I’m not back to my computer yet, which has been sitting in my bedroom in Wisconsin since May, but we’ll be reunited in less than two weeks. So as I prepare to transition back into a regular blogging routine, and to give you a taste of what the past six months with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps were like for me, here are a few posts written by myself and fellow corps members:
Barbed Wire, a Month in Dinosaur National Monument by Nate Ventura – Long Walks and Dirty Socks We began our summer season with a month-long fencing project in Dinosaur National Monument. In this post, Nate explores the struggle of being tasked with building something so controversial for many of us, the intriguing history of barbed wire, and he closes with a fantastic description of our desert surroundings in Dino.
LNT on Colorado’s 14ers by Conlan Olson
After our month in the sun and dust, we spent our remaining six weeks working on Mt. Evans with CFI (Colorado Fourteener’s Initiative). This post is a nice introduction to fourteeners (mountains that are 14,000-some feet in elevation) and why we must be extra careful to Leave No Trace (LNT) in the alpine environment.
Wagging in the Wind: A Memoir by Eric McSwan – CFI’s Blog To piggy-back the previous post, here’s a quick read and video from CFI which explains what a “wag bag” is.
Kesha: A Soundtrack for Conservation by Nate Ventura
Nate had us rocking out to Kesha all summer and fall, so in this epic, entertaining post he explains why Kesha’s music is ideal for conservation crews.
The Importance of Being Beginners as Adults by Rebecca Thering
I wrote this post after painting portraits of my 5-person fall crew and reflecting on similarities between taking up watercolor painting and joining the conservation world.
This Is the Real World, Muchachos by CJ LeCluyse
CJ, a member of our summer crew, wrote this beautiful piece at the end of the season. She examines the feelings that arise when transitioning out of crew life and shares what the “real world” now means to her.
There’s really great writing in these posts–I hope you enjoy it!
After my train ride back to Wisconsin at the start of the month, I came down with a bad cold which kept me in bed through the 8th. But even with losing a week, I’ve been able to get done what I wanted to, thanks to full, free days at my parents’ home during this month of downtime between ACE and RMYC.
(+) Watch two more Climate Lab videos (#5 and #6). — Since I’ll be unplugged for my six months in Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, I went ahead and finished watching all of the Climate Lab videos this month. If you haven’t seen any yet, again I highly recommend checking them out. They’re very digestible, short-yet-impactful videos of 5-7 minutes.
(+) Watch “The Clean Bin Project” — This one hadn’t been on last month’s list, but when I found out my mom had Amazon Prime, I watched this documentary on Prime Video. If you don’t have Prime, you can rent the movie for just $1.99! Next on my list is “Just Eat It.: A Food Waste Story,” made by the same couple.
(+/-) Yoga every day (from the 4th onward) and track in bullet journal. — Because I got sick, I didn’t start doing “things” until April 8. Yoga was definitely a priority for me this month, though. I stopped tracking these last few days, but you can see below how I did.
(+/-) One minute plank (x3: straight, left, right) each day. — I would start my days with my pushups and then do plank right after, mostly because I didn’t want to do them, so this way I’d get them out of the way early on. I would play a 3-minute song—usually Hilary Duff’s “Belong” or Stromae’s “Bâtard”—and change sides each minute. I’ve tried to do things like this over and over in the past, but it felt notably different this time. I would feel resistance, but then do it right away anyway. This carried over into my daily writing too, which I’ll share below.
Art Journal Regularly
(-) Create a day-marker page for 20+ days of the month. — With my physical morning routine and 30 minutes of writing in the #1 spot each day, my day marker journal lost precedence. I just grabbed my notebook and counted, though, and I still made 13 pages during the month—which isn’t 20, but it’s also not nothing. It’s 13 pages of memories!
(+) Weekday 30-min. writing sessions for my next quarterly “thing” — As I mentioned above, this weekday-daily 30-minutes of writing was just as important as my daily yoga/pushups/planks. The first week I kept my phone in airplane mode until I had finished my writing, which would always be the tail-end of my morning, around 10:30 or sometimes even noon.
I would wake up, usually read in bed with my morning bagel and tea for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, then I’d get my pushups and plank out of the way in under 5 minutes. Next came yoga (usually 30 minutes), followed by writing at the computer with a 30-minute timer going. And once the timer went off, I could take my phone off airplane mode and check Instagram. Rewards!
The first week I held to all my constraints and never “cheated.” It felt great! The second week I started checking my phone before I’d finished my morning routine, but I was still doing both each day: pushups/plank/yoga and writing.
So, all in all this went really well! I like the technique I’m using, which I first experimented with last July: the daily writing “sit.” It’s where you measure the amount of time sitting in your chair writing anything, rather than tracking the number of words written or using a task-oriented goal like to finish writing one blog post.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, my second quarterly “thing” is about 98% finished! I wrote about moments this past year in which I used my personal compass. It was so fun to write! Like, the most fun writing has felt in…. as long as I can remember. So, that was a neat experience. I just have to rewrite/edit the conclusion, then come up with a title and cover. It’ll share it here in a day or two!
Bits and Pieces
Weekly pushups. As you saw above, I was diligent about following that program for most of the month. It helped that the schedule forced you to take a day of rest between every pushup day—that was easy! I don’t know if I’ll continue with these… I feel myself gaining more strength with yoga, and it overall feels better on my body, so I can see that being my focus in Colorado. We’ll see!
Deck Swap. Last night I finished making my cards! In the end I went with simpler and manageable so that I’d be sure to finish without stressing myself out. Take a look here! Today I packaged them up, so now I just need to get to the post office and I can check this honker off my list. Update: Mailed them!
Ukulele. This has been fun! For my birthday I got a button put on my ukulele so I could then buy myself a strap. I’m so glad I decided to do that! The last couple of days I’ve been saving song chords as PDFs, which I’ll then transfer to my kindle. The only thing is that my ukulele is too big to take on my flight (I mean, it’s small, but I’m flying Frontier…) so I still have to look into how much it would cost to ship my ukulele to Colorado.
Five portraits. I’ve painted three portraits this month, but plan to do one or two more yet this week before my flight to Colorado.
Now, I don’t know when I’ll be able to write my next Resolutions Checkpoint, and that’s because I’m not bringing my computer along to my summer and fall conservation gig with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. So, I’ll be quite unplugged!
I also won’t have much alone time. I’ll be working and living with my crew for the full duration of each term—no “off” days to myself like I had in ACE. So, that will certainly take some getting used to, but I’m up for the challenge.
