Scarlette Letter – Week of September 14, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I’m grateful for compassionate people. I am so moved by the number of people volunteering to assist those who’ve lost everything they own in the Northern California wildfires

Affirmation – I am giving

Attitude – Confident

Activity – Ran fifteen miles on Saturday and hiked 21 miles on Sunday, some yoga and strength training at home between work and other obligations and time with friends and loved ones

Nurture – Yoga and meditation

Enrichment – Wayne Dyer – “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Quote: “Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions”

Nourishment –

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Giving – I’m assembling piles of things I can donate to the fire victims. They have been inundated with donations and are requesting just money, now, which I don’t have piles of, though I will donate what I can to the Red Cross and to GoFundMe.

I am weeding through things, now, so when they do need additional clothing and household items, which they’ve stated they will, later this week and next, I’ll have them assembled and organized. I’m trying to find out if they need any horse halters and leads to gather up the loose livestock that managed to survive, I have several in storage I will dig out if they can be of use.

Connection – I went to a concert with a friend I met through other friends. We’ve never spent one on one time together, so, it was almost like a “first date”. I spent some wonderful time with my Sweetheart this week, a little more than usual, and it was lovely.

Simplifying – Part of my giving to the fire victims will serve, doubly, as lightening my load. Closets and drawers are much fuller than they should be and I have so many new and like new items that I’ve only worn once in the past year or so. I am so hoping that someone in need will be delighted with them.

Journaling – My Thoughts

Love Drug

Love is so hard. Being in love is hard. Loving is hard. There is only one thing worse than being in love and being loved, and that is not being in love and not being loved.

I have often joked that I fall in love too easily. I’ve joked that my criteria is simple; a pulse and male. I have a very romantic, very optimistic, very accepting and, based on some past experiences, a far too trusting and tolerant heart. I love being in love. I love being loved. As a result, I’ve made some poor choices along the way. I am also a very tenacious and committed person, so, in some of those poor choices, they’ve been long lasting poor choices.

As a result of finding myself in relationships, in love, with people who have lied to me and cheated on me and betrayed me and abused me and neglected me and, perhaps worst, taken me for granted, I’ve developed a lack of confidence in love, a general suspicion of my lover, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding doom in relationships. But, still, I fall in love like a boulder nudged from a cliff. Wham. (Continue Reading)

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Ups and Downs

I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to!

If we aren’t improving, we are falling behind. This is true for running, and for all things in life. We are meant to continually seek to improve in every facet of our lives in order to fulfill our potential. It’s this constant drive to grow, learn, and improve that helps us discover our passions, our potential, and our joy.

I went for a hike yesterday, and it was hilly. There were other challenges, like the heat, which made the hills far more intense than normal, for me. I made it back to the car no worse for the wear, and am proud of my accomplishment.

Scarlette Begonia

In hiking and in running, there will always be ups and downs. And, for every up, there is a down, for every down, there is an up. You cannot get back to the car, or home, or whatever your place of origin, without experiencing equal ups and downs.

Life has its ups and downs, too, and while perhaps not quite as equal as in running and hiking, they do tend to cycle fairly regularly, both in short periods of time, say within a single day, or over an extended period, say, oh, life. In life, we can’t simply decide not to register for the race because there are ups and downs, they are there and they must be dealt with. While running up a hill, sure, I can tell myself it isn’t there, try to trick myself, but my legs still work harder, my breath comes faster, my heart pounds harder. The hill is real and nothing I can do will make it go away, that is where the race course has led me.

Interestingly, in hiking and in running, and other pursuits, it is at the very top of the hill and the very bottom of the valley, that we often discover the most amazing views, the most awesome features. Life is not dissimilar, it is in the challenges and the triumphs, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, that we find the most growth and reward.

Don’t be afraid of the race, don’t shy away from the hills. Ups and downs are part of the course. Ups and downs are part of life. The more we practice, the better we become at meeting and conquering the challenge. Race on.

Scarlette Letter – September 7, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for my abundance of energy

Affirmation – I have endurance and stamina

Attitude – Determined

Activity – 16.55 mile hike

Nurture – Parking lot yoga after the hike

Enrichment – “Make yourself worth knowing”

Nourishment –

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Giving – I ordered Mom a new book of Jumble puzzles

Connection – Solo hike today, connected with myself and nature

Simplifying – All I needed for a whole day, and 16.55 miles, I carried in a very small pack on my back

Journaling –

I decided to spend this big, empty, day, Labor Day, hiking. I went for a very long, very hot, very dusty, dirty hike. It was great. I planned to be home by evening and, because I am pretty familiar with the trails I hiked today, and my hiking speed, given the hills and the heat, and all the other things, I was home right about when I expected to be.

Scarlette Begonia

I walked up the front steps of the porch, almost an insult after the hills I climbed today, but, again, though I won’t admit it to many, I could feel all my muscles groan a bit for the effort of those few steps. It was a very long day.

Mom was watering her jade plant on the porch and immediately asked me if I was “pooped”. I am, but to admit it seemed, immediately, wrong. You are what you say you are, if I acknowledged, out loud, that I was “pooped”, then the rest of my evening and all that needed to be accomplished, this article included, may have been laid to waste. So, I denied being “pooped”.

Shower is done, dinner is done, daypack is unpacked, filthy, dirt encrusted clothes are washing, articles and pictures are posted, dinner and dishes are done. I’m thinking I shall sleep well tonight, if I can keep my mind quiet. A little meditation before bed may be wise. It is a big and busy week ahead, beginning right off, tomorrow morning.

And now, it is safe to acknowledge that I am “pooped”.

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Perfect Cartwheels

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel.

I was a latchkey kid for most afternoons from some point in grade school, on. I was alone for a few hours after school almost every day, and almost always on Saturdays. Every day when I came home from school and every Saturday morning when I woke up, there was a list of chores written in my mother’s recognizable cursive, left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. I’d play all afternoon, watch cartoons and my favorite syndicated shows, talk on the phone with friends and do whatever I wanted, until about ten minutes before my mom was due home. Then I’d quickly do my chores and go upstairs and pretend to be laboring over my homework. One of the things that fell under “do whatever I wanted” was cartwheels. In the living room. Which was, I’m sure, forbidden.

