Adventure is not canceled

I love autumn but this year, more than ever, I am mourning the end of summer. Those long days were perfect for ice cream meet-ups and the shady afternoons made it easy to picnic in the park. We kayaked many feet apart from other and wore our masks for distanced hikes, and went on mini-golf dates, and sat on our porches and patios with cold drinks.

Now, we need our fall version of adventure in this weird world. It won’t look like it did last year, but it can still fill our hearts while keeping the rest of us and our communities safe.

This is how I’m planning to turn my usual fall adventures into something fun for 2020 – what would you add?

  • Instead of traveling to visit friends >> I’m playing online trivia via Geeks Who Drink, having virtual happy hours, and hosting my second Zoom murder mystery party – plus we’re talking about cooking classes and such in the future. I’m also taking the time to just call and really talk to my friends 1:1 which is something most of us didn’t have time for previously.
  • Instead of political canvassing >> I’m texting with the Biden / Harris campaign to get out the vote earlier than ever before. You can sign up for a text training here! Mine on Tuesday was energizing and fun, and I’m doing my first shift tonight. SwingLeft has some other options, too, and I’m also writing letters through VoteForward!
  • Instead of running in races >> I’m running in virtual races, including the Boston 10k for Women and doing an “Oregon Trail” challenge with my roommate and other friends (even though everyone knows this is WAY too late in the season to head west…)
  • Instead of going to the gym >> I am doing workout videos from Sydney Cummings, which is such a fabulous way to start the day. Highly recommend!
  • Instead of going to art class >> I’m taking “watercolor & pen and ink” classes online – being virtual means that we get to hear the teacher’s critique all together and also get to continue making art even after the zoom ends.

PLUS, we can still do all the following – with our masks on or in the comfort of our own homes!

  • Carve pumpkins (outside! less mess on your kitchen floor!)
  • Pick apples
  • Have picnics in parks
  • Go on walks and hikes, especially on trails or before work / in the evenings when the sidewalks are more open
  • Pick up delicious food from bakeries, beer from local breweries, cider from farm stands, and more
  • Host a book club
  • Cook a new recipe (might I suggest bread if you haven’t already gotten tired of this challenge?)
  • Deliver cookies to your friends and neighbors
  • Celebrate the end of the week with take-out from restaurants you love and want to see survive
  • Write letters and send birthday cards
  • Have a movie marathon or finally watch that series you were saving for a rainy day (Mad Men is next on my list and yes I know how late I am)
  • Plan for a future adventure by reading books, watching cooking and travel specials, learning a new language, or physically training – so that when the day comes when it’s safe to hit the road again, we are ready to go!

Tips for buying a car in a pandemic

The pandemic has brought a lot of firsts – for some people, making bread or going to therapy for the first time. For others, taking up running or starting / ending relationships. For me, it was a material change that is part of a lifestyle change – I bought a car!

My bucket list of things to do with my car is basically almost complete after a mere 2 months:

  • Drive myself to IKEA
  • Go see my cousin and her kiddos, visit my goat friends in CT, drive myself home to see my parents
  • Drive to the beach just to get ice cream
  • Go for hikes
  • Go to the grocery store (thrilling!)
  • Play on inconveniently located sports leagues
  • Visit far-away bakeries and markets
  • Still to come: use it to drive myself canvassing for candidates that matter to me, drive myself to Maine (sad but a tiny 6-seater plane is not where I want to be right now), and drive to see my favorite (yes, only) nephew in NJ plus my sis and brother-in-law

I am honestly loving having a car and the freedom of movement (in a time when so much else is closed off) more than I expected – even if the journey there was a bit time consuming and chaotic. I wrote up these tips to share with a friend and thought others who are considering their first / next car purchase in these weird times could benefit as well!

