A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

How does someone like myself, who, let’s be honest, is not exactly the tattoo type, come to, in fact, have a tattoo? (And incidentally to also use a ridiculous number of commas in one sentence?) I really think it began in January as I made my first tentative steps to figuring out who I wanted to be on my own. Not one to quickly or impulsively make decisions, it was thus somewhat surprising when I, with the enthusiastic support of one of my best friends, made the sudden choice to get my ears pierced. Having begun this path of impulsivity, I did not hesitate when another best friend invited me on a last-minute trip to Oregon a few weeks later. Neither choice caused the least tinge of regret. In reality, I was beginning to quite like this new, (very) slightly carefree version of myself. Thus, when Shannon suggested getting a tattoo, it seemed like an appropriate end to a trifecta of escalating, potentially life-altering decisions that I had recently made with my best friends. Basically, it felt like the right thing to do.

But first, I did what anyone with a PhD and overactive thought processes would do: I slept on it and then copiously discussed the decision over coffee and oatmeal. Although I don’t think the oatmeal was necessary. After as much sleep as two friends who haven’t seen each other in months can expect to get, Shannon and I began our Saturday morning (because the morning does not actually begin until coffee) at a local coffeehouse where we, of course, had the most important beverage of the day (well, except water, which is, I am told, crucial for survival; although I would argue so is coffee), enjoyed a delicious breakfast, and marveled at the barista’s perfect guy-hair.

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After breakfast Shannon and I did what is, I’m sure, typical pre-tattoo behavior. We spent the morning getting our hair washed and styled at the local Paul Mitchell School.

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Before

Seriously, who doesn’t want to essentially get their hair played with for 2+ hours. And it also happened to be the perfect place to get recommendations for where I should get a tattoo.

During
During
And after

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A couple more because, seriously, when does my hair ever look good?
A couple more because, seriously, when does my hair ever look good?

Thoroughly relaxed after a morning of pampering and still feeling confident about the decision to get a tattoo, we headed toward Absolute Ink. The relaxed feeling quickly dissipated. I began to feel truly nervous. Would it hurt? Was I sure about the design? Would my parents disown me? These questions and more flooded my mind as we tentatively walked inside. Only to be told that they were booked for the rest of the day… but, they could probably squeeze me in later in the afternoon… if we would just leave a phone number, they would call us if they had time.

Having been ready to get a tattoo, the delay caused a bit of a letdown. And an increase in nervousness. It only made sense to drown our nerves in Italian food and shopping in downtown Murfreesboro. These are pretty much two of my greatest coping mechanisms – comfort food and retail therapy.

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So maybe a salad isn’t technically “comfort food” but it was really good.

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We had just finished shopping at a really cute vintage clothing store when we got the call.

Nervous face!!
Nervous face!!
Apparently this is how I stand when I'm nervous. At least my hair looks good...
Apparently this is how I stand when I’m nervous. At least my hair looks good…

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And, yes, it did hurt!

The funniest part was probably telling my parents.

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The conversation went something like this:

Me: So, Mom, I have something to tell you, but don’t get mad (which is I’m sure how every parent wants a conversation to start)

Mom: Okay (the tone of doubt and concern apparent in her voice)

Me: I got a tattoo…

Mom: What?

Me: I got a tattoo.

Mom: I didn’t understand. What did you say?

Me: A tattoo. I got a TATTOO.

Mom: I still didn’t understand you.

… (after about 15 repetitions because, to give her credit, “I got a tattoo” are words she never reasonably expected to come out of my mouth)

Mom: Oh no, you’re kidding. Randy (that’s my dad), Cora got a tattoo.

Dad (in the background): She’s just joking, right (a hint of panic in his voice)… I thought Shannon was a good influence!

And so it continued. I am happy to report my parents still love me, although my dad still doubts that I was sober. As does pretty much everyone else that I know.

For me, getting a tattoo was a rational, if admittedly spontaneous, choice that symbolized what I had gained through a difficult year – a peace and joy in my life that I previously could not have imagined – and reminds me to not lose sight of those lessons.

Shannon and I spent the rest of the day doing low-key friend stuff. We drank (even more) coffee, tried another new restaurant, and watched a movie.

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We enjoyed a great dinner at a new restaurant in Murfreesboro - Peter D's. I loved the decor and the food was excellent.
We enjoyed an excellent dinner at a new restaurant in Murfreesboro – Peter D’s.