My mother’s living room has always been this vast, unused, somewhat sterile space. Reserved only for the most important of company, we dare not, to this day, enter the room. More recently, my mother quite elderly, has become “lost”, on a couple of different occasions. I’ve been unable to find her. In these instances, both times, I’ve looked everywhere; in her room, her bathroom, the garage, the backyard, the family room where the TV is, her office, which is really where the washer and dryer were intended to go, but the old, oak roll top desk has always resided. The washer and dryer were relegated to the garage. Each time I’ve “lost” my mom, I finally found her, as Jeff Foxworthy would say, in the very last place I looked; the living room. But it stands to reason that it would be the very last place I looked! We never, ever, ever use the room. We’re lucky I just didn’t call the authorities and report a missing person before looking in the living room for her!

The living room is quite large, large enough to do cartwheels, obviously, and has a dining room attached. Fashionable in the 1960’s, the living room is “sunken”, meaning there is a tiny step, say four inches, down into the living room, then back, up, into the dining room. The carpet in the living room has always had a nap, and I think this was a required criteria for the carpet each time the old was replaced with new, which, by the way, was only ever because the color became unfashionable and certainly not because it was worn. The nap of the carpet would tattle immediately, alerting my mom to the fact that someone had trod through the living room. You can imagine what cartwheels would do; handprints and footprints, dozens of them. We won’t even mention the times I roller skated in the living room with the neighbor girl from across the street while our moms were at work!

I just included in my chores each day, a quick run through the living room with the Eureka, canister style, vacuum, carefully “laying down the nap” of the carpet. This was tricky, but I became quite skilled; you simply started at one end of the room and backed your way across, vacuuming in one direction only.

Scarlette Begonia

I was hiking in Marin County last weekend, outside of Bolinas. The trail I sought led to a fresh water waterfall that tumbles onto the beach and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls. This has been on my “to-do” list for quite some time. As I love to take pictures, and especially selfies, I’m a believer in the practice of taking routine, if not daily, selfies, I will frequently dream up opportunities for a great selfie and incorporate it into an activity. Once in a while, I will plan an activity around the idea for a selfie! My idea for a selfie for this particular hike was one of me doing a cartwheel in front of the waterfall and using my miniature tripod and the “Slo-Mo” feature on my iPhone to capture it. I’d then take a screenshot, mid slow-motion video, of the perfect moment of my cartwheel and the most epic selfie of the week would be executed. My hike to Alamere Falls occurred on a very warm, very pleasant, very popular, very crowded Saturday. Though the hike included a quarter mile of crouching through a narrow “poison oak tunnel”, and then required a rather dicey descent down a steep cliff from the top of the waterfall to the beach below, there were hordes of people on the beach. They had all somehow managed to carry umbrellas and picnic baskets and bags of food and blankets and all kinds of crap. It looked like South Beach in Florida during Spring Break. My plans for a selfie were instantly altered from cartwheel on deserted beach to a quick, opportunistic snapshot at the one and only and very precise moment when only the waterfall and I were visible in the viewfinder.

Scarlette Begonia

I still wanted to do a cartwheel, on the beach, selfie or no. But I was afraid. I haven’t done a cartwheel, like Jardin, in a very long time. Am I still capable? Able? What if I tried and failed? I’d be embarrassed. Or worse, maybe I’d be injured and given the state of the trail to the beach, I have to be evacuated to a trauma unit by helicopter! Not likely, I know, but I decided against it and headed back up the cliff, back through the poison oak tunnel, out to the main trail, on to the trailhead where I left my car. Failure.

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I have similar fears about doing handstands in yoga class. I used to do handstands all the time, in the house, when my mom wasn’t looking. My bedroom door opens up onto a hallway and there used to be a perfectly blank wall right there, so I’d do a handstand and rest my heels against the wall. I did this for most of my childhood and even into early adulthood. As I moved back home, to the same house, a couple of years ago, to help Mom out, I’m back in that same room. However, the wall in the hallway is now adorned with a framed painting by Walter Keane that, for my entire childhood, hung from a wall downstairs in the family room. I often wonder if Mom moved the picture to thwart my secret and unstated desire to practice handstands in the hallway, at the age of 52, so I could hope to successfully perform a handstand in yoga class without trepidation.

Scarlette Begonia

What’s with this fear? And trepidation? What’s with the concern of being embarrassed if I mess up a handstand in yoga class or fall doing a cartwheel on the beach? I know not many 52 year old women are seen doing cartwheels on the beach or handstands, outside of yoga class, but I still want to do them.

Fear and embarrassment. So negative. So limiting. So unlike me.

I’ve thought about practicing cartwheels on the lawn in the backyard, but have been shy about it. The surrounding neighbors have two-story homes with windows that overlook our lawn. Unless I practice under a tree, they “might see me”. And what, I ask myself, would be wrong with that? They might be impressed, or amazed, or inspired! Or maybe they’d think I was odd or silly. So? So, today, this afternoon, after sitting on the deck, reading for a while, I fought back my fear, my trepidation, my embarrassment, my shyness, and I went down the steps and onto the lawn. Okay, yes, I hid under the cover of the boughs of the tree, and I very cautiously, very pensively, positioned myself to do a cartwheel. I did my little hop, skip, and then, just like being a kid; hand, hand, foot, foot. Perfection. I did another, and another, and another. I felt free, and young, and spirited. I felt amazing, I felt proud. I can still do cartwheels and shall now do them whenever and wherever I please. I will, in fact, now go down into the living room, as Mom has toddled off to bed, and I shall do a cartwheel!

Tomorrow morning, I will quickly vacuum the living room, just to lay the nap of the carpet back down.

Then, I think the Walter Keane will be occasionally removed from the hallway wall, when the TV is very loud downstairs, and I shall practice, to my delight, my handstands!

Because it makes me feel happy!

Scarlette Letter – August 29, 20015

I’ve decided that letting your age define you is a sure way to limit your happiness.

