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Travel

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too: How to Take an RV Work-Cation

Want to travel but can't take time off of work? Here's how you can see new places without using your PTO. #travel #rvlife #roadtripideas
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

If you’re pretty much any working adult in the US, loving to travel and longing for a more adventurous life can leave you feeling torn. You want to get out and see the world, but you have work (and possibly family) responsibilities keeping you at home. And in the time of coronavirus, travel might feel like a distant dream.

But if you travel by RV, you can do it all: you can take “home” with you and hit the road for a while. Social distancing is easy when you have your own private space that lets you stay as isolated as you want. And if you are in the fortunate position of being able to work remotely, your work can be done from anywhere, so you might as well take advantage of that fact, right? You can continue doing your job while simultaneously experiencing the thrill of visiting new places. It’s the best of both worlds.

My partner and I are on a kick of taking these types of work-cations in our truck camper, and we’re starting to get our system down. We’ve got a list of everything we need to do to prepare and pack before we leave. We create our route plan and book a lot of our campsites ahead of time. Plus, my techie boyfriend ensures that our camper is rigged with the latest and greatest devices to help us get decent phone and Internet service even when we’re far away from all civilization. It’s pretty great.

And now that we’ve done a couple of trips like this together, I can tell you from experience that this kind of travel works and is totally doable. Today I’d like to share some pointers on how you, too, can have your own work-cation experience if you so desire.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

Make a plan for your trip.

If you are planning to work while on the road, I highly suggest you plan your route ahead of time. Decide, at a minimum, what cities you’ll visit and how long you’ll stay in each place. Unless you’re up for boondocking (aka dry camping), it’s a good idea to reserve most or all of your campsites ahead of time if you can (some places tend to book up well in advance).

You’ll also want to think about the roads you’ll be traveling on. GPS can help you navigate around accidents, construction and closures, but plan in advance for local road and weather conditions in the places you’ll be visiting. Make sure your vehicle can handle conditions like snow and ice if there’s any chance you’ll be driving through them. You might even like to get an old-school paper map and draw out your route in case, for whatever reason, you lose access to your phone or GPS.

The key is to take as much of the guesswork out of traveling as possible. Of course, it can be really fun to fly by the seat of your pants and spontaneously go from place to place — but if you’re intending to keep working while you’re away, it’s best to keep surprises and potential mishaps to a minimum.

Photo by Malte Luk on Pexels.com

Make sure to get your RV serviced and in good working condition before you leave.

Seriously, it’s worth it. If you’re going away on a long trip, it’s smart to have someone take a look at your RV before you leave and make sure everything’s working as it should, especially if you haven’t driven it in a while. At a bare minimum, according to Camperland, you should check that these essential items are in good shape:

  • Oil levels
  • Battery
  • Engine belts and hoses
  • Oil, air and fuel filters

Even if your RV isn’t having any problems that you know of, there’s a lot to be said for doing preventative care and making sure things are running as they should. Mechanics can spot potential issues before they become a problem so that you can have a smooth and safe trip.

Optimize your RV for productivity.

If you’re going to be away from major cities and you’re at all concerned about having reliable phone and Internet service, there are ways you can enhance your signal quality. Equipment like WiFi hotspots and cellular boosters can help you stay connected even in places that are pretty remote. You’ll want to get these set up and test them to make sure they work properly before you head out on your adventure.

Also, think about where and how you’ll do your work on the road. What equipment will you need? Is there a space within your camper where you’ll be comfortable setting up a mobile “office”? In our camper, we didn’t have a space like this — so my boyfriend built us a simple wooden table with swiveling boat chairs to sit in. It works great and it’s big enough for both of us to share during our workdays.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Indulge in some sightseeing.

Once you’re on the road, there’ll be so much for you to do and see. No doubt you’ll have all kinds of great stops planned for your trip — so make sure you allow time in each place to take in your surroundings and experience the things that drew you to visit. You may still be working, but don’t forget you’re still allowed to travel and have fun while you’re doing it.

Plus, when you’re on a road trip, half of the fun is the journey of getting from place to place. Whether you’re driving through majestic mountain ranges, wide-open desert plains or wild grasslands, you’ll find all kinds of scenery and hidden gems along your way that will inspire you and lift your spirits.

Be ready to change your plan on a moment’s notice if needed.

The final piece of advice I have is this: remain flexible, and go with the flow. There are always things we can’t predict or control when we travel, and that’s part of what makes it exciting — but it also means that sometimes, things just won’t go the way you plan. You have to be ready to think on your feet and come up with solutions to any problems you might run into.

Case in point: we just planned a 5-week trip around the Northwestern US. We did everything right — we got our truck checked by a mechanic before we left, we updated our phone and Internet gadgetry, and we packed all the stuff we could possibly need. We got all the way from Denver up to Bozeman only for our truck to start showing signs of engine problems. The truck’s still drivable, luckily, and should be for a little while longer, but sadly, it does mean that we have to cut our trip short. We’ll most likely be heading home within the next couple of days.

Disappointing? Sure, absolutely. But this is life when you’re traveling. You can spend weeks planning and preparing for your trip, but once you’re out on the road, anything can happen. It’s still been an adventure, we’ve still gotten to see a new place, and it’s still an experience I’ll look back on fondly. In the end, we can’t ask for more than that from a trip.


How about you? Are you ready to try your own RV work-cation? Or have you done it before? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

Fitness, Health and Wellness

A (Brief) Guide to Getting Started with Running

New to running and not sure how to get started? Here are some ideas for beginners. #fitness #running #runningforbeginners
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Those of you who know me (or have read my previous post on the subject) know that I am a big proponent of running. Maintaining my health has always been a priority for me, but I also have come to love the character-building aspect of this sport and the community I’ve found through doing it over the last few years.

With all its challenge and intensity, I really enjoy and appreciate running. And I say this to you not as someone who’s been doing it her whole life, not as someone who was ever a natural at it, but as someone who long thought of herself as a “non-runner”. It’s unfortunate that so many people identify with this label. After all, beliefs about what we are not tend to be self-fulfilling. My old swim coach used to tell us that “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” And it’s absolutely true; if you’ve created the story in your mind that you can’t do something, most of the time, you won’t do it. Not unless you’re open to changing that story.

Perhaps you, too, feel like you are “not a runner”, and yet you are curious about how people get into it — and that’s what drew you to this article. Perhaps there is some small, crazy voice within you that asks — what if I could do it? Well, what if I told you that it’s absolutely possible? Even if you’ve never run before in your life, it can be done. I didn’t start running seriously until I was almost 30 years old, and I’ve known other people who started even later. It’s never too late. And if you’re in good health and take care to avoid injuries, you can keep it up well into old age; I have a friend whose 80-something-year-old mother still runs marathons. It’s pretty incredible, really, what the human body and mind are capable of.

