Addition, not subtraction

Me with Oliver

I’m sneaking this post.

My son has been asleep for the better part of an hour already, which means we’re on borrowed time. Spencer is outside changing a series of parts on his car — don’t ask me which — and I “helped” by holding a few bolts in place while he jimmied something together. We made lunch (frozen burgers), scrubbed a few random surfaces, and I made “progress” with the laundry by moving it from the dryer to the bed, where it is heaped and waiting.

But I am happy.

Now that Oliver is 14 months old, babbling like crazy and moving everywhere, showing his first signs of independence . . . I feel these little pieces of myself returning. For so long, I was too tired for anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity (and even some things that were).

But I’m reading again. I actually finished a real, physical book, and am making progress on another (and loving it).

I’m walking like crazy. My Fitbit has totally kicked my rump in the best way, and I — er, I mean Oliver — surprised Spencer with his own for Father’s Day so we can enter into a little “friendly competition” with our steps each day. I don’t always hit 10,000, but I remember many of your tips from my post last month and push myself to do just a bit more than I think I can every day.

When I think of my life with a newborn, I was a shell of a human being — and I am at peace with saying those were not the happiest days of my life. The months we’ve had with Oliver now, who is sweet and funny and mischievous, are easily better and more rewarding and more fulfilling than our hard, hard start.

I never wondered if I was cut out for motherhood, but I have wondered if it would always be that difficult. Putting prematurity aside, I didn’t know I could be so physically exhausted and still functioning. And working. And cleaning stuff.

But it’s been more than a year, and I rarely forget we’re a trio now — not a duo. We take walks with Oliver in the stroller on the nights the humidity doesn’t settle like a wool blanket, and I love watching his eyes take in the swaying trees. He swings his feet now and leans forward, gripping the baby-sized cupholders, and whatever irritable mood he was in before that moment is carried off by the breeze.

Life is not perfect. Nothing ever is. But I don’t have to try and remember if I’ve actually brushed my teeth or used the restroom that morning, which is a huge step up from where we have been.

I am finding balance.

Thinking of everything that has happened since we married in late 2013, I do try to give myself a break. I mean, two years ago this week, we were moving into our new house. One year ago, I had just returned to work after Oliver was born in April.

If becoming a mom was an adjustment, becoming working parents certainly added a new dimension to our lives. But Spence and I have made it work — even when I wasn’t sure how we would. It’s taken a combination of a wonderful babysitter, supportive local family, flexible bosses and work schedules . . . but we haven’t missed an appointment, meeting or deadline. And Ollie has been in great hands.

This year? I breathe more. I chat more. I find time for the little things that make me happy — baking, reading three pages of a book . . . heck, even shopping — when, in fits of exhaustion, I didn’t know if I ever would or could again. Sometimes it takes creativity, and it’s not as seamless as it may have been before we had a baby. But even someone terrible at math can see he is an addition, not a subtraction. Never a subtraction.

And when in doubt, I walk it out. I’ve never looked forward to being outside or slipping on sneakers, but those quiet moments of movement are as close to meditating as I get. Just like with weight loss, it’s less about a number and more about a feeling.

And I feel better. Calmer. And I am so, so grateful for that.

A springtime stroll

Blue skies

Gray skies are gonna clear up . . .

Walking everywhere sounded so romantic.

As a suburban girl who grew up riding everywhere in the back of her parents’ minivan, I’ve never been one to entertain the idea of hoofing it anywhere. We have no real public transportation here in Southern Maryland; sidewalks are often a joke. I grew up on the side of a major highway just outside the Beltway in D.C., and walking? Yeah, no one walks. Not unless you have a death wish . . . or your car broke down.

When Spencer moved into his condo — our home, now — in town three years ago, we were so excited at the idea of being able to walk to things. I had visions of us stepping out for coffee on Saturday mornings, strolling the busy streets or walking to the town’s summer concerts when the weather gets warm. There are so many amenities within walking distance: restaurants, a theater, the post office, stores.

But do we walk there?


