Self-Care Activity List: 366 Ideas

8 Dimensions of Self-Care

Having trouble coming up with fun and interesting self-care ideas?

Last year, I took on a self-care challenge. For each of the 366 days in 2016, I experimented with a new self-care activity and then blogged about it.

What would you add to the list? Be creative and come up with your own bucket list of activities that reflect your personal style, needs and priorities.

  1. Enjoy a fermented food (or learn to ferment something yourself)
  2. Set intentions for the next day, week, month or year
  3. Express gratitude
  4. Take a walk in the woods
  5. Bake whole grain bread
  6. Include strength training exercises at least 2 days each week
  7. Get a haircut
  8. Get vaccinated
  9. Give blood
  10. Buy nothing (give something instead)
  11. Use a pressure cooker
  12. Get equipped for fitness
  13. Tidy up
  14. Drink enough water
  15. Get a pedicure
  16. Travel (without stress)
  17. Enjoy a sunset
  18. Listen to the ocean
  19. Go fishing
  20. Visit a fruit stand
  21. Meet new people
  22. Enjoy the sunshine (and then apply sunscreen)
  23. Overcome a fear
  24. Give yourself a break
  25. Sleep in
  26. Get a massage
  27. Cook with garlic
  28. Journal
  29. Walk and work
  30. Pay taxes
  31. Do “The Work”
  32. Relax by a fire
  33. Peruse the bookstore
  34. Fold laundry
  35. Drink tea
  36. Write a haiku
  37. Take a road trip
  38. Play in the snow
  39. Spend time with friends
  40. Floss
  41. Join (or start) a book club
  42. Eat local
  43. Meditate
  44. Continue education
  45. Use affirmations
  46. Receive gifts
  47. Relax with aromatherapy
  48. Eat colorfully
  49. Accept what is
  50. Volunteer at the food bank
  51. Snuggle with pets
  52. Taste
  53. Shop for groceries
  54. Zentangle
  55. Learn CPR
  56. Reminisce
  57. Garden
  58. Explore new possibilities
  59. Go out for breakfast
  60. Define your “enough”
  61. Change your mind
  62. Chase good weather
  63. Love the middle seat
  64. Cool off with shave ice
  65. Explore new places
  66. Smell the roses
  67. Go to the beach
  68. See the bigger picture
  69. Be a tourist
  70. Think in traffic
  71. Get a mammogram
  72. Read scripture
  73. Make a contribution
  74. Lounge
  75. Be part of a community
  76. Cry
  77. Practice good skin care
  78. Get certified
  79. Prune what’s no longer useful
  80. Press the pause button
  81. Listen
  82. Be quiet
  83. Eat green
  84. Celebrate
  85. Meander
  86. Notice nature
  87. Make the holidays healthier
  88. Plan
  89. Go cycling
  90. Reflect
  91. Recover
  92. Try fermented dairy
  93. Walk the dog
  94. Take a nap
  95. Build a support system
  96. Write a book
  97. Calm down
  98. Be vulnerable
  99. Set boundaries
  100. Laugh
  101. Play games
  102. Dine alone
  103. Walk (in the airport or elsewhere)
  104. Plan a menu
  105. Ask for help
  106. Cook for yourself
  107. Hug a pet
  108. Give gifts of gratitude
  109. Find inspiring spaces
  110. Talk yourself into fitness
  111. Listen to an audio book
  112. Be inspired
  113. Stay in
  114. Understand your impact
  115. Set weekly goals
  116. Use an iron skillet
  117. Stay in touch with friends
  118. Do the dishes
  119. Forgive yourself
  120. Let the oven do it
  121. Go to the doctor
  122. Work in the yard
  123. Savor something
  124. Make new friends
  125. Plant some herbs
  126. Build new skills
  127. Assemble (or reassemble) a first-aid kit
  128. Make a toast to a memory
  129. Shop the farmers’ market
  130. Say thank you
  131. Give feedback
  132. Hug a tree
  133. Take a hike
  134. Read the (entire) Affordable Care Act
  135. Make broth cubes
  136. Bake a cheesecake
  137. Make a breakfast bowl
  138. Use a foam roller
  139. Change your sheets
  140. Eat 5 (to 9) servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  141. Network
  142. Entertain
  143. Sit in stillness
  144. Think positively
  145. Make chicken noodle soup
  146. Do something you don’t want to do
  147. Don’t worry (be happy)
  148. Self-direct your care
  149. Admire art
  150. Eat some cherries (or another in season fruit)
  151. Watch a game
  152. Love lentils
  153. Cultivate awareness
  154. Review your finances
  155. Fuel up for a workout
  156. Celebrate success
  157. Work to physical exhaustion
  158. Take the day off
  159. Eat a big salad
  160. Apologize
  161. Spend time with family
  162. Go sightseeing
  163. Visit a museum
  164. Marvel
  165. Color
  166. Start a bullet journal
  167. Count your blessings
  168. Bake a spaghetti squash
  169. Work in bursts
  170. Drink coffee
  171. Go to the gym
  172. Pick berries
  173. Go to the dentist
  174. Take a yoga class
  175. Track your goals
  176. Lean into discomfort
  177. Stretch
  178. Give gifts
  179. Make yourself a bouquet
  180. Take shorter showers