My partner, an ultramarathoner and coach, likes to say that our bodies already know how to run. There is an innate wisdom in our bodies that knows how to execute the necessary movements without having to think about it. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning our form and harnessing natural momentum to carry us forward so that we are efficient and light on our feet. Remembering how to run this way, actually, is a joy; it doesn’t have to be purely “hard work”, and if you think of it as something that can be fun, it will be.

So, where do you begin with this sport? Here are just a few of the many ways you can get started as a runner.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

Create a positive mindset around running.

When you think of running, what comes to mind? For me, for most of my life, the answer was pain. I truly, for the life of me, couldn’t understand the appeal of this sport because anytime I tried it, it would kick my butt. Even in my swim-team days, when I was swimming (literally) miles each week and in excellent cardio shape, I struggled to run more than half a mile. So I got it in my head that I was a “non-runner”, and it was years before I dropped my negative attitude about it and finally gave it a fair shot.

If you want to become a runner — or anything else in life — you have to at least be open to the idea that you are capable of it. You don’t have to know that you are yet, but you must be willing to entertain the possibility. If you dismiss the mere idea of it out of hand, you won’t try — and you won’t come to know your full potential.

Decide what your goals are and start small.

Becoming a runner does not mean you have to run ultramarathons. If running a 100-mile race is on your bucket list, by all means, go for it. But there are many different levels of runners, from pro athletes to race runners to recreational “weekend warrior” types who just do it for fun — it’s totally up to you to decide how far you want to take it and how serious you want to get. When you’re just starting out, you might try a 5K. Once you’ve done that, you could work your way up to a 10K or half marathon. If you still like running after you’ve done those distances, you might just be hooked for life.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Try a running app.

If you’re new to running and aren’t sure where to start, I highly suggest trying a running app. Couch to 5K (C25K) is the one that I used when I was first starting out, and I have sung its praises to anyone who’s ever asked me about it. What’s great about C25K is that it assumes you are starting from zero running experience and gives you structured workouts that gradually increase in difficulty. So you’re not going to go out and run a mile in your first workout; you’ll start by alternating, say, one minute of walking with one minute of jogging for 20 minutes. 

New runners can get intimidated by thinking that they have to immediately start running long distances, but that’s not really how it works. You work your way up to the longer distances. With C25K, you’ll start with jogging for one minute at a time, and over a few weeks’ time, you’ll gradually increase your ratio of jogging to walking until you are able to jog for 10, 15, and eventually 20 minutes at a time. The workouts are challenging but doable, and you can complete them at your own pace. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can progress.

Join a (real or virtual) running group.

Joining a running group can be a great way to get into running, especially if you’d like to meet some new runner friends. Running is a great social activity, and there are so many groups out there — if you’re looking for an in-person group, you can find anything from serious running clubs to laid-back social groups who meet up once a week to jog around the park and then grab beers at the neighborhood bar. Virtual groups and apps like Zwift allow you to run with people from around the world. Regardless, many of these groups welcome runners of all levels (including newbies), and having some running buddies just makes it all the more fun.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

Commit to doing a race with a friend or family member.

Signing up for a race can be a powerful motivator to keep up with your workouts. My mom was actually the one who decided she was going to commit to doing her first 5K; I just decided to jump on her bandwagon and do it with her. And honestly, I loved it. There was something beautiful and life-affirming about being surrounded by throngs of people who were all out there, running alongside me, challenging themselves and being part of something positive. And when I saw the finish line coming up ahead of me, when I fully grasped that I was about to achieve something I’d never done before and didn’t think I could do, it was a very emotionally powerful moment.

Now, granted, this was a few years ago, before the time of COVID-19. There are fewer in-person options for races at the time of this writing, but there are still virtual races and other creative events being offered for those who would like to participate.

“Racing” can have a negative connotation for some people who don’t consider themselves competitive by nature, but the truth is, a running race doesn’t have to be a competition at all. There will always be the elite athletes striving to be at the front of the pack, but in most races, most of the runners are just out having fun. If anything, they might be racing against themselves, trying to beat their best time from before. But a lot of people don’t even pay attention to their times, and there’s no rule saying you have to.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Keep after it.

When you first start running, it will probably feel hard. It might feel like a slog. There is an initial hurdle you have to clear as your body adjusts to the exertion. But once you do adjust, it starts to get a little easier. In my case, once I could run 15-20 minutes without stopping, I felt a noticeable shift; my body seemed suddenly able to tolerate running better than ever before, and I started enjoying the whole experience a lot more.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a runner, you might be surprised at what you can do. Sometimes, the hardest part of doing a new thing is just getting started with it — and if you start running and stick with it, you’ll add a great new mode of activity to your repertoire that can keep you healthy for years to come.


What about you? Are you curious about running? Or, if you already are a runner, how’d you get your start? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Gardening

9 Fun Facts About Succulents

Love succulents? Here are nine facts you might not have known about these unique plants. #gardening #funfacts
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Succulents are my new gardening obsession. These unusual plants hold a special place in my heart, partly because I grew up in the Southwest and I love anything that reminds me of the desert — it makes me feel like I’m at home. But also, they’re so…cool. Succulents can have an otherworldly look with their fantastical colors, unique shapes and varied textures — like little alien-plants. From the flower-like rosette formations of Echeveria species to the trailing vines of strings-of-pearls, each type is beautiful in its own way and has its own personality. And when you plant a whole bunch of them together in an arrangement or landscape design, the results can be striking.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

I’m also amazed by how little succulents need to survive and how well they can adapt to conditions around them. Even though they are a hugely diverse group of plants (with over 10,000 known species), all succulents have one trait in common: they store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, which enables them to withstand long periods of drought. Actually, the name “succulent” comes from the Latin sucus, meaning “sap” (referring to the “juiciness” of the leaves). They can thrive in some of the world’s most extreme environments where most other forms of life cannot, which makes them low-maintenance and — generally speaking — easy to grow and care for.

Succulents have been exploding in popularity in recent years, and for me at least, it’s easy to see why. Here are nine fun facts you might not have known about these intriguing plants:

1. They aren’t all native to the desert. Nearly half of all succulent species come from arid regions of Southern Africa, but succulents can be found in every continent except Antarctica, and they live in a variety of climates. Some succulents thrive in mountain regions, and others in tropical rainforests or coastal areas. What this means is that, if you grow succulents, it’s important to do your research and know what species you’ve got. Plants from different regions will have vastly different needs and preferences — what one species loves, another can’t tolerate. Knowing what your specific plants need will set you up for success and head off a lot of frustration (trust me on that one).

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

2. Succulents and cacti are not the same thing. The words are often used interchangeably, but cacti are actually a type of succulent. According to The Spruce, cacti generally have no leaves, are covered in spines and have rounded indentations called areoles along their stems. All cacti are succulents because of their water-storing capacity, but there are many types of succulents that are not cacti.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

3. They may change color with the seasons. Changes in temperature, sunlight and watering can cause some succulents to “blush” and turn beautiful colors. Much like human skin, the plant tissues produce pigments to protect themselves from environmental stresses. So, technically, the color change is a sign that the plant is not growing in optimal conditions — but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plants can tolerate a certain degree of stress while still remaining healthy. 