That said, here’s what I’d like to keep in focus during my conservation life these next six months:
Yoga. I could feel that the yoga (for spinal fusion) I was doing all month (thanks to videos by Julie Wilkins at Alignment Paths) was great for my body. So in preparation for RMYC, I found a way to convert the videos (which I’d purchased) to mp3, so that I can use them without wifi, on-the-go while camping. They’re all loaded up on my phone, ready to go!
Paint. I’m bringing along my watercolors and want to paint more frequently than my monthly Moment Sketchers sketch, continuing to advance on my 100 Portraits project as well. But again, with hardly any free time, I’m not sure how this will play out. I’ll have to adjust to the new rhythm and schedule, and then see how to squeeze it in.
Draw. In anticipation for less painting time, I want to make drawing easily available to me. A quick 5-minute sketch of something in front of me at lunch or dinner is doable. So I’m planning to make a small sketch book with the remaining pages of my day-marker journal. Something I can take along and carry in my day-pack.
Write. Since I’m not bringing along my computer, I’m bringing notebooks and pens. I want to write! Thoughts, memories, ideas, poetry, song lyrics—I don’t care, I just want to fill a notebook up with words. The last written entry in my spiral journal is from March 1. So, yeah—I want to return to the pen and words.
Ukulele. Looking at everything else above, it looks like I have more than enough to fill my small nuggets of alone time on this next adventure. But if I don’t bring my ukulele along, I’m guaranteeing that I won’t play. I want to play, and music is a fun stress reliever—especially if you can sing with friends, so I’ll check at the post office when I mail my Deck Swap cards to see how much shipping would be. Update: I brought along my ukulele to the post office and they estimated $11 since it doesn’t weight much! So I think I’ll likely be shipping my ukulele to Colorado. Yippee!
As always, I’d love to hear from you! What was April like in your world? Where would you like your attention to be during May?
(+) Read “Sustainability Made Simple: Small Changes for Big Impact” — Done! This was an excellent introduction to sustainability—very digestible and loaded with small changes you can make today. If anyone’s interested in learning about sustainability, I highly recommend starting with this book.
(+) Watch two more Climate Lab videos (#3 and #4). — I’ve been enjoying these videos and also recommend them!
As planned, I totally let this slide this month. I did start listening to a Forever Fused podcast during the month and now follow Forever Fused on Instagram. There Julie Wilkins often posts videos of different stretches she’s doing, which sparks me to try them too.
Art Journal Regularly
(+) Create a day-marker page for 20+ days of the month. — More than 20 pages! I even made one each day on hitch, both hitches. Still so fun!
(+) Read two more chapters of the art journaling PDF I have. — I hadn’t done this all month, then pulled up the e-book just now and finished reading the whole thing. I’m excited to play around with more materials when I’m back in Wisconsin.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
(+) Write the PDF’s conclusion
(+) Write the PDF’s introduction
I’m so happy with the progress I made on my “mini” e-book this month! I went to the library often on off days and worked on it from the apartment too. All that’s left to do is come up with a title for this e-book and then make a cover page. That’s it! Everything else is written, edited, and formatted—91 pages. I’ll be sharing it here soon!
Bits and Pieces: Poetry
(+) Read a poem per day (track in bullet journal). — This was great!
Since I’ll be in Wisconsin for the month of April, my priorities are going to mold to fit the environment. I’ll be able to use Wi-Fi every day for my Adapted Yoga videos, so daily yoga is #1. I might be building a deck in our backyard as well (we’ll see…), plus I have some personal projects I’ll be working on. And of course, I’ll try to see as many friends and family as I can throughout the month, too.
Read one sustainability book. (I put two sustainability books on hold at the local library. When I pick them up next week, I’ll choose which one to read for this list item.)
Yoga every day (from the 4th onward) and track in bullet journal.
One minute plank (x3: straight, left, right) each day. — My PT recommended I do this last June. I was good about it for July and August, until I moved to Arizona. I’d like to return some focus to my core this month.
Art Journal Regularly
Create a day-marker page for 20+ days of the month.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
Publish IBS Story
Weekday 30-min. writing sessions for my next quarterly “thing”
Bits and Pieces
Finally, there are lots of other bits and pieces that will have my attention this month, so I wanted to list some here.
Weekly pushups. On my first hitch this month, a crew leader did 1,000 push-ups during the 8-days of hitch. Not having done push-ups in forever, I was curious if I could even do one, so I tried it one day. Four! On my second hitch this month I did push-ups every morning. First I’d do four real push-ups, then ten on my knees. One day I was able to do five real ones first. So this month I want to try out this beginner routine to see how high I can build it. Also, since I won’t be working as I usually do on hitch, I don’t want to lose the muscle I’ve gained in ACE.
Deck Swap. I signed up for the International Card Deck Swap last month, which I’m so excited for! This means I’ll have the month of April to decorate 54 playing cards and then mail them to the project organizer. Sometime this summer I’ll receive back a full deck of 52 handmade cards, each crafted by someone different.
Ukulele. I’ll be reunited with my ukulele when I get to Wisconsin, so I want to play often and learn as many songs as I can. I’m planning to take it with me to my summer/fall conservation gig in Colorado, so I’ll also be putting together a small booklet of songs/lyrics/chords so that I can play on-the-go.
Five portraits. I want to finish at least five portraits this month for my 100 Portraits project. I only did two in March, and I should certainly have the time to crank out some more.
I feel like I consistently overestimate what I can do when spending several weeks at home, as the unplanned always arises—but most of this feels attainable at the moment. We’ll see how it goes!
As always, I’d love to hear from you! What went well for you in March? Where would you like your attention to be during April?
Some people avoid the word “resolutions,” but I continue to make them each year because of these lovely monthly check-ins. This simple monthly post turns my attention back towards new directions and provides the space for me to briefly reflect. That said, I’m diving right in!
Emailed my place of work with ways we can reduce waste as an organization.
Used my tupperware/hitch dishes for breakfast at all of our motel/hotel stays (which only offered single-use utensils/dishes) and encouraged crew members to do the same.
( ) Track in bullet journal. (And bring bullet journal on hitch if I’m front country.) — I stopped using my monthly tracker after the 18th, and only had three yoga checks in that period.
(-) Do yoga at home at least four of my six off-days. — Being put on a monthlong, I wasn’t on an 8/6 work schedule after all. Due to our location on off days (bunkhouse without Wi-Fi) and the logistics surrounding all of that, I didn’t do any yoga on my off days this month.
(-) On hitch, do just 5 minutes of stretching after the work day. Do it from inside my tent if it’s cold. — Again, the schedule/logistics, our locations (i.e. grimy motel), and my various health ailments all led to this endeavor being completely dropped from my awareness. I did some stretching one work night from our motel bed, but that’s it while on hitch.