  181. Test your day for flow
  182. Buy new exercise clothes
  183. Get an eye exam
  184. Set boundaries
  185. Clean your yoga mat
  186. Blend a smoothie bowl
  187. Ferment pickles
  188. Volunteer at a community garden
  189. Take a home-canning class
  190. Bake zucchini bread
  191. Get (and stay) connected
  192. Learn self-defense
  193. Attend a virtual retreat
  194. Envision
  195. Care for your feet
  196. Breathe deeply
  197. Make chicken salad
  198. Go camping
  199. Listen to music
  200. Use a sugar scrub
  201. Window shop
  202. Buy yourself a gift
  203. Make a Thai salad
  204. Organize your recipes
  205. Bake blueberry muffins
  206. Make a (healthy) Waldorf salad
  207. Study
  208. Try a new recipe
  209. Organize your mind
  210. Eat lunch at the park
  211. Do some gratitude journaling
  212. Be proactive
  213. Try again
  214. Brew beer
  215. Rest
  216. Learn from others
  217. Research
  218. Get a scalp massage
  219. Stop
  220. Stargaze
  221. Go floating
  222. Take a moment
  223. Get a manicure
  224. Weigh the pros and cons
  225. Share your story
  226. Travel back in time
  227. Snack
  228. Walk with a friend
  229. Savor salmon
  230. Admire apples
  231. Enjoy a mocktail
  232. Go meatless
  233. Ask for a Box
  234. Indulge in an Acai Bowl
  235. Understand the Science of Happiness
  236. Rediscover Old Recipes
  237. Experiment with Eggplant
  238. Eat (or at least try) Sushi
  239. Carry an EpiPen (if you have been advised to)
  240. Work Outside
  241. Crack Fresh Eggs
  242. Eat Tomatoes (off the vine)
  243. Say No
  244. Buy a New Pillow
  245. Talk About Ideas
  246. Monitor Your Performance
  247. Clean Your Refrigerator
  248. Treat a Minor Injury
  249. Change the Air Filter
  250. Make Moroccan Meatballs
  251. Choose My Circles Wisely
  252. Begin Again
  253. Get Acupuncture
  254. Plan a Vacation
  255. Remember
  256. Try Matcha Tea
  257. Get New Socks
  258. Commit
  259. Speak Up
  260. Prepare a Snack Board
  261. Update Your Wardrobe
  262. Sort & Purge
  263. Tour a Food Forest
  264. Be True To Yourself
  265. Donate to Charity
  266. Coordinate a Walking Meeting
  267. Ask Questions
  268. Get Your Hands Dirty
  269. Pack a Mobile Emergency Kit
  270. Plant a Tribute
  271. Enjoy a Sweet Treat
  272. Connect Dots
  273. Sip Bubbles
  274. Eat Fresh Figs
  275. Celebrate
  276. Melt
  277. Moisturize
  278. Catch Up
  279. Evaluate Your Social Media Activity
  280. Be Negative
  281. Understand Your Personality
  282. Hire a Coach
  283. Read a Book
  284. Spend Quality Time
  285. Create a Manifestation Space
  286. Reconnect with a Friend
  287. Stay Open
  288. Prepare for Emergencies
  289. Set a Deadline
  290. Do Something for Love
  291. Make Space
  292. Cook with rosemary (or other culinary herbs)
  293. Arrive (rather than impose)
  294. Buy coffee for a stranger
  295. Make a vegan dish
  296. Learn more about your body
  297. Just be
  298. Establish a morning ritual
  299. Give a random gift
  300. Try reflexology
  301. Try new exercises
  302. Vote
  303. Experiment with a sourdough starter (or other cultured food)
  304. Organize your personal space
  305. Collaborate
  306. Write down your soul
  307. Learn bonsai
  308. Create an afternoon of self-care
  309. Island (s)hop with a friend
  310. Crochet (or create something)
  311. Rake leaves
  312. Live vicariously
  313. Sit with ambivalence
  314. Gain an understanding of politics
  315. Evaluate what’s essential
  316. Clear your calendar
  317. Ask for what you need
  318. Practice something that’s difficult for you
  319. Maintain financial harmony
  320. Have a kind disagreement
  321. Support a friend
  322. Brainstorm
  323. Learn something new
  324. Rearrange furniture
  325. Decorate
  326. See your favorite band live
  327. Try reiki
  328. Bake a pie
  329. Prepare a special meal
  330. Watch a funny movie
  331. Look up
  332. Do chores early
  333. Make a list
  334. Email yourself ideas
  335. Arrive early
  336. Warm up
  337. Learn to knit (or some other form of art)
  338. Notice the little things
  339. Watch it snow
  340. Drive slowly
  341. Choose theme words
  342. Stay open
  343. Move forward
  344. Have faith
  345. Don’t make plans
  346. Stay in your jammies
  347. Stay in touch with mentors
  348. Relax at the spa
  349. Learn about gun safety
  350. Get a fluoride treatment
  351. Call in a professional
  352. Go to the symphony
  353. Challenge yourself
  354. Listen to an inspiring audio book
  355. Read old journals
  356. Be a caregiver
  357. Have coffee with a friend
  358. Find a “plan B”
  359. Enjoy a holiday tradition
  360. Feel grateful
  361. Binge watch a series
  362. Have breakfast in bed
  363. Discover your core desired feelings
  364. Go Snowshoeing
  365. Whiten your teeth
  366. Reflect on your year

