Highlandtown High Points

Contemplating a milkshake

This year has been one of never being alone and always being alone. This child of mine is almost always by my side or in my arms or needing something, and she’s just not great yet at giving advice or offering a listening ear. We’re working on it. We’ve adapted to this life, or maybe, it’s adapted to us. In between naps my daughter and I make wide circles around our neighborhood, becoming regulars at several stops to curb that sense of loneliness that seems to sneak in after long nights.

On Mondays we join the other babies at the library to sing and play pat-a-cake. I try not to notice when my kid takes off another baby’s socks or knocks down a whole shelf of books. The librarian is somehow always upbeat and happy despite having to sing the same songs every week. We make friends with other moms and other babies.

On Wednesdays we go to the coffee shop where we befriend a man who also stops here every week. He always remembers our names but I have forgotten his. I like running into him until he places a hand on my back in a gesture that feels less than friendly. Now we avoid certain hours of the morning. The cheery barista with freckles returns to work after her son is only one month old. She is young and already squeezed back into her regular jeans. It has been a year and I have not returned back to work. Not sure whether to bow down to her or feel sad.

On Fridays we walk down to the Italian deli for an end of week treat. Sometimes I get a meatball sub, or a coffee soda, or rarely a bottle of wine to split over the next five days. It’s fun to wander around the tiny deli with its imported candy and housemade pasta. The floor is squeaky clean. The cashier rings me up, her red framed glasses dangling on a chain around her neck. She adds “mmm hmm,” to everything she says. “Did you find everything ok? Mmm hmm.” “The total is $12.75, mmm hmm.” “Would you like a bag? Mmm hmm.” Passing two art galleries on the walk back we stop in and say hello to the owners. They are very kind and offer us treats, pointing out their new displays. I’ve never spent much money at either, maybe they hope someday I will.

On Sundays we go to church around the corner. All year the pews have filled up and up, more and more each week. The stained glass images, red upholstery and predictable hymns comfort. Sometimes we barely make the service post-nap time but always stay for coffee and lunch after in the basement. No one there minds. It is nice to have a meal with out the chopping and cooking and washing up.

The rest of the days fill in with the putty of feedings and bathing and diapers and trying to get the laundry done. It’s impossible to eat a hot meal as cooking happens during nap times or those rare windows when she’s quietly playing with books. Chicken and rice just isn’t the same at 10:00am. I can give Rachel Ray a run for her 30 Minute Meal money, my cooking never takes more than fifteen.

In the winter I bundle the baby up in a fleece suit and warm hat, stowing her away in the front loaded carrier. I am so tired, all my brain can think to do is drink more coffee and eat sugar to keep going. Which also makes me feel terrible. One very early morning, my chest compressed with stress from being up most of the night with a fussy one, we walk to the corner diner when it opens at 6am. We’ve been up since 4am. I order a scrapple sandwich with egg and a slice of pie. The scrapple is god awful, so I choke down the bread and egg and sit longing for the pie that never comes. The coffee in a round, old fashioned saucer soothes until the wiggly one can no longer stand being confined to the old leather and chrome booth.

This neighborhood got us through the winter. And now that spring has passed, jolly with daffodils exploding in the park and wild chives hiding in the soccer fields, the summer leaves fill every tree branch. It’s hot. We sit at the park in the early morning with shorts and tank tops and marshmallow fluff filled donuts from our favorite bakery. Later, after dinner is made and the baby is in bed, I watch the sunset from the skinny window by the couch, longing to be out there on these warm nights.

Yesterday the baby who is no longer a baby brought me my shoes and socks during the hottest part of the day. I consented and packed her into the carrier, heading for the well-stocked Latino grocery down the street. After perusing the aisles, trying to decipher the bags and bags of herbs and teas I’ve never heard of or seen, we settle on a mango popsicle. We find a shady spot to sit in a grassy church yard and share the icy treat. She keeps grabbing the popsicle with both hands, orange goo all over her face. I mop it up with my own shirt after a good laugh. She toddles around the church yard picking up sticks and every little piece of trash. When we are both sweaty and tired of the sun we retreat back to our cooled house and familiar toys.