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If you have a friend who is willing to split an appetizer and a dessert with you and call it a meal, you should pretty much be best friends forever. This was the very delicious Thai Chicken Quesadilla.
If you have a friend who is willing to split an appetizer and a dessert with you and call it a meal, you should pretty much be best friends forever. This was the very delicious Thai Chicken Quesadilla.
Nutella Mouse should be its own food group
Nutella Mousse should be its own food group so that I can eat it every day without feeling guilty.

I am so thankful to have a friend like Shannon with whom to share life’s adventures, big and small. This particular Saturday just happened to be one of the big (let’s just say once-in-a-lifetime) adventures. What is one of your favorite friend adventures? Please share!

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

I probably said more than enough in my last post about how excited I was to spend a weekend with my friend Shannon, and yet I feel the need to reiterate: when I woke up Friday morning, I felt like it could be Christmas morning. I could not wait to be in Tennessee!

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Fortunately, I was only one, non-stop flight away from Nashville. Before I knew it, I was eagerly walking through the airport to meet Shannon. You know those friends you have who you can go months without seeing (almost 10 months in this case) and yet pick right up where you left off? Yeah, Shannon is one of those kinds of friends.

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So it was no surprise that she knew two things without even asking. First, that the most important thing to do right away was to eat lunch. And second, that the best place to do that was a new downtown restaurant – Husk.

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It was pretty much a combination of my favorite restaurant-things. Delicious, locally sourced, Southern food (there was even a garden next to the restaurant); bright, understated yet stylish decor that fit seamlessly with the historical building; a bit of unexpected presentation mixed in; and, of course, a chance to start catching up with my best friend. Perfection!

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The menu changes on a regular basis. I ordered the Nashville Plate Lunch, which on this particular day featured fried catfish, roasted broccoli, and squash casserole.

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The catfish was delightfully spicy and perfectly crisp. But the broccoli may have been my favorite part – it was amazing. Although the squash covered in cheese was not to be overlooked. Basically, it was all good and now I am hungry.

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After an amazing lunch where most of the conversation centered on how much we liked the food, we made our way to Shannon’s house.

I think most friends have a “thing”- something that they share in common that somehow brings them together. For Shannon and me, that thing is coffee. After lunch, and with no discussion, we knew implicitly that coffee must happen soon. After considering our options, we decided coffee on the back porch would be perfect. We soon found ourselves relaxing on the back porch, large cups of coffee in hand, while I repeatedly pointed out that the weather in Tennessee was so much better than in Texas. By that, I mostly meant less hot. It was during this relaxed, caffeine-fueled discussion that the topic of tattoos somehow came up. Neither one of us can actually remember how or why. I blame it on caffeine and the post-delicious-meal coma and perhaps a little friendship induced delirium. I was not even half way through my holds-a-week’s-worth-of-coffee sized mug and suddenly we were discussing what I planned to permanently put on my body the next day. You know, just your typical Friday afternoon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing more of the usual things we do when we get together, like getting pedicures and eating Mexican food. When you have traditions like that, it would be a shame to break them. All the while, Shannon occasionally worked on the tattoo design with (probably annoying) input from me.

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That evening, we decided to attend a concert in downtown Murfreesboro. It was definitely a community event with lawn chairs and sno-cones and barbecue. We even ran into Shannon’s parents. It was a lovely night to sit outside listening to live music. Murfreesboro offers events like this throughout the summer.

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After the concert, we ended an already full day sitting by a fire roasting s’mores.

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In case you lost track, we ate lunch at an amazing restaurant, drank coffee on the back porch, got pedicures, ate another yummy meal of Mexican food, designed a tattoo, attended a local music event, and roasted marshmallows. All in less than 10 hours. And it was perfect. Despite being a busy day, I never felt rushed or like we were doing too much. We talked when we felt like it and just enjoyed the fact that we were together when we did not feel like talking. I love that we could effortlessly fall back into the pattern of our friendship, but also explore new possibilities. Like tattoos. I think that is the paradox of friendship – living the best and the worst parts of your life with another person; doing what you have always done and getting the encouragement to do something completely different.

And, if the real reason you’re reading this blog is because you, like most people I know, are convinced I must have been intoxicated while getting a tattoo and you are really wanting to know the story behind it (it’s okay, you can admit it), then stay tuned. The next installment will include Cora’s Great Tattoo Adventure.

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

I obviously think too much. I can take almost any topic (except perhaps sports, and even then I could probably find a way) and consider it at length. And in detail. The topic that has been especially on my mind recently is friendship. In the past year I have learned in all new ways that I have the most amazing friends imaginable. Through the past year, my friends have held me while I ugly (and I mean ugly) cried, cried with me, prayed with me and for me, listened to me, supported me even when they disagreed with me, dropped everything to be with me when I needed it most (including helping me move in the middle of an ice storm – seriously, we were sliding boxes down the driveway), ensured I had plenty of chocolate and cookies in my life, and most of all, loved me. It is no exaggeration to say that I could not have made it through the past year without my friends.