I had a marvelous day not acting my age; I drove a little too fast, listened to loud music, hiked along the coast to a sketchy, steep, poison oak covered trail, down a cliff, to the beach, where a fresh water waterfall spilled into the ocean. Well, me and hundreds of other people. As I descended the steep, slippery trail down the cliff to the beach, I found myself behind a gentleman and, I assume, his wife, probably not too much older than me. There were two younger men with them I’d almost have to assume were their sons. The woman, with much trepidation and some assistance, made it down one section of the slipperier part of the trail and halted at the next, and the last steep portion, before the beach below. There, she gave up, stating she was too old to do stuff like this. I went ahead, when offered, but I showed her how I used my arms to lower myself down to the next level and assured her she could do it. I went on my way. Later, after a brief stroll along the surf, I noticed the woman, with her family, enjoying the beach and watching the water spill down from the cliff she’d descended, she was all smiles. What a pity it would have been to act the way you think you’re supposed to act at whatever chronological age you happen to be and miss out on a great experience.

After my hike, I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open, a little too fast, and I listened to really loud music, and I felt the age I want to feel, and I felt alive.


Scarlette Letter – 8/28/2015

Today was compelling testimony that frequent, vigorous exercise, good food, a leash on monkey mind, and social activity, or connection, fosters a feeling of well-being and happiness.

After a rewarding hike yesterday evening, I took off on a hot, mid-day, ten-mile hike “for lunch”. It feels so good to move and be outdoors. I love hiking with people, but I really thrive when hiking in solitude.

My hike was followed by a Meet-Up event with the women’s networking group I’ve been sporadically active with over the past couple of years. The group organizer planned an evening for a small group of women where she’d show us how to make Venezuelan arepas. I was the only member who showed up, but we had the loveliest of times preparing yummy food, drinking rum infused “batidos” and catching up on stories of adventure, travel, work, and all those things friends chat about.

I came home and felt accomplished, peaceful, content, and happy and watched a Netflix DVD, “Factory Girl”, which, though tragic, and dark, had no detrimental effect on my joy.

Falling asleep was harder than I expected, as I began to make plans for the next day, but, eventually, I succeeded.

To B or Not to B

Scarlette Begonia

When my children were in middle school and high school, we lived quite a ways out in the country. I was commuting into Sacramento, over an hour away, for work and then providing afternoon and evening transportation to various extracurricular activities for the kids. I drove in excess of 3,000 miles every month. I had this uncanny ability to arrive to pick my kids up, wherever they happened to be, at the precise moment I estimated. Whether inclement weather, road construction, unpredictable traffic conditions, mattered not, if I said I was going to be there at 3:02, I pulled up at exactly 3:02. It bordered on spooky.

I plan.

I have spent the past quarter decade in a career I sort of half-wittingly, and unwillingly, fell into. It was only ever to pay the bills, just until I figured out what I really wanted to do. And it still is. I’m an accountant. An auditor, more specifically. Not an I.R.S. auditor, I’m a financial statement auditor, the kind of auditor a company hires to come in and audit their financial statements for compliance with certain standards and expectations. I’m a friendly auditor. Or I was. Now I teach audit software skills. I teach audit methodology. I teach audit.

Auditors plan. Auditors plan like military strategists. Don’t think for a moment I’m joking. If you are ever involved in a financial statement audit, be aware of the fact that every number, every variance, every interview, every document examined, goes into developing the most strategic, most detailed, most well documented plan. Just be aware of the fact that if you offer the auditors a donut with chocolate sprinkles, it will probably trigger an action in the audit plan different than if you offered a donut with rainbow sprinkles, like perhaps assigning more experienced staff, or altering the nature, timing or extent of testing of a certain financial statement area. I’m kidding. But not. There are plans and they are detailed.

So, I plan.

My question, though, is whether for every plan, should there be a backup plan, a “plan B”?  You know, in case things don’t work out, there is a fall back plan. I’ve decided not.

Five years ago, I embarked on a quest to lose weight. I had recently left a long, fattening, and increasingly unhappy marriage. I traveled extensively for work, which meant eating in restaurants for every meal while away from home, not having a steady routine for sleep or exercise, and only being home a couple days a week, and so, celebrating, by eating out or indulging in “comfort food”. I looked to food for comfort, for solace, for celebration, for boredom. I wasn’t obese, but I was unhealthy, miserable, and uncomfortable.

I adopted a fitness guru, Jillian Michaels, and thought her books and materials were clear, practical, logical and would, more than any others I’d read in the past, be most likely to offer lasting, lifelong, life-changing, results. I ate more healthy selections both in restaurants and at home. I paid attention to portion size. I found a way to exercise every day. I adopted a mantra, “WWJD? What would Jillian do?” The sizes dropped, one after another. In the course of a year, I found myself swimming in my wardrobe four different times. I had to buy four completely new wardrobes in the course of a single year! It was awesome. I jettisoned every piece of ill-fitting clothing as it was replaced. I remember the shock and horror expressed by most of my friends and family. “Why would you get rid of the clothes that became too big? What if you gain the weight back again?”

I tried to reassure everyone, this thing I was doing wasn’t some “fad” diet, this was a lifestyle change. The weight was gone with my old behaviors. It had been a year. I was confident with my new self and had no intention of ever allowing myself to return to my old ways, or shape. I figured, by donating all my too large clothing to charity and not having them to slip back into if I slipped up, would put more impetus on watching my “p’s and q’s”. If my new jeans were beginning to feel a bit tight, it was an indication to take immediate action. Having a “plan B”, a whole wardrobe of roomier clothes, would make it easier to stray from the original plan. It was a plan for failure. It facilitated failure. It resigned to it, made failure an expectation, an eventuality. That was five years ago. I’m still the same, smaller, size, my weight and shape has fluctuated some, but very little. Not once, in five years, have I had to replace a single item in my wardrobe with a larger size. There are currently, out of two dozen pairs, only two pair of jeans in my closet that are a wee bit too tight and, so, my plan is to be a bit more careful with portion size and second portions of certain things I’ve been allowing, lately, like beer. And wine. I’m watching my “p’s and q’s”.

