,” I said, “I’ll take one.”

“Oh, good,” she said.  “We didn’t want to lose you as a customer!”

A younger employee hurried over.  “I’m sorry – I just started taking over baking them.  They’re good?”

Before I could answer, the manager came over.  “It’s on the house today.”

I thanked them all, assured the young baker she was doing a fine job, and left with a smile on my face.  My heart was right – but beyond any way I could have imagined.

Of course, this is also a lesson in stellar customer service, but that’s a story for another day.

Now, you might be thinking “it was just a muffin.”  But sometimes when following your heart, you start small.  Like with a muffin.  And once you see how well it works, you go with it on larger things.  That’s why this is just Part 1 of this segment:)

Encouragement

I’m a volunteer at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site  in Hyde Park, NY.  What I love most about being there is talking to people from all over the country, and the world.  Today I met a woman visiting us from Maine.  Her father had asked me about the other historic sites in our area, and he and I got to talking about where we’d been.  She wheeled over to us and joined the conversation.  Her father started talking about a trolley that took folks from Springfield, MA to the Berkshires.  He casually said, “I don’t know how familiar you are with Massachusetts.”

“I lived in Boston for five years,” I said.

“Oh really?  Why did you leave?” he asked.

“Because I thought I wanted to buy a house.  So I moved in with mom and dad here and started saving only to realize I really didn’t want to own a house by myself.”

“Good for you,” his daughter responded.  “I was 38 when I bought my house – there’s no rush.”

“I’ve moved every year since college, and I don’t really know where I want to settle yet – if at all – so I’m fine with renting right now.  I might never buy something – I like the freedom of being able to just up and go,” I explained, though I knew I didn’t have to explain myself to her.

“How old are you?” she asked in a lower voice.

“Thirty-two. ”

“Oh – plenty of time.  Get out there, do it all while you can.  I’m glad I did,” she said as she looked down at her legs in her wheelchair.  “I spent two months driving across the country when I was younger,” she continued.  “And thankfully he let me go,” she said, smiling at her father.  I asked about her route.  She lit up as she talked about her travels.  “I met a lot of blue hairs who said they wished they had done the trip when they were my age.”  She explained that she had no idea at that time that she’d end up in a wheelchair at this point in her life.

It was the “blue hairs” she mentioned that had inspired me to travel as well.  When I first started working as a Park Ranger at Vanderbilt Mansion, the place was flooded each day with tour buses of senior citizens.  Plenty of them would come up to me, in my uniform a mere eighteen years old, and say “Travel while you’re young!  And especially when you have hardly any money!  You can sleep anywhere and you’ll have a lot more fun!”

Since those wise words of wisdom, I’ve been to Europe twice – once all by myself.  I’ve hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  I took internships in places I’d never heard of just to experience living in another part of the country.  I volunteered in Mississippi and realized how amazing our own country is, and how strikingly different it can be from north to south, east to mid-west to west.

So when I need a little pick-me-up, I don’t go out shopping.  I volunteer at my local national park, and find I get a lot more than I give:)

Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

Because there are plenty of things that I only want to try once, and this was one of them.  It wasn’t like it was something I had wanted to do for a long time.  In fact, I hadn’t given it much thought at all until the day a co-worker said “a bunch of us are going skydiving next month if you want to come.”

I checked the date, had nothing else going on that day, and so said yes.

So on a Thursday night in September of 2007, I sent an e-mail out to my four siblings.  I told them my plans for the next morning, and told them that in case something went wrong I wanted them each to know what I liked most about them.

And on Friday morning, I joined my co-workers at 13,000 feet and jumped – with a guy on my back who pulled all the necessary cords to get us down safely.

There are two parts to a jump as far as I’m concerned: the free fall, and then the part where the parachute is out.  During the free fall, I felt like I was going to throw up.  We’d talked about this before we left the ground, and I was told it rarely happens.  But there I was thinking “oh, this poor guy on my back is going to have to watch me vomit.”  Thankfully, it didn’t happen.  After what seemed like an eternity, he let out the parachute.  We slowed down, and the without the wind rushing past my face I could actually talk to the guy.  When he asked if I was okay, I lied and told  him I was fine.  What could he do for me anyway?

