Category Archives: life

The perfect grown up game

When I was maybe 8, there was this game I would play with myself where I’d pretend that I was a grown up and I’d try to act and speak as cool and sophisticated as I equated with grownup-dom. The goal of this little game of mine was to have a ‘perfect’ day. One where I stayed in my fantasy through the whole day and managed to act like a perfect grown up the entire time.

EIGHT. Which means wanting to be ‘perfect’ has been a consistent thought in my brain for at least 34 years.


I discovered meditation in college at a time in my life where I felt very lost and alone. I did so with the desire for the magic fix, the thing they would turn me into the serene, balanced model I saw in magazines (this was long enough ago that social media hadn’t been invented yet). A new version of the The perfect grown up game. Something where I could be not me.

And since that didn’t magically happen after a few sessions, my practice has been inconsistent. I WANTED to like meditating and get something deeper from it so sometimes I’d do it often enough that I seemed to have more equanimity. But then I would go weeks without thinking about it, only to get back to breathing and sitting when the static of overwhelm would fuzz over my brain.

This went on for YEARS. 


I just recently surpassed 60 straight days of meditation, at least 10 minutes, every day. I do it in the mornings or after dinner or in the car in my office parking lot. Whenever I can fit in in. And something pretty remarkable is happening. I have not suddenly morphed into the serene, still beauty on the mountain top. I’m just slowly becoming more and more okay with who I am. I’m able to step back from myself and observe slightly more objectively, not only when thoughts and feelings bubble up on the mat, but at the grocery store and work and after a long day. Which means I can handle every day stressed with less soupy emotions.

And the other day, after an error at work that I’d normally spend a little too much time thinking about, I realized the part of me that would normally be upset with that kind of shrugged instead, knowing I’d corrected my mistake and there wasn’t anything else I could do about it.


That is a big reason, I think, to stick with this meditation game. Because the perfect grown up game seems to be going away.


Living the dream

I never allowed myself big dreams really.

I grew up broke and raised by hard working practical parents who were the children of immigrants and coal miners.

There was no room in our house for lofty goals.

You went to college and sacrificed so you could get a practical, stable job so you could have a normal comfortable life.

That was the most dreaming I allowed myself, to be comfortable enough to do a little traveling and afford trips to Whole Foods.

It took me awhile to get there but I did it. Scraped my way through college, slowly worked my way up in a corporate environment, paid off some debt, got married, bought a house. Finally went on vacation.

By my mid thirties I’d achieved the most I’d allowed myself to dare to hope.

And if you’ve been following me for awhile you know the rest. The complacency underscored by discontent. Then a run in the woods that changes everything.

For awhile that was more than enough.

But then a dream started sneaking in. A wish to feel what life was like in the mountains. Living in north Texas means there was no real way to live that experience without a lot of travel expenses or a major move so there for awhile, I did what I’d always done and dismissed these thoughts as impractical and told myself to be grateful for what I had.

I was grateful. But still…the dream persisted. And worse, it keep getting louder. I’ve talked before about finally taking that step and how hard it was so I won’t go into it again but we did it. We packed up and moved to place where I can fully experience life in the mountains.

The only big expansive dream I’ve ever allowed myself to have that came true.

And this, friends, is where the intention of my story turns. Because I was going to do my best to lay out plainly-tell you how hard a realized dream actually is compared to the pretty little Instagram worthy snippets you build up in your mind. How no matter how beautiful the outside, your insides don’t magically change. I was going to talk about regret and missing my old life and tell you I don’t know if it’s worth it, this dream life.

But then I went for a long walk in the woods the other day and was at the point in my sojourn that everything started to feel really uncomfortable. I’d been on my feet for hours, my IT bands were getting stiff, my toes were getting blisters and I had been dreaming of doritos and cherry coke for the last three hours. I was ready to be done and still another hour or so before I got back to my car. 

And the tape was playing in my head. The cranky, tired voice of discomfort was wheeling right along with its usual extortions. It’s hot. My feet hurt. I want to be done. It’s hard. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY HILLS????

But then another voice popped up and very subtly said you know you don’t have to think this way if you don’t want. And I know that. The difference here is that usually even if I know how to be better, I feel resistance to the change and in this case, all I felt was relief. 

In the past, I am ashamed to say that part of me expected gratitude to be like the blue pill. That if I was just grateful enough, I would somehow magically become this uber person instead of my neurotic self. 

That day I was still in pain, still ready to be done but without the yammering in my head to make it worse. Gratitude quietly rode along with the blisters and the doritos cravings for the remainder of the hike and she’s been pretty consistent since. 

