I Spy Something Green

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. – John Muir

Hiking, sleeping, and eating – it was a way of life for three full blissful days. It had been too long since our last vacation, and my husband K and I were overdue for some time away from the obligations and routines of our daily lives. We counted down the days in anticipation, packed up the car, and then hit the road to Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Road trips are the best. I always pack an arsenal of things to keep me busy in the car onlyVersion 2 to spend most of the time gazing out the window and daydreaming. I felt substantially more relaxed just an hour after leaving town, and I think our dog Cora felt the same! Gradually I noticed that the roadside trees seemed to loom taller and glow a brighter green as we got closer to the national park. It was all we could see for hours as we drove down the highway, and I joked, “I spy something green!” That evening after arriving at the hotel, we ordered a giant cheesy pizza from room service and kicked back watching cartoons. We made it!

Version 2We kicked off our first full day in Hot Springs with an indulgent breakfast (a free perk of staying at Embassy Suites), me piling my plate high with biscuits and gravy galore! I had to fuel up for a day of hiking after all. As soon as we hit the trails in the national park, K and I were mesmerized by never ending waves of green. Everything was lush and in full bloom, and we trekked in silence for quite a while, simply enjoying this time together in nature. We hiked uphill and downhill, over rocks, and along well-traveled trails, getting lost in our thoughts and then stopping to take photos of whatever caught our eye and pulled us from our reverie.

Back at the hotel giggling at more cartoons, we drifted off to sleep, Cora included. I am not typically a nap taker, but I lapsed into a deep sleep that day and the following two days of vacation. I slept more than I have in a long time, and I felt more refreshed than I have in a long time as well. We dined out that night at Copper Penny Pub in downtown Hot Springs, inhaling our hot comfort food and enjoying a pint of the local brewery’s wheat beer (my favorite).

We spent the next day at Garvan Woodland Gardens, a botanical garden and natureVersion 2 preserve on Hamilton Lake. Cora was very enthusiastic about the koi pond, wishing with all her might that she could jump in and catch one! We also caught sight of a cute fuzzy chipmunk just before he skittered back to his home under a large rock. Again the waves of green stretched on forever and the brisk wind rustled through the trees creating a soothing soundtrack as we hiked, catching glimpses of the cool blue lake just beyond.

The main attraction of Hot Springs is of course, the hot springs. Historic bathhouse row downtown consists of a string of old bathhouses, some still operational as such while others have been converted into other attractions. Thus, our trip would not be complete without a trip to the spa. We relaxed in the thermal pools at Quapaw Bathhouse before venturing into the steam cave, a dry sauna designed to look like the old thermal caves used by Native Americans believing that the heat from the hot springs had just as much healing power as the waters themselves. It was K’s first sauna experience, and while I don’t think he’d do it again, I’m glad we got to do it together.

IMG_0554We also went to the Fordyce Bathhouse, which has been well maintained and now functions as a museum. Wandering those halls is like a trip back in time to the age when the bathhouses were a highly popular destination and both men and women spent all day there, relaxing and socializing. I loved the old tile floors. We had lunch at the Superior Bathhouse, which was converted into a restaurant and microbrewery that makes beer from the local spring water. It was delicious, and they also played the best music mix of 90’s grunge rock as a backdrop for our meal.

After spending so much time inside however, it was time to return to nature and trek through the forest on our last hike of the trip. It was warm and sunny, so the lizards and squirrels were out. The ticks were also out unfortunately and we spent a good deal of time pulling them off of Cora’s feet, but it was worth it. She had a great time, as did we. Once again we fell asleep that night watching cartoons and slept soundly until the next morning when it was time to pack up and return home.

The best things in life aren’t things – they are experiences. Taking a short vacation to experience nature in all its bright green glory and to spend a few days simply relaxing and enjoying life gave K and I renewed energy and vigor for when we returned home. We all deserve an escape now and then, and an escape into nature is always fun and satisfying.

IMG_0439

Advertisements

7 Ways to Celebrate the Return of Spring

The days grow longer as the sun shines high above us, easing us from the winter season into springtime. The snow and frost melt, making way for greenery to grow and encouraging creatures to awake from hibernation. Here in the U.S., the northeast is undergoing the last of winter. Meanwhile at my home in the south, signs of spring have already appeared. We recently came across a squirrel nest in our yard, complete with three babies. Our evenings are cool and breezy, but most of our days are growing warmer.

The first official day of spring, the vernal equinox, is today! While the celebration of Spring takes many forms, here are 7 ways to celebrate the return of the season of growth, nature, and renewal.

1) Spring clean.
It’s called “spring cleaning” for a reason! Spring is the perfect time of year to toss out the old and make way for the new. It’s the perfect time to downsize and donate, recycle, or sell the things you no longer use. After freeing up some space, refresh your home as well with a little extra cleaning. Focus on those neglected areas such as the baseboards, the ceiling fans, and the space under the bed. Reorganize your closets and pantries to make better use of the space you do have. Introduce some new spring scents into your home with candles or essential oils. And don’t forget to open the windows and let in all of that fresh air!