Loneliness is its own type of friend. When you are alone in your house there are all these groups of time that go unfilled. With another human adult around, there are comments to make, discussions to have, movie options to scroll through. After all the chores are done and the phone is checked a thousand times and there is nothing on TV, you sort of look at your hands for loneliness to materialize. It does. That’s when the doubts bubble up or the tears spring forth. It’s hard to escape and send loneliness back to where it came from with the baby upstairs sleeping. But hard is not impossible. We, this wonderful child and I, have managed to turn this lonely year into a glorious one. Like the last gasps of summer, I don’t want it to end.

 

 

 

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Dead Last

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Riding 112 miles, mostly uphill, through pouring rain and sharp gusts of wind. The longest bike ride you’ve ever done. And you came in last. Not last team or last group of bikers. Nope, the very last person to cross the line.

This moment of glory describes a friend this past weekend at her very first race. You know what I say?

GET IT.

I say, dead last is infinitely better than deciding to sit at home. What a brave thing, to enter a race. What an extremely courageous feat, to actually finish, especially knowing there was a chance no one else was behind you.

I’ve been coming in dead last lately in my creative work. In fact there have been moments when, after pumping my arms furiously to gain momentum, I realize that I’m not even in the race at all. Like, it already happened last weekend, or I’m in the wrong city. Seriously friends, my writing aspirations have missed the mark in big ways, it turns out I didn’t even know which direction I was shooting. But if you’re a writer, too, or an artist or maybe a biker, you know that this coming in last thing is just kind of part of the deal. How else can we get better?

What can we do if we’re not born with a lot of smarts or talent? Well, for starters we can learn stuff, we can try stuff, and we can try again. I read somewhere not to say to your baby, “You are so smart!” but rather, “You tried so hard and you did it!” because determination gets you further in life than pure intelligence. Sure sure sure, some people are born geniuses and get perfect SAT scores and can play sonatas at the age of three. These are not my people and I don’t even know what a sonata is.

My people, and by this I mean you, know what it’s like to fail at things and then go and try the very same thing again. For example, every mother ever. My people call this perseverance.

My people climb mountains by themselves in the dead of winter. They walk into rooms in which they visibly stand out. They press on despite the discomfort of being out of their zone. My people call this grit.

My people are the dreamers of big, colorful dreams. They stay up late applying for dozens of scholarships, write and rewrite cover letters, scan the globe for the perfect job. They move across the country, start businesses, paint pictures in secret. My people call this hope.

What I’m getting at here is that it’s ok to come in last. Just don’t let that stop you. Was your goal to win that race? Me either. What is it then, that made you hop on that bike and join in? It wasn’t the hope of Olympic gold. It wasn’t the promise of record breaking glory. Nope. You probably just like to ride bikes and wanted to share that with other people who like to ride bikes.

So let’s just ride bikes. Or write stories. Or bake cakes. Or do whatever we do that got us in the race to begin with. Coming in dead last only means you’ve crossed over from dreaming to doing.

The Soul Wants What it Wants

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My physical self is a serious, demanding entity that grinds away at such questions as, “what is my purpose?”, “what is the meaning of life?” and “who am I?” This physical self is often battered by the shore of self doubt, hanging its head for not doing more, getting more, being more. My awkward, flawed and clumsy human self feels like a failure most of the time.

But my soul doesn’t even register that. My soul floats far and above and beyond the concept of failure and effortlessly into grace. This soul of mine soars with the possibility of self-expression, self-acceptance, self-love.

While human me struggles with frustration and restrictions, my soul wants to fly. It is begging me to allow myself to experience wonder in a great vista, in the quiet just before dawn, in the sound of a baby sleep-breathing. My soul waits patiently for me to enjoy the sensation of a glass of cool water or sunshine on my face. Inner me dances when a good song comes on the radio while outer me grips the steering wheel, frantically mentally flipping through all the things I need to remember.

Even when I am angry or sad or desperate, my soul delights in having feelings, as these emotions can’t disturb the perfect peace and serenity of an unshakeable soul. This soul of mine is most like a child, no concept of time, of rules, of social constructs. She just wants what she wants.  All this soul wants to do is be in the world, to savor it, slather it on.