And while I was out there changing my mind about the hike, I was also changing my mind about this dream that I’d walked into, the one that felt so different from how I imagined. Apparently when the complaining got put aside, the regret and doubt got set down with it.

Because you know what embodying this dream feels like? ALIVE. There is work -hard work- and missteps and backtracking and wayfinding. I am being challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. But I am IN IT and there is not a hint of stagnancy. Like the hike, a part of me just wanted it to be over. Wanted to go back to what I knew, go back to comfort. And like the hike, I am now so excited to see what’s around the next bend.

On being brave

Every saturday the Starbucks lady calls me brave whenever she sees me walk in half awake, same ratty ball cap on my head, same worn flannel, same basic white girl coffee order.

I’m brave, apparently, because I hike or trail run alone.

Now I could get into my irritation at the gender hypocrisy as my husband and male friends have never once been told they were brave for hiking alone but dismantling gender norms is for another post.

The thing is, mountains are straightforward. I can see what I’m getting into. There is no hiding the difficulty-I know it’s going to suck and that I’m going to want to quit at some point. I know there are inherent risks involved. And if it goes south, I know it isn’t personal. If mother nature were a triage nurse, the spiderwebs I clear with my face have a higher priority than I would. They can do some good out there where as I am a human, and therefore have a natural bent towards destruction.

This complete lack of concern for my continued existence is a comfort in a way. It is what it is and you either shoulder your pack and get on with it or you don’t.

Life though. All of it so unclear, all of us so unsure, with no signs to point you up the trail. We are all getting up every day and navigating the murky waters of work stress and decisions about kids or parents or money or boundaries without directions or a map. Then the coworker whose wife lost the baby at 16 weeks. The friend bravely speaking up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. 

Physical vulnerability can be mitigated or at least significantly lessened with gear, training and practice. The vulnerability of being human though, seems to remains raw and terrifying no matter how many years I accumulate on this planet.

So I don’t bother to correct my Starbucks lady as I realize her intention is complimentary. I just know that when I’m brave, it’s not for any mountain I climb. 

And I would tell anyone that has a dream they are afraid to pursue, the bravery to do so already lives within you.

I’ve been roaming

I recently spent 30 days almost entirely off social media. And during those 30 days, I spent some time almost every day in the nature.

This was not planned. Over a long weekend when I was at the tail end of a particularly stubborn sinus infection and completely over feeling like crap, I found myself outdoors several days in a row and mostly away from my phone. I welcomed the marked reduction in my anxiety levels. Like many, I live by my phone and specifically by my social media apps. Facebook and Instagram are how I stay connected with friends and family, especially since I moved across the country a year ago. They are my news sources. Hurricane Harvey was still stubbornly hanging over Houston and we have family in the area. The political arena was as contentious as ever. I felt obligated to worry over, understand and comment on every event in our country. I was tired, overwhelmed and now more aware of it because my body was tired and worn down.

The sinus infection that gave me a reason to rest and put down my phone may have started this little experiment but once I was back to 100%, I wondered what would happen if I continued the trend. With work and home life, could I even find time to get in the woods every day? And how would my body handle it? I’ve had knee and foot problems off and on since I started running and hiking 4 years ago-would i be physically able to sustain a daily practice, even if I took it easy?

So I did the one thing I’ve found that works for me when I’m uncertain or scared about moving forward, I just told myself that I’d just see how far I could get and if I needed to quit or take a rest day I could. This takes the pressure off of a brain that very much feels an obligation to finish and check off to do lists. And the point was not necessarily to stick to an admittedly arbitrary schedule just for the sake of the schedule, it was to see what happened when I made consistently more time for the outdoors and less time for the screen. 

Here’s what happened:

