Featured

Stage of Change: How to Journey from Resistance to Growth

En route to the NBC-HWC credential exam in July, I continue to hike weekly to provide massive self-care as I digest copious amounts of study material. During the past three weeks, I’ve examined the Transtheoretical Model of Change (TTM) and how it relates to my recent activities. They include hikes to the ridge above Thompson Lake, Annette Lake, Teneriffe Falls, and an archery experience at The Nock Point for Father’s Day. The big takeaway is identifying what stage of change someone is in to help them move from resistance to growth.

My little trooper Ajax, a constant on my hikes to Annette Lake and Thompson Lake Ridge.
My little trooper Ajax, a constant on my hikes to Annette Lake and Thompson Lake Ridge.

The first stage of change in the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) is Pre-contemplation. In this stage, people may not even be aware they need to change. Often accompanied in this stage of change are the phrases, “I can’t…” or “I won’t…” Someone caught in a toxic job situation, for example, may find real excuses for why they can’t leave it right now, usually involving fear of letting people down or surviving without a paycheck.

Perhaps now is a horrible time to give up alcohol, chocolate, or smoking because of excessive stress. Or it’s way too hard to think about exercising because of the recent losses of friends, a pet, or close family members. The best way to converse with people using “I can’t” or “I won’t” is to provide compassion and support. No amount of cajoling will make them change until they’re ready to use a different language.

Stage of Change: How to Journey from Resistance to Growth

I recently experienced “I can’t” on June 6 when Ajax and explored Granite Creek on the way to Granite Lakes. We came across 36 rivulet crossings, but the only one that turned us around was the raging creek above which proved to be too much for Ajax. Discouraged, I knew we couldn’t reach Granite Lakes safely.

A quarter mile behind us was a junction for Thompson Lake. Knowing nothing about the side trail, but aware that we had an hour until my turn-around time, I turned “We can’t” on its ear with, “Let’s explore another option.” After 40 more minutes, we stopped for a short snack deep in the woods. When I headed back the way we came, Ajax refused to follow, just like he had on our previous trip to McClellan Butte.

What did he know that I didn’t? Relenting, we continued for nine more minutes — reaching the ridge between Thompson Lake basin on one side and Granite Lakes on the other. My mood soared. We couldn’t reach a lake that day, but we’d found another way to reach our own “peak” and identify two more hikes for later this summer. I took it as a win, reframing the failure to reach a lake as a successful and fun outing nonetheless.

Beautiful raging Granite Creek provides wonderful background noise for hiking. The only negative is it makes it harder to hear birds.
Beautiful raging Granite Creek provides wonderful background noise for hiking. The only negative is it makes it harder to hear birds.

If you find yourself in the “I can’t” stage, some possible strategies to use to move forward include the following: 1. Reframe your behavior by talking with others about it. 2. Analyze yourself and your actions. 3. Assess any short-term or long-term risks of your current behaviors. Then ask yourself two crazy questions: What’s GOOD about changing, and what’s BAD about staying the same? These answers may help you shift to the second stage of change.

The second stage is Contemplation. In this stage, people weigh the pros and cons of changing and may still find the negatives outweighing the positives. Often accompanying this stage are the phrases, “I may….”, “I might…” or “I could…” Someone thinking about establishing a consistent hiking program, for example, might come up with possibilities such as, “I could start hiking on Tuesdays.” Another person wanting to eat more vegetables might say, “I could add tomatoes or peppers to my omelets, sandwiches, or salads.”

On Father’s Day, my husband wanted to go to the archery range. My first instinct was to say “I can’t; I’ve never done it before. But I’ll take pictures.” I remembered my commitment to hunt for BLING — including novelty — and changed my thoughts to, “If I try it, I might enjoy it.” It required shifting to a beginner’s mindset and embracing the possibility that I might feel awkward, nervous, and uncomfortable.

So I stepped outside my comfort zone and, sure enough, I got scolded for picking up my bow while the red light was still on. But instead of feeling bad about myself, I reminded myself, “It’s a safety precaution and you’re a total novice. Let yourself learn. You won’t make the same mistake twice.” By the end of the three hours, we’d moved the targets twice and improved our consistency. I am ready to go back and try again.

I may never be an expert markswoman. But with 3 hours of practice, I've moved from the "I can't" stage of change to "I am."
I may never be an expert markswoman. But with 3 hours of practice, I’ve moved from the “I can’t” stage of change to “I am.”

If you find yourself in the “I may” stage of change, some possible strategies for moving forward include writing down the pros on one side and the cons on the other. See if you can find a way to make the pros outweigh the cons. Identify any barriers to change, and examine whether you have the ability and readiness to change.

In the third stage of change, a person is committed to taking action in the foreseeable future. In this “I will” stage, people often start by “trying on” tiny steps, including writing down goals and collecting information.

When I was trying to establish a more consistent hiking practice in January, I contacted several people to see if they would be interested in joining me on Squak Mountain on Tuesdays. Six months later, people are finally taking me up on the offer. I may have been ready then; they’re ready now. I’ll take it!

Stage of Change: How to Journey from Resistance to Growth
Annette Lake with a college teammate, my daughter, and Ajax.
Stage of Change: How to Journey from Resistance to Growth
Teneriffe Falls with a long-time friend on a mostly cloudy Friday afternoon.

The fascinating thing about the TTM is there is no linear progression through change. The hardest part is shifting from pre-contemplation to contemplation. You might be in contemplation for a very long time. Or, overnight, you might have some inspiration — such as a health scare — that rockets you from pre-contemplation into action. It’s also common to be ready, willing, and able to change in one area of your life, but not in another.

Now that my college friend and I have had three successful summers of hiking together (see Olallie Lake, Snow Lake, and Annette Lake) we’ve created a streak that will make it easier to continue next summer. Nothing succeeds quite like success. I know we will find a way to make it happen in the future when she’s back in town.

And now that my daughter is home for the summer, we will find mid-week days to hike. My January goal has become a June reality. “I will” has become “I am.”

Beautiful Annette Lake was one of the earlier hikes my daughter and I did last summer. She had no problems with it this year!
Beautiful Annette Lake was one of the earlier hikes my daughter and I did last summer. She had no problems with it this year!

If you find yourself in the “I will” stage, write down some goals or intentions, from smallest and easiest to biggest and most meaningful. Consider making a collage or visual depiction that represents what you want. Post motivating statements or reminders to yourself — in the car, on the bathroom window, or even the fridge. Develop an action plan that includes a starting date. Collect information about the benefits of making your change, and share your intention with someone.

In the action stage of change, you are taking direct actions to accomplish your goals. While I have been in the maintenance phase of physical activity for decades, for creating a consistent hiking habit, I am in the action phase.

To make this phase more enjoyable (and therefore more likely to maintain year-round), I am actively seeking learning opportunities every time I go out. For my new-to-me Thompson Lake hike, I explored a side trail when I couldn’t reach my goal destination. On the Annette Lake trail, I shot photos of pack goats, something I’ve never seen before. And on our hike to Teneriffe Falls, I went without Ajax on an overcast Friday afternoon.

In over 40 years of hiking, I've never come across domestic goats -- with packs, no less -- hiking on a trail. What fun!
In over 40 years of hiking, I’ve never come across domestic goats — with packs, no less — hiking on a trail. What fun!

If you find yourself taking action, remember to reward yourself with non-food items for every success. Actively seek out social support to maintain your enthusiasm. Keep going!

My stage of change for building a hiking habit is maintenance: I derive so much joy and pleasure from hiking weekly with my dog that I can't see going back to a life without it.
My stage of change for building a hiking habit is maintenance: I derive so much joy and pleasure from hiking weekly with my dog that I can’t see going back to a life without it.

In this stage, I’ve found it wonderfully rewarding to help others experience nature, whether it’s through writing articles for the Mountaineer Magazine, introducing my daughter to new hiking trails, or mentoring novice hikers. I may have other areas of my life where I need to make changes — business expansion and technology are two of them — but as I get familiar with how change works in areas where I’ve succeeded, I learn that I have the tools and knowledge within to make changes in other areas.

If you have found this article helpful, please forward to your friends or consider posting a comment. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte

Last week I shared how the acronym, DARN CAT, helps me identify change talk. To test whether it helps evoke change that lasts — and grows — I set my sights on hiking McClellan Butte. My reasons included:

  • add to my hiking choices
  • develop change skills that might carry over to other daunting challenges
  • continue my ongoing search for BLING: Beauty, Love, Inspiration, Novelty, and Growth
  • overcome a fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) that this particular trail is not safe enough to do with my dog Ajax
  • use my superpowers in new ways to grow my self-efficacy in other areas

So, early Tuesday morning, May 28, Ajax and I arrived at the McClellan Butte parking lot before anyone else.

How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
If you’ve never hiked the Butte trail before, be aware there are several ways to get to the start. Stay on marked trails and avoid crossing the stream — there are easier ways without getting wet!

Many of my hikes over the past four years have been excursions along the I-90 corridor in Western Washington. Visiting Pratt, Olallie, Island, and Rainbow Lakes this spring while snow still covered the upper trails made them feel new. By nature, I’m relatively cautious. I usually prefer to explore unfamiliar trails with someone who already knows the trail. Visiting a new trail alone — with nobody to consult except my dog — pushes me outside of my comfort zone. In effect, it parallels what I’m trying to do with my coaching career. By adding to my hiking choices and trying something new, I’m hoping to evoke change to face scarier things, like marketing.

On May 28 my dog and I faced drizzle, fog, and snow to evoke change in myself. We had McClellan Butte all to ourselves the entire morning.
On May 28 my dog and I faced drizzle, fog, and snow to evoke change in myself. We had McClellan Butte all to ourselves the entire morning.

YOUR TURN: If you are working on changing in some area, whether from the last blog post or something new, think about your WHY. What will be different if you make this change? How will your life improve? Think of similar changes you’ve made in the past. What helped you succeed? Can you use those same skills to help you?

Since sharing my commitment, I practiced additional steps of change to help ensure success:

  • Free my schedule – by rescheduling my usual Tuesday hike to the following day, I gave us as much time as possible to succeed.
  • Shape the path – I filled the tank with gas and packed extra food and water, tempting treats for Ajax, a sit pad, gaiters, poles, rain and snow gear, and microspikes.
  • Boost enthusiasm — since I love to write and help others succeed in the mountains, I submitted trial trip and Ebird reports to help fuel my excitement
  • Gather information — checking weather reports and recent trip reports (see the one I prepared for the WTA/Washington Trails Association) is something I do before every trip, to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible
  • Prepare navigation — by studying the route, I anticipated paying closer attention at the beginning.
How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
I knew there were several ways to access the trailhead. On the way up, we went through the Alice Creek Campsite at the 1800′ elevation line, taking a slight left detour down to the creek; on the way back, we stayed on the Iron Horse Trail looping back to the trailhead.

YOUR TURN: Think about some of the skills you need to make your change. What obstacles might you encounter? Who do you know who has done what you want to do? Might they have some advice or suggestions to make your journey easier?

One of the acronyms I turn to when I go on adventures (courtesy of my mother) is to look for Beauty, Love, Inspiration, Novelty, and Growth.

We wound through power lines, old forests with enormous cedars and Doug firs, service and forest roads, snowfields, and talus slopes. McClellan Butte trail has some of everything. Even in the fog, I could tell I wanted to return when I could see more of my surroundings.

Joy filled me as 17 species of birds serenaded us, including olive-sided flycatchers, warblers, three types of thrushes, and a sapsucker. Exploration with my dog scouting before me, periodically checking to make sure I’m right behind him, always brings a smile to my face. Fresh cedar perfumed the air near immense logs that must have been cut recently. As we navigated downed logs, tree roots, and snow slopes with confidence and ease, my body thrummed and buzzed with vitality. Nature fills me with life, peace, and love like nothing else.

How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
Recent trail work has removed sections of enormous downed trees that once crossed switchbacks. The trail has been beautifully maintained.

Hiking into the clouds, as fog turned to drizzle, turned the mountains magical, mysterious. To feel confident, competent, and empowered in the mountains feeds my soul and makes me crave more.

The last time I hiked this trail was 25 years ago. I couldn’t remember anything about it, so everything about it felt new. Anytime we evoke change, we face novelty. And if we look at the good that could come from it rather than the scary, it makes novelty feel more engaging and fun.

The vulnerability of hiking solo under challenging conditions grows my confidence, heightens my senses, and makes me more self-aware.

YOUR TURN: As you evoke change, can you use the elements of BLING to make it more intriguing, less scary, and more compelling? What could happen if you reframe your obstacles into positive opportunities? How does that change your resistance?

One of my primary objectives was to rewrite the internal story that I faced higher, maybe unnecessary, risks exploring alone. I told myself that anytime I felt out of my element, we would turn around. If I felt like it was unsafe for me or my dog, there was zero shame in returning another time. Others had reported turning around at the snow. My goal was to see as much of the trail as we could under current conditions.

When facing anything scary, whether going into enclosed spaces, attending a party where you know nobody, entering a gym for the first time, or trying anything new, give yourself an escape hatch. There is nothing wrong with starting something and then deciding not to continue. Once you overcome inertia by taking a small action, you’re most of the way there. If you never try, you’ll never succeed.

How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
At the first snow runnel, I could hear running water undercutting the snow bank. I carefully used my pole to poke for depth and assessed whether the snow would hold my weight.
How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
The snow sections steepened and lengthened as we traversed. Snow travel skills and confident footing are essential. Slush, ice, and dirt mixed, making snowshoes or crampons awkward at best.

When we reached the first of seven snow runnels on the north slope, starting at about mile 2.5, the amount of snowpack surprised me. Ajax easily scampered across, his claws behaving as natural crampons, and I soon realized the footing was solid enough that I didn’t need traction. I did, however, need a pole to test solidity.

At the final runnel, just before the trail veered west, I could no longer hear running water. Ajax shook, drawing my attention. I glanced up to see him retreat from several large tree wells. (I will never take my dog anywhere there might be hidden crevasses). We’d reached our turn-around point.

A tree well forming on the west side of the Butte. As the snow melts, postholing (legs jutting through thin snow) becomes more common and can lead to strains, sprains, and falls.
A tree well formed on the west side of the Butte. As the snow melts, feet can poke through thin snow crusts, a process called postholing, leading to strains, sprains, and falls if you’re not paying attention to where you step.

YOUR TURN: When thinking about your change, what, if anything, are you afraid of? If you had no fear, what might you do? What tiny steps might you take to confront and overcome your fear?

Except… Had we?

I strapped on my microspikes and got out my second pole, preparing to descend. After testing out my footing for a minute, I realized Ajax was still sitting where we’d stopped. Despite calling him, he refused to come, which is unusual. He looked at me as though to say, “No way, Mama, we came all this way. We’re not finished yet!”

How to Evoke Change by Hiking McClellan Butte
Ajax first showed signs of nervousness near these tree wells. I put on microspikes to kick secure steps in the steep slope above the holes, with Ajax close on my heels.

Laughing at his expression, I got an idea. Maybe he was right. Maybe we weren’t done yet. If he was willing to keep trying, I could, too. I used my mountaineering skills to kick steps well above the dangerous zone. Ajax diligently followed in my footsteps, and a few minutes later, we safely jumped off the snow and landed on the dirt trail.

Footprints lead up to a vertical scramble, the summit block of McClellan Butte. I knew, as they climbed straight up that we'd gone as far as I'd intended, and as high as Ajax could safely go.
Footprints lead up to a vertical scramble, the summit block of McClellan Butte. I knew, as they climbed straight up that we’d gone as far as I’d intended, and as high as Ajax could safely go.

The danger behind us, we traveled west on deep snow, then north to the base of the summit block, a vertical scramble and our final destination. I wished my “Energizer dog” a happy ninth birthday and gave him extra treats when, at last, we found a safe, level dirt patch to take a long, foggy, rainy break before retreating to the car.

YOUR TURN: What are your superpowers and how might you get creative using them for this change? If you tried one way and failed, what could you learn from that experience that might make you more successful next time?

Ajax is the best hiking companion I could ever wish for. He never complains, is always willing to try new things, and has incredible stamina for a nine-year-old Labraheeler. On this adventure to evoke change, he helped me see things differently, not once, but twice, when I considered turning around.

A natural bench just before we headed up the long straightaway across talus fields.
A natural bench just before we headed up the long straightaway across talus fields.

As I review our successful experiment, four takeaways relate to the larger picture of how we evoke change:

  • It’s okay to start something multiple times. You will never succeed at anything unless you try.
  • Facing and overcoming tiny fears makes you more courageous and more capable of addressing larger fears next time. It’s a skill as well as a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger you become.
  • There is no shame in stopping or turning around, only in never trying in the first place.
  • If you establish reasonable expectations – exploration, adventure, discovery, BLING – you might enjoy your experience instead of struggling through it.

So have fun, play, explore, and take chances. They are what create our lives. I’m already planning my next solo adventure with my dog. Where will we end up next?

If this post resonates with you, or if you have questions or ideas for future topics, please share in the comments. This blog is for both you AND me. I want to provide content that helps. And writers always love hearing from readers!

Featured

DARN CAT: How to Use Change Talk on Recent Hikes

During the past few weeks, Ajax and I have been exploring the trails leading to Rainbow and Island Lake, Pratt Lake Basin, and Dirty Harry’s Peak. On our hikes, I’ve reviewed countless acronyms for my upcoming coaching exam. One that was tricky to learn was DARN CAT, an acronym taken from Miller and Rollnick’s classic book, Motivational Interviewing. As you read this post, see if you can identify change talk within yourself.

Snowy boulder field leading down to Pratt Lake Basin from the Exit 47 trailhead.
Snowy boulder field leading down to Pratt Lake Basin from the Exit 47 trailhead.

How do we know when we truly want to change? In the coaching parlance of Motivational Interviewing, the acronym DARN CAT stands for Desire, Ability, Reason, Need, Commitment, Actuation, and Taking Steps. The first four indicate preparation for change, while the last three represent mobilization or getting started.

Without hearing change talk in a conversation, you might guess that someone is not yet ready, willing, or able to make changes. In other words, they may still be using “sustain talk.” And the most brilliant coaching, convincing, arguing, or strategizing will fail until they are ready. Let’s identify the change talk buzzwords.

Someone seeking change has a desire for something different. This might be a longing for more free time to do something they love, more autonomy at their job, or a body free from pain. It could also be wanting to write a book, learn something new, or leave a painful relationship.

Change talk buzzwords that match such a desire are want, wish, love, or like. Whenever I go hiking, my primary needs are to move, connect with nature, and explore the beauty around me. Back in January, I decided to try to add richness to my hiking practice. As much as I love hiking with my Labraheeler, Ajax, I wanted to include humans on some of my outings.

DARN CAT: How to Use Change Talk on Recent Hikes
Ajax on the Pratt Lake Basin Trail in deep snow, just across the stream that turned us back in March.

JOURNAL PROMPT: Reflect on the different roles you play in your life: parent, sibling, worker, teammate, child, grandchild, outdoor enthusiast. Pick one to focus on for the sake of the following prompts. What is one thing you want to change related to that role? Why?

Another preparation phase of change talk is feeling like you are capable of doing something different. In my example of looking for a hiking partner, I could have met new people by going on several Mountaineers hikes. Or leading a few Meet-up outings. Looking for others seeking partners on social media was another possibility.

Change talk keywords indicating ability include can, could, might, or perhaps. Sure, I could do any of those things listed above. However, I know Mountaineers groups often have 12 participants. As an introvert, I do better in a pair or a small group. I also like to include my dog, and I wasn’t excited about hiking with strangers whose abilities I didn’t know. I chose to use my writing superpower to invite a few people to join me on Tuesdays.

Navigating the icy trail to Pratt Lake Basin required focus, skill, and some luck with Mother Nature. The trail pictured above turned us around 6 weeks earlier when it was completely covered in snow.
Navigating the icy trail to Pratt Lake Basin required focus, skill, and some luck with Mother Nature. The trail pictured above turned us around 6 weeks earlier when it was completely covered in snow.

Just as we harness our abilities to overcome obstacles on the trail, we can tap into our strengths and superpowers to navigate change as we face life’s challenges.

JOURNAL PROMPT: Using the change you’re interested in making from “Desire”, list a few steps you could take that might help you head in the desired direction. Don’t edit yet, just create a list.

If you pay close attention to your thoughts, you might recognize phrases like “I would feel X if I did Y” or “Doing A would give me more energy for B.” Sustain talk might use “Yes, but…” in favor of continuing as is.

I continue to love hiking solo. But my reasons for adding other hikers include: having great philosophical conversations, feeling safer while exploring new trails, and growing my hiking community for the time when my 9-year-old dog may not be able to join me. I also enjoy teaching others what I know about hiking and enjoying the wilderness. Asking yourself WHY is a big part of your journey through any sort of change.

High stream run-off on Dirty Harry's Peak just past the Museum juncture. Stay left and low to find the safest way across.
High stream run-off on Dirty Harry’s Peak just past the Museum juncture. Stay left and low to find the safest way across.

So why attempt Pratt Lake Basin in the early season? My exploration on May 9 was my pre-Mother’s Day gift to myself. I love visiting alpine lakes, especially those accessible from Exit 47. And I wanted to see whether the snow we discovered on our March 28 trip had melted enough to allow access. The snow on the way to Rainbow and Island Lakes was deep and miserably posthole-prone, so I decided to turn us around to explore Pratt Lake.

My reasons for visiting Dirty Harry’s Peak and Balcony on May 14 are different. My daughter turned twenty last week, so this was a celebration of motherhood. The peak hike is steep, one that few people I know would enjoy, which is part of the allure. Hiking it later in the season would be harder on Ajax. I also knew we’d have some great spring birdsong: 27 species including flycatchers, thrushes, and warblers.

Change in nature is expected. Change talk in ourselves sometimes surprises us. Indian Paintbrush on Dirty Harry's Peak. Wildflowers are starting to bloom. Now is a great time to go hiking!
Change in nature is expected. Change talk in ourselves sometimes surprises us. Indian Paintbrush on Dirty Harry’s Peak. Wildflowers are starting to bloom. Now is a great time to go hiking!

JOURNAL PROMPT: Understanding our reasons for change provides us with motivation and direction. Using your possible change, use Precision Nutrition’s sample Five Whys exercise to get at the real reason you want to make a change.

The final preparation stage of change is to identify why you feel obligated to change. Change talk buzzwords include ought to, have to, and the ever-popular and soul-sucking should. Whether these beliefs come from outside of ourselves or inside is a topic for another blog post. But suffice it to say, if we want change, feel we can change, and have reasons and a need for change, then we are much more likely to start into the motivation stages of change.

JOURNAL PROMPT: With your change in mind, think about how your life might be different if you make this change. Then think about your life in a year, five years, ten years if you don’t make this change. This exercise can help you identify a strong need by using your creativity and imagination to picture two futures. Which one is more compelling?

Mt. Rainier as seen from the summit of Dirty Harry's Peak on May 14, 2024. Ajax and I had the mountain to ourselves and plenty of time to think about DARN CAT.
Mt. Rainier from the summit of Dirty Harry’s Peak on May 14, 2024. Ajax and I had the mountain to ourselves and plenty of time to think about DARN CAT.

Following the preparation phase of change one moves into action. Change talk in the commitment phase might use the buzzwords promise, intention, or phrases such as “I am going to.” In this phase, it’s important to focus the change talk on what you want rather than what you don’t want or want to avoid.

Using my example of finding more hiking partners, my commitment to myself and the universe was to show up on Tuesday mornings, rain or shine, and hike with whoever joined me. And while that commitment changes with weather — especially high winds — it has gotten me to do 25 hikes and rambles so far this year.

The author pauses for a selfie and snack about a mile from the summit of Dirty Harry's Peak where there are some lovely logs carved into seats.
The author pauses for a selfie and snack about a mile from the summit of Dirty Harry’s Peak where there are some lovely logs carved into seats.

Once I realized I wanted to include solo hiking and hiking with partners, I changed it to hiking with a partner 1-2 times a month. Realize that your commitment doesn’t mean you’ll do something forever. It’s malleable as you learn more about yourself and grow. If you consider it as binding as a wedding vow or contract, it may feel too intimidating to even start. Instead, think of it as an experiment.

JOURNAL PROMPT: Just as we commit to our exercise or nutrition goals, we need to commit to our personal growth and change. What experiment are you ready to try related to the change you want to make? If it helps, try setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-stamped.

Actuation is a fancy word for “move to action” or “activation.” It speaks to your willingness to change. Change talk keywords include “I am ready for…” or “I will start on X day.” In my hiking example, I committed to showing up on Tuesday mornings and hiking with whoever showed up. Then all I needed to do was to pack my things, get my dog in the car, and drive to the designated trailhead.

One tip I find in this stage is to be flexible and ready for anything. When we started our hike toward Island and Rainbow Lake, I didn’t know what the snowpack would look like. I had backup plans to visit Pratt Lake or even return to Olallie Lake if the snow presented too much of an obstacle. The most important thing is to take action. We cannot expect any sort of change without action.

On our hike down from Dirty Harry's Balcony I saw this wonderful view of McClellan Butte through the trees. I've put off trying it for years since I haven't done it since 1990. COMMITMENT: I will hike it this year and report it in my blog.
On our hike down from Dirty Harry’s Balcony I saw this wonderful view of McClellan Butte through the trees. I’ve put off trying it for years since I haven’t done it since 1990. COMMITMENT: I will hike it this year and report it in my blog.

JOURNAL PROMPT: Consider your first few steps toward change. Any journey begins with a single step. Taking that first step towards change is the hardest thing to do because you’re breaking out of a rut and heading into the unknown. And that’s scary. It’s also the beginning of something transformative. Pick one action, just one, and add it to your calendar. It can be as simple as making a phone call or texting your coach to set up an appointment.

Finally, “taking steps” refers to whatever you do to take action. Change talk buzzwords include “I went out and did…” or “Yesterday I chose…” My steps include committing to my blog readers that I will hike McClellan Butte and share my journey in a future blog post.

Here’s what DARN CAT looks like in action:

McClellan Butte, my next hike. I haven't done it in over 30 years, so it will be an exploratory adventure. Join me in June to find out what happens!
McClellan Butte, my next hike. I haven’t done it in over 30 years, so it will be an exploratory adventure. Join me in June to find out what happens!

I’ve identified a desire (to hike McClellan Butte). I know I am capable of hiking it; I did so 35 years ago and I do comparable hikes several times a month. My reasons include adding to my hiking repertoire, getting a new view of the I-90 corridor, and overcoming a fear (false evidence appearing real) that it’s not safe.

As for need, I seek adventure and novelty along with growing my self-efficacy. If I can overcome fears within my superpower arena, I can use that growing muscle in areas that vex me, such as marketing and technology.

Assuming the weather cooperates, I will hike it on Tuesday, May 28, and share it in my first June post. I have added it to my calendar and announced it publicly. Excitement is building, telling me it’s time. I’m ready. The rest is up to fate.

Hard-packed snow near the summit of Dirty Harry's Peak.
Hard-packed snow near the summit of Dirty Harry’s Peak.

JOURNAL PROMPT: Each small step we take on our journey brings us closer to the change we seek. Find one person to share your action with. It could be an accountability partner, your coach, a work colleague, a close friend or family member, or a blog reader. By speaking your intention out loud, you build momentum toward change.

My recent long adventures to Pratt Lake Basin and Dirty Harry’s Peak have prepared me physically for McClellan’s Butte. My review of change talk and DARN CAT have given me the fuel to see that I am ready to make this change, all I needed was to own it and commit to it.

You can embark on a unique journey of change, using the principles of MI’s change talk. What change are you facing? Share on the blog so we can all learn and grow.

Featured

How to Notice and Name in Life and in Birding

My husband and I spent a week near South Padre Island, TX witnessing spring migration. Between the two of us, we shot 5000 photos and identified 175 unique bird species. Just as “notice and name” is an important skill in birding, it’s also a crucial life skill when facing change. To change any habits, you need to notice whenever you’re doing a particular action so that you can name what purpose it serves — or decide how to change it.

These blooms in South Texas reminded me of bottle brushes. I laughed when I learned that is what they are called.
These blooms in South Texas reminded me of bottle brushes. I laughed when I learned that is what they are called.

This week, I highlight three of the 35 new life bird species we had the privilege of seeing: the Southern Lapwing, the Mottled Owl, and the Bay-Breasted Warbler. With each story, I share tie-in examples of a life of embracing and accepting change.

On Saturday, April 21, we visited the Llano Grande Resort and Golf Club golf course in Mercedes, TX. We wanted to spot the southern lapwing. Common in South America, they have a black breast, white belly, gray head, and bronzy shoulder. To see a bird in Texas that never strays north of Guatemala would be amazing.

We joined 15-20 other folks with big camera lenses, tripods, and spotting scopes. An employee at the resort’s front desk told us that someone had seen it on the back nine holes. My husband started a phone tree with the other birders in hopes that the first person who found the bird would let everyone else know they’d spotted it. “Team birding” in action.

Southern Lapwing on the fairway. This shorebird is common in South America but had never been seen in North America before.
Southern Lapwing on the fairway. This shorebird is common in South America but has never been seen in North America before.

Several people rented golf carts for $25. My husband and I preferred to walk. Within twenty minutes, his phone lit up with “We found it!” Drivers in two golf carts raced our way. The woman in the first one picked me up and the man in the second one picked up my husband. As we rushed to the fairway, I prayed the lapwing wouldn’t fly off before we could see it.

Then, voila! We shot photos and celebrated with the other six who found it, until WHAACK! A group of tournament players sent their balls down the fairway. One ball rolled to within ten yards of the bird. Startled, it flew off toward a pond.

Determined to keep our eyes on it so that our friend and his daughter, who were still thirty minutes away, would see it, we followed it. Minutes after our friend’s arrival, the bird flew again, this time disappearing from the golf course.

To locate the southern lapwing, we needed help. Others had spotted it days before we did, reporting to Ebird so we knew to look for it. The man in the office knew where the bird liked to hang out. One of the birders was a tour guide with years of experience in the area. And we had twenty additional sets of eyes looking for it.

Likewise, when we are trying to change our habits or behaviors, we benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of people who have made the same change we want to make. We can hire a trainer or coach who knows how to get to the summit of a high mountain or ride in a century. To learn a foreign language we can find a native speaker to practice with. And if a friend gets a cool job, we can ask them how they did it.

A stunning male Baltimore Oriole in breeding plumage. It was one of dozens attracted to orange slices set up in a 4-plot preserve on South Padre Island, an area we referred to as "Sheepshead" after the street's name. The plot was designated and reclaimed for migrating birds.
A stunning male Baltimore Oriole in breeding plumage. It was one of dozens attracted to orange slices set up in a 4-plot preserve on South Padre Island, an area we referred to as “Sheepshead” after the street’s name. The plot was designated and reclaimed for migrating birds.

Coaches, teachers, counselors, and medical professionals all have substantial wisdom and knowledge. But first, we must WANT to change. We must be ready, willing, and able to take action on our behalf, even when it gets hard. Just as my husband and I actively targeted this particular bird, whenever we face change, we notice and name what we no longer want but then figure out what we do want.

Later that same evening, we drove west for more than two hours to join a guided nocturnal tour on the 88,000-acre Santa Margarita Ranch. At 9 p.m. when we started walking in the dark, we sweated in the 88-degree heat and humidity. We caught our second rarity, a mottled owl. This medium-sized owl is found from Mexico to Brazil, with rare visitations to Texas.

The blaring sounds of thousands of cane toads and crickets drowned out the sounds of our footsteps as we traipsed wordlessly across two thin sandy tracks. Growing clouds quickly obscured the full moon. A storm approached, adding urgency to our trek. We found it challenging to notice and name species around us when we hardly see our feet, but we soon adapted to night vision.

A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage was another of my daytime favorites at the Sheepshead location on South Padre Island.
A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage was another of my daytime favorites at the Sheepshead location on South Padre Island.

We walked in pitch-blackness except for the few minutes it took to cross the clearing near The Wall along the Mexican border. My internal storyteller pictured crossing the border to freedom in the middle of the night. Flashes of lightning lit up the skies for miles, startling me with their intensity.

After forty minutes without a single word from any of us, one of the two guides halted our group of 15 and directed us into a semi-circle, whispering, “I’ll call him in. Get ready.” We stood still, poised, cameras aimed upward, as the thunder rolled around us and sweat dripped into my eyes. Though I longed to chug from my water bottle, I feared gulping might prevent the owl from visiting. Worse, it might make the others blame me.

Suddenly, a beacon of light flashed in the air. There! The owl only stayed for a few seconds before darting back into the shadows. We’d found our second rarity on the same day.

The Mottled Owl looks as startled to see us as we were to see it.
The Mottled Owl looks as startled to see us as we were to see it.

The return walk, equally devoid of chatter, no longer felt charged with anticipation. Instead, I found myself wondering if the storm would catch us. Our evening symphony included 6 eastern screech owls, 2 great horned owls, a bobwhite (which happens to sound exactly like its namesake), 11 common pauraques, 2 yellow-billed cuckoos, and 2 common nighthawks. And when we finally reached the cars, the rain had not yet started. It would cause a 25-degree drop in temperature, making birding more enjoyable Sunday morning.

I’ve thought of that night several times since. When we’re in the thick of change, we can feel like we’re lost in a dense forest with deafening noise (other people, offers, struggles, obstacles, you name it) trying to distract us and capture our attention. The trick is to continue to focus on what matters.

Notice and name is a strategy used in both birding and change. These half dozen ducklings tooled around near South Padre Island's mangroves.
Notice and name is a strategy used in both birding and change. These half dozen ducklings tooled around near South Padre Island’s mangroves.

Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, pause. Notice and name what you’re feeling. Then think about all the tools available to you. People who can help. Your previous successes and superpowers, as I mentioned in my last post. Give up the need to know exactly how to get from point A to B and trust that it will. More importantly, notice and name the stories that get in your way.

The third highlight this week is the breeding male Bay-Breasted Warbler. At least a third of our 40 hours of birding were done at a small site called the Valley Land Fund Lots on South Padre Island. It includes four properties that have been repurposed to attract migrating birds, especially warblers. I was impressed by the diversity of birds in such a small area. Such diversity brings lots of people. I soon found myself overwhelmed and wandered the perimeter where I could peer in peace.

I shot a photo of a pretty, distinct-looking bird I hadn’t yet seen. Cornell describes it as having a “dark-streaked back, butter-yellow neck patch, black mask, and a rich dark bay color on the crown, throat, and flanks.” He tended to stay still longer than all the other warblers; perhaps that’s what made him my favorite. I noted his unique coloring, but I couldn’t yet identify it. Who might be able to notice and name it?

A lovely male bay-breasted warbler peers at me as though wondering what all the fuss was.
A stunning male bay-breasted warbler peers at me as though wondering what all the fuss was.

As soon as our birding friend identified it, he insisted I show him where I’d seen it. I realized I’d spotted an important bird. Within minutes of leading him to my find, a dozen others with long lenses came to look. In Yellowstone National Park when people stop their cars to gawk at black bears, we refer to such groups as “bear jams.” In this case, I caused a “bird jam.”

A "bird jam" I caused around the bay-breasted warbler.
A “bird jam” I caused around the bay-breasted warbler.

This third bird taught me two important lessons. First: shine – by being yourself and going about what you do best. This tiny bird had just migrated from gosh knows where. He encountered a thunderstorm the night before and was tired, hungry, and thirsty. His sole mission was to find enough food so he could continue to his final destination and start a new family.

Likewise, I’m a wildlife enthusiast and writer. I capture my experiences in photos and words. When I notice and name my abilities and skills, and enjoy them myself, others get to benefit from them. If I can supply readers with a fraction of the wonder and joy I experienced, I will have done what I intended.

A breeding male black-throated green warbler, another East Coast migrator.
A breeding male black-throated green warbler, another East Coast migrator.

And second, share with the world. These birds share their beauty simply by flying massive distances and touching down to rest. By bringing these three birds to your attention, I realize that I am a teacher. I may not stand up in front of a classroom every day, but when I hike or bird with friends, when I write a blog post or newsletter article, or when I coach an online session, I shine my light of knowledge and hope for others.

I will be creating new blogs less frequently from now until July 25. At that time, I hope to have completed the NBC-HWC coaching exam and will return to weekly posts. If you have a burning question or a comment about this or other posts, please share it below.

