Weeding as a Mindfulness Exercise

In this post, I discuss the peace that I take from the practice of grounding, which can be practiced by simply engaging in outdoor chores, like weeding.

This may sound odd, but I find weeding and gardening to be a mindfulness exercise (nobody tell Mr. Trekker that! 🤫)  Some people find things like folding laundry, cleaning the house or doing dishes to be meditative.  While I can see their point, those chores just don’t do it for me. 🙃  For whatever reason, weeding and flower gardening are some of the only activities (aside from outdoor recreation) that I find actually calm my racing thoughts.  Though I may get tired when completing these tasks, I don’t get bored.  Time doesn’t drag by.  I find I’m often, satisfyingly surprised at how much I can get done in a short amount of time.

I read an article about people who have gained a substantial following on Pinterest showing off their techniques for keeping their houses so clean.  While the writer agreed completing these tasks can be satisfying, she also worried seeing the level of cleanliness that others are able to maintain could add stress for some people, as they may not feel they can live up to those standards.  I can understand either perspective.  I don’t intend to make anyone feel bad if they don’t always find time to keep up with their yard work.  I can only speak to my personal experience.  I am just regularly amazed how my mind, that constantly swims with numerous thoughts on various subjects, can be completely calmed just by working in the dirt a bit.  Maybe this is why I’m a Nature Girl! 😉

These activities also give me the opportunity to think through–and sometimes resolve–issues I’ve been struggling with.  In distressing, stressful times, I find comfort in “playing in the dirt”.  When I can get my hands busy with tangible tasks, I’m able to focus on just one idea at any given moment.  On other occasions, my mind is actually able to completely relax and let go.

I think some of this is due to the fact that it’s incredibly satisfying to complete a physical task and see that something looks “better” after you’ve finished with it.  I feel a lot of satisfaction when I look out the kitchen window and see flower beds that are well-maintained, where, just a few, short hours ago, they were shaggy with weeds and grass.  I think in our modern world, where so much of the work we complete is often either on a computer or even web-based, you can spend an entire day putting large amounts of energy into work–and can potentially accomplish quite a lot–but it isn’t as satisfying.  There is nothing you can hold in your hand (or a desk free of piles of work) that allows you to feel like, “I made that happen”.  There is something very real in the physicality required to complete tangible tasks.

There is some scientific basis to these feelings.  “Grounding”, or “earthing” is a concept based on the idea that modern life keeps us separated from direct contact with our natural environment, much to our disadvantage.  The theory is that the earth maintains a slightly negative electrical charge, while our bodies build up an excess positive charge, an effect of inflammation over time.  So, coming into contact with the earth helps to bring us back into equilibrium.  You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these ideas are a bit controversial. 😮 

Another blog I like, The Wellness Mama, offers a more in-depth explanation of these practices.  While some studies are ongoing, nothing substantial has been proven regarding these theories…yet.   The National Center for Biotechnology Information offers two of the more serious, scientific studies that have been completed on the topic, one of which discusses the health benefits of gardening.  They can be found here and here

Something special just seems to occur when our bodies come into direct contact with nature.  I’ve spoken before about the peace I (and many others) feel in a connection with the natural world.  The idea of forest bathing comes from this same connection.  Humans spent eons living as a part of nature, that’s how we evolved.  Is it really so far-fetched to believe there may be true health benefits found in a literal connection with that world?  In our modern existence of artificial lighting, artificial air and artificial substances, is it any wonder that a lack of that connection may have detrimental effects on us?

Some of this starts to get into the outer limits of what science can currently prove, so I can understand if people may be a little skeptical.  I’m not trying to suggest that playing in the dirt is the magic cure for all that ails us.  But, I do feel better when I engage in a little gardening, so aside from a few dirty fingernails, what can be the harm?

Just because my Iris’ are GORGEOUS right now! 🙂

Do you find there are meditative qualities in simple, hand’s-on tasks?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Are you looking for a simple mindfulness exercise ? Try "grounding", which can be accomplished with simple outdoor chores, like weeding.

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Guest Post

This week I was given the opportunity to write a guest post on another blog. Please click through for the post!

This week’s post is a little different.  I am pleased that I was given the opportunity to write a guest post on a blog I follow, called “My Best Friend Adeline”, written by Joan Senio.  In the post, I discuss how we can live life more mindfully by taking a page out of the life of Man’s Best Friend! 😁  Click through for the post.  And thanks again, to Joan, for this opportunity!

Use Mental Energy Wisely

In this post I discuss ways we can be mindful with our limited supply of daily mental energy.

As I was sitting at one of our favorite overlooks last weekend, with a panoramic view of the gorgeous, Black Hills countryside (see the picture above), I couldn’t help thinking…our world is such a beautiful, amazing place, why aren’t people happier?  It seems that my social media feeds are full of people outraged over the scandal-of-the-hour; anxious about imminent dangers that could befall them and those they care about at any moment; or convinced that the overall state of our world is in steep decline.  But are these thoughts many of us carry around on a regular basis helpful? Most of us are just striving to be a productive employee, to keep the house from falling apart and to keep control of a hectic schedule. Are these things a wise and productive use of our mental energy?  Could the stress of these additional stimuli to our already overstimulated lives actually be detrimental to our overall health?

Be Careful with how you Use Mental Energy

Today’s post is about being purposeful and mindful with how we spend our emotional energy.  Sadly, it is true that there are bad things that happen in the world every day.  With the internet, multiple social media channels and 24-hour news coverage we can easily be made aware of each and every one of them.  But is this a good thing?  I think it’s good to be aware of problems in our world* as this makes us informed citizens. Being informed helps us to make better choices when we’re choosing our leaders.  It helps us to know what policies our legislators are looking to enact (or what rights they may be looking to rescind).  It’s also important to be informed of what problems our world is still facing in the modern age.   