As an auditor, when we plan an engagement, as we gather evidence and information, if we discover a risk we hadn’t planned for earlier, we don’t have a “plan B” to revert to. We don’t abandon the original plan for some lesser plan. We edit the original plan to include steps to address the new risk. The rest of the original plan remains in place. We enhance the original plan, we shore it up, make it more robust. We simply adjust.

I believe this is how we should manage all the plans in our life; from career plans, to plans to improve relationships, to plans for activities or vacations, to plans to learn a foreign language, whatever the plan. Make a plan for exactly how you want things to go. Don’t have a plan for failure. If the original plan doesn’t work out 100%, and, truthfully, few do, simply adjust the plan, enhance the plan, make it more robust, shore it up.

Scarlette Begonia

I was on a vacation to the east coast lately, to visit my daughter and son-in-law, in upstate New York. When I began to plan my visit I told them I wanted to do two things, for certain, during my week there; I wanted to see the horses race at the Saratoga Racetrack and I wanted to summit Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York state. I was so certain about summiting Mt. Marcy, I’d actually drafted the witty social media posts I would make memorializing my accomplishment. It was all but in the books before I even boarded the plane. I planned for it. I packed my hiking boots, my hiking socks, my day pack and hydration system, my trusty water-wicking wool shirt, my emergency trail items; headlamp, knife, cord, multi-tool, etc. I brought with me everything I’d bring on a day hike up to the top of a far higher mountain, here, on the west coast. I’ve summited a few west coast mountains, some over twice as high as Mt. Marcy, in the past few weeks alone. I had a solid plan.

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As the week in New York unfolded, my daughter and I fell into our usual pattern of behavior; do, see, eat, drink, repeat. We went to the horse races, we went to a polo match, we went shopping, we dined, we wined, we revisited our favorite spots in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she lives. We had so, so, so, so, much fun. The night before our planned trip up Mt. Marcy, we stayed out a bit later than we should have. As our plan to summit Mt. Marcy fell on the last day of my trip, before flying home, the week’s activities were taking a toll, I’m sure, on our physical, mental, and emotional ability to perform at our peak in such an endeavor. As we stayed out entirely too late the night before, and had put off accumulating and organizing all the necessary provisions for our planned task until the morning we were to depart, and, because my alarm went off only a couple of hours after managing to drop off to sleep on my somewhat less than perfect, though free, air mattress on the basement floor, we got off to a very late and groggy start. We’d planned to get gas the night before, while out, but neglected to do so as the evening wore on into late night.

Scarlette Begonia

Further, this plan, perhaps, not as solid or well-executed as most of our plans, failed to adequately research the drive time or to check the weather for the day in the vicinity of Mt. Marcy. You see, originally, our plan included my son-in-law who would have painstakingly organized all those last bits of details. He had to adjust himself out of the planned trip the day before the trip because of a sore knee. So those last details were kind of dangling and, truthfully, were kind of in the way of our plan to enjoy that last night in town.

Scarlette Begonia

We set out a full three hours later than planned. We detoured into town for gas and some additional snacks. We made our way to the interstate and headed north and drove and drove and drove, the navigator telling us the trip was a full hour or so more than we really imagined. Or had planned for. As we drew closer and closer and closer to Mt. Marcy, in the Adirondacks, in upstate New York, the sky grew darker, cloudier and more and more ominous. About three quarters of the way there, my daughter asked me if I’d brought my packable rain gear. Um. No. I’d meant to, I’d planned to, but in the last moments of packing, I’d forgotten. She had extra rain gear at home, but we hadn’t thought of the necessity for it, for both of us, until now.

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She asked me what we should do, as in, should we devise a “plan B”, like hike somewhere else, less challenging, not as far away. I’d thought of this, too, but figured the time it would take to research another, lesser trip, would be better used in attempting the original trip. That was my plan, it was our plan. She’d hiked to the top of Mt. Marcy, ill-prepared, before, she knew the challenge, the trail, the conditions, and had tried to communicate them to me, but perhaps I didn’t listen as carefully as I should have, or I was cocky at my ability, emboldened by all my recent, successful, mountain ascents.

Scarlette Begonia

We passed through a couple of mountain towns in the last miles before reaching our trailhead at the Adirondack Loj. One town boasted a very popular appearing outdoor store. I considered detouring in to purchase some rain gear, but the parking lot was completely full, we were totally late, and I’d asked my daughter if there was a similar store on sight at the Loj. She said there was. We adjusted the plan accordingly; I’d just pick up a rain poncho at the Loj store and we’d be set, according to plan.

Scarlette Begonia

As for our timing; we knew the approximate mileage up to the summit, we knew when the sun was likely to set, and we knew our historical, average, hiking pace. It “mathed” out. Given the number of miles, even with the ascent, the hours of daylight available, and our hiking pace, we should be able to summit and return to the car by just about dark. Our original plan had included dinner back in town, but we were willing to adjust it for this.

Scarlette Begonia

We reached the Adirondack Loj. We committed to our revised plan by paying the ten bucks to park for the day. The sky was dark, cloudy, damp and ominous. It had rained off and on during the entire last hour of our drive. My daughter brought Aston, the pup, to accompany us, and was tending to his needs as I went shopping in the Loj shop. I looked like a California mountain summiteer; I wore running shorts and a tank top. I still had my flip flops on, with plans to switch to my full-on, lace up, ankle supporting, mountaineering boots. I’d been told the trail was more rugged than the west coast trails I was used to and had planned accordingly. Unless backpacking and bearing a significant amount of weight, I usually opt for old running shoes over full-on hiking boots when I hike. Running shoes were not part of today’s plan. But, entering the Loj store, I looked, admittedly, like a goofball. Everyone was bundled up in layers of technical clothing; pants, shirts, jackets, rain gear, gators, hats, ponchos, pack covers, the whole deal. I looked on every rack and every display in the shop. I squinted at the labels hung next to empty hooks on the displays, but, as I didn’t bring my glasses, couldn’t make out the letters for those missing items. I looked and looked and looked, all while trying to look casual and competent, I couldn’t find any rain gear. I finally asked, and was informed they’d recently sold out. Those blurry labels adjacent to those empty display hooks were, apparently, where rain ponchos would have hung.

