Category Archives: Blog

Getting Started on Low-Carb: Online Resources

I’m not an expert, a medical doctor, a nutritionist (etc. ). So I am sharing my personal journey and the resources I found helpful in losing more than 85 pounds over the last year and a half.

But my experience is only mine. We are each our own experiment, and I think there is variation in how different people respond. Also, except for my thyroid cancer, I am basically healthy, so my body may have reacted more easily to the change in diet. If you are on a lot of medication (particularly diabetes medication) check with a doctor before radically changing your way of eating.  However, realize that many doctors are not up on low-carb science, and many counsel against it. You may need to do a lot of research to have an informed and productive discussion with an uninformed (on this issue) doctor. The following sites will get you started.

I  will add resources to this page as I find them, so check back. These are resources I have personally found useful. I don’t want to overload this page… too much information being more confusing than helpful. You can also check out the book resources page.

One warning before you jump into the Internet world of low-carb eating:  Sayin’ don’t make it so. Just because a food company or website or book publisher says something is “low-carb” doesn’t mean it is. Companies will do anything to get you to buy their product. Low-carb is a trend, so food companies are jumping on it, just like the co-opted the words “healthy,” “natural,” “gluten free” and  “organic.” But their definition of “low-carb”  may not be truly low-carb. The same goes for cook-books. You will have to decide what your carb limits are, and then make sure the foods you eat and recipes you use comply.

Internet Resources for the Ketogenic Way of Eating

www.dietdoctor.com. This website has a paywall for some information, but plenty of free stuff to get you going. The intro to weight loss page is a great place to start. Also, their what to eat page has a guide to food

Linda’s Low Carb Recipes. Need recipes? You’ll find them here.

Low Carb Faqs (and much more):  This site contains the forums listed directly below, along with faqs, recipes, and tips. I found it useful when starting out.

Low Carber Forums: Folks here will answer just about any question you can think of and give plenty of moral support, plus there are scores of recipes and success stories to keep you on track, along with discussions of related health info (cholesterol, diabetes, etc.) They include a broad range of approaches and perspectives.

*Watch out for Facebook keto groups that are filled with sugar substitutes and dessert recipes. While David and I enjoy the occasional keto dessert, we’ve found that for us, avoidance is the best policy.

Counting Net Carbs versus Whole Carbs?  Definitions: The whole carb count is the total number of carbs in a food item. The net carbs count is calculated by subtracting the amount of fiber.  For example, a cup of sliced avocado might have 12 whole carbs, of which 10 carbs are from fiber. So the net carb count is 2. Obviously, with some high fiber foods, using net carbs means that you will have a wider selection. However, some experts say that some amount of fiber carbs can affect blood sugar. Also, different experts have different opinions on how many carbs to aim for, and whether those should be whole or net. You will have to experiment with your food choices. I started strict, then eased off a little, and I basically stay between 20 whole carbs and 30 net carbs a day. The article linked above goes into more detail about net versus whole carbs. The site has lots more info on it.

Counting Macros. Macro-nutrients the categories of foods we eat: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. While some low-carb people count their proteins and fats (and, less commonly calories), I have not done so. For me, counting carbs alone has given satisfactory results. I eyeball protein (2 smallish portions per day — each portion is about the size of a hamburger). But if eyeballing is not giving you the results you want, try counting macros. This site helps figure out how grams you should be taking in of proteins, fats, and carbs, depending on height, weight, gender, activity level, etc.

Beginner’s Guide This site has a ton of useful info, including recipes and forums.

The Opposition

I’m also going to share a couple of links to “the opposition” (below).

The mainstream medical establishment has a long history of failing to recognize any benefits of a low-carb diet. This mistake is so long-standing and ingrained that I think they have backed themselves into a corner where they can’t or won’t admit it. I think there are a lot of well-meaning people advocating all manner of dietary approaches, but there are also people whose advocacy is based on pride or greed. There is also an argument that “Big Food” and “Big Pharma” have an interest in keeping the status quo (lots of drug-taking, junk-food-consuming sick people with diabetes. You should be aware that there is strong opposition to this way of eating in some parts of the medical community.

Studies can be cherry-picked any which way to show whatever you want them to show. And many of them are deeply flawed in design and duration. Nutrition and health are by definition multi-variable, and even the best double blind peer-reviewed studies show only statistics, not effects on individuals. I think we are all our own experiments, and that for a subset of the population,  a low-carb approach is beneficial.  You know what you’ve done in the past. You know whether it has worked. Only you can figure out whether it makes sense to try something different.

I believe in reading all sides of a story before making a decision. Here are two examples of opposition to the low-carb way of eating . These focus on the Atkins diet. Note that the original version of the Atkins diet was sometimes promoted or interpreted as  permission to gorge on humongous steaks and pounds of bacon. No responsible current low-carb sites promote gorging, whether its on kale or pork-chops! Also note that the current Atkins corporation and sells highly processed food products, which my personal way of eating completely avoids. The corporation bought the Atkins name, and while it promotes low-carb eating, the company is separate and distinct from the late doctor who came up with the plan.

The Wikipedia entry on the Atkins diet makes no attempt to be objective, but is revealing about mainstream medicine’s position.

This link, to a 1974 American Medical Association article, takes issue with many aspects of a ketogenic diet. The site on which this article was reprinted was founded by Dr. Michael Greger, who advocates a plant-based diet with no animal products. Dr. Greger appears to be an animal rights advocate and nowhere on this site or his other sites did I find information about his actual clinical experience with patients. (During his “Animal Rights 2002” convention speech, he said, “The future of the animal liberation movement depends on our ability to unite with other social justice movements, and corporate globalization is the key bridging issue we’ve been waiting for all of our lives.”)  You should be aware of opposing opinions and studies, and I am including a link to this site because this is about as oppositional as it gets. (Reading some of these sites sometimes reminds me of toddlers in a playground, each shouting “No, YOU’RE a doo-doo-head” more loudly than the other.) Obviously, the AMA article I’ve linked to here is very old, but it neatly summarizes the main points of the “opposition.” Also, Dr. Greger’s website contains other articles lambasting low-carb, as well.

Paragliding into Weight Loss: The Journey Begins

For reasons explained here, I’ve been slow getting around to adding all the information on low-carb and ketogenic eating that people have asked for. So some of this is old news, but I wanted to start at the beginning and provide the backstory about how I stumbled into a way of eating that resulted in weight loss of 85 pounds.

