Self-Care Challenge (Day 37): Taking a Road Trip

Road Trip2Road trips bring back memories of my youth: Jumping in the car with friends, having no particular destination in mind, listening to music, telling stories and laughing. 

And as an adult, short drives and weekend road trips still recharge my batteries. They break me out of my familiar routines and surroundings and bring nature’s beauty into focus.  

This weekend, my husband and I drove several hours to visit some friends in Idaho. The trip gave us a chance to explore a part of the country that we hadn’t yet visited, and even in those short stretches of unfamiliar highway it felt like we were traveling abroad.

The changing landscape kept us entertained as we watched tree-lined mountains turn into sage-covered plains, which eventually gave way to snow-capped peaks. From afar, the soft, rolling hills pleaded with me to roll down them, but as we got closer the jagged rocks and shrubs advised against it.

The other benefit is that road trips are usually much cheaper than elaborate vacations. Weekend getaways don’t break the bank, which means they can be planned with more frequency. Week-long adventures often require air travel, car rentals, lodging, and lots of dining out; road trips can be organized with less than a tank of gas and a picnic.

But honestly, you could ride your bike or take the bus for that matter. Cars aren’t necessary. No matter what your mode of transportation, getting some fresh air on the open road is therapeutic.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 23): Overcoming Fears

nurse shark at the reef in Belize

There aren’t many things that scare me more than the thought of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. The large, mysterious creatures of the deep with their sharp teeth and hungry eyes make my heart race.

But sometimes you just have to suck it up and move past your irrational fears to fully grasp life’s beauty. For me, this opportunity came in the form of a snorkeling trip off the coast of Ambergris Caye in Belize.

After nearly tossing my cookies several times as our boat made its way across the rolling blue water, we finally arrived at the reef area known as the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This is a popular destination for adventurous tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the ocean’s fascinating underworld.

I had only snorkeled a handful of times before this, so I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know what I was about to see made my previous experiences seem more like looking into the bottom of a plastic kiddie pool. At one point I swam just inches away from a nurse shark that was equal to me in size. I was wide-eyed and nearly paralyzed as it approached me, which is why the only photo I have is of it swimming away.

But the heavy pounding of my heart soon subsided as I listened to the orchestral arrangement of the ocean’s bubbling. The bright colors speeding past me in all directions made it feel like I was swimming through a painting. Below, two giant spotted eagle rays glided along the ocean’s bottom while countless schools of fish congregated like small villages in the nooks and crannies of the coral, each hoping to stay hidden from hungry predators.

I felt vulnerable floating in the middle of the ocean with only a swimsuit and rubber snorkel gear as protection. But as I thought about life above the water, I realized it really wasn’t much different. There are many things in life we cannot control–but we can always control the direction we swim.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 21): Meeting New People

Belize, Barbie
Stacy and Barbie

Another fun thing about travel is that you get to meet some really great people.

We met Barbie unexpectedly after having trouble with our golf cart one afternoon. The moment she noticed that we needed help she yelled, “That’s my brother-in-law’s company; I’m calling him right now.”

Within minutes, he and his crew showed up to begin working on it, and by the time we had finished eating lunch at the cafe next door, it was ready to go. Unbelievable! (or unBELIZEable, depending on your style of humor.)

As we were talking with Barbie I noticed she was holding what appeared to be a crochet project, so I asked her what she was making. The next thing I knew I was standing in her 6’ x 6’ home (which I assume also doubled as her storefront), and she was showing me her latest crochet pieces.

It makes me smile because although our cultures may be slightly different, at our core we share many similarities.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 20): Visiting a Fruit Stand

Belize, BananasNo matter where I travel, I’m always drawn to farmers’ markets. Somehow it makes me feel more connected to the place I’m visiting, and it’s always interesting to see the different varieties of fruits and vegetables that are grown throughout the world.

With the exception of the few locals who have small garden plots in their backyards, there are no major growers on Ambergris Caye itself—everything is imported from the mainland or from neighboring countries. Unlike the US, where there are many redundancies within the agricultural community, Belize farmers are very specialized. There is a “guy” who grows tomatoes, a “guy” who raises chickens, a “guy” whose specialty is pineapples, and so on. (Please note that my use of “guy” does not imply that “gals” are not also growers.) Of course this doesn’t bode well for buyers when there is a bad crop year, but at least they know exactly where their food is coming from.

Most fruit stands we visited were stocked with star fruit, papayas, oranges, grapefruit, pineapples, peanuts, plantains, and many other vegetables. And these urban hubs are quite popular, too. We learned quickly that supplies dwindle by mid to late afternoon, so the earlier the better.