4. Succulents “breathe” at night. Plant leaves take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen through tiny pores in their leaves. Usually, these pores are open in the daytime so that the plants can breathe and perform photosynthesis, and they close at night to protect the plant from the elements. With succulents, it works the opposite way; they breathe at night and close their pores during the day so they don’t lose too much water to evaporation. This is just one of the many special adaptations that allows succulents to conserve water.

5. The leaves are coated with a wax film that resists water and protects the plant from sun damage. This wax coating, which is also known as farina, also provides some natural defense against pests and diseases. To keep your succulent babies happy and healthy, it’s best to avoid touching them any more than necessary because the farina wipes off very easily — and unfortunately, it doesn’t come back once it’s gone.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

6) Some succulents don’t need soil. If you’re after something really low-maintenance that doesn’t even need to be potted, try air plants. These succulents fasten to trees, rocks, or whatever they can find for support, but air plants gather water and nutrients through tiny scales on their leaves instead of through their roots. They need to be misted or soaked in a bowl of water periodically, but apart from that, they hardly need any care. And they’re just so cute!

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

7) They are incredibly resilient. To illustrate this, let me tell you about my prickly pear. I bought it last summer and planted it in a big pot. It thrived in the summer months but shriveled up as soon as the weather turned cold. I assumed it was dead and threw it into the scrap pile in our backyard, where it got buried in dead branches. Fast forward to this summer — one day I was doing yard work and I found my old prickly pear growing up through the scrap pile. That thing survived the winter deep freezes and snow, with roots exposed, and grew up sideways through the branches towards what little bit of sunlight it could find. Unbelievable!

8) Succulents spawn easily. Succulenting (yes, I’m coining that term!) doesn’t have to be an expensive habit hobby. You don’t have to buy new plants every time you want to grow your collection; with many types of succulents, you can pull leaves or take cuttings from existing plants and easily grow new babies (it’s really fun!). Some types of succulents produce offsets called “pups” that can eventually grow up to become full-fledged plants, which is another way they reproduce; others can multiply via flowers and seeds. Growing new succulents is not exactly a quick process, but if you’re patient, the rewards are worth the wait.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

9) Some succulents have medicinal and culinary uses. Aloe is famed for the soothing, healing jelly that comes from its leaves; it may be best known for sunburn relief but according to Medical News Today, it also has antimicrobial properties and is nourishing for the skin. It’s also edible. Prickly pear, also known as nopal, can be peeled and cooked, and is especially popular in Latin American cuisines. And, of course, agave is cooked, milled, fermented and processed to yield tequila. Delicious and therapeutic!

Not all succulents are fit for consumption, though; some (such as jelly bean plants and pencil cactus) contain sap that is poisonous to humans and pets. If you’re intending to grow succulents to eat or use medicinally, make sure to thoroughly research the species in question.


What about you? Are you a succulent addict like me? Or curious about them? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Food and Recipes

Pasta with Vegetarian Red Wine-Tomato Sauce

Looking for a quick weeknight meal that's also healthy and fresh? Try this vegetarian pasta with scratch tomato sauce on for size. #recipes #easydinnerideas #vegetarian
Photo credit: Amber Carlson

Oh, how I love tomatoes. Especially sweet, juicy, ripe ones fresh off the vine. Our backyard garden is bursting at the seams with four plants’ worth of red and golden cherry varieties, and I’ve been faced with the fun task of figuring out what the heck to do with all of these beauties. The tomato vines and our monstrous zucchini bush plant are popping out fruits much, much faster than we can eat them, and while this is a blessing of sorts, one gets to the point of needing a strategy so that one’s fridge isn’t overwhelmed by a ginormous amount of produce. (I know; first world problems, right?)

Photo by Julia on Pexels.com

But having gobs of tomatoes on hand, actually, is a boon to home cooks for many reasons — and one of those reasons is homemade tomato sauce. Not to dis on the canned or jarred sauce you can buy at the grocery store — there are some decent-quality brands out there — but the “real thing” (aka homemade) has a fresher, more vibrant taste. The herbs are wonderfully aromatic, and the richness of the flavor you get from the tomatoes is unparalleled. Searing the tomatoes at high heat breaks them down quickly and starts to caramelize the sugars, giving them a taste that can normally only be achieved by roasting in the oven. Plus, this sauce is quick and easy to make, so you can whip up a whole pasta dinner with it in less than an hour.

This could be called a “rustic style” sauce. It’s intentionally chunky, and as such it’s not exactly “saucy”. It’s light and oil-based with bursts of intense tomato and onion flavor. I, for one, love it that way, but if you prefer something smoother and more uniform that will evenly coat your noodles, you can certainly throw your sauce into a blender or food processor after you’ve made it and puree to your heart’s content. If you really wanted to, you could pour the sauce through a strainer after blending to remove the tomato seeds and skins — your call. Personally, I like my sauce to have a bit of texture and body to it, but you may feel differently. And this recipe is meat-free, but if you’re a carnivore, you could easily add some protein (I’d suggest chicken or Italian sausage).

At any rate, without further ado, here’s my recipe. This sauce is my own personal version of a recipe from the wonderful Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger — an excellent and fun read on culinary history and traditional food preparation, by the way, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. 

Recipe: Pasta with Vegetarian Red Wine-Tomato Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes 2 generous servings

Ingredients

8 oz. of uncooked spaghetti, macaroni, or other pasta (gluten-free, if you like)
3 large tomatoes (or about 24 oz. of cherry or grape tomatoes), coarsely chopped
1 large white onion, peeled and diced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (or more, if you like it hot!)
½ cup red wine of your choice*
Cooking oil**
2 TBs butter
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil (for finishing)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

*Which kind of wine you use isn’t terribly important — my rule of thumb is that anything I enjoy drinking will taste great in this sauce. If you’re not sure, try a Pinot Noir, a Malbec or a red table blend.

**Make sure to use a cooking oil that can withstand high heat. This article has a table showing which cooking oils have the highest (and lowest) smoke points. The higher the smoke point, the less easily the oil will burn.

How to Make It

  1. Get the pasta ready. Cook your pasta according to the package directions. Drain, put into a covered bowl or pan to keep warm, and set aside for now.
  2. Bring on the heat. While pasta is cooking, in a large saucepan or skillet, add a few tablespoons of cooking oil and heat it on the highest setting you’ve got. You want to get the pan so hot that the oil is just starting to smoke.
Searing time! Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Sear your tomatoes. Once your pan and oil are smoking hot, throw in the tomatoes and stand back.

