Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail

This is actually the over fifty’s guide to backpacking on the AT.  For me it’s actually a guide to returning to the woods after forty plus years.  I have hiked in in a multitude of places from Mount Saint Helena in Napa, California to Tent Rocks in New Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru.  None of those hikes were with a twenty-pound backpack.  They were all day hikes, rather like a scenery stroll. And, they all ended where I was sleeping comfortably in a cushy bed with running water, a flush toilet and a solid roof over my head.  The last time I had a backpack on was when I was at Camp Merrowvista in Ossipee New Hampshire and I was sixteen.  Things have changed.  More importantly, I have changed.

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My boyfriend, Roy, attempted hiking the entire Appalachian trail in 2015. If you are unfamiliar, this is no small task.  It can take upwards of five to seven months to complete the 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin Maine. Roy made it 531 miles before a medical issue derailed his attempt.  This brought me to wanting to experience the allure of the trail.

Here are my findings:

Water

This is a whole different ball game when it comes to backpacking versus day hiking.  Though towns are close to the trail, it isn’t the point to hike and drop back into civilization. There aren’t handy convenience stores or faucets or water fountains out on the trail.  Carrying two or five or ten days of water is not feasible.  Roy bought me a Sawyer Mini Water filter about a month before we went backpacking.  I threw it in my closet and figured I’d be carrying my water with me. Nope.  Water is the heaviest item you are carrying so you try and just keep enough for one day. Make sure you know where the springs or water sources are along the trail.  It’s not like a road trip where you can stop off at the next exit to refill on water and use the restrooms!  We had several empty water bottles to help filter from our bladder bags when we refilled at a water source on the trail.  We were fortunate that the water source was a cistern on the trail versus a spring along the trail. It would have been a process and a lot more time consuming to retrieve water from a natural source. Sawyer filtration systems are very easy to use and are highly recommended by practically every A.T. thru hiker.  Don’t leave home without a water system at the ready and the location of the water sources.

Guide

I was fortunate to be with a seasoned hiker like Roy on the trail.  He knew that we needed the most recent A.T. Guide Northbound 2018.  Roy had ripped out the page we needed for our hike.  It showed the elevation, the location of the shelters and water sources along the route we were taking. If we didn’t have the guide it would have been impossible to know where the next water source might be or the next shelter.  You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a GPS or Map application or a paper map, make sure you have one that is the most up to date before you head out.  On the A.T., the white blazes on the trees and rocks are your guide but there are blue blazes (indicating a trail to a water source or shelter) and double white blazes (indicating some type of change coming up such as a fire road crossing) as well.  These indicate when you are off the main trail or if there is a change coming up.   You might wonder why you need the most updated guide for the trail but there are changes each year as trails become rerouted due to damage and/or remeasured by volunteers.  In contrast, my day hikes were trails that were for the most part heavily signed with frequent mileage markers.  The A.T. has very few signs so the guide is invaluable when heading out. I found it frustrating in retrospect that I didn’t know I had walked a half mile or not.  Most day hikes have a lot more signage with progress indicated along the way.  It would be very easy to get lost rather quickly if we didn’t stick to the white blazes.

Clothing

My daughter, Natalie, is an experienced backpacker as well as Roy.  Both kept warning me about not having ANY cotton clothing on the trip. Cotton will absorb sweat like a sponge and will not properly insulate.  Boy am I glad I listened.  I opted for everything to be nylon or polyester except for wool socks.  I tried a few shirts on that were merino wool but they irritated my skins.  In my practice hikes, I tested out several sets of shirts and pants to make sure nothing rubbed against my backpack.  I cut every tag off every piece of clothing that I took with me. I get aggravated by anything rubbing against my skin.  I didn’t want to be looking for a pair of scissors two miles in.  I had a total of three (yes three) jackets.  One rain jacket for rain and wind which I started off in because it was 40 degrees and windy at the beginning.  A fleece jacket which I changed into once the wind died down and it was still cold and then a puffy down jacket at the actual campsite because I wasn’t exerting myself as much and needed to keep my body heat.  I had a base layer for under my hiking pants which I kept on the entire trip to stay warm.  The only thing I didn’t wear that was in my pack was my extra underwear. So my entire list was three pairs of wool socks (one for each day hiking and one pair to sleep in), two pairs of underwear, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain paints, convertible hiking pants, base layer pants (long johns), sports bra, bandana, buff, wool hat, cap, fleece jacket, rain jacket and down jacket.  My advice is to try them all out with your backpack in different temperatures and weather conditions. Being as comfortable as possible is key.