Art Journal Regularly
(+) Track in bullet journal. — I tracked it in my bullet journal through the 18th, where everything left off, but kept on making pages nearly every day.
(+) I’ll aim for creating a day-marker page 20/30 days this month. — I’ll have to count pages for an exact number once I’m back home (currently I’m at the library), but I know I have more than 20 pages for February.
(-) Read two more chapters of the art journaling PDF I bought last month. — Never did this.
Art journaling in my day-markers notebook has been so fun. Making my daily page is something I continuously look forward to; there’s still no resistance. So I’m going to ride the wave and keep on enjoying that part of my day.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
( ) Go to the library at least twice per set of off-days. — While on my monthlong, I worked on this quarterly creation three times. One was a longer formatting session, so I’m surprisingly close to have the bulk of it written. (I’m at 80+ pages at the moment!)
(+) Write for at least 30 minutes each session. — Not all of these were writing sessions, as I jumped ahead and started to format the document, but each work session was 30 minutes or more.
Bits and Pieces: Poetry
(+) Carry poetry notebook and pen with me.
(-) Do at least two exercises per week. — I did one exercise in the van on our drive to Texas, and then nothing for the rest of the month.
(+) Track in bullet journal. — I do have a checkmark for that single day!
I can tell you right now, the biggest adjustment I’ll be making for March is to remove my focus from yoga/stretching in order to swing the pendulum towards daily poetry reading instead. You can’t do everything all the time, and often focusing on one element for a prolonged period of time is when you’ll get the most growth. (That’s how I learned French back in 2015, for example.)
This is my final month on the conservation corps in Arizona, and I kept that in mind while making this tweak. April is wide open, and likely I’ll return to my parents’ home in Wisconsin which means ample space and time for yoga and stretching.
I did set up a column for this on my March calendar page, but like I explained above, I’m letting this drift from my attention this month.
Art Journal Regularly
Create a day-marker page for 20+ days of the month.
Read two more chapters of the art journaling PDF I have.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
Write the PDF’s conclusion
Write the PDF’s introduction
Bits and Pieces: Poetry
Read a poem per day (track in bullet journal).
I realized after January that I needed to change my target from publishing a poetry collection this year (lofty goal; feels unapproachable) to simply filling x notebooks with poetry exercises/wordplay. Despite this change, there was still enough resistance last month to the exercises that I want to scale it back and simply be reading poetry every day in March.
I bought the poetry books “salt.” and “the sun and her flowers” as a gift to myself a few days ago, plus I checked out several books of poetry from the library. This is something I’ll easily be able to do even while on hitch, which makes it reachable.
My hope is that by turning my attention towards poetry at least once a day, my subconscious may start to think in poetry without so much force. To my delight, on my walk to the library today I pondered a topic and then my mind automatically worded it into a brief, two-line poem—in the style of many of Nayyirah Waheed’s poems. So I jotted it down in my poetry notebook upon arriving at the library. Hooray for small successes!
So that’s where my attention will be this month. What about you? What’s one small thing from February that you’re proud of? Where would you like your attention to be during March?
It was interesting to reflect on these life experiences which happened between seven and four years ago (teaching in Madrid and teaching in South Korea, respectively). While looking back, I found myself staring at a canyon-wide gap of distance between the 22-year-old me in Madrid, the 24-year-old me in South Korea, and the current almost-29-year-old me writing today from Texas where I’m on hitch with ACE’s conservation corps.
This distance is more than the years, more than the miles.
I’ve shed and grown several layers since my days teaching abroad; I’ve turned the page not just to a new chapter, but to a new book. Might I teach English abroad again in the future? It’s an option. But that would be with my new identity, which is based strongly on living my values in everyday moments as a human being. The creation of this very site last fall has played a much larger part in adopting this new identity than I realized at the time.
Every day we change, though often it’ll be years before we look back and find ourselves staring at a stranger with our eyes, but whose mind we can no longer enter.
For the past several years, I check in at the end of each month to see how I’m coming with my resolutions and to pinpoint some specifics I can work on in the following month. It doesn’t take that much time, but without this simple monthly reflection these resolutions would certainly stray from my focus.
I meant to write a post this month about where I’m at now with my waste production, so that I have my starting point tracked—but haven’t done that yet.
I continued to use my reusable sandwich/snack wraps on hitch, as well as a plastic container for hitch leftovers. Despite being a conservation corps, ACE doesn’t usually recycle on hitch (unless it’s available at our campsite/worksite). But this past hitch, I started a collection of cardboard and other recyclables, which we drove back to the office (in Flagstaff) and recycled at derig. (Yay, small wins!)
I set up my new bullet journal on the 14th of January, and had five checkmarks in my “Yoga” column from the 14th to the 23rd. Although I didn’t track yoga on hitch, this was the first time I actually did some stretching/yoga on hitch (maybe three days?). While I didn’t have time every evening, it felt good when I did make room for it.
The Tuesday before hitch I had three different phone interviews for a farm internship (which I’ve since turned down, FYI) and was feeling really anxious about all of it. I was trying to read a book but couldn’t concentrate at all, I was so stressed/anxious. But in that moment, I decided to do some yoga. I turned on a video and cleared my mind through the breathing and moving. In the past it wasn’t habitual for me to turn to yoga immediately in stressful situations, so I’m proud/grateful that it was my response last week.
Art Journal Regularly
This is where I’ve done the best this past month. As you saw in my last post, I started a new day-marker art journal in January and hadn’t missed a day until this past hitch. I brought it along on hitch and made some collages the first few days, but there were a few evenings where there just wasn’t time to pull it out (usually on cooking/washing nights).
This is totally fine with me, as I don’t want to stress myself out with this, but rather enjoy the time creating in there. So as long as I get back into the swing of art journaling on off days and keep bringing it on hitch, that’ll be excellent.
I checked out a couple of books from the library this month which have helped spark ideas, as well (one on collage, another on hand lettering, another on creative ideas, etc).
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
On January 15 I started work on my IBS story by pasting old blog posts and emails into a huge Google Doc. Then during my first three days back in Flagstaff I came to the library twice and worked on it. After that, I was gone on hitch for eight days and I just got back yesterday afternoon.
I’m typing this very post from the library, so I’m getting into a routine of coming to the library multiple times during my six off-days in Flagstaff. However, I may need to lower my expectations on this one while on my ACE schedule, as I’m gone on hitch over half of each month.