2) Reflect.
Spring is the season that can sheds new light on the world around you. It’s a perfect opportunity for reflection. Carve out some time to think about all that you have accomplished in your life. Think about all the wondrous things that surround you every day and be thankful. Write down your expressions of gratitude. Express those feelings of gratitude towards your loved ones. Share your appreciation and love.

3) Plant something.blog
The earth supports life through the existence of trees and plants and the oxygen they emit into the atmosphere. Freshen the air around you by introducing new plants into your home. They will increase oxygen and add energy and spirit to the room. If you have the yard space, create a garden or tend to the one you already have, planting new things or old favorites. You can even plant a tree! Last year my husband planted a baby burr oak in our backyard.

4) Rebalance.
The vernal equinox is equal parts darkness and light, giving us 12 hours of each. For one day there is balance, and then everything shifts, as does life. Yet we continue striving to achieve balance, “work-life balance” being the most popular these days, though there are many types. What is out of balance in your life? Perhaps you are spending too much time with others and not enough time alone, eating too much sugar and not enough vegetables, staying up too late to watch TV and not getting enough sleep. Recognize the area that needs a bit more attention and make a change.

5) Enjoy the outdoors.blog
As we see the sun for longer stretches of time, the weather grows warmer, the birds sing their sweet songs, and nature beckons us to come outside. Make time to appreciate the shifting of the seasons and enjoy all of the beauty that the outdoors offers.   Spend an afternoon at the park and take a picnic lunch along with you. Visit some local gardens. Go for a hike. Spring is also a great time to go fishing, as my husband can attest. Enjoy the gorgeous weather now while you have the opportunity.

6) Start something new.
Spring is a time of renewal, and it is important to find time to renew ourselves. Are there projects that you’ve been meaning to start but have been putting off? Is there something you want to learn about or learn to do? Is there a personal practice you’ve been thinking about adding into your routine, such as running or meditation? The increase in sunlight as we move from the cold season into the warmer season has a rejuvenating effect on our senses and can revive our motivation.   Spring is the perfect time to start something new!

7) Take a trip.
Spring Break is a tradition for a reason! After hibernating all winter, we are ready for some fun in the sun! Take a vacation and get away from the stresses of daily life. If a long trip is not in the cards for you right now, consider taking a weekend road trip, or even a road trip. Sometimes a few hours in the car is all it takes to travel to new destination or to a place you love to visit.

Spring is a beautiful season, and especially for us in the south, it never seems to stick around long enough. So make time to celebrate, to enjoy the reemergence of nature and the warm sunny days. Take time out for yourself and have some fun!

Backyard Zen

Sometimes we lose our focus and motivation. It evades us, and we have to do something to recapture it and talk it into sticking around for a while. The answer for me this time started and ended with a little Zen.

Much of this past month, I felt restless. By the time I got home from work or the weekend rolled around, my ability to focus was diminished. Rather than tackling tasks with purpose, I felt indifferent. I sat down to write a few times, but despite all of the ideas floating around in my mind, none of them shined brighter than the rest. Everything seemed lackluster.

In an earlier part of my life, I spent a year working for my dad doing manual labor in a warehouse without heat or air conditioning. It was hard work, especially for a girl who is much more comfortable in an office, but I learned some things. One particular grueling day, my dad asked me to clear out a big pile of dirt on the back driveway. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees, and I had been working 6 hours already. I was exhausted, but I gathered my energy, grabbed the shovel, and went outside.

Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. The only sounds I heard were those of the shovel and the movement of the dirt. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. A warm breeze swept through and eased the run of sweat dripping down my face. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. I began to feel a sense of peace in the repetition. I no longer had to think about what I was doing but simply did it. My arms and back ached but my mind was clear and calm. It was the first time I experienced a sense of Zen.

Version 2Last week, tired of my restlessness, I decided to pick up my shovel and headed outside to start clearing garden space. Our vast yard was neglected by the previous owners, and though we have made some progress in improving it, there is still an immense amount of work to do. I sank the shovel into the dirt to loosen it and began pulling weeds and roots from their resting places. The longer I did this, the more focused I became. It was tiring, but the repetition and simplicity of the task put my mind at ease. I felt calm and balanced and felt a building sense of accomplishment, so I saw the task through to the end.

The timing was perfect when my mother-in-law suggested we work on the garden the following weekend. The hardest part of clearing the space was already done, so we spent the morning and early afternoon doing the fun part of shopping for plants and adding them to the new garden area.

IMG_7375

My focus had returned after clearing the garden space, and it fueled my motivation. I’ve been spending more time outside lately wandering the yard with the dogs, and I realized that I needed a better personal space in the backyard. The same weekend that I cleared a section of the garden, I also revamped our outside seating area with a little spray paint and decor.

I created a space where I can spend more time in the elements doing some of my favorite things like reading, hanging out with the dogs, daydreaming, and of course, writing. It is a space that has already sparked inspiration. The day I finished the sitting area, I sat down with a cold beer and a dog in my lap and churned out two blog posts. And then for a while I just sat, thinking and feeling happy.