So what if I just go ahead and let my soul have its way? The back of my neck might stop hurting for one. I might even drink a little less coffee for another. This soul of mine wants to go for walks before breakfast, to sit and stare at the ocean or a lake or a little bubbly stream. She wants to know the names of all the flowers and then she wants to pick some to take home because flowers are for enjoying. She wants to sleep when she’s tired, light a candle when it’s dark, drink coffee in bed.

My soul eats frosting out of the jar, tries the Mariah high notes, and douses french fries in hot sauce before testing the piquantness. She drinks those little creamer cups at the diner just for fun, stays up late on a Sunday night.

Our souls have no frame of reference for worldly success and wealth. Our souls simply want us to live; reverently, joyfully when we can, and dripping with grace.

Are you doing something at this moment that you want to do? Kicking your feet up, drinking a soda, writing a novel, raising a child? Congrats! You’re a success.

Do you have an abundance of something? Friends, canned goods, time, a pile of notebooks filled with unreadable dither? Bravo! You’re wealthy.

And good grief give that deserving soul of yours what it wants.

Cold Feet

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Frostbite is consuming my toes and spreading up my feet. Some days it’s more like treading through the world with ice blocks for shoes. I am absolutely terrified about my next steps in this life.

As you know, I’m a writer. Spending most of my life in the closet, it wasn’t until I went about writing and publishing Follow That Arrow that I actually committed my energy, finances and foreseeable future to writing. I have now been admitted to the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA at the University of Baltimore for the fall, and am slowly (oh so shakily and slowly) launching a little project called Yellow Arrow Publishing with a couple of very gracious partners. Now that this writing thing is becoming really real, I am ready to turn and run. Fast.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

This anxiousness and fear I feel about the future is nothing new, for better or worse, it’s kind of how I operate. My ability to deal with this anxiety ebbs and flows, heavily dependent on the amount of spiritual work I’m willing to invest. What I’m getting at here is that it’s ok to have cold feet. To shake in your pee pee panties before stepping into the unknown. Some say faith can’t exist while you’re in a state of fear. I say there is more than enough grace to go around for both of these states of being to be present at once.

Being afraid is not exactly a comfort. But it’s also a natural reaction. Life is scary, the unknown can be terrifying. But what if instead of imagining the worst, instead of predicting a big, scary monster ahead on our path, we assumed that what lie ahead was sure to be beautiful? What if we imagined our next steps as tiptoeing over rose petals, or dancing down a yellow brick road?

“Faith and fear both demand you believe in something you cannot see. You choose.” Bob Proctor

Long, long ago on the island of Crete, King Minos made some pretty terrible mistakes and ended up with a son who was half bull and half man, a Minotaur. Since this Minotaur was terrorizing the population, he hid him away in an impenetrable labyrinth, feeding him youth from Athens each year to appease the Gods. Brave Theseus, son of the King of Athens, volunteered one year so that he might enter the labyrinth, kill the Minotaur, and end the terror once and for all. This meant certain death since he wouldn’t be able to find his way out of the labyrinth. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, caught sight of Theseus as he was about to embark on his doom, and fell in love at first sight. She gave him a ball of thread called a clew, instructing him to stretch the thread out until he reached the center of the labyrinth so that he might find his way out again.

I’ve found myself at the center of a labyrinth of my own. For a time, I was the Minotaur, exiled and lonely, angry enough to eat a bunch of Athenian virgins. In other words, caring for a baby far away from family and even farther from her father, the walls of winter closing in. But then I remembered life is choose your own adventure, not sit in a dark room and hope for the best. And I don’t want to be the Minotaur. I am brave Theseus, ready to slay the beast.

When I arrived at the center of the labyrinth, the beast just sat there and stared at me, despite my gleaming sword. This wimpy beast is my fear, the cloud that keeps me from embracing faith and obsessing over the future. I slay him easily, knowing that Ariadne is waiting for me at the end of this gleaming thread I’ve carried all this time. My darling baby Ella is Ariadne, waiting patiently for my return, ready to embrace each day with delight and joy.

Your personal beast is likely the same as mine, a sad, tortured thing just waiting for you to end it. You don’t need a shiny sword, you need only to make it to the center, to find the beast and look him in the eye. He will shrink back into the shadows from where he came. If you are ready to be done with him once and for all, go ahead and stab him in the heart.