Featured

How to Find Balance on the Trail and in Life

Last Thursday, Ajax and I started up the Old Si trail around 6:30 a.m. via the Little Si trailhead. I’d received some uplifting health news the day before, and I wanted to challenge myself beyond Squak, Cougar, and Tiger Mountains. This week, I explore how to find balance on the trail and in life against the backdrop of photos from the Old Si trail.

Our hiking route took us from the lower left corner (Little Si) around the Boulder Garden Loop Trail to the Old Si Trail and all the way to the Teneriffe Connector, where we turned around.
The ascent: our hiking route took us from the lower left corner (Little Si) around the Boulder Garden Loop Trail to the Old Si Trail and up to the Teneriffe Connector Trail, where we turned around.

The Old Si trail meanders through the Boulder Garden Loop before continuing steeply toward Si’s summit. The trail intersects with the “new” trail in two spots. It helps to pay attention to make sure you’re on the right path.

During the hike, two things stood out:

  • The absence of people: Very few people were hiking the Old Si trail. It was a beautiful midweek morning in April. Mt. Si is one of the most popular hikes near Seattle. Except for eight hikers going up as we descended, we had the upper mountain completely to ourselves.
  • The unrelenting steepness: Old Si has exposed root-filled sections and is steeper than I remember from the last time I hiked it a few years ago. It’s likely why people choose the longer, more gently graded, and newer Mt. Si route. Hikers who enjoy the steep old trail on Mailbox, or the Cable/Section trails on Tiger Mountain, would love it.
A particularly rooted and steep section of the Old Si trail reminded me of parts of trails to Mailbox and Rachel Lake. Such steep trails require that hikers repeatedly find balance, similar to life when faced with countless obstacles.
A particularly rooted and steep section of the Old Si trail reminded me of parts of trails to Mailbox and Rachel Lake. Such steep trails require that hikers repeatedly find balance, similar to life when faced with countless obstacles.

After forty-some years of hiking, I implicitly trust my bodily-kinesthetic and natural-environmental superpowers. (Identify your superpowers here.) Whenever the trail gets steep, I know to slow down, take a quick break if I need one, and have alternative plans ready in case anything goes wrong. Sometimes I even speed up to get a challenging part behind me.

When I am alone, which is almost always my goal, I trust my body, my dog Ajax, my physical preparation, and four decades of wilderness experience. The mountains are my happy place.

An author selfie with Mt. Rainier in the background, taken from the summit area on Mt. Si.
An author’s selfie with Mt. Rainier in the background, taken from the summit area on Mt. Si.

However, when I look at challenges in my life, I lack the same confidence. Recently my daily “steep ascents” have included: A new health diagnosis in January (jagged boulders). Subsequent changes to my diet and training (rooty section). Updating and launching two websites (a cliff). Scrambling to find trusted pet care right before a trip (mud). The logistics of starting a second business and finding new clients (another sheer cliff). Completing coaching hours for a national credential (thick thorny brush). Maintaining house chores and pet care duties while my husband coaches throws in the afternoons (slick pebbles). The list sometimes feels endless.

Pause for a moment to think about the obstacles in your path. What challenges are you facing? How do you face them? Do you avoid tasks or charge forward? Maybe you pause and approach with caution or race in the opposite direction. Or perhaps you ignore them and hope they’ll disappear. How might you face them that would be more loving toward yourself and productive?

On the trail, I confidently take the next step forward. In life, however, I sometimes become a deer in the headlights or an ostrich burying my head in the sand, neither of which is helpful. Such fight, flight, or freeze responses bring me to a halt until I find a way past feelings of overwhelm.

My analogy breaks down a little bit in that on a trail we usually have two choices: forward or back. In life, we have so many obstacles and challenges thrown at us that it might look a little like this sign covered in stickers. But the approach, TAKE THE NEXT STEP, still holds.
My analogy breaks down a little bit in that on a trail we usually have two choices: forward or back. In life, we have so many obstacles and challenges thrown at us that it might look a little like this sign covered in stickers. But the approach, TAKE THE NEXT STEP, still holds.

Here’s the tricky thing: Whenever I challenge myself to grow and try new things, as I’ve been doing since starting this blog in July 2021, I’m constantly exploring an ever-expanding world I no longer — or don’t yet — know. The trail seems to shift under my feet like quicksand. Day-to-day life is not predictable. Injuries, illnesses, job challenges, relationship issues — all these things place us in the middle of an overgrown path we’ve never traveled before.

So why do we expect that we can immediately solve our problems in such changing times? I’m trying to trust my innate wisdom and guidance like I already do experiences on the trail. Both require faith, endurance, and resilience. I’m also focusing on my superpowers — bodily-kinesthetic, natural-environmental, verbal-linguistic, and self-interior — rather than my shortcomings.

I help clients become aware of their skills, strengths, special talents, and superpowers so they can focus on and expand them, rather than getting down on themselves because of perceived weaknesses. If we concentrate on the negatives, we’ll always see more negatives. By concentrating on what we do WELL, we cultivate, grow, and see more good.

How to Find Balance on the Trail and in Life
The rocky Mt. Si “summit” includes a very steep scrambled block known as the Haystack, where I do not take Ajax. He likes the lower portion just fine.

At the two-hour mark, we spotted our first snow in a wooded patch right before we reached the rocky summit area. The rocks are where most people stop for a snack before heading down. Despite the steepness of the route, I felt pleased with our performance. Time to grab a snack and check out the views.

The parallel to life’s challenges is not lost on me: when we’re in the midst of struggle, we can lose sight of where we’re headed. But when we arrive at our destination and look back, we realize that although we might have been off target for much of the time, we eventually got where we wanted to go. Maybe not exactly as we expected, but the endurance and resilience we’ve built from other experiences have given us the fortitude to keep trying.

How to Find Balance on the Trail and in Life

The first view of Mt. Rainier due south stole my breath away. I grinned at the bands of lenticular clouds wisping across her flanks. I felt like calling hi to a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. A little farther along, we reached a pair of benches where I dropped my pack, got out some kibble and water for my dog Ajax, and had some cashews and a protein shake. We listened for chipmunks, jays, and other birds while admiring the views of North Bend and Puget Sound. I marveled at the miracle of having such a popular peak all to ourselves. Where is everyone, I asked myself.

A calm peace came over me as I tugged on a long-sleeved shirt and down jacket to ward off the inevitable chill of an April breeze. Hiking in the wilderness is as close to paradise as I can get. I remembered the fist-in-the-air elation I felt when I completed my 50th coaching session. Or when I received the good health news.

When our pet sitters agreed to host Ajax for a week of travel, or I landed some new clients, I felt similar satisfaction. But all the “life” examples rely on interactions with other people. With solo hiking, my results were completely under my power. Succeeding in the mountains gives me a way to find balance when I feel like things are overwhelming.

Anytime Ajax is sick, injured, or compromised in his care in some way, I face a huge obstacle. It's almost like having a sick child.
Anytime Ajax is sick, injured, or compromised in his care in some way, I face a huge obstacle. It’s almost like having a sick child.

In the words of my spiritual coach, Tama Kieves, abundance invites abundance. All the work, worry, and effort of taking one step in front of another paid off. Successes in life and hiking converged. A moment of peace, well deserved.

After our brief pause, we headed north toward the Mt. Teneriffe Connector trail to explore other vantage points, but the ice made it hard to find balance. I decided we’d save Teneriffe for another day and explore more in the Boulder Garden Loop. We turned back knowing the mountains would shed their snow in another month or so.

About 20 minutes past the snowy area, a group of 8 hikers under heavy packs slowly made their way up the steep trail. We stepped aside to let them pass. “You’re up here early,” one hiker said. Just the way I like it, I thought. Another woman told her companion that they’d go down the gentler Si trail so they wouldn’t have to suffer as much on the way down. She commented on how WHITE my dog was and I simply smiled, knowing how muddy he can get when the trail is covered in puddles instead of snow.

Beyond the main Si route toward Teneriffe, the trail is still covered with hard-packed snow and ice. Microspikes will help you find balance.
Beyond the main Si route toward Teneriffe, the trail is still covered with hard-packed snow and ice. Microspikes will help you find balance.

As we made our way down the trail, I listened intently for birds I might have missed on the way up. I shared things I’m grateful for with Ajax. When we reached the Boulder Garden Loop, I heard a purple finch. Having heard the same bird on our way up, I thought to myself, “I bet when I come down I’ll have to look him up again on Merlin.” Sure enough. Practice makes … better. Experience teaches us.

Some of the many skills I have cultivated in the mountains — such as route finding, layering, endurance, gear management, strength, and pacing — have parallels in life. To find balance in the mountains, we need to periodize our training program to include a mixture of easy and hard outings. Likewise in life, we need to have goals we know we can achieve as well as those that stretch us. The bite-sized achievements teach us how to keep striving for those goals that are more challenging.

The trail leading up to the north side of the Haystack, a pile of rock visible for miles around at the summit of Mt. Si.
The trail leading up to the north side of the Haystack, a pile of rock visible for miles around at the summit of Mt. Si.

Finding your way in the mountains is akin to knowing where you want to go in life (i.e. having a goal) as well as how to get there. If you want new clients, for example, you need to know who your target clients are, what they want, and how best to connect with them to cultivate a strong relationship.

Endurance on the trail means you have the physical stamina to get where you want. In life’s challenges, we need to cultivate emotional resilience and fortitude to endure tough situations while also being patient, gentle, and forgiving of ourselves.

Finally, related to pacing: if we charge forward without thinking things through, we may burn ourselves out before we reach our destination. Sometimes a cautious, slower approach to our goals is better than flying Mach 2 with our hair on fire.

Steep and challenging hikes provide a beautiful metaphor for the challenging portions of life’s journey. The more we can learn how to manage our stress, pace ourselves, and find balance among all our life roles, the more we can thrive during times of stress or ease. Whatever your challenge, you can overcome it.

Mossy boulder in the Boulder Garden Loop.
Mossy boulder in the Boulder Garden Loop.

What obstacles are you facing as you strive to find balance? Please share your comments so we can all help and learn from each other. If you would like to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with me to see how we might collaborate contact me at either Thrive Clues or Body Results.

Featured

Surrender Control: How to Focus on Skills and Habits Instead

Sometimes life feels like it is spinning out of control. Pet care disappears before a trip. A health diagnosis or injury catches you off guard. Money issues leave you feeling unprepared. Worries pile up. An event ends with a different outcome than you expected. It happens. What if you surrender control, and instead, focus on the habits you need to acquire and skills you need to develop to reach your goals?

New signs on the Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trail.
New signs on the Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trail.

Last week, Ajax, a hiking friend, and I visited Whittaker Wilderness Peak adding a loop including Shy Bear Pass to Doughty Falls. Our trip started great. We were first on the trail, with beautiful weather, upbeat moods, and time at the summit to grab a snack and sign the summit registry before continuing to explore Cougar Mountain.

But I overestimated how much mileage she could safely handle, leaving her dehydrated, in pain, and overly tired. A little less than a mile from the trailhead, I left her resting to dash back to the car with Ajax and bring her extra water. The word she used at the end of our hike was “miserable.”

A selfie at Doughty Falls, what my daughter called "Doughty Trickle" in July when there is no running water.
A selfie at Doughty Falls, what my daughter called “Doughty Leak” in July when there is no running water.

I shared posts about this particular trail in How to Assess Your Progress (June 2023) and Expect the Unexpected (July 2023). In both, the outcome was far from optimal. Is it me or the trail? Am I trying too hard to control the outcome, choosing what feels easy (to me) to gently push my partners – my dog, my daughter, my friend – into more mileage than they’re ready for?

When you think of control, what comes to mind? The vanilla definition of control is “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” Many of my clients mention feeling “out of control” around food, or not being able to exercise because of “situations beyond their control.” What makes you lose control?

We have no control over how our hiking partners do, but we can help them develop the right skills such as pacing, fueling, hydration, gear selection, and more, to improve their outcomes.
We have no control over how our hiking partners do, but we can help them develop the right skills such as pacing, fueling, hydration, gear selection, and more, to improve their outcomes.

Now it’s your turn to explore your ideas and feelings about control. Please jot down some notes for the following questions:

Reflect on a moment when you felt completely in control. What elements were actually under your control, and what elements were not? Precision Nutrition has a worksheet called the Spheres of Control that might help you explore what areas of your life you have control over and which you don’t.

Trilliums are starting to bloom in the mountains! A sure sign of spring. We have zero control over the weather, but 100% control over where we choose to live.
Trilliums are starting to bloom in the mountains! A sure sign of spring. We have zero control over the weather, but 100% control over where we choose to live.

Think about a time you had no choice but to surrender control. How did it make you feel, and what was the outcome? Did other people around you seem to have control, and if so, over what? What did you learn from the experience? If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

In February of 2024, I shared a post on process and outcome goals. In physical challenges, an outcome goal might be “summit Mt. Rainier” over which we have little control. A process goal might include “carry a pack with increasing weight over increasing distance and elevation gain weekly” over which we have more control.

When you consider physical challenges like a hike, you can’t control the weather, but you can control the route you choose. You can control who you hike with, but not how they do.

I think I have voice control over Ajax, but that is an illusion. What we have is a bonded trust that comes from 7 years of hiking together. He loves to hike with me; he also loves being off-leash. He knows he will lose that freedom if he goes too far away from me.
I think I have voice control over Ajax, but that is an illusion. What we have is a bonded trust that comes from 7 years of hiking together. He loves to hike with me. But he also loves being off-leash. He knows he will lose that freedom if he goes too far away from me.

Now it’s your turn. Recall a physically challenging experience. This might include facing a goal that pushed you past previous limits. Getting a physical diagnosis that shocked you into changing your actions. Recovering from an injury or illness that required a lot from you both physically and mentally.

Did you listen to your body’s signals, or did your mind push you to ignore them? What might that say about your relationship with control? Use the Sphere of Control exercise if it helps.

I often surrender control over timing Ajax's breaks. Here he supplies himself with a drink of water when he's thirsty.
I often surrender control over timing Ajax’s breaks. Here he supplies himself with a drink of water when he’s thirsty.

Consider how preparation for an event (like training for a mountain climb, hike, or triathlon) differs from adapting in the moment. Which do you lean towards, and how does that affect your sense of control? If you have a physical goal in mind, how much of your preparation relies on gaining skills? on creating consistent habits that will help you get ready?

How much depends on luck and “winging it?” What would it feel like to surrender control over some aspect of preparation for a physical goal?

Ajax and C. cross one of several boardwalks through the Shy Bear Pass loop on Cougar Mountain.
Ajax and C. cross one of several boardwalks through the Shy Bear Pass loop on Cougar Mountain.

The last two aspects of control include supporting others and impact on well-being.

One of the trickiest parts about being a coach rather than a personal trainer is to surrender control to the client. For 25 years as a personal trainer, I got used to asking for two more repetitions or telling clients what exercise they would do next. A good coach, on the other hand, remains client-centered and asks what the client feels they need.

Personal trainers control the environment, the workout, and in that regard, the outcome. Coaches are collaborators, equal partners, and guides. As I grapple with evolving into a 100% coach, that line blurs when I need to hold firm.

Fern-covered boulder, an erratic from the glacier age?
Fern-covered boulder, an erratic from the glacier age?

Reflect on a time when you had to support someone else through a challenge. How did you balance offering support without taking control away from them? What might you do differently to surrender control that isn’t yours in the first place?

This morning I have a medical appointment I’ve been nervous about for a few days. I have no control over the outcome of the tests. But I do have control over two things: my reaction and the actions I take beyond today.

I have overcome every physical challenge I’ve faced in the past fifty years, including natural childbirth, healing broken bones, removing unhealthy addictive behaviors, and coping with unexpected health diagnoses. Whatever new information I learn, I know I will continue to make the best choices possible.

A selfie with my best hiking pal, Ajax, near the junction at Whittaker Wilderness Peak.
A selfie with my best hiking pal, Ajax, near the junction at Whittaker Wilderness Peak.

Your turn. How does your desire for control impact your wellness journey? Does it stress you out? Could you surrender control to lead to greater well-being?

This week I’ve continued to rewrite my control stories. My hiking partner hiked solo this week, reclaiming her power and succeeding on a trail that challenged her a few months ago. By being willing to teach her, I’m also learning from her.

By focusing on controlling the actions we take (our process goals), we can influence our outcomes. We can’t control others’ performance, but we can support them so they have a more comfortable experience. Likewise, we can’t control how our bodies do on a given day, but we can acquire skills around proper hydration, physical training, gear selection, fueling, recovery, and pacing to enhance the outcome.

Skunk Cabbage is blooming on Cougar Mountain.
Skunk Cabbage is blooming on Cougar Mountain.

Feel free to explore your reactions to these prompts in your journaling or reflection practice and share any insights in the comments so that we can all benefit, learn, and grow.

Featured

How to Celebrate Milestones in Unconventional Ways

In November, I shared ten non-food, non-cost celebrations anyone can do to mark important achievements. This week I thought again about how people celebrate and how personal such time markers are. Last week I reached a huge milestone. It involved completing fifty structured coaching sessions following certain guidelines. It moves me one step closer to becoming a nationally recognized, board-certified health and wellness coach (NBC-HWC) with only a 5-hour exam in July remaining between me and the new credential. To celebrate, I headed for the mountains with my dog. How do you celebrate milestones?

Abundant flowing water at Exit 47 on the path to Pratt Lake. Alpine trails in March look far different than they do in October!
Abundant flowing water at Exit 47 on the path to Pratt Lake. Alpine trails in March look far different than they do in October!

The last time I’d hiked this particular segment of the trail at Exit 47 off I-90 was in October 2021. 18 months earlier I almost injured myself during a solo hike with Ajax to Pratt and Tuscahootchie Lake. This time, I knew we’d find snow since my daughter and I visited Olallie and Talapus Lakes the week before (accessible from both Exit 45 and Exit 47). This time, my goal was Rainbow/Island Lakes (11.7 miles/3000′ gain) west of the junction that leads north to Pratt Lake. Barring that, we could try Pratt Lake (11 miles / 2300′ gain). So many possibilities!

The parallel was not lost on me. As I get closer to earning my NBHWC credential, I feel like endless possibilities are opening to me. More confidence as a coach. More clout when talking with people who might want me to coach health and wellness groups. The more skills and knowledge I acquire, the better a resource I am for my existing clients, some of whom have been with me for over a decade.

I go all out to celebrate milestones. Usually in the mountains. Tree branches bowing under the weight of new-fallen snow that all but covered the trail ahead of us. There must have been at least 4-6 inches of undisturbed new snow overnight.
I go all out to celebrate milestones. Usually in the mountains. Tree branches bowing under the weight of new-fallen snow that all but covered the trail ahead of us. There must have been at least 4-6 inches of undisturbed new snow overnight.

This adventure was to celebrate milestones — not only what I’ve accomplished over the past year toward launching and building Thrive Clues, but also how far I’ve come in the past twenty-five years as co-owner of Body Results.

On March 28th we started our hike around 6:45 a.m., the only car parked in the lot. As we continued past the sign at .9 miles marking the Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain junction, which Ajax and I visited last October, I felt like I was returning home. The area around Exit 47 is my favorite because of the large number of accessible Alpine Lakes. No two hikes are ever the same.

I eagerly anticipated finding snow around the next bend, and the next, but we traveled at least two miles before reaching a dusting in the underbrush. At several fast-flowing streams, I pulled out my new Trail Buddy aluminum cork trekking poles to give me more confidence in my footing.

When Ajax struggled in deep snow causing him to posthole up to his belly, I knew it was time for snowshoes.
When Ajax struggled in deep snow causing him to posthole up to his belly, I knew it was time for snowshoes.

By the time we reached the Pratt-Olallie junction, we tromped through several inches of new snow. It got progressively deeper as we headed toward Pratt Lake. By the time Ajax reached snow up to his belly, I knew it was time for me to put on my MSR snowshoes and break trail.

My spirits soared as I trusted my route-finding skills through the snow-draped forest. Ajax knows the trail almost as well as I do, but he’s so low to the ground that I wonder whether he trusts his nose or if he looks for the “path of least resistance” that is slightly lower than the rest of the surroundings. When did the last travelers come through here?

I kept glancing behind me to make sure Ajax was with me. He followed directly behind in my snowshoe tracks. At last, I heard what I refer to as the “highest falls.” It’s a fast-running stream, the last flowing water before the overlook for Mt. Rainier and Olallie Lake and the junction between Pratt and Rainbow/Island Lakes.

How to Celebrate Milestones in Unconventional Ways
How to Celebrate Milestones in Unconventional Ways

When we reached the stream, a faint depression on the opposite side indicated where someone had previously traveled. However, the slope beneath me was buried and slick. Snow-covered rocks across the stream would be treacherous if I took my snowshoes off, but I couldn’t navigate the slope with them on.

What about Ajax? Without me breaking trail, he’d be standing in freezing water waiting for me. At that moment, I knew that without anyone else on the trail, we couldn’t take any unnecessary risks.

I quickly came up with plan C: we’d visit Olallie Lake from the west instead of the east, as we’d done the previous week. It would still give us some new trail and a narrow log bridge to cross. But I felt sure Ajax could handle it. We turned around and retraced our snowshoe tracks toward Olallie Lake.

At the narrow log bridge that has turned me around twice before with multiple hiking partners, this time I knew what would help. I called Ajax to me and put his leash on, then followed him across the bridge. Sometimes he reminds me of a mountain goat.

Ajax scouting out the narrow log bridge. He turned around when I got his harness out and allowed me to attach it for safety.
Ajax scouting out the narrow log bridge. He turned around when I got his harness out and allowed me to attach it for safety.

The only tracks we found on our trip to Olallie Lake were a pair of microspikes on boots that someone must have made from Exit 45 not long before we arrived. We had the lake to ourselves. Greg, the snowman I built the previous week, was only a small mound of snow. After a snack and some water, we tried to walk around the lake but soon decided we’d be better off on the flat ground of the frozen lake itself.

How to Celebrate Milestones in Unconventional Ways
Ajax investigates the remnants of Greg, the snowman we built a week ago.

On our “celebrate milestones” adventure, I’d set my turn-around time as 11:30. We still had over an hour to play. Maybe we could go back to the “highest falls” to scout the stream for a way across. If nothing else, I’d shoot some more photos of the stunning landscape.

As we started up the Pratt trail a second time, I noticed my left foot was slipping around. I glanced down. Two of the straps were missing! Likewise on my right, one of the midfoot straps had snapped off. The 25-year-old straps had grown so brittle over the years, and in the cold, that they’d broken in two.

Author selfie at the"first falls" along the Pratt-Olallie trail, just about a half mile beyond the junction with the Granite Mountain trail.
Author selfie at the”first falls” along the Pratt-Olallie trail, just about a half mile beyond the junction with the Granite Mountain trail.

Gear malfunction made our decision easy: we turned around and headed for the car where, once again, I was delighted and surprised to find nobody else in the lot. We’d made a good call. I’d order new buckles and try again. On the hike out, I ran through my list of gratitudes, thanking the snow, the trail, my dog, and the snowshoes that got me as far as they did. What a great day to be alive and appreciative of the joy Mother Nature always provides.

What are some non-cost, non-food ways for you to celebrate milestones? My way might not be something you would enjoy. Your treats will be just as unique and unconventional for you.

In the words of Marie Kondo, what sparks joy for you? Perhaps you like to dance. Why not take a short dance party break to a favorite song? Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while to share your good news. Take a stroll in your favorite neighborhood to collect wildflowers. Attend a “free museum day” exhibit you’ve been wanting to see.

Peace, serenity, solitude, and nature's beauty are among the top qualities I look for in a celebration.
Peace, serenity, solitude, and nature’s beauty are among the top qualities I look for in a celebration.

Celebrate milestones in a way that makes them meaningful to you. If you go from one milestone to the next without a pause to appreciate how far you’ve come, you’ll exhaust yourself. Today I celebrate my new clients. My health. Completion of one task and start of the next. Share how you celebrate milestones so we can all learn and grow.

Featured

Changing Seasons: How to Adapt on the Trails

In this week’s blog post, I contrast two recent hikes while reflecting on how the changing seasons mirror our personal growth. The first, a five-hour ramble around the summits of West Tiger Mountain, included dirt paths, songs from 18 bird species, and running streams. Familiar, as I historically am a fair-weather, 3-season hiker. On the second, my daughter joined Ajax and me for a lovely snowy visit to Olallie and Talapus Lakes. The changing seasons in the mountains provide valuable metaphors for personal adaptation and stretching outside our comfort zone to find the zest and thrills that make life worth living.

My daughter joined me and Ajax for my usual Tuesday Morning outing, a trip to Talapus and Olallie Lakes near Exit 45 off I-90 in the Cascade Mountains.
My daughter joined me and Ajax for my usual Tuesday Morning outing, a trip to Talapus and Olallie Lakes near Exit 45 off I-90 in the Cascade Mountains.

And people come out in droves. When I finished my early morning St. Patrick’s Day hike on Tiger Mountain, the parking lot was packed by noon. Four cars lined up behind me, waiting to take my space. Parked cars lined the access road clear down to Frontage Road. Fortunately, sticking to less popular trails ensured a hike relatively free from people.

By contrast, on Tuesday we were the first to arrive at the trailhead for Talapus and Olallie Lakes at 9 a.m. Even at 2 when we returned to our car, there were only a couple handfuls of cars. Same lovely weather but on a weekday. Farther from the city. And in snow. Could more visits to snowy trails be the answer to enjoying the mountains without tons of people? And why is that?

My daughter and Ajax pause on the snowy trail to Olallie and Talapus Lakes on the cusp of the changing seasons.
My daughter and Ajax pause on the snowy trail to Olallie and Talapus Lakes on the cusp of the changing seasons.

In the snow, the solitude and silence were priceless. We encountered only 8 bird species compared to 20 two days earlier on Tiger. Even the air felt different. As we walked through the woods, icy pockets signaled nearby snow. How wondrous to transition onto hard-packed snow that muffled the sound around us.

On the trip out, I asked my daughter which she preferred: the same hike in the summer or this one in winter conditions. She likes Talapus Lake in the summer — if she can explore the logjam on the east end. But in the winter, when logs are covered in snow and more treacherous, she prefers Olallie Lake, with its easy access and interesting snow travel.

Each step brought us new challenges and mindfulness, whether the snow crunched underfoot and provided traction, or caused us to slip and slide. By the end of the hike, we were more savvy about picking which sections of snow would hold weight and what would lead to flailing. Obvious highlights included making snow angels, stomping a huge smile in the fresh white landscape, building a snowman named Greg, and walking across frozen Olallie Lake. Such wonderful solitude.

Ajax soaks up the sun while Brooke peers over snowman Greg's outstretched arm. The snowman only took about 15 minutes to build under near-perfect conditions. The arrival of spring reminds me of the changing seasons.
Ajax soaks up the sun while Brooke peers over snowman Greg’s outstretched arm. The snowman only took about 15 minutes to build under near-perfect conditions. The arrival of spring reminds me of the changing seasons.

In addition to enjoying the changing landscape, we also selected different gear. Early spring snow conditions change rapidly, sometimes hour to hour. We brought ski poles, snowshoes, and microspikes in the car with us. But once I saw bare pavement and dirt trails at the trailhead, I left behind the bulkier, harder-to-carry snowshoes and ski poles. Instead, I brought both pairs of compact microspikes and one collapsible pole.

The only snow equipment we ended up using were gloves and the pole. The few other hikers we saw clipped on their traction devices, but we never needed ours. I prefer to carry something we might or might not use rather than suffering from not having it. Proper gear choice speaks to two things: experience and preparation. In the metaphor of life’s unpredictable challenges, the more experience we have and the more prepared we are to face whatever comes next, the better we can handle it.

You can take the hiker out of the mountains, but you can never take the mountains out of the hiker. Whether snow or dirt, I feel completely in my element, at peace and connected when I'm out enjoying nature. One of our favorite trees on the Talapus-Olallie Lakes trail.
You can take the hiker out of the mountains, but you can never take the mountains out of the hiker. Whether snow or dirt, I feel completely in my element, at peace and connected when I’m out enjoying nature. One of our favorite trees on the Talapus-Olallie Lakes trail.

Like changing seasons in the mountains, we experience inevitable changes in our own lives. When my daughter was much younger, just as we started getting comfortable with a life stage… everything changed. The terrible twos. Her first solo gymnastics class. Kindergarten. First friendships. Junior high. Her constant growth forced us to adapt, like it or not. Parenting builds resilience and adaptability. So do injury, illness, changes in homes or jobs, and adversity.

Each of my clients comes to me facing profound change. If we can prepare for the unexpected and face challenges head-on, we can appreciate our journey and the lessons it can teach us. This week I spoke with a client who recently reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. She became a magnet of optimism for the others on her 20-person team who needed a pep talk. She enjoyed each of the diverse experiences during the journey to the top as much as she did the summit.

This winter we didn't get much in the way of snow in the city. So we drove to it to make snow angels, a snowman, and throw a few snowballs. Ajax investigated my daughter's angel.
This winter we didn’t get much in the way of snow in the city. So we drove to it to make snow angels, a snowman, and throw a few snowballs. Ajax investigated my daughter’s angel.

As I created this post, I felt a shift within. Making the time to drive a greater distance with my daughter to reach the snow made me relish and yearn for snow experiences even more. It helped me embrace and celebrate both my Milwaukee roots and over two decades of Alpine travel. And, as a bonus, Ajax tolerated the snow just fine.

I don’t have any big physical objectives this year. My mantra for 2024 is to “turn obstacles into opportunities.” Instead of viewing snow in the mountain as an obstacle that keeps me on trails at lower elevations, I’m heading higher starting in April. Ajax and I will enjoy the snow as much as we can. After all, the summer heat and crowded trails are just around the corner.

Featured

How to Make Change Stick: Client Questions Answered

We’re halfway through March Madness. I’ve set an intention to complete all of my practicum coaching sessions by March 31. The NBC-HWC (National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach) certification requires fifty before we can sit for the 5-hour final in July. My clients and I have had so much fun and success that I thought I would share some of their insights with you. The four questions featured below illustrate how to take specific, concrete, simple steps to make change stick. Each is representative of how I help people through my new coaching company, Thrive Clues.

One way I make change stick is to get out hiking with friends. Ajax and a hiking buddy on Mt. Washington. I may be headed back there on Tuesday.
One way I make change stick is to get out hiking with friends. Ajax and a hiking buddy on Mt. Washington. I may be headed back there on Tuesday.

One client wanted help to increase the satisfaction of her vegetarian salads at lunchtime. She was already doing several things right: pre-purchased packaged greens thrown together with protein. Simple, quick, and effective. But she always craved something sweet afterward, even though she was full. Perhaps you can relate. To make change stick, we needed to find an easy solution that was readily available.

I asked what her source of fat was. Bingo! We found the missing piece. We discussed how she could try adding a thumb-sized portion of avocado oil, olive oil, or half an avocado like the picture below.

Try adding avocado oil, olive oil, diced avocado, or guacamole to a salad to add sustenance and increase the satiation impact (make it more satisfying and last longer.)
Try adding avocado oil, olive oil, diced avocado, or guacamole to a salad to add sustenance and increase the satiation impact (make it more satisfying and last longer.)

A week later, she reported that she was astonished at how one simple change made the salad so much more satisfying. She felt sated longer so she ate less the rest of the day. She no longer overdid it on dessert. Win!

Do you have a tricky meal you’d like to overhaul? Send me an Email to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation to troubleshoot your problem.

Another client loves to hike, but it seems she does better when someone else sets up the destination and meeting times. She also likes having someone with her while she gains confidence and familiarity on new-to-her trails.

To increase her autonomy and self-sufficiency, we developed a new hiking plan. She would continue to hike with me every other week on new-to-her “stretch” trails, which would build her confidence. On the Tuesdays between our hikes, she would explore a trail on her own that we’d already done together.

Since she’d participated in five consecutive hikes, we talked about how she might increase her weekly exercise to support her new passion and make change stick. When she suggested walking four days a week, I gently reminded her that going from one day of exercise per week to five might feel overwhelming. We’re shooting for success, not shame, guilt, or blame. Going from one to two weekly workouts would feel more sustainable. It could help her build a new exercise habit that will stick.

What a difference a week makes. On March 5, Squak had several inches of snow at the summit. This bench had a warning sign on it.
What a difference a week makes. On March 5, Squak had several inches of snow at the summit. This bench had a warning sign on it.
One week later, on March 12, we had sun, hail, rain, and high winds. But the bench and snow were gone.
One week later, on March 12, we had sun, hail, rain, and high winds. But the bench and snow were gone.

By taking small steps, what I call “nudging the notch,” you can sneak up on your goals without pain, injury, overwhelm, or strain. She finally agreed to add just one thing. After reviewing how to set SMART goals, she decided to add a weekly walk between hikes.

Are you having difficulty figuring out how to set up your hiking training? Send me an Email to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation to troubleshoot.

What if you have four habits you want to incorporate, today? At Thrive Clues we use Precision Nutrition principles of identifying the “low-hanging fruit” or the “big rocks,” meaning those habits that are easiest to change or make the biggest impact.

One of my long-term clients wanted to investigate eating more vegetables, controlling portion size, adding healthy fats, and getting a better handle on breakfasts. All are great habits, at the right time. When I challenged her for the next week to start with one thing, she chose to focus on breakfast. Once she proves she can make change stick around breakfast protein, she can go on to others.

It is not unusual for me to have veggies and lean pork for breakfast. Who says we can't?
It is not unusual for me to have veggies and lean pork for breakfast. Who says we can’t?

For many people, “breakfast” means either sausage, bacon, eggs (high fat and cholesterol) or pancakes, donuts, waffles, or pastries (high fat, sugar, and gluten) or perhaps cereal with milk or yogurt (processed foods). Breakfast is literally whatever food we use to “break our fast.”

We discussed what her current morning meal looks like and what her ideal might be. When she asked me what I eat for the first meal of the day, I said I start with protein which often means leftovers from the night before. Homemade pad Thai, ground chicken with half a Japanese sweet potato, and pulled pork and veggies don’t sound like “breakfast foods” to most people. Why not?

A sample breakfast: 2 slices of melon, half a Sumo orange, a healthy dollop of guacamole, 3 strips of lean bacon, and two small gluten-free rice flour tortillas. All homemade. All delicious. And decaffeinated Market Spice tea.
I quit eating cereal years ago. A common breakfast: 2 melon balls, half a Sumo orange, a healthy dollop of guacamole, 3 strips of lean bacon, and two small gluten-free rice flour tortillas. And decaffeinated Market Spice tea. All homemade. All delicious.

General Mills, Kellogg’s, and other producers of cereal know exactly how to make palatable, highly addictive foods. Psst – sugar! Take a look at your labels. I challenge you to find a tasty cereal that has under 6 grams of sugar per serving. They don’t exist. Those that do taste a little like twigs and bark.

Instead, I invited her to think WAY outside the box to find what proteins she likes. Could you make a morning meal around salmon and eggs? What about a chicken thigh with a little rice and guacamole? A lean burger patty could be very tasty any time of day. And don’t forget protein shakes for those rushed mornings when you want something easy that will support you. The first step is to rewrite old scripts.

Would you like to discuss redefining your meals so that you get away from old habits that no longer serve you? Send me an Email to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation.

The most common conversation with clients I’ve had the past two weeks has been to reframe exercise as moving the body. Anything other than sitting on the couch or lying down counts. How relieved people are when I say they don’t have to go to the gym for an hour-long sweaty sufferfest. Nor do they have to endure mind-numbing time on the “dreadmill”. Some of my conversations revealed that clients are a lot closer than they thought to the national recommendations for movement.

