It Ended As It Began – 2016

 

 

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Happy New Years Eve! 2016 has been an up and down year for me for sure. I’m eager to see it end, and excited to see what 2017 might bring. All week, I’ve been seeing memories from Facebook of last year’s holiday hike on the Wild Azalea Trail. It was my first long backpacking trip with three ladies and one girl dog. It’s made me reflect on that hike and remember what it meant to me to be so adventurous and learn all of those new survival skills. It truly was a life-changing experience.

Last year’s hike on the Wild Azalea Trail….

As I was watching those pics pop up, it made me a little sad that I didn’t have hiking buddies this year. I’m ready to get out hiking, but I just don’t have those folks on speed dial that would say Hell, yeah! if I called and asked if they wanted to go on a hike. By some stroke of sheer luck, my friend Karen posted on Facebook that she was in Southwest Michigan this week. Karen is one of the lucky travelers who travels around the country in her RV working at National Parks and other odd jobs. In her spare time she hikes. I went out to dinner with her last night, and at the last moment, I asked her if she wanted to hike this morning. “Hell, yeah!” she said. (Well, maybe that’s not what she said, but that’s what I heard.)

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We met at 9 AM at Warren Dunes State Park. It is about a 25-minute drive from my house. I had driven over there once before but wasn’t interested in just climbing those steep dunes all day. I had done some research and found out that not all of the trails were over the dunes. Some were in the woods, so I was eager to get my feet on the trial to see if I liked it.

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We hiked through the woods with our dogs – females Ashok and Tippy – on another all-girl adventure. A slight dusting of snow was evident at the start, but gradually the snow disappeared. The leisurely trail through the wooded park sat just on the edge of the sand dunes. We finally reached a juncture where we had to choose if we wanted to get physical and climb some dunes or stay with a more easy pace. We both decided to go for it, and up we went into some of the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world on a beautiful 40-degree day.

The dunes, of course, led us to that gorgeous gem, Lake Michigan. There was no ice today. We walked the beach next to crystal green water boiling with waves just like the ocean. We found a little “tumbleweed” that was formed from the dune grasses that line the shore. The dunes had eroded a great deal, and a massive “wall” of sand marked the edge of the beach. The sand was stacked in layers that looked like some kind of massive sandstone rock formation.

The tumbleweed and sand wall….

We climbed Mount Randal which is a 260-foot dune and the namesake of the trail. Feeling like we were lost in the desert, we kept climbing and walking on the top of the dunes trying to find the trail. It disappeared into the blowing sand, and there was little evidence of a walkway. To our left was a sharp drop-off that went almost straight down to the woods, and on our right was a less steep but still unnavigable drop into the heart of the dunes. Eventually, we saw this really long, steep “trail” that looked like it led back to the wooded area. We decided to slide down as far as we needed and then lope the rest of the way down the dunes. It was like a long sand slide, and I had a ball trying to get down.

We found a lovely little creek at the bottom and followed it and the trail back to the car. It was such a beautiful day, and the dogs had a great time playing with each other and hiking. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of 2016. I’d spent the first day of 2016 on a trail in North Louisiana alongside a beautiful creek. I never would have dreamed that I’d be climbing a massive sand dune in Michigan by the end of the year.

On the way back, Karen and I talked about the Great Lakes and the massive sand dunes. On that trail, we had two very distinct eco-systems. The dunes very quickly fade into a super-dark soil that could support trees and ferns. The Great Lakes were formed when very heavy glaciers pressed down upon the earth and dug out (or pressed down) the soil. So, these dunes and soil rose up in the process. When the glaciers melted, the depressions filled with water, and we now have some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. I find the history so fascinating.

I hope that you have a Happy New Years’ Eve tonight, and I wish you the very best year for 2017. I hope that you discover and seek out experiences that fill your heart with joy and make your soul’s desires your most important priority. Life is too short to miss the beauty and love all around us. And it won’t come to you. You have to go seek it out. Happy New Year!

See this drone footage I found on YouTube of the park we hiked today….

 

 

Being Gentle With Myself as a New Years Goal

  
 
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am a fan of reevaluating my goals and setting intentions for the new year. Ironically, I find often that after I set my intentions at the beginning of the year, I look back in December and they have manifested in some degree. One year, I set a goal that I wanted to have more like-minded friends. I was a marathon runner at the time. By the end of the next year, my Facebook page was full of pics of my running friends and the races I was running with them. I didn’t even remember setting the intention, but it came true anyway.