  1. Consumer Reports has great reviews of cars, including such that you can see the items that might matter most to you (driver side space, mpg, etc.). It’s $60 for a year and it saved me a few thousand dollars! Their website is better than their app but both are useful – and you can use it for way more than just cars.
  2. When you are ready to get a bid (you have picked what car you want), you can actually submit that request through Consumer Reports and people specifically told me they were giving me the CR price which was $2k off immediately. This is under “See Member Price on Local Inventory” on the car page. Highly recommend! This is how I got almost all my bids (and dozens of phone calls). I planned to buy in NH and ended up getting one in MA for a much lower price for the same car.
  3. Everyone is able to negotiate by email right now – and you can and should get offers in writing and keep your options open. I did test drives in the weeks ahead of picking my first choice, and negotiated the price with a few places and only made a final visit to the one where I picked out and bought my car.
  4. In general, inventory is wicked behind due to the supply chain / imports being stalled so there is somewhat of a finite source of new cars at the moment. Be ready to make a quick decision when you find the one you want! I lost the one I wanted in the color I thought I wanted (RIP galactic aqua mica) but love where I ended up with my blue flame.
  5. Be wary of what features are or are not included. I almost got a “better” deal on a version without a spare tire (super common), which sounds fine if you’re never doing distance driving but is less good for road trips of any length.
  6. Go in with a loan in hand from your bank so you can better negotiate. I had one approved, and ended up getting a 3 year loan (as recommended by my financial advisor) with 0% interest and 0% down. Don’t be fooled by seeing the “total monthly charge” – ask and ask and ask about the interest rate vs the principal and do your own math. They didn’t originally want to offer me 0% but I told them I had an offer in hand so they had to make it worth my time. I did have to give up $1000 in “Toyota cash” and get $500 off instead, but I was going to pay much more than that in interest with my bank loan so it still came out as a gain.
  7. Ask lots of questions: for example, how does registration work, what kind of plate options do you have (I got the whale one I wanted!), what other taxes will I have to pay, everything that could be a hassle later.
  8. Make a list of everything else you need to settle once you sign the paperwork. For me, that included insurance, parking permit, EZ Pass, AAA membership, and emergency supplies. I still need to get an almanac, because as much as I love my phone, I never want to go anywhere without a map.
  9. Get your insurance quotes as you’re collecting bids, since you need it to take the car home.  https://www.thezebra.com/ is what my cousin who works in insurance recommended and it’s how I got to my quote.
  10. Per my mom: go in for the final negotiation when you are not in a hurry. This thing takes HOURS and if we were in a rush it would have been miserable. Give yourself time to do it right.

What other advice do you have for a first-time car owner? What’s in your car’s emergency kit? Where should I travel to next??

All good things are wild, and free.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

I spent my Sunday morning in the woods around Walden Pond. This is notable because:

  1. In 34 years (most of them as a historical and literary nerd) I’ve never actually been to Walden Pond
  2. One of the reasons I wanted a car (I bought a car!) was to hike
  3. … and specifically to hike alone, which I’ve never done before.

I love hiking with my mom and other friends, but I wanted to be able to have adventures on my own schedule – which is the reality I’ve been creating for myself since I returned to the city in mid-May. Dates at far-away mini-golf courses, distanced visits to see kiddos and friends I’ve missed, kayaking after work, checking out new bakeries, eating ice cream on the beach, exploring the outdoor world as much as is safe and enjoying every mile (other than that one harrowing rainy drive through Malden…).

Today I needed fresh air, and using my AMC guidebook basically as a “Choose Your Own Adventure”, I found my way to Walden Pond.

I explored the Pond Path, where the splash and babble of the swimmers on the shores below made it feel like I was at the beach. And I took the Esker Path to Emerson’s Cliff – where the non-view made me laugh out loud with only the red squirrels as my audience.

Then I sat by the shore and painted, using pond water with my watercolors and pen. Off to one side was a fallen tree, cordoned off by swim buoys. I painted the way the water was inky where it touched the bark, and where the green pine needles reached down to meet the shadows. It was part of the scene, this Walden life.

Only it turns out – it wasn’t. Pond patrol motored by at one point and I heard the boater say to some nearby swimmers that the hollow tree, formerly a shore menace, had finally fallen just on Thursday – mere days earlier.

It struck me that from where I sat, this thing seemed permanent… inevitable. In fact, it had only just happened and was being dealt with shortly. In a week it likely won’t be there any longer.

It reminds me of this whole situation in the world. It feels like we have been masked and afraid and apart for ages. But when this is over, we will say – that wasn’t forever, it just looked that way from the shore.

We can be the buoys that keep each other safe in this moment – and only once we’ve earned it can we go back to a new normal view.

The last normal thing

Those which I didn’t realize would be significant:

  1. A birthday party centered around chips and dips
  2. Going to a sold out show at a local theater
  3. Jokingly arguing with my grandma on the phone
  4. Winning big at a night out at the casino
  5. A three-hour pottery class
  6. A mini shopping spree and new hiking boots
  7. Canceling a first date because I was too busy (and stressed)

Those that I will celebrate next:

  1. Hugging my family and friends
  2. Seeing any live performance
  3. Eating food from a street vendor
  4. A night out at the Red Sox
  5. Shopping for fun and not alone
  6. Riding a train
  7. A first date – in person

Kitchen adventure: my first brisket

I have so much to say about the state of the world right now, but I’ll save that for another post.

This post is about brisket. I always get it at BBQ places (the side affect of not eating pork and not liking bone-in chicken) but I never considered making it at home, until all this pandemic drama struck.

We’ve been trying to go to the store only every two weeks, and supplementing with some delivery, including food from a local farm and local butcher. In the last order, I (jokingly?) asked my sister to include 2 lbs of brisket… and thus a meal was born!

This fed the five of us for one meal, though we would have loved to have more for breakfast (and luckily my three week old nephew did not insist on his portion). I will definitely be making it again – maybe even before we leave New Jersey!

Crockpot Brisket

  • 2 lbs of brisket
  • 2 onions, cut into big chunks
  • 1 cup broth (I used chicken, most people recommend beef but you could really use anything)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Cut the onions into big chunks. Lay in the bottom of a slow cooker. Pour the broth over the top.
  2. Place the meat on top – I lay it fat side down. No need to precut or anything, just put the whole piece in!
  3. Mix together the brown sugar, salt, and mustard in a small bowl, and spoon / spread on the exposed parts of the meat.
  4. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. We cooked for 8 but it could have been removed earlier!

That’s literally it. Save the broth and onions though for more tips below…

To supplement this tastiness, we made a gravy and polenta, and served up some Brussels sprouts and multicolor cauliflower.

For the gravy, slice up mushrooms (we used one small box of baby bellas). Cook them in a nonstick pan (no oil needed) and then spoon in the broth and onions, cooking over medium. Add a teaspoon of corn starch as you go to thicken it up.

And to round it out – we made polenta in the pressure cooker! You simply mix 1 cup polenta with 4 cups water. Bring to a simmer, then close the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, then cook on high for 9 minutes. Manually releases the pressure and add in 1/2 cup of grated cheese – we used parm.

Overall, it was a delicious meal that made our Saturday dinner special, with very little hands-on work. I’ll definitely make this again!

10k of awesome

Yesterday, mum and I ran the 43rd Boston 10k for women – currently sponsored by Reebok but originally the Bonne Bell race circa 1977.

When it started all those years ago, it was one of the only all-women races in the country, and today it still holds the title of the longest running one on the east coast. Last year we saw a woman with a “42 years” sticker and were impressed – then we discovered that she started the race and was its first organizer! Yesterday we found and thanked her again – you rock, Dusty Rhodes!

This was my 4th year running it and mom’s 8th – we missed 7 years because my work retreat at my last job was always on this weekend, but now we are BACK and were ready to rock. We trained this summer and especially this fall, as our hiking season waned – exploring new parts of the rail trail, doing interval workouts, and running more days a week than I have in a long time. I also learned how much I need a warmup to really do my best – 10 mins is enough and makes such a difference in terms of how easy that first mile is!

Race day was beautiful – the sky was clear blue during our warm-up yoga, the temps were rising, and the puddles from last week had all evaporated.

We were so happy to be out on the course – we weren’t even worried about mom’s cell phone which was lost, because we had convinced ourselves it was just forgotten in the car (mega thanks to Kat for coordinating its safe return and being so helpful when we did realize it was missing hours later!). We ran with a similar pack for most of the race, and had hundreds of people behind us (reducing the risk that a cop would dare ask us to move to the sidewalk like last year, though we had our enthusiastic “no thank you”s planned again). The water stops were plentiful (1 per mile!) and operated by very enthusiastic college and high school students. On the bridge, we passed the winners and wheelchair racer coming back the other way – such amazing athletes! Molly Huddle, who won, is 35 to second place’s 22. So impressive!