(Also, a disclaimer: I am relating my personal experience in the hope that it can help others as they create their own experiences. I am not a health professional or a doctor, and I am not trying to “sell” low-carb. It’s a permanent commitment and way of life, and it is not for everyone. If you are on any medications — especially any kind of medications for diabetes — you absolutely must consult with a doctor before you follow this way of eating because you must adjust medication to account for declining blood sugar numbers. )

I’ll cut to the chase: Since March of 2016, I’ve lost 85 pounds. My partner David has lost 75. That means that when we climb into bed there is 160 pounds less of us (a whole person! Who knew we had a ménage à trois going for all these years!).

Ironically, my initial weight loss journey started out having nothing to do with health. In March, 2016, I got an e-mail from a public relations representative from Switzerland. I was going to a travel writers’ conference in May, and they were arranging some junkets: Did I want to go paragliding. Over the Alps.

This was the motivation for me going on a diet.

“YES!!!” I wrote back, overusing my yearly allotment of capital letters and exclamation points in a single e-mail. There may even have been a smiley face involved.

In the middle of following night, I woke up, my sleeping brain having put together the fact that gravity, paragliding (i.e., an activity that involves falling from the sky), and my current weight, were probably not compatible.

Actually, I didn’t even know what my weight was: my way of dealing with tight clothes and unfortunate feedback from the mirror had been to avoid stepping on the scale. In doctors’ offices,  I’d close my eyes and ask the nurse not to tell me the number. Denial was my strategy. Stretch pants were my friends.

Denial waged war with desire. Desire won. I looked up the outfitter on the Internet and learned that the weight limit for paragliding was 220 pounds. I stepped on the scale. It is hard for me to write the number, but I’m trying to be honest, so I’ll do it.

237. 6

Naked. Before coffee.

I’m 5′ 9″ and I have broad shoulders and a strong build… but 237 (and don’t forget the point-six)???!!! It’s obese no matter what kind of mirror you look at.

The number took my breath away. How does that even happen? How, especially, does it happen to someone who hikes and skis (almost every day), who doesn’t eat sugared cereal or indulge in desserts, who shops the perimeter of the grocery store and skips the aisles, who follows guidelines to eat lots of fruit and veggies and healthy whole grains? (Let’s pause for a moment…. I’ll give you a hint: the answer is contained in the question. I’ll cover that in a subsequent post.)

Since I wasn’t planning to paraglide naked, and since I needed to account not only for clothes and shoes, but also for breakfast, coffee, and the fact that prior to going to Switzerland, I’d be on a food tour in Prague, I figured I needed to lose 27.6 pounds (give or take a tenth) to safely weigh in under the limit. I had seven weeks.

Was that even possible?

I went — where else? — to the Internet, looking for crash diets. Honestly, I didn’t care if they were banana and grapefruit or kimchi and kale; my goal was paragliding, not health. Google and Siri were glad to oblige. In short order, they pointed me in the direction of low-carb. The key benefit (as far as I was concerned): fast initial weight loss.

Low-carb forums assured me that others had lost 10, 15, even more pounds in the first two weeks, and that two pounds a week after that was possible. They also ranted about health benefits, but I skipped that part and focused on the weight loss math. It would be a close call, but maybe it could be done. I envisioned having to step on a scale in front of all my travel writing colleagues — me, Ms Big Adventure Writer — and being told I was too fat to fly. Shame was a powerful motivator.

I’d heard of low-carb, of course. In popular diet culture, it’s been around in some guise or another since I was a teenager worrying about the size of my prom dress. (The first Atkins book hit bookstore shelves in 1972.) In reality, low-carb has been around a lot longer than that — maybe even back to to caveman days. (Some writers claim that it’s the way humans evolved to eat. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll also be adding posts with reading lists for those interested. I’ll  also describe the diet in more detail. )

For now, I’ll simply say: It’s strict and it’s not for everyone, and as far as I can tell, it works but you have to stay on it forever. It’s also controversial with a lot of doctors. Not to mention the American Diabetic Association and the American Heart Association and most mainline medical websites you’ll visit. (Which is why you should read as much as you can stand, and if you are on medications, check with a doctor before doing this.)

Here’s the list of things I avoided in order to lose the weight:

  • Wheat
  • Other grains and grain-based foods (including cereal, bread, pasta, pizza, rice, oatmeal, even quinoa)
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar and almost all artificial sweeteners
  • Starchy root vegetables and winter squashes
  • Fruit juice and soda (which I never drank anyway)

In addition, there were limits on or cautions about most fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The protocol I followed avoids as much processed food as possible and anything labeled low-fat. Cream is okay, milk is not, and skim milk or low-fat milk is especially not okay.

Red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, vegetables that grow above the ground (especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), and many fats (olive oil, avocado oil,  coconut oil, butter, ghee, meat fats and fish oils) are the mainstays of this way of eating; the details depend on the expert you follow. (There’s a lot of variation here, and some overlap between Atkins, Ketogenic, South Beach, Paleo, Whole 30 and some others.)

I wrote down what I ate and drank every day, accounting for the carbs in the cream in my coffee and checking nutrition labels to hunt for hidden sugars.  I tracked carbs in the ingredients of recipes we made from scratch.  I counted minuscule quantities of blueberries and olives and nuts. I cut way back on wine.

It sounds strict, and it was, but — surprisingly — after the first few days, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Besides, what did I have to lose (aside from a lot of weight)?

The answer: health risk factors.

The more I read, the more I realized that I’d stumbled not on a diet, but a permanent way of eating. And if I stayed on it, it would not only help me reach and maintain a normal weight, but would result in better health markers all around. My weight dropped, as promised: in the first two weeks, I lost about 15 pounds. Most of that was glycogen and water weight, but the paragliding people wouldn’t care about that. If what I was reading was true, my blood pressure and most health markers were also improving.

My partner, David, joined me on the same plan, which was a big help: I am convinced that the biggest threat to an individual’s health (particularly women) is the other people in the household. David had a bit less enthusiasm than I (among other things, he had absolutely no interest in paragliding and he sorely missed ice cream). With his addiction to diet soda (which he has since resolved), he wasn’t losing weight as fast as I was (my understanding is that most artificial sweeteners raise the body’s insulin response, which prevents weight loss.) Still, he dropped about ten pounds.

