I’m back!

When I went to post this, I realized this is my 200th post. Woot!

It’s been a busy year so far, and I had to put down some of my side interests for a while. This blog being one of the many things that I really wanted to keep current, but just couldn’t and stay healthy. As it was, the things I needed to do regardless were more than I could handle at times. More about that later. This post is just to catch everyone up on the exciting and happy things that have been keeping me busy!

First off, I want to say that we still miss our beloved Mr. Bob and didn’t want to rush into getting another cat right away. But when this little monster needed a home we decided to meet her, and it was a match. Her name is Selkie, because she loves being near water in a way that even Bob couldn’t match. When I take a bath, she has to be on my lap (above the water, preferably on a towel) so she can bat her paws at the water.


She and Little Girl get along pretty well. At least while they’re sleeping. I think Little Girl would like to be buddies and play, but Selkie wants to play far too rough for poor old LG. She’s an adorable little brat, though, isn’t she?

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The main reason I was so busy earlier this year was because I was busily working to finish up my degree. I took 18 units in the Spring, and still had to take a summer class. But I did it. I’m a graduate!

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And, as will surprise no one who knows me, I decorated my cap with Firefly items.

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And then this happened.


Yep. That’s our wedding invitation. Can you believe it? Eleven years later?! We got married!

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It was a great party. We had many of our dear friends there for the event. Kyle did the honors, with a great speech about “Love, honor, and cherish, and always watch Firefly together.”  Oh, yeah. It was totally a Firefly/Serenity themed event. I promise a more in-depth post about the decor and whatnot. For now, enjoy this great photo of our friends dressed up as different characters. The little River Tam is our niece Skylar. How adorable?!

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And, lastly, I’d like to leave you with this great Google+ AutoAwesome image from our Honeymoon Hike with friends. I’ve been doing a fair amount of hiking lately.  In fact, when I’m done writing this, I’m going to look up info for tomorrow’s hike in a new and potentially awesome place. Stay tuned for more info about it, and so much more! Because I’m back. With lots of ideas and recipes and photos and other great things to share!

Armstrong Hike - 10-EFFECTS


Into the Wild

I know I haven’t written in a long while. I’ve got so very much to talk about, and while it would probably help to put it into words, I just haven’t had the energy (read: emotional strength) to actually do the work.

I’m depressed. I’ve been trying to deny it for months now, but it has finally caught up with me. It started out as just a little anxiety a couple of months ago, and I was able to shrug it off or pretend it wasn’t there. Or simply ‘power through’ it and still get stuff done. But then more and more things started coming at me, needing attention and emotional energy. Some little, some very much not little. I tried juggling them all, and even started to purposely drop some of the little things hoping that it wouldn’t be a problem, that other people would pick up the slack, that in the end these little things wouldn’t matter.

Some of the little things turned into slightly bigger things when combined, and that …


… I just can’t keep up with this juggling metaphor. I don’t have the energy to do the thinking necessary to make it work.

Basically, this blog post is a long explanation to myself about why I couldn’t finish a particular assignment for my Environmental Literature class, where we were asked to compare Thoreau’s Walden and the movie Into the Wild.

At the beginning of this semester, I knew it was going to be a challenging one. I’m taking more classes than I’d really like, and I still need to finish up my internship from a previous semester. So, effectively, I’m taking 14 units. Which isn’t a lot for some people, but it’s at least 4 credits too many for me. I was managing fairly well, but things started to pile up towards the end of February, and I started to slack off on readings and homework, and even stopped going to class as much as I should. I kept telling myself that it would be OK. That I could catch up once I’d gotten some rest. This should have been my first sign that something wasn’t right with me. And, to be honest, I was hoping that giving myself a little extra slack at this point would help me later on, so maybe I was at least somewhat aware of things not being right.

But by March, I was really starting to slide into full-blown depression. And then Bob got sick. Like really sick. Like I haven’t blogged about it because it was too scary and putting into words here would have been too painful. (Short explanation: We thought he was going to die. In our arms.) I was in shock and couldn’t function at all, much less even begin to think about school work.