Also impressive: our pace! Our goal was to beat last year’s time and we were pacing way ahead of that (no splits – see phone issue…). We knew if we kept it up we would crush our goal and that powered us through the last .2 miles.

In the end, we cut 4 minutes off our 2018 time – down to 1:28:41! Such a great ending to such a solid training season and fall in general.

Bonus points for good food from the tents, finding mom’s phone, and my first-year roommate Jill finding ME while stretching. 15 years after we first moved into North Rocky together and we’re still friends!

Mom and I were so happy to be in the sunshine together and fit enough for this and whatever other challenge may come our way.

In summary – get back on that course, set a goal for yourself, and run until your heart sings!

Mountain Day remembered

A belated post – backdated to reflect reality!

Mountain Day 2019 was a rainy, gray day – I knew in my gut that it would be that day, despite the lack of great hiking weather. When I saw the official announcement, I immediately scoped out ice cream locales in Boston – and only found one on Newbury Street.

Where were my Camberville folks at??

Before my roommate, MoHo Sarah, left for the day, I asked if she would help me host something closer to home and she thankfully said yes. Thus I added an event in Davis Square for 18:37, the standard meeting time.

By that afternoon, dozens of spots all over Boston had been added to the list and I wasn’t sure if anyone would come to mine – but Sarah and I headed to the square anyway with my Mountain Day hat to help people recognize us.

It worked! 15 people showed up, most of whom live within 10 mins of the square and thus are our actual neighbors. We all shared delicious ice cream – I got apple cider sorbet, so good!

We made new friends, connected again with old ones, found career and social connections. Four of us stayed until the air had turned cold and we were shivering between words.

I love my Mount Holyoke pals and our Mountain Day traditions – see you all next year!

Packing for a 4,000 footer

When life gives you sunshine… go climb a mountain!

My mom and I have made this a new annual tradition, to hike a new path and stay in a new hut each summer. It started with Mizpah and Mount Pierce a few years ago (somewhat on a whim), and then continued in earnest last summer with Lakes of the Clouds on our way to the summit of Mount Washington. This year, we wanted to hit yet another new peak, so we headed over to Greenleaf Hut, on Mount Lafayette.

Our hike was in the first week of the 2019 season, June 3-5. And our destination was Lafayette via Greenleaf (an Appalachian Mountain Club hut) with the idea that we would hike up, get to the hut early and chill for dinner and sleep there, then go to the summit and back the next day, sleep at the hut again, and head down.

This was plan A.

What actually happened was plan… D? E? Something later than C, because everything conspired against us to change the safe, fun, and comfortable options we could choose between.

We had packed well for hiking in the White Mountains in the summer. But we forgot that June isn’t actually summer up there. Before we got to the hut, it was snowing. By the time we sat down for snacks (delicious pumpkin curry soup and apple bread), the summit was obscured in clouds and a snow squall. People were coming in with a chilly blast and their buffs pulled over their faces to keep save even a fraction of warmth. When we went to bed that night, it was 38 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and we wore every single layer we had brought with us, plus our requisite 3 wool blankets, plus sleeping bags that the hut staff loaned us, which truly made it possible to rest. (Our back up plan here was to steal a million more blankets from other bunks because there were only 7 guests and 5 staffers in a cabin that can sleep 48 in the high season!).

Backpacks and bunk beds

All our gear in the room we delightfully had to ourselves at Greenleaf

So instead of hiking up and down the same day, or hiking over and down, or hiking over and over another mountain, we worked with the awesome hut croo to rebook ourselves into Lonesome Lake for night #2, and we trekked down and then up to the Appalachian Trail on a totally different path.

The result was actually delightful – we loved seeing a new place, we got to finish a full 15 feet of the AT, and we met many people who had really interesting stories from their longer (or in some cases, shorter) hikes there.

I highly recommend checking out some of the AMC huts in New Hampshire. And when you do go, you can see what we packed and consider what you might need for your own trek!

We’ll start with the least important but most unique to the Jane-and-Sally-go-hiking experience:

“HUT LIFE”
We kept this in a separate packing cube / plastic bag since we only needed it at night, and it was SO nice to pull out a little, clean gift to yourself when you arrived at your bunk, and not have this get caught up in all your other gear.