I’m going to go ahead and admit that I’m really the one at fault. Despite my get-healthy routines and life revamp in 2013, I’m . . . pretty lazy. And for most of the year, the weather in Maryland is humid or sticky or ugly or rainy or HOT, and I don’t play that. I was a woman made to wander the great indoors, and that’s generally how I like it.

But it’s spring. We’ve all been so cooped up for so long, the idea of spending another second in a dry, dark room is unbearable. It was so gorgeous last weekend, and the trees have finally begun to blossom. I guess I’m feeling nostalgic, too, because I know we won’t be here much longer. We won’t live in town past the spring, and I’m already feeling the twinges of that change.

Typical. Feeling sad before I need to, before I must.

So we walked to dinner last Wednesday, dodging cars and potholes in our journey to a local bar. We thought about eating outside, but the air was just a touch on the too-cool side for comfort. Groups of friends perched on wrought-iron tables on the patio, though, chatting and laughing and smoking the occasional cigarette. We watched the sunset through dusty windows, then stopped to capture the first buds of spring on our jaunt home.

We walked on Sunday, too — all the way to lunch with family and our local theater for a show. That was our farthest walk yet, and I thought about how good it felt to be footloose and fancy free in the sunshine. No worrying about parking lots or meters or tickets in town; no stress over getting “the right spot” at the busy matinee. Just the two of us in our light jackets, holding hands next to the train tracks.


It figures I’d come around to the idea of taking my own two feet wherever we needed to be just in time for us to move on. Though our house will only be about a 10-minute drive away, it won’t be pedestrian-friendly.

But that’s okay. New times, new adventures.

And I know we’ll stroll again.

Scaling to new heights

Bodie Island

It didn’t look that high.

I have vague memories of Bodie Island Light Station from a visit decades ago — murky memories of the black-and-white structure visible in the distance when we’d cruise to the drive-in beach down the road. Little brother to the nearby iconic Cape Hatteras, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, Bodie Island is near the beach house my family has rented since I was a kid . . . but like all things nearby, it fell off my radar. There was always something else to see or do.

Since Spencer made his first trip to the Outer Banks with us last year, I’ve been refreshing my views of the coastal towns I’ve come to love so much — and Bodie Island made our list of local spots to check out this year. We made it there on Tuesday just as black storm clouds crested the horizon. The rain came in not long after I took the shot above, but we’d secured our tickets to climb the lighthouse already — and we were going for it.

That’s what I told myself, anyway.

IMG_9051Have I ever mentioned I’m scared of heights? I mean, that’s not weird or anything, I know; plenty of folks are freaked out by heights. Despite my all-out panic-induced tremors, though, I never let the terror keep me grounded. I’ve been to the top of the Sears Tower, ridden the London Eye, walked across a glass floor at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto. These things scared me, but it was a good scary. It was an “I’m not going to let this defeat me” kind of scared: the sort that leaves you exhilarated after you’ve crushed something that intimidated you.

By the time our tour group made for the entrance of the lighthouse, my palms and feet were sweating. A sudden downpour left me soaking wet and squeaky. Our park ranger explained a bit about Bodie Island and the lighthouse’s original construction in 1872, detailing the grueling hours and tasks performed by the tower’s keepers for more than a century — long before electricity first illuminated Bodie Island in 1932. I was really interested in the lighthouse’s history and Sarahanne was really knowledgeable and everything was cool and blah blah blah, but we quickly started climbing the stairs and man that thing was high and I was getting freaked and briefly thought I’d have to embarrass myself by turning back.

But I didn’t.


The stairs were grated and see-through; the higher we rose from my dear friend Solid Ground, the more anxious I became. The humidity inside the lighthouse was tremendous, twisting my already-damp hair into a mess of frizzy curls I had to keep out of my eyes. I struggled to keep my toes inside my sandals, putting one foot in front of the other, and I began to mumble to myself in the nervous way everyone must just before suffering a psychotic break.

Poor Spencer. My mom climbed ahead of me, reaching higher and higher, as my fiance tried to reassure my trembling form from a few steps behind. I focused solely on walking up step by step. I didn’t look up; I sure as heck didn’t look down. All I could do was focus on each individual stair until I’d scaled the 200-plus steps, all leading to a hatch at the top.

I climbed through.


The rain had slowed to a fine mist, but the combination of slick steps, wind and knowledge that we were really high up was enough to keep me glued to the wall. I dug around for my camera to snap a few gray pictures before spinning around to begin our descent. The walk back was worse than the walk up . . . mostly because as we continued down, I could totally see the ground. And it was really, really far below me.

But I made it, obviously. I’m typing and drinking a Diet Coke right now. And as my mom raised her eyebrows at my sweaty freak-out, proclaiming that she had “no idea” I was afraid of heights, I felt irrationally proud. I am afraid, but I do it anyway. “Feel the fear and go for it,” as they say.

Oh, I felt it.

And I am better for it.


More than we bargained for on the Golden Gate Bridge

Some things in life just have to be enjoyed twice.

Whether we want to or not.

When Spencer and I began planning our trip to California, one option on the intinerary really stood out to me: a chance to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, the enduring and universal symbol of San Francisco. The city itself has great significance to my family, what with my dad falling in love with S.F. after a school trip there in the 1970s, and my parents honeymooning there years later. We visited twice as I was growing up, but I hadn’t returned to the City by the Bay in almost a decade.

Needless to say, I wanted to cram in as much as possible.

Our Trafalgar tour had us traveling from Sausalito across the bridge, getting a sense of what it feels like to drive it. (Awesome — “Full House”-style!) When Spencer and I hopped off our tour bus, the plan was to walk the 1.7 miles end to end and be picked up on the other side. Our driver was going to wait there and transport us back to the hotel.

Having our orders, we set off. The bridge was filled with families and joggers, many there to celebrate the Golden Gate’s 75th birthday on Memorial Day weekend. Though our faces were soon windburned and my feet began to scream, we took in the view of downtown San Francisco, snapped lots of photos, avoided kamikaze bicyclists and eventually made it to the other side. After a brisk 45 minutes, the stairs to the visitors center were an oasis in the desert. We’d made it!

Sort of.

Our tour director, Patsy, caught me first. Her eyes were wild, nervous. She gripped my arm. “Don’t panic,” she shouted, “but we’re stranded.”

The word should have sent me into overdrive. “Stranded” is not something you want to hear after a windy 1.7-mile trek. But I was on vacation and, you know, for once in my life? I didn’t feel like panicking. I didn’t want to be high-strung. I wanted to bask in the knowledge that everything would work out somehow or other, and I wasn’t responsible for fixing any of it.

That was poor Patsy’s job.

Four of our 26 tour members had decided to take the walk. When Phil and John caught up to Spencer and me, Patsy paced around trying to decide what to do. Police had closed off the rest area where the bus planned to pick us up. Despite officers’ warnings, Patsy had jumped off the bus to help us get back to safety. No one knew what was going on. Rumors spread of a “suspicious package” on the bridge; others mumbled about there being too many pedestrians, or the winds being too fierce. Regardless, we had two options: walk a few miles to Sausalito, where we could catch a ferry to Pier 39, or turn around and walk another 1.7 miles back where we’d started. Another bus would grab us.

We turned around.

Working off some of our heavy vacation meals, Phil and John didn’t seem to mind the extra chance to take in the view and get some fresh air. Spencer was fine with it, too, snapping photos and pulling me along by one hand. I focused on taking step after step, ignoring that ugly number — 3.4 miles — just on the edge of my consciousness. Poor Patsy looked near tears, but we had no choice: it was hoof it back or be stuck near Sausalito forever.

Not that that would be a problem. I mean, have you seen that place?

We made it back, of course. Frazzled and frizzy-haired and wind-blown, yes, but we arrived — and another bus was waiting where we started the whole madcap adventure.

And since I’d managed to burn off an unexpected number of calories that day, I didn’t mind chowing down in Chinatown. Which I did . . . heartily. Eating my weight in stir fry and fortune cookies. And I slept so deeply that night, I wouldn’t have stirred if you had moved our hotel on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Seeking green spaces

Spencer gets the credit for really introducing me to the woods.

