Thursday, November 24, 2016

Opt Outside

Thanksgiving is upon us and while the focus is rightfully on quality time with families and friends, you may have noticed another initiative during the past few years: Opt Outside.
Green is the new black. 
The concept was launched by REI in 2015 when the major outdoor retailer announced they would close all 143 shop doors on Black Friday, paying their 12,000 employees not to work and instead go outside and play, with a nudge for customers to do the same. By the time Nov. 27, 2015, rolled around, approximately 150 other companies charged ahead with the same message to their employees, and dozens of other retailers also closed their doors to shoppers.

This year, REI will again close all shop doors (now 149 stores!) and pay all 12,287 employees to play outside on Black Friday. (I'm certain this is one of the reasons REI has made Fortune's 100 Best Companies To Work For during the past 19 years).

The momentum continues to grow, as other employers have followed suite, certain state parks offer free admission and organizations are leading nationwide outdoor events giving people alternative options and creating a new holiday tradition for Friday.

I once was part of the consumeristic chaos, as I worked at Hallmark for 6 years of my life through high school and college. I loved working retail and at that time in my life, I loved Black Friday shopping.

Obviously, I've changed my tune in the last 20 years.

The "Opt Outside" initiative is not new to Justin nor I, as we've actually spend a few Thanksgivings/Black Fridays (and other holidays) in the wilderness.

Our most memorable was on New Zealand's Te Araroa in 2014. Thanksgiving was our first night on the trail and we were half a world away from home.
Our meal was actually dehydrated chicken and noodles, instead of turkey. 

A close second would be in 2011 when we met up with Misti & Chris and went backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. We summited and slept on top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, for Thanksgiving. Hard to believe that was #18 for our highpointing count, now that we are up to 40. 
There is nothing better than getting to experience both the sunset and sunrise! 

When I was in Denver last week, my sister-in-law asked me if I was enjoying being back in civilization, as opposed to the secluded cabin life I've been living in the mountains of New Mexico. The truth is, no, I don't enjoy it. I understand the allure and importance to MOST people to be among the masses and access. But, Justin and I would much prefer being isolated and remote.

This is why we choose places to live and work that allow us to simultaneously play away from all the hustle and bustle. Our caretaking gig here in New Mexico is not the most remote we've been—given we have road access—but to most people, it is way in the boondocks. (When I described the drive we have to make down the curvy mountain to my sister, she responded, "oh, you mean like every other place you've lived?")

We are also lucky the property has a 2-mile trail leading into the Santa Fe National Forest directly in our backyard. We can—and do—microadventure often because it's there.
The Fenton kids call this place "Rock Tokyo" because of all the holes in the rocks. 
We also have a "Rock City," "Rock New York" and "Rock Heaven" on this trail,

With 125 million acres of public lands, 27,625 miles of mountain bike trails, 10,481 miles of whitewater paddling and 13,917 cliffs and boulders to climb (thanks Outdoor Alliance for the stats!), there's no shortage of options for all of us. Some may just have to venture further off the beaten path. Learn about opportunities for you to Opt Outside wherever you live in the country by going here.

Happy Thanksgiving! And go outside!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Currently: November

Currently living/working in: Property caretaking of Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico through the winter, although J is still tending to his health over the border in Colorado for at least a little while longer. 

Current mood: Still grateful for SO many things, but dang, my emotions have been playing a ping pong match all month. A long time ago, a friend advised me, “sometimes you have to know misery to know happiness.” Things may not be the best of times in the life of the Wandering La Vignes these days, but blue skies will come again. 

Currently excited about: Only 14 more days until I see J again!!!!!! I just went to Denver for a way-too-short visit with him and it is true what they say: absence does make the heart grow fonder. 
Currently not excited about: Another 14 days until I see J again… 

Currently worried about: The aging process. Good grief it sucks getting old and seeing bodies break down because of it. Both Justin and I currently have grandmas in rehab facilities trying to learn to walk again. If I live to 91 and can’t walk, I'm not sure how I'd go on!

Currently thankful for: I will repeat last month’s sentiment: our friends and family! We are so blessed to have such an incredible support system. 

They say laughter is the best medicine anyway. 

Currently proud of: Justin’s attitude through his medical mayhem. Just like with long-distance hiking, the mental battle of recovery is just as tough as the physical battle!  