I got an email from one of my favorite women’s travel companies, Women’s Quest, the other day. Colleen, the owner of the company, posted about how she hated New Years resolutions. She especially hated the ones that had to do with losing weight or upping her exercise. Now, she’s already pretty active and eats relatively healthy, but everybody can do better. Her point was that winter is naturally a time for us to “hibernate”, rest, rejuvenate and eat warm and comforting foods. It’s not a natural time for us to take the whip to ourselves to whip ourselves in shape. Click this link for some thoughts on winter and human hibernation. 

  
Many of my friends suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or at least struggle with some depression or lethargy during the winter. Although exercise is an important part of managing those conditions, 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise is all that it takes. I don’t think they’d be very kind to themselves to set some high expectation that they would eat foods that would not offer lots of comfort or to drive themselves to the gym or outdoors for a vigorous workout. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the best possible thing we can do is to be kind to ourselves.

I’d argue that being kind to ourselves would include some moderate exercise and healthy eating habits. Colleen went on to say that if we were going to give up anything, we should give up sugar. I wholeheartedly agree. Sugar overworks our body with the relentless insulin-producing process that repeats over and over everyday as we consume too much sugar. When I quit eating sugar, I have much more energy, and I feel a lot better emotionally. Colleen’s post resonated so much with me that I decided to get back to my very limited sugar intake that took a hiatus over the holiday. I can already tell that my body has been taxed by my December sugar intake. I’ve been off the sweet stuff for two days now, and I feel much better.

  
I think my goal this year will be more mindful of what makes me feel good and try to follow my intuition about that. I want to have as much energy as possible, and I’d like to maintain some semblance of emotional stability. When I’m on sugar and not exercising regularly, my anxiety kicks up, and I’m miserable. I don’t want to go back there again.

Today, I have managed to withstand the urge to eat any sugar or white flour. I painstakingly removed the sandwich meat from my conference-provided sandwich and eat a lettuce sandwich. That peanut butter cookie was working on me, and I wasn’t sure I’d avoid it. As soon as I took it out of my lunch box, my boss asked if she could have it. She knew I had committed to a sugarless day. I’m glad she did. The temptation resolved itself. I wanted a treat, though, so we stopped at a local coffee shop, and I got a decadent Caffe Breve. It is quite yummy and sugar-free. I couldn’t be happier. The next few days will be the hardest, so I’ll allow myself leeway  in fat and calories because I believe sugar is far worse. 

  
Did you make any New Years Resolutions or goals this year. How’s it going? Are you being gentle and loving with yourself? 

Prompt from The Daily Post.

 

 

 

Forward Motion is the Only Acceptable Option: 2016

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I was out in the woods on New Year’s Eve. It was the only night that I didn’t have cell phone coverage. I always love to write at the end or beginning of a New Year, but, this year I was busy living life. There would be time later for reflection. One of the lessons I’ve learned this year is to let nothing come before enjoying my life. This was the year that began last January 1 with my commitment to enjoy what was put in front of me. 

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I began 2015 in a dark, hopeless place but with the realization that in order for me to move forward, I needed to accept where I was. I had to quit fighting the reality before me. I was expending a lot of energy trying to escape what “was” and not spending enough energy on making my world a more hospitable place to be. I had crashed and burned on the altar of the “next thing” that would make me happy. In my blog above from December 31, 2014, I vowed to focus on what was in front of me and trust that God would bring whatever I needed. I let go of the controls and let God drive the train.

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In July, I escaped the heat here in Louisiana in what would be the hottest week of the year for a trip to North Carolina to camp along the Blue Ridge Parkway with Ashok. Looking back, it was a game-changer for me. I had not planned the trip. An uneventful week at work literally fell in my lap, and I took off on two days’ notice. To say it was a perfect trip is an understatement. One of my close friends said that he could tell my outlook totally changed once I got up there. I hiked for seven days straight, made friends with everyone I saw and slept under the stars. It was magical and a spiritual experience for me. I read the book Wild in my tent at night and hiked during the day. While Cheryl Strayed transformed with her adventure, I changed with her.