I spent the first week after his diagnosis in an emotional panic. I couldn’t sleep or eat or think clearly. The only work-like thing I could do was endlessly search the Internet for an answer, a miracle, something to help me understand. For two weeks, I went back and forth between denial and severe depression. Sure, I tried to keep up with school work, and probably managed to get through about 25% of it, but even that little bit would leave me emotionally exhausted.


It’s at about this point that the assignment mentioned above came up. Looking back, I can see where I was resisting watching the film for at least a week. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t focus on anything school-related. There was something about the film specifically that I was strongly resisting. I kept putting it off, telling myself I’d do a rushed watching of it closer to the due date for the assignment.

It’s also around this time that things started to look up for Bob (I’ll post more in a few days, I promise), and I found a thread of hope I could hold on to. Then, a few days later, my dad went into the hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery. While this may not seem like a very dangerous surgery for most people, my dad has special medical issues that complicate any kind of surgery. He had to go to the hospital to have dental surgery. Add to that the fact that I’m 2000+ miles away and unable to comfort my mom or talk to the doctors, and you can understand my worry. (After five stressful days in the hospital, he’s home and recovering fine.)

At this point, I was emotionally trashed. I had nothing left except the sheer will that has been keeping me going at even this low level. I told myself to pull up my big girl panties and get this project done, even if it was late. I ordered the film from Amazon and started watching it. And damn if it didn’t hit every single emotional trigger I had. Still, I made myself watch it, while allowing myself to take short breaks throughout. It took me 7+ hours to watch a 2 hour film. And, I’ll be honest here, I did not watch the last 15 minutes. I just couldn’t. This was a week ago. The paper was due last Thursday. I spent all day Friday trying my darnedest to make myself write the paper. And then Saturday and Sunday. And then Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. And now it’s a week late, and I’m just starting to come to terms about making myself watch the movie when every fiber of my being was screaming for me to stop. I won’t be turning in anything for this paper. In fact, this blog post is probably the closest I’ll come to even addressing it in writing.


Interestingly, before this class, I hadn’t read either Walden or Into the Wild, but I had a pretty clear understanding of what they were about based on cultural references. I was 22 in 1992, the year Christopher McCandless went to Alaska. I think he was only about a year and a half older than me. I recall the news stories and discussions about his death. I don’t know if I had a distinct opinion about him other than it was a tragedy. And one I didn’t really care to explore further. Over the years, I’ve read other books by Jon Krakauer, but when friends recommended this one, I steadfastly refused. I never gave a thought to why, except that it made me feel uneasy and a little anxious.

Here’s where I’ll also admit that I haven’t seen or read plenty of stories about tragedy, and generally tend to steer away from them. I haven’t seen Schindler’s List. I can’t watch the end of The Anne Frank StoryLife is Beautiful left me a wreck. I routinely put down books that start to make me feel upset. I don’t think it’s because I have a rosy outlook on life and don’t want to explore these feelings. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m very familiar with these feelings, and don’t need to add more of them to understand them. I see sadness all around me all the time. And while some may find comfort in exploring these themes in literature and art, I find that much of it leaves me feeling more upset than comforted. Especially when I’m deep within an episode of depression.

Looking at the assignment questions for this blog post makes me upset. Just seeing the name Alexander Supertramp makes me want to cry.

  1. Thoreau had strong feelings about materialism. What were they? How do they compare with the feelings of Alexander Supertramp?
  2. What do you think motivated Thoreau to live at Walden Pond? What motivated Alexander Supertramp?

Looking at the assignment questions for this blog post makes me a little anxious. Just seeing the name Alexander Supertramp makes me want to cry. I have opinions on these questions, but they are going to be a struggle to get out.


Comparing McCandless/Supertramp to Thoreau is an interesting juxtaposition, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. Honestly, I’d find it easier to compare McCandless/Supertramp to John Muir. Both had troubled childhoods they were eager to get away from. Both wanted to reject their upbringing and explore the world around them. Both went on long treks and took life-threatening risks.