Ready to start your own challenge? Download a free self-care planning worksheet here.

Need some help developing your own self-care practice?

Start Here

Top Self-Care Lists of 2016

Search Google for “self-care ideas” and you’ll find roughly 17,900,000 results.

Fear not. We’ve scoured the first 20 pages to whittle the list down to the best of the best. Below, you’ll find our favorite 25 self-care lists.

1. In addition to our very own running list of self-care ideas (which is growing quickly as a result of our 366 Days of Self-Care Challenge project), here are a few of my favorites:

2. Good Therapy has an exceptional list. And #10? What a great way to start the day!!!!

3. Perfection Pending’s self-care list is geared toward busy moms who are “too tired for a girls’ night out.” (I can relate even without kids.) Here’s a sneak peek: “Replace every ‘I should….’ with ‘I can do if I feel like it, but I don’t have to.’

4. If you need a good laugh, Life After Tampons offers a playful take on self-care for women. (Buy any new underwear lately?)

5. Tiny Buddha has a solid list. I particularly like #7 in the self-care ideas for the mind section.

6. The Self-Compassion Project’s list reminds us to “spend less time on the internet.” I’m reminded of this as I add this link to my website…on the internet.

7. Travel Well Magazine offers a few self-care ideas as well. As difficult as #4 can be, sometimes it just needs to be done.

8. Caregiver Wellness has a lengthy list of 86 ideas. (After all, sometimes we really do just need a cookie.)

9. Inspire4Life’s list of 90 ideas focuses on self-care for moms, and I think we all struggle with “asking for what we need.”

10. Christy Tending’s list is a great reminder that we should assess our habits regularly. (Check out #10.)

11. Peachie Moms has some creative ideas as well. And as silly as it may be, it doesn’t get much better than #16!

12. Psychology Today has a short list of self-care practices specifically designed to help cope with stress. Listening to running water is one of my favorites!

13. Back to Her Roots offers tips for preventing the dreaded explosion into “an emotional puddle of stress.” (Although with regard to #3, an hour is never enough for me!)

14. Breastfeeding Basics has a list of self-care ideas with new moms in mind.

15. The Monument Quilt has a great 1-pager. Who doesn’t love to teeter totter?

16. Whether or not you consider them “extreme,” Emily Long has a great list of self-care ideas. Number 11 is one that we can all probably do a better job with.

17. What’s Your Grief highlights some of the best self-care activities for those going through the grieving process. For example, #7 is “have a good cry.”

18. Mind Body Green’s list of 28 self-care ideas is quick and to the point—and most of them are free! I personally love #15.