Fear had me imagining that my next steps would lead me to certain death, failure, and shame. Let’s be real, death is certain, failure imminent, and shame omnipresent. There’s no escaping any of that. But maybe, just maybe, some good things are headed our way, too. Maybe I’ll write another book. Maybe a rainbow will appear overhead. Maybe you’ll get exactly what you want for your birthday. Let’s be real, the sun will come up tomorrow, a glorious golden globe, the seasons will change, flowers will insist on blooming even in the cracks of sidewalks, and babies will laugh.

One Foot in Front of the Other

 

img_0835Expecting the weather to be a bit warmer, I press my baby close, hoping I’ve dressed her warm enough. We are walking down Independence Avenue with thousands of others, surrounded by cheers, chants and goodwill. The crowd is so thick it is hard to get out. Rather than leave the flow of the march, I dip my daughter into the crook of my arm and nurse her as we’re walking.

I don’t actually like breastfeeding in public. It’s uncomfortable and leaves me feeling exposed not only physically but emotionally. But it is my personal form of activism, so I do it anyway. My hippy roots insist that the patriarchy will not shame or sexualize me for performing a natural act.

But it’s not necessarily my hippy roots that find me marching in DC on this January day. I take personal offense to comments made about women during the election. It appalled and disgusted me that these comments were waved off as “locker room talk.” It felt imperative for my voice to be heard, and to stand up for daughter, who has yet to express herself in this world.

I want to be very clear about this point. When women are spoken about in this manner, I for one feel demeaned, objectified, unworthy and fearful. Do you hear what I’m saying? I feel afraid of sexual violence when these comments are made. It is not acceptable, and I won’t accept it.

There are many things in this life that we must learn to accept, so many things we cannot change. And many of these are beautiful, wonderful, amazing. Grant me the serenity to accept that I cannot change the colors of a winter sunrise, the stark curve of a mountainside, deliciously dark rain clouds. Nothing I can do will alter the caress of a warm breeze, the flurry of stars in the sky or the hand you have extended in kindness.

We can no more control the tides than a piece of driftwood can, bobbing up and down at the mercy of the waves. For better or worse, the events we experience in life are often the same. We have choices, but the tide is much stronger than a piece of driftwood or a grain of sand. Do we let the tide carry us or fight like mad against the waves? Dare we trust that this tide will ultimately lead us to a loving and peaceful place?

Hope requires a lot of faith. Faith in humanity, a higher power, the triumph of good over evil. In these times of uncertainty, we must walk forward with fierce optimism. We must let go of winning and losing. It is also a time for raising your voice, with compassion, with a deep understanding that all will be well. I’m gonna get real existential here and suggest that things will be as they will be no matter what we do, while on a separate but equally as real plane, it’s our choices that define us.

We don’t choose to put ourselves in difficult situations, but here we are, and now we choose how to handle it. The words “fight for what you believe in,” are violent in themselves. I will not fight, but I will speak up. I will not hide. I will not fear. “Take action!” is the cry. And many of us do not know what to do. The action is here, in your hands, already given to you. We must enter into this day with as much joy as we can muster, we must love those around us with everything we have. There are those doing big things and those doing little ones, but all you need to worry about is doing the next right thing.

The next right thing is always moving another foot forward. Today I will nurse my baby, recycle my glass, smile. Today I will accept the things I cannot change.

2016 Greatest Hits

Among the big headline events, the little things were what gave this year its real luster. As I write this, my perfect two-toothed little girl is sleeping beside me. Bright mid-morning sunshine filters through the curtains and the coffee has not yet gone cold. Watching her sleep while I furiously write in a journal has been the greatest hit of this year, and I’ll never tire of these sweet, fleeting moments.

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We settle into nap time by listening to a collection of her dad’s old CDs, from a time when CDs were their own currency. Sometimes I tiptoe downstairs after she closes her eyes for another cup of coffee, but usually I sit next to her, propped up with pillows, savoring that soft in and out of her breath.

