Playing Housewife (or, I’d Rather Be Camping)

If “zen” is used (casually) to refer to a state of mind where you experience life as it is vs through the thoughts you have about your experiences, I have to wonder if being a housewife/husband is the fastest path to achieving a state of zen.

After all, I’ve heard stories of how zen masters teach achieving enlightenment by doing repetitive, unappreciated tasks that will only be undone and need to be done again.

One of the things I have been working on intensely is learning to leave behind my Type-A habits, be fully present, and really experience my life instead of missing what’s happening because I’m busy worrying about an imagined past or future.

I have run head-on into the most stubborn part of my Type-A traits recently. Having extended my leave of absence from my day job for another 6 months, there are some new developments in our lives:
We must re-learn how to carefully evaluate our spending decisions if we’re going to stick to the financial plan we made when I started my leave (personal leave comes with no pay).
This means one or both of us must cook more.
My husband is working long hours on his feet all day, so the cooking is falling to me.

Any of you who have read my blog for any length of time or who know me personally are probably aware of just how much I like to cook.

This is the crux of what I dislike about cooking (or any household chore): it’s a lot of effort for something that gets completely undone in only moments and then must be done all over again only to be undone once more. You are never done. You can never check it off your to-do list.

The incredible inefficiency of going in a continual circle makes me batty–it’s going backwards. I have an obsession with efficient, forward progression. It is my most Type-A tendency. Almost paradoxically, I would rather sit on the couch doing nothing than invest time and energy in a task that will have to be repeated–I become a Type-B when contemplating such a task!

There is nothing I struggle with more than going backwards.

So far, I have tried to counter this feeling by cooking in bulk. By making large quantities of soup, I have the satisfaction of seeing neat containers in the freezer and fridge waiting for us for days.

But as the supply dwindles, I find my old resentment bubbling up again. I question whether we would be better off just going back to eating out–couldn’t that time cooking be better spent growing the business than saving a few dollars?

I would love to hear from someone who genuinely enjoys cooking for their loved ones and how they get satisfaction from such a task. I’ve heard there are such people in the world, but I suspect it’s one of those legends like Big Foot.

Advertisements

A Bear Story

I did something I’ve never done before: I went hiking alone in Grizzly country.

I took my camera and, with no other hikers pushing me onward, my hike was pretty much doomed. Rather than hiking the 5 miles I’d planned, I spent about 3 hours loosing myself to photography without covering much ground.

At one point, I found myself panning with a flower that was whipping around in the wind, shooting a fly acting shockingly like a bee. I suddenly realized I’d been sitting there for more than 45 minutes.

That’s when I decided I needed to make some tracks. No sooner than I’d gotten some momentum going, I ran into a man hiking the opposite direction who told me he’d seen a grizzly about 10 minutes back on the trail (or 2 hours in photographer time).

I was both excited and worried. I was alone and had no bear spray. Neither condition is recommended in grizzly country. But, the man said the bear was far from the trail and distracted by the huckleberries that were in peak season.

I went on. Minutes later, I encountered a couple singing loudly. A sure sign of a bear sighting! Sure enough, they too had seen a grizzly a few minutes back. The moment they shared this information, I looked up and said, “Oh, look, there’s one now!” A grizzly had just crested the ridge above us and was headed in our general direction, although still 200 yards away.

I immediately did what any photographer does and grabbed the camera with my longest lens on it and started firing. Except, I was so excited I failed to read my meter and had to readjust and shoot again. As I fired off 3 more shots at good exposure (but with a heck of a lot more motion shake than usual), the bear started running towards us.
“And now he’s running towards us,” I said to the couple. The woman immediately asked her husband if the safety was off their bear spray can. I suggested we start backing up slowly.

The bear was closing the distance at a pace fast enough to scare the life out of anyone experiencing a grizzly running towards them for the first time.

We moved slowly for a few steps, and then more quickly, soon walking at a fast clip while glancing over our shoulders and talking loudly. When we passed trees that were between us and him, we lost sight of him (which was almost scarier).

We never saw him again. I suspect he was running towards a huckleberry bush that happened to be in our direction. However, it was scary enough that I decided to hike out with the couple and call it a day.

It took us 20 minutes to cover the distance that took me 3 hours on the way in.

My only regret is that I didn’t stay long enough to get a better shot.

Taking Stock

It’s officially been 2 months since my leave of absence began. I thought it would be a good time to enumerate both the new lessons I’ve learned and the old lessons that have  resurfaced as particularly relevant to this major shift in my life.

  1. Your time will fill. No matter how much you have to do or how long you think you have to do it, time will pass more quickly than you expected and you will get less done than you planned.
  2. It doesn’t matter how much of an out-of-the-box thinker you are; if there is no box, you can’t think outside of it.
  3. When you have a mile-long list of things to do and believe you have only a fraction of the time you need to get them done, you manage your time far more judiciously than when you have a short list of things to do and believe you have all day. (See #1.)
  4. There is always more opportunity than capacity.
  5. When one thing has been your biggest time investment for a long time, when you pull it out of your schedule, everything that surrounded it collapses on top of each other and you have to scratch and claw your way through the crap to shove in something new and get all the little stuff safely held at bay.
  6. Staying busy is not the hard part. It’s staying busy doing the important things instead of the distracting things that’s hard. (See #1.)
  7. Just because something must be done urgently doesn’t mean it should be done at all.
  8. I really mind a dirty house less than I mind cleaning it.
  9. We treat people we have an intimate personal relationship with like someone we have an intimate personal relationship with even when the topics are professional–it takes effort not to hear “I don’t love you” when you disagree.
  10. Working with your spouse is an opportunity to better your overall relationship. Creating artificial lines between your personal and professional relationship is only lying to yourself. The two roles are inseparable and must feed one another, driving both a closer, more intimate relationship and more creative energy from the feeling of being on the same team working towards the same goals.
  11. Sleep helps. This is theoretical. I used reverse logic: lack of sleep makes everything harder. Therefore, I believe that if I someday get enough sleep, it will make everything easier.
  12. Every day we have the opportunity to be more focused, more productive, more playful, more creative, more effective, more attuned to our health, and to get more sleep. We probably won’t do all of these things in the same day, however.
  13. At the end of the day, it’s you. There is only you and what you did and didn’t get done, whether what you did made a difference, and whether that difference is the difference you intended. Ultimately, there is not, and really never has been, anyone else to blame.

Fall Creek Falls


Last weekend, while Pat was working, I made a random decision to get out for a hike after far too long a hiatus from the woods. Hiking and sanity are directly correlated. Without a regular dose of time in the woods, I find myself wound too tight and forgetting what’s really important in life.

We found ourselves driving up to Fall Creek Falls, a park NE of Chattanooga (of course, practically all of Tennessee is NE of Chattanooga) in one of the many beautiful parts of Tennessee–the Cumberland Plateau. Different from the Smokies, the Cumberland Plateau has amazing gorges that catch you by surprise–one moment you’re in the woods and the next you’re standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking an enormous “gulf.” Even driving into the Cumberland Plateau area is breath-taking. There were several times when I wanted to pull off the highway to get shots of rocky cliffs and mountains surrounding the freeway.

Tisen and I headed straight to Cane Creek Falls to start our adventure. I got to make good use of my polarizer given that it was about the worst lighting of the day. But, I had fun playing with shutter speeds and rapidly moving water. I can never decide if I like frozen droplets or smooth flows of water better.

We walked to Fall Creek Falls through the woods. As is often true at crowded parks, you don’t have to get more than a ½ a mile down the trail before the crowds disappear. I don’t know where everyone disappears to, exactly, but sometimes I suspect there is a black hole somewhere between the paved, accessible path and the “unimproved” trails that take a person more than a 10 minute walk to explore.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy to have to share the trail only with Tisen. We walk together well, thinking mostly about the next footstep and what birds we hear. Although Tisen may also think about squirrels and the dogs he smells evidence of along the way.

I was surprised to discover I am out of shape. I don’t know why this would surprise me, but I guess it’s hard to remember that being in shape is not a permanent state. I found myself breathless as we made our way up a steep hill from the bottom of the Cane Creek Falls to the top of a cliff that would eventually wind around and provide a nice view of Fall Creek Falls. Even Tisen was happy to slow down and rest from time to time.

The rhythm of foot falls and crunching leaves set to a chorus of birdsongs all in the setting of a 70+ degree day of sunshine made for good medicine. Tisen and I enjoyed the views and I enjoyed shooting, but the medicinal part of being in the woods is just that: being in the woods.

If fatigue is any way to judge to a hike, I’d say this one went pretty darn well.

Finding Elk

As you may recall from last week’s post, Pat, Tisen, and I went to Asheville for the weekend and went up to Great Smoky Mountain National Park very early last Saturday morning in search of elk.

In photography, there is a phenomena I think of as the “lens law.”  This law dictates that when you have a long lens on your camera, you will see the best sweeping view ever (requiring a wide lens) and when you have a wide lens on your camera, you will see wildlife or distant subjects (which require a long lens).  This is why I often carry two cameras.

However, since we had given up on seeing any elk and were only going to do a short walk along a river behind the Oconaluftee visitor’s center, I slapped my 24-70mm lens on my full frame camera and left the second camera and long lens behind.  This is the surest way to guarantee you will see wildlife–just as leaving an umbrella in the car guarantees it will rain cats and dogs.

We made our way slowly down the 1 ½ mile trail with me stopping frequently to shoot.  The trail paralleled the main road to the visitor’s center with a line of trees between the trail and an open field leading to the road.  As we neared the turn-around point in the trail, I climbed down to the water’s edge to shoot ice on the river.  When I turned and climbed back up the bank to the trail, I was shocked to discover an entire herd of elk making their way into the grass field.

Cars on the park road started accumulating along the shoulder as passers-by gawked at the elk.  The elk, slightly nervous, moved deeper into the field.  We walked slowly along the trail, trying not to spook them with our movement, sending them back to the road.  I crept into the trees between us and the field, trying to only glance at them enough to confirm that they weren’t concerned about me moving closer.  When I got to a tree at the edge of the field, they all stopped and looked at me.  I froze and looked away.  They decided I was harmless and went back to grazing.  I fired off a few shots with my wide-angle lens, silently cursing myself for leaving my telephoto in the car.

