Quitting When it’s Time

I got an email from the president of a club I was previously active in.

Hey Maria!

I haven’t seen you at our meetings for a while. Just wondered if there’s anything I can help with, or if you plan to return.

Hope to hear from you soon!

It was such a nice email. I was happy that they were reaching out (to me! They like me!) and I also thought it was also a very smart thing for them to do for the health of their organization.

The truth was, I did think about returning. I still paid my dues. I had the regular meetings on my calendar and every other week when I got the meeting reminders, I would consider whether it was a good time to return to meetings. But the meeting times didn’t work well for my schedule, and so I wouldn’t go. My plan had been to pay my dues for another 6 months and see if my interest returned.

Then the email came. I started to reply that I’d been busy, but hoped that I’d return someday to see everyone. I had the email mostly composed when it the thought occurred to me: I could just quit now. Why am I waiting?

Rip Off that Band-Aid

True confession: I love books in the “self improvement” category. My recreational reading often entails books on personal growth, behavioral psychology, or productivity. It’s just how I’m wired.

But even if you don’t like that type of book, I’d probably still recommend Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less to you. Should you read this book? Well, has anyone ever asked you how you’re doing, and your reply involved some variant of “busy”? If so, then yes.

The premise of the book is “less, but better.” Focus on fewer things, those that are essential for your happiness and well being. The author, Greg McKeown, recommends ruthlessly eliminating everything that is not essential. If something is not an absolute, jump-up-and-down, exuberant YES!, it is a very firm No. One a scale of 1 to 10, he says you should only do things that are a 10.

But what if you’re not that ruthless?

I’m not. I struggle with making decisions, and can’t imagine feeling the certainty of an absolute yes about anything.  So that’s why I like this version:

Go ahead and rate how you feel about the activity or action on a scale of 1 to 10—but  you can’t use the number 7. All of a sudden, everything below a 7 drops away as being lackluster and everything that remains rises to the surface as being important. It’s the 7s—the things that sound a little interesting, a little fun—that will suck all of your time away if you don’t stop them.

I had been letting the club linger in my inbox and on my calendar, even though it was not even a 7. Once I realized this, I deleted the email I’d been writing and started a new one, one that said this wasn’t a priority* for me now and that it was time to quit.

It probably wasn’t the answer that she wanted, and it even caught me by surprise. But the decision was an immediate relief. The feeling was like when you clean out a cabinet and you feel so good that you want to clean out the entire room. I couldn’t help but wonder: What else can I quit doing?

I haven’t quit anything else—yet—but I could probably benefit from doing less but better. What about you?

*In Essentialism, Greg McKeown also points out the the word “priority” originally referred to the single thing that was most important of all. It had this meaning for hundreds of years, and it was only in the 1900s that the plural version came into being.



31 Days of Nature Challenge

Audrey over at AudreyWanders.com is instigating a nature challenge for the month of May, and you should sign up!

Here’s the description of the challenge:

31 Days of Nature is a challenge to spend every day of May 2017 outdoors. All you have to do is spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day. In order to make the 30 minutes count, you have to get your hands or feet on the earth in some way, shape, or form.

I’m going to play along, even though I’m a little nervous about being able to pull it off. I’m especially nervous about May 1, given the forecast for 40 degrees, rain, and strong wind.

May 1 forecast. 😦

I’m good at getting outside when the weather is nice and when my schedule allows, but I still wimp out a lot more than I’d like to when it’s not as easy to go out. This should be a good opportunity to see when and where I run into resistance and experiment with getting over it.

I hope you’ll do the challenge too!

Here are a few ideas for what to do this May to spend time outside:

Keep me posted—I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Two Big Questions on My Mind

I have a lot of questions. Many of these are of the existential what-does-it-all-mean variety that I suspect I’ll never have answers to.

But, for the purposes of this blog, I generally have two big questions that I’m trying to learn more about:

1) What are the ways that nature can enhance our health and happiness?

I think we generally have intuitive sense that nature is good for us, that it’s good to get fresh air, to go for a walk, to get a way from it all. As I dig more deeply into this subject, it’s amazing to learn just how good spending time in nature is for people and for entire communities. In many ways, it’s the perfect antidote to our many of our modern problems, including stress, busyness, and disconnection. Time with nature can reduce anxiety, improve creativity, and boost immunity to diseases like cancer. It can lead to longer lifespans and provide inspiration and a sense of belonging.