Currently amazed by: If there is one thing we’ve learned over the years, it is to keep your relationships fresh and never burn any bridges. Time and time again, this has proven to be fruitful for us with the opportunities it affords. Future happenings are most likely going to confirm this again!!!!

Current confession: Justin is a better fire maker than I am. It is getting brrrr here in the mountains of New Mexico. Keeping our wood supply stocked and tending to the wood stove is a full-time job. J typically handles our fires and while I can get the job done, I will gladly hand back over these tasks as soon as I can. FYI, there is backup electric heat in our cabin, so I can and do cheat once in awhile. 

Our Fenton Ranch students would cry if they knew I was dismantling their fort for the sake of kindling. 

Current guilty pleasure: Time to write my book in a beautiful setting.
Currently reading: I finally gave up on Crazy Free: An Epic Spiritual Journey by Melissa Wyld for now. Meanwhile, I flew through My Old Man and the Mountain by Leif Whittaker. It’s a memoir about Leif, who grew up in the shadow of his father, Big Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest. J read it first and was equally impressed. Now, I've moved on to How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal by Stephen Blake Mettee. 

Currently watching on Netflix: I had extra Internet bandwidth this month, so I indulged in streaming a whopping 3 movies. Two worth mentioning. 1)Tracks. I read the book—about a solo woman’s walk across Australia—over the summer, but didn’t love the writing. On the other hand, the movie was pretty fantastic. The scenery alone was worth watching. 2) The Lion in my Living Room - a fascinating documentary about cats! 
The kittens were so curious about the meows coming from the computer screen!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Cat Lady Who Lives In The Woods And Writes

I have officially fallen into a stereotype.

I am the woman who lives in the woods by herself with three female cats and writes all day.
To be honest, that might be a dream come true?

Lemme back this bus up and say Justin is doing a-okay (and I still hope to someday tell his story when it is completely over and less raw). It's just that he is still recovering and has to be near this thing called civilization, therefore he is in Denver. Living here in New Mexico at Fenton Ranch means the closest town with full services is at least 1 hour and 45 minutes away.

So I am flying this property caretaking role at Fenton solo and making very good use of my time working on my book. The cabin is a perfect location with its wood-burning stove and delightful scenery.
But I don't want to talk about the book progress yet. I want to talk about these cats.

Just as a reminder of the backstory, when we returned to Fenton Ranch in August, there was a new cat roaming the property (there always seems to be feral cats coming and going). But she was different than the others. It only took her minutes to warm up to us. She seemed like she was starving, so some of the parents, teachers and us started to feed her leftover taco meat and ham, until we purchased cat food. One of the parents also mentioned she seemed like she had just given birth. But we scoured the property and never found any kittens. So we named her Mrs. Gibbles and continued to feed her (cat food) outside our door. She seemed to stay away more than hang out, although she would show up occasionally during our outdoor lessons with the kids (which they loved).
Right around the time the program was wrapping up, Justin and I were doing some outdoor work on the weekend while the kids were off the property. Mrs. Gibbles comes over to us with a baby kitten in her mouth! Then a second! We introduced ourselves and they were rightfully skittish. We were about to leave for a few days, but we bonded as best we could. Plus, we didn't know how they would fare leaving them to live outside (we have bobcats, owls and many other creatures of prey around).
We returned and Mrs. Gibbles brought the kittens to our door almost immediately! We let them inside (suckers), immediately litter trained them and marveled at their cuteness. We named the grey one Jasper and the tiger print one BJ (after the previous caretaker who lived here for 25 years until her death; it is possible she's been reincarnated given she was an animal lover).

Then we had to leave again for a bit, so everybody had to go back outside and fend for themselves. We set them up with a nice bed and food in the toolshed, but knew Gibbles tends to move them around in hiding (part of her survival strategy, I am presuming).

I returned and low and behold, Gibs brought the kittens back within minutes.

And this is how the nomads ended up with 3 cats! Not sure where these cats will go when we eventually leave Fenton, but I'm not thinking that far ahead (although, I am trying to convince Justin that they would make good van cats). For now, I am welcoming the company.
That doesn't change the fact that these cats are crazy.

These kittens play freakin hard. And get into EVERYTHING. No tissue untouched. No backpack strap unmoved. No wire unbitten. Good gracious, I spend almost just as much time with eyes on them as I do with eyes on my book via the computer screen.