I returned to the car we paid ten bucks to park for the day. I told my daughter the store had sold out of rain gear. We revisited “the plan”. I still was not ready to devise a “plan B”. We’d planned to hike Mt. Marcy, we were here, for better or worse, that was the plan. I was invested, we were invested, and that’s what I wanted to do. I said, “Let’s just go and revise the plan as needed.” I changed into my proper hiking pants, laced up my proper hiking boots over my proper hiking socks. I adjusted my trekking poles to the proper height and made sure my daypack included all of the proper things, with the one exception of rain gear. My daughter prepared herself, properly, as well. We made sure there was adequate water and provisions for us, and for the pooch. She’d planned carefully for his company by bringing a bungee-style leash that secured around her waist, as he was required to be leashed, and she’d need both hands free. The pooch, too, had made this hike before. I was in good company. It was part of my plan. The revised plan. We agreed on a “turnaround time”. If by 3:00 PM, we weren’t at the summit, we would turn around and head back for the car in order to make it before dark. We had headlamps and all that would be necessary to hike at night, but going downhill, in the rain, with the puppy dog, would be more challenging than just hiking in the dark. Our re-revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

We set off. I observed the signs, the mileage to the summit, the trail, we were in good shape. It would be a long day, but a rewarding one. I’d decided to put my water-wicking wool pullover on to start with. It was raining. My daughter had her rain jacket on. We hiked and hiked and hiked. The trail was wide and soft and sloped upward gently. We met, and passed, all kinds of other hikers. We hiked and hiked and hiked. We conferred, a couple of times, at junctions, trail crossings and water crossings, and made decisions collaboratively. We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. It rained. It was warm, though, and I was very hot with my dampish, water-wicking wool pullover on. The clouds gave way, finally, to broken sunshine and we stowed our outer layers away in our packs for later use, potentially, or not.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. After one stream crossing, the trail took on a new form; boulders. It actually resembled a stream bed, complete with water trickling down the center, making the varying size and shape rocks, slick and slimy. The trail was well-marked with round, blue, trail markers fastened to trees. It was clear we were on the intended trail, though it resembled more a seasonal stream than a trail. The very sparsely spaced mileage markers added additional confusion; after hours and hours on the trail, we seemed to have only hiked a couple of miles. I didn’t let any of this discourage me, but the reality of reaching the summit before our turnaround time seemed less likely. But, still, here I was and with a goal in mind. Had I known the mileage markers were “as a crow flies”, and not in “trail” or “walking” miles, I’d have had better information to apply to the plan.

Scarlette Begonia

The trail became steeper, and rockier, and as morning passed into noon and beyond, there were more people heading back down the trail, from points beyond, like the summit, than there were heading up. I felt, at this point, I was amongst the fools, chasing a folly, of reaching the summit of this mountain while daylight was still available. And I felt like everyone passing us, in the opposite direction, silently agreed with my self-bestowed judgment of “fool”. While it wasn’t raining, there were still clouds, and through the dense tree line, and not really knowing the direction we were headed or the direction the trail would turn, it was difficult to gauge whether the clouds were gathering, or dispersing, would hinder us, or hide from us.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. The trail got steeper, and rockier, and more strenuous. The toll of too many nights without adequate or comfortable sleep, the overindulgence in food and drink, the reckless abandon of appropriate physical activity and pre-hike hydration practices were beginning to become evident in my energy level, or waning energy level, I should say. And I was hungry.

Scarlette Begonia

We’d made so much progress, thus far, and much like negotiating one’s way through traffic on a congested highway, you really hated to stop, for any reason, and get passed up by those you worked so hard to get around. We’d passed groups of hikers who sprayed DEET on themselves, while hiking, creating a cloud of DEET in their wake, which we couldn’t help but inhale as we went. The only thing worse than the smell of DEET is the taste of it! We’d managed to make our way around a couple from Canada who smoked cigarettes. While hiking. Spewing cigarette smoke for us to breathe until we maneuvered our way successfully around them. It was not a good strategy, presently, to stop for nourishment and let these unsavory, poorly behaved hikers regain their positions in front of us.

Scarlette Begonia

But, I was spent. I needed food. And, it was 2:30 PM, a half an hour from “turnaround” time. We hadn’t really verbalized this reality, but it was there, and it seemed, now, time to take a break and revisit “the plan”. We fed the pooch, munched on some of our own provisions, and deliberated for a good ten or fifteen minutes, how we might adjust the plan. It was absolutely clear we would not summit before 3:00 PM. Our choices seemed to be; shun our very prudent turnaround time and just go for it, or turn around and head back now before it started to rain, again, making our descent down the steep, slippery, rocky trail with the enthusiastic pooch pulling us (her) down the trail, or hiking on upwards, until our 3:00 PM turnaround time, likely not making much additional progress, only to have to then negotiate our way down that much more terrain. There was thunder rumbling in the distance. Our nature, my daughter, and me, would be to “just go for it”, so it was with uncharacteristic temperament that we decided not to forge on to the summit, but to just turn at this point and head back down. But, rather than abandon our plan, completely, and call this a failure, or defeat, we altered our plan.

Scarlette Begonia

A mile or so back, along the trail, at the last discouraging mile marker we passed, at a fork in the trail, there was an arrow pointing to “Indian Falls”. We revised our plan to hike to Indian Falls rather than to the top of Mt. Marcy. It was not a “plan B”, just a wise revision to the already partially completed, original plan. To mitigate any notion that we were, in any way, wimping out, we agreed, had we both had appropriate rain gear, and had not brought the sweet, adorable, rambunctious, pooch, we would have carried on, summited Mt. Marcy, and hiked, like triumphant bad asses, back to the car, in whatever conditions Mother Nature tossed our way; rain and dark and treacherous trail.