  • Flip flops – for when you’ve arrived and get to finally let your feet breathe
  • Washcloth or some other sort of towel (most huts have running water in the sink, though no showers)
  • Lounge clothes – often the clothes you’re going to wear the next day, though sometimes it’s nice to have one soft shirt / bra / pair of shorts just for a change
  • Power bank – in case there’s no option to use a common plug and you need to recharge your devices for photos the next day
  • Earplugs – in these big shared rooms, there is ALWAYS someone snoring. Sometimes it’s even your mom.
  • Headphones – for the same purpose, blocking out some noise in common rooms when you’re trying to force yourself to sleep at 9 PM.
  • Entertainment – a book (or if you’re basic like us, a Kindle), playing cards, drawing supplies, etc. One person told us his indulgent item was a collapsible fishing pole!
  • Sleeping bag liner with built-in pillowcase – we have this one and LOVE it. Having a liner means you can stack wool blankets on top of you without having them on your skin, and it was perfect when we borrowed a sleeping bag in sudden winter weather. They have an orange one available now, which I would have gotten if it was an option – whenever possible, having something bright with you on a mountain is a good idea for being visible to rescuers in a pinch.
  • Mini-wallet with your ID, some cash, and credit card – technically you need this for any hike, but I keep mine in this part of my bag since I mostly use it to buy souvenirs at the huts!
  • Travel clothesline – so anything that is wet or even damp can dry overnight
  • Snacks, including your favorite teabags
  • Evening bathroom essentials – medicine, toothbrush, etc.

OVERALL HIKING AND SAFETY GEAR
For this one, we go to the AMC – their list of the 10 essentials is… essential. Summarized here, but don’t skimp on this category – make sure you’re preparing for every outcome.

  1. Map and compass/GPS
  2. Extra water and a way to purify it – this may seem extreme but just get some purification tablets, keep them in your bag, and if you toss them every few years because you never had an emergency, you’re doing pretty well!
  3. Extra food
  4. Lighter / matches / fire starter
  5. Flashlight / headlamp – your phone does NOT count, this needs to be able to last for hours and have extra batteries.
  6. First aid kit
  7. Knife or multi-purpose tool
  8. Waterproof / wind gear and extra clothing
  9. Sun screen, sunglasses, lip balm, maybe even ski goggles
  10. Tarp, bivy sack, or emergency blanket – again, don’t cut corners here, just buy an emergency kit, tuck it in your bag, and hope you never have to use it.

In addition, I pack the following:

  • Hiking backpack – with a raincover (that should really never come off / out of your bag – make it live there!)
  • Hiking poles – bring 2 even if you think you only need 1, it’s helpful on some downhills or if one breaks
  • Extra tips for hiking poles
  • Water bladder AND water bottle
  • Gatorade or other sports drink to get varying liquids
  • Sport beans – I love these for when I need just a pop of sugar but don’t want to drink more
  • Lots of food of varying types – jerky, granola bars, sandwiches, apples, etc.
  • Bathroom kit (see REI’s tips for how to use the bathroom in the woods – including hand sanitizer and a small shovel)
  • First aid kit – and make sure it contains things that are in good shape (bandages that still stick, Advil that’s not expired)
  • Hike Safe Card or similar – this is basically disaster / rescue insurance!
  • Bug net and insect repellent – to cover your face when the black flies start swarming
  • Trip itinerary – and make sure to leave one with a friend and ideally also put one copy in your car (at the trailhead) where it’s out of site. Mom has been making us mini-maps that show specifically where we’re hiking and they’re a great addition so we don’t need to unfold something each time (though we also had the full versions). Plus, it’s nice to have a copy of the narrative description of the trails!
  • Whistle
  • Gaiters, YakTrax, etc depending on your terrain
  • Fitbit or other tracker or watch
  • Foam pad, for safety and comfort – Mom used hers as protection against losing all her body heat on the cold benches at dinner
  • Tick removal tool
  • Poncho

CLOTHING
Rule #1-100 – NO COTTON

  • Buff – I can’t live without this and take my Survivor one on every trip, even a simple sleepover at my cousin’s house
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking boots
  • Hat with a visor, to protect your face from the sun
  • Wool socks or similar
  • Wicking underwear
  • Wicking t-shirt
  • Wicking long underwear (something you can layer under other pants)
  • Synthetic long pants – I like the kind that zip off into shorts. They may not be styling but they are great for the shifting weather of the mountains
  • Rain jacket / rain pants – even if you already have a poncho!
  • Puffy vest that packs down into something small – we ended up wearing these to sleep! Super important to not lose heat even when you’re done hiking

CAR PACK
To have handy for when you’re done your hike!