Food

I figured that I would be starving the whole time we were backpacking.  I’m not sure if it was nerves or exhaustion, but I ended up not eating that much.  We had some peanut butter crackers, trail mix and oatmeal bars.  I think it’s easy to over think and over carry on food.  We probably brought back about half as much as we started with.  But gratefully, nothing went wrong on the trip.  If we had been stranded for some reason due to injury, we would have needed all the food.  We cooked a rice package for our only dinner on the trail and didn’t even bother with some ramen we had brought. Having a hot cup of tea at the end of a daylong hike in our campsite was restorative.  Coffee, the next morning, when it was 38 degrees was important as well.  There is something about a warm beverage that makes everything feel better. Before you head out, make sure you’ve tested your burner and cookware.  I’m not sure I would have been able to figure it out on my own in the waning light of day.  Warm food makes a huge difference out on the trail.

Light

I had a light attached to the end of a cap for my entire trip.  I knew where that hat was whether it was in the tent, in my pack or on my head. We hiked at the end of October and the sun was setting around 6:30 PM.  I did not want to be stuck hiking, eating, finding water or unpacking my sleeping bag without a light.  It was critical to be able to see at night especially when trying to go to relieve myself.  There were warnings about black bears in the area and being aware of my surroundings was critical. Have a light and know where it is always.

There are more must haves like a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and air mattress. Trekking polls were invaluable as well.  If you take anything away from this at all, test out everything you are planning to take with you in as many ways as possible.  You don’t want to find out five miles in that your hiking shoes are uncomfortable or that your backpack is too small and rubbing on a tag in your clothes. When you head out backpacking you have your entire life on your back.  Thankfully we only went out for a two day hike but getting the right combination of necessities can make the difference between a miserable and wonderful hike.  Make sure you have the right basics for you.

Decide on Happiness

I have struggled over the last two years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

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I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took over a year ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

It’s not my only line in the play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

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I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with Roy. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

Finding Patience

I have been learning how to unearth my patience for a long time. I’ll admit that I figured since it was not naturally occurring within me, that there was no hope. I am always going to be staring at a clock, willing it to stop, while I am late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. How did patience skip me? How did I not learn this? My dad is the most patient man I know. I mean, he taught eighth grade History for over 30 years. He even watched my basement play productions and paid the 25-cent admission fee. He taught kids how to sail at camp; no easy feat. This is a man of infinite patience. How could this possibly skip a generation?

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It turns out that patience is a skill. It’s possible to learn it. Whoa. No more blaming my impatience on my upbringing or DNA. It’s like finding out about the growth mindset as coined by Carol Dweck. It is possible to improve. I can learn this just like I can learn Spanish, crochet, or playing the guitar. I can learn how to employ patience. And so can you.

Here are some ways to find patience:

Acknowledge the need

Not all people move at your pace. Not everyone has the same schedule as you (I get up at 4:30 AM sometimes). Not everyone inhales a plate of food in 5 minutes. Realizing that everyone comes to situations from different places and mindsets is important to acknowledge. Maybe I need to just slow down. Maybe I need to go grab a book or magazine and relax. Everyone is on a different path and they are all engaging in life at a different pace. Realizing this can help you embrace the need for patience.

Gentle forbearance

I think this is my father’s secret. As Michele McDonald wrote for Bicycle, “We may be on the verge of making a brilliant retort to a coworker, but we hold our tongue rather than say something hurtful. Even though our impatience is triggered, we can tap into the deeper reservoir of our motivation not to do harm.” It’s all about getting back into the moment and realizing that we don’t want to prod someone else with our impatience. I can remember my restaurant days when a customer was obviously in a bad mood, I would be overly nice. Kill them with kindness nice. Sometimes doing the opposite of what I want to do is the best antidote. Embrace gentle forbearance.

Endurance of hardship

Again, from McDonald: “Patience isn’t passive; it’s motivated by an acceptance of and compassion for suffering rather a desire to eradicate it. When we feel impatient with our relationships, our work, or our spiritual practice, we need to realize that we are resisting how things are. A sense of humor and curiosity about our lives can also help us confront impatience.” Compare this to curiosity being the cure for fear. Curiosity can be the cure for impatience as well. So if I can add a little wonder to my impatience, I can change it up. Hmmm. I wonder why I am so impatient with the installation of my dishwasher. Is this really about the need for control rather than clean dishes? Do I really feel like Lowe’s has intentionally delayed the install or is it just happenstance? The important thing is that I have the choice to endure with bliss or with anger. Choose your response wisely.

