Hiking the A.T.

The mountains of Northeast Georgia provide an amazing array of hiking choices for those who are outdoorsy-inclined. Hiking is one of my favorite weekend activities, especially during the cooler weather. After almost a full week of feeling almost like a normal human being, I wanted to take a real hike this weekend and not just a jaunt through the woods at Unicoi State Park.

So early on Sunday morning, Greg and I packed up our gear and our snacks and headed up the mountain on the Richard Russell Scenic Parkway nearby. This highway gets closed quite often during the winter months because certain parts never see direct sunlight and ice sticks around like crazy. We drove up to the top of the mountain, to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road at Hog Pen Gap. From that particular trail head, we headed north for 2 miles and then returned.

GPS map of the hike

A nice, relatively flat 4-mile hike was exactly what I needed for both my body and my spirits. The morning was absolutely invigorating, albeit a bit chilly at first. The trail follows a ridge, and we were hiking in fog for a good portion of the morning, watching it slowly evaporate as the sun rose over the mountains and peeked through the trees.

I feel a unique sort of peace while hiking, and there’s an added bonus of accomplishment when you’re done.

Oddly enough, this is the first time we’ve done this portion of the A.T. I’d like to return eventually and go a littler further than 2 miles in.

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Fall Sensations: Tastes

I love food.

And as the temperatures start falling, the varieties and hardiness of food explodes into a veritable cornucopia of potential feasts. So closely entwined with your sense of smell is your ability to taste. Food and drinks are amazing in autumn!

Some people say that fall officially begins when the pumpkin spice latte becomes available in Starbucks. Personally, I prefer a caramel mocha frappachino, or my homemade mulled apple cider, but I digress. There are a few things out there that are pumpkin spicy that I do enjoy (my co-worker’s gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake balls are divine!), but I tend to enjoy the other flavors of fall.

It all starts with the candy. Everyone knows that pumpkin-shaped Reese’s are far superior to the everyday Reese’s, and every small piece of candy brings back memories of trick-or-treating and tummy aches. When you see the halloween-branded candy in stores, you know, in your heart, that that candy is the best.

But as we get older, our dessert palettes become more sophisticated. We crave the richness of pies – apple, pumpkin, pecan, oh my! A nice hot piece of pie, all topped with a scoop of quickly melting vanilla ice cream.

Admit it, your mouth is watering at the thought of it. Remember the last time you had a delicious piece of pie? Visualize the experience. Enjoy the memory, savor it!

Pie is a special treat in my household. We typically only have it three or four times a year, with Thanksgiving usually being the most pie-intense day. But dessert is not the only taste of the aptly named Turkey day, there’s a whole feast involved!

Old picture of me chowing down on the leg of some fowl – can’t remember if this is turkey, goose, or duck. We kinda experimented a lot with Thanksgiving several years ago.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, dressing, gravy, creamed corn, casseroles galore, and so much more! Not to mention the leftovers and the inventive meals that you come up with to use those last remaining bits of turkey.

Oh, so good!

And think of all the other wonderful foods that don our cupboards and shelves during Autumn: Apples, nuts, oranges, cloves – things that not only taste great, but leave a lasting, comforting aroma.

And stews! Soups! and Chili! all those warm comfort foods that seem too hot to enjoy when it’s 90 degrees outside hit the spot when the thermometer drops below 60.

What’s your favorite fall food and drinks?

Warring Emotions

For the past two days, I’ve felt better. My mystery illness has given me a reprieve from both the fatigue and the abdominal-wrenching pain that was occurring randomly after eating. I’ve been able to get full walks in during lunch. I’ve gotten decent workouts in on my recumbent bike. I’ve been less fearful of eating.

I should be ecstatic. So, why does this frustrate the bejeezus outta me?

Because next week, I have a series of appointments. On Monday, I’m meeting with a cardiologist; on Tuesday, I’m getting a hepatobiliary scan (gallbladder and bile duct stuff); and then on Thursday, I’m visiting a gastroenterologist. If all my symptoms are gone again, then these visits may very well be for naught. I don’t want them to be a waste of time. I want to find out what the hell is going on inside my body.

Last year, I experienced symptoms for a solid three months. I had good days even then, and then would have days where I was couch-ridden and unable to even lift up the tv remote without pain. This time, I’ve been down for 6 weeks, again with dramatic variation in my energy and pain levels from day to day.