19. The list from igoddess reminds me that it’s been far too long since I’ve been on a picnic.

20. Abundance Tapestry lays out 70 ideas for self-care. Number 24 is a big one for me—clutter can be so distracting!

21. Inner Compass Designs lists 101 self-care ideas. Check out #49—sometimes we all need a change, right?

22. Fire and Wind Co has some interesting self-care ideas. I cannot remember the last time I did #7.

23. Emily Nachazel’s list of 45 self-care activities includes one that I think has become more difficult for all of us: eating without distractions.

24. Fit Woman’s list is geared toward those who struggle with emotional eating. But #14, “eating predictably and regularly” is important for all of us.

25. Thrive.how has a simple list of self-care ideas. It’s amazing how listening to uplifting music can alter our mood.

I hope these lists have given you a few ideas for incorporating more self-care activities into your busy life.

We’d love to hear your personal self-care success stories! You can connect with us in the following ways:

Email us at Share@LivingUpp.com
Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @LivingUppdates
Add to the self-care conversation on our blog

 

Nature and Music at Rosario Resort and Spa

For part of our recent visit to the San Juan Islands, we stayed at the Rosario Resort and Spa. I had expected it to be nice, but I wasn’t prepared to feel the richness of its history.

Shipbuilder Robert Moran was a successful businessman, but was not immune to the stressors that came along with it. After falling ill and being given just a couple of years to live, Moran purchased 7,000 acres to build a home on the remote Orcas Island. Fortunately for him it was the right call; he enjoyed nearly 40 more years there.

It’s interesting that we see this pattern time and time again…people deciding they’ve had enough and checking out of the harried 9 to 5 world to refocus on the important things. His strategy worked.

Let that be a lesson to us.

Built in the early 1900’s, Rosario is filled with curiosities and craftsmanship. From the lighting to the intricately laid parquet flooring, the arts and crafts style home is a showcase of fine details.

In addition to his love of architecture and design, Moran also loved nature. The estate is surrounded by natural beauty. The meandering pathways pull you in, and the songbirds invite you into their tranquil retreat. It’s not at all surprising that Moran was able to recover from his illness here.

During our visit, the maples had begun to flash their colorful leaves, peppering everything beneath them. And the crisp, fall winds helped them paint their mosaic. Nature’s art is free of perfection, precision, and pretension. It’s beautifully chaotic.

The music room was equally stunning. The two-story pipe organ commanded the attention of guests with its deep, haunting chords, shaking not only my entire body but also the walls and floors beneath me.

Our stay at Rosario reminded me of the important things – those things that we often push to the side because they don’t fit into our task-filled schedules. We become bound to timelines and expectations to the point that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. While most of us cannot afford a 7,000-acre oasis, we can absolutely take a step back periodically to refocus and rejuvenate our spirit. We can say “Enough!” to our self-imposed stresses and just breath.

Solitude, nature and music are not luxuries. They are essential for our health and well-being.

A Permaculture Oasis: Visiting the Bullock’s Family Homestead

root cellar with wooden door

There’s something very special about the San Juan Islands in Washington State, and it’s no accident that it’s also where the Bullock family has chosen to call home. The Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island is evidence that human beings are capable of great things.

My husband and I love new experiences, so we chose to spend our 5-year anniversary on their farm. Doug and Sam Bullock, along with a gaggle of their interns welcomed us into their vibrant community. We worked alongside them. We shared meals with them. And we learned with and from them. There was an unspoken mutual understanding that each of us is on a personal journey, and that we are all simply learning and experimenting with this life. There was also a general acceptance that none of us has all the answers, and that we must look to each other for support, guidance and inspiration in order to make the greatest possible contribution.

For more than 30 years, the Bullocks’ have been conscious stewards of the earth, making deliberate decisions about how they interact with their surroundings. Each year, they and their resident interns engage in the seasonal dance of planning, planting, harvesting, and preserving the yields.

The homestead doesn’t look like any traditional garden you’ve ever seen. The entire property is a giant garden. Everywhere you turn, there is a purpose intertwined with a lesson in placement, function and design. In fact, there are multiple reasons behind every element.

One of the most impressive features of the property is an adjacent water inlet that has become an oasis for birds, frogs, insects, fish, sea otters, ducks and other wildlife. Permaculture regards nature as a teacher and seeks to emulate its processes to achieve the greatest good. Using nature as a guide, this area that once supported just a few species is now a thriving ecosystem. And it’s nothing short of rejuvinating to the human spirit. Its beauty was breathtaking.

Throughout our visit, we were jolted out of our thoughts and tasks by the powerful force of flapping wings as flocks of birds took air. Chickens and ducks sang contently and frogs chimed in with background acoustics occasionally while we worked carefully to prepare areas of the garden for the next stage in the cycle. Our task for the day was to winterize the nursery stock and protect it from dipping temperatures and wintry winds.