    Here’s where it gets a little exciting and dramatic: it will be noisy. The tomatoes will hiss and sizzle ferociously, and there will almost definitely be some smoke (so make sure to have your fume hoods and fans preemptively switched on!). It’s all okay, though; just let the tomatoes do their thing and make sure nothing catches fire.

    Once the heat has subsided a bit and the mixture starts to bubble rather than smoke (which usually takes 1-2 minutes), remove the tomatoes from the pan and place in a medium bowl.
Just don’t set off the smoke alarm! Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Repeat step 2 two more times. I always sear the tomatoes three times because it seems to cook them perfectly. Re-heat the pan (adding a tiny bit more oil if needed) and toss the tomatoes back in once it’s nice and hot. No need to clean out the pan in between searings; the charred bits will add flavor to the sauce.

    After three searings, turn the heat down to medium-high and continue to cook until tomatoes have started to break down and skins are falling off, as in the photo below. Remove them from the heat and set aside.
Mmm…starting to get juicy! Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Toast your herbs. In the same saucepan, add a few more tablespoons of cooking oil along with the oregano, thyme and crushed red pepper. Let herbs toast for 30 seconds, just until fragrant.

    Toasting (or “blooming”) herbs and spices before adding anything else to the pan is a technique I learned once in an Indian cooking class. You may want to add a few drops of water to the herbs first so they don’t burn, but the heat activates the oils and aromas in the spices and makes them pop more in the dish. Here’s an article that explains this in more detail.
Blooming the herbs. Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Sauté the onion. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly browned (about 10 minutes).
Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Bring it all together. Pour your seared tomatoes back into the pan along with the red wine and butter. Turn down heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the tomatoes have completely broken down and the sauce has thickened a bit.
Just about ready! Photo credit: Amber Carlson
  1. Season it up. Add brown sugar and Kosher salt, and then do a taste test. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.
     
  2. Finish and serve. You can serve this sauce on top of your pasta or toss it with the noodles — I usually toss it in. Serve on plates, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on a little Parmesan (if using) and call it good.
Nom nom! Photo credit: Amber Carlson

And last but certainly not least…enjoy!


Thoughts? Questions? Feedback? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!

Productivity and Life Hacks, Self-improvement

The Magic of Bullet Journaling

Need a fun, unconventional way to organize your life? Here’s why you should give Bullet Journaling a try. #bulletjournal #organizeyourlife #selfimprovement #personalgoals
#bull
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

I am something of an “organization junkie”. I make lists — way too many lists — of all sorts, and I am a borderline-fanatical keeper of notebooks and journals. I love to write ideas down, to track things, to have a plan. I prefer feeling like I (sort of) know what’s going on in my life and what all I’ve got on my plate at the moment. And when I’ve got my heart set on achieving some kind of long-term goal, I truly enjoy the challenge of thinking and scheming about how I am going to tackle it.

But part of what fuels my love of organizing is that I need to be organized. I’m someone who tends to be doing a lot at any given time, and I’ve found the need for some system to hold and keep track of it all. I’m always seeking, always looking for novelty and ever-curious about trying new things — I live passionately, and I could never tire of that. My weakness is that I don’t always know how to rein it in; many times in my past I’ve taken on too many things and completely overwhelmed myself in the process. For as much as I love exploring all that life has to offer, I am also easily overstimulated, and when it all becomes too much I can burn out pretty quickly.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

I have other thoughts about why being organized is so important, and I’ll save those for a later date. For now, suffice it to say that, to me, organizing isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. And it’s also always been a bit of a challenge; I’ve used plenty of calendars and day planners but I never found a way of being organized that really “clicked” or worked for me. 

Which is why I’m so thankful that, a few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to a new system she had started using to keep her life organized: Bullet Journaling. I’d never heard of it before, but the name intrigued me. Basically, she said, you take a blank notebook, divide it into sections and use it to keep track of your various ideas, projects and goals. I started to do research online, and as I read and thought about this unique, quirky system, I realized I needed to try it for myself. I’ve never looked back. The way I use my journal has changed and evolved over the years, but I can honestly say I have never found a better organizational system than this.

So why is it called Bullet Journaling, anyway?

The technique was created by Ryder Carroll, who had trouble focusing and getting things done in conventional ways as a kid. As he grew older, he longed for an organizational system that mirrored the way his mind worked. After a lot of experimentation, he finally arrived at something that worked for him: a hybrid between “a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list and sketchbook”. He even created his own language to describe his one-of-a-kind process. One of the key practices is “rapid logging”, the act of jotting down daily task lists in shorthand sentences known as “bullets”. And that is where the Bullet Journal — or BuJo, as many people in the community call it — gets its name.

And what makes Bullet Journaling so special?

Now you may be asking what it is that I love so much about BuJo, and why I will extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. After almost three years of keeping Bullet Journals, I still geek out about it because:

1. It’s effective. Quite simply, it works. There’s a bit of a learning curve with starting your first journal, but once you get into the flow of using it, it’s very easy and intuitive. All of your to-do lists, plans, upcoming events, ideas, and notes go in one place, and it’s all organized by an index so you can easily and quickly find any information you need, which makes life feel a lot more manageable. I’ve been significantly more productive since I started Bullet Journaling regularly, and there are tons of other BuJo fans who I believe would say the same.

2. It’s incredibly flexible and versatile. A Bullet Journal allows you the freedom and the space to not just write down the items on your task list, but also make note of ideas, muse about long-term dreams or even journal about your day. It has the power to encompass more of your life than what a conventional planner or calendar can do, and that’s the beauty of it; you get to design the book in whatever way works for you and your life. There are as many ways to BuJo as there are people on the planet — the possibilities are endless.]

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3. You can create cool trackers, lists, and other innovative ways to organize info. Sure, you can fill your BuJo with lists, if that’s your cup of tea. But if you are more of a visual thinker, you might try adding some trackers to your journal. You can use habit trackers like these to record how often you do habits like exercise, healthy eating, sleep, reading, meditation, and time with loved ones. Other types of trackers let you document how many books you’ve read, how much money you’ve saved for your next vacation, or even what mood you’re in from day to day. Regardless of how you choose to use them, though, trackers can be a great way to visualize your goals and priorities. 

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4. Bullet Journaling is all done by hand. Writing by hand, Ryder tells us, engages our minds in a different way than typing or using apps. When we hand write notes, for example, we activate more parts of the brain and store information more effectively than when we type our notes. Writing by hand takes more focus and intention than typing, but it also keeps our brains sharper by getting us to think more deeply about the information we’re taking in. It also means less time spent in front of a screen, which most of us could probably use.

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5. You can make it as creative and colorful as you want. The artist in me loves this. A BuJo can be purely functional, of course, but there are all kinds of ways to add a little personality and zazz to your journal if you feel so inclined. Personally, I keep a stock of PaperMate flair pens on hand specifically for Bullet Journaling; they come in a whole rainbow of fun, bright colors, they write well and they won’t bleed through your paper. Aside from indulging my inner kid, writing in different colors allows me to color-code different sections of my journal, which makes it easy to scan through and see what those sections are about. Functional and fun!