Acceptance of truth

Accept what is the reality of the situation. You are late. Your son is late. The project is late. The flight is late. “Acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is.” As I sit here with the third delay of my new dishwasher to be installed, I am calm and accepting the reality of the situation. To some degree, it’s just fine. So I wash dishes for another week, or month, or year. Washing dishes is actually a Zen experience for me and it’s really not that bad. As my boyfriend Roy says, “This is a first world problem.” Acceptance helps end the suffering.

Bring it back to your body

So much of what helps you move forward when you are impatient is paying attention to your body. What are the signs that you are impatient? Is it the rapid heart rate? The tapping of the foot? The clenched fist or jaw? When you sense the warning signs, come back into your body and slow it down. Unless there is a Polar Bear chasing you, there is no need to elevate the stress in your body. Get out of your head and into you body. Relax. Feel into your toes. Get out of your head and slow down your adrenaline. Most of your perceived threat is in your head. Bring it back to your body.

Build your new skill one moment or situation at a time. Celebrate the small wins you can make over your response to stressful, impulsive situations. What do you need to have patience with?

Being Responsive to Change

I’ve been writing this blog for over seven years and I never know where I will find inspiration. It might be a trip to Paris with college friends, a statue of a dog in Wilmington, North Carolina, or a client mentioning a new idea like “wabi sabi”. This past week, I opened an Honest Tea bottle and inside the cap, there was this quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Well isn’t that thought-provoking?

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I look back at the last two years since Hurricane Matthew, and I have been through radical change: from transforming my flooded home, surviving divorce, sobering up, and adopting a plant-based eating lifestyle. That is a lot of change. That is also a lot of responding to change. And I feel like the species of “Cathy” is on a completely different trajectory than I ever would have imagined three years ago.

Here are my takeaways on being responsive to change:

Appearances are deceiving.

I think of the fable of the frog being boiled alive because it didn’t detect the water temperature slowly changing. The water looked the same but the temperature was rising. It’s that way in relationships. The slow changes in a relationship can be imperceptible. The rules of the relationship have slowly morphed overtime and suddenly you don’t recognize yourself or your partner anymore. Right after the water receded from the flood, we stayed in the house for about three weeks. There was no HVAC, but because the weather was beautiful outside (low humidity and mid-70’s – beautiful for Eastern North Carolina), I had deceived myself into believing that we would not have to move out. The house looks fine, the relationship seems “normal”, and the water doesn’t seem that warm. Take a look below the surface and see what’s really going on. Things may have radically changed and you forgot to notice. Can you really live in a house without HVAC? Can you be in a relationship where you are no longer valued? Can you stay in the water when it’s starting to heat up? Don’t be deceived by appearances.

Patience is the key.

As Abigail Brenner wrote for Psychology Today, “Don’t be impulsive or try to rush the results. Patience will help you arrive at the best possible place you need to be.” There was the lost cabinet that was the linchpin to moving back into the house. It was at least a month to two months longer than expected. There were the slippery slopes of the mountains of bureaucracy associated with the insurance company, mortgage company, FEMA, and contractors. Patience, not my strong suit, was critical. It’s the same with the legal process of divorce. I wanted to just get it all wrapped up neatly in a package and move on. Nope. There is bureaucracy associated with that. I remember thinking over and over and over again, You can’t push a rope. This too shall pass. It’s difficult for someone as impulsive as myself, but the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying of “one day at a time” has incredible value. Relax when you are blindsided by change; lean into it.

Feel the feels.

Pain is difficult. It’s easy to take shortcuts to get around the pain. Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an Amazon Prime shopping binge or polishing off a bottle of Chardonnay. Numbing out of the experience. As the old Children’s song “Going on a Bear Hunt” says, “Can’t go over it, Can’t go under it, Can’t go around it, Got to go through it!” The way to go through is to feel the pain. Feel the feelings. Grief feels like this: tight stomach and clenched teeth. Anger feels like this: tight shoulders and fists. Then sit and feel the feels. Label it and feel it. Stuffing, numbing and ignoring aren’t helping you. It makes the change that much harder because you are trying to go around and not through. I know it can seem daunting. I remember thinking I would never get over the end of my marriage. I thought I would grieve every day. And I did for a while. But I think allowing grieving every day really helped me move on. Feel the pain of letting go of the past. Be with it.

