December 14, 2017

Nano Number Five is in the Bag...So What'd I Learn This Year?


It amazes me at how different each of my Nanowrimo experiences has been. 2017 was my fifth year participating and my fourth year as a winner (50,000 word finisher). Each year has held its challenges and its moments of flow; each book has come with both ease and difficulty. But the coolest thing is...they come.

Sometimes I'm amazed that these detailed stories and characters and whole worlds come to me at all...and other times I'm amazed that I've managed to capture so few of them from this ethereal space in and around my mind, when so many live there. Either way, there's nothing quite like Nanowrimo to throw me into these imaginary worlds.

The last few months have not been easy ones for me. There's a lot going on in my world and I've been struggling more than I'd like to admit (Okay, I actually admitted it in a blog post last week...so, super private!). In some ways this made Nano particularly difficult for me this year. Even though I technically had more writing time than I've had in years past, the act of writing was, at times, tainted by my current mental state. Everything's been tougher, and my writing was no exception. Some days getting in my word count just wasn't possible. I fell behind here and there, something I haven't done much before. Some days I felt the strain of needing to create from a less than ideal creative mindset. Some days I felt the pressure of the word count.

BUT...

I also discovered writing as a safe place, a source of calm, and an anchor. The rhythm of it, the escape and submersion into another world, the focus...even though I often didn't feel very focused at all. (Picture me diligently writing 300 words, then clicking over to scroll Facebook for 10 minutes, then realizing that I'm supposed to be writing, and going back to my word doc.) What I realized when the first week of December hit and the wheels REALLY fell off the proverbial bus, is that writing was doing its part to hold me together.

Did the word count goal of 1667 words a day pressure me sometimes? Yes. Did I yell things like, "There's a mountain of dishes to do, I still have to find jokes for the kids lunch boxes, there's a load of laundry in the dryer, AND I don't even have my word count in!" at ten o'clock at night? Yes, yes I did. Which makes it sound like the intense writing schedule of Nano made my stress and anxiety worse. But I'm not sure that's true. Because it also gave me an excuse to ignore my ever-looming to-do list.

Clean the house? Can't, I've got writing to do. Make an elaborate dinner? Can't, I've got writing to do. Take the kids to dance? Honey, can you do it? I've got writing to do. For one whole month, my entire family agrees that Mommy achieving her writing goal is important and everyone picks up the slack, or makes the adjustments to help make that happen--especially me! I feel like I have a legitimate excuse to slack on all the crap I never slack on.

The only problem with this is that when December 1st hits, I am behind the eight ball and no fancy trick shot is going to get me out. I am behind on all holiday prep work-- no cards have been ordered, no decorating has been done, no merriment has been planned, no gifts have been purchased. Oh, and I still have to plan my beautiful daughter's birthday...who I so strategically gave birth to on December 16th.

So this year, as with the last, I'm going to say, 7 years, I am trying to find a way to relax into the holiday season. I have yet to be successful with this, but I still keep trying. And I am fully aware that my participation in Nano probably makes this worse. But I don't care. Because I love it. Even though it was harder for me this year than ever, I still love it. I marvel at what I'm able to produce in just 30 days.

In 30 days, I created, from nothing but a few pages of notes and an inspiration board on Pinterest, an entire novel for children. Not just 50,000 words, but characters and another world, and a story. For 30 days I lived and breathed this story and now I find that I miss it. I want to go back.

But for now, I will stay in this world, in this story...in my story. I have work to do here. There are people here that need me. But what this year's Nano experience taught me, is that the solace we find in the flow of doing something that we love-- be it writing, painting, cooking, gardening, woodworking, whatever-- is an important part of living full and healthy and rich lives.

It is important like eating vegetables and exercising and meditation or prayer. And so is the diligence of committing to a goal and following through on it. The drive that makes us keep at it even when the going gets tough because we committed to it, because we want it, because it's important to us. That's important too. And those are the gifts of Nano. I don't just have a rough draft of a new book at the end of November. I have the gift of 30 days of flow and diligence. 30 days of a special connection to who I am at my core-- a creator, a storyteller, a wordsmith.