Scarlette Begonia

Thunder rumbled, again. We bundled up or snacks, donned our daypacks once more, and began the first steps downwards. The smoking couple met us, still heading upward, we conversed with them momentarily on the likely duration of the rest of the hike, both in time and distance, the likely conditions, the changeable weather, the treacherous descent in the dark. The man wore cotton jeans and a cotton Old Navy t-shirt, his daypack was awkward, askance on his frame, large and purple and looking like it came off the “back to school” aisle at WalMart. His female companion was overweight and wore a way too tight black, Lycra, yoga outfit like you’d see worn at a mall in New Jersey. Her carefully done hair and makeup also did not make her appear to be the more skilled outdoorsperson of the duo. He seemed to seriously take into consideration the challenge that lay before them should they continue on. She, however, as we headed on down the trail, was heard to all but beg him to get to the summit. I still wonder if they made it.

Scarlette Begonia

We slowly negotiated the slippery boulders down, steeply, to the fork in the trail, and took the trail off to Indian Falls. It was a short leg of trail that quickly cleared the trees, opening to a stream that ran across impressive slabs of rock, then tumbled downward, out of view. Across the falls, with canyons between, loomed Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state. It loomed so large above us, compared to our present position. I craned upward and wondered just how many more miles, how many more hours, we’d have before us if we had chosen to persist. I’ve no doubt we could’ve done it, and would’ve had a lifetime of stories to share for the accomplishment, but, in this moment, on the sunny rock, next to the rushing stream and the cascading falls, I was completely happy, completely content, in our plan. Our revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

Our trip was not a failure, it was a complete success. We had a wonderful time carrying out our plan, and, as wisdom and acquired knowledge and facts dictated, as they always do, an alteration to the original plan. I am so grateful we didn’t plan to have a plan to fall back on, had we decided not to carry on with our plan. “If we stay out late and wake up late, instead of going to Mt. Marcy, let’s just …” I loved Indian Falls and am so grateful I got to hike there and spend time eating pistachios and sharing a beer with my daughter and the pooch. It is a day I’ll not ever forget, and a “plan B” would have deprived me, us, of that experience, of that joy, and of the lessons we learned that will help us as we devise our plan for our next attempt at Mt. Marcy! Yes, we plan to return, and to summit, and to triumph, and, had we not carried out this revised plan, we wouldn’t have as much valuable information in masterminding our next plan!

Scarlette Begonia

That’s the plan.

Independence Day

Happy fifth of July! Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day. We drank, we ate, we wore red, white, and blue, perhaps we took in a parade, maybe we watched things explode in the sky, either in person or from the overstuffed comfort of our recliners. That’s what Independence Day is all about. Or is it? From the Facebook posts I perused, from the handful of usual and frequent posters amidst my hundreds of Facebook friends, they all seemed to echo the same exact message as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to those who serve, past, present, and future. Very. But what, really, is Independence Day about?  
 I always thought Independence Day was a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, a document declaring our intent, as a colony, to, by whatever means necessary, secure our independence from the tyranny and taxation of England. Tyranny and taxation. Independence. Freedom from tyranny and taxation imposed on us without fair representation. Hot tub time machine Batman! Déjà vu! While a worthy topic, that isn’t what I’m discussing today. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke a little thought. Let’s be more mindful of those days off from work, the no bills in the mailbox day, those days when mobile deposits don’t post to our bank account. Those days are each unique in their dedication and purpose. Oh dear, friends are going to say I rant.  Let’s talk about independence. In general. I feel, as a nation of people, we aren’t as independent as we once intended, as we once fought for. But, as a person, I feel fairly independent. Free. Sure I have responsibilities and obligations, we all do. The absence of responsibilities and obligations does not negate our freedom, our independence. In fact, the more independent we are, often, I think, the more relied upon we become by those near us who have not achieved, or who have lost, their independence.

  

 I was independent enough to choose, for the time being, to move back to my childhood home to assist my elderly, widowed mother. She is less independent than she once was. She depends on me to do certain things she isn’t able to do; drive her to out of town doctor appointments, fill her car with gas, deal with her cable television service provider every time an error message pops up, and sundry other things.

My mom always encouraged me to be independent, and I tried, and though it took a few hard life lessons to really sink in, at the tender age of (almost) fifty-two, I think I’ve almost got it. To my mom, being independent, in the vein she meant, was to, as a woman, especially, always be able to support myself with my own earnings, regardless of marital status or a spouse’s wealth or earning ability. I eventually got that. I’m an independent wage earner. And in the dissolution of my one and only marriage, ironically, the only point of contention is how much spousal support I’ll have to pay to my husband! And for what duration. I know, right?

I taught my own children to be independent, in the same respect my mom taught me. I think they got it before at a much younger age than I, their life hard lessons being entwined with mine. I also tried to instill in my children a facet of independence I hold valuable; the ability to go and do and experience, if necessary, alone. Independently.

This type of independence is something I developed a great value for by observing, among so many others, my own mother, in her lack of independence. I don’t fault her, or anyone, for this lacking, it simply saddens me. How many hundreds of times I witnessed my mom, friends, and acquaintances lament missing out on something important or exciting to them because no one would go with them. To miss out on experiences, events, adventure, pieces of life, because of a fear or trepidation of going and doing alone breaks my heart. For this reason, I tried to instill this type of independence in my children’s core values. I sent them to camp “alone”, without friends, and encouraged them to make new friends. This may seem like child abuse in today’s world, but I felt it was an important skill for them to master, and the earlier the better. Acting alone, independently, is a reality in life. We go to job interviews alone. We can’t bring a buddy along for moral support. The ability to walk singularly and confidently into a room with a stranger and come across as the best candidate is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Myself included.

I suffered from two things as a child on into my early adulthood; shyness and being an only child. I learned from both afflictions, and I overcame both. As a shy person, acting alone can be a challenge, but, as an only child, being alone is a reality. I learned, as a child, to work up the courage to call my friends on a rainy day to see if anyone could come over and play. If no one was available, I was left to play alone. From this I learned to enjoy my own company, to cherish some solitude, and to play four different players in a solo game of Monopoly. Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Right hand was always banker.