2016 was the year of the donut. The combination of being pregnant and living ten paces from the best bakery in Baltimore led to many a sugary morning. No wonder we bought a house on this block. My current excuse for donut consumption is breastfeeding. The goal for 2017 is to just eat donuts without making an excuse.

img_4133There have been so many peaceful, serene moments. The kind that are easily forgotten. Sunrise on an abandoned beach in Virginia, snow coating the sand. Fall colors from the blustery top of Prospect Mountain. Beignets and cups of coffee from white saucers in New Orleans while watching Spanish moss drip its own sweat. The entire month of rain after Ella was born, in which we sat on the couch and stared at her lovely face for hours and hours and hours. Sitting on a bench in the tiny neighborhood park I discovered nestled in an alleyway, joined only by a man who gave a treat to my dog with joyful gusto. The crab feast we hosted with family and friends featuring a giant steaming box of Old Bay encrusted creatures.

Watching the effect a baby has on humanity is equal parts surprising and gut wrenching in the best way. A woman at the post office gave me ice cream money for Ella when she was two months old. A rough looking man stopped to stroke her face and hair with such tenderness that tears flooded my eyes. A group of moody teenage boys sitting next to us in church couldn’t help but put down their phones and take turns making her smile.

I could go on and on and on listing these tiny, meaningful moments. But let’s not skip over the big ones, like giving birth, publishing my first book, voting for a woman for president, and moving into the coziest house in the USA. We have obviously decided to do all the things in one year, ya know, just to get it over with.

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Ella fell asleep around 8pm on New Year’s Eve after I turned on It’s a Wonderful Life. I took her to bed and poured two glasses of champagne, one for me and one for my love half way across the universe. Finishing most of a homemade pizza, I only cried a little at the end of the movie. ZuZu’s petals! Get’s me every time.

Climbing into bed a couple hours shy of midnight, I fell fast asleep. The booms of the New Year fireworks woke both me and Ella. She turned and gave a giant smile. I scooped her up in my arms and took my midnight kiss. The sparkling fireworks reflected off the neighbor’s windows as I nursed her back to sleep. Now that my friends, was a good year.

This Turns Out To Be a Message of Hope

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The year started with the loss of a great deal of my personal belongings, lost in the mail during the Colorado to Maryland move. Somewhere in the world are two boxes filled with all my jewelry, journals and mementos from the camino, a smattering of beloved coffee and kitchen equipment, and my favorite dress.

The reality of setting up another coffee shop here in Baltimore receded into the background as life filled with baby prep. I started to lose direction when it came to career goals, letting these details consume me.

And then, of course, I had that baby, and lost any semblance of life as I knew it. We gained a member of the family, joyfully and with open hearts, but I found that it stripped me of even more of myself than I thought possible. Suddenly I was giving more to another person than I was prepared for or, frankly, wanted to.

When the book was released, I lost the rest of my secrets. I also lost any doubt that I could write and publish a book. The loss of a wish, because you see, I had done it.

I lost my wonderful part-time job as an office manager for a naturopathic doctor because sending the babe to childcare just didn’t make sense to me on paper or in my heart. I have struggled, really struggled, with this decision mainly because I am terrified of what people will think about my status -gasp!- as a stay at home mom. When I tell people that my gig is writing, they ask, “but what do you do for work?” Despite the fact that we pay lots and lots of money for childcare, somehow caring for your own child is not considered work. And apparently unless you are JK Rowling, writing is also not considered work.

And the heaviest loss came when my partner was plucked up by the army and sent overseas. We are still reeling from that one. I’m not afraid to do it alone, I just don’t want to. I DON’T WANT TO. Ah, but that’s thing about challenges right? We rarely get to choose what they will be, we only get to choose how we will handle it. So that’s what I’ll do, handle it. Perhaps with a little zing and a lot of zest.

The close of this year has found me absolutely stripped of everything I once knew. While I embraced the journey that was starting a new life, I didn’t realize this meant shaking off the entirety of the old. Losing those journals made me appreciate the effort put into writing Follow That Arrow, which contains all the juicy bits between those pages anyway. Losing direction in career and creative life has opened doors to possibilities I never would have considered, including applying to get an MFA in writing. Losing myself into the abyss of motherhood has been the ultimate lesson in accepting the things I cannot change and submitting to life as it is versus fighting to bend life to my own will. Losing my identity in the midst of all of this has created an opportunity to start again. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what was needed. New perspectives, a fresh start, a splashy and badass challenge, are precisely the things that happen to bring out the best in me.