Growing up in rural Western New York, my boyfriend has fond memories of playing on the family property and appreciating the great outdoors with his family. While I was eating ice cream and watching Nickelodeon as a kid in suburban Maryland, Spence was disappearing behind trees and digging up the backyard. He likes to camp, builds stuff (like bonfires) — and I consider him pretty rugged. Me? I’m more of a whiny, wilting flower.

Though air conditioning and running water are my friends, I’m coming to appreciate the splendor of being outside. Of stepping out of florescent lighting and getting real sun on my skin. Of turning off my phone (okay, who am I kidding — putting my phone on silent) and soaking up the moment. Working a standard 9-to-5 office schedule, I don’t get moving much . . . so when the weekend rolls around, I get antsy if I’m cooped up the whole time. I like slathering on sunscreen and wandering out with my camera.

So we go to parks now. Spencer introduced me to walking through Southern Maryland, my home of more than two decades, and we’ve found places I never knew existed. All that greenery helps me step beyond my own head — part of some much-needed perspective. I love walking through green spaces now, even seeking them out. When Lu took my sister and me to Washington Square Park in Manhattan weeks back, I could barely take in all the gorgeousness.

Sunlight and nature? They make you feel alive. Took me a while to learn what others have known forever, but sometimes that’s the way with me.

Lu and me in Washington Square Park

Spence in his favorite woods

The little things all around us

It’s the little things. They’re truly all around us.

Years back I heard about Geocaching, which is basically a real-world treasure hunt asking participants to find hidden objects by their GPS coordinates. Someone creates a geocache, uploads its coordinates to the main website — and then participants go find it. When they’ve tracked it down, they “log it” on the website and often write their name on a log inside the object itself.

That was sort of convoluted, but hopefully you get the jist.

I wasn’t totally sold on the idea, to be honest. Spencer has talked about it in the past, going out hunting with friends in New York, but I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy it. The weather in the D.C. area was glorious last weekend, though, and Spence was going to meet Dan, a friend visiting from out of town. Though my legs were screaming from Zumba-related stretching (getting fit is not fun), I reluctantly agreed to go. The plan was to walk around town and find a few geocaches before dinner.

And it was awesome.

The days I don’t plan — indeed, the days I plan to do something entirely different — often wind up being the most fun. We met up with Dan around lunchtime, enjoyed a champagne brunch at Murphy’s in Old Town and then settled into a Geocaching groove. After explaining the premise to me, Dan did a “live demo” — whereby we walked down the street, opened a certain object found on most corners in American towns and discovered . . . a geocache.

Right there. No bigger than my thumbnail. Hidden in plain sight. Tiny, innocuous — and completely cool.

Unscrewing it, Dan revealed a log of other Geocachers who had already tracked down this particular object. He carefully unspooled the log, revealing dozens of handwritten names. We’d tracked down this little cannister using only a few clues in the Geocaching app. (Yes, there’s an app for this — there’s an app for everything, it seems.)

We found two more before the day was out, wandering to a part of Old Town I’d never visited before. Though just blocks from the Torpedo Factory, where we usually wander and get ice cream, the Carlyle House had a beautiful garden with another geocache. That I have walked past this place countless times and never known a hidden black box was there, just waiting to be found, was exhilarating. After a few more finds — one at a cool spot near Gadsby’s Tavern — I can officially say I’m hooked.

I love the idea that these little things are hiding everywhere — real-life “magical” objects in their own way — just waiting to be discovered by those who know where to look. That I could pass a certain place a hundred times — or a thousand — and never know something is buried there.

Ever the practical one, Spencer had declared I would enjoy Geocaching before we’d even begun our hunt. I’d scoffed — but he was right, of course. “I feel like I’m in ‘National Treasure!'” I said at one point, running a hand along a slightly protruding fence as Dan read us a cache’s clue again. And since I had my camera with me, I snapped photos of places slightly off the regularly beaten path. Places I never would have seen without Geocaching’s guidance.

And now I need to go find some more.