One of the questions I ask my coaching clients is to think about activities they've enjoyed in the past. SCUBA? Zumba? Biking? Golf? Anything is fair game. By choosing things you ENJOY you're far more likely to stick with them.
One of the questions I ask my coaching clients is to think about activities they’ve enjoyed in the past. SCUBA? Zumba? Biking? Golf? Anything is fair game. By choosing things you ENJOY you’re far more likely to stick with them.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends the following Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It’s a 118-page PDF document so I’ll summarize. All adults (with modifications for age/abilities) should aim to get the following movement per week:

  • AT LEAST 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement — anything that gets the heart beating faster. This could be dancing. Walking a dog. Caring for horses. Carrying golf equipment for 18 holes. Pickleball.
  • Or, if not point one, AT LEAST 75 minutes of high-intensity movement. Jogging. Swimming laps. Vigorous bike riding. Cross-country skiing. Hiking with a pack. Boxing intervals that leave you breathless.
  • AT LEAST 2 strength training workouts per week that involve all the major muscles in the body.
  • For seniors, including balance training is also important.
  • There are additional benefits to doing more than 300 minutes of movement per week.
Icicles forming at the bottom of a log on Squak Mountain ten days ago. If you can walk, you can hike. Why not explore the wonderful world around us on foot?
Icicles formed at the bottom of a log on Squak Mountain ten days ago. If you can walk, you can hike. Why not explore the wonderful world around us on foot?

How do you stack up? Are you getting close to the national movement guidelines when you look at what you do in a week? If not, how might you get more strength training or aerobic movement? What do you need to do to make change stick?

If you are struggling to find enjoyable ways to move your body, send me an Email to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation. Let’s get you on the path toward making change stick.

Featured

Abundance: How to Identify and Appreciate It Now

Two years ago after breaking my wrist, I wrote about abundance and joy in a blog post featuring Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Last week, I visited my family in North Carolina which led to discussing inspiration. This week’s reflection follows from taking a course about cultivating an abundance mindset. What can you do to identify and appreciate your abundance?

One of the many things I appreciate this year is having an abundance of opportunities on Tuesday mornings to enjoy nature. Last week the new snowfall created childlike wonder and joy at the beauty surrounding me. Bullitt's Fireplace near Central Peak on Squak Mountain.
One of the many things I appreciate this year is having an abundance of opportunities on Tuesday mornings to enjoy nature. Last week, the new snowfall created childlike wonder and joy at the beauty surrounding me. Bullitt’s Fireplace near Central Peak on Squak Mountain.

In previous posts, I’ve explored the themes of joy, enough, inspiration, and change. Since I have not yet figured out how to create a custom-search feature on my blog, I took the liberty of sharing the first three links for each major topic for your ease in accessing them.

On Joy: How to Hold Your Own Joy Treasure Hunt; Slow Down to Find Joy In Simple Pleasures; and Forest Bathing: How To Get Started, among others.

On Enough: I Am Enough: Acrostic Poems about Change and Growth; Keep it Simple and Good Enough in your 2022 Goals; and How to Rewrite the Rules at Peek-a-Boo Lake, among others.

On Inspiration: Inspiration is Everywhere When You Look For It; Inspiration from Life and Literature on Managing Pain; and Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels, among others.

On Change: Discipline Equals Freedom: How to Dive Deep into Change; Ripple Effect: How Tiny Changes Make a Powerful Impact; and Five Stages of Change: Am I In The Preparation Phase along with a whopping 93 other posts that include “change.”

That’s an abundance of advice. And only one of the many areas where I currently notice and feel such wealth.

Abundance of space and solitude. I encountered very few people on Squak the day after a fresh snowfall. These two hikers came up from a different path and sat enjoying hot beverages at Bullitt Fireplace when Ajax and I continued to Central Peak.
Abundance of space and solitude. I encountered very few people on Squak the day after a fresh snowfall. These two hiked a different path and enjoyed hot beverages at Bullitt Fireplace as Ajax and I continued to Central Peak.

What comes to mind when you hear the word abundance? Shoes? Debt? Free time? Opportunities? Problems? Money? Do you feel a lack or a lot in your life?

You can have abundance anywhere, not just in material wealth. Think about personal growth, close relationships, and your creative and lifetime experiences. For this article to be effective, before continuing, please pause, pull out some paper and a pen, or open a blank page on your computer.

For one minute, first define what abundance means to you. What emotions come up? What desires?

Now take a few minutes to jot down 5-6 areas where you currently feel you have abundance.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, and Let It Go are three songs my mind goes to whenever there is fresh snow. I have an abundance of mental music to draw on; my mind is like a perpetual DJ playing whatever song I want.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, and Let It Go are three songs I replay whenever I encounter fresh snow. I have an abundance of mental music to draw on; my mind is like a perpetual DJ playing whatever song I want.

Finally, take another 2-3 minutes to write down where you would like more abundance. These will be helpful in a few journal prompts coming up in this post.

Abundance is defined as “a large quantity; ample, copious, plenty.” Some go so far as to add “more than you need.” Tama Kieves’ 30-day Moneyshift program introduces the concept in the context of personal well-being and fulfillment rather than monetary or material acquisitions.

Scarcity, on the other hand, is the opposite. In economic terms, it means demands outweigh the supply. Here I’m using “scarcity” in terms of our mindset. Do you find yourself using the phrases “never enough”, “must do,” or “should“? What would it feel like to replace those phrases with “more than enough,” “choose to do,” and “choice”? What would it take for you to shift to an abundance mindset?

One step you can take to appreciate your abundance is to pay attention to what brings you joy. Where do you have abundance already? Where would you like more?
One step you can take to appreciate your abundance is to pay attention to what brings you joy. Where do you have abundance already? Where would you like more?

If one of my clients is using a lot of “shoulds” and “have tos,” I introduce the following exercise to bring their attention to it.

Take out a piece of paper and write in huge block letters the word “SHOULD.” If you use HAVE TO, NEED TO, GOTTA, MUST – these are all of the “should” variety. Write them down.

Now, take paints, colored pencils, markers, or ink pens and scribble all over your chosen word. No more shoulding on yourself! Instead, start noticing whenever you use that word. Who says? What is the voice making you feel like you have to do something? What would happen if you never did?

Now, think about what it would feel like to stop, reflect for a moment, and replace SHOULD with CHOOSE. If you’re like me, the pressure dissipates. There’s more freedom and joy. The only things we all must do is die and pay taxes. Everything else is our choice.

Beauty, beauty everywhere!
Beauty, beauty everywhere!

Reflect on a recent situation where you felt a sense of scarcity or lack. What EXACTLY triggered these feelings? The more specific you can get, the more it can teach you.

Now, rewrite the scenario from an abundance mindset, focusing on the resources and options you have available. How does it feel to approach it from a different mindset? The more you do this, the more you teach your mind that there is another way to think.

Identify and write about moments in your day when you experienced joy, connection, or satisfaction. Perhaps you already did this as an earlier exercise. If not, try it now.

Can you identify abundance in those moments?

How can recognizing these moments more often shift your perspective toward a new mindset?

Think of an area in your life where you frequently feel scarcity. Now, list five abundant resources (such as emotional, knowledge, social, financial, etc.) that you already have in your life that you could apply to this area.

How does focusing on these resources change your perspective?

My hiking buddy Ajax investigates a snow-laden branch.
My hiking buddy Ajax investigates a snow-laden branch.

To help change anything, including a mindset, it is necessary to take action. Here are some possible steps. Pick one to play with for the next few weeks and see what happens. Then experiment with another. And if you come up with an action item not mentioned, please share it in the comments so we can all grow together.

  • Try new experiences to expand your sense of possibility and joy.
  • Look for occasions when you are viewing life through a scarcity lens and see if there is an opportunity for personal growth and greater satisfaction by viewing it through the lens of abundance.
  • Embrace all of the choices and opportunities around you.
  • Practice gratitude daily. How many can you write down? The more you see them, the more you attract.
  • Set intentions that align with your values and abundance.
  • Invest in relationships and community as sources of enrichment.

According to my spiritual coach, Tama Kieves, who has taught principles of A Course In Miracles for over 30 years, by focusing on all the areas where you already have abundance, you will attract more abundance. Focus on scarcity will create more lack. But abundance creates more abundance.

Abundant peace on a trail where ours were the first tracks of the day. A hiker and her dog. And solitude all around.
Abundant peace on a trail where ours were the first tracks of the day. A hiker and her dog. And solitude all around.
Featured

Inspiration is Everywhere When You Look For It

I just returned from a wonderful week-long visit with my parents and youngest brother in Asheville, NC. Part of my intention was to help in whatever way I could. In doing so, I discovered that by helping them, I helped myself even more. I left Thursday feeling well-rested, hopeful, and inspired. Inspiration is everywhere when you look for it.

The north end of beautiful Beaver Lake in North Asheville, a place I visited three times during my visit to walk and bird.
The north end of beautiful Beaver Lake in North Asheville, a place I visited three times during my visit to walk and bird.

We get in such deep ruts in our lives, chasing deadlines and digging out from mountains of to-do’s, that sometimes it takes a complete change of surroundings to see things differently. I came away with a deep appreciation for the tiny, everyday things that supply inspiration.

By the time my brother arrived Sunday afternoon, I felt rested and ready to begin a few house projects my parents had ready for us. Their tidy house and manicured lawn stayed that way the whole visit, inspiring me to tackle my own home this year.

Even raking leaves in February, browsing at local shops, or spending time watching pups frolic at a dog park can provide ample sources of inspiration. The magnets on the left were from Diamond Brand Outdoors in downtown Asheville close to a restaurant called The Blackbird Restaurant where 107 blackbirds grace one long wall and a mural of blackbirds covers another.

Worth a few chuckles and shares on my blog.
Worth a few chuckles and shares on my blog.
A wonderful reminder to myself of my 2024 intention to shift my mindset.
A wonderful reminder to myself of my 2024 intention to shift my mindset.

At every turn, this trip reminded me of several guideposts for an enjoyable life:

  • Try something new every day. My father has a “penny jar” where he puts in a penny every time he tries something new, proving you’re never too old to explore, learn, or grow
  • Seek wonder around you through all five senses. Grace Coddington got it partially right with, “Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.” I’d use “Sense” instead of see. Birdsong, pungent flowers or savory food smells, soft fur or wet grass underfoot, and delicious foods can also create inspiration.
  • Be amazed by the simple things. If you’re acting in Zombie mode, simply going through life by rote, perhaps it’s time to make some shifts so you can better appreciate the life you’re living.
Homecooked brunch of leftovers. I'll take this over restaurant food any day of the week.
Homecooked brunch of leftovers. I’ll take this over restaurant food any day of the week.
  • Pay attention to what makes you smile. Funny magnets. Hearing a wild turkey gobbling at dawn — after trying to find one three mornings in a row. Creating a smiley face in a flatbed of birdseed. Trying to figure out how to open the door to a Tesla vehicle. Finding “You are enough” and “You matter” cards on my morning puzzle or near my water bottle.

Three musical moments stood out that I might not have paid attention to if not for reflecting on inspiration.

My mother invited me to attend a low-enrollment, in-person Zumba class on Tuesday. This would be a great opportunity for me to point out anything I saw that might help her get more from the class. I found myself participating fully in the back of the room, smiling through most of it simply because… I loved the music. It had been over a decade since I’d attended organized fitness classes. I was surprised to find out how much I miss it.

My parents inspire me. Nearly 60 years together and while they both do things that irritate each other - such is life - their bond is stronger than ever. Dinner at Zen Sushi, a new-to-us-all dine-in experience.
My parents inspire me. Nearly 60 years together and while they both do things that irritate each other – such is life – their bond is stronger than ever. Dinner at Zen Sushi, a new-to-us-all dine-in experience.

Another unexpected source of inspiration was watching the jukebox musical romcom movie, Mamma Mia, with my parents. This is rare as my father tires more easily these days and likes to retire early. But he stayed up well past his bedtime so we could watch as a family. For days after, we would break into songs or try to remember what scene went with which music. My favorites? The Winner Takes it All, Mamma Mia, and the opening musical score. Can you say chair dance?

Finally, I delighted in grabbing several moments to play piano on the instrument I grew up with. My mother had it tuned before this visit, and while it felt different from mine, it still felt great to play. The takeaway is continuing to enjoy music daily, such as playing piano and flute duets with my daughter.

I returned home late Thursday evening. Friday morning, I found another source of inspiration. A client I’ve been working with for a year arrived for his weekly personal training workout with me.

Inspiration is Everywhere When You Look For It

This amazing gentleman kicked off his day at 7:45 with an hour of balance, strength, mobility, and flexibility training with me. He then rattled off that he was to have an hour of bodywork, some singles tennis, and an afternoon of cross-country skiing.

You’d never, ever guess that he’s 94. May we all be as resilient, capable, and fortunate as he is. He’s one of my real-life heroes.

Two additional sources of inspiration come from the local community.

My Monday Morning critique group consists of six women who might someday dub themselves the “Dig Deeper Dames.” We have been writing together for over ten years. Since January 2014 we have shared our lives, fears, and struggles. Each person brings decades of experience and a unique perspective to share with each other. Those ladies inspire me every week.

A rock garden on one of my walks at Beaver Lake provided a source of inspiration: a heart rock for my mother's collection and a Beaver Lake memento as a reminder of my birding outings.
A rock garden on one of my walks at Beaver Lake provided a source of inspiration: a heart rock for my mother’s collection and a Beaver Lake memento as a reminder of my birding outings.

I also gain inspiration from clients who trust me with their daily battles and setbacks. It takes real courage to open up and share fears, failures, setbacks, and worries. When clients do so, they help make me a better person, a more competent coach, and a light or beacon of hope to everyone I come in contact with.

If you've never experienced a Tesla, do so. It's worth trying at least once. My brother is very courageous!
If you’ve never experienced a Tesla, do so. It’s worth trying at least once. My brother is very courageous!

Inspiration is everywhere if we open our hearts, minds, and senses to discovering it. Where do you find inspiration? What helps you to grow and transform? Please share your experiences of finding inspiration in unexpected places or within your community so we can all be inspired.

Featured

How To Focus on Process Goals While Hiking Margaret’s Way

On this week’s hike along Margaret’s Way on Squak Mountain, my hiking buddy and I discussed goals. I described the difference between process goals and outcome goals. If you have a particular goal that you never quite seem to reach, it could be that focusing on process goals could better serve you. Let’s take a closer look.

Starting up the trail toward Margaret's Way on Squak. We had an opportunity to discuss process goals and outcome goals.
Starting up the trail toward Margaret’s Way on Squak. We discussed process goals and outcome goals.

One important note before I dive in: If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may know that I prefer to write about “intentions” rather than “goals”. To me, the word has a kinder, gentler, less guilt-provoking feeling to it. Less emotional baggage. Here are several posts on setting intentions from the past year that you might find helpful.

How To Set Intentions for the New Year January 2023

Mt. Washington: How To Set Intentions May 2023

Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions June 2023

How to Grow a Hiking Practice on Squak Mountain January 2024

A break in the clouds cast Ajax's shadow as we returned to a viewpoint along Margaret's Way.
A break in the clouds cast Ajax’s shadow as we returned to a viewpoint along Margaret’s Way.

Whether you use “intention” or “goal” the result is similar. Onward. Outcome goals are those results you’re striving for, like finding a life partner, landing a dream job, or publishing a book. Focusing solely on outcome goals can cause anxiety, lack of control, and demotivation if they seem impossible to reach. What’s more, outcome goals often neglect the journey and can lead to dissatisfaction regardless of your achievement.

Process goals, on the other hand, are the bite-sized actions you take consistently that are directed toward your goal. Focusing on process goals leads to increased motivation, a greater sense of accomplishment, and empowerment. Stringing small successes together leads to positive momentum and helps you get unstuck.

The three outcome goals I will use to illustrate how process goals work are the following:

  • Reaching a certain weight
  • Climbing X mountain
  • Being happier
Ajax looks back as if to ask, "Which way, Mama, Bullitt's Fireplace or Debbie's View?"
Ajax looks back as if to ask, “Which way, Mama, Bullitt’s Fireplace or Debbie’s View?”

Whether you embrace process goals or outcome goals, make sure each of your goals is a SMART goal. Make each goal specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-stamped.

Having a clear outcome goal is like knowing the endpoint, your destination on a map. But even airline pilots are off-course the majority of the time. Their process goals keep them on track so they arrive at the right airport.

It is far easier — not to mention more self-loving — to focus on what we can control than to worry about those we cannot. We have zero control over the weather, other people’s opinions or comments, or politics. But we can control where we choose to live and visit, what we make other’s thoughts mean to us, and what news station we listen to.

THINK ABOUT THIS:

  • Discover your underlying WHY. What would accomplishing your goal get you or do for you?
  • How would your life be different if you reached your goal? If you know you run on adrenaline and want to climb Mt. Rainier purely for the thrill of it, will that be enough, or will it just be one in a series of conquests?
  • What are you really seeking, and why?
Beautiful ferns grace the trunk of this tree.
Beautiful ferns grace the trunk of this tree.

Imagine that your goal is to lose 20 pounds in three months by sticking to your exercise and eating plan. While it is specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-stamped, it is still a little nebulous. The uncertainty comes from “exercise and eating plan.” We all know that moving more and eating less or better should take us to weight loss. But will your exercise and eating plan be the right one?

What if you focused, instead, on process goals? What do people at their setpoint weight do? A new process-goal plan might look something like this:

  • Drink a 10-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning, one with each of three meals, and one before bed. 50 ounces, tied to specific actions in the day so they’re easier to remember.
  • Move the body at least thirty minutes a day outside in whatever way brings me joy.
  • Eat a palm-sized portion of protein at every meal or snack opportunity.
  • Shut off electronics 45 minutes before bedtime and go to sleep at the same time each night.
Outcome goal: shoot a great photo of a gray owl. Process goals: watch birds twice a week; shoot a photo every day; carry binoculars on walks and practice spotting a bird before bringing binoculars to my eyes.
Outcome goal: shoot a great photo of a gray owl. Process goals: watch birds twice a week; shoot a photo every day; carry binoculars on walks and practice spotting a bird before bringing binoculars to my eyes.

By nailing down the habits a healthy person has, and instilling action items specific to reaching that goal, you will feel better, maintain lean muscle mass, move more comfortably, alleviate stress, reset your Circadian rhythms, and direct yourself naturally and organically toward your outcome goal.

If your goal is to climb Mt. Rainier, the outcome goal is reaching the summit and coming back down safely. What would the process goals look like?

  • Carry a pack weekly, increasing mileage, elevation gain, and pack weight no more than 10% per week
  • Twice a week, strengthen the legs, back, and core specific to carrying a heavy pack for three straight days over challenging terrain
  • Take a skills training course or find a professional to teach you about knots, rope handling, crampon use, and navigation
  • Practice fueling (protein and carbs 100 calories each) and hydrating (four ounces of water or electrolyte solution) every hour on conditioning hikes
  • Ask guides, your coach, or rangers about the best window of opportunity to climb to increase the chance of having favorable weather, then practice in all conditions so you’re ready for anything

You can see that the process goals above are completely within your control. See if you can think of five more process goals you might do to help increase the likelihood of reaching the outcome above.

Little Tahoma from Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier. The shadow behind is Rainier's shadow.
Little Tahoma from Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier. The shadow behind is Rainier’s shadow.

To come up with process goals for being happier, first, identify what brings you joy. Joyful Rejuvenation is one of the seven pillars of wellness I coach active, stressed women on at our new health and wellness company, Thrive Clues.

Please note that “being happier” is nebulous. Without more context, you could achieve it simply by finding a dollar bill on the ground. It is also highly individual and based on your values, personality, and identity.

While one person might define “happiness” as having material wealth and the ability to retire at age 50, someone else might define it as working until age 100 because they love it so much, as long as they can hike once a week with their dog.

Ajax and a sculpture of a canine relative at nearby Olympic Hills Elementary School.
Ajax and a sculpture of a canine relative at nearby Olympic Hills Elementary School.

Here are a few process goals for being happier that appear to be universal:

  • Have consistent, regular social contact with people who bring you joy and support you
  • Move the body at least 30 minutes a day in whatever activity brings you pleasure
  • Manage your stress by planning on doing something you enjoy daily

We learn best from each other’s experiences and our own mistakes. If you would like to share what has worked for you regarding process goals, please share in the comments below. A few parting thoughts:

  • Identify specific actions that are within your control.
  • Break down each goal into smaller, manageable tasks. This will enhance the clarity of what you’re going to do, when you will do it, and it will help you track your progress.
  • Enlist the help of an accountability partner, friend, or coach who will support your efforts.
Featured

How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking

Earlier this year, I introduced the idea of how to grow a hiking practice. While my hiking partner undergoes physical adaptations after only three hikes, I’m noticing subtle mental transformations which I’ll describe in my next post. Join me in learning how to warm up, pace yourself, and hydrate while hiking. We have also included a bonus one-minute video on how to perform the rest step for anyone traveling above 8,500′ elevation.

How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking
Selfie at the summit of W. Tiger 3. Ajax and I managed to get above the cloud layer on February 13, but Rainier remained hidden.

For our first hike to Tiger, I shared the Tradition Lake Loop with my partner. At 3 miles and 150′ of elevation gain, it’s a perfect test for someone who is returning to the mountains after an absence or for someone who wants to gain experience and confidence in wilderness exploration.

Question: My hiking partner asked me: Why are the first five minutes of every hike SO HARD?

Ajax and my hiking partner at the toppled bus on the Bus Route of Tiger Mountain.
Ajax and my hiking partner at the toppled bus on the Bus Route of Tiger Mountain.

Answer: it takes a few minutes for your body to warm up, especially if you’ve been sitting in a car for a while. As you would with any gym workout, prepare your body for exertion by easing into your pace. Many people plan a clothing break at about minute 15. Others strip a layer at the trailhead, knowing they’re going to warm up quickly.

During the first five minutes of any workout, your heart works harder to deliver blood and oxygen to the firing muscles. Once that flow is established, you should feel more comfortable. Runners call it “hitting their stride”. It’s similar for hiking.

TAKEAWAY: Be gentle with your body. Start a little slower than you normally would. Allow at least five minutes to get your body used to moving. You might even try walking around the parking lot for a few minutes before you put on your pack.

How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking
A delightfully spongy mossy branch that reminded me of the incredibly deep mossy wall we encountered on the South Island of New Zealand.

On our second hike, I decided to see how she handled some elevation. We headed up the West Tiger 3 trail toward the Talus Rock Trail, aiming for a 3.5-mile loop with 800 feet of elevation gain.

Question: What do you do if your body wants to start and stop all the time?

My hiking partner looks relieved to have finished most of the elevation gain. If you learn to pace yourself, you'll have a much more enjoyable time on the trail.
My hiking partner looks relieved to have finished most of the elevation gain. If you learn to pace yourself, you’ll have a much more enjoyable time on the trail.

Answer: Learn how to pace yourself. As soon as we shifted into traveling uphill she asked for a rest. Several minutes later she requested another. She asked why her thighs were burning. I explained that she was in her anaerobic zone, which couldn’t be sustained for longer than 1-2 minutes at a time.

Instead, we continued uphill at a slower pace that allowed her to travel without huffing and puffing. She sustained a more constant and comfortable rate without stopping every few minutes. A classic case of the tortoise beating the hare.

Similarly, when climbers get above 8,500′ they often feel light-headed, dizzy, or nauseous. Using the rest step allows their legs to rest with each step so they, too, can keep going at a constant steady pace. Here is a brief video demonstrating this technique.

TAKEAWAY: Start-and-stop pacing is the quickest way to tire yourself out. I learned that the hard way on my first Rainier climb 30 years ago. Instead, find a pace that you can keep going for at least 30 minutes without stopping. That is your “endurance zone” pace for the day.

Ajax shuns the camera for this first Tiger Tuesdays group photo.
Ajax shuns the camera for this first Tiger Tuesdays group photo.

For week 3, we reversed the direction of our second hike. This time we warmed up on the Bus Trail, climbed the Section trail, and descended via the Nook Trail.

Question: How do you keep yourself from bonking on the trail?

Answer: If you start slow and pace yourself, another great strategy is to stay hydrated. On our first two hikes, my partner chose to drink in the car before and after the hike. On the third, I suggested she bring a water bottle so she could drink on the trail.

Ajax and I explored Tiger soon after a health scare in 2021. Nothing keeps me from the rejuvenating solace of the woods.
Ajax and I explored Tiger soon after a health scare in 2021. Nothing keeps me from the rejuvenating solace of the woods.

The result? Increased stamina and increased performance. Certainly, her body is adapting to the hiking after three weeks. But it also could more efficiently deliver blood and nutrients to the working muscles. In week four she’s going to bring a few snacks. As her body adapts to the distance, elevation, and in time, lightweight, she’ll see carryover into other realms of her life.

TAKEAWAY: Hydration and fuel are key to performance for any outing longer than about 90 minutes. If you feel like you “bonk” on the trail and you’re not carrying water or food, try it. You might see amazing results.

Featured

Overcome Overwhelm: How to Inch Forward

Last Monday I felt overwhelmed by a new health diagnosis. I sent my accountability partner one intention for the week: “To get by.” I cried. I journaled. And I reminded myself that this, too, shall pass, like every other physical challenge I’ve ever confronted. Three days later, I updated her with, “Still standing. Here are all the things I accomplished this week.” By removing every expectation except self-care, I was able to shrink the feeling of extreme stress. Doing so allowed me to inch forward until I felt closer to normal. Below are some strategies you can use to overcome overwhelm.

Feel like nothing is going to be left of you once you get out from under the weight of the world? Want to overcome overwhelm? There is hope.
Feel like nothing is going to be left of you once you get out from under the weight of the world? Want to overcome overwhelm? There is hope.

Someone who is overwhelmed feels incapable of doing anything. They become “deer in the headlights.” Overwhelmed is the desire to bury your head in the sand. Draw the covers over your head and never come out. Watch silly cat videos because you have no bandwidth for anything harder. It comes from feeling like we have to do EVERYTHING. RIGHT NOW. PERFECTLY. Says who?

What if we gave up the need to control everything in our lives?

Brene Brown, researcher and author of many wonderful books on shame and vulnerability, writes that there is a huge difference between overwhelm and stress. While overwhelm shuts us down, we can usually handle stress. Stress manifests itself as an internal or external pressure to do something. Feeling overwhelmed means we are incapable of doing anything. Too much stress–without effective ways of handling it–often leads to overwhelm.

What are some ways you can prevent overwhelm?

When your only option feels like crawling under a rock, take massive care of yourself. Sleep. Hug a friend. Cry. Then pick ONE THING that will help you move forward again. You can do this.
When your only option feels like crawling under a rock, take massive care of yourself. Sleep. Hug a friend. Cry. Then pick ONE THING that will help you move forward again. You can do this.

Joan Baez is quoted as saying that action is the antidote to despair. Likewise with overwhelm. By taking one tiny step forward, we prevent overwhelm from stopping us in our tracks. In December 2021, I discussed the power of doing one thing to prevent overwhelm.

Another useful strategy is to identify your values, identity, strengths, and desires and review them often when faced with tough decisions. Unsure what you value? Try this worksheet.

An assessment you may find helpful is the Big Five Personality Traits. Unlike other personality tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, this one is backed by modern research and data analysis and is considered more accurate than older tests.

It uses 100 questions to assess your scores in five areas: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. (A helpful way to remember them is with the acronym OCEAN). You can take the free assessment here.

he Big Five Personality Traits test suggests that extroverted people are happier. That doesn't mean introverts can't find joy, just that joy comes from solitude rather than parties and crowds.
The Big Five Personality Traits test suggests that extroverted people are happier. That doesn’t mean introverts can’t find joy, just that joy comes from solitude rather than parties and crowds.

An example of how knowing myself better helps me reduce overwhelm: I test as introverted and high in agreeableness. I loathe confrontation. By working hard to develop skills around sticking up for myself, I can prevent future problems that might stem from hot debates I know I can never win. Similarly, knowing that my husband is an extrovert, I can choose to join him at smaller social engagements to prevent overwhelm.

TRY THIS: After completing the MBTI or Personality Traits assessment, think about how knowing more about your deep-rooted personality traits might help you make choices that support you.

My husband asked if I’d heard the saying that fear is a”mile wide and an inch deep.” Edgar Nye first coined the phrase, but he was talking about the Platte River. It applies to overwhelm, as well. After my recent health diagnosis on Monday, I shut down for most of the afternoon.

Fortunately, I had a hike with a friend planned for the next morning. Nothing provides balm for my soul quite like a visit to the mountains.

Hiking with Ajax and a friend helped me reframe my story. I got this. Thanks, Mother Nature.
Hiking with Ajax and a friend helped me reframe my story. I got this. Thanks, Mother Nature.

Following that hike, I faced another medical appointment and classes I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to face the day before. Did I move through the five stages of grief (ending at acceptance) that quickly? No.

I reframed my story, another technique I wrote about on Jan. 17, 2022. I saw the possible benefits of the new diagnosis as potentially curing another problem I’ve faced for two years. But I had to come to terms with the new information to move forward.

TRY THIS: Think of a situation where you felt shut down. What single step might you take, next time, to pull yourself out of it?

Once you take any tiny step, you build forward momentum. You overcome overwhelm with action. You won’t drown in an inch of water unless you believe with all your heart that you will. Likewise, if you have confidence that you will find a way forward, you will. What you focus on grows. If you focus on the negative, you will attract more negatives. If you seek the positives, you will find more to support you.

Here are more ideas that might help.

  • Identify what, specifically, feels overwhelming right now. Journal about it.
  • Break big goals into smaller steps. Identify ONE and only one thing to do today. If you finish that one, you might find yourself naturally doing another but do not put pressure on yourself.
  • Differentiate between urgent and important tasks. Make sure you are doing the most important thing today.
  • Establish a routine to create order and reduce stress.
  • Delegate tasks to others so you don’t have to do everything yourself. Learn how to say no.
  • Move. Whether in the mountains or the city, moving will remind you of the importance of taking action.
  • Create a list of wins, ANYTHING that shows forward progress.
100% of the time when I get overwhelmed, I plan to get out in nature just as soon as I possibly can. For me, nothing heals like a hike in the woods.
Anytime I get overwhelmed, I plan a trip to the mountains as soon as I can. Nothing resets my spirit like connecting with nature.

No matter what your situation is, as long as you have hope that things will improve, you can overcome overwhelm and move forward. Here are some takeaways for you to try.

By taking tiny steps, you build forward momentum. One day that may mean sitting outside in the backyard watching the birds. Getting out of bed to feed your pets. Putting the Twinkies back on the shelf and buying a package of Rotisserie chicken instead. But each of those is a win. And no win is too small.

I use this example all. the. time. What took me a full 2 weeks in July 2021 – coming up with a blog post to launch into the universe — has become a routine process I do consistently, every week. That one blog post has grown to an entire body – 127 to be exact – of “get unstuck” wisdom I gladly share with my clients and readers. And I refer back to it often as my “Owner’s Manual.”

When your world feels like it is toppling all around you, ground yourself in what you still have. You are, after all, still alive. That's something to be grateful for.
When your world feels like it has toppled all around you, ground yourself in gratitude. After all, you’re still here.

Recognize your progress, no matter how small. Keep taking steps forward, a little at a time. You never know where they might lead you. Record your steps. Make note of what you still have. Write down what you’re grateful for. And get curious about what caused your feelings so you can change the outcome next time.

If you found this article helpful, please share a comment. I love to hear from readers.

Featured

Box Breathing: How To Use It to Manage Anxiety

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a powerful technique for managing anxiety. I first introduced it on my blog in December of 2022. Since then, I’ve shared it with coaching clients. It can be quite simple to pause, take a few moments, and calm ourselves whenever we’re stressed. The key is to know the technique and practice it. If you struggle with being anxious, stressed, fearful, or nervous, try it for yourself by following our YouTube video on box breathing. You can also read more about it.

Coach Court shares Box Breathing Minute from our Thrive Clues YouTube channel.

As you try the box breathing technique demonstrated above in our box breathing video, notice what you feel. Perhaps you feel a shift in mental clarity. Or physical relaxation, including loosening the shoulders or an urge to do some neck rolls. Maybe you feel increased safety or comfort.

If not, remember that mastering any new skill takes practice and repetition. For future practice, try making the exhale take 6 counts instead of 4. Longer exhales are especially helpful for the vagal nerve.

If you did feel something shifted, congratulations! You’ve just learned a powerful tool for resetting yourself whenever you feel anxious.

I may not always have time to get out to my happy place in the mountains. But I always have time for box breathing. Olallie Lake as seen from the trail to Rainbow and Island Lakes.
I may not always have time to get out to my happy place in the mountains. But I always have time for box breathing. Olallie Lake as seen from the trail to Rainbow and Island Lakes.

Why is Box Breathing so effective? It helps regulate the body’s stress response in several ways.

Box breathing shifts us from a sympathetic (i.e. fight, flight, freeze, or flee) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. We evolved with both. In today’s society, many of us have chronic stress. Try reminding yourself that there is no tiger in the room, no fire to put out, no mammoth at your doorstep.

Deep box breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calmness. We are in a much better position to make important decisions when we are calm. We also are much easier to get along with!

A tarn on the way from Snow Lake to Gem Lake.
A tarn on the way from Snow Lake to Gem Lake.

Focusing on the simple act of counting helps distract us from anxious thoughts. Counting to four (on the inhale, hold, exhale, and hold, four times for each) provides a simple meditation practice that only takes a few minutes, is free, and is available to everyone at any time.

Such mental focus can quiet the mind, offering a much-needed break from stressors. It therefore helps to reduce our anxiety. It also produces harmony between the mind and body, leading to inner calm as you become more present and engaged with what your body is feeling.

Ajax shows intense mental focus as he checks out something on the other side of the lake.
Ajax shows intense mental focus as he checks out something on the other side of the lake.

Finally, practicing box breathing can reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol, fostering relaxation and reducing anxiety levels.

In addition to lowering our blood pressure and providing an immediate sense of calm, box breathing also improves the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Why is this balance so important? Chat GPT helped me understand two situations that could happen when we are no longer in balance.

Prevent getting caught in a fog. Learn how to control and regulate your breathing to prevent hyperventilation and hypoventilation.
Prevent getting caught in a fog. Learn how to control and regulate your breathing to prevent hyperventilation and hypoventilation.

During hyperventilation, you breathe out carbon dioxide faster than your body produces it. This leads to a decrease in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, a condition known as hypocapnia. Symptoms include light-headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and sometimes tingling in the hands and feet.

Hypocapnia can lead to a constriction of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, reducing oxygen delivery to the brain despite high oxygen levels in the blood. This can cause fainting or anxiety symptoms.

The next time you are hyperventilating or feel so angry you could punch a hole in the wall, stop to take some deep box breaths, and see if you can get your blood oxygen levels back in balance.

Smelling or cultivating flowers is another way to calm yourself. This amaryllis was a gift from a client and it's been beautiful to watch bloom.
Smelling or cultivating flowers is another way to calm yourself. This amaryllis was a gift from a client and it’s been beautiful to watch bloom.

The reverse, hypoventilation, occurs when breathing is too shallow or too slow, leading to an increase in carbon dioxide because it’s not being expelled at a normal rate. This can lead to hypercapnia, an excessive buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.

Symptoms include confusion, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, and flushed skin. In severe cases, hypercapnia can lead to respiratory acidosis, where the blood becomes too acidic, which can be life-threatening if not treated.

One of the advantages of knowing how to perform pressure breathing at altitude, which we’ll share in a future post, is to expel that built-up carbon dioxide to make more room for more oxygen.

Lakes, rivers, and streams provide the perfect antidote to stress for me. But when I am unable to get to the mountains, I rely on other stress management techniques. Box breathing is one of them.
Lakes, rivers, and streams provide the perfect antidote to stress for me. But when I am unable to get to the mountains, I rely on other stress management techniques. Box breathing is one of them.

In summary, if you are looking for a way to help manage stress and anxiety, explore box breathing. You can do it multiple times a day. It is free and readily accessible to everyone. And it is easy to learn. Try the video above and see how it works for you.

And if you’d like to share your experience, please comment below. I love hearing from readers and your comments might help others. Breathe deeply. Breathe well. And keep breathing.

Featured

How to Make Healthy Snack Choices

A question clients often ask me is: What constitutes a healthy snack? The answer varies widely. I’ve shared the concept of “nudging the notch” where we try to make “one step better” choices. I’ve also written about identifying your protein needs which can be a starting point in choosing snacks. Below, I share additional tips on how to make healthy snack choices.

There's nothing inherently "bad" about ANY food (except maybe Doritos...) unless it makes you ill or causes you to overeat. Even something as innocent as fruit can cause an increase in blood sugar, a problem for certain people. Knowing how your body responds to a given food is your first line of defense toward choosing a healthy snack.
There’s nothing inherently “bad” about ANY food (except maybe Doritos…) unless it makes you ill or causes you to overeat. Even something as innocent as fruit can cause an increase in blood sugar, a problem for certain people. Knowing how your body responds to a given food is your first line of defense toward choosing a healthy snack.