  • Bathing suit
  • Towel
  • Quarters for any shower you may be near (this is 100000% our favorite part of hiking – sorry to every other part!)
  • Other shower essentials – body wash, shampoo, etc.

What else do you pack on a hike, or wish you had? I’ll keep this list updated as we inevitably learn more lessons!

Being a good neighbor

This week, I went to my first-ever community meeting. You would have thought that as a Leslie Knope fan, this would be a weekly occurrence for me / I would be running these by now, but in fact my progressive city usually operates in such a solid way that I’ve been able to focus my energy on local nonprofit work.

The big, dramatic thing that finally made me change my mind?

Traffic safety

In the year since I moved closer to Tufts, I have been a part of or close to such traffic danger that I never knew was happening down the road. I’ve called 911 for witnessing car accidents in the rotary twice. I’ve had countless cars almost hit me on a crosswalk (usually because drivers were texting). After being on crutches, I realized the terrible weight we put on pedestrians at the benefit of cars (with blocked crosswalks and bus lanes and so much more, which is more than an annoyance when you’re struggling just to stand).

And I now run with a reflective vest in honor and awareness of Allison Donovan, a woman who was mowed down in a crosswalk by a drunk driver right outside the elementary school where this meeting was being held.

For all these reasons – and the tragedies we can prevent – I sat on a hard metal folding chair, wearing said reflective vest, on this Wednesday night. And you better believe that before the night was done, I also put in my name to join the city’s (soon-to-be) pedestrian safety committee.

Being there really showed me why this matters – even if I don’t have kids in the schools or a permanent residence here. Our city belongs to all of us, but we have to show up to really make sure our voices are being heard.

Go to your own local government’s meetings and tell me how it goes! Then maybe let’s run for something together?

A trail deferred

When I was a kid in 1998, bald and in the middle of cancer treatments, all I wanted was to be NORMAL. Not the sixth grader with bruises and scars, not the one who was allowed to miss all the classes, not the one who people had to treat gently. I wanted to have the same 12-year-old adventures as everyone else, and that included walking the Freedom Trail on our class field trip.

I was so excited for that spring day – on top of the adventure of BOSTON my dad was chaperoning, something that never happened (my parents always coached our teams and shuttled us Girl Scouts around, but we had our own family trips instead of them chaperoning).

But as we were getting ready to board the buses, I got called down to the front office – and it was my mom on the phone, saying that my counts had come back and we needed to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion. We were all crushed – she had argued with my doctor but there was no wiggle room (unless we were already on the bus, which my classmates were now boarding).

For the past 21 years, I’ve thought often of that trail. In fact, most of my Boston jobs have been ON it. But I’ve never done the whole thing… until now!

Yesterday dad and I finally did the whole trail. 6+ miles of walking over 6 hours, starting at the Common and ending at the top of Bunker Hill.

Along the way, we saw the Sacred Cod, compared cemeteries (and found Copp’s Hill to be the most favorable burying place), and made extensive lists of historical facts to research when back home.

We saved most of the indoor attractions for a less sunny day so we would have time for the final leg, but did make time for Old Ironsides!

We met fellow explorers along the way – a young boy and his mom who wanted to find the trail in order to play Pokémon Go, a family from Scotland, many people in historical garb who looked even hotter than we felt.

Honestly, I’ve been to some of the great cities of the world, and I’ve lived in Boston for a decade. And yet I was shocked at how powerful I found the trail – not just because we were slightly delirious in the blazing sun, not just because I had been dreaming of this for 21 years, but because of the story the trail tells about a scrappy group of people believing in fighting for something bigger than themselves.

This kind of quest – with decision points along the way and a trusty fellow traveler at your side – is my favorite way to spend a day and remember what matters in this world. I am so grateful that I am still alive today to live and learn something new… and get the pressed penny to prove it.