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When I came back, I vowed that I would bring a bit of that experience into my life on a weekly basis. I couldn’t bring the mountains home with me, but I could hike with my dog. I began hiking almost every weekend at least for a little. I looked up the Louisiana Hiking Club to meet like-minded people and to learn more about hiking in Louisiana. The first meeting I attended I learned about the backpacking class, and I signed up a few weeks later. I waited patiently for October to arrive and continued my hiking as much as I could. In the past six months, I have become a backpacker, something I had not even considered in January of last year. I didn’t go looking for it. It was quite literally put in front of me.

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It is appropriate that I spent New Years’ Eve of 2015 on a hillside in Kisatchie National Forest with my dog and new friends breathing close by. I wish that it hadn’t been so cloudy as I know the stars were aligning for my life in 2016. I can’t see the future just like I couldn’t see the stars that night, but I know it is there. God and the Universe have something beautiful in store for me. I don’t always appreciate my life in the moment because sometimes it’s scary and painful, but in hindsight it makes so much sense. It is the hard times that challenge me to change directions or learn something new. As much as I like change, I’d never really make wholesale changes without a painful catalyst to pry my eyes away from my own narrow vision of the future.

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I love hiking because of its rhythm of forward motion. When I’m on a trail, I don’t know what’s around the next corner. Blazes and mile markers lead the way and inform me of my progress. But there is no signage that tells me whether the next bend brings danger or impeccable beauty. I have to keep moving forward to discover it myself. I wanted to try backpacking because I wanted to continue that forward motion even when darkness fell. I didn’t want to run back to safety as the light faded into the darkness. I wanted to challenge my status quo and follow the trail into the dawning of another day. I wanted to to carry my load alone and see what I could do.

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We drove two cars to the trail, and, after we were done with our journey, I had to drive by myself to shuttle the car somewhere else. I was reflecting on what we’d just done, and I was overcome with emotion. With tears streaming down my face, I thought about how my hips and legs hurt straining under the weight of my pack. But forward motion was the only acceptable option. I thought about the fear we had when we thought our food was gone and how we laughed about it afterwards. I thought about sitting around the campfire freezing, filtering water so we could safely drink it and breaking camp when it was time to move on. I thought about trail magic and the feeling of not being in control of what happened next. It was a powerful, challenging and draining experience that I am still processing.

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We called ourselves Badass Backpacker Babes, and we were astounded that we did it. At 55, 54 and 50, we are not young whippersnappers. We knew we could complete it, but it was hard – harder than I imagined it would be. We pressed through our repulsion about camping in a stinky muddy spot that had millions of spider eyes staring at us. I stopped to lean on a tree at one point, missed the tree with my backpack and fell right on the ground, not having any strength in my legs to fight the fall. We all laughed and wished that we had a video of it, and I really couldn’t stand up because my muscles were so tired.

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We laughed through all of it. I even cried at one point when Ashok ate some kind of rotten thing on the side of the trail and I was afraid that she’d get sick. I was angry at her until I realized that I was just scared that someday she’d eat something that would kill her, and I had no way to stop it. By the last day of the trip we were cursing like sailors and smelt like them too.

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The women that sashayed into Valentine Lake Park on New Year’s Day 2016 were not the same women that started the Wild Azalea Trail four days before. I feel more confident than ever. It reminds me of running my first marathon. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I kept moving forward in the only acceptable motion. With each mile, I peeled back layers and pushed through my comfort zone. We traveled 28 miles by foot but I feel like I traveled light years inside. Moving forward is the only acceptable option…. as I continue enjoying what is put in front of me. Bring it on, 2016. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got. 

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Thank You for a Great Midlife Moments Year

To all of my readers, thank you for inspiring me to keep writing and living an authentic life. You tell me I inspire you, but you inspire me in believing that every day is a new chance to start over and create something different. We need each other, and, when you tell your stories, the dominoes fall and impact others. Please keep reading mine and keep sharing yours. This train keeps on rolling with us on board or without us. Enjoy the ride and let them know you were here.

This year I posted 198 blogs, and 53,000 of you read them. Some of my first blogs remain the most popular. Most of my comments came from you on my blog where I detailed the date that stood me up. You were very supportive and kind.