On the ground, I confessed my illness during the freefall.  I was told it was because I was dehydrated.  I believed it until I watched the DVD of my jump.  During the free fall, the guy on my back spun me around eight times!

That DVD came in handy when I stopped at my parents house after the jump.  My dad had watched me jump, and I wanted to show mom the footage.  My brother was sitting on the front porch when I arrived.

“Hey.  What are you up to?” he asked.

“I jumped out of a plane this morning,” I told him.

“You did not!” he said.

“Yeah I did – didn’t you get my email?”

“What e-mail?” he asked.

“You didn’t read your e-mail last night?”

“No – did I miss something?”

“Yeah – I jumped out of a plane this morning, and wrote you guys an e-mail last night telling you what I loved about you in case I died.”

“You did not!” he repeated.

“Yes I did!  I have the DVD – you wanna watch it?”

“You got a DVD of you jumping out of a plane?”  he asked.

This was getting ridiculous.  He followed me inside where we watched the five minute DVD of my jump.

“Wow, Becky.  If you didn’t have that DVD, I never would have believed you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“So you jumped out of a plane and didn’t tell me?  I would’ve gone with you!” he said.

I can’t win with this kid….

Want to try it?  Check out http://www.skydivetheranch.com/

The Things I Don’t Want to Do…

A friend saw the tagline for my blog and said, “Why don’t you shorten it to: one woman’s quest to pursue everything?”

Well, because believe it or not, there are things that actually don’t interest me.  I recall that Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose had an exercise for those of us that felt too overwhelmed by all the things we wanted to do in our lifetimes.  She had us list all the things that we don’t want to do.

As I contemplated my friend’s question, I decided to hunt down the notebook in which I had written that list. Guess what?  There are only five things on it.  And as I recall, it took a while to come up with those.  Four out of five of them are things I’ve already done that I don’t want to do anymore, so do they really count?

So I started to think about it again: what things actually don’t I want to do?  Here’s my list (the first five are my original list):

  1. Travel with a tour group
  2. Travel alone
  3. Work a single full-time job
  4. Live permanently too far from my family
  5. Own a huge house
  6. Scuba Dive
  7. Own a snake or any sort of reptile
  8. Make a movie
  9. Work in a monotonous environment

As I’m trying to come up with this list, I find myself looking around my apartment for inspiration.  I see my candles and think “candle making – sure, I’d like to try that.”  My baby pumpkins: Sure, I’d like to grow those.  My wrought iron candle holders: sure, I’d like to try blacksmithing.

  1. Be any sort of repairman (woman/person) (as I see my TV)
  2. Work in Sales (as my dad calls me on my cell phone and I think how much I’d like an iPhone)

Well, that’s as far as I can get.

What things don’t you want to do?

Talk to Strangers

Last week I was invited to a Barn Blessing.  I had never been to one, and so of course accepted the invitation.  The barn belongs to M. –  someone I’d just met a few weeks earlier and spoken to for all of about 15 minutes.  This was all the time I needed to find out she had left a field she’d been in for quite some time (medicine) to try her hand at something new (teaching and farming).

Farming?  Oh how fun!  I had just finished listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about living on local food for an entire year.  I’d also started frequenting my local farmers market more often.  And so I felt that M. came into my life at just the right time.  Though I don’t have the property to start my own farm, it’s a perfectly good time to do some research into how it’s done…just in case:)

Renaissance Souls do this a lot – look into something just to test the waters.  They may not be able to go in full force, and many times they don’t want to.  We just want to try it out.  And M. was giving me this opportunity.

When I asked if I could see her farm and help her out on it, she invited me to her Barn Blessing and said I could come earlier to help set up.

I arrived at her home this past Saturday an hour before festivities were to begin.  I joined her in the kitchen (my most favorite room in anyone’s house – especially if I’m helping them cook), and started chopping apples.  But these weren’t just any apples.  They were heirloom apples from Montgomery Place – a local historic site that sells the produce from their orchards.  These were the best tasting apples I’d ever had.  She wasn’t sure the variety, but as soon as she said “heirloom” I knew they had to be good.