Another of my favorite features was the root cellar. Not only was it extraordinarily beautiful, but it also serves the essential function of preserving food after the plentiful yields of summer have come to an end. Boxes of apples and canned vegetables filled the shelves of the well-sealed structure.

Craftsmanship is clearly an important value for the Bullocks. From the carefully engineered wood-fired shower and sauna to the numerous life-sustaining back-up systems, it was a reminder that design and function are inseparable.

While we mostly interacted with the food-producing areas of the farm, Doug also provided us with a tour of his personal homestead and garden. This is by no means a hobby farm; it’s a true style of living and a reflection of the family’s values. Doug’s woodworking and blacksmithing skills were stunning, to say the least.

Careful thought has been given to every aspect of this property.

Along with the abundance of biodiversity, sattire and humor were ubiquitous as well. It was both surprising and refreshing to be able to laugh and learn at the same time. The Bullocks turned every task and interaction into a learning opportunity. Questions filled the air, “Does anyone know why we’re mulching around the potted plants?” And answers followed spontaneously, filling in the blanks.

Even after decades of caring for this homestead, enthusiasm and passion have not waned. At one point as we were nestling nursery plants into their new cozy winter home, Sam asked the group, “Has anyone found a plant that they just want to wrap their arms around and hug?!?” He was serious. Several times, we took breaks to listen to Sam’s stories or enjoy a snack – or simply take pride in the job we had just finished. There was a definite sense of balance in our work, both physically and emotionally. Frequently, I felt my cheeks bulge into a smile when someone cracked a permaculture infused joke or made a clever observation.

Observation is a core skill for permaculture design, and fortunately, one that can be learned. Working as part of a group reminded me that we often learn the most by simply watching and listening to one another. Several times, I altered the way I was using my shovel or rake just by watching someone else’s often much more effective technique.

Real food is king at the Bullock’s homestead. Every task and decision revolves around supporting the growth and sustainability of every life there. There is abundance to be shared. My biggest lesson? While each life depends on the resiliency of a system for survival, each life is also responsible for they system’s stability.

Permaculture is a design tool that was developed by Bill Mollison and his student, David Holmgren in the 70’s. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison is a great primer text if you want to learn more.

What I Learned from My 1-Year Facebook Hiatus

One year ago today I rejoined Facebook after taking a 1-year hiatus.

I decided it had become a negative source of energy for me, and a distraction that kept me from reaching some of my personal goals. But more than that, I wanted to see if I could do it. Multiple times a day, I would catch myself thoughtlessly scrolling through the news feed. It was like a TV series that never ended. (And I don’t even like TV that much.)

Something had to change.

Fortunately, I discovered it wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. And the time away helped me understand there’s a delicate balance between participating in real life and interacting with others virtually. I now believe there’s value in both.

Today, more and more people are rejecting social media in an attempt to squeeze more out of real life. At some point, most of us have at least wondered once or twice if the emotional drama that comes with this watered-down form of connectedness is even worth it. In fact, I know several people who have chosen not to participate at all, and have been happy with that decision for years.

Ironically, yesterday Facebook reminded me that it was my 1 year anniversary of rejoining their platform. The “On This Day” memory tracker magically appeared in my news feed, and I’m pretty sure I chuckled to myself when I realized that I forgot I ever left in the first place.

But it did prompt today’s act of self-care: to reassess my decision to participate in social media. A year later I still have mixed emotions about it. Sometimes I still wonder if I’m addicted to checking status updates, or if it’s simply a habit of convenience (or boredom).

I do know that I enjoy staying connected to my friends and family. I like seeing photos of loved ones and their travels, and I want to be there to support them when they need help working through life’s challenges.

But all of that requires my participation.

The reality is that social media isn’t always a very friendly place. It’s rare these days to share an idea without being criticized or belittled. The anonymity factor that comes with online interactions seems to make people bolder, less caring, and in some cases downright nasty.

Ultimately, I decided it’s worth the risks. I can choose not to respond to negative comments. I can choose to shower others with kindness when I notice that someone is trolling them.

And I can stop participating any time I want to.

Talking To Strangers

Sometimes a brief conversation with a stranger can be life-changing.