*Each person has to decide for themselves what constitutes a “problem”.  Different issues are important to different people, as is the severity of any one issue in comparison to any other.  An issue one person finds to be incredibly important, another may think is minor. I’m not here to tell you what you should care about, but simply to discuss a more productive way to care.

I think it’s important to be aware of what is occurring around us, both in our local communities and the larger world.  However, I think this concern becomes detrimental when we allow ourselves to become hyped up regarding numerous issues that we are made aware of throughout the day, week, month and year.  It seems logical that if we are constantly worked up about given issues, both our mental and physical health will eventually suffer.  This constant angst isn’t healthy.  It can, understandably, cause depression as it leads to the impression that each day the world gets a little worse (as you will see later, this idea is NOT backed up by statistics).

Don’t take my word for it…

How is our current “information age” hurting us?

Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise?

What is depression and why is it rising?

Why The World Is Getting Better And Why Hardly Anyone Knows It

Now for the good news!

The world is not actually going to hell in a handbasket:

Extreme poverty around the world is decreasing

Around the US, rates of violent crime are down

Life expectancy is increasing around the world

The statistics show that the world, in general, is continuing to get better. People are living longer, healthier lives.  We live in a world that has greater access to opportunities and information (thanks to technology) than ever before in human history.  I’m not trying to suggest we should become lackadaisical with issues we care about.  Even if improvement has been seen in recent years, this doesn’t mean that further improvement isn’t called for.  But we can take a moment to step back and appreciate the gains we have achieved, and allow ourselves a little break.    

Mental Energy is Finite

Our daily reserve of emotional and mental energy is finite.  We only have so much available to us on any given day.  We have to be purposeful in choosing how we use it.  It’s like saying that every day you wake up with $25 in your pocket.  You can spend it on ANYTHING you want, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.  You don’t get any more until tomorrow and you can’t borrow from anyone else.  Once you’ve spent that $25 for the day, if anything else comes along that requires those funds, it just has to suffer and go without.

 This is important.  Because we only have a given amount of energy available to us each day, we need to be mindful with how we use it.  With our 24/7 access to events that are occurring throughout our world, we have to intentionally avoid being constantly stimulated by these.  Because there are so many things that could potentially sidetrack our energy, I think it’s important that we be purposeful with how we choose to expend that energy.  

We each have to decide for ourselves how much we want to let the problems of the world take over our lives.  I frequent multiple social media channels. On each I see some people (emphasis on SOME) who seem to be outraged, every single day (often multiple times per day) over various issues. While I believe their hearts are in the right place, I worry that thanks to modern media, we are constantly being exposed to events that we never used to be aware of.  While the issues may be completely factual and worthy of concern, do each one of us need to be concerned with every single event?  If you live in West Virginia, is it really a good use of your emotional energy to debate with a stranger on the internet about another stranger’s child who fell into an animal enclosure at a zoo in Arizona? 😝  While caring about these things makes us wonderful, compassionate people, at some point in time, we run out of emotional energy.  At that point I wonder, are we really able to do any good to any of the causes we find so important when our reserves are spread so thin?  Would it not be better to focus more on a specific issue?  

Each person will have a different tolerance for how much energy they have available to expend.  The reserves that each of us has within ourselves may even wax and wane as we work through the trials, tribulations (and joys) of everyday life.  I just think we need to be selective on how we choose to use our personal energy reserves.  

This may come off as selfish and that is not my intent.  I don’t think we should only care about things if they directly affect us and hinder our daily lives in some way.  We should be concerned when others are facing struggles.  But is every negative event that occurs throughout the world deserving of all of our personal, precious emotional energy?  Even if it doesn’t affect us or anyone we know personally; even if it has no effect on our local community or even our larger state/province/country?  Perhaps we can better use the precious resource that is this energy on problems that are closer to home.  Or, at least, maybe we should pick one or two issues to focus our attention on, rather than allowing ourselves to try to tackle every single one of the world’s problems.   

To Conclude:

Ultimately, regardless of what happens today, the sun WILL come up tomorrow. Birds are still tweeting in nearby trees; babies are still crying at their mothers’ breasts; the trash still needs to be taken out. 😉  I think there are numerous issues and situations in our world that are deserving of our concern as human beings.  But our personal, emotional energy is a precious gift.  It is also a limited resource.  I think we each, individually, need to be selective of where and how we use that resource.  This is a good way to reduce the stress in our lives.  We need to be mindful and purposeful with how we use our concern in a world full of things to be concerned about.  It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t have the energy to put toward that today, I need to focus on my own mental health/family/community.”  

Do you have any suggestions on how to better prioritize mental and emotional energy?  If so, share them in the comments!

 

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We have a limited amount of mental energy available to us each day. Let's be mindful about how we use it.

 

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Mindfulness and the Open Road

In this post, I explain my love of the open road.

I love going for drives, I absolutely LOVE them.  I love road trips too (as anyone that’s followed this blog for a while should know) but I also love just simple drives around the countryside.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of peace and freedom that comes from the open road.  I enjoy drives by myself on winding roads (just me and my Honda, dancing through turns).  I also enjoy them with Mr. Trekker, my trusty side-kick, and usually, the primary driver.  He’s probably one of the only people I can stand being stuck in a car with for days on end. 😁 (This is another good sign to watch for if you’re considering marrying someone.  The question isn’t just can you tolerate, but do you actually enjoy lengthy car rides with your significant other? 😁 )  

Can you inherit wanderlust?

I maintain it’s not my fault that I have this crazy obsession with the open road, it’s in my genes.  I seem to have inherited my maternal grandfather’s wanderlust.  He used to love to “go for a drive”.  Oftentimes, he’d invite us grandkids along (it didn’t hurt that this usually meant there was a Wendy’s frosty in your future if you went). 😉  I can remember my grandma asking him, “why are you going this way?”  His response was always, “I already went the other way!” (duh! 😉)  I firmly endorse this statement!