2) What are some practical ways to spend more time with nature?

With all of those benefits, it seems clear that many of us could benefit from spending more time with nature. But how to we realistically do that when we feel busy and overstretched? Where do we find time in the day to go outside when the rest of the world is increasingly inside? I struggle with this as much as anybody—even living rurally and being a moderately outdoorsy person, I still have plenty of days where I don’t spend any time outside or connected to nature. This is why I’m interested in  finding ways to experience ordinary, everyday nature as I am in planning big, wild adventures.

That’s where my mind is these days, so I hope that you’ll come back and learn more with me!

Are you a woodpecker or a hummingbird?

Have you found your passion yet?

I haven’t, and it’s super-annoying.

Across many of the podcasts, websites, and books that I enjoy, there is a seemingly constant focus on finding that one thing that captivates your attention, sucks you in, and takes you along for the ride.

Call it your passion, your purpose, or your calling—call it whatever you want—once you find and unleash it, you’ll know exactly what to do with the rest of your life.

Perhaps this sounds ridiculous on the surface, but then so many people—including folks like Steve Jobs—talk about it so, well, passionately that it’s hard to dismiss the idea. And so I got sucked in and spent a long time wondering: What’s my passion? What’s that one lovely, magical idea that makes my soul sing and that I’ll pursue to the end of the earth?

I spent a few years looking. I didn’t find it, and that was dissatisfying. There just doesn’t seem to be one big, all-encompassing thing that I love more than anything else.

The author Elizabeth Gilbert knows her passion—to write—but after years of telling people to follow their passion, she realized that there were people like me that just didn’t get it. And so she came up with a great analogy that describes this divide.

There are people who know their passion, the one thing that really captivates them. These are the people that can focus day in and day out on that one single thing, diving deeper and deeper. There’s one thing they want to do and they love it. These people just hit that one thing over and over. She calls these people jackhammers because of this singular focus, but I’d rather call these people woodpeckers.

Why? Because she also points out that there is another type of person, whom she calls hummingbirds. Rather than keep hammering (or pecking) away at one single thing, these people have a much broader set of interests. They float over the landscape sampling a variety of ideas and cross-pollinating the various things that they find.

(Some people are using the term multipotentialite for this roaming set of interests. But while I agree with the idea, I can’t quite get behind the term. I’d rather be a hummingbird.)

Now, instead of telling people to find their passion, she tells them to follow their curiosity. I like that idea a lot better! I can’t embed the video, but you really should check it out here.

Via Oprah

What about you? Are you a woodpecker or a hummingbird?

Foraging… no… Superfood Hunting

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and the Rich Roll podcast is one that always has inspiring guests discussion interesting ideas at the intersection of health, performance, and spirituality. Given that my two most recent posts have been about foraging (here and here), I was really happy to see that Rich Roll interviewed superfood hunter Darin Olien.

I really can’t describe Darin’s expertise sufficiently well, except to say that he’s the “Indiana Jones of Superfoods” and goes around the world to find medicinal plants and bring them to market. It’s super-interesting stuff and you can get it all from the podcast:

Here are a few takeaways that I got out of it. If you have more to add, let me know!

1) Many wild plants (and mushrooms) contain incredible compounds for nutrition and medicine. As soon as you harvest the plant, however, these materials begin to degrade—this makes it so important to get fresh or quality ingredients, and be wary of things in packages.

2) Eating well is tough, but it’s absolutely essential. Start small rather than trying to change everything at once. Darin suggests starting out by drinking more water (good water, not sketchy “processed” water) and eating a giant pile of vegetables for one meal a day. Start there, and add more later. That sounds do-able, so I’ll try that.

3) Calling oneself a “superfood hunter” is a whole lot sexier than being a “forager” although I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. Perhaps if I’m on the fence and not feeling up to going out to look for wild plants, I can reframe it as superfood hunting, put on some khaki, and head out to the woods.

Rethinking Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I’ve already mentioned in my previous post summarized my places of 2016 that I have a tendency to hunker indoors and get introspective this time of year. Usually I’ll break out my goals from last year to evaluate how things went and then plan for the coming year. This year, I’m shaking up my approach on planning for the upcoming year.