Bits and Pieces
There’s just one bit from here that I want to touch on in this check-in:
Write in poetry notebooks weekly — I haven’t been back in my poetry notebook since this post, though I did bring it along with me on hitch. I think I need to change my resolution from publishing a poetry collection to filling x notebooks with poetry exercises.
So, all of that said, here are some concrete things I can do next month to work towards these resolutions.
Write and publish blog post showing my starting point of this journey.
Like many of you, I consider the end of the year to be a natural opportunity to look back and realign—not some sort of finite ending to an “old” me. So I’ve been reflecting, looking back on the year, flipping through old bullet journals, thinking about what needs to be illuminated and eliminated, and even turning over some tarot cards.
A Look Back at 2017
To start, here’s an overview of where I began the year and some of the themes that kept coming up throughout.
Setting the scene, at the end of December I published my atheist coming out story, which is the first time I’d written publicly about all of those events. It was fueled by the push to tell the truth and be more vulnerable in my creations.
Also, both of these events ended up being great ways to reflect and incorporate lessons I’d learned so far that year. The podcast required me to respond on the spot—something I’m not used to doing as a writer, but which provided insightful moments when I went back and listened (and re-listened!) to the episode—and the train allowed me to bring together and express (and share publicly!) many of the thoughts I’d been having as of late about human connection, social media, vulnerability, and unplugging.
The rest of the summer allowed for calm days reading lots from the library and growing my first garden. Highlights were volunteering as counselor at Camp Quest—something that’s been on my “life list” for years and years, and which was incredibly fun and fulfilling—and giving a talk about the Camino de Santiago at my local library. Camp Quest is incredibly accepting of all people from all backgrounds/lifestyles/dietary choices/sexualities/interests/etc., thus it was liberating to be around people who were so bravely themselves.
Throughout August I worked with Meg Kissack (highly recommend!) via her “Get Shit Done” encouragement/accountability experience to create this very site. That project is another which allowed for much reflection—looking back at who I’ve been and trying to articulate who I was at that moment in the present. (And that was just my About Me page!)
Although that project kept me creating and excitedly working towards something, my lowest point of the year fell during that month as well. I felt ready to move on to somewhere/something new (out-of-state seasonal work is what I was looking for), but was overwhelmed by the options. There was a period of days where I hardly left my room and would spend hours in the evening doing internet searches of jobs and potential places to live, feeling lonely and mildly depressed.
It was ACE which got me out of that rut, and within less than two weeks’ time I went from feeling sad, lost, and hopeless in my bed at my parents’ home to living in Flagstaff, AZ with an exciting new community/friends and work life. The people/environment at ACE has only helped me to become more of myself, and even more openly. I’ve been learning how important it is to play and laugh, as well as how good it feels to unplug and hang out in nature.
Aside from the mild depression in August, other challenges this year were losing two prior-good friends (by “breaking up with them” in my mind, to change expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed at our distance) and mourning that loss of friendship; losing (to suicide) a cousin in May; and being disconnected from a family member.
For over half of the year this family member needed distance from all of us, which was more difficult than I let myself feel. It kind of all exploded out earlier this month when we finally saw each other; I’d been distracting myself from feeling too sad about all of it while in ACE, but the feelings were there, underneath. And now we’re reconnecting, though it’s been prompted by significant health issues with their partner (I actually just pushed my return flight to AZ back two weeks so I can help be caretaker), so there’s a lot still being worked through at this rocky point in time.
Overall, I’ve really improved listening to my hut (hut = heart + gut, à la Alexandra Franzen) and am settling into myself. I look inwards for wisdom/answers/direction rather than doubting myself or turning to outside resources/”experts.” I’m much more comfortable and confident being my true self in a society which doesn’t necessarily share my values/lifestyle/choices. I can see the growth towards my compass directions and I’m excited to continue moving in these ways!
I tracked my computer/internet usage with RescueTime during the year, which you can see in the year’s Resolutions Checkpoint posts on the old blog. My lowest-usage months were the three months I was backpacking in Europe and the three months since I joined ACE. (We work for 8-9 days at a time, camping, so I’m completely off of phone/computer during those times). I was hardly ever on my laptop during our off days, too—as evidenced by the silent blog over here—but it feels really good to be blogging again these past few weeks, so I’ll make an effort to continue doing so even when I’m back on the 8-on/6-off hitch schedule.
Twitter is a platform I’ve enjoyed for many years. Since getting a smartphone, I’ve never had the Twitter app—I only use it on my laptop from a browser. That means to tweet a picture, for example, I’d have to email the photo to myself from my phone, open it on the computer, download it there, and then upload it to Twitter from my computer. It sounds cumbersome, but that’s basically the point. I was much more intentional about sharing photos because there were a few extra hurdles.
Since it’s not on my phone, and since my laptop basically lived in a bin under the bunkbeds once I moved to Flagstaff, I was rarely on Twitter this fall. In October, someone tweeted at me that they’d read my post about leaving Facebook and had been thinking about leaving Twitter. I encouraged her to just do a two-week hiatus and see how she felt. She emailed three weeks later in November saying that she hadn’t been back on, and eventually deactivated her account. I let this soak in and about a week later I thought, why don’t I go on a Twitter hiatus, too? I’d hardly been using the platform lately, and I knew it was a distraction for the mind. I was curious what it would feel like to not have that distraction, plus I’d become more and more aware of how I’m spending my life minutes.
So, I signed out of my account that day, November 24, and haven’t logged back in since! Although Twitter has been excellent for connecting with new friends/opportunities online in the past (i.e. Meg Kissack/Couragemakers! Violeta Nedkova/Creative Rebel Academy!), asking quick questions, receiving poetry prompts, or sending bits of encouragement, I’m going to remain logged out of Twitter as we enter the new year and see how it goes.
I think one reason it was probably so simple to leave Twitter in November was because I’d recently joined Instagram in September. My prime motivation for joining the platform was to interact with the #MomentSketchers community. While in ACE I was happy with my usage—but being home in December with wi-fi all day has me checking the app like crazy. Ah! I have notifications turned off, of course, but being so accessible (it’s three swipes to the right, hidden in an “Other” folder) has me checking multiple times a day. There’s simply no need to do so!
One idea which would help me reduce logins is if I could delete the app from my phone and only use Instagram from my laptop, as I did with Twitter. However, you cannot post to Instagram from a desktop web browser (why!?), so the only way to post is through the phone app. (I’ve looked at a few workarounds but haven’t found a way to post from the website, yet. I use Opera, by the way. If anyone’s found an Opera workaround, I’m all ears!)