  1. I read 8 books (and actually finished a 9th the day after my official 30 days was up)
  2. I put approximately 100 miles on my legs and accumulated somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 feet of elevation gain
  3. I started a poetry project that I’m calling Words Hewn-every time I step into nature I take a photo and write a poem inspired by that experience. The goal is to continue this for a year and see how many I accumulate. Still figuring out if I want to post it somewhere or not.
  4. I was in nature in some form or fashion-from local nature parks or gardens to 7000 feet above sea level on wind swept ridge lines-for 29 of the 30 days (I took one day off when my body gave me the very clear message that I needed a damn break).
  5. My husband and I spent more time together in nature. Normally my weekend excursions are done alone as he is not a masochist and doesn’t enjoy spending 5 hours trudging uphill. However, increased frequency meant I often needed to decrease intensity (though I still indulged in a few sufferfests-old habits and all that). And since the goal was to get outdoors every day instead of my usual schedule of 3-4 days a week, I had many more opportunities to get outside in a variety of ways. We explored a state park, a trail in the Tillamook State Forest, a local nature park and Portland’s beautiful Japanese garden, in addition to our usual haunts. There was more time spent walking and talking and I feel more connected to him than I have in a long time. I also noticed that he seemed to put his phone down more once he saw I wasn’t reaching for mine at every lull in conversation or commercial break though I never asked him to or made an issue of it. Which led to more discussion or just being with each other in shared space.     
  6. I realized I feel like I haven’t learned anything new in a long time and I want to change that. So far I’ve found an online naturalist program (like a continuing education sort of thing) that starts in a few months, started reading about the history and geology of the area and am contemplating all manner of classes-from how to set rock climbing anchors to wildlife biology.
  7. When I got free of all the clutter, I found I was able to get more engaged in the world and what was going and ready to be more involved since I wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed and helpless due to a barrage of information, opinions and issues.

On the flip side, I also missed really important happenings in my friend’s lives-family deaths, wedding announcements, job changes, moves-not to mention the regular, normal, happy interactions I have with friends.

But when I first checked instagram after the 30 days were up, I immediately felt a wave of anxiety and the old comparison monster. Thoughts of: I’m not cool enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not invited all tsunami’d through my head. Maybe I’d been so used to being inundated with social media that I didn’t notice it much before but the thoughts felt loud and sharp. Then I wondered: does my Instagram feed make someone feel that way? and immediately cringed at that thought. 

I’m posting this on a media platform because I want people to read it because I feel a need to share and be seen. What I’m realizing is I want to be a little more thoughtful and intentional in how I do that in a way where I can still be my snarky, ridiculous self. And also how I want to consume social media and connect with others. 

More to come but for now, just a few of my favorite shots over the last 30 days:

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Mt Hood Meadows: a dramatic recreation

I’m alone on trails a lot.

And the aloneness is bigger the higher up the mountain I go.

I mean this literally but I think it is true of all our journeys, the ones that lead us up the corporate ladder or deep within ourselves.

At some point, maybe we all have to break from what we know.

Stand alone on our mountain tops.

Our soul so round and full it seems to press against the sky but the body of us, still an insignificant speck on shaky talus. Meant for ridge lines only wide enough for one person to traverse.

The truth is, sometimes it really bothers me. I am blessed with great friends and a fantastic husband but to do the things I want to do, there has to be a drive and a passion for it and their passions lie elsewhere. Plus not everyone thinks sore IT bands, hours in the heat or rain or cold, dehydration and double digit miles are a good time. Apparently. So up the trail by myself I go.


I am alone on trails a lot.

And it is the fullest and freest I ever feel. The most complete. The most comfortable with myself. There are no labels, no schedules, no expectations.

I am not even a separate body on the trail, I am just as much the sky and rock and water as I am anything.

The ‘I’ of me disappears because it is meaningless, a construct I have to act out during business hours. Does that mean that I found God?

hood meadows2.JPG


Both of those experiences are true and real. Both are ones I’ve had many times, sometimes within a mile of each other. Hell, 5 minutes of each other. Both have been on my mind since I did the Hood River Meadows excursion. It’s right at 10 miles and starts at 4k-ish feet up the mountain and climbs another 2000-ish from there. You see wild flowers and waterfalls, cross mountain streams and spend a good deal of it on in the sun on the Timberline Trail.

It is the epitome of why I moved here.

hood meadows1.JPG

But you don’t really get to decide how your body and brain are going to respond on any given day on the trail so I spent my morning conflicted- lonely and free, unsure and completely at home.

It’s been a week and I still haven’t resolved how I feel about the time I spend by myself on the trail. The trail has given me enough patience to just be conflicted and know the answer I need will come soon enough.