One small step.

In my booklet 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits, I espouse the wisdom in making one or two small adjustments. I think we have all tried to take on the exercise regime, often over do it the first time out, and give up. Or we try the low carb diet and dump all the pasta, cookies and bread out of the pantry only to head to the drive thru the next day. Change is much more palatable with small steps. When I started to remove dairy from my diet, I started with breakfast. What could I eat for breakfast that didn’t have eggs or dairy? Oatmeal with blueberries. OK. One meal that is more plant based. Done. I still had cheese at lunch and dinner. I just removed it from breakfast. I avoid alcohol with one club soda and lime at a time. It’s just as easy to walk up to the bar at the reception and order a club soda with lime.

Give up on perfection with all this. Change isn’t easy. I facilitated a workshop this week and the food choices weren’t very plant based. I had some cheese. It’s OK. It’s good enough. It’s not all or nothing. There is 95%. It’s most important to focus on responding rather than reacting. Change will come. How will you respond?

Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.

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Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

Putting Gratitude into Practice

Most people have some point of feeling grateful; like when the rain finally stops; when they get the overdue raise; when the dog is finally house broken. Sometimes it’s like pounding our head into the wall and when it finally stops, we feel grateful. We can wait for the pain to stop to finally reap our reward. Finally, the house is done; the project went live; the promotion is announced. These can be once-in-a-lifetime, periodic, or once-a-year events. Being grateful for these events is important but it’s not a practice of gratitude.

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A practice of gratitude is finding the joys of life; the little things along with the big things. My dog lying on her back on the couch without a care in the world as Hurricane Florence rages outside. The first sip of coffee at 5:10 AM. The warm embrace. The smile. The knowing glance. The warm melody of the cello playing Bach. There are thousands of things each day that pass by either noticed or not. Gratitude is the butterfly net to catch them.

Here is how to put gratitude into practice:

Reframe the event or issue

I first learned this during my Results Based Coaching with the Neuroleadership Group some seven years ago. Reframing is changing the context in which you view something. Typically, it’s turning something less desirable into something desirable. Changing the glass from being half empty into half full or half empty to thank goodness we have water. Having survived Hurricane Florence this past month has really done a reframe around power, water, air conditioning and abundant grocery stores. It goes from: “I can’t believe Walmart is closed!” to “Thank goodness Food Lion is open and they have fresh produce.” “The bridge is impassable,” to “At least I have power and can work from home.” So, when you run out of gas and have to walk to the gas station, view it as at least I got some exercise today. Reframe the negative into a positive.

Find the opportunity

Figure out what is available. When Hurricane Florence was bearing down on Wilmington, NC, I was home taking advantage of power and hot water. I think I took at least two showers a day and  kept starting up the dishwasher and washing machine. I was thinking, “Well, who knows how long we will have power. Let me do another load.” My boyfriend Roy has never seen a multi-story building he didn’t like. We checked into a hotel that had nine floors. Roy immediately decided that we were going take those stairs twice. “Here is a great opportunity!” So there I was, hiking up and down nine flights of stairs. Why waste a good opportunity for exercise? Park in the farthest spot, walk in the rain, put on a loaded backpack while you mow the lawn. Find the opportunity.

Just two beats longer

I found this in Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. As Burchard writes: Let us forget for now where we are supposed to be and what we should be doing. Instead, let us hold this moment for just two beats longer.

Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss good-bye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.

Life is lived in the extra beats we hold as time unfolds.

In my opinion, those two beats hold gratitude. Savor the moment.

Journaling or whatever

Figure out a way to catalogue your gratitude. I personally have been keeping a gratitude journal for over five years. People approach this task differently – you can figure out what works for you. I kept a gratitude jar on my desk three years ago and wrote each moment of gratitude on a slip of paper, stored it in a jar until year end, and read each one on New Year’s Day. There is the practice of carrying a gratitude rock in your pocket and then touching it whenever you are grateful. You can create a gratitude tree and hang a “leaf” with each thing you are grateful for. You can write a gratitude letter once a day or week or month to thank someone you are grateful for. What’s important is that you pick something you can practice on a regular basis. I currently write five things I am grateful for in the morning and one item I am grateful for in myself (like being able to climb those 9 flights of stairs – TWICE!).