As for comparing McCandless and Thoreau, their motivations were completely different, as were their circumstances and outcomes. Perhaps the comparison is justified in that they both tried to “go away.” And maybe this is why I have not ever felt compelled to read either’s story. I know from personal experience that one can not simply “go away.” There is no “away” to go to. But, for the sake of answering the questions, I will attempt to understand their motivations.

Thoreau went away, but told everyone where he was going and why. And he only went as far as a cabin on his friend Emerson’s property. Yes, he was living in the woods, but he was close enough to town that he often made the trip to visit friends and friends would come visit him. His goal was to separate himself from the influences of society, which in his case meant the daily expectations of city society, work, and leisure activities. His environment, although a bit more challenging than living in Boston, was far from that of true wilderness and seclusion.

McCandless/Supertramp left without telling anyone where he was going or why. Sure, he told the people he met while traveling, but they were powerless to stop him. Why didn’t he tell his family? Is it because they did have some emotional power over him, and he felt like he needed to break that bond by disappearing? Of course, we’ll never know the answer to that.

When I think about McCandless/Supertramp, I think of the folly of youth. He was ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and, in my opinion, literally ill. He was running away from something. Although he may have appeared to be running toward Alaska and his “true self,” it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see that he was wrestling with an emotional monster. Maybe he hoped to overcome his troubled family life by leaving it behind, but by rushing headlong away from it, he put himself into greater danger. Not at all unlike other young people with similar backgrounds who turn to drugs or other dangerous behavior.

As regarding their views of materialism, I think this one similarity gets entirely too much attention. The rejection of material items is as old as society itself. Acetics from nearly every religion give up their personal belongings and take a vow of poverty as a sign of their faith. That neither Thoreau or Supertramp/McCandless ascribe to an organized religion is interesting, but both are driven by belief. Rather than discuss the expression of their belief as it manifests as anti-materialism, I find it much more interesting to explore the beliefs themselves.

Thoreau was part of the group of Transcendentalist that came together during the early part of the 19th century in the United States. It has long been interesting to me that the Transcendentalist movement comes around at nearly the same time as the Second Great Awakening, and that both seem to be a response to the growing industrialization and ‘scientification’ of the time. It is also interesting to me that both were attempting to have a stronger emotional relationship with the divine, one through crowded revival meetings, and the other through solitude in nature.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to link McCandless/Supertramp to a larger movement of sorts. Perhaps there are others who, like him, attempted to slough off their social requirements and are busy tramping around in the backcountry. There are a few who have gained some attention, like the Soul Pilgrim and those who have followed her. But whether these individuals can be grouped together under a title is difficult to say. I suppose that, like Thoreau and his cohort, McCandless/Supertramp was also attempting to make a statement about modern society. The movie only lightly touches on the fact that he studied issues related to poverty and other social concerns of the era. Perhaps that was part of his personal motivation, but I do not believe it was the driving factor that took him to Alaska.


Anyway… it’s time for me to leave for class now. I guess I’ll leave it here. Interestingly, I feel a whole lot lighter having done this exercise. I’m still stressed and depressed. I still don’t really want to think too deeply about Into the Wild, and I certainly have no interest in re-watching it. But it has been good to finally get the fragments of thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for the last couple of weeks out into words. It’s like there’s more room for other things now — happier, more hopeful thoughts.

Nourishing contemplation

Lent is here again. As a non-church-going pseudo-Episcopalian, I’m sure there are many of my friends who are surprised that I observe Lent in any fashion. I can’t quite explain why I find it comforting to continue this yearly practice, but it fulfills a spiritual and physical need for quiet and contemplation. I have even found myself thinking of adding the observation of the Advent period of fasting and meditation.


I’m not one for “giving up” things for Lent. Instead, I prefer to “take up” something new. Sometimes, this difference is simply a matter of how I look at my life, and how I frame the change. For instance, the years where I did not drink during Lent, it wasn’t a matter of “giving up booze” as it was “taking up sobriety.”  The year I became a vegetable-tarian, eating LESS meat was just a natural function of eating MORE vegetables and grains. In both cases, it was an opportunity to make a positive change in my life while contemplating the social and emotional challenges associated with the change, as well a chance to pause and sit with uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings a bit.