The first step to identifying a healthy snack is knowing how foods affect you. In December of 2022, I shared a post about identifying your traffic light foods to help you choose foods that make you feel and perform your best.

To review, green-light foods are your unique “safe” foods that cause no gastrointestinal problems and do not make you overindulge. Yellow light foods are those you might have occasionally, in small amounts. Red-light items are those that you find impossible to eat in moderation or foods that make you sick or cause you problems.

Artistic creations like this cake are fun to look at, but I know eating even a bit of this would make me feel awful.
Artistic creations like this cake are fun to look at, but I know eating even a bit of this would make me feel awful.

My current red-light list includes foods with gluten, sugar, MSG, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, corn, and soy. I won’t die from any of them but they will leave me congested or feeling sick to my stomach.

I’ve had issues in the past with fructose (fruit sugar) and tomatoes, but at the moment, they are okay. I also have a strong gag reflex around consuming liver. Eggplant is a big no-no; something about the texture. Everyone’s list is different. Think of it like a fingerprint. If you’d like to develop a personalized traffic light list, use this template from Precision Nutrition.

Once you have an idea of what your red-light and green-light foods are, consider those yellow-light, situationally-okay foods. Clients often struggle with moderation around sweet, salty, or savory treats. Such foods are manufactured to make people crave them. The result? More sales for the manufacturers. More pounds for us. What is a better solution?

One idea is to make sure you’re buying the smallest size possible for any yellow-light foods. If you supersize everything, you or someone you love is going to end up eating it. A pint of ice cream won’t do the same damage as a gallon. Single-serving Doritos pouches, the kind your kids might take in a school lunch, help you identify what a “single serving” looks like: seven chips, not seventy.

Homemade rice flour tortillas are a favorite treat of mine, either as a meal or a healthy snack with freshly made guacamole.
Homemade rice flour tortillas are a favorite treat of mine, either as a meal or a healthy snack with freshly made guacamole.

Another idea is to choose single-food snacks such as apple slices with peanut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, or even a can of tuna. Become a label reader. If there is any ingredient listed on the label that you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf. What does a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil look like, anyway? What does it to do you? If you don’t know, you might not want to eat it.

Third, whenever you make something at home, you have complete control over the ingredients. I can no longer eat most processed tortillas (corn and gluten are on my avoidance list), but I adore homemade rice flour tortillas made from avocado oil, organic rice flour, water, and sea salt (pictured above).

A final consideration is to look for ways to add protein to your meals and snacks. A palm-sized serving of protein forms the basis for most meals, according to Precision Nutrition guidelines. My favorite solution is to make more of any dish containing protein (chicken wings, ground turkey, lasagna, shrimp kebabs, burgers, you name it) so that I have protein ready for multiple meals. Who says pulled pork can’t be a breakfast item?

How else might you include protein in more of your snacks? Below are some recipe possibilities you can adjust according to your unique preferences. Experiment to see what works best for you. And share in the comments below if you have a favorite not listed here.

The incredible, edible egg. So many wonderful ways to prepare them, from grab-and-go hard-boiled to creative scrambled eggs.
The incredible, edible egg. So many wonderful ways to prepare them, from grab-and-go hard-boiled to creative scrambled eggs.

If you’re pressed for time in the morning (and who isn’t?) you might want to experiment with one of the recipes below.

Greek Yogurt with Topping:

  • Plain Greek yogurt (rich in protein, low in sugar).
  • Add a handful of almonds or walnuts (healthy fats and protein).
  • Add a quarter cup of frozen or fresh berries (anti-oxidants).
  • Optional: a sprinkle of cinnamon for flavor.

Dip Sticks:

  • Cut up celery, bell pepper, or carrot sticks and slather with almond butter (protein and fiber)
  • Slice apples or pears to dip into your favorite nut butter.
  • The crunchy texture of either complements the creamy butter.
  • A great snack for kids: add raisins and call them “ants on a plank.”
Ants on a log are fun eats for kids. Add pear or apple slices and you have a delicious and satisfying snack.
Ants on a log are fun eats for kids. Add pear or apple slices and you have a delicious and satisfying snack.

Protein Shake with Greens:

  • A scoop of your preferred sugar-free protein powder.
  • Blend with unsweetened almond milk and a handful of spinach or kale.
  • Quick, nutritious, and can be prepared in minutes.

Edamame with Sea Salt:

  • Cooked edamame beans (plant-based protein).
  • Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
  • Can be served warm or cold.

For those people who traditionally gravitate toward sandwiches, or who stop by fast-food joints to pick up something when they’re ravenous, here are a few light alternatives to explore.

Turkey Roll-Ups:

  • Thinly sliced turkey breast (lean protein).
  • Wrap around cucumber sticks or bell pepper strips.
  • Secure with a toothpick for easy eating.

Cottage Cheese and Cherry Tomatoes:

Cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes.
Cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes.
  • A bowl of low-fat cottage cheese (high in protein).
  • Halved cherry tomatoes for a juicy crunch.
  • A dash of black pepper or herbs for extra flavor.

Boiled Eggs with Spinach:

  • Hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half (protein and healthy fats).
  • Serve on a bed of fresh spinach leaves (iron and vitamins).
  • Light seasoning with salt and pepper.

The ideas below might require a little more preparation, but they also involve more flavor. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Tuna Salad on Bell Pepper Slices:

  • Mix canned tuna (in water, not oil) with a little mustard and herbs.
  • Spoon onto thick slices of bell pepper.
  • Quick, crunchy, and full of protein.

Chicken and Avocado Lettuce Wraps:

Chicken and avocado lettuce wraps.
Chicken and Avocado lettuce wraps.
  • Grilled chicken breast, sliced (lean protein).
  • Wrap in lettuce leaves with avocado slices (healthy fats).
  • Optional: a squeeze of lime for zest.

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber:

  • Slices of smoked salmon (omega-3 fatty acids and protein).
  • Lay on thick cucumber slices.
  • A touch of dill or lemon juice for flavor.

Whatever you choose, by putting a little more thought into your options, you can add flavor, variety, macronutrients, phytonutrients, and enjoyment to any snack or meal. If you have a favorite, please share in the comments so we can all make healthy snack choices.

Featured

How to Grow a Hiking Practice: Join Court on Squak Mountain

2023 ended for me with a hike on Margaret’s Way (Squak Mountain) with my good friend Pam, who was visiting from Arizona over the holidays. On January 2nd, Ajax and I ushered in 2024 with a solo hike to Central Peak from the south side of Squak. Both got me thinking about what I’d like in the coming year: to increase mindfulness, develop more connections with clients and blog readers, and get consistent with hiking year-round. A client shared an article called “Practice as a Way of Life.” My 2024 intention was born: Add richness to my hiking practice.

Ajax takes a snack break at Bullitt's Fireplace on Squak Mountain, a quarter mile from Central Peak.
Ajax takes a snack break at Bullitt’s Fireplace on Squak Mountain, a quarter mile from Central Peak.

By “hiking practice” I mean being deliberate about it rather than just “doing” it willy-nilly. Last year I wrote about setting intentions for your hikes. But during the final months of 2023, I missed the mountains so much that I threw myself at Squak Mountain before putting much thought into what I wanted to accomplish.

By way of backstory, I’m more of a fair-weather hiker. Winter for many is “off-season” for hiking. Since COVID I’ve done more off-season hiking than at other times in my life. But when the daylight is short, or it’s cold, rainy, snowy, or, like this morning, extremely windy, I lack consistency. Add to the fact that I was short a hiking partner, and it was easy to skip this morning. Mastery requires consistency, practice, and discipline.

My friend Pam and I pause for a selfie on the Margaret's Way route.
My friend Pam and I pause for a selfie on the Margaret’s Way route. I’m helping her train for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in May. She helped spark the idea of social hiking support.

I faced a similar challenge last year when I created the Active Ajax Adventures project. My pup and I completed visits to 68 unique green spaces including 20 hikes, ten of them with my daughter. This year, I have several things I want to practice: Being more present on the trail. Exploring nature during all four seasons. And finding more like-minded people who feel the same way.

Perhaps I could use my blog not only to try to generate philosophical discussion and sharing of ideas, but also announcements for group hiking. Who knows, it might also lead to group coaching or networking. Right under my nose is a perfect tool for announcing intentions, and perhaps even generating a local hiking network. I open myself to new possibilities.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, my chosen word for 2024 is OVERCOME. By that, I mean turning obstacles into opportunities. And this presents a perfect way to model change.

My current perceived obstacle is a lack of hiking partners. You’d think that as a coach and current member of the Mountaineers, I would have tons of people to hike with.

May Valley Loop on Squak Mountain. The loop from the south side is 6.6 miles round trip and 2320' elevation gain. It took us 2.5 hours.
May Valley Loop on Squak Mountain. The loop from the south side is 6.6 miles round trip and 2320′ elevation gain. It took us 2.5 hours.

During COVID, my hiking network dwindled to three people. Other friends stopped hiking due to injury, moved away, lost interest, became too busy, or switched goals entirely. I even lost a semi-regular hiking partner to early-onset dementia. My most reliable partner right now is my canine companion, Ajax, who will turn nine in May. How can I find more?

Mindshift time. My current opportunity: reaching out to previous hiking friends and inviting people to join the fun. A bonus would be chatting with others about health and well-being, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Ajax loves our hiking practice. He is always ready and raring to go on Squak Mountain.
Ajax loves our hiking practice. He is always ready and raring to go on Squak Mountain.

My idea may flop. It may succeed. But regardless of the outcome, Ajax and I will be getting out more consistently on Tuesdays, with the bonus of having others join us. If not, I will practice observation, mindfulness, and seeing what the mountain reveals. The only way I’ll fail is to not try.

The benefits of hiking regularly are numerous. Beyond the obvious reasons (mental and physical health) hiking provides a great baseline for those who want to climb Rainier, backpack along the Pacific Crest Trail, or trek to Everest Base Camp. Maybe you simply love what it feels like to get outside and leave the city stresses behind.

Putting intentionality into your hiking makes it far more meaningful. Anything that means something to you is more likely to take root and become a consistent habit. So by making hiking a practice, you increase the likelihood of doing it regularly. Win!

A signpost indicates the trailhead for Margaret's Way on Squak Mountain.
A signpost indicates the trailhead for Margaret’s Way on Squak Mountain.

So, taking my advice to continue to cultivate a “growth mindset” and “hiking practice,” I’m starting in the mountains several months earlier than usual.

Ajax and I enjoyed the May Valley Loop trail, Squak Mountain.
Ajax and I enjoyed the May Valley Loop trail, Squak Mountain.

I can imagine the questions rattling around in your brain so I will try to answer them here.

I'm not opposed to taking our time; it depends on who is in the group. The idea may flop, it may soar; all we can do is try.
I’m not opposed to taking our time; it depends on who is in the group. The idea may flop, it may soar; all we can do is try.

What pace and distance? The target will be 6+ miles and 1500+ elevation gain. Our base pace will be roughly 2 miles per hour at about 1200 feet of gain per hour. If that’s easy for you, carry more weight. If that’s a stretch, come light with a jacket and a water bottle. And it’s okay to do part of the trip and turn around. You gotta start somewhere!

Any substitutions? Maybe. Since I missed today I’m looking for another weekday but it may be just me and Ajax since we have other things we have to work around in our schedule. Oops, there goes another tree branch.

A sitting bench at a viewpoint along the Margaret's Way trail.
A sitting bench at a viewpoint along the Margaret’s Way trail.

If you are a current client, you might think of these hiking practice sessions as accountability trips, appointments that will keep you committed to your hiking goals. No membership is required anywhere. These are informal, free Coach Court outings, not sanctioned, organized Mountaineers outings.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest but are not currently engaged with me in Body Results or Thrive Clues coaching, this could be a great opportunity to connect with me at no charge and find out if we might form a collaborative partnership. I only ask that you come eager to walk and be interested in enjoying the outdoors. Win-win!

Featured

Polar Bear Plunge: A Metaphor for a New Year

On New Year’s Day, I celebrated the arrival of 2024 by taking the annual Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Washington. This time — my sixth — my husband AND my daughter joined me. I can’t think of a better metaphor for bringing in a new year than diving into the unknown murky depths and proving how resilient the human spirit is.

My sixth New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle's Lake Washington. The air temp was 49, lake water 43 F.
My sixth New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle’s Lake Washington. The air temp on Jan. 1, 2024 was 49 F, lake temp 43 F.

I spent my childhood in Shorewood, WI, a block off of Lake Michigan. We almost always had snow by Christmas. Sometimes the shore would be covered with windblown jumbled slabs of ice. In that much snow, well… let’s say there were faithful Plungers back in the 70s, but I wasn’t among them. Out of curiosity, I tuned in to Milwaukee’s Youtube plunge video to see what it looked like this year. No snow, clear sandy beach.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest in the 90s I didn’t even think of the ancient tradition. Our earliest New Year tradition was to spend a day birding at Canada’s Reifel Bird Sanctuary (see last week’s post about the wood duck) or in the Skagit Valley. In 2015 and 2020, we welcomed the New Year from New Zealand. But starting in 2019, if we’ve been in town on the holiday, we take the plunge.

Take a DEEP breath...
Take a DEEP breath…
...dive UNDER and...
…dive UNDER and…
...OMG I DID IT!
…OMG I DID IT!

According to a Canadian source, “The polar bear swim started in Vancouver in 1920 by a group of swimmers who called themselves the Polar Bear Club.” Led by Peter Pantages, the group would take a swim. They would probably scoff at the masses of people who follow suit today, jumping in the cold water for less than a minute.

Another website indicated it started even earlier, in 1904, by the L Street Brownies in Dorchester Bay, Massachusetts. Some plunges draw as many as 12,000 participants. Others hold events as fundraisers. The one we do at Matthews Beach is simply for fun.

A beautiful morning at Matthews Beach, with no precipitation, and blue skies on the horizon.
A beautiful morning at Matthews Beach Jan. 1, 2024, with no precipitation, and blue skies on the horizon.

This year, I did two things differently. I went in not only once, but twice, the first time in a wool cap and long-sleeved swim shirt, the second with no hat or shirt so I could go all the way under.

Next year, who knows? I might hold my breath underwater for twenty seconds. Or I might wade out until I can no longer reach the bottom with my feet.

My daughter and I mark the occasion with a silly hat, polar bear stuffy, and polar bear sculpture.
My daughter and I mark the 2024 occasion with a silly hat, polar bear stuffy, and polar bear sculpture.

Explaining why I like to do the Polar Bear Plunge is a bit like telling someone why I love to hike. For many reasons. I plunge because it is playful and appeals to my inner child. It’s a bit of a crazy indulgence that allows me to test my resilience, get outside, and mark the change of the year in a unique way. Fortunately, we get to warm up by soaking in our hot tub.

We go well before the official noon kick-off time to avoid all of the crowds. Still, we enjoy marking a new year by doing something most people would call unusual. Fortunately, the six times I’ve done it have been relatively dry and clear days. My husband even asked ahead of time: If it rains, will we bail? To date, I haven’t had to answer that question.

C-C-C-COLD! The author taking the 2021 Plunge.
C-C-C-COLD! The author taking the 2021 Plunge.

I just can’t help it, I’m a writer. We think in metaphors. I also like keywords. For 2024 I have chosen as my keyword “Overcome”, with “Turn obstacles into opportunities” as my tagline.

Triple OOO.

Whether you prefer last week’s wood duck metaphor (for going with the flow, channeling your inner wood duck to embrace change) or this week’s polar bear plunge metaphor (for plunging into the unknown), find one that works for you.

The author after the 2023 Polar Bear Plunge.
The author after the 2023 Polar Bear Plunge.

Do something unusual this January. Set some intentions that gently move you out of your comfort zone. Last year, mine was doing 52 rambles with Ajax. This year, I released myself from the power of addictive tendencies.

Just today, I deleted a game app from my phone. I realized while journaling that I started playing it as a coping strategy for a health event I’ve gained closure around. The gaming behavior no longer serves a purpose. It only annoys, angers, and irritates me whenever I can’t move past a level. Who needs that? The world is angry enough without my contribution. We need more light, more joy, more empowerment. In its place? Consistent hiking on Tuesday mornings.

This year I swapped a phone game app for more time in the mountains with my best canine buddy. I will be hiking on Squak Tuesday mornings in January if you care to join the fun. Email me or leave a comment below for details.
This year I swapped a phone game app for more time in the mountains with my best canine buddy. I will be hiking on Squak Tuesday mornings in January if you care to join the fun. Email me or leave a comment below for details.

Change is hard. But setting up a symbol that works for you can help. It helped me. I’m plunging into the unknown without my crutches, aware that it will be hard. But I also know I have wood ducks and polar bears to emulate. If they can do it, so can I. My track record is strong. I can do this. So can you.

Featured

The Wonderful Wood Duck: a Metaphor for Creative Flow

This week I’ve been listening to recordings of Tama Kieves’ “A Course In Miracles: Creating Flow in Your Life” from the summer of 2023. Flow reminds me of my favorite waterfowl, the wood duck. The Drake, pictured below, is one of the most unique and colorful ducks I’ve ever seen. I channel my inner wood duck when I need to “go with the flow” and let annoyances roll off of me like raindrops on feathers. They have become my metaphor for creative flow and resilience. As Leigh Hunt puts it: “Colors are the smiles of nature”​​. The male wood duck makes me smile every time I see one.

According to my Ebird.org records, most of my 28 sightings have either been at Juanita Bay Park or Reifel Bird Sanctuary just over the border in Canada. And a look at when I’ve seen these magnificent birds most often – in January – ties nicely with my 2024 intention to view obstacles as opportunities. We’re already planning a trip to visit these beautiful birds.

The elegant male wood duck is one of the most stunning waterfowl in North America.
The elegant male wood duck is one of the most stunning waterfowl in North America.

For this post, I turned to Cornell University to learn more fun facts about this favorite fowl. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re also unique and curious creatures.

  • Males boast a mix of green and blue, a chestnut-breasted chest, orange beak, red eye, and a black-and-white neck. WOW.
  • Wood ducks live in wooded swamps, where they nest in tree cavities or nest boxes near lakes
  • Nesting cavities might be up to a mile away from water; they don’t use woodpecker-made cavities
  • They have strong claws that help them grip bark and perch on branches
  • Wood ducks pair up in January and produce two broods a year
  • Females may lay 10-11 eggs, but nests might hold up to 29, the result of “egg dumping” from other females
  • Ducklings can jump from their tree nests over 50 feet high without getting injured
  • The oldest known wood duck lived over 22 years
  • As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit”​​. These fancy ducks top them all in North America. Only the Mandarin duck, native to East Asia, is more colorful.
Check out those powerful "claws" on the Drake's webbed feet!
Check out those powerful “claws” on the Drake’s webbed feet!

Wood ducks thrive in multiple environments throughout the U.S. As dabbling ducks, they feed in the water, but they nest in wooded areas where empty cavities are plentiful. They navigate storms elegantly and gracefully, weathering all kinds of challenges including growing debris in their native waters.

For those of us experiencing life changes (and who isn’t?), we may feel like ducks out of water sometimes. But by focusing on our strengths and capabilities — what comes naturally to us — rather than on perceived lacks or “should” messages, we increase our resilience like the wood duck. If we’re out of our element, how might we adapt? What could be good about the current situation if we rewrite our stories?

This wood duck chick is Oh. So. CUTE!
This wood duck chick is Oh. So. CUTE!

One way to increase our resilience is to spend more time in flow. By that, I mean getting immersed in a just-right activity. You may know the feeling: working on a craft, writing something you’re passionate about, helping animals, or doing some project like gardening where you lose track of time.

When wood ducks forage, they go after food with 100% focus. Likewise, when we are doing what comes most naturally to us, or what we’re meant to be doing, time loses its importance.

Birding, hiking, and grounding are such activities for me. I find I am much more creative with my writing when I regularly spend time in nature.

Female wood duck at Juanita Bay. Note the more drab colors and spectacular white eye ring.
Female wood duck navigating obstacles at Juanita Bay. Note the less spectacular colors and white eye ring.

For some, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are calming activities that invite flow. But if they do nothing for you, think about those engaging and enjoyable activities that allow you to focus on living today, not in the past or future. And I am not referring to gaming, scrolling through cute kitty videos, or chilling with screens. Such activities don’t engage the mind like flow activities do. Where do you experience flow?

Albert Einstein put it this way: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”​​. While I am not a genius, I know the therapeutic healing effect nature has on me. The wood duck and bodies of water are both soothing natural elements. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may recall past posts about forest bathing. walking meditation, bird watching, and grounding.

The elements that all these activities have in common are: 1. they are outside activities, 2. they do not involve technology or screens (unless you’re charting your birds); 3. all involve contemplation and mindfulness; 4. time slows down. Elements of flow. Painting landscapes, gardening, hiking, writing at a park or nature retreat, and golfing can all be flow practices.

A female wood duck peers down at us from atop a feeder at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Canada.
A female wood duck peers down at us from atop a feeder at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Canada.

Think about your relationship with nature. When do you most enjoy it? Where? With whom? In 2024, how might you spend more time connecting with nature?

Alice Walker is quoted as saying, “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful”​​. If we lived in a world of perfection, it would be a pretty boring place.

What if we viewed our lives the same way — that at any given time, nothing may be perfect and yet everything can still be perfect in its imperfection? How might we feel about all the obstacles in our path? Can we turn obstacles into opportunities? Can we see problems as gifts that can make us stronger?

In one of her classes, Tama Kieves reminds us that large irregular boulders eventually get scoured by the mightiest waters. Can we grant ourselves grace for our imperfections? How might we recognize when we are in flow and permit ourselves time and patience to dip into it when we’re not?

The Wonderful Wood Duck: a Metaphor for Creative Flow
On a frosty January morning at Reifel Bird Sanctuary, beauty surrounded us, from the frozen foliage to the beautiful birds. Not a perfect morning for birding, but it was delightful nonetheless.

I don’t have answers, merely more questions. I’ll close 2023 with a quote from John Muir: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn”​​.

As we approach 2024 I hope wherever you draw inspiration, you can embrace some natural element that symbolizes resilience and flow for you.

Featured

Discipline Equals Freedom: How to Dive Deep Into Change

Recently my husband caught me off guard when he asked, “What does “discipline equals X” make you think of?” I replied with the very first thought that came to mind: “Ball and chain.” I never expected him to insert the word “Freedom” for X. Turns out Jocko Willink wrote a book called Discipline Equals Freedom. I haven’t read it yet. This post is based solely on the title, with some help from Chat GPT 4. But it raises a blog-worthy question: How do you view discipline? And what’s your relationship with it? Let’s take a closer look at what discipline equals.

Orange flowers we spotted on a recent "orange walk". I needed to shift my mindset from frenzied to relaxed.
Orange flowers we spotted on a recent “orange walk”. I needed to shift my mindset from frenzied to relaxed.

As soon as I finished talking with my husband, I did four things. First, I reserved the book from the library and added it to my growing “Want to read in 2024” pile.

Second, I took a long color walk with my dog around the neighborhood. My daughter suggested I look for the color orange, so I’ve included some of my shots from that walk.

One of 15 orange items we discovered on our orange "color walk" last week.
One of 15 orange items we discovered on our orange “color walk” last week.

Third, I looked up the definition of discipline: roughly, discipline means “doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to do it.” Hence my “ball and chain” quip.

Finally, I enlisted Chat GPT’s help to summarize the highlights of Willink’s book. I wanted to see how many of them I’m already doing consistently and what skillset I may still need to develop.

Here are Willink’s top six points with my reactions to each:

  • Willink argues that discipline is the key to achieving freedom in all aspects of life. This means consistently following a set of principles and habits that lead to self-improvement and goal attainment.
  • My biggest fixed mindset issue around this is I used to think that “personal development” meant there was something inherently “broken” or “wrong” about me. Now I can see that if we stop trying to reach goals or improve something in our lives, we’re on our way to the grave. A growth mindset shift.
  • Willink believes that waking up before dawn is a foundational habit that sets the tone for a disciplined day. It’s about taking control of your schedule and maximizing productivity.
  • Check. For nearly four decades I’ve been a morning person, getting my most productive work — or workouts — in before anything else. If I don’t, I’ll be cranky the rest of the day.
For the past 25 years I've been an alpinist who relishes early morning outings so I can see sunrises such as this, over the Cascade Mountains. Photo taken from Mt. Rainier, July 2017, before 5 a.m.
For the past 25 years I’ve been an alpinist who relishes early morning outings so I can see sunrises such as this, over the Cascade Mountains. Photo taken from Mt. Rainier, July 2017, before 5 a.m.
  • Willink advises to prioritize the most important tasks and focus on executing them well. This approach helps in managing stress and being effective in both personal and professional life.
  • This is one area I could improve. It is also not new to me. Stephen Covey addresses something similar in his bestselling book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • In Discipline Equals Freedom, Willink asserts that rigorous exercise not only strengthens the body but also builds mental toughness and discipline. He emphasizes consistency and pushing beyond comfort zones.
  • Check. Frequent physical activity has been one of my pillars of health and well-being since high school and provides emotional satisfaction, enhanced sleep, joint lubrication, weight management, personal challenge, and the ability to do all the things I want to do without pain or injury.
Hiking with Ajax on W. Tiger trails brings me immense joy as well as a new outlook on my struggles.
Hiking with Ajax on W. Tiger trails brings me immense joy as well as a new outlook on my struggles.
  • Willink recommends maintaining an emotional detachment when making decisions. This detachment allows for clearer thinking and better decision-making, especially in high-pressure situations.
  • Ooh boy. This reminds me of “Care less about an issue than your clients,” a behind-the-scenes tip Precision Nutrition coaches are taught when facing client resistance or emotionally charged topics. If we care more about a client’s successes or failures than they do, it’s a recipe for disaster for the highly sensitive coach.
  • Willink emphasizes the importance of taking full responsibility for one’s actions and their outcomes, including mistakes. This mindset fosters growth, learning, and improvement.
  • This leads perfectly to where I’m headed in 2024. I want to cultivate a growth mindset in all areas, particularly around technology, communication, and spirituality, not just where I already have it in writing, training, and physical fitness.
Another treasured orange item on my recent "orange walk." It yielded 15 different items, rather a surprise in December.
Another treasured orange item on my recent “orange walk.” It yielded 15 different items, rather surprising in December.

So, what is the takeaway for you? You are here because you want something. And you want to get it with as little struggle or effort as possible. Maybe you’re looking for knowledge. Perhaps you want to change something. Or it could be that you’re following this blog to glean whatever nuggets you can. In Discipline Equals Freedom, Willink asserts that we need to delay instant gratification and be adults today so we gain freedom tomorrow.

Sometimes we need to do hard things, consistently, to get a payoff. If change were easy, we’d all be exactly where we want to be. We want the new job. The successful summit. A higher paycheck. Annual vacations. Stronger relationships. Fitter physique. A significant other.

My Rainier team from July, 2017. Discipline equals freedom. Consistent focus is the only way to attain your goals.
My Rainier team from July, 2017. Discipline equals freedom. Consistent focus is the only way to attain your goals.

Discipline requires ongoing effort. It took me nine years to publish my first book. I needed seven years to finally start my blog. And I put off shooting a one-minute video for my new health and wellness company. for nearly ten months. It doesn’t mean I was working steadily during all that time. Enter our friend, procrastination.

In each case, it would have been far less stressful if I’d just had the discipline to do the thing, rather than put it off indefinitely. But the payoff is this: by putting in the time, you get the results. The only way NOT to get them is to never even try or to quit when things get hard.

What are you putting off? What commitment would you like to make for 2024? Who can you share it with, in writing, so that you are more likely to follow through? Who can you tell, out loud, so that the world hears your intention — and so do you?

Even if you say your intentions out loud to your best canine companion, the multiverse has ears. You do, too. Hearing your intentions will make them much more likely to solidify and come true. So say your intentions out loud. Embrace 2024 as the year you will do X.
Even if you say your intentions out loud to your best canine companion, the multiverse has ears. You do, too. Hearing your intentions will make them much more likely to solidify and come true. So say your intentions out loud. Embrace 2024 as the year you will do X.
Featured

I Am Enough: Acrostic Poems about Change and Growth

This post is for all my readers who might be facing fears or dealing with the concept of “good enough.” I offer five acrostic poems starting with the letters in “I AM ENOUGH.” Each focuses on an aspect of change and growth.

To create these acrostics, I combined all of my fall coursework into one creative experiment. The Art of Journal Coaching program inspired me to create transformational journal prompts for clients. The Precision Nutrition master coaching program helps me guide clients to better results than ever before. My exploration of AI taught me how to tap into the phenomenal potential of Chat GPT. Finally, by working with spiritual coach Tama Kieves I am learning that we are either reacting from a place of love or fear and how to shift to a growth mindset. May you tap into your inner wisdom with these poems and prompts.

Change and growth happen in stages. Nature demonstrates this very well.
Change and growth happen in stages. Nature demonstrates this very well.

Change is never linear, as much as we might love for it to be. Sometimes progress involves taking three steps forward and two steps back. By remaining open to possibility and approaching our challenges from love rather than fear, we can approach our struggles with a growth mindset and see obstacles as opportunities. The first acrostic poem embraces growth.

In every challenge, there’s a lesson to unearth,

Amidst the trials, we discover our true worth,

Moments of doubt transformed into strength,

Every step forward, a victory at length,

Nurturing hope, in darkness and light,

Opening our hearts to new insight,

Understanding that growth involves flight,

Grasping change, holding on tight,

Harmony found on a journey of delight.

Ajax struggles to find his footing crossing a bridge designed to drain well but that spooks smaller dogs.
Ajax struggles to find his footing crossing a bridge designed to drain well but that spooks smaller dogs.

Where did you see the most growth in 2023?

Are there areas in which you feel “I am enough” is already appropriate for you?

Where would you like to expand in 2024? Jot down a few notes about where you are right now.

On December 13, 2021, I experienced a health event that took me three days to overcome physically, but two years to heal from emotionally. I now know my wounds from the past simply need time to heal. And I need to reframe many of my old stories that are no longer serving me. The second poem involves a transformational journey.

  • Inside us all, a seed of change does sleep,
  • Awakening slowly, from the shadows deep,
  • Moving through life, with courage and grace,
  • Each obstacle faced in time and space,
  • New paths unfold as old ones merge,
  • Old beliefs are challenged; new truths emerge,
  • Unveiling strength we never knew we had,
  • Growing beyond, both happy and sad,
  • Holding onto good will conquer bad.
Trees transform every year. Like nature, we experience seasons of ebb and flow. For some, winter is a time of celebration, of rest, and recovery. What does winter mean to you?
Trees transform every year. Like nature, we experience seasons of ebb and flow. For some, winter is a time of celebration, of rest, and recovery. What does winter mean to you?

How are you transforming aspects of yourself?

What “season” do you most identify with and why?

Where is one area of your life you want to transform in 2024 to “I am enough”? What tools do you need to do so?

We all have enormous untapped potential within us. And self-doubting, fearful, negative thoughts are our biggest obstacles. What stands in your way? For some, earning enough money or getting the right education are big barriers. For others, it might be finding — or making — enough time. Everyone has 24 hours a day. Are you coasting, or are you trying to live your best life?

  • In the mirror of time, our reflections grow,
  • As we journey through life, embracing ebb and flow,
  • Memories are woven into the fabric of our being,
  • Every experience is a new way of seeing,
  • Never stagnant, always in motion,
  • Overcoming fears like waves in the ocean,
  • Uplifting our spirits with each challenge met,
  • Guided by hope and without regret,
  • Heart and soul merge, like dancing with a pet.
Sometimes we need to change lenses to view our situation differently. Think outside the box. Or better yet, get an outsider's perspective on your problems. A coach, mentor, or confidante can help you see things in a new way.
Sometimes we need to change lenses to view our situation differently. Think outside the box. Or better yet, get an outsider’s perspective on your problems. A coach, mentor, or confidante can help you see things in a new way.

What did you discover about yourself in 2023? What are three things you’d love to explore in 2024?

Do you know anyone who truly believes “I am enough?” What qualities of theirs do you admire?

Is there a different lens you’d like to use to think about your future?

As I review all of my physical accomplishments over the past two years, it surprises me how much I’ve overcome: a broken right wrist, heat exhaustion, unusual nerve issues in my left hip that David Grey’s PT program helped me with, a coronary artery spasm caused by an electrolyte imbalance and excessive stress, and a bout with COVID-19. If there’s one thing I can say with confidence, my physical body is impressively resilient. In 2024 I will be shifting my focus to exploring a path of spiritual and emotional healing.

  • Inner strength emerges from struggles and strife,
  • As we carve our paths into the tapestry of life,
  • Molding our destiny with hands of hope,
  • Evolving, adapting, learning to cope,
  • Navigating through storms with resilience and might,
  • Opportunities shining in the darkest night,
  • Unbroken, unyielding in our quest to thrive,
  • Gaining wisdom as we strive,
  • Honoring the journey, strong and alive.
I am enough. I am not one to let physical ailments get in the way. The mountains are calling and I must go.
I am enough. I am not one to let physical ailments get in the way. The mountains are calling and I must go.

Where do you feel you are most resilient?

What superpowers do you draw on when you face a challenge?

Where would you like to build more resilience in 2024?

Illuminating the path with each step we take,

Accepting the flux in every wake,

Mastering fears, setting our soul free,

Encountering life with a heart open to see,

Nurturing growth in every form,

Owning our story, through calm and storm,

Unveiling our potential in every act,

Gracious in our rise after each impact,

Home in our skin, embracing change.

I Am Enough: Acrostic Poems about Change and Growth

As you read through this blog post, what thoughts come to mind? What does it mean to you to “be enough”?

Where do you feel you are “enough” in your life? Where do you feel inadequate?

Generate your own “I AM ENOUGH” poem or journal entry.

I am enough. You are enough. We have all the tools we need within us. Relax. Trust the process. In the words of Tama Kieves, “Stop efforting.”

My blog continues to be a place where I explore change and getting unstuck. This particular post has been a journey into all things I hold dear: poetry, journaling, learning, transforming, writing, photography, and physical challenge. I hope you found some part of it to be helpful or interesting.

And as always, if you have thoughts about the phrase “I am enough,” please share them in the comments. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Hiking Break: the Skill and Art of the Perfect Pause

Another shout-out goes to KJ for providing this week’s blog topic. He asked for advice on rest stops during hikes. Let’s take a closer look at the perfect pause: the skill — and art — of the hiking break.

My dog Ajax is my barometer for hiking breaks, especially on hot sunny days. Rests allow us to recharge, get a bite to eat, change clothes, take in the scenery, repair feet... the list is long.
My dog Ajax is my barometer for hiking breaks, especially on hot sunny days. Rests allow us to recharge, get a bite to eat, change clothes, take in the scenery, repair feet… the list is long.

The short answer to “When should I take a break?” is “Anytime it feels like you need one.” Here are some examples of when to insert a break into your hike.

  1. Physical Condition: Whenever you’re feeling exhausted, take a break. Keep track of your energy level, muscle fatigue, joint or tissue discomfort (think forming blisters), and hydration status. It’s far better to stop and take care of a small problem than continue indefinitely into it blossoms into an injury, crisis, or worse.
  2. Trail Difficulty: If you are traveling over steep inclines, rugged terrain (think bushwhacking), or extra long distances you may want to plan more frequent breaks than if you’re traveling on flat trails.
  3. Weather Conditions: On hot days, it’s crucial to take breaks to hydrate and prevent overheating. In cold or wet conditions, breaks provide a chance to warm up or change into dry clothing.
  4. Group Dynamics: If you hike with a group, be mindful of the needs and preferences of your fellow hikers. Some people may require more frequent breaks than others, so look for a balance that works for everyone. The exception to this is guides that require a certain climbing pace; check ahead of your climb to know what the pace expectations are and how many breaks you can expect.
  5. Time Constraints: If you have a specific goal, such as reaching a certain point or finishing the hike by a particular time, plan the number and length of your breaks accordingly to stay on track.
On our hike to Mirror Lake, we took this hiking break to let a large, noisy group of adults go by. Ajax and my daughter both love breaks. And I love to explore for photo ops.
On our hike to Mirror Lake, we took this hiking break to let a large, noisy group of adults go by. Ajax and my daughter both love breaks. And I love to explore for photo ops.