Then, I moved slowly back to the trail and we high-tailed it back to the car.  After a quick lens change, we drove down the park road on the far side from the elk.  We sat on the shoulder, joining the rest of the gawkers, and I shot at will out an open car window.  While the light conditions weren’t what I’d planned for and grazing elk are not quite as dramatic as, say, elk playing or running or just about anything else, I was pretty darn pleased I got any shots of elk at all.

The Great Smoky Mountain Wildlife Shoot

Last weekend we went on a river cruise in search of Whooping Cranes (well, in honor of the Sandhills).  While there, two people advised me to go to the Cataloochee Valley to see elk.  On a complete whim, I talked Pat into spending the weekend in Asheville, North Carolina and getting up at 5:15AM on Saturday morning to go shoot some elk.

Let’s recap:  I looked up the Cataloochee Valley, determined how long it would take us to get there, looked up sunrise time to make sure we would get there for the best light (and at a time the elk were likely to be active), looked at the weather forecast to ensure I owned enough layers to possibly stay warm, carefully decided which gear I would carry, found a hotel that didn’t charge more to have a dog than to stay in the room, and determined where Tisen was allowed to go in the park.

Fast forwarding back to Saturday morning, we arrived at the designated intersection only to realize that was the entry to the park, not the entry to the actual valley.  We wound our way up through the mountains slowly, encountering more and more snow as the elevation increased.  Behind use, the sun started coming up.  We paused long enough for me to snap a shot with my iPhone–my “real” camera being out of reach without climbing out of the car on a 1 ½ lane mountain road with 2-way traffic.

IMG_4560

We made it to the Cataloochee valley gate before the light got too bright.  But alas, the gate was closed.  And locked.

Since dogs are not allowed on any trails in the Cataloochee area, we decided to take Tisen for a walk along the closed road.  Given that there was no one else there, we even cheated and let him off leash.  This may have been the first time he ever frolicked in snow.  He’s never run free in snow in the 2 years he’s been with us, at least.

Since there were no elk in sight, I practiced shooting my playful pup.

No elk appeared.  Pat was pretty sure we were still 10 miles from the prime viewing area when we turned around.  We we got back to the car, a Dark-eyed Junco was kind enough to pose for me, even in a wind strong enough to ruffle his feathers.

On the drive back down, we stopped to shoot some cattle.  They were quite curious about us.  Enough so that I found myself wondering if the feed truck happens to be a mini-van very similar to ours.  I started getting nervous when they all started walking toward me briskly–including a bull with a large ring in his nose glinting in the increasing light.  The fence between us was about 3-feet high and consisted of 3 flimsy strings of barb-wire.

With the exception of a Junco, I ended up with images of the domestic version of “wildlife.”

Jumping Into Fall

Ahh . . .fall.  Every year I am surprised to discover summer truly is over.  More so since moving to Chattanooga where the temperatures stay summer-like longer and then catch you off guard with sudden dips that remind you you’re no longer used to temperatures in the 30‘s.

I laughed at myself the other day when 26 degree weather in the early morning caused me to put on both a down sweater and a mid-thigh down jacket over it.  I couldn’t help thinking back to Ohio where I once rode my bike 13 miles to work in pitch darkness when it was 19 degrees.  I have been southern-fied.  I suppose that is better than southern-fried!

Having discovered my new sensitivity to cold, I realized I was pre-maturely cocooning this fall.  I liken the feeling of cocooning to the feeling of dread I get right before jumping into a cold swimming pool.  There’s that pause, that moment of hesitation when I ask myself “is it really worth it?”  The colder the weather, the shorter the days, the harder it is to get out and get into the water.

Today, I reminded myself that every time I’ve ever jumped in a pool, I was always glad I did.  Much like I remind myself every Friday morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 that as much as I want to roll back over, I’ve never once regretted going to yoga class once I’ve gotten myself there.

It was this reminder that caused me to say to Pat, “Let’s go hiking” today.  We headed over to Raccoon Mountain, a combination Tennessee Valley Authority power station and recreational area.  It sounds like a strange combination, but the pump station makes a scenic lake and the surrounding woods provide miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

I was surprised to realize we had almost missed the fall color.  The top story of trees were all but bare.  Fortunately, the understory was still going strong.  With temps back into the 60’s, we didn’t mind the tiny sprinkling of rain and the foggy, overcast skies.  In fact, the leaves seemed only more brilliant against the drab backdrop.

Tisen romped along with us, charging down the trail to catch up whenever we got ahead of him.  His wagging tail and high spirits did my heart as much good as the woods.  His recent improvement with his allergies and skin issues has made all of us wag more.  (Of course, Tisen is the only one who doesn’t look insane doing it.)  This was the first time he’s been able to run free since he started feeling better.  He’s snoozing soundly by my side now–I think he wore himself out.

As did I–the fatigue of a little physical effort reminds me how little movement I’ve gotten in the past several months.  It feels so good to get out and move!  I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without it!