My 10 Favorite Happenings of 2013

My lovely college friend Brit posted a list of her favorite moments of 2013 today on Facebook, something I feel is a lovely prequel to posting my 2014 Practices to Enact (which are, without a doubt, far too vague, very emotion-based, and lightly pretentious).  So many of my friends have been posting ‘good riddance’ sorts of things in regards to 2013, and while I too am happy to leave this year behind, I have learned SO VERY MUCH about myself, and truly look forward to this next year.  The solstice and my birthday might feel more momentous, but a new calendar year is as much reason for reflection as any.

10. Transitioning into a role as the Transportation and Sustainability Coordinator for two great neighborhoods in St. Paul.

9. Fantastic volunteering with books at the Hosmer library and Boneshaker Books.

8. My first Pride festival!

7. Discovering tarot.

6. San Francisco/Yosemite with Sarah in early February.

5. Three tattoos in one year (thanks Adam at 4 Points for two of them).

4. Finding ample, wonderful queer culture in Minneapolis, and feeling remarkably at home in it.

3. The growing zeitgeist around intentional community in the Twin Cities.

2. My community house becoming The Moon Box (<3 to Haven, Katie, Laura, and Natalia, my lovely housemates).

1. Biking solo down nearly 1,000 miles of the Mississippi River.

2013, you happened.  You were incredibly challenging, and contained many tears, but even more love and growth and laughs and hope, all things considered.  Stay tuned for 2014 Practices to Enact, friends!

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My Impending Adventure

2013, I do believe, shall perhaps be written about and remembered as my most momentous year yet.  In fact, it certainly will be, and not just because of circumstance, chance, and a failed marriage.  I have taken it upon myself to make some amount of momentousness self-created, rather than imposed, and as such am taking on one of my Seven Wanders of My World: biking the Mississippi River Trail.  Most importantly, I’m doing it solo.

It is my deepest intention to make this a whole person trip, to take note of my therapist’s suggested meditation and notice body, mind, emotion, and core self, without judgement.  In preparation I am planning and packing, preserving food (for the trip and for the winter, for I will miss the peak canning season while I’m on the road this autumn), tying up loose ends at my blessedly flexible job, and trying to let go.  Releasing expectation is both paramount and persistently difficult.

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Kale, garlic, tomatoes and peppers.

Despite the demands of a regiment of camping and 60 miles of bicycling a day, the body is easiest to care and prepare for.  New lightweight long underwear.  Camping cookware, including the indulgence of a solo french press coffee pot.  Home dehydrated vegetables.  Keens.  There will be moments and hours and even days of exhaustion, strained muscles, a sore back.  But also skin rich from Vitamin D.  More strength and tenacity that I’ve known before.  And daily morning yoga to keep me moving.

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The tarot deck, recent reading.

The mind is trickier, as I have learned that my constant analysis of self and surroundings pervades my other spheres of being.  Choosing books to accompany me is critical and impossible.  Good Poems for Hard Times is a certainty.  Novels and spiritual nonfiction are more difficult to choose from.  Knowing I will have to leave finished books behind is tantamount to abandoning a pet, even if I have never read the book before.  My tarot cards and book will join me as well, another indulgence of sorts, at least as far as weight is concerned, but what is the weight of a book to the body when its content can spark the mind to discovery?

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Drying mint.

Attending to emotion is more complex still.  There is much excitement of course, but equally as much, if not more, worry.  Not so much for myself, or even for the trip itself, because in spite of my mother’s rampant concerns for my safety, I believe that the universe provides, through my intuition and more compassionate strangers than potentially harmful ones.  No, my worry is for what I am leaving behind.  My still new relationship with Sarah, growing in depth and loveliness yet strained by my attempted internal re-alignment after the divorce.  The chickens.  The garden.  My housemates.  My family.  In my current life I am so very external, leaving little room for self care, a pattern that I dearly hope this adventure will shake up and recreate.  So with mint tea dried from the yard, my journal, a box of crayons, and plans for letters and collages and exchanges with friends found on the road, I make space for my emotional self to grow and expand while I explore the Mississippi.

The last, but of course most essential, layer that is my core self I do not yet know how to best attend to.  She is there.  She is being rediscovered, reshaped, unearthed as nutrients in tilled soil.  But I cannot yet place her, in my being or in the world.  In time.  Beginning September 5th.