Now that Nano is over for another year, my job is to take what I've learned and apply it for the next 11 months-- or at least not completely forget it. My job is to remember that flow and diligence are important year round. My job is to prioritize my writing work over the minutia...just like my job is to prioritize real connection with my family over that minutia, too! So, on the days when I don't feel like writing, I write anyway...at least a little. Same with the veggies and exercise and meditation/prayer.

There are so few things we really need to sustain us. Love, family, and community. Care for our bodies with good, healthy food and movement. Care for our souls with meditation or prayer. Fun and laughter. Peace and quiet. Flow and a project. That's pretty much it. As much as I tell my husband that I really need new pajamas for Christmas, because the ones I have are, well, sad. I really don't NEED them. What I need are love, family, community, care, fun, laughter, peace, quiet and flow...and really good concealer, because mama's got some SERIOUS dark circles under her eyes!

Until next time, may your life bestow these gifts upon you: love, care, fun, laughter, peace, quiet, flow...and a great concealer and, maybe, some nice pjs.

Love to you.



December 8, 2017

Anxiety...and Being Present Over Perfect


This is a pill bottle. It is a pill bottle with my name on it. In this bottle are tiny white pills containing something called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It's prescribed for depression and anxiety. I have never in my life taken an SSRI, or any other psychotropic drug, before...until this week. I held onto the prescription for these little pills for more than month before I filled it, grappling with what it meant to take them...to need them. I felt like a failure. I've always been able to manage my emotional ups and downs with some combination of exercise, reevaluation, time, and sheer will. But this time was different. This time was some weird perfect storm that brought everything to a head all at once and resulted in my body remaining in a constant, heightened state of anxiety.

You know that feeling you get just before you go on stage, or get up in front of an audience for a big presentation, or before an uncomfortable conversation or early morning flight...that butterflies in the belly, nervous-sick feeling that finally goes away once you've done 'the thing'? That's how I feel All. The. Time. It never goes away. And when things really spike, I get this pressure in my chest; I feel jittery all over and I get a buzzing in my limbs; I get lightheaded and nauseous. I constantly feel like an incredibly exhausted person, who hasn't slept in days, who then drinks twelve espressos to function-- jittery and crazed, layered over top of tired and weary.

It's so weird. And I try deep breathing and I try distraction and I try talking myself out of it...but none of it works. My insides continue to buzz like a deranged swarm of bees.

Apparently, this is anxiety.

I'm sitting here, writing this, with absolutely nothing to be anxious about. Everything is fine. I am in a relaxed position. The house is quiet. Yet my body is on high alert. I feel broken. Like my thermostat isn't working and the air is pumping out full blast despite the fact that it's freezing outside. It doesn't make any sense, and that doesn't work for me. I like rational. I like understandable. I like being able to assess a problem and then fix it. But that's not working.

So, instead, I'm trying some outside help--a therapist and some tiny white pills. I don't like it, but I'm sharing it with you because I want to accept it; to own it and be okay with it. Because I want to not live a lie of an outward appearance that doesn't match what's going on on the inside. Because I've been struggling and only a few people really know it.


Over the last week, as I grapple with all of this, I've been listening to the audiobook Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I just finished that book this morning. I was so moved by it that I felt compelled to write her a note immediately (not something I often do).

Here's what I wrote:

Dear Shauna,
After watching your interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, I found your book Present Over Perfect. I just finished listening to it while addressing Christmas cards this morning...as tears streamed down my face. I have been struggling with a bout of anxiety for the first time in my life. Things started to fall apart when my kids started school at the end of August--the first time my youngest would go to school for the full day. Something in me broke. It wasn't conscious. I wasn't thinking to myself, "Man, what will I do with myself now?" I had a plan. I'm a writer and I would finally have more time to write. But my body told me differently. I began to feel awful. All. The. Time. My primary care doc suggested that maybe it wasn't my thyroid or a digestive issue...maybe it was anxiety. I was so offended. Until I realized that he was right. That others had been trying to tell me the same thing for weeks...maybe longer. 