To make a long story short, the day I left for Europe, I had lost precisely 27.6 pounds. I was down to 210. For paragliding purposes, that gave me a ten-pound leeway for clothes, coffee, and any weight I might gain from food eaten during the bountiful meals of a travel writing junket.  But I found that my tastes had changed, and even when presented with the tempting breads and pastries of a high-end European dinner, I mostly avoided straying. I deeply offended a kind Czech waiter who insisted that without bread dumplings I would not have a “complete meal.” (Confession: I did eat a piece of apple strudel. I am not made of stone.)

Most importantly, I got to run off a cliff and float into the sky, fully at peace with gravity  — a thrill that was worth every single bite of pizza, pasta, and bread I had missed over the previous few weeks.

When I returned home, I was committed to staying the low-carb course. Everything was copacetic… until it wasn’t. A few weeks after my return, David had his stroke and got his diabetes diagnosis, and our world changed. Suddenly, our low-carb diet had nothing to do with getting back into smaller clothes or doing outdoor activities. Losing weight and improvising health markers was a matter (and I mean this very seriously) of life and death. David gave up the diet soda. In the hospital, he ignored the recommended diabetes menu and had omelettes for breakfast and burgers with veggies and no buns for for lunch and dinner. At home, he stuck with it. The results? You can see them in the before and after pictures below: He is now 75 pounds slimmer with normal cholesterol, normal blood pressure, and a normal, non-diabetic A1c (that is the blood test for diabetes). And my A1c marker is not merely normal, nor even optimal — it is “super-optimal.” And my blood pressure is “awesome” (the nurse’s technical term for it).

I will provide links to discussions (pro and con) of low-carb diet health in future posts.

Before…

 

…and after (Yes, I like that shirt!)

Meantime, a lot of people have been asking for details. I can’t cover it all in one post, so over the next few weeks I will be adding and updating information, most especially links to resources, books, and recipes, in a dedicated section of this blog. Once I get those posts up, they will be indexed. You will find the link in the menu section of this blog (it’s at the top if you are reading on your computer. If you are using a device, you’ll find the low-carb section listed in the menu drop down area).

As I said earlier, I am not trying to sell low-carb eating to anyone — but I am trying to answer the questions to people who ask and are interested. As I am not an expert, I will not give advice, but I will share what has worked for me, and point you to resources that may help you make your own decisions.

My understanding is that this way of eating works for a subset of the population whose bodies respond to carbs in a certain metabolically challenged way. If you are in that group, I hope the resources I share and my experiences will help you choose your own path through the poison-laden aisles of your neighborhood supermarket.

 

The Shit Storm and the Light

Mostly, I think expletives betray a lack of vocabulary. Once in a while they are justified.

I know I’m not the only one who was glad to see the backside of 2016. Wishing your life away is not a good thing, but floundering on the dark side of the moon loses its appeal after a while.

But we’re now more than halfway through 2017, and the shit storm has had some staying power. Like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz, it has uprooted homes from their foundations, blown bicycles into the sky, and dropped things down topsy-turvy where they don’t belong. Like the current occupant of the White House. (But I digress.)

Yanking me into “what the hell is going on here” retrospective/introspective/give-me-some-perspective mode: The news that our friend Fred Shane died last week.

Some back story:

Almost exactly one year to the day ago, Fred ran sound for a benefit concert at Dewey Hall, a lovely New England meeting house that was built in 1887 to memorialize Orville Dewey, who had worked “to increase good and kindly feelings and to promote intelligence and cheerfulness.” The benefit was for my partner David, who’d suffered a stroke. Not one of those pesky TIAs; David got the full Monty – a stroke that paralyzed his entire right side and stole a whole lot of language. He has recovered now, mostly, after intensive therapy and with the support of our community.

Fred ran sound for the benefit for David at Dewey Hall

That was in the summer of 2016. The rest of the year had more in store. David dealt with a diabetes diagnosis (since reversed — yes, reversed; I’ll talk about that in another post). And an emergency appendectomy, the appendicitis presenting while he was in therapy to deal with the after effects of the stroke.

We may have been self-absorbed in our own little cocoon of crisis, but we weren’t the only ones hammered. Joe, our student and good friend got a cancer diagnosis which necessitated his move to another city for multiple surgeries, radiation, a bout of MRSA infection, skin grafts, and more radiation. My elderly mom was coping with an unending string of problems from legal blindness to infections to hating the food at the facility where she lives. Other friends and family had issues. And on and on.

New Year’s couldn’t come fast enough. Out with the old, and all that.

I slid into 2017 with resolutions. At that point, I’d lost about 55 pounds (more on THAT in another post).  The health catastrophes surrounding me had encouraged me to put health maintenance back on track. Right after New Year’s, I showed up for a routine physical. With a confidence born of weight loss, I expected the usual: blood pressure, weight, lab work, a lecture about eating more healthy whole grains and doing more exercise. Hand over the co-pay, and I’d be on my way.

January is for skiing — not for falling into the clutches of the health care system!

Yeah… on my way and out the door — to a series of specialists’ offices, mostly involving CAT scans, biopsies, and the word oncology.

First the good news: the gynecological cancers that were suspected turned out to be a collection of benign issues. True, I had to have a complete abdominal hysterectomy. And they removed a fibroid that weighed more than 5 pounds – ie, a growth as big as a viable baby! But hey, at least it wasn’t cancer.

The bad news: A barely perceptible swelling in my neck was thyroid cancer, metastatic to the lymph nodes.

In a blur of shock, I fixated on what everyone seemed so eager to tell me: that thyroid cancer is the “good cancer.” Most thyroid cancer patients, I learned later, hate that phrase. They feel it minimizes what they are going through. But in those first days, I took it as reassurance, and it made me feel more optimistic.

At about the same time that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Joe was undergoing radiation in Boston, and Fred got his diagnosis, stage 4 colon cancer.

Compared to Joe’s sarcoma and Fred’s colon cancer, I have to say yes, I won the cancer lottery. To wit: Fred’s treatments were harsher, more life-disruptive, and ultimately, not successful. Joe’s were prolonged and painful with multiple complications. From where I sit, I think I did indeed pull the lucky straw.

But the “good cancer” is not without its own charms. In January, I had a total thyroidectomy and lateral neck dissection, leaving me with a smiley-shaped scar that matches the abdominal scar I got from my hysterectomy in March.

The scar is noticeable, but fading.. I find that I don’t much care.

I also need to take thyroid replacement medication every day for the rest of my life. That sounds like a small thing. But for someone who has never been on any chronic medication, it’s been a hard hit, maybe because it seems a daily reminder of mortality, of how things can go so suddenly wrong.