6. You can see evidence of your progress. The Bullet Journal format makes it easy to thumb through your notebooks and see how you are doing in different areas of your life. Once you’ve been using your trackers for a while, they can show you your patterns over time — like which habits you’ve been most consistent at — and you can see a visual record of the progress you have made. I’ve personally found this to be very motivating. 

Even simple daily to-do lists, when they’re written by hand, give you the opportunity to physically cross each item off of the list. Digital to-do lists can seem faster and more efficient, but I’ve found I get a greater sense of accomplishment from using paper lists because they show me what I’ve done. When I’ve kept digital lists in the past, the things I’ve done are simply deleted, while new items continue to pile on. At the end of the day it’s easy to look at a list like this and wonder if I really did anything at all. A paper list full of finished tasks is a record of how I spent my time and an affirmation that I am, in fact, a productive human being.

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7. You’ll have old journals to look back on. One of my favorite parts of journaling — any kind of journaling — is reading through old journals. Cracking open a notebook from years ago takes me back to another time and place in my life. Suddenly I remember who I was then, what I thought and felt, and what was important to me. Journals from the past are a record of who you have been. And who you have been is what led you to who you are now. It’s an amazing thing, to be able to look back on years’ worth of stuff you’ve written and trace how you’ve evolved and grown as a person — and the rewards only become richer the more time you spend journaling.

8. It helps you live more mindfully. At its core, BuJo is a mindful practice. It’s all about discovering what is most important to you and learning to focus your time and energy on those things. It makes you look more closely at how you spend each day and helps you structure your time. BuJo is so much more than just scheduling and planning; it’s a journey of self-inquiry and exploration. I’ve found that it gives my days structure and helps me feel like I am spending my time in meaningful, purposeful ways. And to me, that is enormously valuable.


While I don’t think there is any “perfect” way to stay organized, I am a firm believer in the power of Bullet Journaling because it has worked so well for me. And I want you to know that if I could do this, you absolutely can, too. If more people could feel the peace and contentment that comes from something as simple as being organized, or the satisfaction of making progress towards long-held dreams, I believe we’d be living in a different world.

What about you? Are you a BuJo fan like me? Or are you thinking of trying it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Health and Wellness

8 Simple Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Day

Wondering how to live a more mindful life? Want to meditate but don’t have the time? Here are eight simple techniques you can do every day to strengthen your awareness and clarify your mind. #mindfulness #meditation #consciousliving #stressrelief
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“Mindfulness” is quite the buzzword these days. Spiritual teachers, psychologists, celebrities and health professionals are heralding the benefits of mindful practices such as yoga and meditation. And there’s a growing body of research to back up the idea that these positive, life-affirming practices can reduce stress, relieve pain and improve our health and well-being.

But what does it actually mean to live mindfully? This definition sums it up well: 

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

— mindful.org

In theory, this sounds simple. In practice, it can be quite challenging to do. Our modern lives have become chaotic, fast-paced, and filled to the brim with responsibilities and distractions galore. Most of us have got a ton of different things competing for our time and attention to the point where it often gets overwhelming. And on top of all that, we constantly receive societal messaging telling us that we need to have more, do more and be more — that we aren’t good enough as we are. If we’re not careful, we can get wrapped up in trying to compensate by overstuffing our social calendars and working our butts off until we’re completely fried, exhausted and burnt-out.

These reasons are precisely why mindfulness is such an essential discipline for our times. I’ve read that if we want to be happy in life, and if we truly want to make the most of each day, the key is not doing more; it’s doing less. Not speeding up, but slowing down. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the truth is that just as we need to recharge our bodies with sleep, we must rejuvenate our minds and souls with moments of stillness and quiet. We need time and space to re-center, to gain clarity and perspective on our lives and to make intentional choices that align with our deepest values.

But what are we to do when time feels like it’s in such short supply? That’s where we may need to get a little creative. The good news is that you don’t have to have tons of free time to start practicing mindfulness. You can practice in the small spaces and gaps between the various activities of your day — even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Even those little snippets of time count. According to Verywell Mind, practicing meditation for just five minutes a day can be beneficial. Meditating in short bursts is certainly better than not practicing at all because, like a muscle, the ability to be mindful becomes stronger through regular use. And the length of time you spend practicing matters less than how consistent you are at it. Spending just a few short minutes each day on mindfulness techniques will help put you on the path towards a more mindful life. 

With all that in mind, here are eight of my favorite ideas for you to try:

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1. Stop and breathe. Bringing awareness to your breath is one of the simplest and most effective techniques for coming back into the present moment. Feeling the physical sensations of your chest and abdomen rising and falling, and the air flowing in and out of your body, redirects your focus to your immediate experience. Ancient yogis believed that pranayama, or breathing exercises, were ways to regulate physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy, which is why breathwork is still such a central part of yoga practice today. And even if yoga doesn’t happen to be your jam, you can still benefit from incorporating a little mindful breathing into your day. 

Try this exercise for starters: close your eyes, inhale slowly for four seconds, then slowly exhale for four seconds. For a relaxing effect, you can gradually increase the length of the exhale to six, then eight seconds (while keeping the inhale at four seconds). Lengthening your exhalation will actually stimulate your vagus nerve and deactivate the “fight-or-flight” stress response. If you’re having a stressful day, there aren’t many quicker ways to take the edge off than to take a pause, turn your attention inward and just breathe.

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2. Play the 5-4-3-2-1 game to tune into your senses. This is a tool I learned from my former therapist to manage my anxiety. It’s especially useful for moments when you feel overwhelmed and a little out-of-control, but you can use it at any time when you’re starting to feel stressed. The game uses your five senses to immediately draw you back into the present. Here’s how to play:

  • First, find five things that you can see around you.These things can be anything–a notebook, a photo hanging on the wall, or a cloud in the sky, perhaps. 
  • Now, notice four things that you can feel with your touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of your shirt against your skin, the soles of your feet against the floor, or a breeze moving through your hair.
  • Take note of three things that you hear. Is it the sound of cars in the distance? The hum of a refrigerator? The ticking of a clock?
  • Identify two things that you can smell–perhaps the smell of food cooking for breakfast, or the aroma of the earth just after a rainstorm.
  • Pay attention to one thing you taste–most likely lingering notes of whatever you last ate.

The purpose of this exercise is to focus your attention on the myriad of sensations that are all around you–things we often don’t notice because we’re preoccupied with something else. Some of these sensations might be immediately obvious, while others can be quite subtle. Either way, paying attention to these small details helps you become more present in the moment and more aware of how rich and multilayered our consciousness can be.

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3. Set alerts on your phone to remind you to take a break. I have a good friend who does this. My favorite alert of hers is the one that tells her to go outside at twilight so she can watch the sunset. You can time your alerts around events like sunsets, but even if the alerts are just set at regular intervals throughout the day, they are a good reminder to take a few minutes to rest and decompress.