Anyway, I sit here, stomach in a knot of anxiety despite the fact that absolutely nothing is wrong, and I see so clearly that everything is wrong. That my life is ruled by a to do list so long and unwieldy that it would be impossible to accomplish it all in a year-- my expectations are to get it done this week, because that's what the sticky notes and planner tell me. That the day to day life I've built for myself since quitting my job to be a stay at home mom and writer has been built in a sad attempt to prove my worth to...everyone. Look I'm accomplishing a lot today! See this? See me? I'm getting it all done and I'm doing it perfectly! I know I don't have a real job, but I swear I'm earning my keep! 

Listening to your book felt like listening to stories of what's happening in my own head. I haven't been jet-setting around the globe, but I have been go-go-going...always on the move, always getting it done. I know now I need to stop. I know things need to change. My gut is telling me so. The anxiety pulsing in my chest is telling me so. I don't know how. I don't even know the very next step. But I know I need to change. I will listen to your book again. I will try to tease out some direction. But for now--in my long-winded way-- I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for writing all those beautiful words. Thank you for somehow being in my path at just the right moment, just when I needed it. Thank you. I will try to hear your voice and your words over and above the voice in my head that's telling me I'm not doing enough...that I am not enough. Thank you.
And Merry Christmas.
Sincerely,
Amy

I don't know if anyone else out there feels this way-- driven by a to do list, focusing on getting things done instead of living life and being connected to people and what's really important, out of touch with who they really are-- who they used to be, run down and tired and frantic, proving, proving, proving. I can't tell from the social media pictures, because everybody looks so happy and beautiful. But I don't. I look and feel ragged.

This is what Shauna Niequist's book is about. About finding a way to let go of perfectionism and productivity and responsibility in favor of being present in our own lives. And I feel that this message touches somehow on the heart of my anxiety. Born of a fear of failure, driven by a long-held belief that if I'm not hustling to get things done-- to be productive, to scratch things off the list, to accomplish--then I am not worthy, that I am not earning my keep. This is so ingrained in me that I don't know how to let it go, to give it up, to replace it with a new way of thinking.

But I know I wasn't always like this, not to this extent, at least. I used to have a better balance between the two sides of me-- the get it done side and the relax and enjoy things side. But somewhere along the line, sometime after having kids, and getting the nice house and all the stuff, and quitting my job to stay home--somewhere in there, I lost the balance, and I became someone I don't really know...and I don't really like. I don't like hustler-Amy. She's not a lot of fun. And she has twisted insides that cause her distress.

That's not to say I'm miserable all the time and I never have any fun. I'm not. And I do. But the balance between the misery and the fun has gotten way out of whack. And I need to rein things in.

I have no idea how to do this. Literally, no idea.


But I'm going to try. I'm going to give this eensy-weensy white pill a chance to help. I'm going to talk with the therapist, because she can see the forest while I'm lost in the trees. I'm going to try. To reach out to people. To be honest. To change. To let go. To contradict that nasty voice telling me to go go go, do do do. Hopefully I'm going to find the time to meditate and read and exercise and journal and write. Things I know help.

I'm going to try.

Until next time, know that you are enough just as you are--without doing or accomplishing or getting it done. You are worthy, just as you were when you woke up this morning, bedhead and morning breath and rumpledness and all. Without any hustle. Just you. All worthy.




November 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 Begins Today!


NaNoWriMo 2017 IS HERE!!!

If you know me, or have followed this blog over the last few years, then you likely know that National Novel Writing Month, or, Nanowrimo, is one of my most favorite things.

For those of you who don't know, Nano is a virtual community of something like 500,000 people that commits to writing an entire novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in the 30 days of November. You can learn more about it at nanowrimo.org.