It can be difficult to eat well when traveling, and farm stands are a great way to explore healthy, local foods.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 19): Fly Fishing

Two women fly fishing in Belize

Before Monday, I had never properly held a fly rod in my life. I had only listened (with skepticism) to tall fishing tales, and complained about having to step over my husband’s entangled mess of strewn out fly line on our boat.

But Belize seemed like a logical place to change all of that.

Just minutes after a quick casting lesson from famed fly fishing instructor Lori-Ann Murphy, I was reeling in my very first bonefish. (It’s not the size that matters, people.)

Just like swinging a golf club, casting a fly line is a skill of precision. And as a beginner there was as equal a chance that I would hook myself in the eye as there was land a good cast. But that was all part of the fun.

stacy-lori-anne-and-a-bone

While the fishing itself was enjoyable, just being on the water was equally satisfying. The warm sun was a welcome change from the dark, rainy weather back home, and I could have just as easily spent the day sitting in a boat admiring the wildlife among the mangroves.

By midday, the reflection of the sun looked like glittery confetti sprinkled across the water. The moon and sun were both hung high in the sky, as if competing for the best view.

I’m pretty sure that I dreamed about fly fishing last night, and I now understand why angling is so addicting for many. The words “Strip it! Strip it! Strip it!” are firmly planted in my mind, and I hope to continue practicing these newly acquired skills when I return home.

Learning new things is one of my favorite aspects of self-care–the opportunities are endless when we keep our curious minds open.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 18): Listening to the Ocean

Belize Pier, 399Belize is home to an impressive community of biodiverse wildlife. Within hours of arrival I saw Roseate Spoonbills, hermit crabs, cranes, tarpon…and of course, the lesser-loved mosquito. But the ocean is the real showstopper.

Its stunning shades of turquoise and royal blue paint the ocean clear to the horizon. You can see it from nearly any direction, and even when you can’t see it you can hear it. A native shared that he once traveled to Montana, but felt claustrophobic with the mountains surrounding him. He didn’t like not being able to see the ocean—he felt trapped. (Quite an ironic perspective compared to those who see the “Big Country” as an escape from the confines of urban living.)

The expansive Caribbean ocean waves push relentlessly against the shore, obeying the strong tropical winds. And out on the horizon, waves break against the second largest reef system in the world, their white-caps appearing like small mountains from a distance.

The movement of the water is mesmerizing. Its steady rhythm has a way of dissolving even the most troublesome of worries, making it easy to understand how the term “island time” originated. Time moves more slowly here: the sun melts like butter into the skyline before you even realize the day is gone. 

When you really think about it, vacation is a state of mind. At any time we can escape into our own image of paradise…and I’m fairly certain I will be returning to this pier again to listen to the ocean. 

Self-Care Challenge (Day 17): Enjoying a Sunset

Belize, 900Ending the day with a beautiful Belizean sunset was like a long kiss goodnight, especially after 15 hours of travel. Taking in the sunset allowed me a few moments of stillness to express gratitude for the gift of breath—of life—for yet another day. While living can be brutally painful at times, there are snapshots of beauty in every day…if we choose to notice them.

After an unexpected fog layer made it impossible for our pilot to see the runway in Belize City yesterday, we were eventually diverted to Cancun for fuel while we waited for the fog to clear. Instead of being irritated by the delay, I chose to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views that I would not have seen otherwise.

It made me wonder why we ever expect anything in life to go according to plan anyway. Why can’t we simply experience the moments as they are? The unreasonable expectations that we create in our minds only lead to disappointment.

Sunsets celebrate today, but also invite the anticipation of tomorrow—whatever it may bring.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 16): Traveling (sans the stress)

Plane wing over clouds, 900I’ve traveled enough to know what not to do when planning a trip, and rushing around at the last minute is one of them.

Vacations are supposed to relieve stress, not create it. Done well, planning ahead for travel can be a form of self-care. With a little work up front, you can begin your vacation with a sense of calm, truly enjoying the experience and giving your mind and body a break.

While we can’t control the weather or predict travel delays, we can do our best to prepare for coping with unexpected detours. Sure, even with the best preparation, you’ll probably forget something, but it likely won’t be something really important.