But I’ve been feeling almost normal. I’m afraid to get excited, because tomorrow could bring another bout of awful. But if I do start feeling symptoms again, then I may have something that can be discovered by any of the appointments I have scheduled next week, and I can find answers as to the cause of my woes.

See why my emotions are in turmoil?

I want to be better. I will get better. But I don’t want to be left in the dark any more. My body and my spirit are at odds with each other and until I figure out what is going on, then I’ll always have that fear of it returning at any time, even if it goes right now.

So for now, I focus on the present. I’m feeling good today, and that is a good thing. I’ll keep meditating, being mindful, and doing my gratitude rituals. I am thankful for today because I got to enjoy a full walk at lunch without needing to break or nap.

Me and the pup, just chillin’

Fall Sensations: Scents

Autumn is the season of sense-based mindfulness. Okay, that may just be my opinion, but I intend to argue it fanatically. Everything, five senses-wise, is improved in the Fall. It’s the perfect time of year to really take some time to stop and just enjoy the now and pay special attention to the world and it’s beauty that’s all around you.

Oh hey, that sounds like a great topic for a series of five blog posts, one for each sense!

Let’s start with our olfactory faculties. The sense of smell is most associated with memory and nostalgia. Ergo, you can walk into some random building and BAM! you’re transported back to your kindergarten cafeteria. But Autumn has the best scents associated with it. Just go to the candle section of Walmart to prove this to yourself. Mulled cider, Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake, Cranberry compote – The smells that make a dwelling smell like a cozy, loving home.

The air itself smells different. While not an all together pleasant smell, go outside and into the woods. Take a big ol’ sniff and inhale the aroma of early fall decay. It’s a unique smell, a bit tangy, but oddly welcoming. It signals sunny, but cool days.

The dried leaves themselves have a earthy smell to them. This scent gets stirred up especially when you rake or blow the leaves. (And then promptly jump into the piles you make).

I love the smell of a freshly cut jack-o-lantern.

The smell of a pumpkin as you carve it.

The scent of mulling spices and apple cider warming on the stove.

The incense of a nearby campfire or the smell of burning leaves permeating the air.

The acrid odor of dust burning the first time you turn the heat pump on.

The smell of hay, whether in bales for feed or decoration, or spread on a freshly seeded lawn, or providing cushion in a large wagon pulled by a tractor through a field of pumpkins.

And so much more.

The scents of fall are so comforting, like a warm hug for your nose hairs.

The foods of Fall give some of the best aromas of all. Chili, stew, and other warm savory flavors floating in the air…

What a great segue into the next post on taste! Stay tuned for more.

My New Toy

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

I am a spreadsheet person. I love graphs, analytics, and reporting. I love being able to track progress with hard data.

So on my wellness journey, I like seeing numbers because they motivate me. I wear a Fitbit everyday to keep track of my steps. I log my calories intake and burn into MyFitnessPal. I can hit my step goals, and I can keep to my calorie goals (well… most of the time). Plotting these numbers helps me be mindful of my health.

But what’s been difficult to put into numbers has been my overall bodily fitness. Weight is a poor measurement of health, and weight loss isn’t a good thing when you’re trying to build lean muscle. Muscle weighs more than an equal volume of fat. Clothing size is also unacceptable. As I gain more bulk in my arms and legs, I actually have to go up in clothing size to keep the circulation flowing to my extremities (skinny jeans are the devil to girls with thick calves). Keeping progress photos is great! You can actually see differences and that can totally be motivating, but it’s certainly a less concrete method, especially for a numbers-oriented person like myself (That’s a weird statement coming from a person with an English degree).

So I finally invested in a bathroom scale that accurately (relatively accurately, anyway) measures several body weight factors, including body fat percentage, body water percentage, muscle mass, and more. It also has a nice handy app that automatically syncs to the scale, keeps up with trends (graphic!), and then syncs to my other fitness apps. (See the scale here: https://www.amazon.com/RENPHO-Bluetooth-Body-Fat-Scale/dp/B01N1UX8RW)

I’ve had it for about 10 days now, and I’m excited. I can finally track my fitness levels by using a better measurement – body fat percentage. Right now, I’m at about 25-26% body fat – which is healthy, but I want to hit a higher level of fitness and get to about 21-23%. This gives me a solid goal to strive for.