And there is a vulnerability, a surprising sense of dependence on “the system.” Remember Y2K? The fears and questions: Would digital meltdown stop computers – and trains, planes, phones, the electric grid… hospital equipment? I remember a conversation I had with a friend: She asked if I was worried, and I said that I had a water filter for backpacking, and there was a stream near where I lived. I had a fireplace and wood and warm clothes and a pantry full of food. I could survive.

If we had the same conversation today, I’d have to factor in getting my pills. What if the lights went out at the pharmacy? Or at the factory where they make the medicine?

I know, I know…. It’s fanciful and far-fetched and overly-dramatic. I do not believe the world will melt down, current politics notwithstanding. But I’m amazed at the overshadowing presence of that tiny purple pill in my life.

In February, I had the radioactive iodine treatment.

Radioactive iodine treatment is simply a matter of taking a pill that works like a heat-seeking missile. The radioactive iodine can only be taken up by thyroid cells, which it then destroys, like a bad Airbnb guest in an unsupervised apartment.

The protocol surrounding the seemingly small act of swallowing this pill is scarily surreal.

To enable your thyroid cells to take up the iodine, you start with two shots, which cost thousands – yes, THOUSANDS of dollars. I don’t know precisely how many thousands of dollars because the insurance company that pays for it didn’t provide that information. (I am writing this in August 2017, when the despicable government this country has idiotically elected has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to decimate affordable health care. But I digress.)

To actually take the pill, you go to the hospital. I was told to park in a special lot, and enter and (more importantly) exit the building through a seldom-used hallway in order to minimize encounters with other patients and staff. Anyone I merely passed in the hall would be contaminated by the radiation emanating from me once I took the pill.

Think about it: The “good cancer” was making me ingest a pill so toxic that merely passing someone in a hallway could be dangerous to them.

As soon as I arrived in the waiting room, the receptionist, and then the lab tech, and then the doctor, all demanded whether I’d parked in the appropriate place.

In short: Not a casual vibe.

The pill arrived in a protective, lined metal case imprinted with danger warnings. A lab tech stood on the far side of a protective screen, wearing protective lab clothes and protective gloves. He spilled the pill out onto a counter and used a tool to nudge it toward me. The doctors – a nuclear medicine doctor and a nuclear physicist – stood as far away as possible at the other end of the room, trying to look like they just happened to be casually perched there.

Down the hatch.

I did not feel different. I did not start glowing. Anticlimactically, off I went, through the back hall and the back door, back home, where I had to live in total isolation from anyone else for a few days.

For an introverted book addict like me, that was the easy part.

And the rest is all test and watch and wait and test… pretty much forever, if I understand it right.

March was the hysterectomy, complete with happy results.

Since then, life has ebbed back to a new kind of normal. My brain is full of stuff – strokes, statins, cancer stages, blood sugars, A1c ranges, cholesterol particles, carb counts – that it never knew about before, and I have a whole new vocabulary of words like salpingo-oophorectomy and atorvastatin. I feel healthy. I hope it is not an illusion. Things can change on a dime. I always knew that, but I know it differently now.

Back to playing music

Ironically, we missed Fred’s farewell party – we were playing music in the Washington D.C. area with the group of friends who had played at David’s benefit the year before. The farewell party had been moved up a week, and we learned about it too late. And then he was gone.

I try to find meaning in it all, but the universe is sometimes heartlessly random. I grew up Catholic, and the only phrase that ever made sense to me is “the mystery of life.” The Old Testament God – fickle, temperamental, and occasionally not very nice – makes sense in a year like this. A manic-depressive god who could create a world full of butterflies and coral reefs and bird song at dawn — then throw down floods and toss a person into the belly of a whale or torment a believer with a thousand afflictions.

A mystery, indeed.

And yet, doctor’s appointments or no, tomorrow comes, then tomorrow after that, each one with its endless possibilities. Until it doesn’t, I suppose.

Cliches abound. One day at a time. Living life to the fullest. Live every day as if it were your last. Homilies that are at once on point and annoying.

I think most of us are just struggling through, mostly trying to do the best we can. My friend Joe and I compared notes, agreeing that we were both struck by how ordinary all of this seems. You live your life thinking that the word cancer is the worst thing that can happen. And then you hear that word and you cross that Rubicon, and you realize that life on the other side is still the life you had. Different in some ways – and more different for some than for others. But still life, filled with the good things it’s always had. And you still have to pay your taxes!

At the moment, there is music, and travel. There is the view from my back porch and the family and friends whose lives intersect with mine. There are the books I want to write, and the photographs I want to take, the trails I hike on near my home and the trails I want to hike far away, and the art I want to try to make, and the garden that needs weeding. There is the light of late summer, taking on that rich, deep-hued gold, and the sweet smell of mature grass and harvest time and the woods of summer camp.  There is time to savor; there is no time to waste.

The funny thing about hiking above treeline is that the challenges and the views are always changing. So I have no idea what my perspective will be tomorrow. I might be on my knees, cowering among the krummholtz and the boulders, praying for relief from the lightning and shelter from the wind and rain. Or I may have a 100-mile view under cornflower skies. If I stick around long enough, most probably, I will experience both.

I am growing above treeline, whether I want to or not, growing on the days of endless, heart-expanding  views, growing as I am tossed about by the shit storm. And I wonder what Fred’s view is now, from his vantage point in the great beyond.

Perhaps he would say “Don’t get cancer.” (Fred said that a lot) “But if you do get cancer, squeeze every bit of life and love out of it that you can.”

I will keep writing about what I learn. I have no idea what it will be. But isn’t that the point?

 

Lessons from the Not-Overnight Success

I just got the wonderful news that Bill McKibben has written the foreword for my newest book, Great Hiking Trails of the World, to be published by Rizzoli in September.

I also have a mock-up of the cover (though covers sometimes change between design and production; I am hoping this one does not.)

The book contains essays about more than 30 hiking trails organized into sections focusing on history, pilgrimage, wilderness, mountains, diverse environments, and long-distance trails.  There are also shorter descriptions of another 50 or so noteworthy trails.

The text is full length – some 60,000 words — and the book is chock full of photography that almost leaps of the page to drag you along for a hike.

It is exactly the kind of book that made me cry with despair some 30 years ago, when I was a young editorial assistant at a company that published books about financial planning, insurance, selling real estate, and other subjects in which I had less than no interest.