Aside from number of log-ins, I like how I’m using the app. I’m choosey about who I follow because I want to control what I see in my feed. It’s primarily sketches and art journal pages. I’m not really interested to be distracted with other people’s day-to-day lives, so I don’t put those in my stream. Following on Instagram is nothing personal to me, it’s simply the content I wish to be consuming when I’m there.
The “Discover” area (which I’ve recently discovered, hah) has been fun, because there are cool calligraphy/painting videos which get me excited to create. So, I’m still working on this one. I know usage will be fine again once I’m back in ACE, but I won’t be living on an 8/6 schedule forever. I will experiment with different ideas to figure out how I can use the platform more mindfully.
Quick Lists: What Went Well / What I Released
These next two sections are mostly for myself for future reference, so I’m leaving out lots of explanation.
What Went Well in 2017
The Writing Sit in June — I took on a 30-day challenge of “sitting” each day for 30 minutes in front of my computer to write. I could write in my journal with a pen if I didn’t feel like working on a post, but I had to show up and do my time. This worked well!
Playing, being outside, and unplugging in ACE
Growing a garden – (Actually starting it when I could have easily not)
Trains on Main
Waunakee Tribune interview
Travel sketching while in Europe / Moment Sketching
Yup, we’re not even to last year’s resolutions yet—but here they are! My three resolutions of the year were originally (1) leap, (2) stretch/yoga/pilates, and (3) unplug/be outside, as well as to continue living my values, creating, and meditating. Here’s where I stand on each of those:
A refresher for those unfamiliar with the term, the idea of “leaps” came from Tara Mohr’s book “Playing Big.” A leap is a decision + action that puts you in contact with those you want to reach/influence (aka involves sharing; is not solitary). It’s a simple action that can be described in a short phrase and completed within 1-2 weeks. It gets your adrenaline flowing and has a question at its center (something you can learn by doing). It gets you playing bigger now, not when you feel “ready.”
My leaps were:
April: Put up flyers at university in Montpellier (and made video advertising the editing service)
April: Submitted a proposal to be an artist for the Trains on Main public art project in town
May: Was a guest on Meg’s Couragemakers podcast
July: Contacted my local library about speaking and gave a presentation about my experiences on the Camino a month later
August: Applied to ACE/AmeriCorps
August: Launched this site
It didn’t feel at all like “The Year of Leaps” I’d originally intended to have (as I mentioned earlier, it was more like the year of becoming myself and trusting my inner wisdom), but I might not have done half of these if the idea of leaps hadn’t been on my radar. So I’m happy with the small leaps I did make, even though I wasn’t ever at or near any “max” capacity of comfort zone pushing, if that makes sense.
This one has been on my resolutions list (either main three or in the “tidbits” section) for several years now, and I finally made it a priority this year! Writing a reflection on 12 years post-spinal fusion in June definitely brought the topic to the front of my mind. So much so, that I made an appointment with a PT (especially since I was on BadgerCare). The appointment was successful—I asked questions and learned, I got specific exercises/stretches to do, and I did them nearly daily for the next two months. (Here’s where I recorded the start of this journey to have photo evidence for progress shots and whatnot.)
During that time I also bought a set of adapted yoga videos, made specifically for people with spinal fusions. These are excellent and I’m still using them today, however they require wi-fi so I haven’t used them on hitch nor much at the apartments in Flagstaff (we had several weeks without internet off and on throughout my first two months). My stretching also fell from my focus these past three months in Arizona, but I’ll turn it around.
Unplug, be outside
I was outside a lot this year—thanks to my personal sabbatical (choosing to be unemployed) and then serving on ACE’s conservation corps in the fall. We’ve already touched on social media usage above, so that’s all I’ll say about unplugging. Yay!
Continue Living My Values, Creating, Meditating
These were three other tidbits I’d thrown in with last year’s resolutions.
Living my values — I kept my personal compass at the top of my mind throughout the year and recorded small moments when I used it to take action in an everyday situation. I’m planning to put together some sort of booklet/PDF with a collection of these stories and examples, to show how the compass guided my daily actions this year.
Creating — I’m happy with the role that Creating has played in my year, and feel the energy only mounting to create more in 2018.
Meditating — Looking back at my Calm app, the first part of the year I was meditating about half of the month, then I was on a roll for every day in May, June, and nearly all of July. It’s September (my move to AZ) when things dropped way down to 3 days, 8 days in October, 4 days in November, and back up to 15 days being home most of December. Part of the reason is that there’s no wi-fi out on hitch, though I could have always done a silent 10-minute meditation, or used an offline meditation. I’ll work on this in 2018!
I did a quick mind map in my journal of what I wanted to see more of this year (though I prefer the term I saw Havi use in a blog post a few days after: “illuminated”), and here’s what I wrote that day:
Lindy hop / dance
Regular writing (read: Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, get a journal I like)
Mindful Instagram usage
Big creations quarterly
Sketching (Weekly? X portraits?)
Music (ukulele, guitar, singing, songwriting?)
Creating (zine, turn off wi-fi)
Leaps (postcard painting, lead a workshop)
[Side note: Seeing it here above, I just realized I haven’t shared yet that I bought a ukulele two weeks ago! A gift to myself—yeah!]
Tarot Card Reading
Then, back in December I was hanging out with my friends Emily and Liz, and we all ended up working on lists of 18 things we want to do in 2018. When we got stuck, Emily suggested we use her deck of these Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards. How fun! I’d learned the month before that a friend’s mother reads tarot cards, plus I knew Violeta Nedkova offered a tarot card reading as one of her services—so anyway, the idea had been on my mind for months and I was excited to have an easy opening to play with them!
So the three of us took turns using the cards to guide questions, and eventually we each made a map of the year (one card for each month, plus an overarching card). Here’s my year:
My guiding card for 2018 was “Sensitivity,” which you can read more about here. (There are longer descriptions in a booklet that comes along with the deck.)
My first thought upon flipping that card over was my increasing awareness about the amount of waste we produce, so I took it as an affirmation that continuing to learn about the zero-waste lifestyle would be a great focus for the year.
It was uncanny, though, because not two days later my friend Cathleen sent me an email which included the phrase “You truly are becoming an aware and sensitive being…” Aha! Sensitive! There it is! I thought.
For fun I later asked the cards what I’ll do after ACE, come April, and I got these gems:
In sum, if you’ve ever been curious to try tarot cards, I really enjoyed this particular deck. All of the possible cards are positive traits, but it’s interesting how seeing a word or phrase (when asking a question or thinking about a situation) can help you view things through a new lens and perhaps leave you with new connections/insights.