Mr. Trekker even knows if he’s driving us somewhere, we can’t go the same way twice.  Why would we go home the way we came, we already saw that stuff today?! 😝

Can wanderlust be taught?

I don’t think this desire is all Nature though, I blame Nurture, as well.  I went on numerous road trips throughout my childhood, with both my parents and grandparents.  I rode along with my paternal grandparents, one year when they returned to their home in Kansas after a visit to Indiana.  I also rode to Florida for family vacations several times as a child.  I even helped my maternal grandparents drive there on a few occasions, as I got older and they started wintering in the warmer climate.  My parents and I also took numerous trips to New England over the years, to visit family.

As it turns out, there were times Mr. Trekker and I may have been quite near each other, throughout our childhood, as he grew up near where the family we were visiting lived–we didn’t actually meet until college though.  He also shares my love of road trips, probably due, in no small part, to the highway adventures he enjoyed while growing up.  His parents took him throughout New England, as well as to countless Civil War battlefields up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

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Songs about the Open Road

There are a few songs that well relate my love of the open road (click on the link on each title to hear the full song):

In “Take a Back Road”, by Rodney Atkins, the lyrics state:

…Gotta get outta here, get it all off my mind
And it makes me wanna take a back road
Makes me wanna take the long way home
Put a little gravel in my travel…

These lyrics speak to me because there are times when I feel like I need to escape from the stress of daily life.

…Tear down some two-lane country who knows?
Get lost and get right with my soul…

We shouldn’t be afraid to go the long way through the countryside, things seem to fall back into balance after spending a little time on the open road.

I’ve been cooped up, tied down ‘bout forgotten
What a field looks like full of corn and cotton…
…I need the curvin’, windin’, twistin’ dusty path to nowhere…

I, personally, could never forget the sight of a field.  I grew up surrounded by them (and still live by the prairie).  But that isn’t the case for everyone.  A lot of people are constantly surrounded by a concrete jungle.  I think this separation between us and our evolutionary roots with the natural world causes angst for people.  Getting out on the open road helps us get back in touch with those roots.

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In “Backroad”, by Granger Smith, the lyrics state:

Barbed wire fence carving out a hillside, cutting holes in the midday sun
Like a postcard framed in a windshield covered in dust
I love the rhythm of an old grey blacktop
Steer the wheel, one-handed on a two-lane, hugging that line
I got the windows down, no one else around singin’…

I used to be incredibly outgoing and extroverted.  I would get re-energized just by being around other people.  These days, I’m still outgoing, but more and more, I prefer quiet and solitude.  Mr. Trekker and I can spend several days in the wilderness, with just each other, the birds, deer, moose, and maybe a bear for company.  We head into “town”–that can mean very different things in different parts of the country–to restock on supplies and get a shower, and within a day we’re both ready to get back to the solitude again.  These days, I get exhausted being around people all the time.

**My freelance career probably doesn’t help my newfound introverted side much.  I spend more time alone (or with just the dog) now than I ever used to, which I am PERFECTLY happy about, mind you.  I have actually found, now that I’m not around people as much, my patience for them (in parking lots, while driving, in stores) has actually increased.  It’s like less exposure to people increases my tolerance level for them! 😂 

We hope to someday get property in the Hills.  Maybe we’ll live close enough to our neighbors so that we can actually see their house from ours…maybe. 😝  We currently live in town, but at least in the summer, our backyard is walled in by green trees, shrubs, and bushes.  I can at least pretend I’m alone.  I see pictures of other neighborhoods where the houses are closer together, or the properties aren’t separated by barriers.  Or I see pictures in large cities where big buildings block out the sky unless you’re looking straight up.  These images just make me cringe!  They get my anxious heart pumping!  I need room to breathe, ya’ll! (Again, not really my fault.  I grew up as a farm girl in Indiana, it only makes sense that I love wide open spaces.) 😁

Granger Smith goes on to say:

Freedom is the miles I’m rollin’ on…
…I feel the wheel like a melody, like a radio dialing in strong
The breeze smells like a summertime hay field’s just been cut
I got the windows down, way out of town singing…

There is freedom on the open road (and the smell of fresh-cut hay is DEVINE!)  Don’t just take my word for it.  There have been some famous people who have shared my love of it too.  John Steinbeck, for example, in his book “Travels with Charlie” (his poodle) comes to mind.  In that account, he and Charley enjoy a country-spanning road trip, sleeping out of his truck camper.

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Another song that reflects my love for the open road is “My Church”, by Maren Morris.  The lyrics of that song state:

…I find holy redemption
When I put this car in drive
Roll the windows down and turn up the dial
Can I get a hallelujah
Can I get an amen
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya…
…I find my soul revival…
…Yeah, I guess that’s my church…
…When this wonderful world gets heavy
And I need to find my escape

I just keep the wheel rolling, radio scrolling
‘Til my sins wash away

I get this sentiment. I feel the same way about the open road.   I feel refreshed and stimulated when I’m out there.  It’s almost a spiritual experience or a spiritual renewal of sorts.  I feel so much more relaxed after a good, long drive. It’s like I can breathe again, like I’ve been rejuvenated.

**This is partially why I love being out in nature so much.  It’s quiet, it’s natural, it’s solitude, it’s peaceful.  You gotta respect it because it can kill you, 😳 but it can also refresh you in a way nothing artificial can.  Nature and wide-open vistas are my Xanax!  

