Finding “Happy” with John Muir

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.” ~ John Muir

It was in my late teens that I first found Muir’s book, “Our National Parks.” Admittedly it was a bit of a hard read. It was his passion for the power of natural beauty that stuck with me. Now in my forties, I find myself once again drawn back to Muir’s writings as I search for my own passion and strive to see (and appreciate) the beauty in every day.

The more I learn about Muir, the stronger my conviction that he was a kindred spirit, happily suffering from wanderlust. Imagine what passion it took to travel through Alaska, explore Australia, and visit South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan before lay-flat beds in business class!

Muir’s wisdom can be applied to so much more than a hike in the woods, or stopping to smell the flowers. If you take just a fragment of the quote above and apply it to your everyday life, how powerful could that be?

find your happiness in the beauty all around you

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom…”

Maybe it’s aging, or watching my kids strive for their happiness. Perhaps it’s simply a whisper from the universe reminding me that there is more, that I’m missing the point. Whatever the catalyst, I find myself taking small steps in each day to find that freedom and in it a bit of happiness to treasure.

What did you do today to find your happy?

Plan Your Next Trip with Instagram

Instagram Travel Planning Instagram has always been great for making mouths water. It’s a great place to daydream about far off places too. But can you use it for Instagram travel planning? Yes! Here is how I’m using it to plan our trip to Iceland. 

Instagram Travel Planning

Step One – Follow the Right Folk

There seem to be nearly as many junk accounts on Instagram as there are stars in the sky. Look out for perfectly shot photos that are so amazing they’d easily be found in the top travel magazines. That’s not to say that there aren’t completely legitimate Instagram accounts out there that take amazing photos, but just to keep an eye out. If a “gramer” posts that they’re lounging in the crystal blue seas of Tahiti one day and two days later they say scaling Machu Picchu, it’s a safe bet they aren’t actually doing those things and may not be the best resource for your Instagram travel planning.

Quality accounts that are actually the resource you’re looking for usually are also great story tellers. That personal connection to the photo and the story that goes along with it is why I follow these types of accounts and also why I find them the best resources for using Instagram to plan trips.

One of my favorites – both for his photos, stories, and honest take – is Matt Long of @landlopers

 

As the owner of three Siberian Huskies it’s always with mixed feelings that I approach dog sled experiences. On the one hand I love being around dogs almost more than anything else but part of me worries about whether or not the experience is an ethical one. With dog sledding the only real way to know is by visiting and almost right away I knew that Valentijne Beets’ company Bear Hill Husky was the real deal – no one cares THAT much about their dogs if they don’t treat them well. Located right outside of Roveniemi, Bear Hill has dozens of Alaskan Huskies in their kennel and it was 5 of these hard working dogs that took me out into the chilly woods of Finnish Lapland today. I love dog sledding because of how quiet it is. Mushing through the snow, the dogs clearly love running more than anything else and the only noise is their fierce panting. It’s a beautiful way to be a part of nature without loud motors or anything else around. It’s also one of the best ways to experience the amazing landscapes in northern Finland without leaving a trace. #nbeFinland

A photo posted by Matt Long (@landlopers) on

 

 Accounts that curate content from others, I’m on the fence about. These accounts tend to be fairly high up in searches because they get tons of likes and interaction. Who doesn’t like to  be featured? It’s awesome. Why they aren’t my favorite though is the lack of story. Often it’s just the where and who of the photo. You can always track back to the original post and draw inspiration and information from there. 

Step Two – Hashtag Searches

Yep, this is the most obvious place to start. Search for the place you’re planning to visit. Not all of what comes up in that search is going to be what you’re looking for. Um, bikini-clad babes standing in the middle of a fjord don’t really help much. There will be some good stuff in there though. Keep a list of things that spark your interest.

Narrow your search with hashtags for the cities you’d like to visit. This is a great way to find unique things off the beaten path as well as get a feel for how crowded {in my book that’s the measure of whether it’s worth it or not} popular places may be. 

 

#ship in the #frozen #fjord at #Akureyri #iceland. My first post with @ambercharrison

A photo posted by keV (@macrotech2) on


Step Three – Click on the Location

Next to whom you follow this is one of the best tools for Instagram travel planning. Actually, it may be even more important because the results you’ll be getting will span a spectrum of experiences.

For example one of our favorite places to eat in Washington, D.C. is Le Diplomate. When you click on the location in this photo I took of the world’s most amazing profiteroles, you can see where the restaurant is located on the map Instagram provides. Say your goal is to stay as close to those profiteroles as possible, you can plan your stay in that area.

