Dark Woods : [a short story]

Hiking

The trail sloped downward, winding back and forth as we rambled down the hillside, tangles of colorful wildflowers and tall grasses swishing as we passed. I could hear my husband’s feet pounding on the dirt behind me. “This is where the water crossing is,” he announced.

Okay, we’re here! This is what you prepared for, I thought encouragingly. Just change into your water shoes, like we planned. A splintered, wooden sign read La Garita Wilderness Rio Grande National Forest. I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures to upload to Instagram later, when I could get a signal again. I heaved off my backpack and grabbed my brand new Keen sandals out of the side mesh pockets. See, I’m so prepared, I thought proudly. I carefully balanced myself, one foot at a time, as I changed out of my hiking boots and arch-supportive socks, trying not to lose my balance or get anything muddy.

The river didn’t look very deep. It would probably only go up to my calves—easy enough. I took a few steps. Wow, okay, that’s freezing. The cold water seared my skin. It’s all good, just a few more steps. I stepped quickly, trying to hurry to the other side, and suddenly, I stepped into a small ditch, losing my balance and scraping my ankle against a sharp rock. Ow, pain. Okay, freezing. It feels like I’m getting stabbed. Hurry up; just get out! I leapt the last part, out of the water and onto the soggy bank, splashing mud onto my shoes and legs. My feet throbbed from the shock of the cold water. I slogged up the bank and sat on a large boulder where the trail was dry. I glanced down at my leg and quickly looked away. Omigod, there’s blood. Suddenly my mind raced with mental images of microscopic parasites and bacteria swirling in the water, which were probably now flowing freely into my bloodstream. We were about to enter the woods. I could die of infection out there.

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Learning Calligraphy

calligraphy

I always wanted an inkwell and a feather quill. Blame it on Anne of Green Gables or on A Little Princess, or any other old-fashioned piece of literature that I modeled my childhood aspirations after, but my imagination was bursting with fantasies of filling leather bound books with fluid, black letters, the sound of a nib scratching furiously against rough-hewn paper.

Of course, my father refused. In his mind, an inkwell might as well have been an indelible stain, ready to explode all over the carpet at any given moment (and with my little brother’s track record, he was probably right). So when a few of my soon-to-be-married friends recently started talking about calligraphy and addressing their own wedding invitations, my interest immediately was piqued. I suddenly remembered all those fantasies I shelved decades ago. I’m not gonna lie, as soon as that box from Amazon arrived on my doorstep and I pulled out my new calligraphy toys, I thought, “HA! I’m an adult now —  I can do what I want!”

But how to learn calligraphy? After some fruitless searches on YouTube and struggling to follow along with a few blog posts, I ended up buying Melissa Esplin’s online calligraphy course, which, if you want to learn calligraphy in a short period of time, I would highly recommend. The production quality is kinda sub-par (keep in mind, I work at Craftsy, which is known for high-quality online craft education, so call me picky), but her content is spot-on. I saw immediate improvement.

I still have a long way to go before my lettering looks like Melissa’s, but I’ll take progress wherever I can get it. And, hey, now I can even address my own wedding invitations.

Mild Obsessions: November

Julep nail polish, eucalyptus oil and Tinge Floral bouquet

When I used to work at 944 magazine, we had a monthly column called Mild Obsessions. It was one of my favorite pieces to write. Basically, it was anything new or noteworthy that we had discovered that month that didn’t warrant an entire story but definitely deserved some kind of shout out. I feel like I have those all the time—fantastic little discoveries that I can’t wait to share with my friends, family, Yelp followers (…random strangers, whatever). So, I’m going to start doing my own version. Here’s this month’s roundup:

Julep Nail Polish – After nearly 10 years, I never thought I’d stray from OPI, but I admit it: I cheated, and now I’m in love. I recently picked up the Extraordinary Color Kit from Sephora (birthday splurge!), and I feel like I just bought a little bag of holiday-hued jewels. These super-saturated colors glide on easily, and with two layers of Freedom Polymer Top Coat, I got about a week’s wear of high-shine nails with no chips or breaks, which might be a personal record for me. Bonus: the pink champagne metallic color, Zelda, was so luminous, I actually had to squint while painting my nails because felt like I was being blinded by the shine…in the best way possible, of course.

