Because I Can

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flume.liberty5There’s only one word I can use to describe this weekend’s hike, and that’s brutal. By the end of the day we had hiked over ten miles during the course of eight hours, made it to the summit of two of the New Hampshire 4000 footers, and spent five hours in the car. Definitely a challenge!

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043We began the hike at the parking lot for the Flume Gorge Visitor Center. Instead of entering the exhibit and going down into the gorge to spend a day in the cool shade of a mountain, our destination lay in the other direction – up. At the northernmost edge of the parking lot, we started on a paved bike path, which is the unmarked Whitehouse Trail. Almost a mile up the road, we entered the woods and took the Liberty Spring Trail until the path forked. From there we went right, opting to take the Flume Slide Trail to the 4328 foot summit of Mount Flume. If you do a bit of research, there are numerous warnings against descending via this trail due to its steepness, and boy, am I glad we listened. They weren’t kidding – parts of this trail are ridiculously steep!

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The first two hours were relatively easy. The next two hours were seriously difficult, spent scrambling up loose rock slides and using tree roots to pull yourself up vertical ledges. Breaks, which we had to take often, involved stopping anywhere you could get your feet level for a moment to take the constant strain of the incline off your calves.

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After four hours, we finally found ourselves at the top of Mount Flume. We took a break for lunch on top of the mountain surrounded by a gorgeous vista. Usually I lose myself in the scenery.

flume.liberty4Usually, by this point of the hike I’ve reached an adrenaline induced euphoria where I don’t register much pain, but not this time. I woke up feeling horrible. I still wasn’t feeling great, and I was only halfway through the hike with another 4000 foot peak and a descent to go.

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Had I given myself the choice to back out, I wouldn’t have been on a mountain that day. But I didn’t give myself a choice. I was doing this climb for my dad, in honor of the one year anniversary of his passing. There was no room for weakness, which became my mantra as I continued to put one foot in front of the other.

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Another 1.2 miles and we had conquered the 4459 foot peak of Mount Liberty. We took another long break, surrounded by a magnificent 360 degree view. By this time my voice was cracking from a day of severe acid reflux, but I was finally feeling better. I never reached the ‘zone’ this time where the hike becomes natural, easy even. Every step of this hike was a struggle, and it was the hardest hike we’d ever done. But I still got through it.

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So, why do we do it? Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Nope. The pain let’s you know you’re a live? Uhuh. There’s something very spiritual about the experience. Something about the journey, as your mind and body breakdown and then become stronger, as your resolve evolves to a more determined level. There’s a type of bonding that takes place between hikers on a mountain, even with strangers you’ve just met, and I think it’s amazing that my husband and I get to share that with each other. It definitely beats couch time together.

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So why, after all the pain and suffering, do we continue to do it again and again? I think climbing mountains produces the same type of partial amnesia that mothers experience. You remember the difficulty and the struggle, but after a little time passes, the benefits, the pleasurable parts overshadow the grueling, tortuous parts, and you do it again.

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For me, though, it’s more than that. After finishing an eight hour hike, I’m sore. And that’s normal. It’s not like waking up after an average day’s activity and being in extreme pain for no reason. Or spending a rainy day watching movies on the couch to be rewarded by an intense neck and head ache.

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You only have a certain amount of pain receptors in your body, and I function better when mine are receiving earned pain – muscle aches and soreness due to strenuous physical activity that I put my body through, instead of fibromyalgia pain – pain that’s constant and there for no understandable reason and that gets aggravated by feelings of anger and frustration.

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For me, the pain isn’t as bad when I’ve done something to deserve it. I can’t speak for others with fibromyalgia; my experience with them is limited to individuals who claim disability and rely on morphine lollipops. On the rare occasion that I out myself in a conversation I find that I receive doubtful looks while I’m told about how the people they know with fibromyalgia have a really hard time and are in such constant pain that they can’t do much of anything.

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I’ve learned to just smile in nod instead of pointing out that constant pain is the definition of the diagnosis, to commiserate instead of suggesting that they tell their friends and loved ones to try pushing through the pain to live a physically active life. But I know I’m on to something. Besides the muscle pain I have bone and joint issues. Most mornings I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, but you just have to keep going.

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Some days it gets easier, others it doesn’t. It is what it is, you just have to keep going, accomplish what you need to do and make the best of it. I think one of the main benefits of hiking mountains is that it trains you to think positively. You can’t think negatively. Once you’ve gotten yourself up there in that situation, only you can get you out. There’s no easy way down the mountain.

flumeEvery day I remember the doctors who told me that I was disabled and that I’d never live a normal life. You make your own decisions, set your own limitations, and chose your own destiny. My drive and determination – this is the legacy that my dad left me, that I chose to honor him by. I climb because I can.

 

 

 

 

Joyful in July

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July isn’t over yet, but I’ve stumbled onto so many different wildflowers already this months that it’s time to share.

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It never fails to amaze me how many different types of flowers grow wild, in the places you’d least expect to find them, if you just take the time to look.

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I feel like I’m wilting while I’m out walking the dogs. Even though the heat has been brutal, the flowers are thriving, and for that, I’m joyful in July.

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Talking Tofu

wptofu1One of the downsides of this aging  thing is that you can’t eat what you used to. It seems like only yesterday that Pepsi and a chocolate doughnut (Entenmann’s, of course) was the go to breakfast of champions. Suddenly I’m being bombarded with enemies like cholesterol and sodium and trans-fats. Since I’m not just in charge of my own health anymore, I figured it was time to start paying attention and do what I could to make my dietary world a healthier place.

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Thus, my friend Tofu was invited into the house. My brief experience with Tofu was during my pre-teen stint at vegetarianism. Impressively, it lasted a year. (Do I have to share that it was abandoned for a McDonald’s cheeseburger?) During this year, I cooked my own meals when my parents had red meat for dinner. I prepared a fair amount of tofu during this time, but I’m pretty sure I just doused it with salad dressing.

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Now, I’m a good cook. I don’t feel the need to be modest with that statement. As good cooks know, you get to forego any modesty about your cooking skills in exchange for sacrificing being able to go out to a restaurant to enjoy a good meal, because most of the time you end up paying too much for a meal that you could have cooked better, and the person across from you keeps reminding you of that. I, of course, retort with my standard reply that every once in a while I require a meal to be served to me, without any effort or clean-up on my part, and if they know another way of that happening, I’d be more than willing to give it a try.

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So, I can cook. And there’s tofu sitting next to a pile of chopped stir fry vegetables on my counter, thus the time has come to back the statement up with some action. I whip together a little Thai peanut sauce marinade, get my pan and utensils out, and then something weird happens. I get cold feet.

Half of cooking is instinct. The other half is experience. I am confident in my ability to know what flavors complement each other, in knowing what method of cooking to use, in knowing what wine to pair with the meal, but how long do you cook Tofu for? Do you just heat it? I tried calling on memory, but my lifespan has almost tripled since the last time I cooked Tofu. So I Googled it on my phone in the kitchen.

I then find out from a helpful blogger that Tofu should be pressed and drained for at least a half hour, if not overnight, before cooking. Whoops. Not gonna happen. The package says to store leftover Tofu in water. It makes no sense. I’m confused. I quickly sliced the Tofu, squished it flat between some paper towels, and read on. She goes on to say that you should then marinade it, so I pop it into my marinade right as I read that the water in Tofu doesn’t like oil, so you should use an oil free marinade. It seems to me that that little gem of advice should have come at the beginning of the sentence, but it’s too late, so I keep reading. I see cornstarch, which is good because I have some, so I pull it out and put some on a plate to dip the marinaded Tofu in.

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By then, I’m bored of reading what I should do. I’m a good cook, I probably won’t mess it up too bad. I’ll cook it until I feel like putting it on a plate. I cooked the Tofu my way, and it was good.

So what was I worrying about? My instincts didn’t fail me. They even whispered to me a surefire way to make the Tofu taste even better next time. Cook it with bacon.

The Phantom of the Opera @ the Boston Opera House

wpphantomwpphantom1I was really excited when I saw a commercial advertising that my favorite musical, the Phantom of the Opera, was coming to the Boston Opera House. I immediately knew that I had to 1) get tickets and 2) somehow dupe my new husband into going with me. So I 1) bought the tickets and 2) came up with a plan where we’d go to the Italian district after the show for dinner to use a gift card we had from the wedding. As planned, the promise of a delicious Italian meal overshadowed the musical part of the plan and off we went.

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wpphantom9To say that the Boston Opera House is a masterpiece of Baroque extravagance is an understatement. Between the frescoes, the crystal chandeliers and the ornate gold moldings, you’re not quite sure where to look next as you’re being swept along by the throng of people on the way to your seats.

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The first time I saw the Phantom was at the New Globe Theatre in London. Musicals were not my thing, and being fifteen, I had little patience for anything beyond the realm of what I already knew I liked. But sitting in that audience, I was amazed as the scenes unfolded before me, astounded by the complexities of the sets, and a little aghast that I was enjoying the show so much. There’s not much to be said about this performance – as always the Phantom is a pleaser.