Recently, I was talking with a woman who grew up in Vietnam. I listened intently as she described working in rice fields as a young girl. She remembered being in a state of constant fear as she worked alongside her family. Animal attacks were not uncommon because the tall grasses provided the perfect camouflage for hunting. At a very young age, she had to learn how to treat poisonous snake bites quickly, elude predators like anacondas, and evacuate her home when the floods came. She and her family had to learn and practice basic survival skills every day – something most Americans aren’t familiar with outside of reality TV. Food was not readily accessible to them either. Instead, its availability was directly related to how much they were able to grow. Survival was dependent upon staying safe and healthy enough to work.

As I sat and listened to her share these emotional memories, I realized how fortunate I am to live where I do. But I also realized how sheltered and myopic I have become. I’ve lived a life of convenience and comfort. I’ve had more than enough food, an education, extra money to buy things I don’t really need and shelter from the elements. I forget what life is like for many people who live in developing countries, and it’s easy to see why so many want to live here. While we’re busy complaining about working long hours, others are simply trying to stay alive.

Most of us tend to interact with people who think and act like we do, so we rarely hear or experience anything that falls outside our own perspectives of the world. Unfortunately, that fosters narrow-mindedness. Make an effort to talk to people who see the world differently. It might just change you.

 

What I Learned Traveling Europe by Campervan

dinner at the campsite in Switzerland

In 2012, my husband and I spent almost three weeks exploring five European countries in a rented campervan. For someone who is used to structure and well thought out vacation plans, it was an exercise in planned spontaneity for me, to say the least.

We arrived in Munich with no firm plans other than where and when we would pick up and return the camper, and our only agenda was to take in the experience itself.

Each morning, we decided where to go next over a cup of french-pressed coffee (and the occasional baked good if there happened to be a bakery within walking distance of our campsite).

Our travels took us in a circular route: Munich, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Innsbruck, Mittenwald, Garmisch, Como, Lecco, Milano, Bra, Agliano, Chambery, Rolle, Zurich, Stuttgart, Neckargemünd, Heidelberg, Dachau and then back to Munich. I’m sure there were a few other stops along the way, but I wasn’t keeping detailed records – hence the spontaneity.

Traveling this way allowed us to see more of the countryside than most travelers. Instead of spending our days weaving through mobs of people in busy cities like many other tourists, we were taking in tranquil views, enjoying excellent meals (some of which we prepared ourselves), sharing an occasional glass of wine with other campers, and experiencing life alongside the locals who were simply going about their normal lives.

On our first day in Munich, as any beer-drinking, first-time visitor would, we quickly proceeded to Englischer Garten for a refreshment at Chinesischer Turm. The park itself, which is larger than New York’s Central Park, is home to several other bier gartens and meandering paths that showcase the serene landscape. The large outdoor bier garten was equipped with turnstiles, which prevented customers from carrying out giant bretzels that could be looped around your arm. Bright green picnic tables painted the ground beneath the tall trees, and over time those tables filled with people and laughter. Bicycles began to pepper the fence line as locals arrived to join the tourists and music played in the distance. The scent of sauerkraut wafted through the air.

We spent our first evening at a small hillside campsite in Austria called Panoramacamping Stadtblick. Little did we know when we arrived that we would be dining just below the infamous Eagles Nest. It was evident that it was a family-owned campground when we ordered our meal. The schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) was cooked over an open fire and was served with a spicy mustard sauce, and the homemade apfelstrudel with fresh crème was eye-closing good. That first meal may even have been the best of the entire trip. Simple. Real food. Prepared with love and care. What more could you ask for?

When we weren’t taking in the breathtaking landscape, we met some really interesting people. Before embarking on this journey, we were warned by countless travelers that Europeans despise Americans. While that may be true in some areas, not once did we experience anything remotely close to that. Perhaps it was because we mostly avoided the highly trafficked touristy areas where locals would likely interact with swarms of inconsiderate tourists. Everyone we encountered greeted us with nothing but warmth and kindness. In fact, we often found the locals to be particularly helpful even when we didn’t ask. If an English-speaking local saw us looking at our map or struggling to converse with someone, they would step in graciously to offer their help. In reflection, I think it may have been because we did not behave like many entitled, ungrateful tourists. We were polite and patient. We did our best to speak the language of the country we were visiting. We were apologetic when we didn’t quite express ourselves correctly and looked for other ways to communicate when necessary. If all else failed, I found myself on occasion simply pointing to common phrases in Rick Steve’s handy French, Italian and German Phrasebook. This experience taught me that people are people wherever you go. If you are warm and friendly, so are they. If you are respectful and kind, so are they. If you are impatient and rude, so are they. Are we Americans really much different toward foreign travelers?