It is like standing in an empty room, walls whitewashed, maybe just some soft light coming in through the windows. On one side I can peer out at life as it was, memories and adventures and heartbreaks and journeys. On the other I can simply stare off into a blurry distance, into life as it will be.

Rather than broken and shaken, I feel pure, ready to start anew. The load of what to do and where to go has been lifted, my burdens lightened by the realization that I need only carry what serves me, nothing more. My life is as fresh as a dang spring morning.

In this stark room I have a box of paint and some brushes. I can unroll some rugs to sit on and pour a cup of tea. I’m ready to bring some color to this room, to begin again.

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.…” Matthew 16:24-25

Meet the Author: Diane Spicer

After finishing Best Tips for Women Dayhikers by Diane Spicer, creator of HikingForHer.com, we sat down with the author to pick her brain about hiking, being a lady, and the intersection between the two. Her thoughtful and insightful answers surprised us, in a good way. 

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Q: Best Hiking Tips for Dayhikers is a dense book! What are your top areas of research suggestions for new hikers?

A: The first few trail experiences will make, or break, future hiking plans. So if you’re starting out as a hiker, I recommend that you pay attention to just two things: what’s on your feet, and what you eat.

Here’s why. You will want to get back on the trail again if your first few hikes go well. But if you get blisters or have to be dragged back to the car by your trail buddy because your energy level crashed, you’ll be less likely to plan another hike.

Think of the book as helpful advice for surviving that early phase of falling in love with the trail, including two important concerns: feet + eat.

Q: Why did you created Hiking for Her?

A: I started the Hiking For Her website in 2008 as a place to organize my thoughts about hiking. The underlying motivation was to give back to females what was given to me as a teenager in a Girl Scout troop: the knowledge, skills and encouragement to hit the trail in safety and comfort.

With a background in education and science, I’m trained to give details, examples, and lots of facts so it was no surprise when the website began to grow into hundreds of pages.

Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when I started getting emails telling me I had created a useful resource for hikers. I thought I had been talking to myself all these years!

Q: What makes the experience different for female versus male hikers?

A: To make a huge generalization, in my experience women approach trail time through their thoughts and emotions. Guys tend to tackle the trail through brute force and goals.

Here’s an example from my own hiking experience. When I am having a tough time on a difficult section of trail, I acknowledge that my legs feel like cement and I can’t get a full breath. What do I do? I stop and rest. I spend that time looking around at the rocks and pine needles, appreciating the fresh breeze, tuning into what the trail offers.

What does a male hiking partner do? He powers through, forging ahead and then waits for me to catch up (because I carry the food sack!).

The pacing, both physical and mental, is different between genders. I’m not saying the male pace is wrong and I’m right, just that we approach the trail differently. And here’s the irony: he ends up getting longer rest breaks than I do!

Another thing I’ve noticed: Female hikers have better balance on the trail, for example on a slippery log crossing over a rushing stream. Maybe it’s because of our hip-knee angles? Men, on the other hand, demonstrate the admirable ability to maintain a steady pace over longer periods of time, probably because they have more muscle mass.

So the take home message for a woman hiker? Pick your male trail buddies carefully. Put them through a trial (trail?) period to see if you’re a good match, just like you would with any other long term relationship. Don’t be afraid to speak up if things aren’t working out.

Q: Is your book for experienced hikers as well?

It’s hard for me to untangle what a beginner hiker needs, as opposed to a more experienced hiker. After 5 decades of hiking, maybe I have included some advanced tips. I’m not sure. But I’ve heard that the book is being used as a resource as hikers of all ability levels AND both genders. So my plans for an advanced hiking tips book are on hold for now until I get more feedback from readers.

Q: Tell us about your favorite hike of all time.

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true: I don’t have a favorite hike.

I know why you ask, because it’s fun to hear about hikers who categorize one particular hike as a peak experience, the best of all time.

For me, every hike has its beauty, its lessons, its ability to reward me with peak outdoor experiences.  So with your permission, I’ll morph the question into favorite categories of hikes.