I know several people who prefer not to stop on the trail. They argue that taking breaks makes it harder to get going again. My breaks usually aren’t very long, especially when it’s just me and my dog. Here’s how I take breaks.

My general pattern is to hike for 15-20 minutes to set a good rhythm. Our first stop is usually a “clothing break” to remove a layer and get out my water bottle. Roughly every hour, I give my dog a biscuit and water, if he’s not drinking from streams, and at the two-hour mark, I give him a more substantial snack, usually part of an early lunch. He’s earned it by then!

Our breaks are usually only 3-5 minutes on the trail, perhaps 15-30 at our destination depending on the view and the weather. This summer my daughter and I spent several hours at various alpine lakes swimming. In those cases, the goal was to have a lake experience, rather than just a hike.

Taking a dip in chilly Rachel Lake. Our rest break on this hike was close to 1.5 hours and included having lunch, exploring side trails, a party separation, and swimming!
Taking a dip in chilly Rachel Lake. Our rest break on this hike was close to 1.5 hours and included having lunch, exploring side trails, a party separation, and swimming!

The list of reasons for stopping includes:

  1. Rest and Recover: Give your muscles and joints a chance to recover from the physical exertion of hiking.
  2. Hydrate: Pause to drink water and stay properly hydrated, especially on hot days.
  3. First Aid: Attend to any minor injuries or hot spots (before they form blisters) with a first-aid kit.
  4. Adjust Gear: Make adjustments to your hiking gear or clothing for comfort and safety.
  5. Check the Map: Review your trail map or GPS to ensure you’re on the right path.
  6. Navigation: Plan your next steps and discuss your hiking route with your partners. This might also include exploring options for future hikes, scouting campsites, or evaluating extended rest spots.
Some of my very best photos come during hiking breaks with my dog Ajax. This was on the summit of West Tiger 1 on September 23.
Some of my very best photos come during hiking breaks with my dog Ajax. This was on the summit of West Tiger 1 on September 23.

And if you’re not a big fan of hiking breaks but you’re exploring with people who need more frequent rest stops than you do, here are some helpful suggestions for things you can do while you wait:

  1. Snack: Replenish energy levels with a healthy snack to keep your stamina up.
  2. Spot Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife and take the time to observe and appreciate their presence.
  3. Shoot Photos: Capture scenic landscapes, tiny mushrooms or slugs, birds, and wildlife on camera. Open your eyes to the beauty around you.
  4. Stretch: Perform some gentle stretches to prevent muscle stiffness and improve flexibility.
  5. Social Interaction: If you hike with others, use break time to talk with your partners and ask good questions.
  6. Scenery: Take in the breathtaking views and appreciate the beauty of nature around you.
Sometimes rest stops become a great excuse to explore what's around you, just off the main path. A hike to Wallace Falls took us off-trail to this upstream area. Beautiful!
Sometimes rest stops become a great excuse to explore what’s around you, just off the main path. A hike to Wallace Falls took us off-trail to this upstream area. Beautiful!

You can take a break just about anywhere. Make sure to leave plenty of room for other people to get around you. Step to the side or completely off the trail so you do not block traffic. It’s also a good idea to plan your break where people can take “party separations” without being interrupted.

On sunny days, choose shady spots. On rocky trails, look for larger rocks that might provide a temporary seat. I like to look for logs without moss (on damp days moss can soak up a ton of moisture and leave your bottom wet!) or at the very least a pull-out where I have a place to set down my pack and get out a food or water bowl for my dog.

Teneriffe Falls across the stream, away from the masses of hikers.
Teneriffe Falls across the stream, away from the masses of hikers.
I could tell from Ajax's expression that this wasn't the best choice of rest spot for him, but we prioritized getting away from the crowd over his comfort this time.
I could tell from Ajax’s expression that this wasn’t the best choice of rest spot for him, but we prioritized getting away from the crowd over his comfort this time.

Ideally, we look for spots with views so we can get some nice photographs. Pick a place that is away from crowds, safe, and comfortable for everyone in your party. Consider what characteristics make up the ideal rest spot for you.

And it probably goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — in winter, never take a break while you’re crossing avalanche-prone slopes. Get to stable ground before you stop. Likewise, in high wind, avoid standing under widowmakers, or trees that are losing big branches. Always keep safety in mind.

To expand your education on trail safety and mountain travel, a great organization I’ve been a member of for over thirty years is the Seattle Mountaineers. To read more about break time optimization, here is another point of view. Backpacking Light has a thread on their forum about rest periods when hiking. And Love the Backcountry has yet more advice. The main point is: you’re not in a race. Take breaks as needed and enjoy your experience. If you drive yourself into the ground, where’s the joy in that?

Heading toward the Emmons Glacier route on Mt. Rainier. This was our first break spot before heading up to the moraine and the steep climb to Camp Schurman. Timing and planning of appropriate breaks requires experience, skill, and art.
Heading toward the Emmons Glacier route on Mt. Rainier. This was our first break spot before heading up to the moraine and the steep ascent to Camp Schurman. Timing and planning of appropriate breaks requires experience, skill, and art.

If you have a break tip you’d like to share, or a burning question you’d like me to answer this month, please submit it below. I love hearing from readers and I always look forward to requests.

Featured

Unique Advent Adventures for Your 2023 Holidays

I get it. You’re busy. Who isn’t? If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Leap into December with this fun month-long challenge. I call it “Advent Adventures.” It’s custom-tailored for busy, active adventurers who feel stressed out. Each is designed to be short, manageable, and doable during the winter season. Are you ready? Take a look at your daily rewards for all that you do, and join me in getting unstuck!

Yesterday I took a ramble with a writing partner and Ajax to look for holiday-themed photo ops to support this blog post. Some cool colorful rocks were on display in a yard in Shoreline.
Yesterday I took a ramble with a writing partner and Ajax to look for holiday-themed photo ops to support this blog post. Some cool colorful rocks were on display in a yard in Shoreline.

The guidelines are easy: find time in your calendar to carve out 5-20 minutes in your day devoted solely to you. If you know one of the challenges won’t work on a given day, find one that will. Then get out from behind your computer and do something nice for yourself. And if you prefer using this as a calling to generate your own challenges, feel free.

Dec. 1: Morning Stretch Routine: Start your day with a 10-minute stretching routine to energize your body.

Dec. 2: Indoor Plant Care: Spend 15 minutes caring for indoor plants, reconnecting with nature indoors.

Dec. 3: Winter Nature Walk: Take a brisk 20-minute walk in a nearby park, focusing on the winter scenery.

Dec. 4: Mindful Hot Beverage Break: Enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee outdoors, savoring the warmth and flavors.

Dec. 5: Winter Sunrise Viewing: Watch a winter sunrise, reflecting on your intentions for the day.

Advent adventures don't have to take much time. I enjoyed a recent sunrise from my back porch.
Advent Adventures don’t have to take much time. I enjoyed a recent sunrise from my back porch.

Good work! You’re on a roll. What have you enjoyed about your challenge so far? What do you notice when you make some time for yourself? Have you smiled? Did you tell anyone about your journey? Here are the next ten adventures to get you to your halfway point.

Dec. 6: Bird Watching: Spend time observing birds from your balcony, backyard, walk, or window.

Dec. 7: 5-Minute Outdoor Meditation: Practice a quick meditation or deep breathing exercise on your porch or yard.

Dec. 8: Photo a Day: Capture a daily photo of something outdoors that brings you joy or peace.

Dec. 9: Guided Outdoor Stretching: Follow a short guided stretching or yoga video outside.

Dec. 10: Gratitude Journaling: Write down three things you’re grateful for, ideally in an outdoor setting.

Grounding in the rain inside my bird blind tent. The other day my feet got so cold, I borrowed water from our hot tub to alternate soaks.
Grounding and journaling under protection from the rain in my bird blind tent. The other day my feet got so cold, I borrowed water from our hot tub to alternate soaks.

Dec. 11: Star Gazing Moment: Spend a few minutes gazing at the stars, contemplating the vastness of the universe.

Dec. 12: Quick Nature Sketching: Sketch something you see in nature, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Dec. 13: Lunch Break Walk: Take a brief walk during your lunch break, focusing on being mindful and paying attention to all five senses. What can you observe that you don’t normally notice?

Dec. 14: Evening Candle Meditation: Meditate with a candle or stare into a fire for a few minutes, focusing on the dancing flame. If you don’t have candles or a fireplace, try a walk around the block to view holiday lights.

Dec. 15: Frosty Morning Observation: Spend a few minutes observing frost patterns on leaves or windows.

Advent adventures can help you appreciate the beauty all around us. Frost makes gorgeous patterns on the leaves.
Advent adventures can help you appreciate the beauty all around us. Frost makes gorgeous patterns on the leaves.

You’ve reached the halfway mark in your Advent Adventures challenge. Have you missed a day or two? That’s okay! The point is to do something kind for yourself each day that allows you to think about what is important and what matters. Self-care is a skill just like bike mechanics or publishing a blog. The more we practice a skill, the more second nature it becomes. Keep going and reap more benefits.

Dec. 16: Winter Bird Feeding: Set up or refill a bird feeder and watch visiting birds.

Dec. 17: Indoor Yoga Flow: Do a quick yoga session inside, focusing on breathing and balance.

Dec. 18: Window Garden Tending: Spend some time tending to a small herb or flower garden on your windowsill.

Dec. 19: Moon Journaling: Write in your journal by moonlight or near a window on a moonlit night.

Dec. 20: Holiday Lights Walk: Take an evening walk to enjoy neighborhood holiday lights.

Holiday lights display at Woodland Park Zoo. I loved this beautiful peacock.
Holiday lights display at Woodland Park Zoo. I loved this beautiful peacock.

Dec. 21: Short Hike: The shortest day (light) of the year! Embark on a short, local hike, appreciating the winter landscape. Feel gratitude that from here on out the days start to get longer again.

Dec. 22: Sunset Reflection Time: Watch a sunset and reflect on your achievements and challenges of the day.

Dec. 23: Indoor Strength Session: Enjoy a quick, focused 15-minute yoga, strength, or pilates workout to strengthen and center your body.

Dec. 24: Snowflake Study: Let it snow! If it does, take a moment to observe the uniqueness of snowflakes.

Dec. 25: Holiday Decoration Tour: Take a walk to enjoy holiday decorations in your area.

Beautiful baubles on an outdoor display during my Shoreline ramble yesterday.
Beautiful baubles on an outdoor display during my Shoreline ramble yesterday.

Most advent calendars end on December 25. But we are about to launch a new year and a new you. If you’ve missed any days and wish to replace — or even repeat — a few from the previous adventures, feel free. This is your life and what replenishes your spirit is unique to you. Here are the final suggestions and warmest wishes for a wonderful end to 2023.

  1. Early Morning Silence: Experience the quiet of early morning before the day begins.
  2. Nature Poetry Reading: Read a nature-themed poem outdoors or near an open window.
  3. Outdoor Aromatherapy: Use essential oils outdoors for a quick aromatherapy session.
  4. Flashlight Night Walk: Take a brief walk at night with a flashlight, exploring the familiar in a new light.
  5. Recap what went well in 2023: List your five favorite memories or accomplishments from 2023. What five things would you most like to have happen in 2024? Write them down.
  6. Quick Cold-Weather Swim: If accessible, take a brief swim in an indoor or heated pool. Or better yet, if you’re in the Seattle area and feeling brave, head to Matthews Beach at noon on New Year’s Day for the wildly popular Polar Bear Plunge. This shot was from January 1, 2023. Hope to see you there to kick off 2024!
Unique Advent Adventures for Your 2023 Holidays
Featured

Trail Etiquette 101: How to Share the Trail

A special thanks to KJ for his recent question. He asked about how to prepare for aggressive, belligerent, or annoying hikers on the trail. I thought it was a perfect time to write a post about trail etiquette and how best to navigate around others.

Headed for Rainier's summit in July 2017. Popular destinations around the country, especially in nice weather, will have hordes of people to deal with. Know these tips and you'll be able to survive the crowds.
Headed for Rainier’s summit in July 2017. Popular destinations around the country, especially in nice weather, will have hordes of people to deal with. Know these tips and you’ll be able to survive the crowds.

Generally speaking, just like with driving (for people in the U.S.) try to keep to the right side of the trail when approaching other hikers. There are exceptions — such as a narrow trail where the only natural pullout is on the other side of the trail.

New hikers may not be aware that trail etiquette dictates the UPHILL traveler has the right of way. If the trail is flat, use common sense, be polite, and wait your turn. Treat others as you would like to be treated. And if someone is struggling (i.e. if they’re being helped down the trail due to illness or injury), give them extra space and time–even if you’re heading up.

A root-filled section of the trail on the way to Rachel Lake. Trail etiquette states that the person climbing up such a steep part of the trail has the right of way.
A root-filled section of the trail on the way to Rachel Lake. Trail etiquette states that the person climbing up such a steep part of the trail has the right of way.

Despite national, volunteer, and outdoor organizations — think Mountaineers, Washington Trails Association, and the Sierra Club — offering training in proper trail etiquette, not everyone who ventures to the mountains has learned how to respect others while sharing the trails. What’s more, since COVID, many people have headed for the backcountry who otherwise wouldn’t be there.

While I love the fact that more people are heading outside, newbies may not know how to behave around others. Or worse, they simply don’t care. I recently added Snow Lake to my “rethink” list because of youngsters cranking rap music without personal listening devices.

Snow Lake is accessible, beautiful, and refreshing on a hot summer day. It's also highly visited as you can see every inch of available shoreline covered with people.
Snow Lake is accessible, beautiful, and refreshing on a hot summer day. It’s also wildly popular as you can see every inch of available shoreline covered with people.

We can’t control others’ behaviors. The very best way to avoid disrespectful behavior is to select less popular hiking routes where there won’t be hordes of people. Hike in the off-season when crowds are less likely. Go when it’s raining to cut down on crowding. Avoid holiday hiking when everyone else has a day off. And go at dawn or dusk when there are fewer people on the trail. My favorite idea is to hike during the week. No weekend mobs!

I love visiting the mountains to recharge, to listen to birds, rustling leaves, and flowing water. On the Snow Lake hike, I should have been able to hear 25-28 bird species. We only heard 7. Too many kids chattered or made annoying monkey calls. Instead of coming back stress-free, I felt like smacking the next pair who approached deep in loud conversation.

Rattlesnake Ledge is another “rethink” destination for me. Following hundreds of other hikers and their dogs without any chance of solitude feels too much like walking around Green Lake in Seattle on a sunny weekend. First, the likelihood of running into a problem dog is high. And second, if I wanted to be outside around scores of people I’d save gas and head to the nearest dog park.

Tiger Mountain's Poo Poo Point on the Fourth of July. We encountered dozens of people who seemed unaware of proper trail etiquette.
Tiger Mountain’s Poo Poo Point on the Fourth of July. We encountered dozens of people who seemed unaware of proper trail etiquette.

If you use headphones or earbuds, realize that you might have difficulty hearing approaching hikers or trail runners. Get to know when trail runners are out and consider hiking without music or podcasts. Along the I-90 corridor, weekend mornings between 7-9 a.m. seem to be popular. And if you’re using multi-purpose trails, know which paths might include mountain bikers, snowmobiles, or equestrians. By doing a little research you won’t be caught off guard.

When you encounter people who seem to be going about your pace but show signs of impatience, step off the trail to let them pass. Anyone itching to be “first” might get nasty about trailing a slower hiker. No need to provoke them. Remember, it’s always okay to stop and take a water break, remove or add a layer of clothing, or get a bite to eat.

I only know of two negatives of hiking solo. There's nobody to take your photo, so you're stuck with selfies, and you can't have a conversation unless you enjoy talking to your dog!
I only know of two negatives of hiking solo. There’s nobody to take your photo, so you’re stuck with selfies, and you can’t have a conversation unless you enjoy talking to your dog!

Try timing rest breaks to coincide with when others around you might be just finishing theirs. This provides more space on the trail so you aren’t all clustered together. Preventing your OWN ‘road rage’ from building up will lead to a much more enjoyable outing.

If you do find yourself getting annoyed, remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts and experiences. Try taking 3-4 box breaths – 4 counts in, hold for 4 counts, 4 counts out, hold out for 4 counts for 4 repetitions. This is a great stress control breathing technique to use anytime you feel your blood starting to boil. Remember, you cannot control others!

Recognize that people have different reasons for going to the mountains. Trail runners love going fast. Kids love messing around and exploring. Naturalists love looking at flowers and plants. Birders love listening to birds. Trail etiquette means respecting ALL people’s rights to enjoy whatever they’re out to enjoy.

If you feel someone’s behavior is irritating more people than just you, you might consider politely pointing out the offense. They may not even be aware they’re doing something that is bothering anyone.

Prepare for alternate plans. If you have to walk half a mile to get to the trailhead because there’s no available parking, consider doing another hike. Mark overused trails as ones to avoid during popular hours since people usually return to their favorite places.

May all your hikes be sources of enjoyment and wonder. Share the trails. They hold delight for everyone.
The author and her daughter at Annette Lake. May all your hikes be sources of enjoyment and wonder. Share the trails. They hold delight for everyone.

By keeping these tips in mind, everyone can enjoy themselves and share the wonders of the wilderness. If you have a tip I’ve overlooked, please share it in the comments, so we can all learn from one another.

Featured

Non-Food Celebrations: How To Mark Achievements

Recently, I asked a client to come up with non-food celebrations she could enjoy whenever she completed small victories. When she came up blank, I realized the topic might make a great post. Rather than finishing something and diving right into whatever is next, pause and recognize what you’ve accomplished. Get off that hamster wheel! By acknowledging and celebrating each small victory, you will make it easier, more fun, and more rewarding to strive for the next thing.

Whenever Ajax does something courageous, like going across tricky bridges, I make sure to include a non-food celebration with him (praise and pats). What could you use to recognize and celebrate the completion of hard tasks?
Whenever Ajax does something courageous, like going across tricky bridges, I make sure to include non-food celebrations with him (praise and pats). What could you use to recognize and celebrate the completion of your hard tasks?

I have written before about shifting our focus (with a key takeaway from each) in the following blog posts:

Gap and the Gain: A Powerful Shift for the Brain (5/9/22) in which I point out the importance of tracking progress to see where you started and how far you’ve come. If we can’t recognize the small victories as we go, we can easily get discouraged. Click for more on Dan Sullivan’s book, The Gap and The Gain.

How to Reframe Self-Talk for Greater Gain (5/28/22) By changing the words we use to describe a situation, we change our attitude toward it. Even – perhaps especially – obstacles can be seen as opportunities if we embrace them that way.

Another tricky surface for Ajax is a pebbly beach at Seahurst Park. Fortunately, he was so distracted by all the wonderful smells (and surprise! salt water is NOT good for drinking) that he handled it okay. We celebrated with a game of Rah, or jump for the leash.
Another tricky surface for Ajax is a pebbly beach at Seahurst Park. Fortunately, he was so distracted by all the wonderful smells (and surprise! salt water is NOT good for drinking) that he handled it okay. “We celebrated with a game of Rah, or “jump for the leash.”

Rising Strong Lesson: The Story I’m Telling Myself (7/12/22) A powerful tool for reframing the half-truths or blatant lies we’ve been telling ourselves for too long. If you tell yourself you’ll never reach X goal, you’re right. If you convince yourself this is just another test, and you keep going, nothing will stop you. Click for more on Brene Brown‘s awesome resources.

Accomplishing Your Goal, Handling Anticipointment (7/21/22) Tips for moving on after you accomplish a major goal. Celebrate, sure, but also pause and recognize how far you’ve come.

Even finishing raking the entire yard can turn into a non-food celebration. When was the last time you played in the leaves?
Even finishing raking the entire yard can turn into a non-food celebration. When was the last time you played in the leaves?

What is new, however, is the focus on embracing each small win. Especially whenever we’re feeling stuck or unmotivated. I was recently reminded that what we look for, we find. If we look for problems, we’ll see them everywhere.

But we can develop, cultivate, and practice a more capable mindset and different skills. In particular, the skill of looking for moments to celebrate. We can train our brains to find them. Below are some ways to start your practice.

I look for color on every single hike, ramble, or walk, just as I've trained my ear to listen for birds. Do you pay attention when you're outside, or do you go on auto-pilot? What would you notice if you left your earphones and phone at home?
I look for color on every single hike, ramble, or walk, just as I’ve trained my ear to listen for birds. Do you pay attention when you’re outside, or do you go on auto-pilot? What would you notice if you left your earphones and phone at home?

I compiled a list of non-food celebrations to commemorate small wins. Each of the next ten items can be completed in as little as five minutes. All are completely free and available to anyone. Try generating your own list of ideas springing from the suggestions below. Have fun with it!

  1. Mini Meditation Session: Hold a brief walking or seated meditation focused on gratitude for and acknowledgment of the achievement. Embrace the feeling of accomplishment. Mark it deep within.
  2. Short Gratitude Journal Entry: Write a quick note in a notebook or journal about what you feel grateful for in this moment, as you focus on your recent victory. Embrace the effort that went into it.
  3. Celebratory Dance: Put on a favorite song and hold a little dance party. It’s a joyful, energizing way to mark a milestone. Put your hands in the air, jump around, and smile big. You did it! Really feel it.
  4. Nature Connection: Spend a few minutes outside, taking in fresh air, and appreciating the natural surroundings, whether it’s in your backyard, a nearby park, or just a view of the sky.
  5. Mindful Breathing Exercise: Do a focused breathing exercise, taking deep, intentional breaths to sink that great feeling deep in your body and soul.
Non-Food Celebrations: How To Mark Achievements
‘Tis the season to celebrate lights in your neighborhood. Take a walk after dark and enjoy the fresh air and holiday displays.

Remember that everyone’s list of non-food celebrations will look different. What feels like a great idea to me may not resonate with you, and that’s totally okay. What you’re after are ways you can celebrate that will hold deeper meaning than just a simple check on a to-do list.

  1. Personal Affirmation: Create and recite a positive, personal affirmation that celebrates your current success and supports you toward future progress.
  2. Virtual High-Five: Send a quick message or email to a friend, family member, or coach sharing your success. Give yourself a virtual pat on the back. A sticker on a calendar, or in a journal, can also be fun.
  3. Quick Stretching Routine: Perform a brief stretching routine, focusing on releasing tension and infusing the moment with a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Reflective Walk: Take a short, mindful walk, even if it’s just around the block or office, and reflect on what you’ve achieved.
  5. Visualization Exercise: Spend a few minutes visualizing the next step toward your goal, reinforcing your commitment while celebrating how far you’ve come.
Ajax enjoying the snow
Ajax enjoying the snow.

And if you want to splurge a bit, try browsing at a bookstore, seeing a movie, attending a concert, or investing in essential oils, candles, plush towels, or blankets – whatever feels decadent TO YOU. If you have more time, take yourself somewhere you love. A trip to the mountains is always one of my best rewards.

Reward that inner child who might feel nervous and scared. Let them know they are totally safe and you haven’t forgotten them. If you have a favorite non-food celebration to mark your baby steps, please share them with our readers below.

Featured

Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

It’s the time of year when most people find themselves busier than usual. Taking care of extended family. Shopping and attending holiday gatherings. Getting “end of the year” tasks accomplished. And if you’re like me, exploring novelty or learning as much as possible. As a coach with over 25 years of experience, below I provide expert tips for managing stress during the holidays. These tips are set against a backdrop of holiday lights photos from Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlanterns display for 2023.

One idea for managing stress is to enjoy the Wildlanterns display at Woodland Park Zoo. Movement, festivities, fresh air, novelty - what could be better?
One idea for managing stress is to enjoy the Wildlanterns display at Woodland Park Zoo. Movement, festivities, fresh air, novelty – what could be better?

If you wanted to, you could probably do something unique every day between now and New Year’s. And pay the price. Instead, figure out what’s most important to you. When shopping, think about what gifts you really need to buy and which you can put on a “perhaps” list. Plan meals ahead of time for those stretches when you’re crunched for time. Here are some additional tips to make things less stressful:

  • Make a list of the most important things you need to do and focus on those first.
  • For gifts, consider buying online to save time or choosing gift cards.
  • Keep meals simple. Choose recipes that are easy and include ingredients you always have on hand.
  • Double recipes so you have leftovers for multiple meals.
  • Think about which holiday traditions are the most fun and meaningful. You don’t have to do everything. Just pick a few favorites.
This year's lights display featured bugs, spiders, pandas, and birds, with "snow" and "fantasy" paths as well. A plus: continuous corridors of lights.
This year’s lights display featured bugs, spiders, pandas, and birds, with “snow” and “fantasy” paths as well. A plus: continuous corridors of lights.

One tradition I’ve had for over a decade is visiting Woodland Park Zoo’s light display. Wildlanterns replaced the popular Wildlights five or six years ago. This past week I visited on Thursday evening. It was a dark and stormy night… The precipitation actually provided nice reflections on wet pavement.

My other includes enjoying holiday music. A client of mine invites me to several of her choral performances each year and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I’ve added the Choir of the Sound holiday performance to my “must-do” list, even if I go alone.

Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

Staying active is especially important during stressful holidays. Exercise helps reduce stress and helps you avoid adding extra pounds. Here are some ways to fit movement into a busy schedule:

  • Try quick workouts at home. If you can’t find 30-60 minutes, try several 5-minute workouts. You can find short exercise videos online.
  • Take a brisk walk in the morning or after dinner. It’s a great way to clear your mind and increase movement.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park several blocks from work or in a far parking spot to encourage more movement.
  • Do stretching or yoga before bed. It can help you relax and sleep better.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Movement is my best way of managing stress. Try walking or biking to do local errands. If I have to go anywhere under a mile from my home (including stores, library, and post office), I visit on foot. Often carrying a pack.

Remember, you don’t need long blocks of time to exercise. Give yourself permission to break up workouts if you need to. Even small changes can help lower stress and improve your mood. And if you visit Wildlanterns you can add an extra mile to your total.

Festive polar bears grace the snowy "ice crystals" loop.
Festive polar bears grace the snowy “ice crystals” loop.

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future. After all, we live only right now. Here are ways to practice it:

  • Try breathing exercises. Box breathing can calm your mind within a minute or two.
  • Meditation is another great option. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing or try a walking meditation where you allow your mind to be still.
  • Yoga combines exercise with deep breathing and can be relaxing.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Forest bathing, even in the rain, is a wonder way to boost spirits immediately.

These techniques can help you feel less stressed, especially during busy times like the holidays.

My favorite Wildlantern was the tiny panda up in the beautiful tree.
My favorite Wildlantern was the tiny panda up in the beautiful tree.

Making healthy choices during the holidays can be tricky. Here are some strategies to help:

  • Try to maintain a balanced diet. Include fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains in your meals.
  • Drink plenty of water. Aim for your body weight in pounds divided by two for your target in ounces.
  • It’s okay to have a treat but listen to your body. Enjoy every bite and notice how the food smells and tastes.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Watch for your ‘satiation sigh.’ This is a deep breath from your body that indicates it’s had enough. When you notice this, stop eating.
  • Eat slowly and savor your food. Enjoy the taste of your treats without rushing or multitasking. Try saving some for later, as spiders do. You can always have more when you’re legitimately hungry.
One of the crowd pleasers -- and one of the largest displays -- was this enormous spider on its web. It moves and changes colors.
One of the crowd pleasers — and one of the largest displays — was this enormous spider on its web. It moves and changes colors.

You can enjoy your favorite holiday foods without overdoing it. Moderation is key. By staying healthy and feeling good during the holiday season, you’ll be raring to go come January.

Set personal limits on what you can get done during the holidays. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. Here’s how to set appropriate boundaries and say no when you need to:

  • Be clear about what you can handle. Don’t take on too much.
  • Use your “no” muscles. If someone asks you to do something extra, and you’re too busy, it’s fine to tell them you can’t.
  • Be polite but firm. You can say something like, “That sounds fun, but I have a lot on my plate right now.”
  • Remember, make self-care your top priority. You’ll enjoy the holidays more if you’re not stressed.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Think about the pros and cons of the activity. If the pros outweigh the cons, figure out a way to include it but then remove something else from your list.
Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

By setting realistic expectations and saying no when necessary, you can keep stress levels down and have a happier holiday season.

To wrap up, remember these key points for a more enjoyable and less stressful holiday season:

  • Prioritize and simplify your tasks. Focus on what matters most.
  • Stay active, even in short doses, to reduce stress.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to keep calm.
  • Eat healthily, enjoy treats mindfully, and listen for your body’s signals that it’s had enough.
  • Set appropriate boundaries and know it’s okay to say no.

Try these strategies during the holidays. They can help you manage stress and make this time of year more fun and enjoyable. If you have favorite ways for managing stress this time of year, please share in the comments.

Featured

November Challenge: Craft Your Own Compelling Project

If you knew me between 2012 and 2021, you may remember my fondness for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month occurs every November. It is a compelling challenge to writers to crank out 50,000 words on their current WIP (work in progress) between 12:01 on November 1 and 11:59 on November 30. I’ve participated six times. However, since I’m between fiction projects this year, I thought about other ways to develop a November challenge.

Where I do most of my blogging, writing, and program creation. You can see by the number of books behind me that I ADORE Books!
Where I do most of my blogging, writing, and program creation. You can see by the number of books behind me that I ADORE Books!

Challenge History

I have a long history of creating challenges. In 2021 I created OcTraPiMo (October Trash Pick-up Month). My challenge was to pick up trash around the community each day and share my results with readers.

In November 2022 I created NoCluHoMo with the intention of reducing clutter around my home.

In January 2023, I created the AAA (Active Ajax Adventures) project involving 52 rambles (covering 320 miles together) to unique green spaces without any duplicates. You could say the creative child in me likes to be challenged periodically. These projects are my way of satisfying both needs.

Mt. Rainier as viewed from Dirty Harry's Peak. Ajax and I have easily covered over 11,000 miles together in his 8.5 years with me.
Mt. Rainier as viewed from Dirty Harry’s Peak. Ajax and I have easily covered over 11,000 miles together in his 8.5 years with me.

A New November Challenge Is Born

As October reached an end, memories of NaNoWriMo beckoned. I played around with the Latin root “nov” (meaning new). What about innovation? Launching a new company is certainly innovative, but I wanted something restorative, not stressful.

How about renovating some areas of our house? We did an extensive home remodel eighteen years ago and have zero desire to repeat that stress. Could I do something with the words novice, novelty, or novel reading (not writing?)

The cone of shame. This shot was a November photograph from 2017 in between long, intense novel writing stretches.
The cone of shame. This shot was a November photograph from 2017 in between long, intense novel writing stretches.

Taking a Test Drive

On October 30, I took a trial run with “novelty.” I sent several messages to friends I’ve lost touch with over the past year and was pleasantly surprised when I received warm replies.

I’ve done plenty of letter-writing challenges before, sending notes to my parents in celebration of anniversaries or birthdays, the number of correspondences matching the number of years. Been there, done that. What else might I try?

On October 31, I chose a different path. I started a pork shoulder in the Dutch oven first thing in the morning to guarantee I had protein for the week. Yum. Cooking requires time I can’t really spare this month, so trying a new recipe every day wouldn’t work. But what if I simply did something new each day?

A November challenge could be food-related. One of the fun things I like to do is decorate food. Here, fresh tasty treats with a Halloween theme, no added sugar.
A November challenge could be food-related. One of the fun things I like to do is decorate food. Here, fresh tasty treats with a Halloween theme, no added sugar.

Kicking Off My November Challenge

On the first day of November, rather than driving an hour to the mountains (as originally planned), I headed to Magnuson Park with Ajax. Our target was looking for a snow bunting, a rarity I had only seen once before. I don’t do much birding in the fall, mainly because the only birds available are residents. We recorded 23 bird species, no bunting, but plenty of waterfowl!

Thursday morning, I went outside in the rain in the dark to do a few of my physical therapy exercises while grounding at the same time. Friday I generated a possible script for a video using assistance from Chat GPT. On Saturday, my daughter and I visited Hobby Lobby for holiday crafting supplies. And today I’m enjoying reading a graphic memoir, Kid Gloves. My “novelty” November challenge is off to a good start.

Magnuson Park waterfront on November 1, 2023 to kick off my novelty November challenge. No rain!
Magnuson Park waterfront on November 1, 2023 to kick off my novelty November challenge. No rain!

Creating Your Own November Challenge

Now it’s your turn. How might you insert some novelty into your life? Can you come up with ways to manage your stress, embrace change, and tap into your creativity this month?

Here are eleven ideas (November is, after all, the eleventh month of the year!) to get you started. They all begin with the letters “N-O” and can be done in November without investing significant resources.

Challenge Ideas 1-5

No: Just say no to something you really don’t want to do. Put yourself first.

No Negativity: Consciously avoid negative self-talk and pessimistic thoughts.

Nocturnal Walk: Enjoy the crisp night air with an evening walk, embracing the tranquility and freshness. We set the clocks back an hour so we have more night darkness to deal with. Enjoy it!

Nomad Day: Spend a day exploring a part of your community you don’t usually visit. Notice and name whatever captures your attention. You may discover a part of yourself that goes underappreciated!

Nonchalant Attitude: Adopt a carefree approach towards minor setbacks. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I write down a few wins from the current or previous day to remind myself that yes, I AM moving forward. (You may recall this practice from The Gap and The Gain.)

The peaceful calm of Lake Washington was exactly what I needed on November 1 instead of a long drive in the car!
The peaceful calm of Lake Washington was exactly what I needed on November 1 instead of a long drive in the car!

Challenge Ideas 6-11

Nonjudgmental Listening: Practice listening to loved ones, friends, and colleagues with love, not judgment.

Notes of Appreciation: Write thank-you notes or express gratitude to loved ones.

Notice Nature: Spend time observing the subtle changes in nature as we approach winter.

Nourish Your Body: Focus on eating with awareness and appreciation for all the wonderful things your unique body can do.

Novel Reading: Escape into a fictional world by enjoying a book in a genre you don’t usually read.

Now: What have you been putting off that you could tackle today? Can you spend five minutes on it? What one thing can you prioritize for November so you stop feeling overwhelmed?

Fabulous colors abound in the Puget Sound right now. Go on a color -collecting walk
Fabulous colors abound in the Puget Sound right now. Go on a color-collecting walk.

November Challenge Takeaways

Which ideas resonate with you? How might you create your own self-supported and motivating challenge for the next few weeks?

Whatever you choose to focus on, have a way to track your “wins” whether that is reflecting on your day and noting what you did that was new or required a beginner’s mindset.

A "notice and name" mushroom I discovered during our birding trip to Houston and South Padre Island in November 2022, a "novelty" event for sure, traveling without our daughter.
A “notice and name” mushroom I discovered during our birding trip to Houston and South Padre Island in November 2022, a “novelty” event for sure, traveling without our daughter.

Periodically review what’s working for you so that you can adjust your challenge to serve you.

Share your results in the comments so that others can benefit from our collected wisdom. Good luck with your novelty November!

Featured

Gratitude Practice: How To Cultivate Your Unique Habit

As November approaches, it’s the perfect time to practice gratitude. Establishing such an approach is a great way to appreciate life’s blessings. In this post, we’ll introduce you to how to create your own unique gratitude practice. One that resonates with your lifestyle and transforms your perspective. For previous blog posts about gratitude, see How to Practice Gratitude to Get Unstuck and How to Play Your Way to Gratitude.

One gratitude practice I have is shooting a photo of something that catches my eye. I am grateful for colors, for vision, for people who enjoy seasonally decorating their homes, for walks with my dog, and for dry weather.
One gratitude practice I have is shooting a photo of something that catches my eye. I am grateful for colors, for vision, for people who enjoy seasonally decorating their homes, for walks with my dog, and for dry weather.

Transcend Judgment through Gratitude

A wise author, Dain Heer, reminds us in his book, Body Whispering, that we cannot be in judgment and gratitude at the same time. Are you often harsh toward yourself? If so, perhaps it’s time to notice when that inner critic takes over. Harsh judgment often leads to a spiral of negativity. According to Heer, the antidote is replacing judgment with appreciation.