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After the show we walked to the North End where we had a wonderful meal at a restaurant called Cantina Italiano. More importantly, we got some fantastic desserts at a place called Mike’s Pastries. This place had a crowd of people outside on our way to the restaurant, and a mob on the way back, so we had to check it out. We weren’t disappointed. Despite the usual closed stations and detour mishaps on the T, it was successful outing and a great day, surprisingly enjoyed by all.

Adventures in Peakbagging

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We recently decided to practice our peak-bagging skills in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Our course for the day would take us over Noon, Jennings, and Sandwich Dome peaks. We had done our research, had our directions to the trail head, and had read about the hike.

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So we were understandably surprised when the start of the hike involved crossing Drakes Brook with no dry crossing provided. Strangely, when you research the Jennings Peak Loop, the crossing is barely mentioned. Later, (oh hindsight) I discovered that if you research Jennings Peak by itself, there’s a warning about a potentially dangerous crossing. A gorgeous, windy day in the wake of Tropical Storm Andrew found us wading through the brook, starting our 9 mile hike with waterlogged boots.

jennings3The thing about peak-bagging is that after you climb up a peak, you descend a bit before climbing up again. Then down again before up again, like some bad joke. By the time we were nearing our third summit, I was having serious second thoughts about the whole multiple peaks in one day thing, but the views were amazing. Now that it’s over with, it was definitely worth it 😉

jennings10As a little icing on the cake, you have to cross the brook again to complete the loop and get back to the parking lot. All in all, it was a beautiful day, a great hike, and on the way home we got to see some great New Hampshire fireworks.

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On a side note, should you see me on my way down the mountain, rest assured, I’m not trying to impress you with my awesome parkour skills. That’s just the way I look going downhill. A stumble turns into a run, and my monkey-handing from tree trunk to tree trunk is simply my way of keeping my face out of the dirt.

Lessons Learned . . . Again

gunstock4Sometimes the third time isn’t the charm. Sometimes it might just be better to leave well enough alone. Am I wise enough to take my own advice? Unfortunately, no.

The first time we tried to hike Mount Whiteface, the GPS took us on a wild goose chase, and we ended up hiking Mount Gunstock on the way home just to get out of the car for a while. The second time, thanks to careful charting and planning, we made it to Whiteface. Then someone, who shall remain nameless, locked the keys in the car. In nameless’s defense, they were a member of Triple A and were able to get a locksmith out to retrieve the keys. Unfortunately, it was after several hours, making it much too late to begin a very long hike.

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But, you live, you learn . . . and then you forget what you learned and end up hiking the back way up Gunstock again because, on your third attempt to hike Mount Whiteface, the GPS again takes you to the wrong place. Thus, the implementation of a new plan. Enter the dawn of the specific directions to the trail head on paper plan. So much for the age of technology, sometimes old school is better.

belknapWe did take a different and much more enjoyable trail up Gunstock this time. After a quick lunch at the summit – different from most mountains because there are tables, bathrooms, and a steady stream of zipliners – we peak bagged over to the Belknap summit for a view of an old fire tower before hiking back. Happily, we had the keys in the pack, not locked in the car, so at least one lesson stuck.

And a word of warning to Mount Whiteface . . . next time, we will find you, and it’s on!

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Independence Day?

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fireworksWe celebrate July 4th in honor of the freedom of our nation. In 1776 on that date, the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved. We officially declared our independence from Great Britain. In 1870, the Fourth of July was deemed a national holiday. Fast forward to modern times, and the day is synonymous with Bar-B-Ques, parades and fireworks.

firearmsHowever, fireworks are illegal in the state of Massachusetts. Where’s the patriotism in that? The Declaration of Independence granted me the right to, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What if fireworks on the Fourth of July are part of my pursuit of happiness?

fireworks1Massachusetts was one of the original 13 states represented on the Declaration of Independence, and one of only four states to completely ban all use of consumer fireworks. Turns out the other 3 states to ban fireworks are all members of the original thirteen too. What’s up with that? Is it just me, or is that weird?

Although I’m thankful I didn’t have to put up with the constant week long day-and-night barrage of booms that some people put their neighbors through, a little fireworks on the fourth would have been nice.

April Showers . . .

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I know this post is a little late. Only by what, two months?

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After a solid month of April showers, there was a spectacular display of May flowers.

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So, even though severely overdue, I had to share the beauty of Mother Nature as seen in my little corner of the world.

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And because it’s so late, I’m taking the opportunity to share a bit of June, too.

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