The past few years, I’ve developed a list of about 5-10 goals for the year. Sometime in mid-December I think about what should be on the list for the following year, and I write these down on an index card that I keep in my journal.

My success rate has been about 60 percent. My school-nerd self would call that an F. 😦

Last year I also made some quarterly goals, with a similar mixed rate of success (and failure).

Rookie Mistakes

So what isn’t working? When I look at various ways that people set goals, I’m falling short on some basic elements:

Making Dumb Goals: I hate acronyms, but the concept of SMART goals is seared into my brain. It’s a useful framework, and I don’t use it nearly enough as I should. It’s much easier for me to accomplish a goal to complete a certain race on a certain day because it’s so specific, whereas, I don’t make as much progress when I set vague goals like “blog most weeks.”

Not Buying In: Sometimes I set goals because I feel like I should have them. But I don’t fully buy into them and so I’m not successful. For example, I know that doing a few triathlons a year helps give me a little extra boost to swim, canoe, bike, run, and do other active things more often. Building on this, I entertained a goal to run a 10k at a certain pace, hoping that I would be inspired to improve my running (my weakest part of any triathlon). But since I don’t love running and because I hate running at an uncomfortable pace, I failed to be inspired by the running goal and dropped it almost immediately.

Forgetting Everything: It’s good that I write my goals down because just the act of writing them down increases the likelihood of success. But then I typically to put them away, forget about them for several months, and fail to make progress. Then, months later, I dig them up and think something along the lines, “Oh, that’s my goal. Why am I not doing that? I should be doing that!” and then put them away for another six months. Then in six months, I repeat the whole thing over again.

A New Approach

This year, I’ve spend a lot of time trying to develop a better plan for 2017 so that I’m doing cool things and those things are in better alignment with becoming the 90-year-old, spry, badass little old lady that I want to be someday.

I’ve been digging into great resources, but I’m not sure what to do. Do I set 7-10 goals like Michael Hyatt recommends? Or follow Gretchen Rubin’s advice to work on habits? Or think about my future performance review like Laura Vanderkam does? These are all cool ideas, but I’m not sure which is best for me—and keeps me from overthinking everything!

So I’m doing what generally works for me:  I made a list. It’s essentially a list of “Things to Do in 2017.” It has about 45 items on it now, and I’ll revise it throughout the year. For the most part, I don’t think of the items as goals or resolutions. I’ve categorized them this way:

Experiences I Want to Have: This includes things like vacations, my two fav triathlons, and other adventures. I’m usually pretty good at making sure these things happen (like going to Copper Harbor or camping), so this is mostly a matter of putting these on the calendar.

Habits/Routines to Cultivate: Like many people, I struggle with things like wanting to eat better and move more. These are always the hardest things for me to make progress on because they need to happen day in and day out, even when inspiration and motivation wane. I’ve identified a few to start with and will see how that goes—I suspect this will be the hard part.

Things to Try: There are at least a handful of things, all of them outside, that I want to try and evaluate whether I want to do them more often. For example, I want to go fishing on the lake now that we have the cottage there. This list is small, so I am wondering if I need to make a bigger attempt to try new and more exciting things. But for now, I’m okay with being boring.

Things to Do: I have a long and varied list of things that I want to do. This includes some mundane adulting that I need to do this year (revisit retirement and insurance, for instance), community service efforts (helping at some Keweenaw Land Trust events), and several outside projects for the garden and property (make room for oak trees!).

That’s my plan for 2017. What’s yours? I’d love to hear about it (and cheer you on)!

Places of 2016

It’s that time of year again—the time in late December when I get cozy in our warm house, watch the snow fall, and think about the new year. It’s also time for my annual summary of the places I’ve been this year. This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve summarized my travels, and I like how it pulls everything into a single place.

Work Travel

Work always takes me to new and interesting places, but this year was a bit different and I traveled less than I have in past years. During the first part of the year, I deliberately avoided travel so that I could spend time writing and get a few big reports published (BTW, it worked!). Then at about the time that I was about to start ramping my travel back up, Sexy broke his ankle and I cancelled a few trips.

Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks
Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks

Madison (March & November): This year I went to Madison twice. I made the trip down in early March to facilitate a meeting that I helped organize. In November I was able to attend the Society of American Foresters National Convention; that meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. The meetings was very busy, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to get outside and explore. Luckily downtown Madison is so walkable that I was able to stretch my legs (and get some good food too!).

New Brunswick, Canada (March): I was invited to participate in a meeting on climate change adaptation for foresters in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Again, I was mostly stuck inside during the meeting, but I learned a lot about the forests in this corner of the world.

Massachusetts (March): I finished up a busy month of travel in March with a great trip to the area around Sturbridge, Massachusetts. At the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, I got to spend one day checking out an adaptation demonstration site and then the next day we had a field tour in the woods with about 20 foresters and natural resource managers. The weather was gorgeous and springlike, which gave me a nice break from the snow that was still on the ground back home.

Some critter's hemlock home.
Some critter’s hemlock home

Wisconsin (April): I made a super-quick trip down to the College of Menominee Nation in April. On the drive back, I stopped at a National Forest trail head to stretch my legs.

A trail on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Northern Vermont and New Hampshire (August): I cancelled some work travel planned for June and July, so it was August before I got to head back east. This may have been my favorite trip this year; it was certainly the most exciting from the perspective of getting out in the woods. In involved flying in to Burlington, Vermont, and driving three hours east to the Maine border and staying in a remote camp with interesting scientists and good beer. The highlight of this trip, swimming in a deep pool on a picturesque river with two friends, was one of my favorite moments of the entire year.

Northern New Hampshire

New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts (September): Since my travel time was limited this year, I crammed as much as possible into this one trip. After arriving in Burlington, I took a car ferry over to New York; in an unbelievable coincidence, Sexy was on a car ferry in Michigan at the exact same time, also for a work trip! I spend a day learning about the Adirondacks. Then, I met up with a co-worker and visited a few partners in Vermont and bordering Massachusetts. This was the first time in nearly 10 years that I got to go in the woods on three consecutive days, and it was great. After all that, I attended a conference and gave a presentation. What a trip!

Northern Michigan (October): I made a quick trip to give talks at the Michigan Society of American Foresters meeting and a meeting of some Department of Natural Resources foresters. After being stuck inside and stuck in a car, I planned to find a spring along my travel route to get some fresh water and stretch my legs; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it.

Minneapolis (October): This trip was to go to the National Land Trust Rally where I helped lead two workshops. It was an amazing meeting with great people and energy. Since I’m getting more involved with the local Keweenaw Land Trust, I was also on the prowl for good ideas to bring back home!

Between Minneapolis and Madison

Madison (November): I got to go to Madison twice! In the fall, I attended the Society of American Foresters National Convention this fall. That meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. I ♥ foresters!

Texas and New Mexico (November): This trip involved flying into El Paso, Texas, for a work meeting about an hour away in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travel snags on the way where meant that my coworkers and I arrived in the dark, and I wasn’t able really take in the scenery until it was time to drive back to the airport. But we did eat lunch outside in a courtyard where rosemary was used as a landscape plant and made the entire area smell wonderful.


It’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation outside the Lake States, but this year I hardly went anywhere at all!

Northern Lower Michigan (February, July, and December): We took a few trips Downstate this year to visit Sexy’s family. We got to meet our new niece in February, and I finally participated in two important family traditions: making Polish sausage and the winter bonfire on Hamlin Lake. That trip was tacked on to some work travel for Sexy. My plan was to go cross country skiing and write while he worked, but I came down with the flu instead. Our July trip was also different than expected, since we were limited in what we could do with Sexy’s broken ankle, but I still biked to Lake Michigan and went for a swim. Our December trip was also short, but we spent two mornings outside stacking split wood for his family to burn during the winter.

Family bonfire
Family bonfire

Western Upper Peninsula (May, July, and October): One Friday night in May, I realized that I didn’t have any plans and decided to join Sexy and his friends at a cabin on Huron Bay. But instead of staying in the cabin, I spent the night bundled up in my new hammock. For my birthday in July, I made a small getaway and biked to the Porcupine Mountains. Sara and I camped on the shore of Lake Superior. In October, Sexy and I spent a weekend in Copper Harbor. I raced in two cyclocross events, and we hiked to the top of Lookout Mountain.