Instead of feeling unhappy about your (insert body part here), shift your focus to being thankful for the many tasks that part helps you perform. This transition from a judgmental mindset to one of gratitude can improve your outlook and help you develop a more positive self-image.

Instead of complaining about the downpour, I chose to be grateful for roofs, umbrellas, and rain jackets. We take so many simple luxuries for granted until they are no longer there. Watching the survival series, "Alone", has given me an immense appreciation for having food on my plate rather than sedges, worms, or nothing at all.
Instead of complaining about the downpour, I chose to be grateful for roofs, umbrellas, and rain jackets. We take so many simple luxuries for granted until they are no longer there. Watching the survival series, “Alone”, has given me an immense appreciation for having food on my plate rather than sedges, worms, or nothing at all.

If you notice yourself being overly critical, stop. See if you can discover something positive about the situation. What we seek we will find. If we always look for the negative, we will find negativity. By training our brains to look for the positives, we reinforce that skill set and build the mental muscles that can help us feel better.

Gratitude Practice: Mutual Exchange

Sharing gratitude can amplify their positive effects. Consider exchanging gratitude with a friend or loved one. This can create a mutual appreciation for life’s blessings.

One way I do this is by exchanging gratitude with my mother in North Carolina. This Sunday afternoon ritual not only enriches our personal gratitude practice but also strengthens our family bond.

When I hike in the mountains, on the trip back to the car I often find myself calling out all the things I'm grateful for during the outing, from the weather, to my companion Ajax, to the beautiful mushrooms poking out to say hi.
When I hike in the mountains, on the trip back to the car I often find myself calling out all the things I’m grateful for during the outing, from the weather, to my companion Ajax, to the beautiful mushrooms poking out to say hi.

The other family gratitude practice we have includes sharing highlights of our day while eating dinner. We have been doing this as a family for about a decade. Some days it’s hard to come up with anything, but we always can say we’re grateful for the food in front of us and for each other’s company.

Cultivate a “Choice,” not “Should,” Mindset

For a gratitude practice to be effective, it must be something you look forward to. Not an obligation to check off your to-do list. See whether you can change from a “should” mentality to a “choice” mentality.

See if you can find tiny pockets of time where you are relaxed, maybe even happy. Use 1-2 minutes to think about a positive moment in your day. You have the beginnings of a gratitude practice!

This photo brought a smile to my face and a flood of memories of our second visit to New Zealand where we visited a wallaby petting center two days after Christmas, 2019. So grateful for vacations, for photographs, for memories.
This photo brought a smile to my face and a flood of memories of our second visit to New Zealand where we visited a wallaby petting center two days after Christmas, 2019. So grateful for vacations, for photographs, for memories.

At night before you go to bed, jot down three things that went well. They can be small, such as noticing a double rainbow. Or they might be big, such as launching a new website or celebrating a promotion. Doing so gives your subconscious positive statements to reflect on overnight. In turn, this can help you start a new day feeling positive.

Gratitude Practice: Diverse Ideas

Gratitude practices are not one-size-fits-all. They can take numerous forms based on your unique preferences. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Reflect Daily – Take a few minutes each day, perhaps in the morning or before bed, to reflect on what you’re grateful for. It can be helpful to center your thoughts on positive experiences, people in your life, or even simple pleasures.
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – Jot down things you’re thankful for each day. This helps you foster a mindset of appreciation. It also creates a record of positive experiences you can reflect upon later.
The care and attention that went into this tiny planter box is evident, with the five-toe stones next to appropriately sized plants. What can you find that makes you smile?
The care and attention that went into this tiny planter box is evident, with the five-toe stones next to appropriately sized plants. What can you find that makes you smile?
  • Express Gratitude to Others: Send a simple thank you or a note of appreciation. Do something kind for someone. Expressing gratitude enhances your relationships and spreads positivity.
  • Cultivate Mindfulness – Being present and mindful can help you appreciate tiny moments. Look for the aspects of your life that bring you joy.
  • Keep a Gratitude Jar – Keep a container where family members can store notes of gratitude. Over time, you will fill the jar with reminders of good moments, which you can reflect on together.

Review Your Gratitude Journey

Creating a unique gratitude practice is a journey of self-exploration and appreciating life’s rich offerings. In addition, a periodic review of your gratitude can provide insight into your personal growth. It’s inspiring to see how your appreciation evolves over time.

As we approach November, we can make a conscious effort to replace judgment with appreciation. Share thankful moments with loved ones. Embrace a joyful approach to our practice. Explore diverse gratitude expressions. And reflect on our gratitude journey. Through these steps, we enrich our lives and create ripples of positivity that can spread to those around us.

So many gratitudes come to mind with this image. Gratitude for family, for travel, for creativity. For the time my daughter and her grandparents could spend together this fall. And for air travel which makes it possible to visit loved ones across the country.
So many gratitudes come to mind with this image. Gratitude for family, for travel, for creativity. For the time my daughter and her grandparents could spend together this fall. And for air travel which makes it possible to visit loved ones across the country.

If you have a unique gratitude practice you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. Your comments contribute to the shared community of understanding. Plus I love hearing from readers!

Featured

How to Use Journal Prompts to Embrace Autumn Change

This week provided a deep dive into furthering my education. Self-study material for becoming an NBC-HWC (National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach). Enrollment in a course called The Art of Journal Coaching. Precision Nutrition’s 8-week course about Chat GPT. Learning about lymph and fluid flow and the power of the tongue from the Tongue Mojo expert at Stop Chasing Pain. Although my daughter is enrolled at the University of WA, each fall I, too, evolve through learning. This week I merged all of my current interests into a post featuring 20 autumn journal prompts meant to inspire reflection on change.

Change is in the air. Use some of the journal prompts from this post to reflect on what change means to you.
Change is in the air. Use some of the journal prompts from this post to reflect on what change means to you.

Journal Prompts 1-5: Observe Nature’s Changes

As we head deeper into autumn, signs all around us point to change. Falling leaves. Shorter days. Dropping temperatures. Returning rain. Migrating birds. What are some of your favorite signs of change? What does autumn mean for you? To guide and inspire you, here are some journal prompts around observing nature’s changes.

  • Reflect on the transformation of green leaves to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. How does this mirror change in your own life?
  • Write about a tree that loses its leaves every fall. How does it prepare for winter and what can you learn from its cycle?
This image evokes both the return to school and the changing seasons. One of my favorite local trees.
This image evokes both the return to school and the changing seasons. One of my favorite local trees.
  • Reflect on the crispness of the autumn air. How does the change in temperature make you feel?
  • Write about your favorite autumn scent, be it cinnamon, burning wood, or damp earth. How does it evoke memories or emotions?
  • Reflect on the sounds of fall, from rustling leaves to distant geese. How do these sounds shape your autumn experience?

Autumn Prompts 6-10: Embrace Personal Growth

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that every so often I stop to pause and reflect on where I’ve come and where I’m heading. While many people do this at the change of the calendar year, I also do it at the start of each school season. There is no better time than the present to stop and think about where you’re headed. Enjoy some journal prompts around personal growth.

  • Write about a personal challenge you faced this year. How can you see it in a new light, inspired by the changing seasons?
  • Reflect on the concept of “harvest.” What have you sown and reaped in your personal or professional life?
  • Write about a time you felt like a lone leaf, drifting away from its tree. What did you learn from that experience?
A photo from a trip to Melakwa Lake in the fall of 2022.
A photo from a trip to Melakwa Lake in the fall of 2022.
  • Reflect on the shorter days and longer nights. How can you make the most of your time, even when it feels limited?
  • Write about a past autumn when you experienced significant change. How did you adapt and grow?

Journal Prompts 11-15: Beauty and Impermanence

When life feels chaotic and out of control, taking a walk around the block or visiting a nearby park can provide substantial restorative benefits. Last week I shared a recent experience with forest bathing. This week I provide prompts for you to reflect on what nature means to you. How might you enrich your relationship with yourself — and with nature? Below are prompts on appreciating beauty and impermanence.

  • Reflect on the beauty of a decaying leaf. How can you find beauty in imperfections or endings in your life?
  • Write about a memorable autumn sunset you witnessed. What feelings did it evoke?
  • Reflect on the fleeting nature of fall foliage. How does it remind you to cherish moments and phases in life?
Fungus on a decaying nurse log covered in moss. What can you notice in your local green space?
Fungus on a decaying nurse log covered in moss. What can you notice in your local green space?
  • Write about a forest or park in autumn. How do the varying colors and stages of trees inspire you?
  • Reflect on a rainy autumn day. How does the rain rejuvenate the earth, and how can challenges rejuvenate you?

Prompts 16-20: Prepare for the Future

Finally, once you have reflected on today, imagine what you want your future to look like. Picture yourself ten years from now, living an ideal day. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing? Precision Nutrition coaches refer to this exercise as the Destination Postcard. The more vivid the details you supply, the more likely your brain is to help you reach it. Consider the following prompts in preparing for the future.

  • Write about the animals preparing for winter. How can you prepare for future challenges or seasons in your life?
  • Reflect on the balance between letting go (like trees shedding leaves) and holding on. When is it time for each in your life?
  • Write about the warmth of a cozy sweater or electric blanket. How can you create warmth and comfort in your life as the days get colder?
Consider your life as varied and colorful as Mother Nature's landscape. Everything provides balance until one color takes over. What do you need in order to restore balance in your life?
Consider your life as varied and colorful as Mother Nature’s landscape. Everything provides balance until one color takes over. What do you need in order to restore balance in your life?
  • Reflect on the anticipation of the first snowfall. How can you embrace the unknowns in your life with similar anticipation?
  • Write about a family or community autumn tradition. How does it bring people together and how can you foster such connections in your life?

Using Journal Prompts in Your Practice

Allow these prompts to inspire you to see the beauty of autumn and draw parallels with your own experiences. If you feel pressed for time, consider picking one prompt that speaks to you, to begin with. Set an alarm for anywhere from 2-5 minutes and jot down everything that comes to mind. The next time you have a few minutes, pick another prompt.

A favorite fall image from a hike on Tiger Mountain.
A favorite fall image from a hike on Tiger Mountain.

Don’t feel compelled to write about them all, unless you love journaling. When I get stuck journaling I love to have a prompt or two available to channel thoughts in a new direction. And you can do this in a natural setting (nature journaling), on a computer, or even dictated. Whatever works for you.

Happy reflecting! And if you care to share, please do so in the box below. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Forest Bathing: How To Get Started

Before I share my recent experience with forest bathing, I wish to extend deep gratitude to Chloe Lee, affiliated with Cascadia Forest Therapy. She first introduced me to the practice in March 2021. Chloe has a unique and deeply personal way of extending “Invitations” to enjoy the forest.

Last Tuesday, she invited me to join her on a guided walk in the Arboretum. During our two hours, she asked me several questions about my own practice which I thought would make a good introductory blog post. Any errors herein are mine alone.

Forest bathing doesn't require any water, although we had plenty of rain on October 10. It made everything magical.
Forest bathing doesn’t require any water, although we had plenty of rain on October 10. It made everything magical.

What Is Forest Bathing?

Put most simply, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the Japanese practice of self-care and mindfulness that involves opening your senses to all the forest has to offer, from noticing movement, seeking tiny objects, experiencing colors in new ways, or finding a place to sit and absorb whatever Mother Nature offers.

If after reading this post you’re interested in learning more, please visit Cascadia Forest Therapy’s article on a “Typical Forest Bathing Session” or scroll down for some wonderful resources I found on my shelf.

A damp heart-shaped leaf that reminded me of my mother. While use of cell phones is discouraged on traditional forest bathing walks, I knew I would ultimately want to share this wonderful experience with readers.
A damp heart-shaped leaf that reminded me of my mother. While the use of cell phones is discouraged on traditional forest bathing walks, I knew I would ultimately want to share this wonderful experience with readers. Instead of several dozen photos, I only shot five.

The Beginnings Of My Journey

In March 2021, I needed helpful ways to handle stress rather than sinking into addictive tendencies. Chloe introduced me to the calm, centering practice of forest bathing. During our walk this week, she asked me to share an early forest bathing memory.

I recounted my first time in Boeing Creek Park, a place I’ve returned to many times since. At her invitation to find something that “spoke” to me in some way, I crept up to the biggest Douglas fir in the area. I caressed the ribbed bark, circled around the trunk examining woodpecker holes and moss covering it, and looked up as the tree sighed on the breeze.

Out of respect to "Be a tree" I have never taken her picture, but at the end of my first forest bathing experience I did shoot a picture of the round stone, a symbol of my "go-go-go" nature that I strive to leave behind.
Out of respect to “Be a tree” I have never taken a picture, but at the end of my first forest bathing experience I did shoot a picture of the round stone, a symbol of my “go-go-go” nature that I strive to leave behind.

Be-a-Tree

Assigning the tree a human name didn’t feel right. I intuitively thought of it as female, but I admit I don’t know whether trees can even be male or female. So I refer to the tree simply as “Be-a-tree.” (Beatrice?) I gave Be-a-tree a hug, stared up into its high and mighty branches dwarfing all those in its presence, and felt deeply connected to a tree in a way I never had before. Almost like the tree was a grandparent. Or great-grandparent.

Am I a tree hugger? That particular one, yes.

A madrone reaching high up in the canopy of the Arboretum.
A madrone reaching high up in the canopy of the Arboretum.

Every time I return to the park, I include a short visit to Be-a-tree. Oh, the many fascinating years it has experienced. And it will probably be standing long after I move on. Appreciating nature’s longevity and healing powers helps put things into proper perspective. It’s hard to be depressed or manic while surrounded by trees.

Have you ever connected with a tree? If you are interested in learning more about the hidden lives of trees, check out Peter Wohlleben’s book.

Sit Spot

Chloe extended another invitation in a grove where a barred owl hooted a greeting. She suggested we find a spot to lean up against a tree and absorb whatever Mother Nature wanted to reveal. This time I found a Madrone with peeling bark. Since I seldom visit the Arboretum, and probably couldn’t locate this one again, I did not feel a need to name it. However, I did notice the lovely, thin, tissue-paper bark.

In our tea circle, I shared that Mother Nature had wrapped up the tree, almost as a present. Have I mentioned that I love trees?

Forest Bathing: How To Get Started

Integrating Practice with an Urban Lifestyle

A question we discussed in a group and in smaller groups was how to include a forest bathing practice in an urban setting. My own practice looks like this:

  • Daily walks (3-4) outdoors with my dog, rain or shine
  • Daily grounding (earthing) in my backyard, 30 minutes
  • Weekly hikes with my dog
  • Birding seasonally, sometimes monthly
  • Forest bathing as the opportunity arises, no set frequency but more often in spring
  • Vacations 2x/year to wildlife destinations for bird and animal photography
  • My Active Ajax Adventures Rambles and OcTraPiMo projects, both outdoors-based projects
One of my favorite things to do outside is to appreciate the changing seasons. My favorite colors occur in the fall.
One of my favorite things to do outside is to appreciate the changing seasons. My favorite colors occur in the fall.

As you can see, even living in an urban setting like Seattle, I have carved out regular practices that take me out in nature to help me stay grounded, connected, and less stressed. You can, too, by making it a priority and finding ways that work for you.

Developing Your Practice

If you are interested in trying forest bathing for yourself, you can embark on a guided trip to see what the invitations and practice look, feel, and sound like.

Once you have had a taste for it, plan a few visits to your nearest greenspace, preferably a place with trees. Go alone, without any set objective of time or distance. Your goal is simply to BE and FEEL. Motion can come later once you tap into emotions.

Use all five senses. Can you find ten different sights that appeal to your eyes? a certain color? something bigger than a bicycle, smaller than a penny? What do you hear? When you walk, how do you feel? how does it feel to rub your feet along the surface or skim the top with your hand? Are there distinct smells?

Oh, to be so lucky on your forest bathing adventures as to find a handful of ripe blueberries!
Oh, to be so lucky on your forest bathing adventures as to find a handful of ripe blueberries!

Perhaps the hardest sense to use during forest bathing is taste. I don’t advocate trying mushrooms, as I don’t know which might be poisonous, but when berries are ripe or apples are in season, go for it. We enjoyed 100% cacao and freshly brewed forest tea with cedar, cinnamon, and nettle Chloe picked during our hike.

Where Can I Learn More About Forest Bathing?

I used forest bathing techniques on a hike with Ajax in March, 2021 on one of our favorite trails on Tiger Mountain.
I used forest bathing techniques on a hike with Ajax in March, 2021 on one of our favorite trails on Tiger Mountain.

If you are interested in contacting Chloe Lee directly, here are her personals:

www.chloejanelee.com

hello@chloejanelee.com

www.cascadiaforesttherapy.com

Instagram @chloe_jane_lee

Now go outside, find a tree to admire and learn about for the next five minutes, and tell it Chloe, Court, and Be-A-Tree sent you!

Featured

Granite Mountain: October Balm For the Spirit

To celebrate the change of seasons, this week Ajax and I participated in our annual pilgrimage to the summit of Granite Mountain. In 2020, Ajax overheated on the descent. We changed tactics in 2021 but the muggy, buggy, and smoky outing dowsed my interest in hiking it during the summer. The exposed south-facing slope — an avalanche chute in winter — is too brutal for Ajax in the heat. On October 5, 2022, we enjoyed cooler temperatures, an empty trail, and brilliant fall colors. And on the same day this year, the Cascade Mountains once again stunned us with their beauty.

At every turn, we found more to gawk at and photograph. The mountains are calling and we had to go.
At every turn, we found more to gawk at and photograph. The mountains are calling and we had to go.

Getting Started

In previous posts, I have shared how sometimes I have to get myself to a trailhead before I actually feel like hiking. This time, I couldn’t wait to reach the trail. A recent trip report raved about spectacular fall colors and I knew exactly where Ajax and I would go.

Fire-red dew-covered maple leaves, the first shot of the hike. My jaw just about dropped.
Fire-red dew-covered maple leaves, the first shot of the hike. My jaw just about dropped.

On the drive to Exit 47, four things set this trip apart from others.

  • We stopped to fill up with gas in the dark so I wouldn’t run out of gas 45 miles from Seattle
  • I listened to Il Divo’s Mama for the first fifteen minutes — which repeated in my head for most of the hike (yes, mine is still with us; not so my husband’s)
  • For the rest of the drive, I listened to Richard Schwartz’s audiobook, No Bad Parts. It reminded me of the blog post I wrote some time ago about reigning in our inner critic.
  • Through morning mist and fog, splashes of color hinted at the display to come higher up

By the time we reached the parking lot just after dawn, I had my camera all ready to go.

Balm for the soul: Mother Nature's awesome artistic display against Mt. Rainier at Granite Mountain.
Balm for the soul: Mother Nature’s awesome artistic display against Mt. Rainier at Granite Mountain.

Granite Mountain: Ascent and Discovery

We started hiking around 7:20, with only one other hiker in front of us. When a spider web brushed my face just past the Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain junction, I guessed the other hiker must have headed in the opposite direction. At the avalanche chute, colorful shrubs awaited. And at every switchback, more stunning scenery vied for my attention. By the end of the morning, I’d shot over 200 photos.

Unfortunately, the beauty couldn’t mask a growing ache in my left foot. Right between the second and third metatarsal, I felt a nodule or tender spot that made me want to scrunch my toes or roll onto the outside of my foot to avoid the ball of the foot. It posed no problems on dirt, but the irregular rocks through the chute aggravated it.

Peek-a-boo! Ajax pauses for just the right moment behind flame-red bushes. Jaw-dropping balm for the soul.
Peek-a-boo! Ajax pauses for just the right moment behind flame-red bushes. Jaw-dropping balm for the soul.

Since I usually don’t feel problems with my Keen boots until descending, I worried about continuing. Each half-hour, I stopped to give Ajax some water and tweak my laces. Take note: the next time you have issues with your boots, try removing your liners. As it turns out, a matted clump of pine needles under the left arch support caused the issue. I guess I’m the proverbial “princess and the pine” rather than pea!

Solo Summit

At 10:15 we enjoyed a half hour at the summit of Granite Mountain. Snow geese in the hundreds migrating southeast squawked high overhead in shifting V formations. A lone hawk soared lazily on an updraft. Hornets (or wasps?) hovered above Ajax’s food and water container, bothered little by a light breeze that kept the other bugs away. I scanned the meadow below looking for other hikers but we had the place to ourselves.

I surveyed the mountains as though they were my own backyard. Due east, a thick marine fog layer blanketed the Puget Sound. All around us were our friends. Bandera. The Tooth. Washington. Defiance. Snoqualmie. McClellan Butte. Not a single cloud other than those below our feet. And stunning reds, golds, oranges, and yellows in all the west-facing valleys illuminated by the sun. Calm confidence washed over me. This is a peaceful world I know so well.

While Granite Mountain is still draped in reds, golds, and oranges, Adams, Rainiern and Glacier Peak all have a healthy dose of snow above 10,000' elevation.
While Granite Mountain is still draped in reds, golds, and oranges, Adams, Rainier, and Glacier Peak all have a healthy dose of snow above 10,000′ elevation.

The only thing that could have made it better was to be able to talk about it with Ajax. What was he thinking, as he sat nearby, panting? Did he appreciate the warm sun or was it too much for him? He wouldn’t eat any kibble. Nor did he chase the chipmunk that approached my pack looking for handouts. But once I put on my pack, he trotted over, ready to go.

Descent from Granite Mountain

As with any early start on a beautiful day, the silence broke as soon as we left the summit basin. Fortunately, the hikers we passed as we descended were spaced out over the next few hours. In addition to Granite Mountain, the trailhead allows access to Pratt, Rainbow, Island, Talapus, and Olallie Lakes. So while the parking lot was full, we didn’t see everyone using it.

Ajax takes a rest beneath the summit. My beautiful puppa is so photogenic, not to mention patient.
Ajax rests beneath the Granite Mountain summit. My beautiful pup is so photogenic, not to mention patient.

The days are once again getting shorter. Rain is common in the Pacific Northwest the last three months of the year, so I know we’re on borrowed time. I knew if we didn’t get out during the week, we might not have another chance. A climber once commented, “If I’m not a little cold, hungry, or tired at the end of a trip, then I brought too much stuff.” As tempted as I was to cut corners, I’m not that climber. I like being comfortable and having sufficient supplies for the two of us.

Balm for the soul: Ajax enjoys sniffing picas, chipmunks, and squirrels in the meadow beneath Granite Mountain's summit.
Balm for the soul: Ajax enjoys sniffing picas, chipmunks, and squirrels in the meadow beneath Granite Mountain’s summit.

Do you have a favorite peak you visit every year? Mine used to be Mt. St. Helens, but the permit hassle has meant changing my goals. Now, Granite in October has become the perfect balm for the spirit. I can’t wait to visit again next fall.

Featured

Protein Needs: How to Assess Whether You Get Enough

A question Body Results clients frequently ask is, “What should I eat?” followed closely by “How much?” Just as no two people have matching fingerprints, our dietary preferences, carbohydrate, fat, and protein needs, and programs differ as well. This week we look at how to assess your unique protein needs with helpful input from my nutrition certifying organization, Precision Nutrition.

Tubac Jack's in Arizona. Even when I am out birding, I can always find someplace that will help me fulfill my protein needs.
Tubac Jack’s in Arizona. Even when I am out birding, I can always find someplace that will help me fulfill my protein needs.

Protein’s Bad Rap

Twenty-five years ago, there was plenty of skepticism about protein. After all, bodybuilders ate lots of it—but they also experimented with all kinds of “questionable” things.

In the late 1990s low-fat diets took center stage (we all know how disastrous that was) and high-protein diets grew in popularity for weight loss—an approach health experts labeled as “unsafe” back then.

Over the years, the hand-wringing about protein has faded. Some of those same experts now advise people to “eat more protein.”

But one claim just won’t die: “Protein is bad for your kidneys.”

Tsui Sushi is one of our very favorite places to go to meet our protein needs -- sashimi and sushi -- with a good dose of omega 3's, the healthy type of fat. Makes me hungry every time!
Tsui Sushi is one of our very favorite places to go to meet our protein needs — sashimi and sushi — with a good dose of omega 3’s, the healthy type of fat. Makes me hungry every time!

Spoiler: It’s a Myth

The concern about high protein and kidney problems began because doctors tell people with poorly functioning kidneys—usually from pre-existing kidney disease—to eat a low-protein diet.

There’s a big difference between avoiding protein because your kidneys are already damaged versus protein actively damaging healthy kidneys.

It’s the difference between jogging with a broken leg and jogging with a perfectly healthy leg.

Recovering from injury, illness, or surgery will mean increased protein needs.
Recovering from injury, illness, or surgery will mean increased protein needs.

Jogging with a Broken Leg is a Bad Idea

Doctors would probably tell you not to do that. But nobody would ever argue that jogging causes legs to break. Same with protein and kidneys.

Eating more protein does increase how much your kidneys have to work, just like jogging increases how much your legs have to work.

But protein hasn’t been shown to cause kidney damage—again, just like jogging isn’t going to suddenly snap your leg like a breadstick.

In fact, clinical studies show people can eat up to 4.4 g of protein per kg body weight (or 2 g per pound) without any short-term health problems. But very few people would ever voluntarily eat that much.

The author in my younger days, sporting a casted right leg and holding our previous dog, Emily.
The author in my younger days, sporting a casted right leg and holding our previous dog, Emily.

So How Do I Determine My Protein Needs?

For the average person eating a standard diet, protein deficiency isn’t a concern. However, “not deficient” does not mean optimal. It just means getting enough to maintain function and prevent malnutrition.

For sedentary, generally healthy adults, 0.4 g per pound of body weight should cover basic daily requirements. (A little math here: 40 grams for a 100-pound person, 60 grams for a 150-pound person, and 80 grams for a 200-pound person.)

The more active you are, the more protein you need. The author stands atop Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park.
The more active you are, the more protein you need. The author stands atop Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park.

Our bodies need protein for so many essential processes that your protein needs increase if you are:

  • Training hard frequently or doing a lot of physical labor (think backpacking, trekking, or climbing)
  • Trying to maintain or increase lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat
  • Older (protein digestion reduces with age, so you need more to meet daily requirements)
  • Injured, sick, or recovering from surgery

For people in one or more of these groups, research suggests aiming for 0.7-1.0 g per pound of body weight (or about 105-150 g for a 150-pound person.)

A delicious chicken salad at Tubac Jack's
A delicious chicken salad at Tubac Jack’s.

Don’t Agonize Over the Numbers

Many people avoid calorie counting, tracking intake, and measuring food. If the thought of tracking intake makes you cringe, you might love learning about an easier way.

Click here for a helpful Precision Nutrition infographic on what a “serving” looks like using your own hand. Shoot for having 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein at each meal.

Also, please remember that you won’t reach your protein needs goal overnight. Start by nudging the notch one step better. If you currently only get one palm-sized position of protein a day, try increasing that to two. Once you can do that consistently, build to three.

A homemade protein-rich lunch of leftovers: tomato, pulled pork, raw veggies (peppers, celery, carrots, water chestnuts), and roasted potatoes cooked in avocado oil and sea salt. Delicious.
A homemade protein-rich lunch of leftovers: tomato, pulled pork, raw veggies (peppers, celery, carrots, water chestnuts), and roasted potatoes cooked in avocado oil and sea salt. Delicious.

This might be as simple as increasing your breakfast egg scramble from two to three, adding a scoop of collagen to a protein shake or post-workout smoothie, or adding a wing or two to the chicken thigh you routinely eat at lunch. If you get most of your protein at dinner, try adding a palm-sized serving to breakfast or lunch.

Try it out for a few weeks. If you enjoy it, you feel it’s helping you approach your goals, and you’re seeing improved performance, then keep building on your success. And if you need help planning your way forward, contact me. I’m always happy to collaborate!

Featured

How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices

Saturday morning I wrestled with the pros and cons of hiking. The weather forecasted rain starting around noon. My daughter, who starts her sophomore year at U. of Washington this week, was home for one final weekend. I hadn’t hiked since our birthday trip to Peek-a-Boo Lake. I reflected on resistance and ambivalence and how decisional balance can help us make choices when we face change.

Our 10-mile hike felt like a race against time as a front moved into the mountains. The view is looking due north from the West Tiger 3 summit.
Our 10-mile hike felt like a race against time as a front moved into the mountains. The view is looking due north from the West Tiger 3 summit.

Decisional Balance: Cons

Resistance and ambivalence are normal and expected in the process of change. I tend to focus on obstacles first. If I perceive too many, I avoid the first step, in this case, getting into the car. The roadblocks felt ample:

  • My daughter was home for the weekend, but she had to work, so I would be hiking alone with Ajax
  • Hiking half a day meant delaying my weekly blog
  • We’d get a later start than usual since I hadn’t totally packed
  • Even in the shoulder season, weekend crowds are still likely on trails
  • Hiking meant postponing doing my foot and hip rehab exercises
  • I had no audiobook to listen to on the drive and nobody to talk to

When I listed the cons, I noticed the biggest ones revolved around going alone and prioritizing my time. Then I shifted my thoughts to how I might reframe them into positives.

View toward the east from just east of West Tiger 1, en route to Preston/Bootleg trails. The fall color change has just started!
View toward the east from just east of West Tiger 1, en route to Preston/Bootleg trails. The fall color change has just started!

Decisional Balance: Pros

Reframing is one of the most powerful tools in a coach’s toolbox. It helps us turn negatives into positives. Here’s what I came up with when I tried turning my cons into pros:

  • I committed to doing a ramble a week with my dog Ajax this year; this would be number 60.
  • Hiking would supply a topic and photos for a blog post; nobody cares about the timing of launches but me
  • We could get on the trail by 7:15; the hike I wanted to do never had very many people
  • I could do my PT later in the evening
  • Hiking in the morning would mean we’d beat the rain
  • Birdsong! Need I say more? Fall migrants might present themselves
  • Enjoying nature is one of the best ways for me to reflect on all the changes in my life
  • I wanted a memorable way to celebrate finishing the Precision Nutrition Master Health Coach course which is the first stepping stone to becoming a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach with the NBHWC
Ajax celebrates my achievements at the summit of West Tiger 1. I do so love that little guy.
Ajax celebrates my achievements at the summit of West Tiger 1. I do so love that little guy.

By reframing my list of cons into pros, I could focus on the main reason to hike: to celebrate! If we don’t highlight and enjoy our accomplishments, they get lost in the rush of daily living. I wanted to pause and do something I love, even if it meant delaying other important things.

Assessing Change Readiness

Enter decisional balance, which is a way of weighing the costs and benefits of choices. For simple decisions, we do this intuitively and quickly, usually without writing anything down. But if you have larger life changes you’ve been considering for quite a while, writing the pros and cons on paper might help.

An example of a hard decision is whether to stay at a current job with people you enjoy that provides security and benefits, but which is totally boring, or to switch to a better-paying job in a new industry with a lot to learn and no guarantees. Which direction you choose depends on your values, identity, and priorities.


One of the tipping points for me in decisional balance was seeing the fall colors. October is a beautiful month to enjoy the mountains.
One of the tipping points for me in decisional balance was seeing the fall colors. October is a beautiful month to enjoy the mountains.

To explore decisions yourself, check out this decisional balance worksheet from Nova Southeastern University, along with an explanation of how to complete it. Precision Nutrition also offers a worksheet called the decision journal.

Bootleg Trail

On our descent, we hit an unexpected obstacle. I’d started composing a blog post in my mind about decisional balance and stopped paying attention to the trail. When we reached a turnstile with a sign for the Bootleg Trail, I stopped in my tracks.

Crud! How did we get on the wrong trail?

The overgrown entry into the forest east of all the logged areas is marked with a small rock cairn and faded pink ribbon on two bushes. The detour beneath the deforested boundary is not marked except by faded blue arrows on the uphill trees.
The overgrown entry into the forest east of all the logged areas is marked with a small rock cairn and faded pink ribbon on two bushes. The detour beneath the deforested boundary is not marked except by faded blue arrows on the uphill trees.

We weren’t exactly lost. I’d been on this stretch during prior exploratory rambles. But we were too far east. My attempt to access a map showing whether the Tiger Mountain Trail or Railroad Grade route crossed nearby failed. Drat Mint Mobile!

Oh well, I thought, what’s another mile? As we did on Squak, we retraced our steps. Fortunately, I found the bypass trail with faint blue arrows pointing west. Aha! Back on track.

Lessons Learned

I certainly didn’t expect to see Bootleg Trail yesterday. Nor did I anticipate my hesitancy to launch the wellness coaching branch of our company. As in all aspects of life, sometimes our experiences and expectations don’t match.

Yet mistakes are great teachers. And when we make mistakes and say “Oh well, no big deal,” or better yet, “What can I learn from this?” we advance toward cultivating a growth mindset.

It's mushroom season!
It’s mushroom season!
How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices
How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices

Once we reached a trail I recognized, I reflected on the past twenty weeks of coaching classes. I also reminded myself of my intention to continue the forward momentum I’d built all summer. On our way down the Cable Line trail to our car, I shot some videos introducing Webtraining. My first step toward getting less awkward in front of the camera is to take more video selfies while on hikes. I got this!

In the end, my decision to hike yesterday was the best one I could have made. As soon as we got home, it started to pour. The forecast for the foreseeable future is rain. But I’m basking in the glow of a summer of successes and of yesterday’s wonderful (albeit long) celebration hike.

Featured

Mountain State Fair: How to Enjoy Your Visit

It’s been a very emotional week. Instead of delving into change, I’ve intentionally kept this post playful and lighthearted. Last weekend, my parents, husband, daughter, and I all visited the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Asheville. We wanted to compare it with our annual visit to the Washington State Fair. You may recall a comparable post in January about visits to the Washington and Alaska State Fairs. Which fair will be next?

My father, a die-hard Yankees fan, treated us all to tickets. He was fascinated by all the colorful rides. And despite afternoon thunderstorms in the region, we had a dry visit.
My father, a die-hard Yankees fan, treated us all to tickets. He was fascinated by all the colorful rides. And despite afternoon thunderstorms in the region, we had a dry visit.

Animals at the NC Mountain State Fair

North Carolina’s Mountain State Fair is the official “state fair” for the mountainous region of the state. Located in Asheville, it runs for ten days and draws about 180,000 visitors each year. The Alaska State Fair draws close to 100,000, and over a million guests visit the Washington State Fair annually. We enjoyed each of them for different reasons.

While the Washington State Fair has considerably more animals on display, we were impressed with the unusual and unexpected variety at the NC Mountain State Fair. Sea lions swam in two big pools by the south entrance. Ponies provided rides for kids. Metal mechanical bulls were no contest for kid riders. And who can resist newborn calves in the “Mooternity Ward”? They drew as many guests as the Piglet Palace does in Puyallup.

Day-old calf, Candi, in the Mooternity Ward at the NC Mountain State Fair.
Day-old calf, Candi, in the Mooternity Ward at the NC Mountain State Fair.
Week-old piglets (ten!) in the Piglet Palace at the Washington State Fair.
Week-old piglets (ten!) in the Piglet Palace at the Washington State Fair.

Exotic Draws

Eudora Farms hosted exotic animals ranging from camels to zebu, and kangaroos to ring-tailed lemurs. I especially loved the African watusi, the “guy with the big horns.” The fair also has two mechanical bulls for kids of all ages. I don’t recall seeing one at the Alaska or Washington fairs. Since my volunteering stint at Woodland Park Zoo ended during the COVID era, it was wonderful to see zoo-like animals again.

My father, daughter, and mother pose next to an African watusi, or "guy with big horns," courtesy of Eudora Farms at the NC Mountain State Fair.
My father, daughter, and mother pose next to an African watusi, or “guy with big horns,” courtesy of Eudora Farms at the NC Mountain State Fair.

Senior Citizen, Very Special Arts Categories

We found the biggest differences in the hobbies exhibits. In particular:

  • NC MSF had a “senior citizens” category separated by age groups, much like Legos for kids at WSF.
  • NCMSF also had a “very special arts” category for otherly abled entrants to exhibit their creations. I am unaware of either being available through the Alaska and Washington State Fairs, but that could certainly change.
  • Lego submissions can be of any size or even built from kits. The Washington State Fair has very stringent size requirements (10″ by 10″ by 15″ maximum) and designs must be unique creations with Lego brand bricks only, no kits.
NCMSF offered several special categories for entrants ranging from senior citizens crafts ...
NCMSF offered several special categories for entrants ranging from senior citizens’ crafts …
Mountain State Fair: How to Enjoy Your Visit
…to “Very Special Arts” for otherly abled entrants.
A very oversized helicopter made of Lego bricks would not have been acceptable at the Washington State Fair.
A very oversized helicopter made of Lego bricks would not have been acceptable at the Washington State Fair.