This will be my fifth year participating in Nano-- which kind of shocks me! Four years ago today I began my first attempt at writing a novel. I only finished 20,000 words that year, but that experience helped me develop a regular writing practice; it inspired me to find a writer's group; and it was the beginning of (finally) following my dream of being a writer. (That's a pretty big deal.) In all three years since my first try, I have made it to the 50,000 word finish line. And since that first day, I have written four novels.

Over the next 30 days, I plan to make that five.

I am so excited to begin. I've spent the last eleven months working on revisions to previous Nano novels-- and there's still A LOT more work to do on them. For me, unlike many other novelists that I have read about, revising can feel a bit like slogging through swamplands, and at times it can get overwhelming. So, getting to create a story--an entire world-- from scratch again sounds so refreshing right now.

For me, Nano brings passion and community and challenge and this strange sense of chaotic peace that is so hard to describe. During Nano, lots of other things in my life may seem stressful, but the writing rarely does. During Nano, lots of other things in my life fall by the wayside in this beautiful, life affirming way...maybe not for the other people in my life who are expecting me to continue to fulfill my list of duties like a good mom/wife/homeowner/friend/citizen....but for me it is this brief snapshot of how I probably should be living life every day. It forces priorities that are probably closer to the truth. My truth, at least.

And Nano is hopeful.

Who knows if I'll ever get one of these books published? I can't say for certain. But during the month of November, I am hopeful. I am hopeful and I am a writer. A real one.

I savor that. It's a good feeling.

One last thing before I go. This Nano is extra special for me because two people are joining me in it for the first time. My wonderful writer-niece, Katie, and my super-awesome daughter, Portia. Katie's a junior in college, so she, like me, is going after the big prize of 50,000 words (mind you, she's already written multiple novels). Portia, who's 8, signed up for Nano's Young Writer's Program and is planning to write a book of short stories this month. This warms my little writer's heart.

So, cheer us on, good friends! Send us good vibes and good mojo and lots of coffee (hot chocolate for Portia...extra marshmallows)!

And if you're also a writer, consider hopping onto Nano, too-- or at least set a goal for yourself and do some writing. If you're not a writer, support our endeavors by reading a good book or doing some journaling...or just making some progress in the pursuit of your own amazing dreams.

Until next time, write on, my friends...write on!


(I'm off to pursue a word count goal!)



October 25, 2017

My Favorite Smoothie Recipes


Since I started clean eating in January, smoothies have become a staple in my weekly meals. Mostly for breakfast, but sometimes I pull them out for lunches and dinners too. They're relatively easy, fast, and super portable. And, if you do them right, they can be just about the healthiest option there is for breakfast. How else am I going to get veggies into my weekday breakfast? (And please don't suggest I make an omelet. That's so not happening on a Wednesday morning.)

I've tried A LOT of smoothie recipes over the past ten months, but overtime I've found that I've settled on a few that I make over and over again. So, I thought I'd share them with you.

Note: For all of these recipes, combine all ingredients in a blender and blend for 1 minute, or until smooth.

Oatmeal Cookie Smoothie (my most recent obsession...totally tastes like an oatmeal cookie!)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 tbsp raw honey
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/3 c. raw oats
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chia seeds
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 banana
1/4 c. spinach (I just throw a good handful in)
1 1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk
handful ice

Energy Boosting Smoothie (I had this one this morning...mmmmm)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 tbsp organic peanut butter
1 banana
1/2 c. plain greek yogurt (or kefir...or coconut milk yogurt for dairy-free folks like me)
1/4 c. spinach (handful)
1/4 c. unsweetened almond milk
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of cayenne pepper
handful ice

Berry Milkshake Smoothie
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. plain greek yogurt (or kefir or coconut milk yogurt)
1/4 c. blueberries (I use frozen, organic)
1/2 banana
 1/4 c. spinach (handful)
handful ice

Chocolate Delight Smoothie
1/4 c. spinach (handful)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1/2 avocado
1/2 banana
1/2 c. plain greek yogurt (or kefir or coconut milk yogurt)
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. raw oats
handful ice