18 Things I Want to Do in 2018
Here’s the list I came up with after finishing this exercise:
Publish a PDF of my IBS story
Put together a poetry collection
Use social media/phone intentionally — develop framework and evaluate monthly
Explore counseling / life coaching (as possible paths)
And with the “illumination”/”18 things” lists as warm-ups, I’ve narrowed down the focus (somewhat) for the year (or rather, until I reevaluate and realign!):
I do want to continue learning about the zero-waste lifestyle and slowly implement changes to reduce the amount of waste I’m producing each day. I’ll do my best to learn in public, so others might have the chance to learn / make small changes as well.
As I touched on before, I had a hard time keeping this one into focus with my 8-days-on/6-days-off hitch schedule, but I’ll be back to Arizona soon for three more months of it, so I need to come up with a plan to make stretching/yoga more frequent than it has been this fall.
Making the Magazine Playground Art Journal in August was fun, but I didn’t bring it along with me to Flagstaff. The other day I purchased Amy Maricle’s “Starting Your Art Journal” ebook and have been playing around while I’m still at home (and thus have many more materials available—I only bring my tiny watercolor journal to Flagstaff, for sketches). As I wrote about earlier, I’ve also been curating my Instagram feed to show many art journals. So anyway, I’m interested in developing a regular art journaling practice this year!
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
Somewhere on her blog I saw Candace write about using this quarterly framework (to make her free “Travel Sketching 101” and “Art Journaling 101” resources, for example), and it really resonated with me. So the goal then is to create four bigger works this year, one every three months.
I’ve mentioned two other “bigger things” in this post: a poetry collection and a collection of stories about navigating the year with my personal compass. So those are on my horizon as well! I’ll have to develop a writing habit on my off days in Flagstaff, to chip away at it bit by bit (like when I finally finished that Korean food guide in 2016).
Bits and Pieces
Lastly, a few bits I want to capture here, to revisit on my monthly resolution checkpoints:
Continue to use compass/values to guide everyday moments and monthly reflections
Write in poetry notebooks weekly — If I ever want to publish a collection, I need to have poems to pick from first! I’ll ease myself in with some poetry exercises to get myself regularly playing with words and phrases. (It’s hard to even open the notebook if your endeavor is to write a good poem!)
Monthly/weekly screen sabbaticals — It was either Emily or Liz who mentioned this idea while we were thinking about the new year. I love it! Maybe I’ll have a “social media/screen time” section of each monthly checkpoint, to make sure I’m periodically evaluating and visiting the topic.
100-day project — I really liked doing my 100 Days of Mind Mapping project the end of 2016/start of 2017. I learned so much from it! So I’d like to do another 100-day project this year. (Ideas?)
Past Years’ Resolutions
Finally, if anyone’s curious, here are my year-end reflections and New Year’s resolutions over the past five years:
I reread those posts before I put this one together, and as always, I gained some new insight by looking back that far. I had dubbed 2015 the “Year of Creating,” for example, but I feel like 2017 is when I really created.
In 2014, one of my three resolutions was “I have been struggling with a digestive disorder for over nine years, and this is the year I’ll conquer it.” Again in 2015, a resolution was “Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet; improve digestion.” At the start of 2016, I reflected “Unfortunately I can’t really say that my digestion improved at all during the past year. I should give it more focus this year, but have lost that hopeful “this is the year!” I had back in 2014. And again in 2015.” And yet, eight months later was when it all started to turn around. And 2017 was my year without IBS issues. (Yeah!) This is also the year I went from a primarily plants-based diet to a primarily vegan diet (I’d been eating dairy-free for years, but cut out meat/eggs at the end of July. I still eat honey and do not like to give myself the label “vegan,” though. This is a post for another day, though.)
Here’s one more: In 2015 I wanted to “Develop a daily stretching routine/habit.” In 2016, part of my “Tidbits” section was “See doctors in France about my IBS and back” and “Develop daily stretching/yoga habit.” But it wasn’t until 2017 when I finally saw a PT and began developing a daily stretching/yoga habit. Maybe there’s a two-year lag on these focuses or something!
Regardless, by bringing these desires into focus, I am slowly making my way towards them, as evidenced in the past five years of year-end reflections.
And so, once again, I’m adjusting the focus at this time of year, while taking stock of all of the growth I’ve experienced over the past twelve months.
Okay, dear friends, the space below is all yours—and I would love to hear from you!
Do you do any sort of reflection at the end of the year? If so, what does your reflection look like? And what did you notice this year?
What would you like to illuminate/eliminate in 2018?
Have any recommendations to help with my resolutions?
And anything else you’d like to share/comment on/question, the space below is always available.
Five years back I was doing a “year in photos” post (2012 // 2013) in addition to my year in books. Since 2017 was my first full year of sketching, I thought I’d bring them all together and look back on the year through the lens of my sketchbook rather than my camera.
Above is my first sketch with Moment Sketchers, watching “Parenthood” on Netflix while sick in bed.
While waiting for my flight to Madrid in O’hare, backpack and personal compass in hand, I decided to do my first “out in public” sketch of the trip right there at the gate. I went to a nearby coffee shop and asked for a paper cup, then filled it up at a drinking fountain. I ended up using this very cup for water while painting throughout the following three months!
One day during my week-long Madrid visit I had a lunch and “blue wine” by myself at this restaurant, sketching the whole time I was there and finishing the painting later at the apartment.
This is a card I painted for a friend at Puerta de Alcalá—one of my favorite landmarks in Madrid. It’ll be fun to go back in the future and sketch it again, now that I have a full year under my belt.
I want to point out that above (and below too, actually—hah!) is an example of one of the sketches in my journal that I strongly dislike—it’s just displeasing for me to look at. That said, I enjoyed the afternoon I sat out on the balcony sketching this scene, which is why I’m sketching in the first place. To slow down and appreciate my surroundings and their corresponding moments, while slowly developing a new skill. Later on I’ll point out a few that I’m particularly pleased/proud of how they turned out, though the intention is always to enjoy the time spent playing with my watercolors.
Above is another sketch I really don’t like to look at—but I can still remember that afternoon and the wander walking which brought me to this grassy side of the river. Plus, it’s the action of painting “messes” like these that moved me an inch further along towards “better looking” sketches. The only way out is through. To get better at something, you have to practice where you are now and keep going, even if your results aren’t pleasing to your eye. The act of sketching this scene still gave me experience looking at something and attempting to capture it in pen and watercolor. And it’s the accumulation of such experiences which helped me to paint some sketches I’m particularly proud of later on in the year.
Inspired by paintings in a watercolor journal I’d seen in a gift shop, I tried a new style in the sketch above, skipping the pencil and pen.