Back in the day, when most people got their food from their own farms or at least from their local area, there were oodles of varieties of apples (and tomatoes, and squash and….you get the idea).  But nowadays, what we buy in the supermarket are just a few varieties that are bred specifically for certain traits – namely high productivity, resistance to pests and ability to withstand the machines used to pick them, for example.  Note that they are not necessarily bred for taste!

You won’t find heirloom varieties in the supermarket.  But you will find them at your local farmers market, and they are worth every penny!

M. encouraged me to eat as many apples as I wanted and I graciously accepted. As I chopped, M. and I talked about the difficulties in leaving a profession for which you were groomed.

“People asked me what I would do with myself – as if the only thing I could do was be a doctor,” she explained.  I knew where she was coming from.  I went to school to be a physical therapist.  When I wanted to switch majors, numerous people said, “But it was so competitive to get into the program – why would you want to leave?”

“Just because it was competitive to get in doesn’t mean I’m going to like it,” I responded.  People just didn’t understand.

Well, M. took the leap.  She found a life coach to help her through the transition and is now, like me, an adjunct at a local college (where we met).  She also has a farm with sheep, llamas and chickens.

After I was finished chopping (and eating) the delicious heirloom apples, M. tossed me out of the kitchen to go take a look at her farm.  The barn was beautifully decorated with mums.  Hay bales were circled around one end upon which we could sit and listen to the four piece band.

The two llamas were inseparable.  They’d look you right in the eyes, close enough to your face to kiss you, but if you lifted a hand to pet them, they’d turn away.  The sheep and chickens couldn’t have cared less for the crowd of 60 around them.  They puttered around feeding on the grass and hay.

Guests continued to arrive with bountiful dishes full of great food.  We ate, drank, and made merry.  We gathered for the barn blessing, and then continued on with the merriment.  It was a quintessential fall day in the Northeast – our whole gathering was framed by the yellow, red, and green leaves of the surrounding trees.

As things quieted down, M. invited me back any morning to help her muck out stalls and feed the animals.  I plan on taking her up on her offer and you’ll be sure to hear about it.

A bike ride (part 2)

Whoever said there are no hills in Iowa has never attempted to ride a bike across that state.  On the first day of our 490 mile trek, I spent just as much time walking my bike as I did riding it.  T. and I realized that we had been practicing on a Rail Trail in Boston – a FLAT paved surface.  I honestly don’t think I had ridden my bike up a single hill until I got to Iowa.

After 40 miles, I called it quits for the day.  The friend we brought with us to drive our gear from town to town met us at one of the stopover towns, threw my bike in the back of the truck, and drove me to our first overnight destination.  I thought 40 miles was such an accomplishment that I decided to take the second day off.  Besides the fact that it was too painful for me to sit on my bike the second day.

By the third day I was back in the saddle again.  I did about 40 miles and then hopped in the truck once again.  The fourth day it rained, and since I had enough trouble biking 40 miles in good weather, I wasn’t going to even attempt biking in the rain.  My boyfriend rejoiced.  He was doing his best to not take off ahead of me each day and this was his reward.

All in all, I biked about 150 miles over seven days and had a blast.  There was indeed food every few miles.  And not just any food – really good food!  Breakfast burritos, Mr. Pork Chop, church dinners.  Every Boy Scout troop and local charity from Onawa to Clinton was out on the route selling us something delicious – for a reasonable price, no less.  The people in Iowa were incredibly friendly, every rider was fascinating to talk to.  Every time I stopped, there were tons of riders coming in behind me.  I was never the last one, never alone.

It was an adventure I’d highly recommend to anyone with a remote interest.  Go with a group – there were six of us plus our volunteer driver.  You can go without a driver and pay to have your stuff carted from town to town if you want. Other states have similar rides, but Iowa was the first to do it, and in my opinion they do such a good job I wouldn’t look anywhere else.  Of course, I haven’t ridden any other states, so I’m a little biased.  In fact, I haven’t really ridden my $80 craigslist bike since RAGBRAI.  But that’s a Renaissance Soul for you.  We do something until we’re satisfied, then we move on.

For some great pics of RAGBRAI 2004, click here.