  
I am an extremely active person, I like to go, I like to do. I like to experience. I don’t like to sit still long. I can’t stand the thought of life passing me by, of time slipping away, without some experience attached to it. Funny to live in the same neighborhood near some of the same folks I used to call up to come play Monopoly with me on a rainy Saturday. Now, like then, they are more often unavailable than not. Many of our interests differ, our stations in life are different, we all have many who depend on us, which means I either need to act alone or miss out. Missing out is not an option.  

I run alone, except on Saturdays, when I run with a running club. But I joined the running club alone, I didn’t require the security of a friend to join with me. I will happily go to art galleries, museums, parks, national monuments, wine tasting, parties, restaurants, outings, traveling, and to events, alone, if necessary. I hike alone as much as possible. I kayak alone, usually. I camp alone, occasionally, I have even backpacked alone. If I’d waited for someone to go with me, I’d still be waiting! And I’d have missed out on so much. What an indescribably sad thought!

  

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone, not just running, hiking, and kayaking, but in my fierce independence. Especially for a girl. Yesterday, as I drove away from the house, kayak atop my car, still dripping from the day’s solo adventure, a neighbor from across the street, you know, the one who speaks to everyone, who lies in wait for someone to exit their house, their car, then chats for an awfully long time. I’m not proud to say I’ve mastered avoidance. Until now, with him practically stepping in front of my moving vehicle, waving at me to stop. I rolled down my window, turned down the Jeremy Loops song I had blaring and greeted him. A couple of week s ago, the UPS driver knocked on our door while I wasn’t home. Mom answered. He had a large parcel, a kayak, for the neighbor next door. Mom couldn’t accept it because she isn’t very mobile and would have a hard time a) delivering the kayak to the neighbor upon their return and b) walking next door to tell them they had a delivery awaiting their retrieval. We both assumed the kayak was for the man of the household, with whom I’ve swapped stories of hikes and backpacking treks. But, the neighbor from across the street now leaned in my window and told me the mother in law had bought a kayak and wanted to go on solo paddling excursions, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the kayak to the newly installed roof rack on her Prius. My heart warmed, a kindred spirit, older than I. I told the neighbor I’d be happy to offer my assistance, next we met out in the front yard. 

I value and cherish independence, as a nation of people, from tyranny and taxation without representation, as a wage earner, but most of all, as a student of happiness, a liver of life! My life, the way I want it, and my happiness, depend on it! Go. Do. Be. Don’t wait. Make your declaration. Make every day independence day.

What’s the Difference?

I know. It’s been a while. Right?  I’ve been busy.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been sliding down a slippery slope of deteriorating self-respect and climbing the mountain of self-destructive behaviors. I’ve been having fun, and, at the same time, feeling like shit in every imaginable way.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been overindulging and, in the process, undermining everything I’ve worked for and everything I value and believe in, leaving me to question, all over again, my self-worth.

An Effort to Evolve

Why do I feel so out of sorts, why do I feel so negative, why am I having feelings of self-loathing? I catch myself, several times a day, at every turn, thinking, or saying out loud, “I really don’t care.” What’s the difference, anyway?

An Effort to Evolve

  Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just heading down the wrong  path.

An Effort to Evolve

I went hiking a week or so ago with a friend I met in Alaska. She recently relocated to Northern California, a couple of hours away from where I live, and we’ve been trying to stay connected. She has similar interests in hiking and outdoor pursuits as I do. Other than my kids, there are only a handful of folks I know who are willing to hike as hard, as long, or as far as I. She is one in that very small handful. She is also twenty years younger than I. As I often say, “there just aren’t any young people my age.”

An Effort to Evolve

We hiked about twelve miles on a very narrow, single track trail, in the hills east of the town of Calistoga, overlooking the Napa Valley. We encountered four snakes in our travels. I was in the lead and, being a Northern California girl, I am well-schooled in keeping an eye on the trail immediately in front of me, watching the ground exactly where my foot is going to land.

An Effort to Evolve

There are no snakes in Alaska, and my hiking partner’s only experience with snakes, while hiking, was in Peru, where the snakes tend to be overhead, dangling from tree limbs. Snakes on the path that resemble sticks across the trail were a whole new experience for her. We were both glad I lead. Three of the four snakes I spotted, politely exited the trail as we approached. The first we encountered, though, stubbornly stretched across the trail, with a steep incline to our right, masked in poison oak, and a steep drop to our left, also festooned with poison oak. I tossed a couple of pebbles at the snake, but it didn’t take the hint. We considered climbing up and around, or scrambling down and around, enduring the wrath of the rash over the possibility of a snakebite.  Earlier in the week, on a solo hike, I encountered a snake that behaved in much the same manner. I ended up backing up a distance, sprinting and doing an Olympic long jump over the snake. Today’s trail really didn’t allow for such athletic feats. Ultimately, I found a stick nearby and gently lifted the snake off the trail, tossing the stick and the snake down into the ravine a few yards so we could safely pass.

An Effort to Evolve

Other than snakes, the only other trouble we encountered was losing the trail back to the car. After six hours and nearly ten miles of rugged trail, and having not eaten since breakfast, as late afternoon began to turn to evening, we found ourselves on a trail that just seemed to be heading in the wrong general direction. We retraced our steps a couple of times, tried to pick up an alternate trail, and reasoned that, perhaps, we were on the right path afterall, unfamiliar though it seemed. We’d encountered very few hikers during the course of our day, and none were about presently. As we retraced our steps a few times over, we remained calm, applied some reason, a bit of logic, and, surveyed the hills that rose around us several different times. There was a scar on a hill that appeared to either be the result of water runoff and erosion, or an unusually steep trail. We’d discounted the scarred patch of earth earlier, as it, too, seemed to head in a direction we weren’t entirely comfortable with, but, we decided to reconsider, as other options didn’t manifest. Upon reaching the scarred patch of earth, we could see it was littered with footprints, far more than the other trails we’d been picking up in our attempt to get back to the car. We followed the steep path up the hill, leaving, now, our own set of footprints, and, after cresting the hill found ourselves on the familiar, wide path leading directly back to the parking lot.