Compliment others

Nothing feels better than paying a sincere compliment. It’s completely free and feels absolutely fantastic. So, whether it’s your co-worker showing up with a new hairstyle or your assistant having completed the report in a timely manner, find something to compliment. People love to be noticed. This can be with someone you know or not. If you like the earrings of the cashier at Whole Foods, tell them you like them. It’s an easy way to pay gratitude forward. If someone pays you a compliment, be sure to say “thank you.” No qualifiers to discount the compliment like: “This old thing? I have had it for years.” Or “I really don’t like the color.” Give and accept compliments gracefully.

The underlying theme of all of this is being present and paying attention. Once it is part of you, it becomes easier and things to be grateful for multiply. Try it yourself.  What are you grateful for?

Dodging a Bullet: Hurricane Florence

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my home was flooded in Hurricane Matthew on October 8th of 2016. It was an incredible lesson, a challenge and, ultimately, contributed to the demise of my marriage. So you can imagine my anxiety as I saw the path of Florence some 5 days before it made landfall and its potential path over my home in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to do and if I even had the fortitude to survive another storm. I did. Currently, my dog Baci, my boyfriend Roy and I are just fine, but I’d like to share my experience dodging the bullet.

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Here is what I learned this time around:

Prepare

Five days before the storm made landfall, every store I went to was out of bottled water. There were random posts on Facebook that the Dollar General had water or bread. I started to fill containers and empty soda bottles with water. I filled every one of my dog’s water bowls to the brim. I filled the bathtub. After Matthew, we had to boil water for about a week. I wanted to make sure there was plenty of water for toilets, dishwashing, etc. I had three (yes, three) exterior battery packs and every electronic device completely charged by Thursday morning. Being able to charge your phone is critical after the storm has passed. In addition, I had everything in my garage stored at waist height or above or in my house. The garage received the brunt of the damage from Matthew and I didn’t want my front yard being full of debris after the storm.

Vigilant

I’m pretty sure I logged about thirty plus hours of Weather Channel before, during and after the storm. I watched as it dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 to a Category 2 at landfall. I had two separate weather apps that notified me of flood, hurricane, and tornado warnings and watches. Forewarned is forearmed. It started to rain on Thursday afternoon so I took the opportunity to run the dishwasher and wash a load of clothes. Knowing we could easily be without power for a week, we were vigilant to use it before it was gone. I cooked things that needed my electric oven and held off on the things we could heat up on a camp stove. When I woke up in the morning of Friday and still had power, I made two cups of coffee before 6 AM. We lowered the thermostat about 5 degrees lower than normal in anticipation of losing power. Use what you have before it’s gone.

Break

We never lost power. Thank goodness. The downside of not losing power is that we were sucked into the anxiety of Jim Cantore (infamous storm-chasing Weather Channel correspondent) knee high in water right outside the hotel I had stayed at just 5 days earlier and constant weather alerts on my iWatch and phone. The apex of which was early Saturday morning when I woke up at 4:30 AM to see the glimmer of water up to the first step of my deck. Gulp. This is it. Matthew all over again. I was devastated. I wept. I remember Roy telling me to take a deep breath. We weren’t being flooded at that moment. This could be the worst of it. We marked the bottom step as our high-water mark. By 11 AM, it was down about an inch. It turned out to be the high-water mark of the storm. We stopped watching the news on a continuous basis. It’s not like we never turned it on but taking a break and, more importantly, taking a breath was really important.

Explore

When the water started to recede, Roy suggested that we walk in the rain down to the dam. The dam on my lake had been reconfigured to spill at a lower lake level, so it made sense to check it out. So there we were, walking in the rain about a mile and a half down to the dam. We saw many snapped pine trees and debris but as with any exercise, it was a relief to get out of the house and to see that actual dam. It had been the cause of the damage from Hurricane Matthew as the lake hadn’t been lowered and the dam wasn’t functioning properly. It was reassuring to see the deluge going over the dam and that nothing seemed amiss. We were not the only ones suffering from cabin fever as we saw many out on the road driving to see how the neighborhood had fared through the storm.

Aftermath 

Keep in mind that if you weather the storm, things will not be back to normal for a while after the storm. It took at least a week for there to be gas and stocked store shelves. Interstate 95 and 40 are still partially closed and countless other roads are closed. Roy headed to his home in Morehead City (near the coast) and it took over 6 hours to get there. Demands on local services were sketchy especially at the coast. Mail service was delayed, businesses closed, ponding on roadways and rivers was still cresting. It will be months, if not years, for many areas to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal. The aftermath goes on and on.