You'll notice that all of these smoothie recipes have a few things in common: they all have fruit; they all have veggies; and they all have protein. All of these leave me feeling full. I do find the addition of oats in two of them does keep me full longer. If I want something lighter and more refreshing, I go for the Berry Milkshake, but I often will have a small snack (like a larabar: I like their strawberry and spinach fruit and greens bar and their chocolate chip cookie dough bar) later in the morning if I do. I sometimes can't even finish the oatmeal cookie smoothie because it's so filling. The Chocolate Delight smoothie is not sweet. If you feel like you really need more sweetness, you can add some raw honey or 100% maple syrup.

The biggest thing to note here is that I think all of these taste delicious. I'm not really one for sucking down something that tastes terrible just because it's healthy. That's why none of these have protein powder in them-- I'm just not a fan of the flavor protein powders add. If you like them, you can use a scoop of your favorite protein powder in place of the yogurt in any of these. Just make sure the ingredient statement is good-- no added sugars, additives, chemicals, etc.

A few other notes on ingredients:
- I use organic ingredients anywhere I can. (It's better for you and for the environment!)
- Raw cacao is not the same as cocoa. You can find it in the organic/natural section of your grocery store. I order mine from Amazon (It's this one: https://www.amazon.com/Viva-Naturals-Organic-Non-GMO-Powder) I also order my chia seeds there (these: https://www.amazon.com/Viva-Naturals-Finest-Organic-Seeds).
- I'm a big fan of Bob's Red Mill Brand. I use their gluten free raw oats and ground flaxseed (amongst other things).

All of these smoothie recipes are adaptations of Danette May recipes. If you have a favorite smoothie recipe, please share it in the comments-- I'm always looking for new ones to add to the mix. And let me know what you think if you give one of these recipes a try.

Until next time, happy smoothie-ing my dear friends!



October 19, 2017

Studying Your Craft: Creating Your Own "Master's Program"

A stack of books on writing and publishing

One of my dream jobs, if it existed, would be to get paid to audit graduate school classes. If money was no object, or tuition was free, I think I could, quite happily, collect graduate degrees like pretty shells on a beach. I have one...I think I could easily work up to five, maybe six. One of my favorite times in my pre-kid adult life was when I was in grad school. I loved learning. Once I graduated and had to put my degree into practice...well, let's just say it didn't take. But I loved the learning part. I felt alive and creative and inspired when I was learning. I was so...interested.

Now, switch gears for a moment with me.

I've been seriously writing for a while now-- It's been 3 years since I wrote my first draft of my first novel and I have been writing regularly ever since. But I haven't studied writing, outside of the occasional book (like, Stephen King's On Writing...which is great, by the way), since I was an undergrad (and that is a lot further back in my past than I'd like to admit). And it didn't occur to me until recently that that might be a problem. I've been writing and writing, and certainly getting better, but I haven't been studying my craft...until now.

It all started this summer when I attended my first ever writer's retreat. I plan to write a full blog post just about this experience, but sufficed to say that I learned a lot-- about writing and about myself-- at that retreat. Two of the things I learned are particularly important to today's post: 1) I learned that I had a lot-- A LOT-- to learn about writing; and 2) I learned that I needed to get out of my comfort zone, out of my routine, if I was going to grow as a writer.

My eyes were opened.

Once I got back, I decided to design my own little graduate writing program. Something I would piece together from various sources that would help me learn and grow as a writer. I already had my writers group in place-- critiques are a key part of any graduate writing program! So I printed out a blank planning calendar (think: class schedule) and went looking for "classes."

I'm always amazed by how the universe conspires to help us when we're on the right path...because as soon as I went looking, an opportunity popped up in my inbox!

At class!
The first thing I found, thanks to the folks at NaNoWriMo, was an online graduate writing course from Wesleyan University via Coursera. I immediately signed up to audit the class and just finished it last week.