4. Practice single-tasking. Some of us take pride in our ability to focus on many different things at once, but the truth is, our human brains don’t actually do multitasking all that well. We can pay attention to multiple tasks simultaneously, but we can only give each of them a fraction of our focus and effort.

“Single-tasking” results in less residual mental clutter — it’s more efficient (and less stressful) to do only one task at a time and complete it before moving onto something else. So, when doing an item on your to-do list, see how it feels to set aside everything else for a few minutes and focus all your attention on that one thing. There is a Zen proverb that says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” No matter how mundane the task is, give it your full, undivided attention. If it’s something you’ve done a thousand times before — and especially if it’s something you don’t really enjoy — try using your senses to pick up on a new dimension of the experience that you’ve never noticed before. Experiment with different ways of doing it, if you like. But regardless, do nothing else until you’re finished with that task. When you focus only on one thing at a time, you greatly enhance the quality of effort, attention and intention that go into everything you do.

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5. Get out of your head and into your body. If you’re prone to overthinking — and so many of us are — you can use physical movement to pull yourself back into present-moment awareness. Our minds are great tools when used properly, but sometimes, they’re a little too powerful and they get the better of us. If that sounds like you, a few minutes of activity could be just what you need to pull yourself out of “thinking” mode and into a more clear, centered space. You don’t have to do a full workout; you can go for a short walk or do a few jumping jacks and you’ll still get some of the positive effects of exercise. You could even try a short Qigong routine like this one. Whatever you decide to do, when you take the opportunity to bring awareness into your body, your mind will naturally slow down.

6. Do a mini-meditation. A regular meditation practice can have a profound impact on your mental clarity, ability to regulate your emotions, and your day-to-day stress levels. And there are plenty of meditations that can be done in just a few minutes. There are so many different ways to meditate, but if you’re new to it or could use some guidance, you might want to try a meditation app such as Headspace. These apps have a huge assortment of short, guided meditations to choose from, and some of them can be completed in as little as three minutes.

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7. Go outside. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is just to get outdoors for some fresh air. As I mentioned earlier, going for a walk is a great way to center yourself, but even sitting outside for a few minutes can do wonders for your state of mind. According to Mental Floss, being outside can boost your energy, improve mood and increase focus and creativity. The natural aromas of flowers, grass and trees are a treat for the senses and can give you a lift when you need one.

8. Spend a few minutes being bored. We spend most of our lives running from boredom, don’t we? Honestly, even though it makes us miserable to be crazy-busy, constantly overwhelmed and scrambling around the clock to get things done — I have a theory that a lot of us would rather live that way than be bored. But what’s so wrong with boredom, really? Is it that bad? Or have we simply been so conditioned to need the never-ending excitement of stuff happening all the time?

The more we train ourselves to need constant stimulation, the more lost we are without it. But the more we learn to sit with and even embrace boredom, the more adaptable and resilient we become. So, I challenge you to try this: remove all outside noise and stimulation for just a few minutes and do nothing. This may be surprisingly hard to do at first. But, with practice, you’ll become more comfortable being in this quiet space. It might even start to feel peaceful.


What about you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these and other mindfulness techniques, and where the journey has led you. Feel free to share in the comments below!

Fitness, Health and Wellness

How Running Changed My Life (and Could Change Yours, Too)

Think you’re not a runner? Here are some ways it could change your life if you give it a chance. #running #fitnessgoals #healthyliving #selfimprovement
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Running can be a very polarizing sport. On one end of the spectrum, you have diehard fans who compete in ultramarathons and races throughout the year, and on the other end, you have haters who say that it’s a sport for crazy people who enjoy pain and suffering. In my life, I have been both a lover and a hater of running, and trust me when I say that I was a hater for a long, long time before I finally came around.

I had (sort of) tried it a couple of times when I was younger, but it never came naturally to me the way it seemed to to other people. Don’t get me wrong; I was plenty active growing up — I was on a swim team as a kid and teenager — but even so, running was always my Achilles’ heel. We’d do dryland training from time to time and while the rest of my teammates seemed to be able to run without a fuss, I struggled to keep up. Even half a mile felt like a lot for me. And a whole mile? Forget it.

So, I made up my mind early on that running was “too hard” and not something I could ever enjoy. I wrote it off, and regrettably spent most of my life telling myself the story that I was “not a runner”. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally tried challenging that notion. How I got into it is a story in and of itself, but after training and running my first race with my mom, I was hooked. 

The thing is — and most runners will readily admit this — running is a little insane. It has an intensity that scares a lot of people away. Sure, usually you feel great after a run, but during? It’s work. It can be grueling, hot, sweaty, even miserable work. Sometimes you feel like stopping; other times the hardest part is dragging your butt out to get started in the first place. Simply put, it ain’t for sissies.

But looking back on the last few years of my life, I can see that running has been hugely influential on the person I have become. It might sound dramatic to say that it has changed my life, but I believe that it has. And if it left such a strong imprint on me, surely it could do the same for others. Now, I’m not saying that everyone in the world has to become a runner; if it’s truly not for you, then it’s not for you. But if you’re open to giving it a try, here are just some of the ways that running can transform your life.

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You’ll get in amazing shape, and possibly live longer. Running is one of the best cardiovascular activities out there. It will keep your heart strong, your lungs healthy and your muscles toned. Like any form of exercise, it can reduce stress and lower the risk of long-term diseases, potentially increasing your longevity. Of course, running is also high-impact and can be hard on your body over time, but running in the right gear (especially shoes) and working on your form can help minimize the risk of repetitive motion injuries, falls and sprains.

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You’ll become stronger through pushing yourself to do things that are challenging. What if I told you that a huge part of the value of running is the difficulty of it? For me, running isn’t worth doing because it’s easy; it’s worth doing because it’s hard. It toughens you up on so many levels. You’ll quite literally “feel the burn” of your muscles and lungs as you start to fatigue. Your feet, your legs, your hips and your back will get sore.

But the real challenge is more mental — and the real question is, can you keep on pushing and striving towards a larger goal even when things are starting to get really uncomfortable and hard? Can you move through layers of physical, mental and emotional resistance and keep going anyway? Can you ignore the negative, self-sabotaging voices inside that tell you you “can’t” do something and then proceed to prove them wrong? Running will push you to do all of these things and more, and you’ll be better off for it.

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You’ll become better at sitting with discomfort and prioritizing long-term rewards over short-term comfort and ease. I wish I could say that running gets easier over time. It does, in a way, as your body adapts and becomes stronger, but you’ll always be riding the edge of discomfort. While running shouldn’t be painful, when it’s done right, it should bring you up against your edges and push you out of your comfort zone.

This may not ever feel entirely easy or pleasant, but when you practice doing that on a regular basis, you’ll at least get more used to being with discomfort — observing it, noticing it, and letting it pass without attaching any meaning to it. Sooner or later you may even find you’re less attached to “being comfortable” and that it feels more natural to make decisions that benefit you in the long term rather than resorting to doing whatever is easiest in the moment. Running is a perfect example of how sometimes, the difficult things in life are great teachers for us.

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You’ll become more in-tune with your body, mind and surroundings. As challenging as running can be, it can also feel oddly meditative. Especially being outdoors where you can breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on your face. Your senses are engaged, perhaps even heightened. You might find yourself marveling at the beauty of the scenery that you normally breeze by without a second thought while you’re driving in a car. If you go without music, you hear sounds you normally don’t notice — the sound of your feet hitting the ground as they fall into a rhythm with your breath is borderline hypnotic.

Some people run to distract themselves, watching TV on their treadmills or listening to music as they go. But I run to practice being more present. It’s amazing how rich the experience of just running can be on its own, and being free of distractions (even for a few minutes) is wonderfully liberating. Running without distractions is also safer because you stay more aware of what’s happening around you, which makes it easier to avoid dangers like oncoming cars and bikes.

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You can make new friends. While there’s an incomparable peace and stillness that comes with running alone, running with others can be a lot of fun. Running is a great social activity to do with partners, friends, family, and fur babies. One thing I really enjoy about running is the way it brings people from many different walks of life together. And there are always exceptions, but in my experience, the running community is generally made up of positive, upbeat, supportive people who will encourage you along in your journey. There’s a real kinship among runners — a shared understanding that we’re all a little crazy in the same way, we’re all pushing ourselves to see what we are capable of, and we’re all in this together. And there’s something special about that.

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You’ll expand your sense of what is possible for you. Running is incredibly empowering and a huge confidence-booster. At least, for me, it has been. I believed I could never in a million years become a runner — and then I proved myself wrong. I went from struggling to run half a mile to running 5Ks, 10Ks and even a half marathon. My “limitations” with running had been entirely self-created, and once I realized that, I felt like I could do anything.

The same could be said for any challenging thing in life — anything you’re telling yourself is hard or impossible, anything that seems out of reach. I don’t know you, but I can tell you this: you are strong, and you are capable of so much more than you realize. So start questioning and challenging those stories that are holding you back in life, and I can almost guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with what you can do.


Running may not be for the faint of heart, but it is quite the journey. If you choose to go on this path, know that it will challenge you, it will help you grow, and it will take you to places you wouldn’t expect. And if that doesn’t make it a worthwhile pursuit, I don’t know what does.

How about you? Are you a runner? If so, what do you love about it and why? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Travel

6 Reasons Why RVs are the Perfect Mode of Pandemic Travel

Itching to get out and see the world while still being safe? Here are reasons to travel by RV in the time of coronavirus. #travel #roadtrip #wanderlust
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The current pandemic has radically changed everyday life in ways we could never have foreseen. Amid closures of schools and businesses around the globe, concerts and festivals have been cancelled, pro sports franchises have put games on hold, and travel plans of all kinds have been scuttled. We have never seen times like these before, and unfortunately, COVID-19 shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon — at least, not here in the US.

Understandably, though, people are starting to feel restless from staying at home, and they’re looking for ways to get out of the house while still keeping themselves and their families safe. Traveling by bus, train or plane might still feel like a risky proposition, even to those of us who would love nothing more than to get out and see the world. What’s a would-be wanderluster to do during times like these?

Fortunately, there is another way to travel. Enter the RV — a compact home on wheels that can be driven or hauled just about anywhere where there are roads. The Boston Globe and other news sources say that RV rentals and sales have gone through the roof since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s easy to see why: an RV offers a private living space that travels with you wherever you go. And best of all, you can set up camp wherever your adventures may take you — whether it’s a national park, a quaint little town you’re passing through or a vast expanse of open land — and have the great outdoors as your backyard.

So whether you’re a seasoned RV veteran or you’re thinking of renting one for the first time, here are six reasons why RVs are a great way to travel in the time of coronavirus.

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  1. You can go out and explore new places while still “staying at home”.

Many RVs are designed with comfort in mind, and with amenities like a bathroom, shower, kitchenette and bed, you’ll have everything you need to “stay at home” a lot of the time if that’s what you’re most comfortable doing. But the whole setup is on wheels, so whenever you’re ready for a change of scenery, you can always pack up and go somewhere else.

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2. You get to have your own private space.

An RV is your space — that means you make the rules. You get the final say on who (if anyone) gets to come inside, and you decide on the level of cleanliness you feel comfortable with. You can wipe and sanitize items inside your RV just as you would at home (just make sure to keep your camper stocked with cleaning products), and you don’t have to worry about sharing a bathroom with strangers. Sure, cleaning is a little bit of extra work (versus staying in a hotel with maid service), but for me at least, the peace of mind that comes with having my own space is so worth it.

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3. There are a ton of places you can go.

If getting away from big cities and crowds is sounding a little extra appealing right now, you can escape to somewhere a lot less populated. We are from the Denver area, and we are currently doing a 10-day loop through Southwestern Colorado. Just yesterday we came from the desert outskirts of Cortez, near the Four Corners. Tomorrow, we’ll head north to the peach orchards and vineyards of Palisade, near Grand Junction, and we’ll stay there for a couple of nights before we return home. This is a fairly short trip by most people’s standards, but it does offer a taste of what time on the road is like. We’ve already got two or three ideas for longer trips that we want to do in different parts of the country.

Of course, wherever you go, it’s important to be mindful of any regulations they have in place regarding travelers from the outside — many states and countries aren’t allowing visitors in at the moment, so you’ll want to plan your trip accordingly. But there are still so many possible destinations that the real question will be where to go first!

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4. Social distancing is a piece of cake.

When you’re RVing, most of the time, you’ll either be in your camper or outside somewhere. Either way, it’s easy to keep plenty of distance between yourself and others, especially when you’re out enjoying nature. Campgrounds and RV parks can get a bit crowded, but individual sites are typically a safe distance apart from one another.

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5. You’ll spend more time outdoors.

Although they are fairly comfortable to live in, unless you splurge on a luxury motorhome, RVs are typically not huge — and especially if you’re traveling with other people, it can get a little cozy in there. Most likely, you will want to get outside more often than you normally do, if only to get some space (although you’ll probably also want to get out and enjoy the fabulous places you’ll be visiting!). Whether you’re out doing something active or just enjoying a bit of fresh air, simply being outside has many proven health benefits, and you’re also much less likely to catch a variety of bacterial and viral infections than when you’re inside.

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6. You can even take your work with you.

While it can be wonderful to “unplug” while you are out traveling, if you prefer not to take time off — and if working remotely is an option for you — it’s easier than you might think to bring your work on the road so you can have the best of both worlds. Call it a work-cation, if you like.