I always get reflective around the new year, so I’ve been thinking about how things can turn around, even if it takes a long time. This post is what I wish someone had told me back then: If you are passionate about a creative career dream, if you are frustrated because the path ahead is murky, cluttered, and sometimes damned unpleasant: keep going with all your art. Develop the right skills. Work as though it’s the only thing that matters.  Where you are now is not where you will be forever.

I remember my melt-down moment: I was working in Chicago, and there was a beautiful independent bookstore called Stuart Brent’s. Brent’s was a lunch-time hangout for me.  Virtually everything in the store reflected the best of book publishing – books as works of art. The books focused on art, design, photography, nature, history, fashion, art, and travel. You wouldn’t go there to find a Dummies book or a paperback romance.

Making typical editorial assistant wages, I could barely afford to buy anything in that store: The books featured in the window and in the front cases were in the $60 – $80 price range, and this was back in the late 80s. But being a fairly typical editorial assistant – in it for love, not money — that didn’t stop me from spending money I didn’t have.

Browsing, of course, was free.

I would have happily worked on any book that store ever sold. I would have been delirious to get a job at any publisher they carried.

Instead, I was working on cheaply made, shoddily produced books with two-color covers and clunky designs on how to sell insurance or get licensed for real estate. Chicago was not then and is not now a hub of book publishing. The publisher I worked for was one of only a half dozen or so shows in town. None of them produced the kinds of books that would be found at Stuart Brent’s.

Going to Brent’s at lunchtime only seemed to make things worse as I considered the irony of being surrounded by hundreds of books on scores of topics I was interested in, only to have to go back and shepherd another book on business through its hurdles.

I think that as far as my bosses were concerned, the career path ahead of me was well-lit and obvious. I seemed to be well-enough-liked by the various managers, had managed to keep my opinions about business books to myself, and had been promoted several times. But I didn’t want to go where that path went.

The path between then and now wasn’t something I had much control over: An ad in a publishing magazine led me to a job in environmental publishing in Washington D.C. Island Press did not publish the kind of books you’d find in Stuart Brent’s, but they focused on environmental issues, a subject I was intensely committed to. Marriage took me away from that job and into a world of long distance backpacking. Combining my interest in travel and publishing, I became a book author. It’s not a path I would have predicted.

Today, nearly 30 years later, I’m the author of 17 books, some of which would have found a home in Stuart Brent’s – and some of which would not. Part of growing up is learning when to compromise, when to suck it up and pay your dues, when to sign the bad contracts, when to walk away, and when to follow your heart.

My most recent book, America’s Great Hiking Trails, squeaked onto the New York Times bestsellers list in travel and won a Gold Lowell Thomas Award. This next one: Great Hiking Trails of the World, is exactly the kind of books that would have brought tears to my eyes with longing – to go to those places, to write about them, to edit a book about them – anything.

We all have to find, and sometimes forge, our own path through the publishing thickets. Many authors, like me, bounce between editing gigs and writing gigs, sooner or later finding their feet in one or the other. Our journeys are all different, but looking back, I see a couple of patterns that I think a lot of us have in common.

  • Being true to yourself. I knew I didn’t like business books, so I kept doing the things I did like: Playing piano, traveling (as much as possible), volunteering as a leader of a local inner city outings program, editing a local environmental publication, attempting to write a novel. Showing up whenever I could in the subjects I was interested in meant that when opportunities arose I had more to offer than my work experience: I had passion.
  • At the same time, there is a time to shoot the moon, and there is a time to lay the groundwork. I didn’t like my business publishing job, but I did it as well as I could. As a result, I developed skills that qualified me for a more satisfying job.
  • Show up for your life. You never know what opportunities are lurking around the corner. For example, my (failed) novel landed an agent, who placed my first non-fiction travel book.
  • Develop your people networks. It’s best to do this when you can offer something rather than when you need to ask for something. Join a professional association and volunteer to run the seminar program, run for office: anything that connects you with others in your field. Remember that favors and support you give will be returned, though not always in ways you expect or can predict.
  • Develop your skills. I don’t care what skills: Take classes, attend seminars, form a writing critique group. They all come in handy.

Mark Twain once wrote that the “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The same, I believe, is true for publishing. Certainly, people have been talking about the death of publishing since I’ve been in it, and that’s more than 30 years. But the human connection to stories and information is as strong as it ever was, even if how we take delivery has changed. Waiting my turn in the doctor’s office this morning, I noticed that every other person in the waiting room had their nose buried in a book.

Publishing still chugs along. At its core, it is an industry that rewards passion married to skill. It also rewards sticking with it, following a dream, and trying to see our old world through new eyes.

Stuart Brent’s is long gone. But they would have carried my most recent book. And my next one.  I wish I could reach into the past and tell that young editorial assistant that.

The Road Ahead

I should know better when I reach the high country: On every climb, I expect the view, back to where I started, forward to where I’m going. But mountains are deceptive and it’s not always clear like that. Anything can block the long view: fog or trees or subsidiary ridges. A path that shines clear as a yellow brick road one minute might the next be swaddled in such mystery that you could step of the trail and die of disorientation.

The path ahead is not always clear. (Picture: The Italian Dolomites).
The path ahead is not always clear. (Picture: The Italian Dolomites).

The path to this point in my life has been, I imagine, quite a bit like yours. Often, the mountains we’ve crossed have given us clear views and obvious directions; but other times, we’ve been waylaid by meandering detours, spiking high points, and brooding canyons. Sometimes we’ve been lost for days, or weeks or longer, with no idea which way to turn, or how to go forward.

This place I’m in now? It’s a good one, combining all the things I love: music, writing, travel, nature, outdoor activity, and a beautiful home on a mountain dirt road in the woods. I feel lucky to be here. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always taken the best path to get here. So I’m asking questions:  What could I have done better? What can I do better in the future? What has been consistent the entire journey?

Inertia being what it is, it seems that the things I have carried with me this far will stay with me going forward, that what is important to me now is what has been important to me all along. But will what worked in the past be necessary in the future? Will it even still work? In hiking, technology has lightened our loads, experience has taught us to do more with less, to walk less encumbered by stuff we don’t need. Can the same be true in life?

Paul Simon wrote, “Lord ain’t it strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same?” I am the same but I am also different. My growth rings spread out from the same fundamental core.