Then I got the opportunity, thanks to my writing group leader, to speak with a local author about her writing and publishing experiences. This was followed closely by a favorite author coming to speak at a local library-- which I found out about, quite randomly, on my Facebook feed. (And another one comes next week to a different library. I will be going to see her speak as well...thanks again, Facebook gods!)

I've also done some major online searches and found some really great writing blogs, which I've been devouring...hours and hours spent reading articles and taking notes on the craft. Next, I'll be digging into the stack of books on writing and publishing that I got at the retreat.
Blog studying!

I took all of this, along with my writing goals for this year, which I had sketched out the first week of September, and filled in those blank planning calendars for September-December:

Writer's retreats and conferences, online classes, blogs and books, conversations and speakers, writing groups and critiques, and being open to any other learning opportunities that present themselves. I married this with my writing goals: to post on the blog once a week, to prep for and then execute NaNoWriMo 2017 (which means researching and writing a totally new book-- EEK!), to write and submit short stories and poetry to children's magazines (that's something totally new for me), and to revise/edit the two novels I've been working on for the past year.

Voila! THIS is my graduate writing program.

So what could this possibly have to do with you, if you're not a writer? 

You may not be a writer, but you likely have something that interests you. Maybe it's your actual career...maybe it's your hobby...maybe it's something you've always been interested in but never pursued. Whatever IT is, you can go after it. You can study your craft. You can focus on learning and growing in whatever area that inspires you right now. And you can create your own "graduate program."

Maybe you always wanted to learn how to draw or paint. So go find some new books at the library or on amazon and set aside some time to practice. Find some instructional Youtube videos to watch and follow along. Sign up for a local art class or join an online class like the ones offered here: http://www.juliettecrane.com/courses/.

Maybe you've always been interested in plants and gardening. So explore all the blogs and podcasts out there on the subject or talk to a local garden center. Maybe you love your career in marketing, but haven't taken a class since you got your MBA. Pick up a book on marketing trends and innovation, listen to some amazing TED talks, and then try implementing at work something new you learned in your research. Maybe you want to be a better cook. So take a class and try new recipes. Maybe your goal is to be a better parent. There are blogs and books and online classes out the ying-yang on parenting. Find some that speak to you and get studying!

My point is this: We are meant to be life-long learners. We are not meant to stagnate in routine. But once we hit the stride of adulthood, it's really easy to fall in step with the "I already know it all" crowd and march mindlessly along.

But we can't do that!

We must step out of the marching lines and open our minds. Don't just accept the status quo. Demand better. From the world and from yourself. Learn something new. Stretch and grow. Challenge yourself. Try new things. Go new places. Talk to new people. Turn your brain on and engage your imagination.

Create!

Pretend you're back in school and focus on learning instead of just executing tasks. You might just be amazed by what you learn and how it affects you. You might find yourself, dare I say: Inspired.

Until next time, find something you're interested in and explore new learning options...and then go after it! Stretch! Grow! Live!





October 12, 2017

Geocaching: A Super Fun Family Bonding Activity

Geocaching somewhere in the forests of PA

I'm notorious for NOT being on the cutting edge of, like, anything...ever.

I am not a fashionista. I am not an early adopter. I don't have the newest technology. I am not "in the know" or the first to know about anything...except possibly a new book release. But even then...no, not really. Still not.

And even I, the last adult besides my father to finally succumb to the smart phone movement, have known about geocaching for a couple of years. So, I know this post isn't really new news. BUT, when I first read about it, I remember thinking, that might be fun to try...and then never doing anything about it. (And maybe that's what you did, too.) I filed it away in the back of my brain, and moved on.

That is, until this summer.

Before I go on with my story, I should first answer this question (for those who don't know): What is geocaching?

A cache hidden in plain sight
Geocaching is a real world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Once found, geocachers sign and date the logbook, re-hide the cache, and then share the experience online. 

Now, back to my story...

Hanging from a tree in North Carolina
This summer, while on a family vacation, I accessed that old brain file and offered up geocaching as a possible activity-- the response was unanimous: We're all in! So we set up an account. Downloaded the app to our phones. And scoped out some nearby caches. Then we went at it!