This year I decided to spent Lent focusing on the larger concept of nourishment — body, mind, and soul — on an individual and community level. For me, this will be expressed by taking the time to care for and learn from my body and my spirit, exercising my muscles and my mind. I had settled on this approach weeks ago, and started preparing for what it would entail. It was a complete coincidence and a very pleasant surprise that the Episcopal Relief & Development 2012 Lenten Meditations(pdf) is also focused on the social issues around food security and community. I followed their daily meditations last year, and found them to be perfect bite-sized meditative prompts that resonated with my own way of manifesting public displays of private beliefs.

Today’s changes include:
Eating a healthy, homemade breakfast of oats – I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been eating breakfast out far too much lately.
Adding more veggies to my lunch – Normally, I would have just eaten the left-over Chinese food as is, but today I added some additional vegetables and grains to make it more filling and increase the nutrition of my lunch. And, by doing so, made a larger batch of food that will be dinner and additional lunches later this week.
Continuing my gym activities – I just started back at the gym this semester and haven’t been as regular as I’d like because of sickness and scheduling problems. But it needs to be a higher priority.
Making time for quiet contemplation – I will always have plenty of work and homework to do, as well as countless other things to distract myself. It’s important to make the time for it regardless. The payoff in reduced stress alone will make it worth it.
Getting enough rest – This has been a continual problem, and relates to the busy-ness of modern life. There will always be something else that I want to do. I will not have time to do everything. And sleep is as important as all the other activities.

God creates humankind in the last act of this creation story and charges them with stewardship of all the other animals.
I have always loved the idea of stewardship rather than domination or control. Stewards have power over their charges, but more importantly they have responsibilities to their charges. This concept above all others has informed many of my decisions in life. It is this sense of responsibility that led me to find a local source of vegetables, and that continues to drive me to seek out and support local farmers and food producers, as well as truly sustainable* sources for most everything else we buy and consume. I know it often costs more than conventional foods. I am consciously aware of the blessings I have been given in that I can afford to pay the premium cost for good food grown by my friends. I feel it is a kind of privilege that I can pay a little extra to keep a local farmer working her fields, and that her continued presence may encourage others to take up the mantle of “farmer” and create a wider market, thus bringing the costs down over time.

The divine intent in creation is about food security.
It’s fascinating to think that the most important part of the opening scene in the Bible is about food and food security! But it makes sense. Without food, Adam and Eve and all the creatures could not have survived long enough to “go forth and multiply.” And without food security, communities around the globe cannot thrive and reach their highest potential.

When a child goes to school hungry, he does not learn. As a society, we have acknowledged this basic fact, and provide meals for children who might otherwise go hungry. It’s in our own best interests to do so, since we want all children to grow up to be functioning members of our society. The same thinking applies to food stamps and other safety net programs to make sure we don’t have people starving to death in our communities.

But there’s a difference between being hungry and being nourished. We are inundated with advertisements for all sorts of processed food products that are very low in actual nutrition, except for what has been added back in after the fact to meet some arbitrary minimum standards set by some panel somewhere that seems to have a vested interest in keeping the food industry happy. I’d like to see more public attention on the quality of food available to all of us, and especially those with fewer resources for accessing the food they need.

I’ve seen some steps taken by local governments and community groups. Several vendors at our local farmer’s market accept WIC and other food vouchers, which is a great program! And every year there seem to be more community gardens popping up around town. And my personal favorite organization, Food for Thought, has long had a vegetable garden to supplement their food pantry.

Loving our neighbors means ensuring they have enough to eat.
This seems intuitive to me. When guests come to my house, it is my duty as a good hostess to feed them. It’s a duty I take on gladly, as many of you know. Community meals are integral to so many societies. Think about why we have traditional meals. We gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, and Purim and Passover, and so many more events. Each with its own special menu.

When a friend loses a loved one, we bring them food for the wake. When a family brings home a new baby, we bring them food to help them during the first weeks of parenthood.