But if you decide on this particular hike, I’d like you to not be conflicted about where you are so I offer a few extra details not included in the link I used above:

  1. When you cross the bridge at Umbrella falls, the trail will appear to go straight ahead or to your left. Go left. The path straight ahead just allows you a better look at falls from above.
  2. As noted in the link, you will soon cross a paved road and pick up the trail on the other side. The trail entrance is small and inconspicuous (and had a car parked in front of it when I was on it) so it’s easy to miss. It is just to the right of the gated parking lot and has a pole in front of it. It will kind of look like an animal trail but it’s the right place to be.
  3. When you come down into Clark Canyon (that’s the talus-y, grey, rock strewn moonscape you’ll hit about 6 miles in) the trail will peter out at the creek. Look for the set of cairns that I assume give you the approximate place to cross the river (like most of the rivers and streams you will cross, there’s no bridge). I actually crossed a little downstream from that area. Use your best judgment.
  4. Once on the other side of Clark Creek, look for the pile of rocks with the stick in the middle of them and then look to your right to see the trail climbing up the ridge. Yes, ‘look for the pile of rocks with the stick in them’ is an official direction.
  5. Once at the top of the ridge, you’ll see Newton Creek on the left. The directions on the website said I would turn off on to Newton Creek trail but I didn’t turn off on to a separate trail once I crossed at Clark Creek. I was just on Newton Creek trail. To be fair, this point is the one I am least sure of because runner brain was in full effect by that point.
  6. Regardless, follow the trail with Newton Creek on your left and it will soon connect with Elk Meadow Trail which will take you back to your car.

hood meadows3hood meadows4

Trail Stats:

Trail head

Length-10 miles

Elevation gain-a smidge over 2K feet

Bathroom sitch-porta potty with no toilet paper. Prepare accordingly.

Keely: final words

I remember when I first picked her up from that shelter, knowing I was getting a dog that would need a lot of help and care.

Then I saw her and she looked even worse that the pictures and my heart stopped but she ran to me, straining on her leash, ready for what was next, despite how weak and hungry and in pain she must have been.

I remember standing in the vets office, mouth agape, as he outlined all the treatments and pills and instructions and my ears started ringing with the overwhelm of it all but he looked at me and said very calmly, ‘This the best time because it will only get better from her. It will never be this bad again.’

I remember having to carry her upstairs so I could bathe her because she was too weak and freaked out to navigate them and her legs stuck out at all angles as I clumsily tried to carry her as gently as I could. How I thought she couldn’t possibly look any worse until I had her in the tub and she sat there, bedraggled and naked and even skinnier somehow as the water ran brown with the layers of dirt and neglect washing down the drain.

I remember the time, about 4 days in, when I took her outside to do her business and a leaf fell or something and she pounced on it and I started crying because it was the first time she did a normal dog thing.

I remember when her hip bones no longer became prominent and people stopped asking me what was wrong with her and when our wonderful vet put his hand on hip at her one year appointment and said, chucking, ‘I didn’t expect her head to get that big.’

keely then and now

I remember around that same timeframe when she jumped up on the couch with us for the first time and we both just looked at each other, not daring to move lest we startle her and ruin the moment.

I remember mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy moments that don’t mean anything to anyone but right now are my most treasured memories.

a face

Like her squeaky bark and how she liked ‘to be her own dog’ and spend time alone out in the yard and how she was the boss of everything and anyone that walked into our house was required to give her belly rubs.

keely bird

I remember when she started limping two years ago and we took her into the vet thinking it was arthritis or something but he walked into the examining room with a grim look and X-rays and a box of tissues. How he said it’s usually osteosarcoma and gave me some articles so I could prepare myself. How he patiently and kindly let me wipe my tears before he said, ‘Don’t count her out though, she’s a fighter.’

I remember eating lunch with Jason when the specialist called with the biopsy results and said it wasn’t osteosarcoma, it was chondrosarcoma which had a much better prognosis and we cried together in Burrito Jimmies because our girl had been given a fighting chance.

I remember the day I picked her up from the leg amputation and clenched my jaw until it ached as I tried to help her walk so that I wouldn’t scare her with my tears.

Then blessedly, there were more mundane, silly, sweet, sleepy, somewhat slower moments where things sort of went back to normal and life went on. We moved across the country. We settled into new jobs and a new home. We continued to give her belly rubs and peanut butter and fall asleep to the sound of her snores.

keely black and white

Until a few weeks ago, when I noticed she was licking her remaining front leg a lot. And her breathing sounded weird. I quietly told Jason that we needed to make a vet appointment for her because I knew what that could mean. Cancer in the leg so easily metastasizes into the lungs.

And I remember all the air going out of my lungs as I looked at the Xrays. That knowing that this might be the diagnosis hadn’t prepared me in the slightest for the sucker punch to my chest as I looked at a death sentence.

I remember our kind new vet letting me know what pills they’d give me to keep her comfortable and how her breathing would change and that’s when we’d know it was time.