We decided to stay an extra day in Como since the weather was so beautiful and Jeremy was able to throw his fishing line around in the water a bit. That’s the beauty of being traveling gypsies. We could do whatever we wanted to do. We had no itinerary, no reservations to keep, and no pre-planned activities that pressured us to move along.

After hearing about our European camping excursion, most people envision the traditional American camping experience: foul-smelling rest areas with no running water, modest campsites with lackluster views, and no real communities for miles. But the camping experience in Europe is much more mainstream, spa-like even, in some cases. Every campground we encountered was well-manicured and clean. In fact, many even had restaurants, modern bathrooms, laundry facilities, sundry stores and designated dish-washing areas. I honestly think I could live year-round at some of them.

Rolle, Switzerland

In Rolle, Switzerland, we met a South African native who lived in London for half the year and at the campground for the other. He’d heard us speaking English as we passed his campsite and called out, inviting us to share a bottle of wine with him. I mean, where else would we have ever had the pleasure of meeting this man? And how often do Americans invite strangers to their campsite for a drink? As the evening turned to twilight, we shared stories from our different but similar cultures. We learned about boerewors and how he built a homemade battery system to power the electronics in his pimped out Land Rover Defender. (It was seriously amazing.)

Because the campervan came equipped with a folding table and chairs, most days we ate outside by candlelight. Wine was obscenely affordable, so we were happy to enjoy our share. Our wine varietals were always a day behind our destination, so we joked that we only drank German wine in Italy, Italian wine in France and French wine in Switzerland.

Europe, France

Another couple that we met at a campsite in France was also spending their holiday traveling the countryside. They were from Sulzemoos, Germany and had just returned from the coast of France. Eager to practice their English, they promptly offered us a glass of wine within moments of meeting us. Likewise, they pulled out their map to show us some of their favorite routes and cities. The campsite, located at the base of the Chartreuse mountains, was one of the most beautiful that we discovered on the trip.

Heading back toward Munich we passed the forests of Baden Baden, famously known for being home to Hansel and Gretel, and it reminded us very much of the Pacific Northwest. The day before we returned home, we visited Dachau. Nothing so far in my life compares to the emotions that I felt walking through the expansive camp. Hearing the gravel crunch below my feet – the same gravel that others before me struggled for life upon – was a heart-wrenching reminder that all of us have an impact on this world, and we have a momentous responsibility to leave it better than we found it.

By the time we arrived back in Munich, I somehow felt both rested and exhausted. My body and spirit felt rejuvenated, but my brain was still processing the prior 3 weeks. Looking back, it was much easier to let go and enjoy the ride than I had imagined. In fact, the trip taught me to loosen up on things that don’t really matter in the grander scheme of things. I realized that many of my stressors are ones that I create for myself.

Here are a few of the big takeways for me:

1. Kindness is culturally universal. People are people no matter where you are in the world. While there are always nuances, human beings respond quite similarly to human behaviors and gestures. Always choose kindness.

2. Comforts should be experienced with gratitude. Hot showers, a glass of wine, fresh ingredients – all things that we Americans often take for granted – are comforts that should be savored and appreciated.

3. Agriculture is central to life. The agricultural communities in Europe left me almost speechless at times. Farming didn’t feel like “business” there. Instead, the local sense of pride was palpable. As our flight was descending into Munich, the meticulously manicured pastures looked like artwork…really expensive artwork. It was such a pleasant surprise for me, having lived in heavily populated areas for most of my adult life. Throughout the trip the theme of craftsmanship did not wane. Carefully stacked piles of firewood, sturdy fencing, healthy livestock and tidy homesteads seemed to be valued universally.

4. Creating your own path is more rewarding. Taking the less popular paths in life allows you to experience unique, sometimes life-changing things.

5. Traveling by campervan is thrifty. Campground fees are much cheaper than hotels, and we purchased most of our food from local markets so we avoided the high prices of food and wine in restaurants. I did not keep detailed receipts, but I think our 3-week trip came in at around $8,000 – and that included airfare, gas, food, wine, campground fees and campervan rental. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have chosen a smaller camper though. In some cities it was hard to maneuver the large frame through the narrow streets, and parking was a major challenge. That small change would have also reduced our expenses even more.

6. Spontaneity is therapeutic. Tossing agendas aside and letting go of outcomes is restorative to the soul. Sometimes just “being” allows us to experience life more fully. When we enter a state of selflessness, we can more easily connect with others and express gratitude for life’s blessings.