Oddly enough, I don’t love the Plains because they are too wide open.  It’s a bit overwhelming.  I love the mountains, but I couldn’t live in them, either.  For one thing, the weather can be too extreme.  For another, they block the view!  I prefer to live in the foothills, they are an almost “Goldilocks”-type region.  You get to experience the best of both worlds.  The flatter land that leads up to the base of the mountains is open, so you feel like you can breathe, but it doesn’t continue on endlessly.  It is reigned in by the rocks (and you can also enjoy mountain views as well).  You also benefit from the protection the monoliths provide from the worst of the weather, and lower altitudes usually offer more mild weather, as well.

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I love taking my car on the winding back roads.  It’s fun to drive and it makes you feel like you’re one with the land, it’s like you can finally relax. I LOVE the smells of the country, yes, even “those” smells.  Manure is natural too kids! 😉

Below are some more pictures of our travels on the open road.  Don’t they just make you feel like you can breathe?:

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So, the next time you get the chance, don’t be afraid to get out there and enjoy your own back roads a little!

Do you enjoy long drives in the country?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Do you love long drives on country roads? In this post, I explain my love of the open road and why I find long drives to be so rejuvenating.

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Cross Country Skiing is Hard! Be Persistent!

This post is a glimpse into the ongoing process of the Tranquil Trekker learning to cross-country ski…

Most articles I’ve read about cross-country skiing call it the “easy” winter sport.  You never hear about people having terrible accidents on cross-country skis.  “It’s something even a beginner can do!” they say…these are LIES I tell you, filthy, dirty LIES! 😮😉

Cross-country skiing is HARD!!!

The Trekkers have been cross-country skiing for several years, though we usually only get out a few times each winter. (This is especially true in winters like this one when we hardly had any snow until February. 😝)  This could explain why I’ve struggled so much to grasp the techniques of the sport.  I read somewhere that you have to ski 10,000 kilometers to become skilled at cross-country skiing–it was a Canadian talking, for those of us living south of the border, that’s over 6000 miles.  We’ve probably skied less than 100 miles so far, so we’ve got a little ways to go. 😝

We’ve pretty much done all the stuff you’re supposed to do to learn to ski.  We’ve watched various videos on Youtube, we’ve talked to the “experts” at several sports shops and equipment rental places. (To be fair, we haven’t taken an actual class, I can’t quite bring myself to do that.  I don’t need five-year-olds skiing circles around me to humble my skiing ego.  The bruises and sore muscles I acquire every time we go out take care of that just fine, thank you. 😝)  

An example of what frustrates me so much.  All these experts make skiing sound so EASY!  “The snowplow technique is an easy and effective way to stop yourself that even beginners can employ.” Will someone please tell me how I’m supposed to do this with six inches to a foot of snow on top of my ski?  Or at the very least, with a six-inch lip of packed, icy snow surrounding the lane my skis are in?!  They don’t tell you THAT in the videos! 😝  

The trainers also say things like, “if you fall, just get your skis under you and roll back up!”  Uh-huh, again, how do I do that when I can’t even see where my skis are under all that snow?  And when I can’t get any leverage, because every time I try to push myself up my arm sinks into the powder up to my shoulder? (I’m just saying, my lack of skill may not be ENTIRELY my fault, 90% my fault, tops. 😉) 

I think a lot of these “experts” and trainers are used to cross-country ski resorts, where the trails are groomed and the terrain is fairly flat.  They aren’t guiding people in the backcountry, through the secluded (albeit GORGEOUS) national forest, where hills can be steep, turns tight, and you may have to break your own trail.

Cross-country skiing is easy! (NOT!)

This sport is, supposedly, easy to master.  People don’t usually even wear helmets when engaging in it.  They aren’t needed, you aren’t going that fast.  You hear people say, “if you can walk, you can ski.”  This may be true for some people, but, on a normal day, my feet don’t–usually–slide out from under me due to their waxed or fish-scaled bottoms. 😝  I do believe that saying is true regarding snowshoeing, I just think skiing takes a bit more finesse.  

Let’s just be blunt here, I pretty much suck at skiing.  Yes, that flailing spider monkey you see SLOWLY making their way down the hill, the one you pray doesn’t hit you, or the one you just want to avoid entirely…yeah, that’d be me. 😇  I’m the one who, when on skis, falls over…WHILE STANDING STILL…on flat ground!…because I had the audacity to turn my head to look in another direction. 🙄

For those who aren’t familiar with the Eagle Cliff area where we usually ski, it has some groomed trails. (The area is run by volunteers so sometimes you have to be patient for them to finish with the grooming and plowing at the trailheads.)  To be clear though, it isn’t unusual for us to have to break trail when we go skiing.  Or, if we don’t have to actually cut a trail, oftentimes there is just a two-track ski path available to follow, that was recently cut by someone else.  If it was only just created, it may not be packed much yet.  Due to this, we may not have the struggle of breaking through six inches (or more) of fresh powder, but we can still sink with every glide we make as the process of packing the trail is still occurring (it almost feels like walking in sand).  I only stress this to make people aware, we often aren’t dealing with perfectly groomed ski trails here.

Cross-country skiing IS fun! (No really!)

Regardless of the frequent humiliation, when I am able to remain vertical, I really enjoy skiing.  I like the exercise.  I like the way I can glide along, almost soundlessly, through the beauty of the snow-shrouded forest, with just the *wisp-wisp* of the skis slipping through the powdery snow as an accompaniment.   I LOVE seeing the adorable, little, rodent paths crisscrossing the snow as they make their way from snowbank…to fallen log…to tree…

I do feel bad, though, for the rodent whose path suddenly ends in the middle of a large area of wing-swept snow, where it’s obvious that something both much bigger than himself (and with talons) scooped him from his daily business, never to be seen or heard from again. 😳  At least it was a good day for the bird, I guess. 🤭  

I enjoy watching the deer spring effortlessly through the snowpack at our approach.  I always find it fascinating, “reading” the stories the forest “tells”.  In the Black Hills, this often includes the large, padded tracks left in the snow by a giant feline’s paws.  You can picture it stalking the unsuspecting deer herd in the meadow below, from its vantage point on a ledge high above.