A bike ride

Renaissance Souls find something nearly every day they want to pursue.  Just today I saw a poster at my local coffee shop for a rain bucket building workshop.  I have no idea why I’d need a rain bucket, but I definitely thought I’d like to learn more about what a rain bucket is, why I might want one, and maybe take the class.

Us Renaissance Souls find ideas everywhere – in conversations with other people, on TV programs, on posters in the coffee shop.  Some we say “oh, that sounds interesting,” and it ends there.  Others we jump at as soon as possible.  And still others percolate and maybe only get pursued much later, should the right conditions arise.  Such is the story of how I came to find myself riding a bike across Iowa in the summer of 2004.

Four years ealier I met a woman who had ridden her bike across the country.  I can’t recall what the cause was, but I do remember thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t want to ride across the country…but a big bike ride might be fun.”  I didn’t think about again until early 2004 when my native Iowan boyfriend told me about RAGBRAI.  It’s a seven day bike ride across the state of Iowa with 8500 of your dearest friends.

Let me interject here that I am not at all into physical fitness.  Whereas he was at the gym every day, I was bored to tears thinking about walking on some machine each day that got me nowhere.  So when T. asked if I’d like to do RAGBRAI, I don’t think he ever thought I’d say yes.  But I’m a Renaissance Soul (though I didn’t know it then), and so the idea struck me as enough of a challenge and something that I’d like to try once.  We signed up.  I didn’t even own a bike.

Within a week, I  joined a gym and bought a hybrid bike on craigslist for $80.  (Renaissance Souls are practical people.  I knew I’d probably get this bike across Iowa and never ride it again, so I wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on a new bike.)  I took spinning classes a few times a week, and biked the local Rail Trail with T or on my own a few times a week.  Four months later, I could comfortably bike 10 miles at a stretch.  As good as this sounds, RAGBRAI would require me to bike 60-80 miles per day over seven days.  But my research said that there were food stops at least every 10 miles, so if you could do 10 miles, you were golden.  I was going to test that theory….

To Be Continued….

How I Became a Park Ranger

Mrs. R, my best friend’s mother, was always on the lookout for eligible men for me and her daughter.  On this particular night, she was eyeing park rangers.  We were at the annual Christmas Open House at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.  It’s one of four National Parks in my hometown of Hyde Park, NY.  The staff decorates the home for Christmas each year and, though it’s open nearly every day, the time to really see it in all it’s glory is at night.  So one night every year, all of Hyde Park comes out to see the Vanderbilt Mansion in its Christmas finery.

I wasn’t much for talking to strangers at this point in my life, but Mrs. R took care of that.  She loved chatting with anyone.  Especially good looking Park Rangers that may be marriage material for her daughter and me.   It was during one of these conversations that Mrs. R found out about jobs at Vanderbilt’s.  Not for her, but for us.

“That ranger told me you girls could work here!  They hire people to work just for the summer.  You two should apply,” she encouraged us.

I was more familiar with Vanderbilt’s than most people.  When I was in high school, I played the 110 year old Steinway in the living room for visitors as they toured the house.  As a shy teenager, I played piano for others only if they pretended they weren’t listening.  If we had company at our house, and I was asked to play, I would go into the living room and sit down at the piano.  My mother would bring our guest to another room where they could still hear me, and engage them in conversation explaining that if they stopped talking I’d get nervous thinking that they were focusing on me.

Playing at the Vanderbilt Mansion was a great place to fool myself into thinking the visitors weren’t listening.  The grand piano was in a dark corner.  And the music stand came up to such a height that it was difficult to see me behind it.  When visitors walked into the room, I would hear them ask, “is there a real person back there?”  They thought the music was being “piped in.”  The Park Ranger would tell them I was there, but rarely did I look over the stand at them or get up and talk to them.

So on the application, when they asked if I had any experience in a park, I listed my piano playing.  I came out of my shell that first year in college and was a tour guide on campus.  So I listed that as job experience.

And by April, I had been offered full time summer job at Vanderbilt Mansion NHS.  My best friend never applied.  But her mother was thrilled at the prospect of my meeting my future husband at the park.