Here are my standard operating procedures when planning for a trip:

Before Departure

Make a list. Unless you’re a frequent flyer and keep a packed bag on the ready at all times, then making a list is crucial. Different trips require different supplies, and it’s important to think through what you’ll be doing while you’re away. As you make your list, pretend you’re already there and consider the following: weather (Will you need an umbrella, rain jacket, sunglasses, or warm coat?); activities (Will you be walking a lot, swimming, snorkeling, or taking pictures?); health (Will you need to update immunizations, bring medications, or a water filter?); amenities (Will your accommodations provide soap, shampoo, and other items?); souvenirs (Are you planning to shop for items that will require extra luggage space?); and food availability (Will you need to bring food or snacks for special dietary needs?).

Get packed. I recommend getting mostly packed 2 to 3 days before you leave. (Yes, you read that correctly–not 2 to 3 minutes before.) I Promise you’ll survive without wearing your favorite clothes for a couple of days. Packing ahead of time not only reduces anxiety, but it also means fewer last-minute loads of laundry. Likewise, prepare a travel kit with toothpaste, creams, makeup, deodorant, and other toiletries so you don’t have to add things to the bag as you’re walking out the door. This may require you to buy some duplicate products, but it’s well worth the time it saves.

Minimize luggage. I have to admit I have a bit of an obsession with luggage. Over the years, my husband has learned to just shake his head in disbelief as I roll in with a new piece, and each time I’m hopeful it will be versatile enough that I’ll never need to buy another one. Needless to say, I’ve donated or consigned many bags that just didn’t work out. In recent years, I’ve simplified a lot. At some point I decided I no longer wanted to experience the anxiety of praying there would be space in the overhead compartment, or waiting (more like hoping) for it to pop down the chute in baggage claim. (An airline once lost my bag on a 30-minute flight.) So, what do you do if you don’t want to check a bag or rely on overhead space? You downsize. I’ve grown to love my Gregory Sage 45 (Amazon Associate Link) backpack, and I’ve used it as my only piece of luggage even on week-long trips. It holds more than you think–if you do it right. I’ve become best friends with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes (Amazon Associate Link) because they compress clothes nicely, and there’s little wrinkling if you roll garments. The best part is that the backpack fits (barely) under the seat in front of me, so the boarding process is completely painless. Wearing a backpack is also much easier on my back than juggling multiple pieces of luggage. Now, I have two free hands: one for holding a book and one for holding tea.

Get your pets packed. If you’re boarding any animals it can be helpful to get their food, blankets, medications and toys ready and waiting by the door. I can’t begin to tell you what a fiasco it has been when we’ve tried to round up our excited, barking dogs and their supplies just minutes before leaving.

Change your sheets and make your bed. It can be such a relief to return home to clean sheets, especially if your time away includes camping or strenuous activity.

Wash and put away the dishes. Just like clean sheets, returning to a clean kitchen keeps stress levels low. It also makes it easier to cook a quick snack or meal if you’re hungry when you return.

Empty the fridge. If you’ll be gone for a week or more, plan to use perishable food items before you leave so nothing expires while you’re away. In the days preceding your trip, plan your menus accordingly and use up any leftovers to reduce waste. We often have “breakfast for dinner” on the nights before trips. It’s fast, easy to clean up, and usually takes care of the perishables.

Make a grocery list. As crazy as it sounds, preparing a menu and shopping list for the week you return is really helpful. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll remember what you’re running low on after spending a few days away, and it makes grocery shopping so much easier.

Take out the trash. There is nothing worse than returning home to a mysterious odor. Doing a quick trash round-up before you walk out the door is just smart.

Drink a lot of water. The day before a trip, I start drinking more water than I usually would. Being on a plane for several hours can be dehydrating, so it’s important to start off with a full tank.

Upon Returning

Now imagine returning home to find it clean, organized and ready for your normal routines to resume. Plus, with the exception of laundry, there won’t be many chores to do so you can enjoy your vacation up until the very end.

Stage your bags. Park your bags near the laundry room. Even if you’re not quite ready to do laundry yet, it will be nearby when you are. This is especially helpful if you return home late at night and the only thing on your mind is a shower and a pillow. You may need to retrieve a few items from your bag, like shoes and cosmetics, but you’ll have the laundry pile ready to go when you wake up in the morning.

Get groceries. Remember that list you made before you left? Yep, just run to the store and pick up a few things, and you can be back in an hour relaxing again.

Express gratitude. Reflect on the positive things you experienced on the trip (or even some of the unexpected snafus that were equally entertaining in hindsight). Sometimes we spend so much energy dreading the return to normal, that we forget to celebrate the joys of the present

Traveling can be an act of self-care, but it’s up to us to make it that way.

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.