Learning to cross-country ski

After several years of trying, I have finally learned to use my knees while skiing! (This technique may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a huge game-changer for me, so bear with me. 😉)  

I’ve always known a bent-knee stance should help with control, flexibility, and looseness.  Apparently, I’ve just never bent my knees enough.  It’s amazing how well things work when you do them correctly. 😝  All of a sudden I felt like I hit this sweet spot.  I could finally use the angle of my knees and the weight of my body to turn–a little!  I could finally attempt the “snowplow” maneuver used for stopping–slightly!  But, for the first time, I actually felt like I had a little control (“little” being the crucial word). 

I also found, the lower I kept my center of gravity, the easier it was to keel over into a fall if I felt like I was losing control.  I FINALLY conquered my fear of plastering myself into the nearest tree!  Now, if I feel like I’m heading towards a tree and can’t seem to turn the skis from their stubborn track, I can lean to my side and slide to a safe stop–with legs that flail a bit less.  Getting rid of the fear changes everything! (Remember I have anxiety! 😉)  

The best method when cross-country skiing actually reminds me of the best method when mountain biking…stay loose!  When you’re fearful or worried, you’re tense; you’re tight; your body can’t flow with the normal rises and falls of the surface you are gliding over.  And if you do fall or hit a bump badly, you’re more likely to injure yourself due to your, already tight, muscles.  So, this newfound ease of mine is a game changer!   

I also need to learn that I’m not really moving all that quickly.  It just “feels” like I’m careening down the hill at unimaginable speeds.  In the real world, I’m actually just coasting along. 😝

Be persistent when learning a new skill

For me, this has been one of the most frustrating activities we have attempted, but I FINALLY feel like I’m starting to make some progress!  I think there’s a take-home lesson in this.  That is, never give up.  If there is something you enjoy doing, something you have your heart set on, something you want to accomplish, keep working at it, keep persevering.  You may fail several times, but each time is another opportunity to learn a new technique that you can implement on your next attempt.  Each time you try, you get a little better, a little stronger, a little faster.  

I read that the word “F.A.I.L.” can be a positive acronym for:
First
Action
In
Learning 

I like that, it’s empowering.  It helps us to recognize that sometimes failing to do something the first few times–or the first few hundred times–we try it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.  It pushes us beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone.  We can use it to make ourselves better.  Oftentimes, I find failing at something, and thereby having to work hard and be resourceful to achieve it, actually benefits me more in the end than if I had just, easily, succeeded on the first try.  Those difficult experiences are how we learn!

 Regarding skiing, I just have A LOT of learning to do!  😉

What experiences do you have with cross-country skiing?  Tell me about them in the comments!

 

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Have you ever wanted to try cross-country skiing? Read on for my experience with this sport that is harder to learn than some suggest!

 

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Increasing Daylight as Winter Wains

As we near the end of the cold season, I discuss our ever-lengthening daylight and the subsequent reduction of my SAD symptoms.

This weekend will see another of my favorite days of the year…the first day of the new year that the sun will stay up till 5 pm at our house!  The daylight is screaming back now! 😎 (The Black Hills sit between the Trekkers’ house and the western horizon, so we have to wait a little further into the year for this to actually happen.)

Improved SAD symptoms

I’ve mentioned previously that I struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the winter months.  This year, my SAD symptoms haven’t been quite as severe as I’ve experienced in the past.  This could be due to several factors:

–until this week, when we’ll be lucky if we see a high of 10 🥶, we’ve had a warmer-than-normal winter.  We’ve also had A LOT of sunny days (so Puppers and I have been able to spend a good deal of time outside, soaking up that natural Vitamin D3!)

–one positive benefit of COVID is that Mr. Trekker has been working from home a lot more.  It really helps to have him here in the early evening, after the sun sets but when it’s still too early to make dinner, to help keep me company.

–due to COVID (and some other factors) I went on an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressant for the first time this year.  I’ve thought about trying them in the past but was hesitant to take the plunge.  I was really struggling early last spring with the onset of COVID and some other life events that were getting me down and my doctor suggested I try this low-dose option.  My body has handled it well.  Things are improving so I’m hoping to wean off of it as the days continue to get longer.  I plan to keep it in my arsenal though, as an option for next fall when the days grow short yet again.

–Working as a Freelancer seems to help my mood as well…most of the time 😇 .  January was always the worst month of the year for me at my former job.  That stress, combined with my struggle with the lack of daylight, caused a two-pronged attack on my spirits.

For the record, a freelancer’s life does come with its own stressors (contrary to popular belief, we don’t just sit on the couch eating Bon Bon’s all day! 😝)  There is the worry caused by always working on short-term projects, which results in little job security.  This, obviously, means you always need to seek out new work.   And it turns out, you have to work harder when you literally don’t get paid unless you’re performing work-related tasks.  You realize how easy it is to slack off at a “normal” job when you receive a paycheck regardless of how long you spend talking to your friend, or how much time you frit away surreptitiously checking Facebook when the boss isn’t looking. 😇)

I think the biggest advantage of working from home is that it allows me the opportunity to see daylight so regularly.  Whether it’s sitting inside with the sun streaming in the windows; watching the snowflakes float down on a cold day; or sitting outside on the back patio as the sun bathes me on a warm day; I’m at least able to experience it now.  This seems to make all the difference to help ease the symptoms of anxiety and winter depression that I have experienced in the past, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.  

More daylight improves mood!

It’s amazing to me how just knowing the days are getting longer raises my spirits.  While we have gained almost an hour of daylight in the last 6 weeks since the Winter Solstice, it is still mostly dark by 5:30 at night.  There is something about the fact, though, that when I’m standing in the kitchen, preparing dinner, instead of there being complete blackness outside the window, there is–at least a small hint–of light.  That really improves my outlook on things!  