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My lovely steed, The Parrot. She will accompany me through the journey’s end.

Right Now I’m Reading: Barbara Kingsolver

High Tide in Tucson cover

I historically never was one for essays.  I’m far too addicted to the drama of novels and the in depth intellectualism of well written nonfiction.  But recently I find myself drawn to short stories and collections of essays.  Perhaps it is a deficit in attention span, my brain unwilling to commit to follow through.  But perhaps it is also (or instead) an appreciate for the succinct, the simple, the ability of a writer to capture meaning in merely a few pages.  Barbara Kingsolver does just this in her essay collection from the mid 90s, High Tide in Tucson.

A marvelous collection of pieces that is at once academic and emotional, Barbara eloquently recreates moments in time, from wild pigs uprooting her Arizona garden to the silently horrifying experience of touring an old missile site outside Tucson.  The latter essay spoke to me in particular in its wild array of reactions and reflections, from calculated observation of statistics on nuclear spending in the United States to raw grief.

“Why did I not scream at the top of my lungs down in that hole?”

Barbara has held a high place for years in my list of favorite authors, particularly Prodigal Summer, and remains so despite many years of many marvelous tales, triumphs, and tragedies.  A key element of this standing is Barbara’s quiet encouragement of the reader (and, I would argue, an aspiring writer such as myself) to both think critically and feel deeply.  Far too many authors fall one one side or the other of this false dichotomy, either relishing in overwrought emotionality or denying the feeling brain in favor of the cerebral.  As a human being, an activist, and a creator of any number of things I value fellow creators that can hold both of these things as Barbara does, a precarious balance to be sure, but one that is critical to our humanity.

The Life List.

I find myself in a ‘what is my greater purpose?’ sort of funk (see page 8).  And I recently watched The Bucket List.  So, thanks to the inspiration of Cartoons and Creative Writing, I’m drafting my own.  Bucket list that is, but I’m going to call it my Life List because several things last longer than a one time experience.

1. Visit all seven continents in a meaningful way (ie more than just one city for one conference like I did for South America).
2. Write something worth sharing with the world, and maybe get it published.
3. Raise chickens or ducks.  And bees.
4. Eat locally for a year, a la The 100 Mile Diet.  Afterward, continue the practice as much as possible.
5. Live in a spiritual community (like Plum Village) for a time.  Discover practices that I can bring back to my daily life.
6. See the Northern Lights.
7. Never own a car.
8. Go winter camping.
9. Hike the Appalachian Trail.
10. Bike the Mississippi River Trail.
11. Learn a craft like wood or metal working, and create something beautiful and useful to pass on to the next generation.
12. Find a mentor.  And eventually, be a mentor.
13. Live off the grid, whether it is by building a generator to produce my own power in the city or by eventually living in a rural community that creates its own power.
14. Figure out what kind of diet makes me feel good (ie not eating dairy and/or gluten, more greens, less caffeine, etc), and actually follow it.
15. Write a letter a week to a friend, relative, or person I admire.
16. Climb a mountain.  A big one, like Kilimanjaro or K2.
17. Love deeply and unreservedly.

Our Serenity

No house for Ben and I, for now.  Instead we’ve obtained this beautiful creature, thanks to a Craigslist ad heads up from a friend and a wonderful, similarly heighted couple from Wisconsin.


Love can certainly come in bicycle form.  Adventures to the Garlic Festival, a music festival, and possibly along the Mississippi River Trail lie ahead to be sure.

What joyously spontaneous decision have you made as of late?

Seven Wanders of My World

As we float into the thick of summer and the heart of vacation season, I’d like to finally do a post that’s been long in coming: the Seven Wanders of My World.  I’ll be heading out West soon on a road trip with friends culminating in a dear friend’s wedding in Portland while stopping at Glacier N.P., Whidbey Island, and other fabulous places along the way.  At the same time I’m dreaming of future adventures in years to come.

One of the many wonderful bloggers at Adventure Cycling wrote the original Seven Wanders of My World post, highlighting some great (albeit quite exotic) locales, and encouraging readers to make a list of their own.  Though I am now a committed bicyclist, my list is not limited to places I want to bike, because many of my dream adventures were established before I began bicycling.  In no particular order, I would like to:

1. Bicycle the Mississippi River Trail.  Benjamin and I hope to do this as a very belated honeymoon, though with shifting jobs it may be extremely belated indeed.