 

Great way to end a lovely meal. Profiteroles, cafe Vietnamese, and my guy at @lediplomatedc

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola (@dipaolamomma) on

Some locations listed are simply the cities. Which is great too! We’re pretty familiar with New York City, my husband being a native. That said, it’s a BIG place… big apple if you will. A city that is always changing, adding new things to experience.  

I found one of our more unique stays through Instagram – the Hotel Bellclaire where Mark Twain once lived. It’s off the beaten path in a great residential area that’s a short walk to Central Park and pretty much across the street from the Beacon Theater.

Step Four – Stalk Brands

Airlines, hotels, attractions and even your favorite luggage brands are almost all on Instagram. Why should you follow them, they rarely follow back? One word – SAVE. Many of these brands will post information on discounts, special offers, flash sales and from-time-to time even offer exclusive deals to their followers on Instagram.

So when you start planning your next getaway look beyond the booking sites and tip websites, dig in and start Instagram travel planning.

 

SAT Stress: Are You Causing it?

SAT stress is a thing. You may even remember being stressed out about taking the test back-in-the-day – I do. In this final installment of my series partnered with The College Board, we’ll explore SAT stress.  

Test-related stress was nearly debilitating for my oldest daughter. She was an excellent student and a hard worker who enjoyed learning. When it came to taking tests though, her high school years were rough.

Around test time, this bright child would suffer from worry, even dread. While I knew she’d do great, she often was convinced she’d fail, and that caused me to stress, too. It became an endless loop of anxiety for us both.

Her stress was more extreme than most, falling into a category that qualified as test-related anxiety.

She isn’t alone in this. Some estimates suggest that nearly twenty percent of students will suffer from this type of hyper-stressed state. The good news is that we learned some great techniques for managing test stress that might help both you and your teen, avoid some SAT stress, too.

Relax

Okay, I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but in all honesty, it can be tough to do. Both my daughter and I (and her three siblings) found meditation helpful. Before you think I’ve gone ’round the twist into a cloud of patchouli oil, go check out HeadSpace.

HeadSpace is an app that guides you through 10-minute meditation sessions, no oils required. Also, no chimes, chanting, or bells. These simple meditations feel more like a modern adaptation of age-old, proven techniques.

Get Out!

Sometimes you can study too darn much. Getting out and leave the test materials behind. Nature can work wonders on stress of just about any kind.

Laugh

Not only is laughter great medicine, but it is kryptonite to stress. A good giggle decreases cortisol, a hormone your body produces as a buffer against stress. It also increases immune cells and antibodies that fight infections. That is great news for SAT takers because who wants to take the test sick, right?  

Own What You Know

I think that sometimes the biggest stress around taking the SAT is that it just may seem overwhelming to prepare for at first. Maybe studying smarter, not harder is the way to go?

The College Board offers free prep with Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy.  Your teen can link their College Board and Khan Academy accounts to get personalized SAT practice to help your student identify the areas and skills they need to strengthen. That can allow them to own what they know and focus on what they need to sharpen.

Insider Tip: Now that the SAT no longer penalizes students for guessing, they didn’t stress about that anymore.

Be Prepared

Know what you can and can’t take along with you, and be sure you have everything you need. When I first took the SAT, I forgot pencils. Yes, the one thing you 100% need, I forgot. Talk about stress-inducing.

Put together an SAT go-bag with everything your student will need to have with them at their testing site. Sort of like we did back when they started school.

Insider Tip: the registration deadline for the March 2018 SAT is looming! Register February 9th through the 28th, 2018. 

If you’re schedule-challenged like me (seriously, I’d forget my kids’ birthdays if they weren’t in my phone) be sure to note the deadlines for SAT registration, your test location, date and time. I suggested custom wallpaper or at least a sticky note on the fridge.  

Essential Oil Sage Tea for a Sore Throat

Tis’ the season for coughs, colds and sore throats (again.) To honor this most meh of seasonal occurrences I’ve revived this post written at some point in a fevered state last year. The upside is that I’ll now be prepared for the impending germs with an essential oil sore throat tea to stave off my demise.

Sage and Citrus Essential Oils Tea For Sore Throats

I’ve come to the conclusion that I live in a 2,800 square foot petri dish. Oh, it’s not so bad in the summer or even in spring, but come winter germs swarm the place like the biblical plague. At some point sucking on zinc lozenges, rubbing oneself with camphor goop, and crossing of fingers starts to lose its effectiveness. So, now what? Essential oil tea!

Thanks to my pal Barb – brilliant blogger, awesome travel companion, and a ringer for any scavenger hunt- I’ve started to explore the world of essential oils.   Oh, what a world!

There are people out there who freely espouse their views on the ability of essential oils to treat everything from a bug bite to a mangy cat. (cue: put Windex on it) I pretty much just thought of them as a great way to make it smell like I’d just cleaned house. A diffuser is a nice addition to that homey feel of home. Turns out, I was wrong. 