I still feel the suffocating frustration at how little daylight we have, but since I KNOW it’s going to continue staying lighter, longer, each and every day, and I KNOW that the beginning of spring is now only a few weeks away, this irritation slackens.  It also helps that I know our daylight will continue lengthening for the next 6 months!  That’s enough to ease the ache considerably!  

As our long, dark days wane, I hope anyone else who wrestles with this exasperating condition is finding their struggle is easing, as well.  As our sun comes back and our daylight continues to increase in both duration and frequency, let’s all take a lesson from the Beatles, and get out there and make it a good day, sunshine! 😎

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Our days are gradually geting longer and we are gaining sunlight in earnest now. Read on as I discuss my joy at our increasing daylight!

 

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Conquer Lengthy Trails in Small Portions

In this post I discuss how to build your self-confidence by “connecting the dots” and finishing portions of trails you haven’t conquered in the past.

Today I’m going to discuss the incredible feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a lengthy trail in small, manageable portions, regardless of how many tries, trips, or years it takes to achieve that goal. 😁  Below I outline several different trails we’ve done sections of in the past and have finally “connected-the-dots” on.

Willow Creek/Rushmore Trail (trail #5)

 We completed the Willow Creek/Rushmore trail (trail #5,) all the way to where it meets up with the Harney Trail {trail #9, the hard way up Black Elk (formerly Harney) Peak}.  This is really just a connector trail and not that big of a deal (though it’s a nice trek with lovely views).  It’s just such an accomplishment when you complete these various routes.  The Willow Creek-Rushmore trail was one I’ve been wanting to do for years.  Every time we’ve hiked the difficult Harney Trail (trail #9), we’ve always used the Willow Creek turn-off as a bit of a landmark to watch for.  So, to finally connect the two was such a delight! 

This accomplishment was especially exhilarating as it was already getting snowy up that way and some of the knee-deep snow was a challenge to hike through–we hadn’t taken snowshoes that day as the lower elevations didn’t have any snow and we didn’t know how much we’d be encountering.

Eagle Cliff Trails in the Black Hills

After numerous tries throughout multiple seasons, we finally completed several sections of various trails in the Eagle Cliff area.  We’ve enjoyed parts of these trails in previous years–sometimes skiing, sometimes snowshoeing, sometimes mountain biking–but we’ve never fully connected them all.  In the past, we failed to complete the entire loop as we’ve always turned around due to being tired, being cold, or losing the trail.**  This time, however, we started with the Hamburger snowshoe route (who comes up with these names?! 😝); took that to Lily Park trailhead; then continued on to the Holey Rock trail.  We then looped back to the Bratwurst ski trail and brought that all the way back to our starting point–not to worry, we stayed off the ski trails. 😇 (Another group had, kindly, already blazed a snowshoe trail alongside the main road that we were able to follow. 😁)

**As much as we love the Eagle Cliff area, we’ve frequently lost our trail up there.  This has occurred both in the summer and the winter months and has actually been worse in the summer (the tall grasses don’t do much to suggest a trail.  At least in the winter, there are, oftentimes, other tracks to follow!)  Fortunately, we’ve never gotten lost to the point of being in trouble, we were always able to retrace our steps and find our way back.  Sometimes too, we’ve been able to spot the valley we were seeking from a ways off and reach it via off-trail routes.  

I do believe some of this was due to poor signage, the old maps were difficult to read and often sun-faded, or they were an inaccurate match with the current trails that year.  The new ones seem far more clear.  The trail blazes on the trees also seem to be closer together and better-marked.  It could also be that we’re finally getting comfortable with the area as we’ve completed so many of the trails.  

To Conclude

The point to discussing all this is that, if there is a difficult or lengthy trail (or set of trails) you’re interested in, but they seem too challenging or long for you to accomplish in one sitting, complete them in sections.  It still counts as mastering the entire monster, even if you don’t do it all in one try!  Start from one end and try to make it halfway.  Then, on another occasion, start from the other end and make it halfway again.  You just finished the entire thing, even if you only ever did half a section at a time!  

I have a few other, personal examples of this in relation to local trails.  The Trekkers are aiming to hike the entire, 111-mile long, Centennial Trail that traverses the length of the Black Hills.  We also want to bike the entirety of the Mikelson Trail, the 109-mile long, graded, gravel path that spans the Hills, from north to south.  It follows an old railroad grade, leftover from the Gold Rush days of yesteryear.   It’s taken us almost a decade, but so far we’ve completed over half of the Centennial Trail and almost the same amount for the Mikelson.  

With routes that are quite lengthy, numerous trailheads often split them up into more manageable sections.  Completing one several-mile section every few months is far simpler than attempting an entire 25-mile trail all at once.  We’ve even split up single sections before.  There is a 14-mile portion of the Mikelson trail that we’ve just never been able to finish all at once.  We HAVE completed it using the “halfway method” mentioned above, starting from each direction, though.  This technique is also a good way to keep your spirits and enthusiasm up.  It’s much easier to stay motivated if you’re not trying to psych yourself up for a crazy excursion, but instead, a fun, shorter, one-day outing.  

Related posts:  Cross-Country Skiing at Big Hill, Spearfish, SDWinter Activities at Eagle Cliff

With this post, I want to stress that you don’t have to be a marathon recreator.  It’s perfectly reasonable to be more of a “sprinter”, who feels a five-mile outing is a perfectly acceptable definition of a “full-day”.  When you’re out on the trail you aren’t competing with anyone or anything else (with the exception of Mother Nature, of course).  Your only rival is yourself.  So, don’t compare yourself to others.  The only thing that matters is that you’re improving your skills, your strength, and your health–both mental and physical–along with it.  