But when you get to this age… maybe you’ve made the same mistakes more than once. Maybe it’s time to fix that. Can I be more or less the same, but better? Am I not tired of feeling the same lack of control over how I approach a loaded all-you-can-eat buffet? And looking in the mirror the next day? Do I really HAVE to make the same damn New Year’s resolutions every damn January?

So… Fitness.

As with Tolstoy’s unhappy families, those of us with fitness, weight, and health issues each have our own story. From my metaphorical mountaintop I look back and see a trail of relationship eating, a few silly diets, and roller coasters of extreme activity (walking from Mexico to Canada, say, or running marathons) interspersed with months where I spent days on end doing nothing more physical than clattering away at a keyboard. And a lot of denial. A large frame hides a lot of weight gain, until it doesn’t and you can’t fit into your size extra-large ski pants and have to borrow some from your even bigger partner.

I need to be on a different trail, and this hiatus have given me the opportunity to find it.  I’m in a bit of a home-bound pattern right now – David’s stroke turned everything upside down. He’s recovering, I’m staying home to help (at least, that is what I think I am doing) and what with all the doctors visits and blood tests, we’ve decided to face our issues of fitness head on.

I’ve joined David in his weekly Tai Chi class, and we’re both doing the low carb thing. (David’s blood work has come back so normal that he is off of virtually all medication; I’ll be writing more about that later). We’re walking every day, and I am hoping to add running to the mix . For the moment, I am telling myself that I want to be ready for a killer ski season, for a longer hike next summer, and possibly for a triathlon next fall with my teenage niece.

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This is the path I am following — It’s clear, at least until the pass. Who knows about the other side. As in life, it’s a leap of faith. (Italian Dolomites(

But most important of all is getting ready for ordinary life in the years ahead. I’ve been people watching closely for a few weeks now, and what I see scares the hell out of me.I don’t want to age into a body that waddles and slumps and staggers and huffs and puffs and stoops and falls and breaks.  I will never be younger than I am now, which makes this the best time to insure my future that I will ever have. I want to keep my agility and physical competence and I want to look as young and move as youthfully as I feel.

I have role models:  My amazing neighbors have just turned 90, and  one of them was teaching skiing until just a few years ago. We can’t always choose what happens to us – acts of God and strokes of bad luck can hit anyone anywhere. But insofar as we have a choice, I am making it now.

David doesn’t recommend what he is calling the “stroke diet,” (also known as the “Karen is too fat to go paragliding diet” because that is what inspired me to look for a quick weight loss plan.”) But we play the cards we’re dealt, and David is playing his as well as anyone could. Me, I’m learning from the sidelines, cheering him on, and taking care of myself.  David’s stroke is not the path we’d have chosen, but here we are on it, and it leads to a summit all its own. We both might come out the better for climbing this mountain. At least, that is my hope as I contemplate the path ahead.

Community, Music, Friends, Gratitude

When I decided to add this blog to my website a few weeks ago, I was thinking metaphorically. Navigating the terrain above treeline, it seemed to me, was a not-quite-perfect but good enough way to think about mid-life. The views from a mountain are expansive and reward one’s efforts; one hopes that the perspective of mid-life is similarly far-reaching and satisfying. In both cases, we can look back to where we started. In both cases – one hopes – we’ve learned and changed.

I also wanted a writing home that was similarly expansive. Over the last few years, writers have been advised to specialize, to focus on niches, to showcase expertise. But I wanted a writing outlet where I could bring together disparate elements of my world: hiking, writing, music, adventuring, photography, being an art student and a budding novelist. I wanted a place where I could explore how all these things interact.

As they say, if you want God to laugh at you, tell her your plans.

About a month ago, while sitting at the table for a family dinner, my partner, David, had a stroke.

The first signs were subtle: He seemed tired. He let other people do the chores – which is so unusual I should have called 911 immediately. Then again, when someone doesn’t clear the table, your mind doesn’t automatically jump to “he must be having a stroke.” It was only when David dropped a glass and couldn’t stand up that warning bells turned to sirens. He was the one to identify what was happening. And then he spent the next 20 days in the hospital.

To return to my mountain metaphor: the land above treeline is not all Instagram moments of glorious views. It is also fog and storm and lightning strikes; it is dangerous and unpredictable, and it can kill you. When I landed on the above-treeline metaphor, life had been sunny for a good long time. It was easy to forget that mountain weather can change without warning. And if I am writing about life above treeline, this, too, is part of it.

As I drove the hour, each way every day, to the hospital my mind mostly wandered down the mundane paths of list making, calls, doctor’s appointments, and errands. In between, I had time to consider how lucky we had been. Yes, lucky: If David had had his stroke three hours earlier, he would have been driving my 87-year old mother to our house. Five minutes later, my sister and I would have been driving my mom home; David would have been alone with visiting teenagers who live in a different state, know no-one local, and might not have been able to help the 911 folks find our dirt road. Six weeks earlier, I had been in Switzerland and David had been home alone.

Lucky.

As word seeped out to our friends, I learned that I had even more to be grateful for: A community that has carried us through this crisis in ways we never could have imagined.

The Riverside Jam Band at Dewey Hall in Sheffield.
The Riverside Jam Band at at the benefit for David  at  Dewey Hall in Sheffield.

Every year for the past 18 years, David has been one of the people leading a musical jam that brings together friends and musicians for a weekend of music making. We were scheduled to host that event two weekends after David’s stroke. We had friends coming in from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Jersey, Toronto, and Chicago. I had to write to everyone to cancel the event.

Only, they refused to be canceled. The jam was one thing, they told me; friendship was another. They might not play music, but they wanted to visit David, help me figure out if anything in the house needed to be fixed or made more accessible, run errands, keep me company.

One of my friends said, “Karen, you’re not going to be doing this alone. You guys have a lot of friends, and people are going to be here for you.” I didn’t know what help I’d be needing…. During those early days, I was mostly in crisis mode and not looking too far ahead. But it helped to hear that our friends had our backs. And they did: Faraway friends offered to use up vacation days to come and visit and shop and clean. Local friends came for visits and offered to run errands.

And then they all came together and created some magic.

It started when one of our local musician friends said, well if the jammers are coming anyway, maybe they could put on a benefit concert? Another friend suggested putting up a GoFundMe page for people who couldn’t be at the benefit but wanted to help.

Our friends were way ahead of us on the issue of money: I was focused on David’s ability to find words and move his arms and legs. I hadn’t even begun to think of the financial implications. As writers and musicians, David and I are both in the leaky boat of creative self-employment. Yes, we have insurance, and yes, we have savings, but holding those up against the onslaught of a major medical event is like looking at an approaching tsunami and congratulating yourself on having installed a sump pump.

Huge medical events hit everyone differently. If you’re lucky, you have a job with generous sick leave, and your position will be waiting for you when you are ready to come back. But many jobs don’t offer that flexibility and stability: For too many of us, the reality is, if we don’t work, we don’t earn.

Being self-employed, David and I both have the option to juggle our schedules and take time off (although too much time off might mean rebuilding our student and client lists later down the road). But the trade-off – flexibility for reduced income – was a good one: It meant that I could spend time at the hospital to participate in the therapy sessions and learn how to help David at home.

But we knew that even with insurance, expenses will mount during the weeks or months when David will be unable to work. Another thing: trying to keep going with work when you are managing a homefront in crisis can be emotionally as well as practically difficult. So although it felt a bit uncomfortable, we said yes to the benefit  and yes to the gofundme page. We had no expectations; we were just grateful to accept help.

Writing this post feels odd because these issues – accepting help, financial realities, friendships – are deeply personal, and I don’t really know who I’m writing to. But I’m going to assume that you’re not a stranger. You could be a high school, college, camp, or work friend, a musician friend, a fellow writer, a current or former student, or one of the thousands of people from all over the world who have learned to play guitar thanks to David’s Internet writing. If you live in the Berkshires, you might be a student, coworker, fellow musician, friend — or all of the foregoing. You could be one of the many people who donated anonymously, and this is the only way I will ever be able to thank you.

Many of you contributed to David’s recovery in so many ways I can’t even begin to list them all: Contributing money, yes, and also bringing food and drink to the benefit, hosting the musicians at dinner, donating items for the raffle, contributing your music to the nearly 6-hour event, helping to get the word out with calls and e-mails, collecting donations at the door, selling food and drink, cleaning up afterwards, sending heartening messages and notes, and coming to visit.

David has received notes from all over the world, often from people who he doesn’t know, but who have told him how much his work (teaching guitar and writing about how to learn to play guitar) has meant to them and how they have applied that knowledge in their lives. Many of these notes came with donations. We appreciated every single one, from friends and strangers alike: For you to follow David’s recovery, write a note, and take the time to send a contribution because his work has touched you in some way has bolstered our spirits in ways you can’t imagine.

On a practical level, these donations mean that we can breathe a little easier as David works on regaining his balance, his hand coordination, his strength, and his endurance. Just now, everything is exhausting and laborious, but the daily improvements continue to be very noticeable and encouraging. The first three months after a stroke are when the most progress is made, so being able to focus on his recovery at this crucial time is a huge gift.

Violin teacher Erika Tludwig leads a string-based ensemble of players of all ages and walks of life in the opening act of the benefit. David regularly plays with this group..
Violin teacher Erika Ludwig leads a string-based ensemble of players of all ages and walks of life in the opening act of the benefit. David regularly plays with this group..

As important is the sense of community you shared with us. The weekend concert turned into much more than a fundraiser: It was an expression of how music brings communities and people together. Event organizer Erika Ludwig picked up her violin to lead the Fiddling Femmes, who opened the show joined by other instruments from flute to tuba. The B.U.B.s (Berkshire Ukulele Band) followed with a 45 minute set that included “Imagine” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (I was able to video that for David, and he got teary viewing it). Next up was the Riverside Jam Band, with two hours of music with Nick Torres lead singer and Jeff Brownstein as conductor, set director, and cat herder. And thanks SO MUCH Fred Shane, sound engineer, for your great sound work! The icing on the cake was Marilyn Miller’s community jam and open mic that featured originals, favorite pop and rock tune, and one of David’s students on classical guitar. I think there were more than 60 musicians from somewhere around age 8 or 9 to 80 (at a guess). And scores of audience members.

The Berkshire Ukulele Band gave us the second set. David has taught many of these players i his uke classes at Berkshire Community College. .
The Berkshire Ukulele Band gave us the second set. David has taught many of these players i his uke classes at Berkshire Community College. .

 

Even now at home, we continue to receive cards and offers of help and notes and little gifts, some of them anonymous. Who left the little bouquet of wildflowers at my door? How are we going to thank you if you don’t tell us who you are????

I am not usually a “silver linings, the universe has its reasons” sort of person. The universe can be full of love and wonder, but who draws what straws in the lottery of life seems pretty random to me. And that same universe can turn on a dime and be pretty freaking nasty. You just have to look at a news reports (Syria, tsunamis, floods, terrorism, mass shootings) to disabuse yourself of the notion that everything happens for a reason. All of us get sick, all of us die, none of us gets a pass through the hard stuff as we explore our humanity. And sometimes the S&%t hits the fan.

On the other hand, sometimes there ARE silver linings, and when they shine right in front of your face, you can’t pretend they aren’t there. Grace often appears in the midst of crisis. In this case, the silver lining – the grace — is all of you.

We will always be grateful.

Failing, Learning, Teaching: The Cycle of Growth

“Put your weight on your right foot!” my date yelled.

I was teetering on a windsurfing board, trying to make it turn. I may as well have been trying to turn the Titanic.

“I AM!” I wailed, as the board continued straight ahead.

My date yelled louder. “Put your weight on your right foot!”

He repeated that a few more times, his voice fading in the distance as I picked up speed toward the far shore of the Potomac. Finally, I put my left foot clear in the air to prove, once and for, all that my weight WAS on my right foot. The board kept going straight.

Lousy teaching? Lousy learning? Maybe both: I have an astounding lack of talent when  it comes to standing on moving boards (skateboards, snowboards, surfboards; it doesn’t matter which).

The point is not whether I ever learned to windsurf (I did not) nor whether my date was or wasn’t a good teacher. (He was not.) And forget about the relationship. What I’m pondering is the importance of experiencing failure as we journey through life.

When we’re young, we spend most of our time learning, and a lot of that time is spent failing. We try to walk a hundred times before we toddle across the room to mommy or daddy. We sing the alphabet song a thousand timers wrong before we sing it right. But as time goes on, that balance changes. As adults, days may go by when we don’t step outside our comfort zone. We may not fail at something for weeks.

I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately, not only when I’m learning, but also when I’m teaching.
Most of us, when we teach, are sharing our knowledge of something we are good at. We forget what it’s like to not know how to step on a windsurfer and shift three mysterious hidden muscles somewhere in our core, and have the board turn.

Failure reminds us.

A few months ago, I decided to try to sing a song in semi-public after weeks of practicing to an audience of my cats. I must have rehearsed the song 500 times.

The venue was a a small musicale with a small group who met a key requirements: they are astonishingly non-critical, willing to find something to praise in even the most earsplittingly bad performance. As I started, my voice wobbled in an unsettling way, then I fell off pitch — kind of like the sound a train makes as it moves, unstoppably, away from you. And I forgot the words. “I did this better at home,” I wanted to mutter — which is exactly what my students tell me day in and day out.

There is knowing what a student is going through. And then there is KNOWING. As I slunk off the make-shift stage, I KNEW what it felt like for an insecure beginner to get it (sort of kind of) right at home, then fall apart on stage. My days of being a beginning piano player are long behind me, but my days of being a beginning singer are painfully present.

When my students complain “it’s HAAAAAARD!” what are they really telling me? It might be that they don’t understand what I’ve asked them to do. Or that they haven’t yet developed the skills to break a task into manageable pieces. Maybe they don’t yet know how to make intuitive adjustments until some secret neural pathway figures out how to put it all together. Or they may not enjoy tussling outside of their comfort zone.

Failing is a route to understanding the learning process. My inability to balance on a surf board while putting weigh on one foot and trying to change direction is not all that different from a student’s inability to relax the wrist, support the bridge of the hand, and turn one finger under the other while moving to a different place on the keyboard. In recent months, I’ve tried to rock climb, ski moguls, sing into a microphone, build a better website, speak Italian, and play the bass.

Each time, my success, or lack of it, has taught me something about teaching, even if it’s only to remind me, once again of this:

The most important part of being a teacher is creating a space where it is okay to fail.

Right now, I’m taking an art class. We’re supposed to draw things — so far, I’ve tried lots of vases and flowers, some seashells, a few faces, a cow bone, a gourd, a seed pod, and a skull.  My first skull looked like a wax model that had melted in the heat.

Alas poor Yorick... your portrait is being done by a student.
Alas poor Yorick… your portrait is being done by a student.

The seed pod presented a whole universe of challenges: its delicacy and translucence, the shadows, the lights and darks, the edges, the angles and dimensions. I didn’t get it right; I may not have even gotten it recognizable (I’ve stared at it so long I can’t tell any more). “This is hard!” I found myself saying as I started a third attempt to make the seed pod three-dimensional.

Such a little thing, so many problems....
Such a little thing, so many problems….

 

But I was laughing as I said it. Maybe this is the lesson you learn about learning when you fail: Hard is good. Failing is on the road to succeeding. And the whole process means there are whole new worlds ahead to explore — one wobbly attempt at a time.

 

Growing Above Treeline: The Blog

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Tree line: “The edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing…. Beyond the tree line, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions.” (Wikipedia).

Click to see the most recent blog posts.

Of Treeline, Middle Age, and Lessons Still to Learn

I have always been drawn to high places. At the age of 9, i made my rom first foray above treeline. At the  summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, I read the plaque that listed all the people who had died on the mountain, but instintively, I understood  the appeal of a landscape that could seduce and kill.  It has been a life-long love affair: I relish the mind-bending views, the lung-cutting air, the clarity and the perspective. The muscles in my face relax and I can feel my eyes focusing differently, like a camera lens moving from a close-in macro to an all-encompassing wide angle.

It’s harsh up there: As you climb, temperatures drop and winds rise. The trees stop crowding each other out. They get thin and short and twisted, and then they disappear leaving only shrubs and the alpine grasses. Height is not something to aspire to if you are a plant growing  above treeline.

The descent is inevitable, I suppose. You can’t actually live among rocks and ice with only the occasional lichen to munch on. There is the climb, then there is the summit, and then you are over the hill. All downhill from here.

That’s the clichéd metaphor, isn’t it?  You spend the front end of life   climbing toward some goal — a bank balance, a job, a second home with a pool and a caretaker — you achieve it (one hopes) and hang out a while, buying a Maserati or ordering people around or courting skin cancer. And then it’s time to descend, before you have to be carried away. You get to tell stories and share pictures on Instagram, and it’s someone else’s turn to actually slog uphill and savor the view.

But that begs the question: If life is a mountain, what kind of mountain would it be? An active volcano, with huge temper tantrums and unpredictable eruptions and steam coming out of its head?  A giant slab of granite being raised at the rate of an inch a year by tectonic plates? A former towering giant being worn away by wind and water and time? A mondadnock, standing all alone, unconnected to any other peaks? Or one of those endless flat ridges where you almost can’t tell where the summit is?

Above treeline in Italy's Dolomites
Above treeline in Italy’s Dolomites

It’s hard to see,  when you are struggling over rocks and boulders and fighting  for breath,  the exact shape of a mountain.  What is its temperament? How will you feel at the top — Exhausted? Exhilarated? Sick from the lack of oxygen? Will you say “I conquered” — or “I survived”?  And it’s hard to know what lies on the other side. Will the descent be sharp and steep, or long and slow and almost imperceptible? Or will the mountain blow up right when you are standing on the top?  Which trail down would you choose, when it’s your turn to go over the hill?

I live on a mountain these days, and this time I’m talking literally. It’s not a very big mountain;  even so, at the summit, the forest canopy is gone, leaving only stunted dwarf pine and scrub oak interspersed with blueberry bushes and mountain laurel. My life here is a balancing act of travel, writing,  hiking, skiing, playing and teaching piano, photography, and attempting to learn to draw and paint. If that’s hard to fit in one sentence, it’s even harder to fit into a day.

In the last few years, my mountain trails — both figurative and literal — have taken some unexpected turns.  Medical issues (my partner’s and mine) meant I had to learn words like proprioception, atrial fibrillation, levothyroxine, ketosis, and aphasia (for the bacstory, see “The Shitstorm and the Light.”  

This blg is about all of it. Losing 90 pounds. Dealing with middle age (including serios illness, like stroke and cancer).  Making healthy choices. Exploring. Creating. Stretching.

Join me as I explore the treeline… the high places at the edge of comfort. The mountains we climb may be solidly literal, or they may be the airy towers of art and the imagination: or they simply be the figurative mountains each of us climb as we pass through the stages of life… In my case, mddle age. Either way,  they offer clear air, challenge, the perspective of horizon-bending views, and the potential to nurture a different kind of growth.