Yep, I just publicly admitted to being incorrect. Take a screenshot NOW!

Somewhere in all of this, my Italian mother-in-law gets some credit as well. She’s always “prescribing” one herb or another. Ah, but she never figured out sage could help with a sore throat. One point for me!

Putting on my Professor Sprout hat here for a little lesson in herbology. Sage or (Salvia officinalis) has antibacterial qualities. For centuries it’s been used as both an astringent, and anti-inflammatory. When you’ve got a sore throat you’re likely dealing with inflammation, maybe even a bit of bacteria. Salvia officinalis to the rescue with an herbaceous, fragrant, easy to make tea! 

Sage & Citrus Essential Oil Tea (For Sore Throats)
Serves 1
Essentials Oils make this DIY tea a perfect salve for a sore throat.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
2 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
2 min
Ingredients
  1. Sage - 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped. 1 teaspoon dry
  2. Citrus Essential Oil - 2-3 drops
  3. Honey 1 teaspoon
  4. Water
Instructions
  1. Bring water to a boil. Steep sage in water for 2-3 minutes. Add honey and oil(s). To keep the full, healthful effects of the oils, you don't want to over-heat it.
Notes
  1. Honey is essential as it helps coat the throat. If you can't have honey, replace it with agava nectar. You may also add 1 to 2 drops of sage oil if so desired for a stronger tea. Don't want to drink the tea? Allow it to cool and use as a gargle.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

Note: Most natralpaths and traditional doctors warn that sage tea should not be used by expectant mothers or those breastfeeding.

Death of a Mom Blog

“…Her feed is filled with pretty objects like cooling pies and evergreen sprigs tucked into apothecary vases, with hardly any chaos in sight.

This is the “mommy Internet” now. It’s beautiful. It’s aspirational. It’s also miles from what motherhood looks like for many of us — and miles from what the mommy Internet looked like a decade ago.”

A decade ago? Decade?! In the vanity of my aging, it was that word that stuck in my craw when I first read Sarah Pulliman Bailey’s piece in the Washington Post. Did this blogging thing start that long ago and has it really changed all that much? Am I that old? 

In answering those questions, and actually reading the rest of the article, I had to accept a few things that were frankly, a little hard to swallow.  Could holding a mirror up, answering those questions, also mean the death of a mom blog, this blog?  

I sort of fell into blogging. While listing to the radio during my daily route as chauffeur to four kids, one in middle school, one in elementary school, one in preschool and one still on the boob, I caught a segment about technology that featured a popular blogger. Blogger? Um, what is that? I honestly had no clue, there weren’t any bloggers on Sesame Street after all so why would I know? 

That day I went home and Googled the term. What I found out was that a blogger was just a person with a keyboard and a penchant for over-sharing. Hey, I could be a blogger. The next day I was. And I loved it to the point that I’d sometimes post several times a day. If I couldn’t have actual adult conversations with actual adults in the real world, I’d take to the interwebs! 

Somewhere along the way, I found my voice and my community. And then, I lost it. 

In those early days, it was mostly about the kids because, well, having kids makes most everything mostly about them. But, it wasn’t always. Some of my more popular posts came from series I ran like, Fit Pitchin’ Fridays and guest posts by guys during Manuary. Somewhere along the way, I started to talk about what it was like to live as an expat and to travel with kids. That may be where things started to change. 

I began to make money from the words I’d share, the pictures I’d take, and the skills I’d been building. This blog would take me across the globe, into the White House, onto the pages of the Washington Post and USA Today. It would open doors and give me and those that read this blog glimpses into places rarely seen.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of community, my voice – though still honest – wasn’t as open and unedited as it used to be.  The blog had become business, and that isn’t a bad thing just something different from what it began as. 

The only thing that is constant is change ~ Heraclitus

I’m guilty of sharing an edited life, online. I take beautiful pictures of food in a kitchen that is part of a house that is nearly always a hot mess. I brag about my kids but I no longer believe that the ultimate measure of my success is how well-adjusted my children are. I go to amazing places and take shots with a very narrow lens. I eat too many carbs, drink too much cheap wine, and have a wardrobe of yoga pants that have never seen a minute on the mat. I curse like a sailor (because I was one, so I get a pass there) but fuck if I’ll do it in writing. I hate that my husband is aging better than I am while I have watched hair fall from my head only to migrate south, taking up residence on my upper lip and chin. 

I am not perfect. My life is not a curated Instagram feed. I suffer from so much self-doubt that I could probably use some therapy.  All of that said though, I still love this blog and hope at least a few of you will keep reading even through a few sponsored posts and a whole lot more unedited me. 

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT