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In between snuggling the little baby nephew this weekend, we took a break to go on a zipline adventure in the autumnal leaves. Husband had a gift certificate, and I was nervous going in that I was going to have trouble. I’m not huge on heights, or on losing control in any way… so there was a chance that this wasn’t going to go well.

What I’ve realized, though, is that it is important for me to flex my bravery muscles just like it is important for me to exercise physical muscles to stay in shape. When I haven’t done anything difficult for a while, it gets even harder to be spontaneous and confident. So when given the opportunity to do something scary, but basically safe, I decided to give ziplining a shot.

Let me tell you: ziplining is BEAUTIFUL. There were big mashed-potatoes lumps of clouds in the valleys and the peaks were covered in brilliant foliage on the fall trees. The weather was cool but not cold, and the views were simply perfect. The exhilaration of jumping off a wooden tower into nothing but fog or open air was really memorable; so was the loud slap of hitting the auto-break and slowly sliding into the next tower.

I hope that, when I meet people who are different from me and when I face new complex challenges at work, I’ll find the muscles for bravery already in good working order. If my brother-in-law and sister-in-law are brave enough to be new parents in an uncertain world, and people regularly trust their lives to a big zipline cable in order to get a thrill, I can probably manage the small complications and difficulties in my life.

How have you flexed your bravery muscles lately? Is there a way you can be brave this week?

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We’re off to meet the new nephew this weekend, and I thought a useful thing to share would be how I pack – that is, after all, another kind of list we make, and another kind of planning. While most to-do lists and grocery lists are quite forgiving and we can recover if we forget something, it can be tough if you forget something important on a packing list. Here are some of my essentials:

  • Car entertainment and snacks – Because I like to save a dollar or two, I try to make sure we have enough snacks from home to power through cravings on the road and focus on only stopping for full meals. A Gatorade (Husband’s favorite) costs less in a big pack than it does as a one-off during a gasoline stop. I also like to bring something to make the trip time not a total waste: an audiobook, a crocheting project, a set of question cards that can generate an interesting conversation.
  • 1 set of pajamas, and # of nights + 2 sets of day-time clothes – I like to have two sets of clothes more than whatever I technically need, as well as a set of pajamas, on any trip I go on. This time, we’re doing some outdoor exploring and possibly a fancy dinner date, so I have specific guidelines for my extra outfits. Pajamas are also a priority, because I like to think ahead to how warm or cold I anticipate being in the place I’ll be sleeping… my in-laws house is usually on the warm side, so it is good to remember shorts and a tank top.
  • A physical notebook, not just my planner – I like being able to write down things that occur to me during a trip, especially because I often get into a different, more creative headspace when I’m away from home. This can really help me break out of a rut of writing similar things, so I like the opportunity to chronicle my changing outlook.
  • A “go bag” of hygiene items – I hate waking up on the day of a trip and scrounging for my toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant, etc. Instead, I like to have a ready plastic bag with all the things I need in it. Yes, this means I tend to own two of most things, but the travel set doesn’t get used as often and lasts a long time.

What are your essentials on the packing list? What would you be lost without?

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In college, I developed a habit. Every time I went to a new large city, I’d try to find a free tourist map. Obviously, these maps are useful for finding your way around anyway, but they also became one of my most treasured souvenirs.

My map of NYC is nearly falling apart at the creases from having been folded and unfolded so many times. Each day after I got back from hiking around the sites and seeing the amazing landmarks of Manhattan, I’d take a black permanent marker and outline my route. This was before smart phones would do things like this for you on apps like Trackmywalk.

Now, I have a visual memory of everything I was able to do during the week I was there: the crazy detour we took through Tribeca on our way to Chinatown, wandering the city late at night after seeing the Blue Man Group, and obviously Central Park and Times Square. When I just try to think of the trip, my memories blur together, but when I look at the map, up on the wall of maps in my house, things come back to me as individual steps in the journey.

Some cities are only given a few lines of walking because I got the map on a day trip, but that still helps me remember simple days of visiting a brewery and a museum with someone I care about. Others are completely filled in: Madrid, in particular, got to the point where I’d criss-crossed almost every street in downtown over the 2 years that I lived there, and many of the streets of outlying neighborhoods as well.