Let me give you an example.

Picture this: A soggy, chilly August day in the Canadian Rockies. I’m trudging along in wet boots and foggy glasses, with a fierce desire to hold a hot cup of tea in my hands. Alas, another mile or so back to base camp. Then I notice a smashed down, fairly wide trail through the brush and undergrowth. I yell to my trail buddies to slow down, and we track the grizzly bear trail to where it ends beneath a gigantic fir tree. No bear (thankfully), just lots of tracks, scat and signs that pointed to a heavily used place to bed down. That, to me, was a peak hiking moment with a big lesson: Pay attention and make space for discovery at every step along the way during a hike.

Q: Give us your dayhike bucket list.

A: Ha! You’re a mind reader. I have a Pinterest board with all of the places I want to hike, including Patagonia, north east Iceland, and the highlands of Scotland. I’ve also got some plans for Canadian hiking adventures in the Yukon. These are not places that are easy to arrange a dayhike from Seattle (my home town). My plan is to find a base camp and do serial day hikes in each place.

My U.S. day hike bucket list includes anywhere in New Mexico, and exploring the Olympic Peninsula in my backyard (Washington State).

Q: What is your top piece of advice for non-hikers who want to get into the sport?

A: My heartfelt advice is this.

You already know how to walk. You already have footwear, a jacket, and probably a backpack or bag that you can use to carry food and water. So don’t be held back by finding the “right” hiking gear.

Locate a short hiking trail near you that speaks to your soul, with a destination that you can enjoy: a waterfall, a lake, forest, or an overlook.  Don’t judge yourself about your pace, how out of breath you may be, or the way your legs feel after the first mile.

There are lots of experienced hikers who want to share tips with you, myself included. Read those tips and then get out there and hike!

Q: And finally, why hike?

A: For me, hiking is the only way I’ve learned to connect with myself, my environment, and other people without having to join a club, play by the rules, or live up to expectations. A hiking woman is a wild woman, in the best sense of that word.

Hiking is also a great way to do something important for all four aspects of self: physical fitness, mental relaxation, spiritual connection, and emotional renewal.

So why hike? Because it gives me time and space to be “off the leash” and to check in with myself. I wildly recommend it!

Of Course I’m Writing This

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It’s getting cold now and there are a lot of leaves on the ground, even in the city. After the baby went to bed, I put on a coat and boots and swept the sidewalk and stoop in front of the house. Every week I fill a trash bag with garbage that accumulates out there, which is maddening but I do it anyway. I do it not because it makes any kind of dent, the soda bottles and cigarette packs will find a home in the square of dirt around this city tree the very next day. I do it because people might notice. My theory is that if the neighbors see me out there, week after week, rounding up trash, sweeping leaves, pulling weeds that push their way through the cracks in the sidewalk, they will follow suit. My hope is that people walking by who see me doing these things will think twice before chucking that candy wrapper into the wind.

I am feeling so hurt and so stupid. This past week my legs and throat have been frozen and when I wake up to nurse the baby, my thoughts swirl with the results of this election. There is so much collective outrage, it is impossible to put a thumb on any of it.

If this season of change has spurred anything, it is that we must not be complacent. We must not simply hope for the best. I don’t have time in my life to attend community meetings (does anyone else have a baby who goes to sleep at 6pm?) But I do have a broom and garbage bag. I do have a daughter who needs raising and a pen and a piece of paper. Put those things together and what you’ve got is a mother who will not stay quiet when women are denigrated publicly, a woman who believes in the power of a chain reaction, and a writer who strives to simply speak honestly.

But what can we do? Seems to be the reverberating cry from those of us who were quite shocked. Here’s what we do: we live. We don’t apologize, we don’t demand an explanation, and we don’t back down from being ourselves. My beautiful mixed baby will know racism. She will experience being written off because she’s a girl. We cannot protect her from these things. What we can do is show up, on the street, in our neighborhood, in all white places and all black ones. We can love the crap out of her and strive to teach her compassion, authenticity, and confidence.