And we had so much fun!

Everyone enjoyed the adventure and challenge of geocaching, and it really brought us together as a team (which I think is really cool). It was time spent together working toward a common goal. We were active; we were using our brains in new ways and learning new skills (like reading a compass and understanding coordinates and figuring out clues); and we were seeing places we wouldn't have otherwise seen.

That last one was the most unexpected benefit to geocaching, for me. I suggested it on vacation for the family bonding and fun; but we've continued geocaching as a weekend activity, and even spur of the moment fun, and it's been so cool to go places we wouldn't have otherwise gone, and see things from perspectives we wouldn't have otherwise had.

Beautiful and fascinating cemetery that we wandered peacefully after finding a cache
We've visited parks, walked trails, snuck around outside businesses, climbed embankments, wandered cemeteries, and crouch-walked under roads in dry drainage "riverbeds". We've explored all sorts of areas in three states, so far, and its been a blast. My husband and I even did a little geocaching on our own during a weekend getaway-- turns out it's fun bonding time even without the kids!

Sounding interesting, yet?

Here's a little more information on what geocaching is like, and a few tips for getting started.

It looked like a birdhouse, but
wasn't; and took a trick to get in
This one was in a cooler and had fun
trinkets to trade
All caches are different. They range in size from micro (think tiny film canister) to large (think big shoebox), type of container, and hiding place (look up, look down, look in or under). Some contain just a log for you to sign. Others contain trinkets to trade, too. And still others hold coveted "trackables"-- which I like to think of as trinkets on a journey (these have trackable barcodes and are meant to be moved from cache to cache on a journey somewhere).


Because you never know what you're going to get into when you head out geocaching, I recommend doing a few things first:

1) If you want to give geocaching a go, start by clicking this link: https://www.geocaching.com, where you can register for a free basic membership and then follow the instructions there to get started.

2) I highly recommend watching the videos they provide before heading out on your first treasure hunting adventure. We all huddled around my husband's phone and watched them together to get everyone psyched-up for our first outing...and to teach everyone the rules of geocaching. You can find videos at the geocaching Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/GoGeocaching.

3) Dress appropriately. You may find yourself wandering through the woods or climbing hills and embankments. Good shoes for walking/hiking are a must (flip flops are not recommended)! And wear or bring clothing to protect you from bugs and scratchy plant life.

4) The geocaching app sucks battery life like crazy! So bring your charger for between caches.

5) We gathered/bought trinkets to have on hand for trading. If a cache had fun things that interested the kids, we wanted to have equally fun things to trade. So we got a little box to keep in the car and filled it with small, "cachable" stuff. You can also make your own leave-behinds...or choose not to trade anything.

6) Bring a pen!

If this calls to your adventurous spirit, geocaching isn't the only game in town...

There is a similar game out there called letterboxing which we plan to try out soon. In letterboxing, you collect and share stamp imprints. You bring along your own log book and stamp (you might have a family stamp and book, or individual ones); you search out the letterbox using GPS and clues; the box contains its own log book and stamp; and you trade stamps-- imprint the box's book with your stamp and stamp your own book with the box's stamp.


I like the idea of collecting stamps...it's kind of like a passport! Cool! So, we'll be giving that a go sometime soon. If you want to learn more about letterboxing, go here: http://www.letterboxing.org.

And I'm sure there are even more fun adventure options out there. If you've know of any, please share them in the comments below. And I'd love to hear about your geocaching or letterboxing adventures too! I try to share pics from our geocaching adventures on instagram. (#geocaching) You can follow me on instagram at: @bookwormanista.

So, folks, that's what I've got on family fun for this season-- a little different than your typical pumpkin patch or hayride, I think.

Until next time, go find yourself some adventure...most of us could use a little more adventure in our lives and geocaching is a pretty easy way to get it.

Happy geocaching!


September 27, 2017

The Great British Baking Show, My Love


It can be hard to put into words the feelings you have about something you've enjoyed-- especially when that something isn't a thing that one typically waxes poetic about.