How do you experience spontaneity?

 

Gratitude for Mrs. Lechman

I have been exchanging Christmas cards with my high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Lechman, for the past 20 years.

Some people are just special – and you know it the moment you meet them. They are mentors, encouragers and challengers. They see our capabilities and push us toward them, and they don’t accept less from us. They make life exciting and fun, even when there’s work to do. Whether they know it or not, they have a profound impact on who we eventually become.

Over the years I have felt compelled to share my journey with Mrs. Lechman – where my career has taken me, the adventures that I have been on and the blessings that I have experienced in my life. And she has shared her journey with me as well. It started out as a way for me to express my gratitude for the role she played in the successes I have enjoyed. Now I simply look forward to hearing from her each year, to hear how she continues to be such a bright light in the world of those around her.

She has since retired, but it was her unique presence in the classroom that made chemistry fun for me. (I cannot say the same about my experience with organic chemistry in college, however.) She was passionate about the periodic table. She was enthusiastic about balancing chemical equations. And she was always coming up with interesting ways to show us how chemistry existed in the real world.

I’ll never forget the first day of class. We, an awkward group of freshman, apathetically shuffled into the room and found a seat that would be ours for the duration of the year. An unmistakable chemical odor welcomed us like a smiling Walmart greeter. There was a large periodic table secured to the wall on the left and lab stations were scattered throughout the perimeter of the room. At the front, a large piece of white paper was taped to the blackboard. Mrs. Lechman promptly began class with an introduction of herself and what we would be learning that year. Afterward, she grabbed a bottle filled with a mysterious liquid and began spraying the white paper. After a few minutes, the words “Chemistry is fun” appeared in bright colors, and I knew then that it would be an interesting year.

Who in your life has influenced who you have become? And how have you shown your appreciation?

 

The Beauty of Imperfection: Lessons From a Corks and Canvas Event

trees and water painting

I am not that artistic.

I mean, I occasionally doodle and I once taught myself to crochet by watching You Tube videos. I may have glossed over a few key instructions because my afghans are shaped more like trapezoids than rectangles to this day. Even so, they are equally warm in all shapes, and I’ve yet to see anyone pull out a measuring tape before snuggling in – least of all my mini dachshund, Zoey.

Before the corks and canvas event at Vino Bella, I had never painted anything – well, unless you count paint-by-number anyway. Despite having exactly none of Picasso or Thomas Kinkade’s talents, I was able to laugh myself through it and not take the project too seriously.

If you’ve never been to an art event like this, you simply must go!

Artistic ability was not at all a prerequisite. I’m pretty sure that even if I had decided to put a red paint smudge in the middle of my canvas and call it done, it would still have been fun. I think everyone had the same primary objective: to have a great time sipping wine and seeing what might happen on our canvas over the course of the night.

Some painters were silent, intent on their technique. Others just laughed hysterically and poked fun at themselves along the way. And some even went rogue, doing the unthinkable: choosing unconventional colors, going portrait instead of landscape. At least one person even painted on the diagonal – quite the maverick!

Every now and then, I would take a break and look around the room to see how everyone else’s project was coming along, and I couldn’t help but smile as I overheard some common revelations:

1. “I’ve ruined it!”
2. “It’s outlandish!”
3. “Oh, that’s waaaay too much red!”
4. “I can’t decide if I’ve ruined it or fixed it.”
5. “Alright…I guess I’m done.”

Why are we so hard on ourselves? In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a painting after all. And yet you would think by listening to some of these comments that there were lives at stake.

What did surprise me a little, though, was that I heard more words of encouragement than criticism. Every painter seemed to have a mini cheering committee. Complete strangers were complimenting their table mates as if they were old friends. In fact, the only criticisms I heard at all were self-criticisms. (Quite telling, isn’t it?)

The truth is, all of the paintings were masterpieces. I couldn’t help but smile as I walked around to see the final products. They were amazing – each and every one! It was fascinating to see all of the different interpretations of the very same prototype.

Toward the end of the evening, I admit that I started to feel anxious. How could they be cleaning up already? I still had so many touch-ups and adjustments to make! I quickly realized this was a good thing. Had I been left to my own timeline, I would have spend at least another hour tweaking the tree branches and rocks. But fortunately, the event was time-bound and I was forced to finish, ready or not.

Indeed, this was yet another lesson in imperfection for me. If you struggle with keeping your perfectionist tendencies in check too, an event like this might be just what you need. I bet you’ll be surprised to see  just how beautiful imperfection can be.