Another enjoyable part of the fair was an artisan pavilion where we could watch artists hard at work on their machine knitting, leather crafting, quilling, and even glass blowing. Outside the pavilion, a pair of wood carvers used chain saws on huge wooden blocks, and another put finishing touches of paint on a completed sculpture.

Food at the NC Mountain State Fair

When it comes to food, state fairs have two things in common: large portions and hefty prices. Washington State Fair is famous for its scones. People wait in line sometimes twenty deep to order one.

I was intrigued enough by the idea of a deep-fried Oreo to shoot a picture of the sign, but not enough to try one. And we spotted a “Chicken and Waffles” (i.e. waffle fries) booth at both the Washington and NC Mountain State Fairs.

Interesting enough for a picture.
Interesting enough for a picture.
Fried chicken strips and waffle fries seem to be a common occurrence at fairs.
Fried chicken strips and waffle fries seem to be a common occurrence at fairs.
NC MSF wins for food purchase: a Berry Berry smoothie!
NC MSF wins for food purchase: a Berry Berry smoothie!

But the most enticing (and only) food purchase we made at any of the three fairs was a Berry Berry Smoothie that we split three ways. Made from four fruits and almond milk, it was the only item that was remotely “health conscious.” By that, I mean it didn’t make any of us feel horrible afterward. Delicious!

Competitions

This year my husband entered five photographs at the Washington State Fair. My daughter submitted entries to the embroidery, crochet, Lego, and papercraft exhibits. I’m still trying to figure out how to turn my passion for helping people and playing with words into visual art others can enjoy.

I call myself the “cheerleader” with bragging rights on social media. Someday…

My husband's beautiful owl photo earned an Honorable Mention.
My husband’s beautiful owl photo earned an Honorable Mention.
My daughter's whimsical organic build of a dragon drew lots of comments from children as their favorite.
My daughter’s whimsical organic build of a dragon drew lots of comments from children as their favorite.

Have you visited the Washington State Fair yet? This year it runs through September 24. We tried our hand at archery near the entry gate. We got to view solar flares on the sun through a special telescope. And we watched a magnificent sword juggler on a high unicycle. Whatever you are interested in, you’ll find it at the fair.

I will be back next week with more reflections on another aspect of change once I am not in the midst of so much of it myself.

Featured

Trainer and Coach: How to Know the Difference

This week presented me with a number of blog options during a significant period of change. Shopping with my daughter for back-to-school items. Starting a new physical therapy program. Preparing to visit my parents. Visiting the Washington State Fair. And, tragically, watching a neighbor’s house go up in flames. The bright spot that stood out the most was the “aha” moment I had yesterday during my Master Health Coaching class. It dawned on me that readers might be interested in learning the difference between trainer and coach.

First place in quilling at the 2023 Washington State Fair. One of my family's traditions is to go on opening day to see how our entries do in various contests.
First place in quilling at the 2023 Washington State Fair. One of my family’s traditions is to go on opening day to see how our entries do in various contests.

Personal Trainer Defined

For 25 years I have been the lead personal trainer at Body Results Inc. As such, clients come to me seeking guidance and expertise on how to most effectively prepare for their outdoor adventure, my chosen niche.

Some might be preparing for a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon or trekking to Everest Base Camp. Others might be interested in climbing Mt. Rainier, Denali, or Everest. A few want to participate in alpine skill-building classes. Occasionally I’ll get a client who wants to ski, kayak, canoe, or even compete in triathlons or marathons.

Trainer or coach? Depends on whether you want to be told exactly what to do or get guidance on a climb. A personal trainer will provide training programs. A climbing coach or guide might actually take you up the mountain.
Trainer or coach? Depends on whether you want to be told exactly what to do or get guidance on a climb. A personal trainer will provide training programs. A climbing coach or guide might actually take you up the mountain.

Personal trainers generally advise their clients what to do in order to best reach their physical goals. They provide recommendations about stretching, mobility, strength training, and aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Some may also include recovery, sleep, and nutrition guidelines. If you’re looking for someone to develop a program for you and help keep track of workouts, sets, reps, weights, and times, a personal trainer is the person to ask.

Coach Defined

On the other side of the “people-helping” spectrum are coaches. Their primary role is as a facilitator of learning. Coaches work in all fields: life, financial, spiritual, mental health, wellness, career, retirement, family, sales, sports… If you want guidance in some realm, you can probably find a coach for it. Coaches often play the role of educator, guide, facilitator, and mentor all rolled into one. They aim to improve your performance right now, rather than in the future.

Precision Nutrition, touted as “the largest and most respected private nutrition organization in the world,” teaches that coaches act as advisors and collaborators. Their philosophy is to “bring the boats alongside” — i.e. create a partnership where the coach lets the client take charge of their own health decisions. They encourage the development of autonomy and self-efficacy by mastering a certain set of skills that will get the client closer to their goal.

Our Body Results training studio. We even have space and means to coach Z-pulley set up and prusik set up.
Our Body Results training studio. We even have space and means to coach Z-pulley set up and Prusik set up.

One Big Difference

Ask yourself: Do you want to meet your trainer or coach in person or remotely? Having offered both, I can say there is an obvious, fundamental difference for the consumer post-COVID times.

Traditional personal training (guiding someone through a workout) is more challenging to offer on video calls. I have clients with home gyms who enlist my guidance as their trainer. Others record themselves doing exercises and then submit the video to me for critiquing.

Coach Court and Ajax on Dirty Harry's Peak with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Coach Court and Ajax on Dirty Harry’s Peak with Mt. Rainier in the background.

If you have issues that require hands-on manipulation, form check, positioning, or spotting, then in-person training might fit your needs best. If you know your way around a gym and want someone to develop a program for you to do on your own, remote training could work well.

A coach who offers thought experiments, tracking logs, and conversation can do so quite easily over video conferencing.

Trainer and Coach: Who Are You Looking For?

When you’re thinking about choosing between a trainer and coach, continue asking yourself questions such as these:

  • What is my end goal? Do I want general improved health and fitness or do I have a specific outcome goal in mind such as climbing the Matterhorn or completing the Snowman Trek in Bhutan?
  • What skills do I need to accomplish my objective and who can help me build those skills?
Think about what you want in a trainer and coach. Are you results-oriented? Is the goal more important than the journey? Who best aligns with what you want?
Think about what you want in a trainer and coach. Are you results-oriented? Is the goal more important than the journey? Who best aligns with what you want?
  • What type of person do I want to help me? Do I want to be told exactly what to do, or do I need a partner who will ask me enlightening questions to help me grow and challenge myself?
  • What obstacles stand in my way? Do I have an injury I need to rehabilitate? Do I have health issues I need to address first? Would help with the mental and emotional side of things make sense first?
  • Do I prefer meeting someone in person or would a video call, phone conversation, or email suffice?
  • What must come out of my sessions in order to feel that the relationship has been successful?

Armed with these answers, you will be able to determine whether you need a teacher, a physical therapist, a counselor, a nutrition or movement coach, a personal trainer, or someone else entirely. Each plays a vital and unique role, with different responsibilities and outcomes.

The embroidery piece that won the blue ribbon at the Washington State Fair is an intricate Parisian cafe scene.
The embroidery piece that won the blue ribbon at the Washington State Fair is an intricate Parisian cafe scene.

My Evolution to Trainer and Coach

If you’re lucky, you might come across someone who has skills in a wide number of the above roles. I have more than 28 years of experience as a personal trainer. In the last seven years, I’ve added nutrition knowledge. Sleep, stress management, and recovery skills. Understanding of change psychology. Coaching skills. And, starting in November 2023, a journal coaching credential. A widely varied toolkit to draw from, depending on the client and what each person wants, needs, and wishes to use.

Evolution and Epiphanies

I’m evolving into someone I don’t yet recognize. (This is, after all, a blog about change.) During a role-play in my Master Health class last night, I had an epiphany. I was acting as the coach and started to have that deer-in-the-headlights feeling of “I dunno what to do here!” In the past, I’ve tried throwing out desperate suggestions: “You could try X. Have you thought about Y? What about considering Z?”

My office desk, where half of my Zoom conversations occur. And where I had my pivotal epiphany.
My office desk, where half of my Zoom conversations occur. And where I had my pivotal epiphany.

This time, I stopped. Pivoted. Took a breath. Quickly asked myself, What do I still need to know? A new open-ended question popped up that took us down a brand new path. A new entry into the maze. Exploring that one question led us to a solution my partner, the “client,” came up with. One that pleased and thrilled her. We never would have found it if I hadn’t let that silence be for a few seconds.

At that moment, I trusted the client to suggest her own answer. Precision Nutrition calls the need to fix things the “righting reflex,” the natural instinct we have to give advice, tell someone what to do, and make the problem disappear. That single moment was subtle to my coaching partners, but to me, it felt enormous. I’d broken my habit of “telling someone what to do.” I have finally metamorphosed into a trainer and coach.

Three things make me really happy: Hiking with my dog. Completing a challenge. And helping clients expand their potential.
Three things make me really happy: Hiking with my dog. Completing a challenge. And helping clients expand their potential.

Trainer and Coach: How About Both?

The good news is you can have a trainer and coach. Me! While I have been contemplating leaving personal training to become a full-time coach, there are benefits to continuing both.

Nutrition, personal training, journaling, sleep, stress, and recovery credentials all make me a well-rounded health and wellness coach, with access to a wide variety of tools to help you move toward your objective. And even better news is I am opening several more training spots for the remainder of the year.

If you are seeking a trainer and coach, let’s have a conversation to help you find your unique path forward.

Featured

How to Rewrite The Rules at Peek-a-Boo Lake

Several weeks ago, a writing partner told me she’d mentioned my blog to a hiking friend of hers. Her friend didn’t find what she was looking for in my recent posts. It appears she was looking for long, tough hikes with huge elevation gain. When my friend called her friend a “hiking snob,” I laughed. Perhaps she just wasn’t interested in the change messages I shared. But on a family hike to Peek-a-Boo Lake yesterday, I thought about how stringent rules make us miss a lot in life. How might you rewrite the rules to get more from your life?

My hiking partners are ready to rewrite the rules with me.
My hiking partners are ready to rewrite the rules with me.

The Drive

We left Seattle yesterday morning at 7:40 under overcast skies. We mistakenly headed toward Monroe before realizing we needed to go due north to Everett. Oops. I didn’t calculate the distance properly; my estimation of 1.5 hours ended up being closer to 2.25 hours.

When we pulled into the Beaver Lake Trailhead to use the Portapotty (since Peek-a-Boo doesn’t have any facilities) I checked the mileage sign for an idea of other hikes in the Darrington area. Refreshed and certain we were close, we drove up the forest service road toward Peek-a-Boo Lake. And that’s when the wonder and awe began, along with a very long, slow drive.

Five miles of brushy, one-lane, potholed road. By giving myself permission to rewrite the rules, we get to explore pristine forests in out-of-the-way places where berries burst off bushes and nobody else is there to bother us.
Five miles of brushy, one-lane, potholed road. By giving myself permission to rewrite the rules, we get to explore pristine forests in out-of-the-way places where berries burst off bushes and nobody else is there to bother us.

Obstacles

How long can five miles take to drive? Forever, if the road is narrow and brushy. The one-lane road was in fairly decent shape, but we had to hop out several times to clear branches and debris. A downed tree across the road provided JUST enough clearance to pass underneath without getting stuck. We proceeded slowly so the branches wouldn’t damage the paint on our car.

A downed tree across the road provided just enough clearance for our vehicle.
A downed tree across the road provided just enough clearance for our vehicle.

Rewards

Eight ruffed grouse, about the size of chickens, ducked in and out of the brush. My husband, a master birder through Seattle Audubon, pointed out that they collect gravel from the road to help with digestion. This sighting boosted my hiking bird list to 32 unique species in August, one of the less birdy months of the year. The other dozen species on this trip included golden-crowned kinglets, western tanagers, and evening grosbeaks.

Fog loaned an ethereal quality to the morning. Water droplets collected on spider webs, highlighting the silver strands and making the mossy mountainside mysterious and mystifying. We finally pulled into an empty parking area with space for about a dozen cars. I couldn’t wait to discover what this trail had to offer.

Delicate maidenhair ferns - my favorites - covered in droplets. I never would have guessed the Pacific Northwest had been in a drought since early July.
Delicate maidenhair ferns – my favorites – covered in droplets. I never would have guessed the Pacific Northwest had been in a drought since early July.

Why Hike Peek-a-Boo Lake?

Why Peek-a-Boo? Both my husband and daughter preferred something under eight miles without much elevation gain. At five miles and 1500 feet of gain, this hike fit perfectly. My daughter wanted to explore another alpine lake and perhaps collect berries. Ajax likes shade, running water, cool temperatures, and the ability to hike off-leash with his family.

In some ways, I resemble the hiking snob. Ajax and I usually cover 8-15 miles with 3-4000 feet of elevation gain. We prefer overcast and cool days with a crack-of-dawn start to avoid foot and car traffic. This summer I’ve had to rewrite the rules. I chose nine hikes that my daughter (a night owl) could enjoy. When my husband offered to join us, I put my intended destination, Island and Rainbow Lakes, on hold. Time to rewrite the rules.

Fascinating old-growth trees with interesting shapes and textures reach up into the fog. If we don't rewrite the rules, we might miss out.
Fascinating old-growth trees with interesting shapes and textures reach up into the fog. If we don’t rewrite the rules, we might miss out.

Could we visit a beautiful place I’d never been before? Have some unique bird encounters? Find a trail nobody else was using? The trail register just beyond the parking lot indicated that the last visitors were two hikers three days earlier on Sunday. We had the trail to ourselves. Success!

Berry Surprise

We reached the lake around noon, chatting about my daughter’s teachers over the years. Keeping both my husband and daughter talking means I don’t have much time to think about my blog. But this was my birthday. Last year we took a boat tour to the Kenai Fjords in Alaska. This year, we could include our dog. Rules are meant to be broken. And when you’re working with a wellness coach, you learn how to rewrite the rules.

The biggest surprise was finding bushes all along the lake bursting with berries. For an hour we collected wild huckleberries and blueberries. It reminded me of the family trip to pick alpine berries on Mt. Catherine two years ago, another hike that doesn’t “fit my usual rules.” Frankly, if you intend to spend any time picking berries, you probably don’t WANT to be on a long hike!

A handful of blueberries we picked at Peek-a-Boo Lake.
A handful of blueberries we picked at Peek-a-Boo Lake.
Lakeside bushes bursting with berries.
Lakeside bushes bursting with berries

Could I Rewrite the Rules?

I started writing this post thinking we wouldn’t return to Peek-A-Boo Lake. It takes so much effort just to reach the trailhead. But then I asked myself one of the “crazy questions” that Precision Nutrition coaches like to ask when they guide clients to rewrite the rules.

What could get me back there? I realized I needed to continue to rewrite the rules. If I hosted someone who wanted a shorter hike, the conversation in the car could make the long drive worthwhile.

If I were camping at the Clear Creek Campground for a week, I’d set myself up with a bunch of shorter day hikes to explore including Peek-a-Boo. And if I wanted to have a writer’s retreat away from the craziness of busy Seattle, what better place than visiting a lake that few people hike to?

Our rule is to go into any alpine lakes we visit. I chose to rewrite the rules for Peek-a-Boo Lake on a foggy, chilly day: wading works for me!
Our rule is to go into any alpine lakes we visit. I chose to rewrite the rules for Peek-a-Boo Lake on a foggy, chilly day: wading works for me!

Your Turn To Rewrite The Rules

How about you? Do you have any unspoken rules that are weighing you down? Where did they come from? Who made them? Think of a rule you’d like to change. Maybe it’s as simple as “I can’t watch TV without eating a snack,” or “I can’t see a movie in the theater without popcorn and soda.” Have you ever tried? What could your new rule look like?

Another common rule might be, “For exercise to count, it has to make me sweat and be longer than an hour.” Says who? If you have five minutes, you have enough time to exercise.

Ajax is on high alert watching a squirrel race up a tree. He's so well trained, he knows not to chase.
Ajax is on high alert watching a squirrel race up a tree. He’s so well trained, he knows not to chase.

If you like what you read in this weekly blog and you’d like to talk to me about what you’d like to change, please connect with me. I’d love to help you discover your unspoken “shoulds” and help you rewrite the rules. Please share in the comments.

Featured

Take Action Before Motivation: How to Get Unstuck

Excessive heat and poor air quality make everything more challenging. (Wildfires are burning in the Pacific Northwest.) Fortunately, most of my Body Results clients are climbing or have finished their summer adventures, so I am calling late August my “summer vacation.” But not without plenty of hard work. In addition to working through my 20-week-long Master Health Coach course, I’ve been eliminating addictive tendencies. I’ve discovered that taking action before motivation strikes is the key to getting unstuck. If you wait for motivation, you may never act.

Ajax poses on the bench at the summit of Cougar Mountain in the Whittaker Wilderness on August 19.
Ajax poses on the bench at the summit of Cougar Mountain in the Whittaker Wilderness on August 19.

Return to Whittaker Wilderness

Pondering the complicated nature of addiction, I returned to Cougar Mountain with Ajax to celebrate a break in the heat. Saturday dawned in the low 50’s — perfect hiking weather. The morning’s weather report warned that shifting winds would bring wildfire smoke into the Puget Sound area. I didn’t want to risk getting caught in smoke like we did last fall (see my blog about a hike to Melakwa Lake). Even though I avoid hiking on weekends, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

The last time I hiked in the Whittaker Wilderness, I wrote about “Expecting the Unexpected.” In it, I shared how all three of us struggled with different aspects of the hike. On this trip, ready to redeem ourselves, Ajax and I hiked in the opposite direction, reaching the summit via the Gombu Wilderness Cliffs trail. We also visited Shy Bear Marsh, Long View (without a view), and Doughty Falls (which is now just a puddle), complete with a geocache we missed on our first visit.

Ajax poses by a moss-covered log in the early morning sunlight. I often take action before motivation by setting out my pack. He then does the motivating for me the next day.
Ajax poses by a moss-covered log in the early morning sunlight. I often take action before motivation by setting out my pack. He then does the motivating for me the next day.

Tsonduko: Love of Lots of Books

As we hiked, I wrestled with my thoughts. I’d successfully broken my addictive tendencies around chocolate, fruit, and playing a game on my phone. How could I break my addiction to books? Authors have the best excuses in the world for collecting them. We study them for craft. Keep books we love or stories by authors we wish to emulate. Celebrate writing friends’ successes by buying their new releases. Accumulate piles of those we want to read someday. There’s even a Japanese word for such amassing.

Tsonduko refers to the shelves of books you’ve acquired but haven’t yet read. In his Big Think article about the art of amassing books, Kevin Dickinson concludes that “the value of an unread book is its power to get you to read it.” Enter my problem: Faced with too many choices, I have been reaching for pen and paper rather than books. I needed to make some changes.

A community library north of my house which I recently donated generously to. Most of the boxes around me are now full, poised for back-to-school reading, perhaps?
A community library north of my house which I recently donated generously to. Most of the boxes around me are now full, poised for back-to-school reading, perhaps?

At the start of summer, I promised myself I would pare down. But with Labor Day in two weeks, I hadn’t gotten motivated enough to start. Fortunately, my daughter loves books almost as much as I do. But she doesn’t have the same collection tendencies. She’s asked several times in the past few weeks, “Ready to sort books?”

Action Before Motivation: Don’t Wait

When Ajax and I returned from our hike, I felt something shift inside. I remembered what Marie Kondo suggested about gathering similar items together. Without a second thought, I grabbed an armful of books and carried them downstairs. Before I realized it, I’d moved all the books from the shelves in the guest room and home gym. No turning back!

My daughter’s interest in helping me provided the tiny spark I needed to begin. I simply took action before motivation ever appeared.

Now all of my books sit waiting in the basement. Every time I pass through there, I remember my commitment. Whenever I walk Ajax, I load books into a backpack and return the discards to Little Free Libraries so other community members can enjoy them.

A Little Free Library near the stairs down to Lake Washington which I visited on my Cedar Park Elementary School ramble.
A Little Free Library near the stairs down to Lake Washington which I visited on my Cedar Park Elementary School ramble.

Takeaways of Action Before Motivation

Several takeaways from this experience stuck with me.

  • I don’t know what made me grab the first few books. Thoughts about the successful Yard Share event? Not wanting to disappoint my daughter? Getting fresh air with Ajax? I know that taking action before motivation works. Nothing will stop me now.
Mushrooms peeking out of the dry soil.
Mushrooms peeking out of the dry soil.
  • Sometimes we need to contemplate change for some time before we’re finally ready to act. Last week I discussed the five stages of change and reflected on whether I was in the Preparation phase. Hiking, participating in the Yard Share event, and having my daughter offer to help have all moved me into the Action phase.
  • Think about a big change you want to make. List all the reasons (are they excuses?) you haven’t yet made the change. If “lack of motivation” tops the list, break your list into steps you could take. Make them into small actionable items. Then take the first step. If your goal is to climb a mountain, it requires one step at a time. Take action before motivation and your motivation to follow through will grow.
Featured

Five Stages of Change: Am I in the Preparation Phase?

This week I feel like I’ve entered the “preparation” phase, the third of five stages of change. Stage three includes recognizing that change is imminent. But how remains unclear. In the preparation stage, we gather strategies and resources, take three steps forward and two back, and start to grow a sense of self-efficacy that maybe we CAN, indeed, change. The events that helped me move into this stage included a foggy hike of South Tiger Loop, a community-wide Yard Share event, and discovering my Change Capacity Assessment has improved over one I completed four months ago. What are you trying to change? Which of the five stages of change are you in?

We spotted huge nurse logs on South Tiger Loop. Change is inevitable. Preparation is the third of the five stages of change. Why do we resist so strongly?
We spotted huge nurse logs on South Tiger Loop. Change is inevitable. Preparation is the third of the five stages of change. Why do we resist so strongly?

South Tiger Loop

Last week’s adventure included exploring South Tiger Mountain Loop with Ajax and a friend. My daughter chose to sleep in that morning. My friend warned me that someone had reported a bear where we were headed. That was a double incentive for me, as I adore bears. Whether she felt nervous or just excited to get me caught up on her summer, I don’t know, but she maintained a constant chatter for much of the hike.

Every so often I dropped back to listen for birds. When a football shape swooped behind me, I let out a startled exclamation. She whipped around to see me peering through dense foliage. I mentioned that I’d spotted a barred owl. She seemed disappointed. At the end of the hike, my backpack accidentally brushed her shoulder. She let out a screech that left me as nervous as she must have felt.

A football-sized Barred Owl swooped in right behind me.
A football-sized Barred Owl swooped in right behind me.

Marine Fog

We only encountered two other people on our hike. In addition to the solitude, what impressed me was the dense fog layer. We typically don’t get fog until fall. Was Mother Nature signaling a change? Might we skip wildfire season altogether and receive early rain?

As I write this a week later, however, we’re experiencing temperatures soaring above 90. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to postpone long rambles or short hikes with Ajax. I won’t risk exposing anyone to heat exhaustion – been there, done that, prefer not to repeat, thanks. Right now, it seems downright dangerous to let dogs wearing fur coats exert themselves for long periods of time. We can wait.

Fireweed in the fog near the South Tiger Summit.
Fireweed in the fog near the South Tiger Summit.

Non-Linear Pathways

Just like humans going through the five stages of change, Mother Nature also flits back and forth, showing signs that change is imminent and then changing her mind at the last second. My transition to an empty nest has had similar fits and starts. A year of a mostly-empty nest. Summer with my daughter at home. And now as she prepares to return to college, I face a second year of a mostly-empty nest. This time, I feel better prepared. I am gaining self-efficacy.

Yard Share Community Event

The second event that got me thinking about the five stages of change was a community-wide Yard Share. In the Lake City area, seventy households agreed to participate. Think “garage sale” but without price tags. Saturday morning we set out stuffed animals, games, books, clothes, a trifold mirror, baby gate, posters, toys, and a few other miscellaneous objects that we’d stockpiled to donate to Goodwill. Maybe someone in the community would be able to enjoy them instead.

The Lake City area Yard Share event on August 12 included seventy different households.
The Lake City area Yard Share event on August 12 included seventy different households.

Our Finds

We visited six Shares within walking distance, a family outing we could all enjoy with Ajax. We came back toting a treasure trove that included:

  • A brand-new vacuum cleaner which I used that very afternoon. Timely, as I am about to retire mine
  • An enormous, brown stuffed bear my daughter named Nora
  • Three jackets and a wicking hiking shirt
  • A mug
  • Four puzzles (one of which is missing a few pieces, but that’s okay, we can’t expect much for free)
More goodies and the QR code announcement sharing the other locations of the Yard Share event.
More goodies and the QR code announcement sharing the other locations of the Yard Share event.

By the time we cleaned up around 8 Saturday evening, we’d cleared out about 75% of the items. Our next trip to Goodwill will be much easier.

Change in the Air

On a walk with Ajax the following morning, I realized I’d taken two months to follow through on an earlier commitment to bust clutter this summer. The external event with a deadline — a commitment to an outside party — helped get me to break through my inertia. By reducing clutter, I created additional space and capacity – both mentally and physically – for change. Another example of being in the preparation phase of change.

One of my daughter’s goals for the summer was to have a yard sale. While we didn’t make any money, she got the same experience putting it together, without the headache and hassle of having to sit still for eight hours or haggle over dimes and dollars. She’s going through massive changes as well. We all are.

Beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
Beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
More beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
More beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.

Stages of Change: Change Capacity Assessment

The final piece of evidence that suggests I’m in the preparation stage is my recent results on Precision Nutrition’s Change Capacity Assessment. Feel free to take it yourself and see where you stand.

At the start of the summer, I scored “105/180” (the sum of all numbers, out of ten possible, on the 18 questions). Today I scored 128, an improvement of 23 points. While I may not be totally “ready, willing, and able” to make changes across the list of possibilities, in some areas, I am.

What changes are you in the midst of making? Have you been stuck for some time? If you score a 5 or lower on any question on the change assessment, take note. You may be facing strong resistance. Awareness is half of the battle.

The signpost leading to South Tiger Summit Trail. Which path will you take next?
The signpost leading to South Tiger Summit Trail. Which path will you take next?

Stages of Change

In fact, if you aren’t even acknowledging the need to change, you are still in the “pre-contemplation” stage. As you gather resources and get more comfortable with change in the “contemplation” stage, you may find that the cons outweigh the pros. In the “preparation” stage, you realize that the pros outweigh the cons and you get ready to take action.

In several areas, I’ve already headed into the “action” stage, such as launching my new coaching practice. It might be slow, but I’m laying the foundation. In others, like taking a technology or Chat GPT class, I’m back in pre-contemplation. And in others such as living gluten-free and sugar-free, I have reached “maintenance,” where the habit is well established with very few, if any, relapses. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that change does not happen linearly. It’s normal to wander all over the place before reaching the maintenance phase.

Ajax on our hike to Rachel Lake, getting a drink from the mountain stream.
Ajax on our hike to Rachel Lake, getting a drink from the mountain stream.

But the empty nest change? I will probably continue to weave in and out of it for the next three years. Change happens on its own timetable. If we have pressure to change — like the Yard Share deadline — we might change momentarily, but then return to old habits. The more we practice sustainable change, the better we can navigate the murky waters and the more confident we can be that the change will hold.

If you found this article intriguing, insightful, or useful, please share your comments in the space below. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Paws and Reflections: 52 Rambles with Ajax

For anyone joining my blog after January 1, 2023, here’s a brief summary of our Active Ajax Adventures project. The quest: 52 unique adventures (one per week) with my 8-year-old Labraheeler and wonderful hiking partner, Ajax. The requirements: each green space ramble would last longer than an hour (and could include hikes), without repeats. I abbreviated the quest to “AAA”. The project was every bit as useful to me as the American Automobile Association is for drivers. Although I hesitate to do much with Chat GPT, I found one suggested AI headline to be appropriate: Paws and reflections. You be the judge whether it hits the mark.

Ajax heads off the trail for a drink of water near Snow Lake.
Ajax heads off the trail for a drink of water near Snow Lake.

Project Kick-off

In my second blog post of the year, I asked myself, “Why would anyone want to read about this?” Frankly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your intentions as long as they ENERGIZE YOU. By using a tool Precision Nutrition refers to as the “Five Whys“, I drilled down to my Big Reason for completing this project: “As a way to explore mindfulness, learn to become more fully present, and experience joy in tiny moments.” In short, I framed it as an experimental path toward contentment and well-being.

Happy cooled-off swimmers about to leave the buggy shores for the hot trip out of the basin at Snow Lake.
Happy cooled-off swimmers about to leave the buggy shores for the hot trip out of the basin at Snow Lake.

Paws and Reflections: the Murky Middle

We zipped along with our project for the first half of the year. But in early June, I almost gave up. I shared why in a post about feeling stuck called “Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions.” By modifying some of my own guidelines (after all, I made them up, I can change them!) I decided to take our rambles to the mountains. My energy immediately surged forward again.

The last quarter of the project has been my favorite. My teenage daughter, home for the summer, joined us for 9 hikes. Although my husband and I have been wrestling with “a partially empty nest” since fall 2022, it feels like having her back has erased our progress on that front. But our relationship is so much richer than it ever was. We can relate to each other as adults. I absolutely love this phase.

Clear, beautiful waters of Snow Lake as we climbed out of the basin in the heat of midday.
Clear, beautiful waters of Snow Lake as we climbed out of the basin in the heat of midday.

While we have stumbled over some obstacles, especially in Cougar Mountain’s Whittaker Wilderness, we have also discovered a common passion: visiting — and swimming in — alpine lakes.

The Joy of Alpine Lakes

Of the nine hikes Ajax and I have done with my daughter, most included lakes or waterfalls. The most memorable, Mirror, Snow, and Rachel Lakes, all involved swimming for at least half an hour.

Paws and Reflections: My daughter made her way out to this rock in the middle of Mirror Lake. She had a blast doing jumps and cannonballs into deep water. Ajax preferred to stay on shore and supervise.
Paws and Reflections: My daughter made her way out to this rock in the middle of Mirror Lake. She had a blast doing jumps and cannonballs into deep water. Ajax preferred to stay on shore and supervise.

Mirror Lake

The rutted gravel road to Mirror Lake trailhead was the most challenging for us to navigate this year. It easily added an extra half hour in the car, sometimes at 5-10 mph. However, the PCT is a beautiful trail, and we encountered very few hikers on a Thursday in July. I’d only been on this trail to Mirror Lake once before, in November of 2021 in snow, so it felt new to me.

On this particular hike, the biggest surprises were:

  • The duration of my daughter’s swim (nearly an hour)
  • How much improvement she’d made in strength and conditioning in only two weeks (either that, or she’s very motivated to see lakes!)
  • Not a peep out of Ajax, who waited patiently by the shore, with wet paws. He’ll go in if we carry him in but otherwise, he’s nothing like other Labrador Retrievers.
Deep, emerald waters of Mirror Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. When I saw my daughter go in for a swim, I simply had to join her. A new mother-daughter tradition was launched.
Deep, emerald waters of Mirror Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. When I saw my daughter go in for a swim, I simply had to join her. A new mother-daughter tradition was launched.

Snow Lake

Another fun trip was a midweek hike to Snow Lake with my college crewmate and her teenage son, a student at the University of Washington in my daughter’s year. This destination at Snoqualmie Pass is incredibly popular, especially since some of the water-play trailheads along I-90 are closed this year for construction and trail maintenance. While we enjoyed spending two hours at the lake, I worried about how Ajax would do going back.

The rocky south-facing slope heats up significantly in the middle of the day. When I noticed Ajax overheating, I handed my car keys to my friend to get the air conditioning going in the car. My daughter and I slowed our pace and coaxed Ajax out. He’s done a phenomenal job this year, but he’s not getting any younger.

Paws and reflections for my fearless hiking companion. He loves watching critters and doesn't seem to be bothered by bugs.
Paws and reflections for my fearless hiking companion. He loves watching critters and doesn’t seem to be bothered by bugs.

Paws and Reflections: Where’s the Finish Line?

A few days later, I stalled again. I really wanted to finish our Ramble project with a special, meaningful, new-to-me or favorite hike, but most of the ones on my list were either too long for my daughter or too hot for Ajax.

Rachel Lake

Finally, on Thursday, August 3, we found the perfect destination: Rachel Lake. Not only were there relatively few people, but the first 2.75 miles are lovely, rambling through meadows and forest along Canyon Creek with plenty of wonderful photo opportunities. It took us four hours to reach the lake (and two hours out) because we kept finding places to stop.

The author takes a super-quick dip in Rachel Lake, the coldest alpine lake we've visited this summer. The breeze didn't help matters any.
The author takes a super-quick dip in Rachel Lake, the coldest alpine lake we’ve visited this summer. The breeze didn’t help matters any.

The trail was not without its trials. My daughter had a boot mishap at the second stop. While interesting, the copious roots, stones, and route-finding issues on the trail between mile 3 and the lake (a gain of 1200 feet in 1.25 miles) frustrated my daughter, and the steep steps challenged Ajax. The horseflies were annoying. I was the only one who had brought food.

Repeat in the Future?

When I asked my daughter if she would consider going back, she gave me an emphatic no. The steep jumps left my dog’s tail tucked and droopy for a good two days. Can a dog break his tail? Where was all his energy? I might be tempted to return in a month to see the fall foliage, feast on ripe blueberries, and add an extra two miles to see the view from Alta Peak. But I’d be going by myself.

Ajax and I wait for Brooke to come up from her swim. Rachel Lake is beautiful but cold.
Ajax and I wait for Brooke to come up from her swim. Rachel Lake is beautiful but cold.

Ramble Project Takeaways

This project was wonderful in so many ways, but I’ll share three highlights. First, it got me out of my comfort zone, visiting new places. I’d become a creature of habit the past three years, going to the same places each year. This year Ajax and I expanded our repertoire by a full eighteen locations, many of which I now suggest to clients who are looking for less-populated hiking trails.

Second, it made me want to continue to explore new dog-friendly locations. There are so many wonderful places to visit in the Pacific Northwest that are not overrun by people. What’s more, my daughter wants to keep building her stamina and tolerance for elevation gain so we can visit harder-to-access alpine lakes such as Blanca Lake whenever it re-opens. We might even try some backpacking next summer!

Paws and Reflections: a mother and daughter selfie at Rachel Lake while Ajax rested in the shade. I am thrilled beyond belief that Ajax and I have been able to add her presence to our last nine rambles.
Paws and Reflections: a mother and daughter selfie at Rachel Lake while Ajax rested in the shade. I am thrilled beyond belief that Ajax and I have been able to add her presence to our last nine rambles.

Finally, knowing how close I was to quitting the ramble project in June, I’m delighted that we kept going. By doing some “paws and reflections” I’ve come to see just how fabulous these last nine hikes have been with my two favorite hiking partners. Completing my intended objective feels great. And I have a new hiking partner, at least for a few more weeks.

Featured

Squak Mountain: a Potential New Favorite

On July 11, I considered skipping my intended hike. Hey, it happens to all of us. But when I saw high, wispy clouds, I convinced myself that it could be a good day to get a view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie’s View on Squak Mountain. Ajax picks up on clues quickly; he whined excitedly the night before when he saw my backpack. Committing to 52 unique adventures with him kept me engaged and interested for the past seven months. But what sent me to the car that morning was the idea of a view and of hearing varied birdsong. By visiting Squak’s Central Peak, we may have identified a new favorite mountain to explore.

Like Tiger and Cougar, Squak Mountain provides a lovely interwoven lattice of trails that result in a "choose your own adventure" ramble, just what I was looking for.
Like Tiger and Cougar, Squak Mountain provides a lovely interwoven lattice of trails that result in a “choose your own adventure” ramble, just what I was looking for.