Camping on Lake Superior

Northern Minnesota (June): Sara and I did the canoe triathlon again this year, which I always look forward to. We’re already planning to do it again next June.

Central Minnesota and Wisconsin (November): I took a vacation between work trips to Minneapolis and Madison. I explored areas that I’d never been to, even though I grew up not far away. As I drove from Minneapolis to my parents’ house, I wished that I had more time to see everything along the way. I stopped at a nature center along the Mississippi River and talked to two old men who were out birding. When I was visiting my parents, my brother and I spent a morning driving around Amish country; we bought string cheese from the cheese factory and a pineapple from the grocery store (because why not?!).

Upstream from where I grew up
Upstream from where I grew up

Home and Nearby

Because I didn’t travel as much this year, I spent a lot more time locally—so much so that I hardly know where to begin talking about all of it. But then a movie line rings in my ears that says, “When you don’t know where to start, start at the beginning.”

Winter is always a good time to stay at home, and so I played hermit. I didn’t ski as much last winter as in previous years, but the skiing that I did to was generally in the woods near our house. Sara and I met up to ski at Courtney Lake; we ended up and the rustically-spectacular Rousseau Bar. I also spent a considerable amount of time moving snow because, well, it’s the Keweenaw.

Courtney Lake ski trail (it's never too far to the Rousseau Bar...)
Courtney Lake ski trail (It’s never too far to the Rousseau Bar…)

As the snow melted, we celebrated with neighbors by making maple syrup. As soon as the weather warmed up, I started biking to work and training for the canoe triathlon. Sara and I met up one morning in May to canoe on Otter Lake, and it was so foggy that we were barely able to see the shore from the water. Sexy and I took a day trip to Copper Harbor in the spring to ride bikes, which I always love.

Canoeing in the fog
Canoeing in the fog

Gardening also took up a tremendous amount of time during the winter and spring. During the winter, I took the Master Gardener class and made raised beds for the elderly as one of my projects. I did a lot more garden planning than in previous years. As the weather warmed, I spent long days working in the gardens, planting berries and vegetables with mixed success.

Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project
Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project

I spent a lot of time this summer hanging out on the porch since Sexy was on crutches. We did, however, go to our little town’s first (annual?) 4th of July parade and kayak on the lake.

We bought a some land and a cottage near the end of summer, which was the major highlight of the year. We spent every weekend there into the fall, cleaning out old clutter, rearranging things, and exploring the property. We had a big party there on Labor Day weekend, which involved a 9-mile river paddle down the river with friends and catching frogs with kids. I spent a night sleeping in my hammock by the lake (and didn’t die).  We lived there for a week in the fall—at least until we used the electric stove and filled the entire cabin with the most awful-smelling smoke because mice had found their way into the insulation (so gross!). As fall has transitioned to winter I started taking down some trees so that we can better wildlife habitat next year and explored the property on snowshoes.

View from the cottage
Near the cottage

Those are some highlights from 2016.

Happy New Year!

The Sun Still Rises

In the morning, I found myself grateful that the sun always rises. Every day, cloudy or clear, the sun still spins on its axis, spinning circles among the sun and stars.

Before dawn, the sky was partly clear. Enough to make out the Big Dipper and North Star hovering above the woods. The North Star is high in the sky this time of year since the Northern Hemisphere leans toward it. Orion was visible to the south, providing the early morning greeting that I’ve gotten used to as I walk from my house to my car in the darkness.

The sky was brighter when I arrived at work, both because of city lights and because of the rising sun. Only two stars were visible, one dimly to the west and another bright in the eastern sky. The eastern morning star is probably a planet, probably Jupiter now that I have the time to look it up. In the morning, I stared at one faraway space rock while standing on another that was right under my feet.

Then, the sun rose. And it stayed up for about nine and a half hours. This might have been the best part of my day, even though I was indoors almost that entire time.

I’ve been a bit ornery the past few days. This time of year is always rough. I hate the time change in the fall because the abrupt shift to an earlier sunset makes me starved for daylight. Two hours of sunlight after work becomes one, and suddenly I don’t know what to do with myself with it getting dark by 6 pm. When can I find time to garden, run, or do any of the other things I want to do?

I’m not sure. That’s a struggle every year. But until I figure that out. I can watch the sky and be grateful that the world still spins and the sun still rises, every day and no matter what else happens.