The above sketch is one I’m particularly fond of—both because I’m pleased with the result, and also because while sketching it I met a street poet who then introduced me to some of his friends at a nearby café: Urbana Cafe.
One of my first days back—another Moment Sketchers weekend—allowed me to sketch at Parc du Peyrou, the very first place I’d sketched the day I bought my watercolors the previous fall. How fun to look back and compare!
This little sketch above is meaningful to me because it represents an inner shift that had taken place over the past few months, putting my creative pursuits first. That day Damien had to work on his motorcycle (or something), so I decided to take a walk in the nearby garrigue and paint. Later on I reflected that when we’d been together the previous year, I never went on a walk by myself to the beautiful nearby garrigue when we were at his parents’ home. Yet here we were with only a week together this visit, and I was happy spending my afternoon there painting and he was happy to bricoler. Often it’s going back to familiar places (home) and unconsciously breaking from old routines which shows me just how much things have changed underneath the surface.
I’m also proud of the above Pooh watercolor painting, made at the request of Damien’s mother for the nursery she runs out of her home. It was a moment where I could feel I was stretching myself by saying “yes”—stepping into uncharted territories: huge canvas, characters I hadn’t drawn before, knowing it would be on display—but saying “yes” was notably easier this time. (By this point I’d said “yes” to Giovanni in Florence when she’d asked me to paint her, sketched in public every place I’d visited, and continued to nurture a growth mindset when it came to painting. All of this came into play when I stepped up to the challenge and viewed Damien’s mother’s request as an invitation to try something on the border of my comfort zone.)
The very day she asked me about it, Damien and I took the tram into Montpellier to buy a big sheet of watercolor paper at an art shop and I ended up finishing the whole thing by nightfall. To go from “I’m not sure if I can do this” to “I did this!” in such a short timeframe—thanks to taking action—was quite powerful.
Once back in Wisconsin at the end of April, much of my time was spent working on the Trains on Main public art project, but May’s Moment Sketchers weekend got me out painting at a nearby park.
As you can see, it took the June Moment Sketchers weekend to break my month-long non-sketching streak. Thank you, Moment Sketchers community! Above you can see part of my garden, which was a defining element of my summer.
On a trip to Wausau to visit my great aunt Lois, she pulled out her chalks one night and gave my sister and I an art lesson. (Lois is an amazing oil painter and all-around artist.) Above is the fox I drew—another creation I’m proud of!
Painting my friend Chad’s niece (above) is when I created my 100 Portraits project—though again, it was a collection of moments (painting myself way back in January, saying “yes” to Giovanni’s portrait, etc.) which got the idea into my mind and propelled me to begin.
I made the above painting while putting together this site, specifically my Values page. It was quite impromptu—I just had the itch and put brush to paper—so I’m glad that I simply began creating before I had time to overthink anything, and I’m also pleased with the creation.
Here we go, above is another sketch I’m particularly not fond of, but once again, it brings to mind memories of sitting in the sun that day, soaking up live music, and browsing the art stands.
I worked on this desert sketch at a bar while friends gathered there to watch a football game. I don’t like football but I wanted to socialize, so this was a no-brainer for me. Especially after bringing my tiny watercolor kit everywhere with me since January, I didn’t think twice about painting during the game.
The two portraits above, Orion and Charlie, are two I’m quite pleased with. They both turned out better than I expected (based on my past work and what each of these looked like at different points throughout the process), so that’s always a good feeling!
This Grand Canyon sketch fell on the “quick” side for me, since I started it in my tent one night (headlight on) with watercolors working from a picture, rather than sitting on site for 3-4 hours and beginning first with pencil and pen as I usually do. So I was surprised to receive comments on Instagram from the Moment Sketchers community with such high praise for this one. It’s interesting how your view of something as the creator can be quite different from how others view it; I’m open to it all.
I love this girl so much, but after I shared the portrait some family joked that she looked like an old woman. She’s 19 years old! (And cute!) I wondered aloud for a moment if I should take it off Instagram, not wanting to hurt her feelings or something with a less-than-stellar portrait.
But then my growth mindset regained control. (Phew.)
Painting this one was excellent practice. I learned to take more time getting the locations of facial features correct in pencil before jumping to pen (notably the eyes—they should be lower) and I enjoyed feeling gratitude towards Hanna Rose while painting her. And although I’m not over the moon with the final result, it’s loads better than I thought it would be (again, based on what it looked like during some earlier in-progress moments), so I’m proud of what I transformed it into. Finally, this is portrait #12/100! The twelfth watercolor portrait I’ve ever painted. Ever! So looking at it from that perspective, I have no reason to be anything but proud of this!
As if to prove that point (that the practice is helping), I was really satisfied with my next portrait of Colin.
At a dinner party in December, a friend asked if I would do a watercolor of his dog—my first commissioned piece, if you will. This was my first attempt, but I’m in the process of painting a second. My great aunt Lois helped me see that the right eye is in the wrong place, which is what throws it off. We spent the night before New Year’s Eve sketching this dog in pencil at her kitchen table, so that’ll be one of my first paintings of the new year.
Sketching has certainly been an integral part of this year, and I’m looking forward to painting even more in 2018!
What was integral to your year? Have you done any sketching/creating lately?
I read 63 books this year. My original goal was 42, so the final number looks high to me, too. This is, however, thanks to the fact that I was unemployed a majority of the year and spent the summer at my parents’ home, a 15-minute walk from the local library.
Some of the books I read this year were poetry collections and children’s books, so I’m always interested to see how my “pages read” stats compare year to year. Fifteen thousand seven hundred forty-one pages in 2017. (Thanks Goodreads!)