And, the mama is not without her annoyances. Though they now spend most of their time inside our cabin, Gibs still feels the need to go on a mouse hunt and bring back her prize. I am sure she thinks she still needs to provide, and I'm not trying to take that away from her, but heavens to Mrugatroyd. Four was the count for the other day. She will stand at the front door with a mouse in her mouth crying. Her babies will stand on the other side of the door crying in symphony. Everyone is looking at me to reunite them and let them feast, but there is just something disturbing about watching a cat chomping on a mouse, then coming to snuggle in my bed. I heard she may calm after she is spayed, so we shall find out after I take her for the surgery Saturday (two hours away, mind you).

So that is a day in the life of a cat lady who lives in the woods and writes. These 3 may have found us and needed us to save them, but in truth, they saved me just as much.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Former PK

I've been reading a few blog posts about people reflecting about their former selves and how we change (or don't change). While there is no monumental birthday to prompt this, I thought I would reflect on myself!

Let's go back to age 24 (I am now 38). I always say age 24 was pretty awesome. I was living by myself for the first time in a 400-square foot apartment near downtown Phoenix, had just scored the medical writing job of my dreams and met Justin.

A lot has changed since then. Some maybe for the better. Some maybe for the worse. And some I have no opinion.

Then: I used to be extremely type A. I rose early in the morning to get my workout in before starting work at 7am. I had to plan out everything with meticulous detail. I had been doing this for years! When I was 22, I shared a house and one car with five other people. I couldn't deal with being late for anything, so I rode my bike to and from work so I wouldn't have to share the car! (To be fair, my housemates were not late that often; it was mostly in my head. And they certainly helped me to relax on that note).

Now: While I am still very organized and much more of a planner compared with Justin, I have relaxed tremendously. I like myself much better. I don't fret much and I go with the flow. Besides the influence of my nonchalant husband, I truly believe long-distance hiking was the catalyst for change. If you can't be flexible on the trail, then you will never enjoy yourself. Oh, and this is a two-fold change because I no longer get up at 4:45am on a daily basis. Thank God.

Verdict: Better!!!

Then: I used to be a runner. Right around my 24th birthday, I completed my first half marathon and had a second scheduled for later in the year. I always had a 5K waiting in the books. Running was my primary form of exercise until we hit the trail in 2011.
Rock N Roll Marathon - August 2002
Now: When we returned from the Appalachian Trail, I tried running. And I hated it. Every minute of it. I'm not saying running was ever easy for me, but it was terribly difficult post trail. Plus, I no longer enjoyed myself and would much rather walk on a trail for exercise, at least for now. I still have dreams of completing my bucket list item of doing a triathlon, which would involve running, but I'm not holding my breath.

Verdict: Not sure.

Then: I used to be an avid volunteer. At age 24, I was fresh off a year as a full-time volunteer and still very much immersed in that community. I volunteered at my church (youth group leader, catechism teacher, pretty much anything and everything they needed) and for various nonprofit agencies in Phoenix. I would say beside work, most of my time was spent in some sort of volunteer role.

Now: I still enjoy volunteering and tried to keep it up over the years. In New Hampshire, I was J's number one volunteer for his parks and recreation department and I volunteered at the local soup kitchen. When we ran Bear Den Trail Center and Hostel on the Appalachian Trail, J was the only one paid. I dedicated anywhere from 15-25 hours/month doing whatever at Bears Den, plus we fostered kitties. But the more nomadic we become, the harder it is to commit to something. And, we often live in extremely remote places; there aren't too many options when you have nothing around you. J and I are constantly picking up garbage on trails we hike, so there's something. I also like to think the 3 cats I brought inside here at Fenton Ranch is my good samaritan duty.
I would do anything for my husband and his recreation department.
Verdict: Worse, but I am sure volunteering will always be a part of my life and I'll get back into it someday when we live in a place where there is civilization.

Then:  I used to dream about being a writer. When I was 12 years old, I called my local newspaper and begged the editor to give me an assignment. If there was any certainty in my adolescent years, it was that I was a lover of the written word and I knew someday I would be a real writer. At 24, I had finally landed a paying job as a writer. While that was incredible, I knew I wanted a little more. I knew I wanted to write on a freelance basis and not be tied to one job, be published in a magazine and someday write a book.

Now and Verdict: Dreams do come true with persistence and patience.