Eucalyptus Oil – I caught a terrible head cold this month, and when I was just about ready to lose my mind from not sleeping or breathing well all week, my boyfriend brought me home a bottle of eucalyptus essential oil. It’s AMAZING what 10-15 drops of this will do in a steaming hot bath. Next time you’re dying of congestion (or body aches, for that matter), just try it.

Tinge Floral – I’ve never really been a “flower” person. I don’t buy flowers, and I don’t enjoy getting flowers as a gift, because I’ve always thought they’re a waste of money since they just end up in the trash. However, I was recently turned onto Tinge Floral (thank you, Instagram), a Salt Lake City floral designer with stunningly beautiful, imaginative bouquets. It even makes me want a pretty little bunch of flowers on my desk at work. I mean, I DO have plenty of room.

Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries – You know those bright pink, cloyingly sweet maraschino cherries that come in a tub of syrup? These are nothing like those. It’s kind of like comparing Think deep, full-bodied, dark cherries balanced out by a bright tartness and sweet syrup. They make a delicious Old Fashioned, although half the time, I’m tempted just to pour the whole jar over a big bowl of vanilla bean ice cream.

Meyer Lemons – I love Meyer Lemon season. I’ve been slicing these up for glasses of water, but their sophisticated sweet-and-tart flavor has my imagination running wild with lemon and poppy seed confections, coconut and lemon pancakes, preserved lemons…I might just have to experiment.

A Reflection on Living our Dreams

Oregon coast

In the last session of my creative writing class at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, we were encouraged to focus on imagery, to delve into the poetic realm of creating lush, vivid scenes, to share the experience with our readers. I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week, and it’s made me consider the important sensory details and the unacknowledged, small truths in situations … like, if I were to write about this moment, how would I describe it? It especially struck me, for some reason, when I was watching a GoPro YouTube video today, which was a startlingly beautiful short film that explored the potential of living our dreams and venturing to take risks. (In case you’re interested, you can watch it here.)

At the end of the video, I just thought to myself, I need to live greatly more often. I’m not experiencing my life to its fullest potential. And I tried to think about what that really means, what I truly feel called to experience in order to live my fullest life. So I thought about the last time I felt in awe and inspired by the present moment. It wasn’t so long ago—just a few weeks ago, really.

RedwoodsMarkMy boyfriend and I had taken a road trip through Oregon and had dipped into Northern California to camp in the redwood forest. There was a period of time that I knew, even then, that I wanted to linger on as long as possible. It reminds me of the David Benioff quote: “There are a few moments in your life when you are truly and completely happy, and you remember to give thanks. Even as it happens you are nostalgic for the moment, you are tucking it away in your scrapbook.” But how do we tuck away those moments? We try to take pictures, to steal and preserve that moment for future reference, though it’s a bit like canning the last of summer fruit. In the starkness of winter, you puncture the tin can and flip open the jagged lid, only to find something that feels dead, once reminiscent of life, rather than the ripe fruit with sweet, juicy flesh you were hoping to save for later. And I feel that’s often how writing is. It’s this infuriating attempt to capture and relive and share something ephemeral, only to come up with something half-alive.

RedwoodsWhen words aren’t enough, how do you describe the smell of the redwood forest, the musky scent of damp earth, of plush moss tangled across thick platelets of bark, of decomposing leaves turning to mulch beneath fallen logs—logs as thick as a person is tall? And how do you describe the quiet? The quiet in the redwood forest is something beyond the absence of sound. It’s encompassing, like a thicket of fog that muffles any evidence of the world you came from. Facebook and the Internet and your job seem like another lifetime altogether when you’re in the forest. Even as fellow hikers walk along the groomed pathways curving beneath staggered, towering behemoths, they speak in awestruck whispers. The air is so cool and moist and dense that somehow it feels as if it’s made of all those whispers, hundreds of years worth, suspended and dispersed all around us.