Gratitude

I’m so grateful we didn’t suffer any damage from the storm. There were tree limbs down, ponding, and debris, but it was small and insignificant compared to those along the coast. When co-workers, friends and acquittances now see or talk to me, their first question is “Are you OK?” They were aware of what I went through in Hurricane Matthew and were concerned that I would have a repeat. Heck, I was scared I was going to have a repeat. I feel guilty that we never lost power, cable, Wi-Fi, cellular or running water. I dodged a bullet but I am so grateful that I won’t be dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors and, most importantly, staying put in my lovely home without incident. I am most grateful for those who love and support me, no matter if I am in a beautiful lakeside home or living out of a suitcase.

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and that is exactly what happened. There are thousands who aren’t as fortunate as I. If you would like to help those affected by Hurricane Florence, please contact the American Red Cross.

Run Your Race

I recently finished reading Chrystal Evans Hurst’s book, She’s Still There. She writes about drifting off your path and your life not turning out as planned. I can identify with this, as I am sure you can as well. I don’t know anyone who is living the life they were expecting back in the 1st grade, a time when one decided to be an astronaut, physicist, or doctor. There are lots of unexpected obstacles in our paths and we wake up and wonder how we got here from there.

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What I love about this concept of run your race is that it’s so easy to get caught up in comparisons to the races that others are running. The friend with the ski chalet and new Cadillac, or the sister with no student loans. I’ve run many races in my life, both literally and figuratively. The 5ks where I was the very last to cross the line, and the master’s degree while mid-divorce with two toddlers. They were my races that I survived, thank you very much, and I have the scars to prove it. I have owned a sports car convertible and two failed restaurants, even with a degree in Hospitality. There were highs and lows, but it’s my race and I own it.

Here are some ways to run your race:

Don’t Compare. Being jealous of someone else’s life is soul crushing. As Hurst writes, “We look at the lives of other people and construct opinions of them – and ourselves – based on what we see. The problem is we’re never operating with full intel.” That friend with the ski chalet and caddie? They may be mortgaged up to their eyeballs. They may have a substance abuse problem they can’t shake. It might take all the effort they can muster to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t skim social media and assume that you are less than just because you didn’t go to Iceland this year. As Hurst espoused, “Comparison can kill.”

Know your values. I have always had wanderlust. My parents instilled in me the value of adventure and travel with several trailer trips when I was kid. I have brought this wanderlust to my children. I value adventure over material objects. It’s not that there isn’t anything under the tree at Christmas; it’s just I would rather experience something than to have one more thing to store. My son competes at the national level in weightlifting. I want to be there when he competes. My daughter loves to hike. I value my time in being there for my son in competition and for my daughter experiencing the great outdoors. Make sure the race you are running aligns with your values.

Practice gratitude. As Hurst writes, “Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and showing appreciation. When you focus on what’s right in your world, you limit the power of what’s wrong to steal your joy.” I write in a gratitude journal every morning. I take stock in what went right the day before. It might just be a text from my son or a coworker’s compliment on my blouse. It starts my day off right and keeps me on the path of what’s right in the world instead of what’s wrong. I always find gratitude in something that I did for myself like my strength workout, sobriety or staying positive with a coworker. Self-gratitude is important to stay the course of the race.

Encourage others. My boyfriend Roy recently ran his third triathlon. It took a lot of training and practice. I was his support team. I was his timer when he practiced his transitions from swim to bike and bike to run (yes, a ten-second saving matters). In the weeks leading up to the race we focused on his sleep, his training, his race. Having run a marathon about five years ago, I could identify with the amount of focus and anxiety that can come with a big race. As Hurst writes, “A compliment paid to someone else can have the effect of freeing you.” Try to focus on what is going right for others as they run their race.

Pay attention. As Hurst writes, “Comparison is a habit. That means you can choose not to practice it. There is nothing good about practicing an activity that only results in a feeling of competition, envy, or strife.” When you start envying someone’s new dress or vacation or new iPhone, notice it and redirect it. This won’t happen overnight. Sometimes awareness alone can help you break the habit.  Remember what you value, what you are grateful for and lift other’s up. It’s the antidote to comparison. That’s their path; their race. What’s your race looking like?

Live intentionally. Hurst posits, “Stop letting where other people are in their run determine how you feel about your own. “This shows up for me as I see retirement some decade or more off. I can be jealous as I see other’s around my same age either retiring or eyeing it some three years from now. I start comparing and beating myself up for not deferring more into my 401k in my 40s. It’s OK. It’s my race. So, I get to enjoy the camaraderie of going to work each day and continue to further my career. It’s a waste to sulk about what could have been. Be here now and enjoy the experience.

I identified with this concept because Hurst wrote about how speed walkers would pass her as she ran in a marathon. I have experienced that several times. How come my run is slower than their walk? We are all different, we are all talented and unique to ourselves. Don’t let comparison kill your race. How is your race going?

Being Present

It’s easy to run through your day just skimming the surface. I’d bet you were on auto pilot on your last drive to work or home. You don’t remember that annoying person driving too slow in front of you or that family riding their bikes. It’s easy to blame technology and its incessant dopamine hits calling your attention back to social media and email notifications, so you can acknowledge that jerk at work or that annoying comment from a coworker on your Instagram post. We get wrapped up in our heads instead of actually being present.

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Kayaking on Lake Puiray

There is the novelty of travel and trying to get to the next spot to take the iconic picture. To check another item off the bucket list. To rush and hurry and strive and push onto the next thing. As you even read this, I wonder if you’re simply skimming this sentence (as I tend to do) and rush onto the bullets to see what you might glean (quickly) from this post.

Here are the benefits of being present:

Unexpected. One of the most beautiful moments I had on my trip to Peru a few months back was on Lake Piuray. I knew the plan was to kayak somewhere but besides that, I didn’t know much else. Well, it ended up being a highlight of the trip. We launched from a beach on a spectacular lake near Chinchero, Peru. Outside of a few farms and glacial mountains surrounding the lake, it was mostly uninhabited. The cranes, ibises, and ducks flew by and a clear blue sky bathed us in sunshine. We paddled peacefully near the reeds by the bank. I remember thinking to take it all in for just two beats longer. This is what life is all about; this hour or so of beauty, peace and tranquility. It may have been unexpected, but it was a gift I wouldn’t soon forget.

Ordinary. I have taken a short one mile walk in my neighborhood probably a thousand times. I usually have a set of earbuds in and am listening to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. I rarely “pay attention” to my surroundings. When I first did this walk (and almost every subsequent one) with my boyfriend Roy, he would stop dead in his tracks to watch the Purple Martins flying. I had never noticed them. Or their nest. Or the Ospreys. Or the Swifts. Now I do. I try not to skim through my day but rather observe the ordinary that I was oblivious to before. Be present to the ordinary.

Stop. I typically rush through my day. I try and check off all that I want to accomplish. Outside of meditating every morning, the rest of my day can seem like a long list of duties and appointments that I am checking off. A few weeks ago, I was hiking a trail next to the Eno River with Roy. He, of course, stopped next to the river for a few moments. He called me over. I stopped and looked as he pointed out the small crappies swimming in the river below the surface, only visible with polarized sunglasses. My typical behavior would be to move on forward down the trail and not stop. It’s in those moments of stopping that magic is revealed. The tiny fish were swimming as Roy threw in a piece of bark that they immediately swam for. Stop and enjoy the moment.

The feels. This has been a revelation over my past year of sobriety. When I stopped numbing out with food and alcohol, I actually felt things. I know that sounds crazy. It wasn’t like I didn’t have feelings before I quit numbing out, but when I was actually present for the feelings, I actually experienced them. I believe that there is an all or nothing view of feelings. Either we are raging with anger or stoically passing through drama unaffected (typically with a little help of some vice of choice). So, cry when you need to; it’s good for you anyway. Feel deceit, anger, regret, or resentment. Feel the feels. It makes you really present in your experience.

Meditation. I’m not sure how long I have been meditating (I’m guessing ten years) but it’s been over a year since I started practicing Sudarshan Kriya from the Art of Living. I will not pretend that I don’t have thoughts or extraneous worries as I meditate for twenty minutes in the morning. Stuff crops up. But it’s OK. This is not about turning off your thoughts. It’s about focusing on the breath and letting thoughts go as they crop up. It’s not about perfection. It makes me present, out of my head, and back into my body.

Whether today is a run of the mill day with a long list of to-dos, or you are on your dream vacation, don’t rush through: take a breath and feel the moment. Be here now. In this moment, regardless…Be Here Now. Each moment has its magic. Are you ready to be present?