An Effort to Evolve

It was the wisdom we’d acquired through experience, and our ability to remain calm, apply reason, and logic, and our willingness to try several options, admit our error, and try more options, that ultimately led to our success. We tried different things and found the right path.

An Effort to Evolve

So, I recognize now, that I’m headed down the wrong path, metaphorically. The path is easy, like a straight, flat, paved sidewalk, but I know, it will lead to misery. I could stumble along, endlessly, effortlessly, still moving along, but really, just going through the motions. Or, I could stop, remain calm, apply some reason and logic, and change my course to reach greater heights, majestic views, journeying impressive distances and experiencing challenges, triumphs and adventures that few realize. This is the path I’ve always desired, this is the path I’ve travelled before. Before taking a wrong turn. I’m choosing the narrow, steep, serpent strewn trail less traveled, now, over the straight, paved, sidewalk. The adventure begins. The adventure continues. Today. If you want things to be different, then things have to be different.

That’s the difference.

Scarlett’s Letter September 6, 2013

We were up early. Kind of. We were up early enough to take a morning hike, with the intent of hunting up some grouse or spruce hens for dinner. Literally, rifle in tow. We saw lots of evidence of birds scratching in the tundra on our last hike, just no birds, but it had been an afternoon hike. This morning, certainly, we should see some birds.

We hiked up the road, which, to some more urbane, may not look like a road, but, to me, having lived on a dirt road far worse, it looks like an interstate. It was a beautiful morning, clear, cool, bright and lovely. If I could’ve ordered a morning off of a menu, this would be it.

The road.
The road.

We turned from the road onto a trail. This a trail used by snow machines in the winter and four-wheelers the rest of the year. In hiking and cycling terms, I would call it a “double track” trail. I try to be intuitive and I think I do a fair job. Most of the time. My man was walking very quietly, using low voice tones. Right. We are hunting for birds. I adopt my best Sacajawea style walk, silently moving up the trail, hopefully, without snapping twigs. We see plenty of signs of birds, torn up tundra being an indication that they have been near, recently, scratching for food. We become quieter. Near the top of the hill, we double back and look for “the trail”. The trail being a barely visible single-track trail through the thick tundra and brush. To anyone but he who travels the trail, it really does not appear as a trail. Left on my own, I may struggle here and there to see which way the trail turns or twists. Hunting birds, I stick to the trail, I am like a dog, flushing the birds, if there were any, away from the trail. My guy walks fifty feet or so off trail, through only slightly denser growth, watching the ground and the treetops, somehow, simultaneously, for birds, ready to pop one that I may flush from “the trail”, like a good hunting dog. I am told of the behavior of these elusive birds. They scratch around in the tundra early in the morning and take to the treetops later in the day, or when scared. If scared, before being able to take flight, they will simply freeze, totally and completely blending in with their surroundings. And, I am quite sure, we passed dozens and dozens of these sneaky bastards, and I am also quite certain they were sticking their little bird tongues out at us as we passed by, oh so quietly, mere inches away. And, once we were out of earshot, I’m pretty sure they did little spruce hen high fives and laughed at us, mocking us for our obtuseness.

The "double track" trail, primarily frequented by four wheelers and snow machines.
The “double track” trail, primarily frequented by four wheelers and snow machines.
Single track trail.
Single track trail.
Trail? What trail? Are we lost, or is our desired destination just temporarily misplaced?
Trail? What trail? Are we lost, or is our desired destination just temporarily misplaced?

I’m sure you’ve gathered from my demeanor that we did not find any birds to “invite” to dinner. We depart from the trail in search of another. I am lost. I mean, I know I could probably back track and find my way to the double track trail and back to the road, and, yes, I would know which direction to turn on the road to return to the house. I am, at least, that astute. But, blindly through the tundra, I may be a bit turned around for a bit and may end up wandering downhill into someone else’s yard, which, I’m certain, wouldn’t be cool, and, as everyone in Alaska is armed and, quite literally, loaded for bear, may be both uncool and disastrous.

We find, no, not the trail home, at least not right away, but I’m confident that we are, at least, headed in the proper direction. We also find along our unmarked path, berries. Blueberries and low bush cranberries. One does not leave home without at least one rifle, maybe two, one for moose, one for birds, and, Ziploc “foot squares”. For berries, of course. We pick and pick and pick and as we load up our foot squares, we find the path home.

As we walk down the hill towards the house, just visible through the trees downhill a ways, my guy spots a saw in the dirt,  a small carpenters saw, and not his. It has likely been there, buried in the dirt and the duff, for many, many years. Many, as my man bought this plot of land in his youth, as a dream, and then dreamed enough that it manifested, with commitment and consistency and sheer will and lots of hard work, into a home. We retrieved the saw from the forest floor. As we approached the house we found an empty jelly jar on the edge of the rock planter where the flowers and the strawberries grow. A jelly jar to anyone else, a “coffee cup” to my guy. We retrieve it, as well. So, between the berries, the old saw and the jelly jar, at least we didn’t come home entirely empty handed.

A "foot square" of berries!
A “foot square” of berries!
Things we found while lost (not really, only temporarily misplaced).
Things we found while lost (not really, only temporarily misplaced).

Coming down the hill, we pass the chukar pen. Yes, chukars, as in domesticated game birds of the partridge variety. Bird is on the menu tonight, and we can’t eat the saw or the jelly jar. So, we decide to pick off a couple of chukars for dinner. The first harvest. And they may have been a week or two too young, but they were delicious.

A chukar. For dinner. Actually, two.
A chukar. For dinner. Actually, two.
Dinner.
Dinner.
Chukars are good eats.
Chukars are good eats.
Dressed for dinner.
Dressed for dinner.
Farm to table.
Farm to table.

So, today, I continued to think about being lost and what that really means; that we are never really lost, we always know where we are, it’s where we want to be that is temporarily displaced. And I also contemplated things found. A saw. A jelly jar. A bunch of berries. If we pay attention, there are things all around us, just waiting to be found, if only we pay attention. A few interesting thoughts to ponder further, and, a fantastic day. The best. Like a dream.