It’s the reason even weekly holy days are often marked by gathering around a table with those we love to enjoy a special meal. My most wonderful memories of Sundays growing up aren’t about what happened IN church, but about what happened afterward, at Aunt Carolyn’s house or a the Picadilly.

If we make food a symbol of love between us and those we care about, then it should follow that we extend that symbol to those we are taught to love without knowing. “Love thy neighbor” is more than simply reminding us to be neighborly to those immediately adjacent to us. It is reminder to include all those who are within our sphere of influence. If I am going to claim to be a resident of Sonoma County, I am taking on the role of being a full member of this community. As such, I get to call one of the most beautiful places on the planet home. But I also become responsible for what happens in my community, just as I am responsible for what happens in my home. Which means I am responsible for making sure my neighbors have access to healthy, nourishing food.

Eating more simply — more vegetables, grains, fruits, less animal-based food -— is not only better for our own health, but increases our ability to feed more people more adequately.
“Live simply, so that other may simply live.” This is my guiding principle. I’m far from perfect, but I am continually working on improving my version of “living simply.” When it comes to food, I hope that I am making the right choices so that I can share the bounty of Sonoma County with my neighbors.

*I’m convinced that the term “sustainable” has been thoroughly abused and misapplied by those who wish to capitalize on the idea of sustainability without truly taking measures to ensure they actually meet the standards sustainability requires.

And we’re off and running!

Well, not exactly. No running for me lately. I did a very short run a week or so ago, but then I got sick. Again.

But the new semester is off to a roaring start. Classes started last week, and I already have assignments and homework, and I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve got five classes, three of them senior-level and looking quite interesting.


My line-up:

Planning for Sustainable Communities (Environmental Studies)
Environmental Literature (Environmental Studies)
Landscape of the American West (Environmental Studies)
Introduction of Management (Business)
Foundations of Leadership (University)

The top three aren’t specifically required, but they’re in line with my career goals, and so I’m taking them now while I can. I’m especially excited for the Landscapes class. This is taught by the same professor who taught my all-time favorite class — Special Topics in Conservation and Restoration (Shared Places, Contested Pasts) — where four disciplines came together to discuss landscapes and how they impact and inform culture. She also taught the Environmental History class I loved so much last semester.

The Planning class is far outside my study plan, but not outside my ultimate career goal. And it’s taught by my advisor and the guy who took us on all the hikes and paddling adventures in my Outdoor Leadership class.

Environmental Literature is pretty much a schedule-filler, but also interesting since in my previous college career I was an English Literature major. It’ll be interesting to finally read Thoreau, since I’ve already read all of his friends — Poe, Emerson, Hawthorn, etc. Already we’re reading A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. And, as you might expect, I’m in love with it.

The Business and University classes actually are required for my major, believe it or not. I don’t know what to say about them quite yet. So far, they seem to be interesting-enough that I’m not totally dreading them. And for pretty much the first time since coming to SSU, I’m taking classes outside my degree program and meeting “regular” students. It’s kinda weird.

I also need to wrap up my internship in the campus garden this semester. I’m feeling a little ambivalent about that, but that discussion is for another post. For now, I’m going to focus on the exciting aspects of this semester!

Holding on to faith & Autumn Photo #2

“Faith is not simply a patience that passively suffers until the storm is past. Rather, it is a spirit that bears things – with resignations, yes, but above all, with blazing, serene hope.” Corazon Aquino

For the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that every year around this time, my depression comes on stronger and longer. I don’t know if it’s seasonal, weather-related, aging, mid-life regrets, hormones, or a combination of these and other unknown factors. All I know is that getting out of bed is very difficult. Finding motivation becomes my only daily goal.

As I was walking across campus earlier, I was thinking about this and found just the tiniest nugget of hope in the fact that I can recognize that I’m depressed and still have a memory and a hope of being not-depressed and know that while I’ve been in this spot before, I’ve always come out of it. So it must hold true that I’ll come out of this one eventually too. I have faith in my own ability to weather this depression and take care of myself and come out the other side eventually.

Autumn #1

I’m following in my friend Cazeria’s footsteps in taking on this assignment to post 30 photos of Autumn.