I don’t know how to capture moments. I try. I attempt with pictures and words and stories, just like everyone else. Perhaps the only solution is simply to live more of them, until each incredible, fulfilling memory bleeds into the next adventure.

How to Stop Worrying…Reflections on a Life-Long Practice

This is my signature worry grimace.

This is my signature worry grimace.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a worrying problem. When I was 10, I suffered from stomachaches and nausea every morning, so my parents took me to the doctor, thinking maybe I had a tumor or an ulcer. After putting a mini camera down my throat and into my stomach, the doctor concluded there was nothing physically wrong with me—just stress. I worried too much. As a teenager, I was prescribed anti-anxiety meds, but I found the side effects worse than the worrying. I stopped taking them. When I was 21, I ended up in the emergency room because of excruciating back pain. I could barely lift myself off the couch, let alone drive or dress myself. Was I dying? Nope, it was just stress, which caused debilitating muscle spasms that ripped throughout the length of my back.

I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I found yoga. I take a daily cocktail of vitamin supplements to improve my sense of wellbeing. I’ve tried chakra balancing, Reiki, Neuro Emotional Technique, acupressure, sound therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I’ve read countless books on philosophy, mindfulness, kindness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, meditation and relaxation techniques. And all of these things—cumulatively, over the years—have helped. But sometimes I still catch myself in that worrying cycle: If I don’t get this job, then I’m going to run out of money, then people will think less of me, then this will happen, then THIS will happen—and before I know it, I’m stressed about something that isn’t even actually happening.

You see, worrying is sneaky. You might think it’s helping you—that perhaps you’ll be more prepared for unforeseen events if you worry and think and plan and deliberate over them. But the truth is simply this: you can’t predict the future. (And despite my best efforts, neither can I). Excessively worrying about improbable events is only robbing you of the present—and ultimately, your life.

So I like to play a game called “Where am I now.” I wish I could remember which book I picked it up from, because I certainly didn’t come up with it on my own, but I find it helps the most. Basically, it’s a way to halt my worrying cycle and focus on the present.

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Today Is My Birthday!

Treats from Happy Cakes

Treats from Happy Cakes

Yes, today is my birthday. And while I’m seriously excited to spend the day doing whatever pleases me (namely, perusing Van Gogh pieces at the Denver Art Museum, sipping cocktails at The Brown Palace and enjoying a romantic dinner at one of my favorite sushi restaurants in Denver, all while wearing my beloved purple velvet pants—yes, purple velvet!), I’m also pretty excited about my intention for this year.

I like to think of my birthday as my New Year’s celebration, because it truly is the beginning of my own new year. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but every year, I do set an intention on the anniversary of my life. This year, I want it to be “Practice gratitude.” Because being grateful really is a practice: something I have to work on every day and something that I may never perfect, but hopefully through continual practice, I can become better at it, letting gratitude become the filter for my thoughts, then for my feelings and then for my actions.

Ever since Thanksgiving last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of gratitude, especially since it’s so directly related to our happiness. When we really recognize all the small blessings in our lives, as Piero Ferrucci wisely put it: we discover that happiness is already here. It already exists, unsuspected. Right in front of our eyes.

There’s Something About Susan

I don’t normally wax poetic about commercials (partly because I don’t own a television, so commercials are a rarity in my life as it is), but I’m absolutely in love with the Fear No Susan Glenn ads. I just saw the web commercial last night, which doesn’t even tell you what it’s selling—it just has a cryptic hash tag displayed at the end. I was so intrigued that I looked it up, only to find out it was an ad for Axe body products. Wow, really?

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