Enjoy my stats for the year below! And thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

Midlife Moments 2015 Stats

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 53,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Good-Bye 2014: A Love Letter

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One of my favorite yoga teachers and best friends has a blog on her business website for Evergreen Yoga. Today, she posted a love letter to release 2014. She challenged her readers to do a similar thing, and I think it’s a great idea. I’m sitting here right now with Ashok listening to fireworks all over the city, although they are illegal here. I made a big pot of Amish Hearty Soup for dinner with hot french rolls and grass-fed butter. I am still percolating over the topic at my 12-step meeting tonight, and I feel tired but not exhausted from my trip this last week. There was no doubt in my mind that I would spend New Years’ Eve at home alone. I can’t even remember the last time I went out on New Years’. If I”m honest, I kind of miss it this year for some reason. My friend Alayne said she was going out dancing, and it sounded like so much fun. But, I don’t have the choice, and, like I said this morning, I’m trying to enjoy what is in front of me.

So, Leah suggests the letter answer the following questions:

  • What am I most proud of this year?
  • What am I going to forgive this year? Forgive myself for? Forgive life for?
  • What am I letting go of? What did I already let go of in 2014? Want to let go of but are not ready yet?
  • What action can I take to close the door on 2014?

So here goes:

Dear 2014:

It is New Year’s Eve, and I look back on you with mixed emotions. I remember being really depressed at your inception last year, and I had to work really hard to assure myself that this year would be a bit easier. Unfortunately, you have been a very hard bull to ride, and I can honestly say that I’d like to say good-bye with a flourish. I hope 2015 is kinder and gentler to me.

That being said, I am very proud of myself for some huge steps I took in 2014. I finally started to deal with my anxiety issues in a big way. I took steps to eliminate stimulants, add meditation and yoga back into my life and continue to eat right and exercise. It was not a fun journey, but I stuck with it – especially in those difficult 3 weeks withdrawing from caffeine – and I’m better for it. I’m also proud of myself to identifying that I needed to buckle down and pay off some debt. I had to give up some very important items for many months, but I showed myself that my financial well-being was important enough to stick with some hard decisions. Speaking of decisions, I also had to make some key decisions around work, and I worked really hard to make some changes in my professional life. The changes have not been made, but the exploration is underway, and I’m proud of myself for choosing to explore options instead of making a snap decision. This was a difficult year for me in many ways, but I can say that I grew a LOT. You gave me the lessons, but I am proud of myself for doing the work.

I didn’t do everything well, and I want to forgive myself for some of those missteps. I want to forgive myself for pushing myself too hard at times to find a solution to my professional dilemma. I forgot that God is in charge of this area of my life, too, and I got panicked about what I needed to do. My panic caused me a great deal of pain, and I was more irritable with friends and co-workers than I needed to be. I’m turning the corner on that, so I’ll make my amends by being better in the future. I am not perfect, and I was – and am – very scared. I want to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I want to forgive life for the series of events this year that have caused my anxiety to escalate. Events in my history converged with 2014’s events to disturb my sleep, make me irritable and discontent and began to affect my health. Life, I know in better days that your events are meaningless. It’s my reaction to them that causes me problems. But, my reactions are much more difficult to control when I have this tendency toward anxiety. I forgive you for all of the events that gave me that condition and for the ones this year that exacerbated my condition. I also forgive you for the damn weather down here. Well… actually … maybe I’ll work on that one for next year.

In your midst, I was able to let go of two of my remaining addictions – sugar and caffeine – in one of the most stressful years of the last 5 or so. And now, at the end of your reign, I am in the process of letting go of my career path. I can’t control what is going to happen with that. I can only take the next right step. I’m letting go of my worry about the future and trusting that 2015 will move me along my path in a positive direction. This won’t be easy as the aforementioned anxiety will cramp my style. I wish I could let go of the anxiety. But anxiety will need to let go of me. All I can do is make my body a less desirable place to live with faith, self-care and support. I let go of the outcome. Anxiety … best of luck to you.

I’m going to take an Epsom salt bath to wash 2014 off my body and prepare myself for the new year. I’ll light a candle and let the gentle light burn away the old year’s residue and create space for its replacement. I will not greet 2015 nor will I watch 2014 leave. I will go to bed and let my subconscious guide me into the new year. When I awake, you will be gone, 2014. I am grateful for your coming, and I am grateful for your going. And I think that’s exactly the way it should be.

Happy New Year, 2015! Bring it on….

With much gratitude and respect to the departing year,

Sharon