The other caveat is, of course, that you’re having fun!  As long as you’re getting out, connecting with the natural world, working off the steam of any built-up, negative energy, and you’re accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself, that’s the only thing that’s really important.  You’ll find achieving goals is also quite the confidence booster, as you’re pushing yourself and meeting challenges. (If you are the marathoner-type person who can go out and accomplish 20 miles at one sitting, mad points to you too! 😉)

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and accomplish some goals and in the process, boost your confidence by finishing​ what you start!   

Have you conquered lengthy trails in small sections?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Are you frustrated by a lengthy trail you just haven't been able to finish? Read on for my advice on how to conquer these in small portions.

 

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Hike the Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park

I review the Sunday Gulch Trail, in Custer State Park, near Sylvan Lake.

As part of the incredible trail system offered by Custer State Park, the Sunday Gulch Trail is a must-hike!  You will find the trailhead  located behind the large rocks at the back of Sylvan Lake,  off the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail.  

Note:  this trail is closed in the winter months due to ice buildup from the nearby creek.  

Hiking the Sunday Gulch Trail

This loop trail is around three miles long and can be completed in either direction.  I suggest taking the right fork at the trailhead.  This way, you’ll complete the most difficult portion of the hike first, and you’ll be doing it heading downhill.  You will still end your trek with an uphill climb, but it will be far less strenuous than the alternate option.  Traveling this direction, the early portion of the trail is comprised of steps and large boulders that must be navigated—there is a handrail—as you make your way down the ravine.  Once you reach the bottom, the path is relatively easy and flat while you traverse a canyon; until the final climb back to Sylvan Lake at the top.

In the hotter months, be prepared for a hot hike!  Due to the gulch-like nature of the terrain, cool summer breezes often miss this area. Fortunately, the surrounding foliage provides significant shade opportunities (except when the sun is high, in the middle of the day).  As you continue down the canyon, your trek will eventually begin to wind uphill when you commence the final, LONG ascent back to the lake.  The path is well-trodden and fairly smooth/free of debris, but it’s a long hill back to Sylvan Lake.  You will hear more road noise on this portion of the trail as it parallels Route 87.  

img_0458
A view of the surrounding peaks from the top/end of the trail

Things you will see on the Sunday Gulch Trail

The trail is beautiful.  As you descend into the ravine, granite cliffs tower far above you on both sides, while a bubbling brook accompanies you the entire way.  Once you reach the bottom of the gully, continue following the creek as it winds its way through the canyon.  This area is very peaceful as there is little road noise–the only main route, nearby, is Route 87, and that snakes along the edge of the ridge far above you.    

img_0454
Yours truly, navigating the steep, boulder section of the trail, through the ravine

Use caution when the path is wet, due to rain or snowmelt, as the creek often gushes across it when the water level is high.  Even in late spring, be prepared for the possibility of ice where the route traverses the deep ravine, as it doesn’t get sufficient sunlight throughout much of the day. Traction devices, such as Yaktrax, are highly recommended unless you are hiking this trail at the height of summer. (Click here for more information on these awesome traction devices!)      

This trek can be managed by smaller children and pets, but they may require assistance with the really rocky portions of the trail.  As it combines bouldering with a relaxing jaunt through the forest, this fun hike contains a wide selection of scenery and is a must-see for those wanting a bit more adventure.  If you’re looking for a challenging and fun hiking trail on your visit to Custer State Park, check out the Sunday Gulch Trail near Sylvan Lake!  

Have you hiked this awesome trail?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

 

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Click here for detailed info on this beautiful hike at Custer State Park, in the Black Hills!

 

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Enjoying the Winter Solstice

In this post, I discuss my excitement for the shortest day of the year. We have made it to the Winter Solstice! The longest night of the year is behind us!

🎵 It’s the most…wonderful…DAY…of the year!!! 🎶   You might be thinking I must be talking about Christmas, right?…you would be wrong! 😉  Today is the Winter Solstice ya’ll! (…in the Northern Hemisphere.)  It is one of my ABSOLUTE, MOST FAVORITE days of the entire year!

Why–you may ask–would someone who struggles with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) be happy about the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight?  That’s simple!  Starting tomorrow…THE DAYS START GETTING LONGER AGAIN!!!  WHOO HOO!!!  WE MADE IT!!! 🌞  We did it!  We survived!

Days with little sunlight

It never ceases to amaze me, the first of November arrives and the time change hits, and every year it feels like it will be an ETERNITY until the days start getting longer again.  But then you slowly plod through the first week…and then the second…and then it’s the week before Thanksgiving (so things are starting to perk up a bit, I always enjoy Thanksgiving!)…and then the Christmas season is in full swing!  Between decorating the house, shopping for gifts, and singing carols, who has time to feel down?  Then before you know it, the Solstice is here again (and it usually arrives more quickly than I expected!)

The first few weeks of January are always a bit rough, as well.  Everybody takes their Christmas lights down, so their twinkling goodness is no longer there to light up those long, dark nights…the joy of the Christmas season is over, and now you’re just stuck with the COLD! 😨  But, at least the days start getting longer by that point…and the first day it’s still reasonably light out at 5 pm, you know you’ve conquered another LONG, DARK season. 💪

The history of the Winter Solstice

December 21…the Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere)…the longest night of the year.  It’s also called “Midwinter” (which seems odd, since winter is just ramping up, and, according to the astronomical calendar, today is only the initial day of the cold season).  

Science confirms the Winter Solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly point, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  This is as opposed to its summer counterpart—when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer. (If you’re living in the Southern Hemisphere, the solstices are, obviously, switched).