I am so thankful for these friendships. It has not been an easy season of my life in which to be my friend and yet, there were people who persisted and walked with me along a difficult and often painful path. I have a deep appreciation for the love and strength that were spoken into my life and that I could not have found alone. But I will be honest, it was not fun. So, it was that much more meaningful to be able to simply celebrate my friendship with Shannon over a long weekend in Tennessee. No tears (well, except the laughing-so-hard-you-cry kind), no stress, just fun with one of my favorite people. Lots of fun. Perhaps too much fun…

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And yes, I’m going to stretch out a single weekend into a series of posts. Because I can. And because I have nothing else to write about. I am still working on that whole moving to Oregon/maybe not moving to Oregon thing. Plus, I can truly never say enough about the lovely, wonderful, kind, generous, amazing, and beautiful people in my life. I am so blessed.

 

Happy Days

I recently learned of a project named 100 Happy Days. The idea is to document via photographs one thing per day that makes you happy for 100 consecutive days. Intrigued by this idea, I have decided to give it a try. This fits well with research I have been reading related to gratitude and the changes that can occur when one intentionally chooses to be grateful. For instance, research has linked gratitude to improved emotional well-being, improved physical health, a more positive outlook on life, goal attainment, altruism, and more connected relationships. A lifestyle characterized by gratitude may even be a protective factor when faced with stressful life events.

There are many ways to cultivate gratitude. For much of this year, I have been writing down a daily gratitude in my planner (have I mentioned how much I love my planner?!?). Committing to 100 Happy Days feels like a logical and challenging extension of this. For me, it is not about being constantly “happy” for the next 3+ months. That is a goal that would be neither healthy nor realistic. Rather, it is about taking the time to notice that, even on the unhappiest of days, there is always something for which to be grateful. In other words, my goal is to make a choice to be grateful and to seek moments of happiness regardless of my circumstances. I would love for you to join me! I will be documenting my 100 days on Instagram (@cgplatt) with the hashtag #100happydays if you would like to follow along, although if you are opposed to cute pictures of dogs, you might not appreciate the many pictures I will probably be posting of Sydney.

So, to begin as I will likely continue, day one’s moment of happiness is Sydney being cuddly after we took a (embarrassingly long) nap this afternoon.

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I am certain that the next 100 days will hold good days and bad days, challenges and hopefully a few triumphs (let’s hope the job search falls into the latter category…), and maybe, if I’m lucky, a trip or two. Regardless, I intend to notice the glimpses of happiness – even if small or fleeting – each day brings.

 

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Obviously I did not write a post last week. I had really important things to do instead like watching season 3 of Dexter, making my way through a 1,000+ page book, and eating pizza before I give up grains (and wine and sugar – yikes!!) for three weeks. Well, to be honest I will still be drinking sugary flavored creamer in my morning coffee, which I should technically not be drinking. But I have my limits – foregoing my morning coffee with creamer is where I draw the line. So, other than that I will not be eating/drinking sugar. Anyway, all of these things were vitally important activities that improved my life immensely and completely explain why I was too busy to blog last week.

This week, I feel the need to be moderately more productive, so I thought I would share what has thus far been my favorite place to hike near Dallas: Dinosaur Valley State Park. I use the term “near” Dallas quite loosely given that the park is located in Glen Rose, which is about 1 1/2 hour drive from Dallas.

The day I went, I did what any reasonable person would do. I woke up one rainy morning and thought, “Today is the perfect day to go hiking. And, even better, I should drive somewhere that is not even close to home so that I feel like I have to keep hiking even if the weather becomes more miserable.” Makes perfect sense, right?

So that’s how I found myself walking for miles in the rain. Again. Fortunately, for most of the morning the rain could be described as a light drizzle.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Despite the rain, the park was beautiful. A nice bonus of the rainy weather was that the park was practically deserted. There were trees and a river and quiet. I was happy.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

The park has about 20 miles of trails, but I estimate that I probably hiked 9 – 10 miles. There are many activities other than hiking available in the park, including horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, fishing, and, most importantly, finding the fossilized dinosaur tracks that are the namesake of the park.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
Yep – I crossed this river more than once…without losing my balance, slipping on a rock, and falling in. It is practically a miracle.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

And of course I had to take obligatory bluebonnet pictures.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

As the day wore on, I finally found some blue sky. How could I not feel happy and thankful when I got to spend the afternoon here?

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Also, I found $20. That could have impacted my happiness level.