Like, if you're trying to describe the love you have for your child, or the beauty of a flower, you may search for just the right words to capture its elemental heart, but everyone already gets the gist of what you're describing-- particularly if they've experienced it themselves.

But when you're trying to capture the essence of how a simple television show made you feel, it's...well...a bit weird.

But I'm going to do it anyway.

Because this show that I've been obsessed with since the first of July, this BBC marvel, this so-much-more-than-a-bake-off, this tiny-teeny baking show just made me feel so good.

Watching it, I felt somehow...lighter and brighter; warm and cozy, yet uplifted. It made me smile, a lot. It made my heart feel good. It was so basic, yet so lovely. And, strangely, so different from any other competition show I've watched.

In the past, I've enjoyed shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, and so on. In fact, I'm in the midst of a Project Runway season right now. And I like it.

But it's different.

How can I explain this?

The people on The Great British Baking Show are nice. (At least everything I've seen of them on the show.) They're all nice people. They're all humble and respectful. Not in a fake, 'I'm on television' kind of way. But they're all just genuinely good. No one person bad mouths another. No one's mean-spirited or rude-- judges included. It's a competition with themselves, more than each other. Each person striving to do their very best, rather than striving to beat the other contestants. It's good sportsmanship and good humanbeingship.

I actually liked all the people on the show. And that's saying a lot, because I didn't just watch one season. I watched 4 seasons. All the seasons...all this summer.

It started when we went to visit my folks in Michigan this summer. My mom was watching the current season (4) and I happened to watch an episode with her one night. Immediately, I was hooked! So we went back and watched the season's episodes I had missed. Then I went home and finished the season as they aired the episodes weekly on PBS.

I was so sad when the season was done. I missed it. That is, until I discovered seasons 1-3 on Netflix. (Hooray for Netflix!)

Well, I just finished the last episode of season 3 (possibly my favorite season...though that may just be because it's the one I just watched), and I feel like I'm floating on air-- that's how sweet and uplifting it was.

There's something about watching people go after their dreams that is just heartwarming and inspiring, regardless of the outcome. Watching the show makes me want to go after my dreams even more. The winner of season 3, just after receiving the crystal cake plate trophy, said something like, "I will never again say 'I can't do that.' Because I can. I did."

That's some powerful stuff.

In addition to showcasing great people and some seriously great baking (that makes me want to bake grand cakes and treats, and experiment with different flavors and new ingredients), this show also has two of the most amusing hosts ever.

I've never had particularly strong feelings one way or another about a competition show host. They're mostly fine and just, sort of, there. But these two women, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, are an absolute delight. They're hilarious...and also kind and supportive; and they clearly care about the contestants. Mostly, they're damn funny in this goofy, off-beat way I find supremely charming.

The judges-- the aptly named Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood-- are also lovely. They're tough, but kind. They always look for the bright spot, even when it's a baking fail. And you can see that they're always hoping that everyone succeeds.

So there. I've done it. I've waxed poetic about a television show. And a baking competition show, at that. Showing my true freak-colors. I may as well admit to one of my other television loves...James Spader as Red on The Blacklist-- don't even get me started on that man's ability to deliver a line....and follow a tangent (like a man after my own heart). New season of Raymond Reddington starts this week! Squee!

But I digress...

Here's my point-- yes, I have one-- my point is, that The Great British Baking Show gives something I think can be sorely absent from typical American media fodder (especially of late): Kindness. Respect. Decency. These are the things I find myself craving, along with the pastries they're whipping up. I want to see goodness. I want to be made to feel warmth and lightness. I want to relax in front of the telly with a spot of tea for an hour; I want to enjoy that hour; and I want to feel better when it's done than I did when it started. And this show gives me all that, in spades...plus, British accents! <3

Until next time, go make a cup of tea and enjoy a lovely episode of The Great British Baking Show. (And drool over their amazing bakes!) THEN, be inspired to go after your own dreams...