2. Hike the Appalachian Trail.  This has been a dream ever since I read A Walk in the Woods back in junior high, and was inspired by my father’s similar plan that has since been toned down a bit to do sections at a time rather than the 2,000+ miles in one go.  I still want to do the whole thing 🙂

3. Alaska.  Hike, bike, kayak, whatever.  Not wanting to drive might be a bit difficult though, considering the lack of a direct train route from the continental US to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

4. Hike the fjords of Norway.  I used to be infatuated with the misty moors of Ireland, but the heartstoppingly gorgeous vistas in I Am Dina convinced me that traversing one of the countries of my ancestry might be what I’m truly longing for.

5. Visit Prince Edward Island.  The land of Anne of Green Gables, a childhood heroine of mine, has always enchanted me.  Plus I have yet to go to Canada, and while my first trip will likely be to visit Ben’s family in Saskatchewan, hopefully PEI will not be far to follow.

6. Return to India.  I spent the fall semester of my sophomore year of college studying abroad in India, and while it was a beautiful experience, we visited so many cities that it was difficult to get a sense of any one in particular.  I would love to return and spend a month (or two, or three) in a city or two, likely Varanasi- the holy city of the Ganges- or somewhere up north in the Himalayas.

7. Canoe in the Boundary Waters.  I’m not as ashamed as a native Minnesotan might be at not yet having been to the Boundary Waters, despite being in Minnesota for almost six years, but the jewel of my adopted state is calling me.  Despite not being a water lover, the solace of the upstate wilderness area of Minnesota sounds glorious.

Now it’s your turn!  Do comment with a link to your blog if you do write your own Seven Wanders of My World post 🙂

The home-travel conundrum.

We all have innumerable paths our lives could have followed, futures that never came to be because we made particular decisions (or sometimes failed to choose, so a path was chosen by our apathy).  Sometimes these forked or many-tined paths differ only slightly, minor variations on an otherwise cohesive existence.  In other instances the possibilities may be polar opposites, and it seems as though an alternate universe must exist in order to accommodate the other ‘you’ that could be living and breathing if you had moved in a different life direction.

I have been lucky or wise enough (more likely the former) to have lived a life fundamentally without regrets.  No decision has been catastrophic, and I do not look back on my meager quarter century (almost) on this earth wishing things were different.  Even the small things.  I often engage in mind vacations to other selves, astounded at the bits and pieces and decisions and opportunities that have coalesced to form my life at present.  However, there is one particular major fork that has always existed in the future tense, sometimes becoming a more relevant decision of the present, other times a wispy far-flung possibility: owning a home and building community, or traveling and exploring the vast expanses of the planet.

These are not mutually exclusive possibilities necessarily.  Committing to community and the roots of establishing a home does not entirely discount the possibility of travel.  But it limits the extent of that travel, especially in the possible length of stay.  One cannot expect to buy a house and build a home community while spending months abroad- so much of community is in being physically present with the people and places that are part of it.  And I believe one cannot truly know a new place without spending a substantial amount of time there.  Visiting France for a week and half this past April was lovely, but I felt like a tourist entirely.

My conundrum often results in contemplative musings rather than stress, more mind vacations where I imagine ‘how things would be if I…’  I plan trips (biking the Mississippi River, hiking the Appalachian Trail, going back to India with my friend Abby, finding some way to get to Africa and Australia to hit all the major continents by the time I’m 30) and sometimes buy related books, but actual commitment to any of these adventures has yet to happen.  Because I’ve realized that while I am intrigued by travel and exotic locales and change and the constant new, I am committed to improving the world through sustainable, caring community.  Travel can be amazing, but for the most part it is selfish; most travelers do not substantially improve the world in their journeys (Peace Corps and other volunteer programs nonwithstanding) and while the impact I make on the world at large by building community here in Minneapolis may seem to be limited, it will be direct.  It will be relationship based, a place of compassion for others and the earth, a place to make and do and discuss and imagine.  And hopefully the community I help to build will be able to reach out to build other communities, to share resources, to encourage and support and coordinate.

I still plan to travel.  The world is too big and too glorious to not try to see at least part of it.  But in the Twin Cities I have found a place I am excited to call home, and in the next decades hope to make that home as compassionate, abundant, sustainable and beautiful as it can be.

~Lauren