Ice cream also positively effects my mood. 9-plus mile hike + finding $20 = a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Don't judge.
Ice cream also positively effects my mood. A 9-plus mile hike + finding $20 = a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Don’t judge. Also, this was not in the park, in case you were wondering.

As my time in Dallas is (most likely) winding down, I am glad that I impulsively decided to spend a rainy day hiking in Dinosaur Valley State Park. Hopefully, I will have a chance to go back again. Regardless, I am trying to make the most of my remaining time in Dallas. Any suggestions for things I must see or do are appreciated!

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Packing Post: Family Reunion

It has been a while since I have written a post on packing, so I thought I would share my most recent feat of packing, all the more impressive given that I used to be the person who would sometimes take two giant suitcases for a one week trip. I am actually a bit embarrassed just thinking of it.

Thus, I have worked to steadily improve my packing prowess. On a recent, long-weekend trip to Tennessee for a family reunion, I was determined to take nothing but a small Columbia bag and a purse. I carefully chose my outfits, which really means I carefully chose my shoes and then picked out clothing to match. I have priorities. I have yet to perfect a magic formula; I just sort of mix and match until I find a combination that works. This time, the end result was this:

Packing for a family reunion

The final list, including what I wore on the plane, was two pairs of pants, four tops (including a cardigan), pajamas, camisoles, two pairs of shoes, and a few accessories.

Packing for a family reunion

One of my favorite packing items, which I first used when packing for Europe last summer, is packing cubes. For this trip, I used two of the smallest sized cubes, which fit together easily in the bottom of my bag. Everything on the above list (except what I wore on the plane) easily fit into the cubes.

Packing for a family reunion

Once these were in my bag, I had plenty of room to add my cosmetics, including a bag containing liquids that could quickly be pulled out when going through security at the airport. There was even room to slip in a Mother’s Day present for my mom.

Packing for a family reunion

So there you have it – an entire weekend’s worth of stuff in one relatively small bag that can fit under an airplane seat if overhead space is full. Or if, like me, you just want to avoid putting stuff in the overhead bin because you are short and doing so is next to impossible without looking ridiculous and desperately in need of help.

Change

I suppose it is natural that as my 30th birthday, and consequently a new decade of my life, quickly and inevitably approaches I become somewhat pensive about where I have been and where I am going.

One thing is certain – if you had asked me a year ago what my life would be like at this moment, my answer would have in no way reflected my current reality. And the thing that I could never have imagined is that I would be okay with that. I am a planner who has historically resisted change with every fiber of my being. I had a plan and it was perfect and nothing else was acceptable and that was that.

And yet, here I am having been forced to painfully confront my “perfect” plan falling to pieces around me. What is amazing to me is that I have come to accept that and, even more incredibly, to feel excitement and anticipation about a future outside of that plan. I have learned to more often live in the moment with a willingness to embrace the ultimate uncertainty of the future without anxiety (well, at least not my former level of anxiety). The cost of that lesson has been undoubtedly high, but I believe I will live my life better because of it.

As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of a recent hike at Cedar Ridge Preserve, which I first visited during the winter. This time, signs of spring were everywhere in evidence, especially the iconic Texas bluebonnets.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

The change from one season to the next is not a change that is often resisted. For the most part, people eagerly anticipate the alterations that come as winter changes to spring or spring changes to summer. On this particular day, I reveled in the warmth of an early spring day, appreciating the beauty and color that were all around me. Sure, I could have focused on the bugs or worried about how hot it was going to be in a few weeks. But instead I chose to appreciate the beauty knowing that every wonderful, worthwhile thing has an inextricable element of discomfort or even pain.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Just like my birthday and just like spring, change is inevitable. Each season in life brings an unpredictable combination of pain and blessings. I can choose to embrace change with an attitude of wonder and expectation, with an awareness of the blessings, or I can be miserable as I ineffectively resist and focus on what has been lost. As I begin a new decade and a new phase of my life, I want to let go of my plans while I work toward my goals. I want to embrace change while also holding on to the people I love. I want to see the adventure and opportunity of this time in my life, not the loss and the fear. Someone whom I love dearly recently told me to “see the gift that life has given you in spite of the sorrows.” So that is what I am going to do – find the joy and the blessings and make the most of every day, even the difficult ones. I do not know what this next year will bring, but I am looking forward to finding out.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Yes, I know it’s another post about hiking. But between trying to move in a few months and saving money/getting ready for Peru, my weekends have been pretty consumed with hiking and spending time with friends. I have two upcoming trips to Tennessee, so I promise I will write about something else soon!

So, back to hiking.