For the first couple of weeks, I’ll be measuring myself every other day or so soon after waking up. That way, I can get a truthful baseline measurement. After that, it’ll probably be every 5-7 days.

Zen and the Art of Landscaping

One of the most frustrating things about my mystery illness is my weakness and fatigue. I am a relatively active person. On a normal, healthy day, I get more that 12,000 steps in and at least one type of exercise in. On weekends, I’m hiking or kayaking or doing some major project around the house. I am no couch potato.

But when the fatigue strikes, my whole routine gets thrown for a loop. During my last flair up, I laid on the couch a lot. During this flair up, I’m trying to be better. Some days are harder than others. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m physically exhausted and sprawled out on my couch, but I feel like I’ve earned some relaxation and couch time.

You see, Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, an amazing fall day, and there was some landscape work around the Loebick cabin that needed doin’. We have a nice little flower garden area in our back yard – two in fact. They’re lined by piles of rocks. Previously, we had cleared one of them out, unburying and moving every single rock, and filled it with pinestraw. For weeks, our yard was out of balance. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to help finally finish this task.

Illness be damned.

I was able to do a lot of the work sitting down. Digging the rocks out and moving them about a foot out from the border line was exhausting, but Greg did most of the heavy lifting (though some of those bigger rocks required a team-lift. That was a bit rough on the weakened system). The second flowerbed was a bit more difficult than the first, because we had a large Japanese Maple and a shrub thingy to work around. That Japanese maple is one of my most favorite features about my yard.

As a kid, I hated yard work with a passion. I didn’t understand why my mom planted flowers and vegetables. I didn’t know why she and my dad spent so much time outside building and maintaining flower beds.

But now I get it. I take a certain pride and ownership in my home, my refuge from the world. I want it to look beautiful, and I want to do that work myself. There’s a certain zen I feel while doing work. It’s difficult. Rocks are heavy and dirt gets everywhere. My hair gets icky and my feet hurt. But I can fully engulf my mind into the work at hand. At the end of the day, that hard, honest work is worth it. I can sit back (after a hot shower) and allow myself to be overwhelmed at the prideful satisfaction of a job completed and well done. Of seeing the before and after, and knowing that I’ve improved that parcel significantly.

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I am grateful that I had enough energy to accomplish this task.

I am grateful for my beautiful home in the woods.

 

 

A Jaunt Through the Woods

The North Georgia Mountains typically experiences one weekend of perfect Autumn weather a year. This weekend was that weekend. It’s that weekend where, no matter how bad or weak I’m feeling, you can bet I’m going to be outside in one form or fashion. Yesterday, I spent most of the day helping Greg to landscape work where I could (more on that tomorrow), but today we partook in some much needed hiking therapy.

Our reasons were multiple. Both Greg and I wanted to get out and enjoy the day. We also took all three dogs to the vet on Friday for their checkups and vaccines. Twinkie, Scotch, and Beans had all gained a significant amount of weight, and while that’s good news for Beans, the growing puppy, it wasn’t so much for Twinkie and Scotch. Especially Twinkie, who had gained almost 15 pounds since her last vet visit. I knew she had put on some matronly weight in her old age, but I never realized how much!

It was eye-opening to say the least.

So we’ve made a promise to ourselves to give the older pups more activity, so that hopefully they can slim back down to a healthier corgi weight.

So we harnessed up all three pups, which is an epic task within itself, and schlepped them over to Unicoi State Park where we walked the lake trail. It’s the perfect trail for the old fart corgis who don’t do well on long or hilly hikes, and for Beans’s first ever hike. It’s also great for me, who has a finite amount of energy to spend while experiencing a flair up of the mystery illness (I’ll post an update on that later this week).

Half of the fun is constantly untangling the leashes of this bunch

It was actually a bit misty when we first started, but quickly cleared up. I think the short, 2-mile hike did everyone some good. The pups were super happy to be out, and even Twinkie, who is quite lazy, kept pace and seemed to enjoy it. Greg and I got to actively participate in the one perfect autumn weekend, for which I am most grateful.

So now we sit back and wait for winter to arrive next weekend. Autumn in the mountains is an elusive and fickle thing.