IMG_7289

A beautiful garden and a comfy seating area by the pool – for me this is backyard Zen.

We have to create a shift to get our focus and motivation back. We have to try something new, create something different, or make a change to our environment. Sometimes all it takes is a simple task to shift our mindset, and then we can get back on track.

How can you create more Zen in your realm?

Where Flowers Bloom: My Porch Project

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
-Lady Bird Johnson

Nature gives us an infinitely flowing fountain of beauty, and it’s a flow that we can capture and bring home anytime we crave more of it.

Lady Bird Johnson grew up in the wide-open spaces of Texas and always felt at peace in the solace of the outdoors. Her love of nature stayed with her when she became First Lady of the United States and began her first city beautification initiative in D.C. through which her organization planted millions of flowers, inspiring beautification movements across the nation. She became the first First Lady to advocate for legislation when she actively promoted the Highway Beautification Act which aimed to limit billboards along the highway systems and plant flowers along roadside areas. Thanks to Lady Bird’s influence, the bill passed, and Americans can relish the scenery of wildflowers while driving through their cities or across the country.

We are drawn to beauty around us, and whether we are conscious of it or not, beauty in nature often provides a sense of peace and solace for us, just like it did for Lady Bird Johnson. We may not always have access to open spaces or fields of flowers, but there are green spaces everywhere. Walking and driving through my neighborhood, I found myself admiring the tidy lawns and decorative gardens and front porches of my neighbors. I decided to start a small beautification project of my own and create a more aesthetic view of my home to give passers-by something prettier to see and to emphasize the sense that my house is truly a home.

blog

My house is about 56 years old and needed substantial renovations when we first moved into it, including the neglected front yard. With the help of my mother-in-law who loves gardening, my husband did some early work on the front garden bed, planting a few things and cleaning up the shrubs. However, we since let it fall by the wayside, and it was past time to revive it.

Knowing little about outdoor plants and living in a dominantly warm area of the U.S., I began researching plants native to my state that could survive high temperatures. My mother-in-law, forever an invaluable resource, invited us to the local garden club plant sale and walked us through the endless arrays of greenery choices. I was in awe of how much I have to learn.

Back at home, my husband graciously offered to help me with my project. He trimmed the bushes, helped me pull up the 60’s throwback turf from the porch, and teamed up with me on raking leaves out of the flowerbed. We cleared the space, letting the sparse Lantana planted the previous year finally breathe and begin its delayed growth of the season.

Finally, it was time for the best part – planting my flowery finds in pots and in the ground. I skipped wearing gloves; I wanted to feel the thick soil in my hands to stimulate all my senses. I tenderly placed each plant in its new home, admiring the leaves, colors, and blooms. My knees and back protested as I laid down mulch over the flowerbed, but I felt good. Filling up my new watering can and raining water down over the garden, I felt a stronger connection to nature and life. I stood back and admired the new scenery, proud of my efforts and thankful for the time and efforts of my husband and mother-in-law. It feels gratifying to play a part in nature and to add more beauty to my realm.

It’s a good start. Over time with attention and care, the plants will grow and bloom, like the life my husband and I share together inside our home. They have already grown since I first planted them, and I love seeing their bright flowers and shades of green when passing from the comfort of home through my front door and out into the vast world beyond.

How can you play a part in nature, growth, and in nurturing your world? How can you add more beauty to it?

Still Hibernating

IMG_6595

Last year was entirely a season of change. I got married, finished graduate school, bought a house, renovated the house, and got a new job. You could say it was a whirlwind, a tornado even, of change. The turn of the calendars to the New Year was a true time of gratitude for me. Rather than focusing all my reflections on resolutions, I felt almost overwhelmed at times with thankfulness. My heart swelled. I even got a bit teary-eyed once expressing the intensity of my gratitude to my cousin over lunch.

Winter has mostly passed by my city this year. No freeze, no light snow flurries, not even sleet. And yet, I have been hibernating. The excitement of last year caught up with me and converted itself into exhaustion. I am a lark, but I have been sleeping in some mornings. I indulge in fatty comfort foods and desserts after a full meal. I snuggle with my dog on the couch binge watching Netflix. As soon as I get home from work, I trade my slacks for warm, fuzzy pajama pants and slippers. My desire to go out weekend nights is almost nonexistent, scheduling dates with my husband that wrap up early in the evening as I’m eager to get back home and return to my hibernation, even though it’s only 50 degrees outside.

With the coming of Spring also comes longer days filled with bursts of sunshine and then sudden downpours of rain. We free our homes from suffocating clutter and dust to let in more fresh air and space. We free our arms and legs from heavy clothing. We free our thoughts from the overwhelming desire to stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads once we hear the sweet songs of birds outside our windows as daylight dawns. We think about renewal and hope.

I am not yet ready for this. Spring will arrive soon, and I’ll welcome it with open arms. But for now, I wish to stay cozy in the shadows and comfort of hibernation.

 

Seasons