There is this myth floating around, something about leaping and a net and the salvation that will occur if you simply do what you love. What I have learned, and what the most oppressed among us know, is there is no net. When you leap, it is just as likely that you will fall on your face. Yet, the very brave keep leaping, again and again, facing humiliation, fury, failure. So many brave people have leapt straight into the fire, for us. They have done this in remarkable ways; leading marches, organizing millions, and unremarkable ways; attending school, riding the bus.

Let’s be the net, let’s weave it together, one strand at a time. We do this by leaping ourselves, despite inevitable failures. We do this by living our lives unapologetically and by refusing to turn a blind eye to the pain of others. We scrap together our own net by not giving up. What are you willing to do, even if it meant failing?

I am willing to stand up for my daughter. I am willing to let my voice be heard.

Best Coffee in Baltimore

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Since moving to Baltimore a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to seek out the best caffeine options Charm City has to offer. A self-professed coffee snob, (remember my little coffee shop in the mountains?) I have pretty specific criteria for what grinds my bean.

  • Ambience: this may come as a surprise, but I don’t care how good the coffee is, if you can’t serve it in a real mug in an atmosphere conducive to hanging out, it won’t be on this list.
  • Coffee quality: yes, I am judging your espresso machine. A dirty set-up makes me nuts.
  • Authenticity: what makes the coffee shop unique? Is there a story behind the business? Can love be found in that cup?

Best Coffee in Baltimore

(in no particular order)

  1. Common Ground (Hampden) – this is a case where ambience trumps actual coffee quality. While they source good beans (from Ceremony and Zeke’s) their espresso game is errr…better to order a drip coffee and one of the excellent muffins. The place is very busy so the coffee is always fresh. Well-trod, eclectic furniture basically forces you to makes friends with your neighbor. With tons of character and charm, it is the neighborhood coffee house perfected.
  2. Ceremony Coffee Roasters (Mt. Vernon) – coffee done right. Supreme attention to detail, talented baristas and excellently roasted beans makes this place coffee snob heaven.  As far as coffee quality goes, this is Baltimore’s best. The shop itself is very clean and modern without being sterile. This company obviously cares about the coffee drinker’s experience. Great place for a meeting.
  3. Charmington’s (Remington) – Hooray! The trifecta! This shop is basic, but adorable and obviously well-loved by a strong group of regulars. I even saw a barista from a rival coffee shop coming in to order her morning joe (with her work shirt on!). The coffee (sourced from Counter Culture) is excellent and the baristas know how to prepare it, with love I might add. The service here was super friendly and quick. Charmington’s embodies what’s good about Baltimore.
  4. Jabali (Fell’s Point) – this place is so unique, I have to mention it. As far as authenticity goes, you can’t get more real than the owner roasting, brewing, and serving the coffee himself. Assembling homemade coffee sleeves from paper towels and a glue stick, the quirkiness of Jabali is irresistible. The shop itself is full of antique character without even trying. Which is why I hesitate to send you there, the place needs an update and  an investment in coffee equipment. But it’s a fun experience all the same.
  5. Red Emma’s (District North) – another unusual coffee experience that can’t be missed, this coffee spot offers affordable vegan/vegetarian food amidst a politically fueled book store. You have to see it to believe it! Great place to send visitors from out of town for a true glimpse into the Baltimore arts scene.
  6. Park Cafe & Coffee Bar (Bolton Hill) – adorable little nook with darn good espresso and food to boot. The place gets unbearably crowded during peak times, but it’s worth making the effort to get here for the impeccable service, sleek atmosphere and spot on coffee served in REAL mugs.
  7. Dovecote Cafe (Reservoir Hill) – not exactly a coffee shop, this cafe is has so much goodness, it must be mentioned here. You will be most welcome to snuggle up to homemade baked goodies and a coffee, but their breakfast and lunch items are not to be missed. There is a lot of love in this place, from the decor, to the menu, to the extra welcoming staff and customers, it seems like this place is a magnet for straight up friendly folks. Going to Dovecote just makes me feel good. Plus! They have an exciting, continuous line-up of art and food related events and are making a helluva a dent in a neighborhood that needs it.

So go check out these favorites if you haven’t already. And a quick plea to the coffee Gods: we are in need of a cozy coffeehouse here in Highlandtown/Canton/Patterson Park neighborhood. (Maybe it’s time Yellow Arrow makes a reappearance?)