Let me tell you a secret. I do not always enjoy hiking. Don’t get me wrong, usually my outdoor time on the weekends is a welcome relief from living in a city. I have said before that at heart I’m far from a “city girl” and I need trees now and then to really feel like myself. But there are some days when my reclusive lazy introverted side pulls me to just stay home. This particular Saturday was one of those days.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Despite the deceptively blue sky (which would later be more appropriately laden with gray clouds), the day was cold and windy. The trails were muddy. And I was tired. Regardless, I grabbed my favorite hiking buddy, Sydney, and forced myself out the door.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

This illustrates the importance of living a life based on values and goals. I choose to hike not just because it’s something I enjoy, but also because it fits with the larger picture of my life: preparing for a trip to Peru, living a healthy and active lifestyle, making sure my sweet and energetic pup gets plenty of exercise. Without these things in mind, it would be simple to decide to stay home (in my pajamas, reading a book, and eating ice cream) on days like this. And yet I went anyway. On this particular day, I chose to check out Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve in Plano.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

I wish I could say that once I got there, I had a great time, was so glad I went, etc. But that would be dishonest. The truth is the day kept getting more miserable and the trails were completely flat and not all that interesting. And by the end Sydney’s paws were encased in an impressive layer of mud.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve
Even Sydney’s seemingly endless enthusiasm was dampened by this point. Just look at the derisive expression she was directing toward me. Or maybe she was just annoyed that I was taking her picture.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

I mentally divide the places I explore around Dallas into two categories: places worth driving to and places not worth the drive. Unfortunately, Oak Point fell into the latter category. If it were closer to where I live, it would be a nice place to take Sydney for walks after work, but as a destination for our longer weekend hikes, it was not ideal and is probably not a spot I will revisit. Regardless, by the end of the day, I was one small step closer to my goals, even if I did not enjoy the process. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, is basically the story of my life.

 

Laughter and Gratitude

It was just one moment – one extraordinary, fleeting moment in a weekend with more than any weekend’s fair share of extraordinary moments. Captured in a slightly blurry photograph, this moment was peace and happiness and laughter induced by some ridiculous joke my brother was making. All too often moments like these pass by without notice or any special awareness. But these are the times that matter – the quiet, relaxed, joyful flashes of the meaningful. In a year characterized by painful moments and too many tears, this picture reminds me to not take for granted the times I can smile and to appreciate the people in my life who make me laugh. This week, take time to notice and be grateful for the wonderful moments.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. — John Milton

Dogwood Canyon and Cedar Mountain Preserve

Another Saturday, another hike. This time I checked out Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center and the nearby Cedar Mountain Preserve. It was another cool, cloudy morning, but I could not wait to be outside for a few hours. Or maybe I was just looking for an excuse to not study.

Dogwood Canyon currently has two miles of trails, with additional trails planned for the future. The main trail is the West Rim Trail. After a quarter-mile climb, the trail loops for a mile around the western rim of the canyon. The other trail is along the canyon floor and is ADA accessible. Although I did enjoy being outdoors (and more to the point, not being indoors studying), I imagine the scenery will be a little more beautiful in the spring than it was on the late winter day that I was there.

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon

Cedar Mountain Preserve is accessible from the Dogwood Canyon parking lot, although you will first have to walk along the road and feel like you look conspicuously weird and are almost certainly going the wrong way and/or are lost. Or something like that. The natural surface trail is about 2 miles long and mostly wooded.

Cedar Mountain Preserve

Cedar Mountain Preserve

Cedar Mountain Preserve
A friendly reminder that you could DIE while hiking
And one more just in case you missed the first 3 warning signs and were not quite anxious enough yet.
And another set of signs just in case you somehow missed all the other warning signs and were not quite anxious enough.

Cedar Mountain Preserve

Cedar Mountain Preserve
Because these were two short trails, I took the time to slow down and really pay attention to what I noticed around me. I heard the wind through the trees, listened to the distant whir of cars driving by on the road below, noticed the sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet and the swish of my jacket, and caught the almost imperceptible sound of small animals scurrying in the woods. Although at first glance the scenery was various shades of brown, I began to notice glimpses of green and pops of color when I looked more closely. What initially appeared to be a solid gray sky was in fact varied in color and texture. I paid attention to the feel of the wind on my skin and the pressure of the ground beneath my feet. I smelled the coldness of the day and the scent of grass and cedar trees and dead leaves. I appreciated having a healthy body that allowed me to easily walk 4 miles.

Try taking some time to fully attend to something that you do today. Although it might be an everyday activity, being mindful can change your experience. You might be surprised what you notice.

Learning to fully experience life through travel