Historically, the Iranians called it “Yalda Night”; the Druids, “Yule”, “Mother Night” and “Alban Arthan” meaning, “The Light of Arthur” (based on the legend of King Arthur).  A ceremony commemorating this day is still held at Stonehenge each year.  The ancient Mayans believed in offering blood sacrifices to the sun god to placate him into returning his light to the people.  Fortunately, we don’t take things to that extreme these days (though in the darkest days of winter, I may have considered pricking a finger or something). 😝

The dictionary defines “solstice” as, “a furthest, or culminating point, a turning point.”  The word derived from Latin is loosely translated as “the sun stands still”. 

Interestingly enough (according to one of my favorite apps) the shortest amount of daylight doesn’t take place only today, it also occurs for several days surrounding the Solstice.  This makes sense as the sun’s southward track has to stop and then reverse itself.  

I LOVE the Winter Solstice!

Today is, by far, one of my favorite days of the year!  It may seem strange, for someone who struggles with depression caused by lack of daylight, to be so excited about the day of the year that offers the least light.  But that’s why it’s worth celebrating, we’ve made it!  We’re no longer toiling to reach the end of a long, dark tunnel (as daylight wanes).  Starting tomorrow, we’re basking in the warm glow of the light at the end of that tunnel (as the days will now begin to grow longer).  

This is what negotiating a life with anxiety and depression looks like.  It’s all about successfully mitigating the symptoms of these disorders by seeking out the small blips of “light”–whatever gives us a sense of peace and happiness–that are always present, even in the darkest moments.  

In case you were wondering, yes, I find the Summer Solsticeor day with the longest amount of daylightto be a bit depressing. The reason being, after that day we begin our prolonged trek into darkness.  

So get out there and enjoy our ever-increasing amounts of daylight!  To our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, you have my sympathies today, as you now commence your long slog to “the Shortest Day”…but, we’ve obliged you all long enough, we’re taking our daylight back!  It’s our turn to enjoy the light because…

HERE COMES THE SUN!!! 😎🤗😁

Do you have any feelings regarding the shortest day of the year?  Tell me about them in the comments! 

 

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Read on for reasons why someone like me, who struggles with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) loves the Winter Solstice!

 

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Be Mindful Towards all Holidays Celebrated this Season

In this post, I discuss the friction among traditions that seems to rear its ugly head this time of year, and our need to get back to what really matters this holiday season.

Editor’s Note:  This post is full of holiday allusions.  I’m not sorry.  😉

There are so many different holiday traditions that occur this time of year.  I was raised Christian, and in the US, so Christmas is the one I identify the strongest with.  Besides this major holiday, some of the other more popular ones are Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, of course.  But there is also Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and some Pagan celebrations, among others. 

It’s important that we strive to be mindful of all holidays celebrated this season.  This time of year I find I’m filled with thoughts of good cheer and well-being toward my fellow man. (I blame all the kum-ba-yah type themes we’re bombarded with in songs and movies that tell us we’re supposed to “keep Christmas with us, all through the year.” 😊).

–There is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra song about the runaway who makes a wish on an old neon sign–which represents the Christmas Star–because she needs help getting home.  Then, an angel–disguised as a kid, who God sent to Earth to search for one sign of decency in humans–goes into a bar and tells the bartender the runaway is outside and can’t get home (and it’s Christmas Eve).  So, this cranky, old bartender takes all the profits he’s made that night and gives the money to the runaway so she can buy a plane ticket and go home. (And, if anyone can listen to that song without getting at least a little teary, your heart may be two sizes too small! 😝)  

–Then there is the warmth you feel when you watch old Christmas movies or hear songs about the holidays; the feeling that wakes up the 5-year-old in you who still believes in magic, that’s what this season is supposed to be about!

The holidays cause angst

Unfortunately, even this special time of year causes us angst these days.  The season has become so commercialized that I worry we miss the true point of it.  People actually cause physical harm to each other to get THINGS!  Stupid things, like toys.  Not life-saving food or medicine, THINGS that will collect dust in the corner of a kid’s bedroom once the batteries wear out. 😩    

It’s hard to remember the true purpose intended by these days in amongst all the parties and concerts; Secret Santas and gift-giving (and buying); and travel/visits from family and friends.  That craziness just adds to our already over-hectic, modern lives (and COVID isn’t making this any easier for us! 😝)

Disrespect towards unfamiliar holidays

We are taught to “love thy neighbor”, but then there is the annual battle about “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”; there are manger scenes vs. menorahs; and, we can’t forget, the 12 Days of Christmas, 8 nights of Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa!  Where does the tree and Santa fit into all that?  All these traditions are supposed to help bring out the best in us and they just end up causing us more strife.  

I tend to gravitate towards saying “Happy Holidays” because it best encompasses all the activities occurring this season (including Thanksgiving!)  That is until we get to the week of Christmas.  Then I go full bore and EVERYONE gets a “Merry Christmas!” from me. (I even wear a Santa hat that week, and put those cute reindeer antlers on my car…still not sorry!) 🤶😉 

A short history of Christmas’ origins

History tells us that one of the high holy days for the pre-Christian Romans was December 25th, the day they celebrated their sun god. Evidently, when they converted to Christianity, some elements of familiar traditions stuck.  My point is, if our forebears can figure out how to handle this mash of cultures, traditions, and religions, we should be able to as well.  

So, light a menorah (or a kinara); put a star on your tree; compliment your neighbor on his nativity scene; put out some milk and cookies for Santa and find ways to connect with each other in this “Season of Giving”. (This is especially important in 2020 when COVID will be keeping many of us physically apart.)  Let’s try to keep that spirit of Good Will with us throughout the rest of the year as well, shall we?  

To close I ask you, why can’t we put our differences aside this special time of year and all be friends?  After all, isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?    

Tell me about some of your special holiday traditions in the comments!

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Avoid the friction that rears its ugly head this time of year and be mindful towards all holidays celebrated this season!

 

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