Here’s the first:

My fall feet.

Autumn in Sonoma County isn’t really the same as the stereotypical Autumnal scenes we carry in our subconscious. Yes, there are pumpkins and colorful maple leaves, but they aren’t really emblematic of Sonoma County. I have to go outside my normal sphere to find those things.

Instead, I prefer to focus on the changes in the landscape that is around me in my most mundane moments. I don’t mean to imply that these landscapes are any more “native” or “natural” (I put those in quotes because I’ve learned the falseness of even those innocent words) than the landscaped lawns with Halloween displays.

This photo was the first one I thought of when I first considered this assignment. Mainly because, in Sonoma County, Autumn isn’t quite as distinct as a season as it is in other climates. Instead, it’s just the winding down of summer. While some plants are moving toward dormancy, and the sun is shifting, it’s still mostly summer — and in the case of this week, the final hurrah of summer (95°F? WTF?!).

You can see my faded and chipped summer pedicure, in my summer sandals, and my summer jeans. But my feet are photographed in the school parking lot, meaning my lazy summer days are really over and it’s back to productivity and structure. The only really stereotypical Autumn thing in this photo are the leaves. The huge Sycamore trees in the back lot of the campus are doing their annoyingly Sycamore thing and dropping all their crunchy leaves all over the parking lot, where they get crushed into a fine powder by car tires.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Autumn. I love that in my brain Autumn is the beginning of the year. It’s the beginning of something new, something exciting and a little daunting. Summer is the break, and Autumn is the return.

Yeah, I get course credit for having fun. Jealous?

The Fall semester has begun in earnest. This semester, I’m taking three classes in my major, Environmental Studies, and one Kinesiology class, which is required for my degree, Outdoor Leadership.

On Wednesday, of last week, in my Adapted Physical Ed. class, someone made the comment that many folks believe the Environmental Studies program, and especially the Outdoor Leadership section, is like “getting a degree in hiking.”

I don’t know why I’d never heard that before, but I actually think it’s funny. I mean, who wouldn’t want a degree in hiking?! I want a Masters in hiking! Maybe even a Ph.D. in camping!

Which made my Friday Outdoor Leadership class even more awesome. This class only meets five times during the semester. For our first class, we went to a high ropes course in Occidental. Yeah. I’m getting credit for being outside having fun. Jealous?

Learning how to lead a circle properly.

OK, so it’s not all fun and games. We’re actually there to learn how to be guides and docents and other jobs under the heading of Outdoor Leadership.  I mean, we had to learn how to lead a circle, where to stand, and how to get people to engage by using games and … OK, I admit it. It was fun.

We got to hike around all day for credit!

I didn’t really care much for the high ropes part. Or, more correctly, I didn’t care to go up on the high ropes structures, but it was loads of fun down on the ground watching everyone else and helping out with the belay ropes.

The first structure was a ladder next to a tree. You had to climb the ladder (OK, I can do that), and then climb the tree using the metal staples hammered into the side of it (no, not going to happen), swing yourself around to the tiny little platform, and then walk across a “bridge” of similarly tiny pieces of wood about 3 feet apart. I volunteered to hold the ropes for everyone else. Just watching them was enough excitement for me, thank you very much.

This is NOT me. I couldn’t get even halfway up that net.

The second structure (above) was a net strung up between two trees, with a series of horizontal logs at weird angles above it. You had to climb the net, then find a way up to the top log, while tethered to a partner. I did attempt to climb the net, and made it about halfway up before I realized it would require putting my bum knee into a bad situation (I can’t bend it much past about 45°.  Thankfully, the general rule is “Challenge by Choice,” so my decision to stay on the ground was supported by everyone.

The view on the way back to the van.

And then, at the end of a very fun afternoon hanging out in the woods, learning and pushing ourselves, we hiked back to the van, laughing and talking the whole way. This is a great class, and it’s made a zillion times better by the fact that everyone involved is excited about the class and about learning how to be a better leader, which means being personable and outgoing.

Also, next week? We’re going white water rafting.