I’ll list them all this year—here’s what I read, beginning in January and ending in December:
Books Read in 2017
“The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember” by Fred Rogers
“Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy” by Molly Suber Thorpe
“Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” by Natalie Goldberg
“Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas, Advice, and Projects from 50 Successful Artist” by Danielle Krysa
“Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message” by Tara Mohr
“Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing” by Natalie Goldberg
“Milk & Honey: A Love Story” by Alexandra Franzen
“So This Is the End” by Alexandra Franzen
“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith
“The Postmistress” by Sarah Blake
“Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It” by Gabriel Wyner
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
“Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington
“Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur
“The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World” by Kim Dinan
“The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)” by Hal Elrod
“Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown
“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson
“Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton
“Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed” by Glennon Doyle Melton
“Forward: A Memoir” by Abby Wambach
“Rising Strong” by Brené Brown
“The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking” by Mike Rohde
“Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams” by Barbara Sher
“Brave Enough” by Cheryl Strayed
“Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own” by Kate Bolick
“Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed
“Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between” by Lauren Graham
“This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett
“All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft” by Geraldine DeRuiter
“The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield
“Janesville: An American Story” by Amy Goldstein
“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott
“This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel
“The Last Unicorn” by Peter Beagle
“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath
“Dog Songs” by Mary Oliver
“Felicity” by Mary Oliver
“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov
“Ladies Drawing Night: Make Art, Get Inspired, Join the Party” by Julia Rothman
“The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures” by Dan Roam
“Harry Potter et les reliques de la mort” by J.K. Rowling
“Our World” by Mary Oliver
“Upstream: Selected Essays” by Mary Oliver
“Blue Horses” by Mary Oliver
“A Poetry Handbook” by Mary Oliver
“Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes
“Worm Loves Worm” by J.J. Austrian
“The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth” by Natalie Goldberg
“Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask” by Anton Treuer
“Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time” by Andrew Forsthoefel
“Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon
“Just Diagnosed: The Five Keys to Living with MS from the Driver’s Seat” by Laura Sowinski
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
“Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” by Shannon Hayes
“Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith” by Martha Beck
“Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brené Brown
“The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America” by Timothy Egan
“The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less” by Amy Korst
“The Colorado Kid” by Stephen King
“The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir” by Dee Williams
“The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language” by Natalie Goldberg
Top 10 Books Read in 2017
I usually select five or so which I highlight as favorites, but this year I couldn’t get that number any lower than ten (plus some honorable mentions, below). In alphabetical order, I recommend:
I started this historical fiction book when I was visiting my friend Max in Munich and finished it on the train into France—which happened to be so fitting because it takes place in both countries during World War II. (I hadn’t known what the book was about when I began reading.) There’s a reason this won the Pulitzer Prize and spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list; I enjoyed getting lost in the story.
A friend in ACE recommended this one to me, and it was an interesting, educative read. I hadn’t read anything by Egan before, but he has the gift of bringing the past to life, so the retelling of these historical events was lively and engaging.
This story takes place in Janesville, Wisconsin—which lies just an hour southeast of where I’m from. The book follows several families/politicians/teachers before, during, and after the GM plant closing / recession of 2008. Although informative and well-researched, this book—like “Evicted”—is far from dry, filled with approachable and engrossing stories.
In case anyone missed my ooh-ing and aah-ing over this one last year, I’m including it again because I reread it at the start of the year. If you were a “good student” in school, this book is full of practical ways to break from good-student habits we women are taught at a young age—in order to lead, create, and speak up in our communities.
This book articulated so well many ideas I’d partially uncovered on my own. How refreshing to see a fuller picture, though, and to consider ideas I hadn’t yet stopped to consider. For example: What does a country’s GDP really indicate? It’s not a measure of personal well-being, so why does society care so much about a “healthy” GDP? Here’s a snippet from the Goodreads summary:
“Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.”
This memoir particularly gripped me because walking the country is something I’d thought of doing years ago—though I hadn’t had an idea for a “reason”/name/project and never moved an inch forward. Andrew Forsthoefel did, however, and five years later he wrote a book about his experiences. Not only is the story compelling and a neat way to get an up-close-and-personal tour of various regions of the USA, but the writing is beautiful to boot.
Oh, Natalie. This was the first book I read by Natalie Goldberg, and I couldn’t believe it had taken 28 years for us to meet! After this one I read several others by Natalie throughout the year, and there are plenty more of hers I’d like to read. I’m happy to have gained another role model this year.
2017 Books Read: Honorable Mentions
“Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brené Brown — I read two of Brené’s other big ones this year as well (“Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong”), and wanted to highlight at least one of hers somewhere in this post. Her latest book nicely summarizes many concepts I’ve learned over the years—so nothing breakthrough for me, but she’s certainly a helpful voice to have a stage, especially during this political climate.
“Felicity” by Mary Oliver — If anyone’s new to poetry like I am, this Mary Oliver collection was an enjoyable read. (Additional shoutout to Oliver’s “Upstream: Selected Essays”)
“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov — I read this book because Regina Spektor mentioned it in an interview somewhere. I was also curious to read a Russian author and a fiction book (I usually find myself reading within the non-fiction genre). It was sure interesting! I didn’t understand the deeper metaphors that must have been going on, but the story itself kept my interest the whole time.
“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith — This was my first Zadie Smith book, found on the bookshelf while I was HelpXing on the farm in Italy, and I enjoyed getting lost in her story.
“The Postmistress” by Sarah Blake — This is another one from the bookshelf on the farm in Dozza, and it was also an enjoyable fiction read.
“Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn — I finished reading this at the start of 2017 and wanted to mention it somewhere, as it was a peaceful read which nurtured mindfulness.
Finally, if you’d like to see five more years of past year-end book reviews, they are below.
One day while walking through some paths about 10 minutes from my apartment in Flagstaff, I stumbled upon a labyrinth.
I’d never seen nor walked a labyrinth before, so I appreciated the plated stone at its entrance—which included some background information and directions:
Labyrinths are an ancient part of the cultures of Egypt, India, Europe, and the Americas (including Hopi & Tohono O’ odham).
“How should I walk the labyrinth?” There is no “right way” to walk a labyrinth, but you may find this information useful:
There are no forks or choices on the single path to the center & back out.
Most people walk the labyrinth without talking, and prefer not to hear others talking.
Most people prefer the 2-way journey (to the center and back out). Most people sit in the center ring to reflect for a few minutes.
When people come as a group, individuals usually start about a minute apart.
It’s OK to stop and pause anywhere. It’s also OK to get bored and quit.
As long as you respect the labyrinth, the land, and other walkers, your way is right for you.
Couldn’t some of those instructions be beautifully applied to living, as well? It’s okay to stop and pause anywhere. It’s okay to get bored and quit a journey or pursuit. As long as you respect yourself, the earth, and fellow humans, the way you choose to live your life is right for you.
There are plenty more labyrinth metaphors to draw, several of which were written about in a journal of visitor comments that I discovered under the nearby bench, wrapped in a big ziploc.
It’s provided by the Flagstaff Community Labyrinth group, who also transcribes all visitor comments and posts them on their site. While I much prefer paging through the entries and seeing the visitor’s handwriting, I’m impressed by and grateful for everything the labyrinth community does to offer such a reflective space to the public and to share it.
I’ve walked the labyrinth several times during my first three months in Flagstaff, each providing the calm reflection and guidance I needed at the time, and I look forward to many more visits in 2018.
Have you walked a labyrinth before? Where was it? Would you like to install a labyrinth in your community?