Wrong Turn

As I drove past the Poo Poo Point trailhead off Exit 17, I realized that Cougar and Squak Mountain were accessible from Exit 15. Oops! I’d been on autopilot, listening to an audiobook about becoming more productive. Ironic, I know. Assuming May Valley Road would eventually lead me to something we could hike, I continued south and then turned west.

We pulled into the May Valley parking area to find 5-6 cars already dotting the lot. A solo trail runner stretched at her car. Cedar waxwings squeed near the Portapotties. I have never hiked on Squak before, so I figured we’d take our chances. If not than Debbie’s View and Margaret’s Way (the westmost trailhead, 6.5 miles with 1500′ gain), we’d find something else for our 48th ramble.

Squak Mountain: a Potential New Favorite
This time of year the bridges all cross dry stream beds. An invitation to visit seasonally to see the changes!

Benefits of May Valley Trail

From the May Valley Trailhead, we followed signs for Central Peak (6.6 miles with 2,320’ gain). My auto-pilot mistake resulted in finding an even more appealing option than West Tiger 3 (5 mi. 2100′ gain).

On our ascent, we encountered only three people: a woman and her dog (who admitted she never sees anyone on that trail, and we’d have the upper mountain to ourselves) and two solo trail runners. The May Valley Trail on the south side of Squak gets very little highway noise. The mountain has not been logged like Tiger, and we found plenty of opportunities to create our own adventure. The only drawback this time of year is the lack of running water. Fortunately, I carry plenty for Ajax although he prefers streams.

Encountering this sign on Squak Mountain piqued my curiosity about the Bullitt Family legacy.
Encountering this sign on Squak Mountain piqued my curiosity about the Bullitt Family legacy.

Solitude and Quiet

The May Valley trail is lovely, lush, green, and well-signed. I did some research afterward to find out more about the Bullitt Family who once owned much of the land and donated it to the state as a wilderness public park. I don’t often learn about the history of a place ahead of time (especially if I “wing it”!) but in this case, I was curious and wanted to know more.

On our solitary journey, we heard 22 bird species, including a great horned owl, downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers, a Steller’s jay (who, interesting fact, are particularly fond of eating baby hummingbirds!), Swainson’s thrushes (who sing my favorite birdsong), Cedar waxwings (the masked “raccoons” of the bird world), brown creepers, and black-headed grosbeaks.

(By comparison, during a recent hot-weather visit to Snow Lake, we encountered so many people that I only heard eight species.) I also shot 53 photos including trail signs, acting as breadcrumbs that could help us navigate back to our car.  

Tiger, Cougar, and Squak all have excellent trail signs to help you navigate.
Tiger, Cougar, and Squak all have excellent trail signs to help you navigate.

Squak Mountain: Bullitt Fireplace

One of the reasons I love exploring is feeling like an adventurer and discovering curious new-to-me things. When I saw the sign for Bullitt Fireplace, I had no idea I’d actually find the remains of a stone fireplace, the remnant of a two-room vacation cabin built in 1952 by Stimson Bullitt. That sparked my imagination. How long did it take to build it? Where did they get the materials? Did they have to bushwhack or did they have crude roads to haul rocks and timber? How often did they use it? And why did vandals destroy it?

I did some digging later to learn more about Charles Stimson “Stim” Bullitt. He had the cabin built in 1952 as a weekend retreat and climbed in the Cascades until the age of 87. At 62, on his third try at North America’s highest peak, Bullitt summited 20,320-foot Denali. His family owned and managed Seattle’s KING radio and TV stations, and his extensive real estate holdings included 590 acres on Squak Mountain which the Bullitt family later donated to the state to form the nucleus of Squak Mountain State Park. Hiking gives me a growing appreciation for what this land looked like before settlers “conquered” and tamed it.

A picnic table set at Bullitt Fireplace, all that remains of the Bullitt Family cabin.
A picnic table set at Bullitt Fireplace, all that remains of the Bullitt Family cabin.

Squak Mountain: Chybinski Loop

We continued beyond Central Peak, expecting to find a view somewhere, but we missed the power station and reached a sign for Phil’s Trail and Old Griz before backtracking. Determined to see what else we could find, we decided to visit West Peak. Perhaps it would have more of a view.

Chybinski Loop includes a very steep trail to a tiny sign for West Peak, where some sort of shack must have once stood but has since been flattened. I had the brilliant idea to find the hook-up of the loop instead of backtracking. “I’m not going back up that,” I thought. Famous last words.

All that remains of the shack at West Peak.
All that remains of the shack at West Peak.

Squak Mountain: Debbie’s View

Eureka! Only .3 miles farther, we found signs for Debbie’s View, our original destination. As we added yet another extension, I did the mental math. Could we end up covering ten miles round trip? Unfortunately, the low clouds obscured any view we might have had of Mt. Rainier, so we didn’t linger. Then I got the bright idea to drop down to Margaret’s Way and return to May Valley along the perimeter trail.

Halfway down the wide, hardened trail toward Margaret’s Way, we encountered three women with a dog, followed by three others a few minutes behind them. Out of curiosity, I asked if they knew how much farther the perimeter trail was. One of the hikers – the one who spoke English – said I was mistaken, and I would need to backtrack to Bullitt Gorge. Bummer.

Goatsbeard, bleeding hearts, and clouds - but no view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie's View.
Goatsbeard, bleeding hearts, and clouds – but no view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie’s View.

Hasty Retreat

Always question assumptions! Fortunately, on an overcast day, more mileage never hurts. We still had water and food, and the shade and clouds were keeping it cool enough for Ajax. We backtracked at high speed, quickly leaving them behind to regain our solitude. By that point, I no longer felt as confident in my assumption that Bullitt Gorge would return us to May Valley (it does.)

Faced with adding even more mileage if I turned out to be wrong, I chose the known path back. My commitment to “not go back up that,” referring to Chybinski Loop? It honestly wasn’t as bad the second time around.

Spot the pup! The storm devastation through thick rambling woods on Squak Mountain's Chybinski Loop.
Spot the pup! The storm devastation through thick rambling woods on Squak Mountain’s Chybinski Loop.

Lesson Learned

The takeaway message from this outing was clear. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. It was apparent when we elected to start from a different trailhead that we needed to be flexible and open to discovery. By staying open to possibility, I reminded myself that mistakes are opportunities, something that people with a growth mindset embrace. Maybe I could be developing a growth mindset after all.

Fortunately, we were able to link trails to reach our intended destination (Debbie’s View) with solitude, exploration, and birdsong along the way. It might not have been what we originally set out to do, but I’m happy I took the wrong turn.

Radio towers at the top of Squak's Central Peak.
Radio towers at the top of Squak’s Central Peak.

Change Meets Year Three

Such a coddiwomple is a fitting metaphor to kick off the third year of this blog. When I started blogging on July 31, 2021, during the middle of a pandemic, I wasn’t sure where I was headed or if this “blog thing” would even work out.

Year One Recap

In starting my blog, I knew only that I wanted something meaningful, memorable, and good to come out of the dregs of COVID. Those first six months were a time of trial and error until I developed my voice, message, and style.

The second six months between February and August 2022 were my “heal from a broken right wrist” months. Change became more difficult but mandatory as I battled to rehab my right arm while maintaining a household and handling a busy season of online clients. But I kept going despite facing three major health challenges.

My daughter and I are visiting as many alpine lakes as we can this summer. Mirror Lake via the PCT was ramble 49 on July 13, 2023.
My daughter and I are visiting as many alpine lakes as we can this summer. Mirror Lake via the PCT was ramble 49 on July 13, 2023.

Year Two Recap

From August 2022 to January 2023, I confronted an empty nest for the first time. Our daughter attends a local university and likes coming home most weekends. So empty nest became a “partly empty nest” as we adjusted to five days without her, and two days with her.

To help me cope, I developed the Active Ajax Adventures challenge (52 nonrepeated greenspace rambles) which we successfully completed in July 2023. Now that she’s home for the summer, I find myself naturally, rapidly, and comfortably evolving and growing. But what will happen when she returns to college?

The author enjoys a dip in Snow Lake at Exit 52 on July 19, 2023, during Ramble 51.
The author enjoys a dip in Snow Lake at Exit 52 on July 19, 2023, during Ramble 51.

Year Three Projections

My grandiose plans for year three included diving deep into the “ABCs of Change.” But in sharing my ideas with my husband and writing partners, it became evident that I would be restricting myself — to the point of getting stuck before I ever started. Have you ever made so many rules or placed so many limits on yourself that you come to a complete standstill? Yup.

So instead, this year I will examine the mental aspects of change. To quote one of my wise writing partners, “To write about whatever moves or inspires me.” That might mean becoming more vulnerable, which terrifies me. I see far more growth potential there than in writing what I’ve come to see as my “safe” trip reports.

Look for the beauty in everything, including mistakes. Mistakes are our greatest teachers and point out unique learning opportunities.
Look for the beauty in everything, including mistakes. Mistakes are our greatest teachers and point out unique learning opportunities.

Join me in year three on a continued journey through change, to move forward and get unstuck.

Featured

Blog One Hundred: Tiger’s Poo Poo Point on the Fourth

For this week’s Active Ajax Adventure, my intentions were to find a longer, shaded hike that would provide uninterrupted solitude, avoid road construction, and beat the holiday crowds and summer heat. This was ramble 46 (and hike 12) on the year but more importantly, potential material for blog one hundred. We visited West Tiger 3 from Poo Poo Point, making a giant loop covering ten miles and about 3000′ elevation gain.

Cross to the "obvious trailhead", in this case, marked with a parachute and flag.
Cross to the “obvious trailhead”, in this case, marked with a miniature parasail and flag.

The Solitude of an Early Start

I’d heard that people love to watch parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point, so we needed an early start. I’d never been on this trail before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How early was “early”? Would the trailhead be as obvious as the description made it out to be? Would it be as crowded as “the highway” from Exit 20?

Ajax and I pulled into the parking lot at 6:15, delighted to find only eight other cars. Score! As we started up the well-maintained rock trail I felt like I was climbing Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. We spotted a trail runner on the way down, a woman walking her dog, and a pair of trail runners who passed us going up, but for the most part, we had the trail to ourselves.

The first part of Poo Poo Trail is rock, rock, and more rock through beautiful dense woods. Once you complete the switchbacks the traffic noise fades away.
The first part of Poo Poo Trail is rock, rock, and more rock through beautiful dense woods. Once you complete the switchbacks the traffic noise fades away.

The day served up such feathered lovelies as olive-sided flycatchers (drink! three! beers!), Swainson’s thrushes (an ascending melodic spiraling song), western tanagers, a pileated woodpecker (one of my favorite birds), and chestnut-backed chickadees. As we warmed up, the stiffness in my lower back loosened up and some unusual hip discomfort on the left side disappeared. We were both in our element.

Poo Poo Point

We reached a magnificent view of Mt. Rainier in less than an hour. We paused for some photos and I asked another hiker if he knew which path would take us to West Tiger 3. I’d seen a gravel service road on the map that looked promising, but he insisted I continue to Poo Poo Point.

Rainier on July 3 from just below Poo Poo Point about 1/4 mile.
Rainier on July 3 from just below Poo Poo Point about 1/4 mile.

“Once you reach it, take the trail behind the restroom.” I thanked him for the information.

“It’s very far,” he added, looking at me as though wondering whether I’d started from the wrong trailhead.

“I know,” I assured him. “That’s what I’m looking for.”

Less than ten minutes later, we reached the vacant Poo Poo Point with a view of Lake Sammamish and all points west. Squak. Cougar Mountain. Seattle. The Olympics.

Ajax investigates the launching area where we'd later see parasailers take off. But when we arrived around 7:15 there was only one person with a pair of binoculars.
Ajax investigates the launching area where we’d later see parasailers take off. But when we arrived around 7:15 there was only one person with a pair of binoculars.

Beyond Poo Poo Point to One-View

Once we’d taken photos from Poo Poo Point, we continued toward the restroom and found a trail leading into the dense woods beyond it. I am well-acquainted with West Tiger 3, but exclusively from the north. How hard would it be to find One-View Trail?

It turns out that the signage everywhere on Tiger is excellent. We soon found ourselves on One-View, and I was looking forward to the view. Except it must be named for the only view it has: green, green, and more green. Enormous tree stumps. And several precious orange tiger lilies.

At the junction of One-View and Tiger Mountain Trail, we headed toward Tiger 2 and the logging zone. Now I knew exactly where we were, even though I’d never been on this part of the trail before.

Even the stumps have eyes. A selfie on One-View Trail.
Even the stumps have eyes. A selfie on One-View Trail.

Tiger Mountain Trail: TMT

The more I explore Tiger Mountain, the more interest I have in doing the entire 15-mile long TMT. Apparently, portions of the trail will be intermittently closed through the fall of 2024, but we didn’t encounter any closures. We did, however, discover parts of the trail that are overgrown, eroded, or muddy, so perhaps there are plans to fix those problems.

An eroded portion of the trail where a giant tree root system has collapsed.
An eroded portion of the trail where a giant tree root system has collapsed.

Plenty of short bridges traverse steep ravines and the worst of the mud. I sensed that both the TMT and Railroad Grade, at least between Poo Poo and West Tiger 3, don’t experience heavy foot traffic. We had the trail to ourselves, highly unusual for a beautiful summer holiday weekend. Win!

Once we reached a thinner part of the forest, I knew we must be approaching the logged portion of the mountain. In just two years, West Tiger 3’s barren, slashed, and ugly summit has become transformed into a lush alpine meadow with beautiful lupines, daisies, and foxgloves. And the views! Oh my. We shared the summit with one man when we arrived around 9 a.m.

Ajax takes time to smell the foxgloves.
Ajax takes time to smell the foxgloves.
Foxgloves, an erratic boulder, and chopped tree stumps.
Foxgloves, an erratic boulder, and chopped tree stumps.

Section to Railroad Grade

Once we left the summit of West Tiger 3, I searched for a stick to help me down the steep “unmaintained” trail known as Section Line. It is even steeper than Cable Line, and in the dry conditions we’ve had, it’s like walking on marbles. I’ve slipped enough in the past five years to last a lifetime; I wasn’t taking any chances.

Fortunately, with all the recent logging, there are plenty of sticks to choose from. Mother Nature provided a nice walking stick and I left it at the sign marking Section Line and Railroad Grade. May someone else benefit from it as well.

We ventured onto another new-to-us trail looking for the junction with One-View and our return to Poo Poo Point.

I believe this plant is called Goats' beard but don't quote me on that.
I believe this plant is called Goats’ Beard, but don’t quote me on that.

Return To Poo Poo Point

We returned to Poo Poo Point around 10:15 where plenty of spectators had gathered to watch parasailers take flight. Had the car in the parking lot hauled up all of the chutes? Or do the parasailers carry them up themselves?

Watching parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point.
Watching parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point.

As I watched more and more people hiking up from the Poo Poo Point trailhead, I realized how dramatic the contrast was between the solitude we’d experienced during the first four hours of our hike and the holiday crowd watching at the Point. I realized that on a sunny Monday morning, the day before Independence Day, Poo Poo is probably just as crowded as Rattlesnake Ledge. Fortunately, we had less than an hour to return to the car.

We took one more pause at the overlook for a shot of my favorite pup and my favorite mountain.
We took one more pause at the overlook for a shot of my favorite pup and my favorite mountain.

We’ve reached the end of blog one hundred. I am thrilled you’re continuing on this journey with me. I will be taking most of July to figure out the direction to take for year three. I’ll return in August with exciting new material.

Featured

Expect the Unexpected in Whittaker Wilderness

Making your way through obstacles, struggles, and change is tough work. Especially when your obstacles blindside you. Ajax, my daughter, and I explored the Whittaker Wilderness and environs on Cougar Mountain. And the best tip I can supply from that trip is to expect the unexpected.

Shy Bear Pass and Doughty Falls will always remind me of hiking over the boardwalk with two of my favorite companions, my daughter and my dog Ajax. We all faced unexpected obstacles on this hike.
Shy Bear Pass and Doughty Falls will always remind me of hiking over the boardwalk with two of my favorite companions, my daughter and my dog Ajax. We all faced unexpected obstacles on this hike.

Previous Blog Posts

Such an idea is not new to this blog. I wrote about setting intentions on Mt. Washington in May. What if we set an intention to handle unexpected events with ease, grace, and humor? Last fall I reflected on the beauty of hiking Granite Mountain in the shoulder season, not expecting the gorgeous fall foliage. The unexpected can be positive…and negative.

Almost two years ago I discussed how to turn disappointment into gratitude at Blanca Lake when we arrived in fog, only to have it lift shortly before we left. One of the reasons I continue to venture to the mountains is I recognize Mother Nature has a lot to teach me. So what would Cougar Mountain reveal?

Narrow boardwalks snake through Shy Bear Marsh on a circuit from Whitaker Peak to Doughty Falls. We didn't encounter anyone coming in the opposite direction, or crossing could resemble a game of Twister.
Narrow boardwalks snake through Shy Bear Marsh on a circuit from Whitaker Peak to Doughty Falls. We didn’t encounter anyone coming in the opposite direction, or crossing could resemble a game of Twister.

Expect the Unexpected #1: Early Fatigue

Last Wednesday, the three of us headed for Exit 15 and the Whittaker Wilderness to do a 7.5-mile loop up Whittaker Peak to Shy Bear Pass to Doughty Falls. We headed up the trail at 8:25 a.m. I’d put a lot of thought into this choice. My desires were to prevent any of us from getting overheated, avoid sitting in traffic during road construction or rush hour, and enjoy a new trail without a lot of crowds. While we accomplished all three, we each faced our own obstacles.

The first unexpected obstacle was one my daughter faced. I could tell within ten minutes that she was having an off day. We stopped after ten minutes for a rest. Ten minutes later, while I was barely feeling warmed up, she dragged herself to a boulder and sat, dejected. The “go forever” solo hiker voice inside me reared its ugly head but I successfully squelched it. After all, we were doing something together as a mom and daughter. It was a gorgeous day and we had until early afternoon.

The mossy, fern-filled Cougar wilderness right before our first clothing break. Ajax wanted to dash ahead but we kept him on his leash.
The mossy, fern-filled Cougar wilderness right before our first clothing break. Ajax wanted to dash ahead but we kept him on his leash.

Taking Weight

After thirty minutes, and our third break, I resorted to diversion tactics including cracking jokes. Then I tried becoming a sleuth. Had she eaten breakfast? Were her feet feeling okay? It turns out she’d really been looking forward to having another person join us. But both people we’d invited had other plans. So part of the problem was disappointment. And perhaps the fact that there was no lake on this hike had her unmotivated.

On the fly, I told her we wouldn’t go all the way up to the Whittaker Peak summit, we’d just do the flatter loop. Even that news didn’t motivate her. When I finally asked if she wanted to go back to the car, she said yes, but she didn’t want to feel like a loser.

On the ascent, I simply strapped her pack on my front like a Baby Bjorn front carrier. On the way down I got smart and unloaded her stuff into mine and folded up her pack. That way I could see my feet and reduce the risk of a fall.
On the ascent, I simply strapped her pack on my front like a Baby Bjorn front carrier. On the way down I got smart and unloaded her stuff into mine and folded up her pack. That way I could see my feet and reduce the risk of a fall.

“We all have off days. Just because someone turns around doesn’t make them a loser,” I told her. But she gets her stubbornness from her independent parents. She refused to budge. I offered to carry her pack to see if that helped. We finally got moving again.

Doughty Falls

Fortunately, we raised a resilient teen. Once we’d completed most of the gain her oomph and enthusiasm returned. She just doesn’t like steep uphills; I get that. We meandered past Shy Bear Pass and over boardwalks at Shy Bear Marsh, finally reaching Doughty Falls around 10:45 a.m.

“More like Doughty Trickle,” I quipped. She preferred “Doughty Leak.” Who am I to argue? This time of year ferns drape the rocks but nothing more indicates a waterfall except lush green and a drop-off. Still, it was our farthest destination, so we stopped for a snack.

The author takes a selfie at "Doughty Leak." I preferred "Doughty Trickle" myself...
The author takes a selfie at “Doughty Leak.” I preferred “Doughty Trickle” myself…

Expect the Unexpected 2: Ajax’s Mallady

About half a mile later, Ajax acted as though he’d gotten stung, stabbed, or bitten. He pawed at his face and then immediately rolled around in the dirt. Was he trying to deaden the pain or get rid of something in his face? When he stood up, it looked like he’d done something to his left front paw. He took a few steps and then plopped down and refused to go.

My daughter checked out his paw to see if he had anything embedded in it. Would we have to carry him? I was already carrying both our packs and wasn’t sure I could carry the dog, too, even using his suitcase harness. The only option we had left was to let him rest and see if he could walk out on his own.

Our pooch, resting on his non-favorite side. Flashbacks to my other dog, Emily, and her death in 2012 had me near tears. I would NOT let it happen. Ajax is only eight. But if we expect the unexpected, we know that someday life for loved ones will happen. It doesn't make it any easier.
Our pooch, resting on his non-favorite side. Flashbacks to my other dog, Emily, and her death in 2012 had me near tears. I would NOT let it happen. Ajax is only eight. But if we expect the unexpected, we know that someday life for loved ones will happen. It doesn’t make it any easier.

Tricks to Try

Something similar with Ajax had happened twice before: once on a hike of Mailbox Peak, when he started limping for no apparent reason, and the other during a winter hike on Big Tree Ridge. Both times he recovered with rest. Little Man can’t talk, but he is a good communicator. I knelt to give him a paw massage, and after we let him rest for fifteen minutes, my daughter commented that he looked dead.

I had one last trick up my sleeve. Cheese. His favorite treat. I tore off tiny bites and handed them to him. That perked him right up. He didn’t stand, but he did look interested. At that moment I knew, somehow, he was going to be okay. After five bites and some water, I repacked my bag and he stood up. He took a few tentative steps with a faint limp. But after that, he seemed fine. Crisis averted.

My daughter and I discussed the challenges of having four legs and losing use of one, or having two and losing use of one. Many three-legged dogs adapt just fine; humans can get a prosthetic. But which would be easier?
My daughter and I discussed the challenges of having four legs and losing use of one, or having two and losing use of one. Many three-legged dogs adapt just fine; humans can get a prosthetic. But which would be easier?

Expect the Unexpected #3: Emotional Tidal Wave

My own obstacle followed shortly thereafter. We rounded the corner where the paths leading to Whittaker Peak and Gombu Wilderness Cliffs diverge. A woman was supervising a large number of children clambering around a mossy boulder. They had a large off-leash and highly energetic Swissy with them who wanted to play with Ajax.

I politely told the child closest to the dog that my dog just injured his paw and would she please call off her dog. The woman uttered something like, “Thank you for asking politely, calmly, and respectfully.” I nodded as we walked by. I remember thinking, “She must be modeling kind behavior for her kids.” As Ajax and my daughter disappeared ahead of me, something snapped.

Ajax poses by an enormous moss-covered log in the Whitaker Wilderness in the southeast corner of Cougar Mountain.
Ajax poses by an enormous moss-covered log in the Whitaker Wilderness in the southeast corner of Cougar Mountain.

Triggers

Seeing my best canine friend lying on the dirt, perhaps injured – could I have prevented it? – and having my daughter use the word “dead” triggered a wave of anticipatory grief. Eleven years ago we lost our first dog to lung cancer. Hearing the woman use the word “calm” for me, when I felt anything but, did something more. Add to that my daughter calling the trail “boring” and my fears that she was no longer enjoying hiking with me and I lost it.

A tidal wave of emotions rushed through me. Shame. Guilt. Grief. Sadness. Frustration. Longing. The slightest thing can unleash a torrent out of nowhere. Traumatic experiences like euthanizing a beloved pet can do that. I know if and when I lose Ajax it will be the worst pain I can possibly imagine. Nothing can prepare us for that.

But not yet. Thank the powers that be, not yet.

My eager Little Man, always ready for anything. He's the best hiking partner anyone could ever ask for.
My eager Little Man, always ready for anything. He’s the best hiking partner anyone could ever ask for.

Fortunately, my daughter was ahead of me. I knew I needed to let the tears out and then get my act together. I took several deep box breaths to help move past the hurt. But not before she noticed me rubbing my head.

“Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded.

“Did you get stung?”

“Only in the proverbial sense.” I assured her I was fine, just dealing with emotional demons. And the rest of the hike unfolded uneventfully.

Two intricate and fascinating snails on the Cougar trails.
Two intricate and fascinating snails on the Cougar trails.
I know my worries are first-world problems. They still feel stressful.
I know my worries are first-world problems. They still feel stressful.

Takeaways

Perhaps the biggest takeaways from this experience of unexpected events are twofold: that we have the knowledge we need deep inside us. Our job is to listen, to tap into it, and to trust it. And Mother Nature teaches us what we need to know when She knows we can handle it.

My job is to amass as many tools as I can so I don’t get blindsided by grief the next time it comes. I know it’s coming. And I am preparing. But I won’t let that detract from today’s happiness. Over the past two years, I have shared a number of techniques and tips around embracing change and getting unstuck. Knowing what to do, however, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Two posts ago I asked readers to share their “close calls.” This week please share any surprising obstacles that caught you off guard for which you felt under-prepared. What resources do you draw on to get through tough situations? How do you remain calm when you feel the world is collapsing around you?

Featured

Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit

On a recent hike to Talapus and Olallie Lakes, I practiced “channeling my inner wood duck” (i.e. going with the flow). Ajax, my daughter, and a friend joined me on a sunny midweek adventure. To enjoy the trip yourself, plan on allowing at least 30-45 minutes to explore the shoreline at each lake. Join us on our journey into the woods.

Log jam at Talapus Lake under perfect conditions.
Log jam at Talapus Lake under perfect conditions.

At the Trailhead

We reached the trailhead at Exit 45 a little before 9. I’d suggested we leave early since we’re in peak hiking season and the Talapus Lake parking lot is small. Eleven cars were already parked when we arrived, leaving plenty of spaces. Hurray for midweek hikes!

The four of us headed up the Talapus Lake trail under sunny, clear conditions with a light breeze. More like what our guest, Zach, was used to in Arizona, rather than the rain we experienced four days earlier at Wallace Falls. This time he borrowed a water bottle and refilled it twice before starting the hike. There’s always something unexpected with teenagers!

Red marks and blue tape on select trees denote the extent of the logging area.
Red marks and blue tape on select trees denote the extent of the logging area.

Trail to Talapus and Olallie Lakes

The area near the parking lot has recently been logged up to a sign indicating the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. WTA trail maintenance crews have worked extensively on this wide, moderate trail over the past decade, most recently in 2021. Since I have only accessed Talapus and Olallie via the Pratt Lake trail (at exit 47), I was excited to explore a new trailhead. We were not disappointed.

The din of I-90 traffic faded as we gradually climbed into a denser forest. My daughter and Zach hiked ahead with Ajax while I hung back to identify birdsong (17 species including a red-breasted sapsucker, a type of woodpecker) and shoot photographs (113) of treasures in the peaceful woods.

Gentle switchbacks lead to Talapus and Olallie Lakes.
Gentle switchbacks lead to Talapus and Olallie Lakes.
A close-up of what I loosely call shelf fungus with dew drops.
A close-up of what I loosely call shelf fungus with dew drops.

Waterfall Detour

One of the advantages of hiking in a small, private group rather than a larger guided group is the freedom and independence to explore. When we came across a river cascade beyond an enormous fallen tree, we meandered off-trail in search of cool vantage points and photo opportunities.

My heart nearly stopped when Zach contemplated crossing a mossy log that had fallen across a stream. When he glanced over at me shaking my head, he changed his mind and found another way. They may both be adults, but teen brains are still developing. Thoughts of emergency first aid and “what if” raced through my mind until we were safely back on the official trail. If there is a way to squelch the mothering instinct, I haven’t found it.

Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit

At Talapus Lake we stopped for a short water break and agreed to continue to Olallie Lake first. Then we could backtrack and spend more time anywhere that caught our interest.

I had one momentary fright when I slipped on a wet log. In a split second, I landed on my left forearm, flashing back to my fall in the Fiery Furnace 18 months ago. This time, I practically bounced off the pine needles and hopped back onto my feet, and dusted off the dirt, but not before they both noticed. My daughter raced back to check on me. I assured them both that I was totally fine. But I silently asked myself, is it age? Lack of attention? Terrain challenge? Or could there be a deep core muscle that is no longer engaging properly?

Olallie Lake Wading

After brushing off from my fall, we continued along the west side of Olallie Lake, scoping out campsites for a future backpacking trip. At a nice sunny vacant spot, we stopped to have lunch and clean away the rest of the dirt. Beautiful tiny butterflies flitted around our packs. They were so light I couldn’t even feel the one that perched on my hand.

Olallie Lake Basin Area Map.
Olallie Lake Basin Area Map.
A frog near Olallie Lake's shore, enjoying the day.
A frog near Olallie Lake’s shore, enjoying the day.

When I invited them to go in the water, Ajax stayed on shore. He can swim but only if someone carries him in and lets go. We decided he should stay dry.

The view south from one of the northern campsites. We backtracked to get closer to the water.
The view south from one of the northern campsites. We backtracked to get closer to the water.
Our lunch spot.
Our lunch spot.

The water is, as you’d expect, cold. But also delightfully refreshing. When I spotted a frog, my daughter grabbed her camera to take some photos. An item that would have been useful: a towel. I never bring one for day hikes, but for an overnight near a lake, it would come in handy. Since we still had a second lake to explore, we dried off our feet and headed back toward the log jam at Talapus Lake roughly 1.5 miles away.

Talapus Lake Log Jam

Olallie has a decent wading area with a sandy bottom. Talapus Lake has floating logs. Brooke and Zach both wanted to test their balancing skills. When they asked how much time we had (they wanted to take their shoes off there, as well) I said we could stay longer if they’d entertain me in traffic on the way home. While they hurled sticks into the lake, I found a spot next to Ajax to write in my journal.

Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit
Exploring the log jam at the southern end of Talapus Lake.

The choice to linger meant adding time in the car on the drive home. The closer we got to rush hour, the more time I guessed we’d spend stuck in road construction between exits 24 and 18 westbound on Interstate 90. But because we expected it, we entertained ourselves on the drive by playing The Alphabet Game and looking for interesting license plates and bumper stickers.

The Alpine Lakes wilderness is full of fascinating trees. This "seat" was perfect for Brooke and Ajax.
The Alpine Lakes wilderness is full of fascinating trees. This “seat” was perfect for Brooke and Ajax.
Ajax spotted several bold chipmunks. He didn't give chase but the drool showed he wanted to.
Ajax spotted several bold chipmunks. He didn’t give chase but the drool showed he wanted to.

Choosing Between Talapus and Olallie Lakes

The best things about these two lakes are they’re close enough to visit both on the same hike. If you park at the Pratt Lake trailhead, you’ll reach Olallie first. Both are worth seeing. As to which is better, I didn’t raise that question. Frogs or logs? Which do you prefer?

Tree planter near the trailhead. Young kids will enjoy the diversity of tree shapes on this trail.
Tree planter near the trailhead. Young kids will enjoy the diversity of tree shapes on this trail.
Featured

How to Enjoy Rain on a Hike to Wallace Falls

On Father’s Day, my husband, our daughter, a friend from Arizona, and Ajax joined me for a hike to Wallace Falls. Mother Nature supplied plenty of rain, mist, and sun breaks along with plenty of puddles. The result? One very muddy dog. Fortunately, the hail waited until the long stop-and-go drive home. As a fair-weather hiker, I’ve recently come to enjoy rain because it provides cooler weather, a lower risk of sunburn, great photo opportunities (clouds make for interesting light), and fewer people. All contributed to a unique experience.

Wallace Falls is spectacular this time of year. It reminded me of being in a rainforest. Mist rebounds from the cascade, filling the valley. Or is that rain?
Wallace Falls is spectacular this time of year. It reminded me of being in a rainforest. Mist rebounds from the cascade, filling the valley. Or is that rain?

Uh-oh!

The last time Ajax and I visited this park was on a hike to Wallace Lake two years ago (see my blog post from August 2021). This year, a sign outside the parking lot declared it to be full, but we soon realized that was probably the case for a crowded and sunnier afternoon the day before. We quickly found a suitable parking spot in the half-full lot and traded sneakers for boots.

Missing Boots

Except somehow, my daughter’s boots never made it into my husband’s car. I had a second, older pair in my car, but she doesn’t wear my size. Would we have to turn right around and go home without taking a step?

Fortunately, my daughter and husband wear the same size. He offered to hike in his sneakers so she could wear his boots. The lightweight slip-ons she wore on the drive never would have held up to a mile of mud, much less six. Crisis averted, we locked the car and headed up the trail at 9 a.m.

Group photo of me, Zach, Ajax, and Brooke at the start of the Woody Trail, our route to Wallace Falls.
Group photo of me, Zach, Ajax, and Brooke at the start of the Woody Trail, our route to Wallace Falls.

No Raincoat

Our guest, Zach, and his parents were my hiking partners for the wonderful learning experience on Mt. Wrightson in Arizona. I knew he would be fine on whatever hike we chose. But he’s used to Arizona sun and heat. They don’t have many waterfalls or lakes. The thought of bringing a raincoat never crossed his mind.

No boots for one; no raincoat for another. In typical motherly fashion, I ruminated about how my daughter was doing up at the front of our group in her borrowed footwear. Did our guest have enough snacks and warm clothing? Was my husband actually enjoying his Father’s Day in the rain, or merely tolerating it? Surely we’d faced the worst.

Baby Grouse Chicks

I was wrong.

To avoid being pulled into muddy puddles, I let Ajax off-leash. He’s usually very good with voice commands. Unless he spots a mother grouse with baby chicks.

Majestic Ajax in his muddy harness. This was taken off the beaten trail, where we could access Wallace River before it plunges over the falls.
Majestic Ajax in his muddy harness. This was taken off the beaten trail, where we could access Wallace River before it plunges over the falls.

Strike three. Fortunately, I believe the baby grouse will survive. But we revoked Ajax’s off-leash privileges for the rest of the day.

Let Nature Be Your Teacher

As we ducked into the forest, we traded the annoying buzz of power lines for the refreshing sounds of cascading water. Ajax and I paused to capture a photo of the William Wordsworth quote that greets guests to the solace and beauty of the park.

Ajax seems to enjoy rain. Here he stands in a puddle at the base of the sign. He got two baths after the hike, a cold one at the trailhead and a warm one at home.
Ajax seems to enjoy rain. Here he stands in a puddle at the base of the sign. He got two baths after the hike, a cold one at the trailhead and a warm one at home.

On the rainy hike, my husband and Zach traded stories and questions until we paused at the picnic shelter for our first snack break: kibble for Ajax, homemade cookies for the kids, and ground beef for my husband. I chose to visit the vantage point for the lower falls. The volume of water flowing this time of year is truly mind-boggling.

Zach later admitted that his experience at Wallace Falls was “otherworldly.” Hiking in mud and rain must have felt as different for him as hiking in the arid Arizona April heat had been for me. Nature is an awesome teacher, if we’ll only pay attention to her lessons.

The author at Lower Falls.
The author at Lower Falls.
Brooke and Zach shoot photos of Lower Falls.
Brooke and Zach shoot photos of Lower Falls.

Enjoy Rain Mixed with Sun

People often joke about Pacific Northwest weather: if you don’t like it, wait a few minutes. We felt the air around us warm as we hiked higher and tried to figure out why that was. My guess is the clouds were growing thinner, which meant more of the sun’s strength could reach Earth. We paused at each vantage point for photos, continuing all the way to the bridge that crosses Wallace River where we spent time gazing at the rushing torrent beneath us and exploring off-trail down to the river.

On our return to the Upper Falls after exploring the bridge at the top, we got rewarded briefly by a visit from the sun.

The bridge at the very top of Wallace River. Note the very wet wood.
The bridge at the very top of Wallace River. Note the very wet wood.

Now, we can look back at our experience and laugh about those things we forgot and about our soggy doggy. (I offered to sit next to Ajax so our guest could sit in the front.) Trips are made far more memorable whenever obstacles are thrown in our path.

We’ve also rediscovered that the westbound single-lane highway east of Everett is a headache to travel on weekends. It was true three years ago. Maybe even more so now.

However, we salvaged the drive home with a Word Chain game in which we chose a category (geography) and round-robin fashion, had a person name a geographic feature and the next person come up with something starting with the letter the previous person ended with. And did I mention hail?