I’d love to hear how you organize your travel memories so that you will remember them well; do you do anything with those free tourist maps after you are done with them? They aren’t as pretty as framed fancy map prints, but they certainly hold a lot of long-term memories for me.

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Last weekend, I was able to meet up with one of my closest and oldest friends; we met during our first year of high school. Since we graduated, we’ve had 10 years of never living in the same place but somehow managing to see each other once or twice a year despite moving across continents and across the United States.

There is something very reassuring about being friends with someone for a very long time; it grounds me in the fact that I can change over time but there will be people who notice if I stop living authentically as myself. My friend and I have both come to new places in our careers and our relationships this year that have not always been easy or simple to sort out, but even those new rhythms seem to mirror conversations we’ve had all along the way.

I joke that it is hard to call my friend because anything less than an hour of chatting seems like ludicrously short for the kinds of talks we usually have. This year, in particular, I’ve struggled to find the important multi-hour time slots to make sure we have real, meaningful connections. This trip was lovely, though, because she arrived at noon and we didn’t part ways until almost midnight… and we were talking most of those days. We drank coffees, we ate delicious meals, we wandered, we climbed a lighthouse, we marveled at the people we saw. It was wonderful, and so affirming that someone I’ve cared about for so long can still connect with me so well.

What do you love best about get togethers with old friends? I think it is more than just the fact that I feel like my real self (whatever that is) has stayed intact despite years of changes… but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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gosun go

So, it seems like the time to tell you about GoSun, because recently, they launched a Kickstarter, which has already funded itself 8 times over. That is some very exciting news. 🙂

I’ve loved GoSun for a couple of years now, but it was a pricey love; even with coupons and a sale that was running at the time, my own GoSun Sport cost more than 200 bucks. It was a combination birthday gift and my own desire to own one at a time when we were doing okay financially… But now people can get an arguably cooler version, the GoSun Go, for less than 100 dollars!

So what is a GoSun? It’s a solar stove made of a parabolic dish (think concentrating light rays with a mirror) and a vacuum tube that lets heat in but not back out again. Basically, when this thing is facing the sun, it is also getting super warm inside. Depending on what you are cooking, it can taken anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes to cook things.

My best luck with my GoSun Sport has been with cut vegetables. If I know I want a veggie side with dinner, and I don’t want to turn on my own oven, I chop up peppers or onions or whatever and put it in little silicone pans that fit nicely in the tube. I leave the tube out in the sun while I make everything else for dinner, and by the time I am ready, the veggies are super-steamy or ready to be added to some other dish.

I know that I save pennies of energy whenever I use the GoSun, but I really love that they are totally fuel-free pennies, and I need to cook my food somehow. If over the years it eventually pays for itself, that’s great, but I am also pretty happy that the company was started by a friend of a friend of mine, and I’ve loved the work they’ve done in other countries, bringing clean energy to families that otherwise would have to use wood and coal to make food.

If you want to try out the GoSun Go, the kickstarter is here; for other GoSun products, check out their website.

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Looking up at Curry in a Hurry, where I had dinner.

It is hard for me to turn off my planning brain, but when I’m travelling, I work harder than usual to do it. I’m in New York City this week for a conference, and while a part of me is already doing a Google Maps route of where I want to go before I’ve even gotten to the bottom of my coffee cup, I’m also more present than I’ve been for a long time.

I feel self-conscious in big cities because I feel like everyone else is laser-focused on getting where they are going and I feel like I am always looking up, reading signs, noting plaques, lingering. New York City is a miracle to me – our small city can barely sustain a few blocks of downtown shops and living, and nothing is walkable, really. Here, however, everything is miraculous, built up into the sky, NEARBY.

I could spend today working on my presentation for tomorrow, which is only half-done. I could spend today working on writing and reading and all the other things that tickle the back of my brain all day when I do something else, something for fun. But today I’m choosing New York, and I’m choosing to look up. The last time I was here was 10 years ago, when I was a stunned college student who didn’t know just how freeing being an adult would be. Now, I have to break out of the routine of adulthood to feel that again.

I’m hoping that some alone time to wander galleries, to taste delicious foods, to see the High Line, and to browse a bookstore will all put me in a mental space for all my favorite things. Yes, I do have to go back to a productivity stint tomorrow, but today’s to-do list looks a little different, and a little more like a map than usual: where can I walk and where can I look? What can I see if I don’t let all my priorities sneak up and overtake this happiness?

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