Then last saturday night, it did. I sat next to her on the floor as she labored to breathe, sounding like she was trying to suck air through a hole in a wet plastic bag and she looked at me, staring at me for a long moment right in the eyes and I understood.

We said goodbye to our sweet, spirited princess Monday, July 3rd.

You know what the messed up part of it is? Not the abuse and neglect she endured before we got her, not the cancer and amputation and then cancer again. Not that towards the end, every step hurt and she couldn’t move without gasping for air. It’s that no matter what she was going through in her life, she kept running towards it. She WANTED to be here, even when she was scared or skinny or sick. Running towards life. Right to the very end.

And I’m mad, I’m so fucking mad that cancer overtook her spirit and that it backed me into a corner where the kindest thing I could do was make her leave.

Keely taught me to keep going even when I was scared or unsure. She taught me to live completely in the moment. She taught me not to tell myself stories of how things ought to be but instead keep looking forward. Maybe she’s just a dog to some but she was the bravest creature I ever knew.

And I’m hurting and grateful and grieving and relieved and appreciative and mad as hell and don’t know what to do with all of it.

So I guess I’m going to do what she would do and keep running towards life.

The Kings-Elks loop that didn’t happen: apparently crying in the woods is a thing I do now

It was about the third switchback, not even that far up from the Kings trail head when the tears started.

My dog is dying.

We are almost two years past the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took her left front leg. We knew then that we were borrowing time and it seems to have caught up to us. Cancer in her remaining front leg has metastisized to her lungs. The vet said we’d know when it was time and all that’s left for us to do is keep her comfortable until then.

I’m already sick of crying and she isn’t even gone yet.

For anyone who thinks that because there aren’t any tall peaks in the coastal range surely no trail could be that challenging, come hang out with me sometime. The trail up Kings gains 2500 in only 2.5 miles making it’s grade somewhere between this shit is ridiculous and kiss my ass hard.

I’d originally set out to do the loop from Kings to Elks mountain, a total of eleven miles and about 4000-ish feet of gain between the two mountains. It’s on my bucket list of stupid hard crap to do and right about now, I’d really like to experience something physically uncomfortable enough to get me out of my own head.

I don’t think there are enough switchbacks in the world to do that right now.

With every pounding heart beat, I thought about Keely’s journey. From skinny, starved, abused shelter dog on the kill list that I met in December of 2007 to cancer survivor in Sept of 2015 to where she is now. Her life has been unfairly difficult. And I worry, always worry, that we haven’t given her enough good moments in between to make up for what she’s had to go through.

Dammit, now I’m crying again.

The thing about the trail, that I’ve heard plenty of people say, is it’s a metaphor for life but I think it’s a little more than that. I could escape my life pretty easily if I wanted to. We humans have found so many ways, many totally legal, to distract us from ourselves. I think the trail is a fun house mirror of life that you can’t escape. Even if you decide to bail a few miles in, you’ve got to get back to your car somehow so you are forced to face every crappy thought your scared little brain throws at you. It’s not pretty.

And that’s why I like it. Because it doesn’t give me easy. I’ve had too much of easy and never gave me anything but an ache for what was missing. So I go out there and find stupid hard things to do because then I can live completely in myself and every time I’ve face the scared, mean, angry parts of myself and managed to get back to the trail head, I’ve also found a little more empathy and compassion and forgiveness. Peace. I could use some peace right about now.


But my time with Keely is shortening by the minute.

So I decided to shorten the hike and only get to the top of Kings and back so that I could spend more time with her, even if that meant just listening to her snore. One day in the very near future, I am going to desperately miss those snores.

Right about then was when I looked up and noticed the 2000 ft elevation sign nailed into a tree. That meant I only had about a mile and 1200 feet of gain to get to the top of the mountain. The last time I was there, it was raining and the entire area was shrouded in mist which gave the sense that the ground just dropped away to nothing once you get out of the tree line and I wanted to see what it looked like when it was clear. I can now comfirm that is absolutely true.


At the top I said a prayer to the winds for peace. Not for me. For her.


And then I went home and sat in the sun with my dog and didn’t miss the trail for a minute.

Trail stats: (Kings trailhead to summit only)


Difficulty: So this is funny. Tillamook state forest calls this trail ‘challenging’. Oregon hikers call it ‘moderate’ which is complete bullshit because they also called Cape Lookout moderate and having been on both of those trails, I can assure you, they are not even remotely the same grade. I’m sticking with my personal grade of ‘this shit is ridiculous’.

Distance: 5 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 2500 feet in 2.5 miles

Bathroom sitch: chemical toilet at trailhead.