My partner and I do this. I’m actually writing this article from inside our truck camper, an Eagle Cap model that sits in the back of his Ford F250. We are sitting across from each other at our dinette table, each of us working away on our laptops, listening to the sound of hummingbirds through our screen door and breathing the fresh mountain air in Ouray, Colorado. When you work from your RV, you end up working in some of the most beautiful and unusual settings, which can be really inspiring.

But, best of all, with the right setup, you can actually be quite productive. There are fewer distractions in a camper than there are at home, and if you bring the right gear (such as a WiFi hotspot), you can get decent phone and internet service in most places.


For these and so many other reasons, heading out on the road in an RV can be an incredible travel experience — it balances adventure and the thrill of seeing new places with the comfort and safety of having a personal “home space” to go back to at the end of the day. RV living can take some getting used to at first, but traveling this way has turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable, and more importantly, it feels safe even amid the ongoing public health crisis.

Have you taken an RV trip recently? Or have big plans to go on one soon? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Food and Recipes

Watermelon Limeade: A Glass of Summertime

Need to cool off on a hot day? Try this refreshing summer recipe - the sweet-tart flavor is addictive! #recipes #drinks #summertime
Photo credit: Amber Carlson

There’s nothing quite like a glass of fresh-squeezed limeade to cool you off on a hot day. The zingy citrus flavor coupled with a splash of sweetness is borderline addictive. As the weather’s been getting toastier here in Colorado, I’ve gotten on a kick of making my own limeade from scratch. For me, it calls up memories of carefree childhood summer days – my mom used to make limeade when I was little and I have loved it ever since.

One day, when I was making a batch of limeade, I happened to have some seedless watermelon on hand that I needed to use up somehow. My partner and I had just been cutting it up and eating slices – but that day, I got an idea. In past summers I’ve eaten watermelon slices dipped in a mixture of lime juice and a hint of hot sauce (which is strangely delicious, if you haven’t tried it), and I reminisced on that delightful melding of sweet, tart and spicy notes. I was in an experimental mood, so I took my fresh batch and blended it with some of the watermelon to see what would happen.

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The results were magical. And today I would like to share this bit of summer joy with you: it’s really simple, it just takes a few minutes to whip up, and it uses a grand total of four ingredients. Easy peasy. I found the original limeade recipe on MyRecipes, made some minor adjustments and put my own twist on it.

If you are more of a lemon person, you can easily sub out lemons for limes in this recipe. Just note that since lemons tend to be bigger and yield more juice than limes, you likely won’t need to juice quite as many fruits. I will say that I am personally more fond of the flavor of limes. According to Spoon University, limes are actually harvested before they’re ripe, so they’re less sweet and more tart than lemons. Their high citric acid content makes the flavor stand out really well against the sweetness of the watermelon. But, your juice, your choice.

To your health and enjoyment!

Fresh Watermelon Limeade Recipe

10-12 limes (or 6-8 lemons)
Simple syrup:
-1 cup cane sugar
-1 cup water 
2-3 large watermelon wedges, seedless (or seeds removed) with rinds cut off
4 cups cold water
Fresh herbs for garnish (optional; I used lemon balm in my photo, but mint or basil should do just as well)

  1. Start your simple syrup. Heat cane sugar and 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan on medium heat until just boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 5 minutes. Stir until sugar completely dissolves into water. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

*A note here: Making the simple syrup may seem like an unnecessary step. You might be tempted to just add sugar to the lime juice and dilute with water – but I’m here to warn you: don’t do it! The sugar won’t dissolve that way and you’ll wind up with grainy juice (I learned this the hard way). Simple syrup does a much better job of blending into the juice.

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  1. While the simple syrup is cooking, cut the lemons or limes into halves and juice them using a handheld or electric juicer. You could squeeze them by hand, but a juicer – especially an electric juicer – will make your life so much easier. Limes especially can be a bit tough – if you find that this is the case, you can roll them against a hard surface before cutting to soften them up a bit.
  2. Once you have roughly 1½ -2 cups of juice, add the juice to a blender. Remove the rinds from your watermelon wedges, coarsely chop the flesh and throw them in the blender. Blend at a low setting until juice looks evenly mixed.

*Between the limes and the watermelon, this juice can get pretty pulpy. I like mine that way, but I know not everyone is a fan. You can strain the mixture after taking it out of the blender if you’d rather go pulp-free.

  1. Add your cold water to the mixture, and then, once your syrup has cooled a bit, add some sweetness. I suggest starting with just a dollop at first, stirring your juice and seeing how it tastes before adding more. What I like about this approach is that you can keep tweaking until you get the exact balance of sweet and tart flavors that you find most irresistible.

*Unless you like your limeade really sweet, you will most likely not use all of the simple syrup! I don’t use very much of it when I make this recipe. This works in my favor because I can save the extra syrup in the fridge for future batches.

  1. Pour into a glass with ice, garnish if desired, and enjoy this simple-but-delectable treat!

Questions? Feedback? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to give me a shout in the comments below.

Gardening

9 Reasons To Have A Garden

Garden curious? Here are nine reasons to start your own garden. #gardening #gardeningforbeginners #DIY
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I get really excited every year when spring rolls around. Why? Because it’s time to start getting the garden ready! Gardening is hands-down one of my favorite ways to spend time in the spring and summer months. And I’ve been doing it forever; my dad and I would go out and work in the garden together when I was a kid. I have fond memories of us planting flowers and eating fresh, delicious raspberries right off the bush. There’s something special, therapeutic, and oddly fun about keeping a garden.

But, then again, gardening also takes a lot of time and energy. There’s physical labor involved, you have to actively maintain and care for your plants, and you may need to do some problem-solving (like, say, getting rid of pests or diseases). It can seem like a lot of work. But, to me, keeping a garden is a labor of love, and I do it in spite of — or maybe even because of — the effort. If you’ve never tried gardening and you’re curious, or possibly wondering what all the hype is, here are nine of the best reasons for taking up this amazing hobby.

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1. It beautifies your home space.

One of the most obvious benefits of having a garden? A beautiful yard, of course! Whether you’re growing flowers or vegetables, a well-tended garden patch adds charm and beauty to your home. If you enjoy wildlife, planting the right kinds of flowers will attract all kinds of butterflies, bees and birds to your yard. But if you don’t have yard space, indoor options like windowsill herb gardens and house plants can look very attractive, too — and as an added plus, they’ll freshen your air.

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2. You can grow your own food.

Growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is surprisingly rewarding. Beginner-friendly plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini are easy to take care of, usually grow vigorously and will probably give you more veggies than you know what to do with. And nothing is more delicious than garden-fresh goodies. My partner and I have grown leafy greens (lettuce, kale, spinach and beets) in one of our raised garden beds for the past couple of years, and we love the bounty of fresh salads we get to eat in the summertime. Trust me, once you eat home-grown produce, you won’t want to go back to the store-bought kind.

3. You get to spend time outside.

Playing in the garden is a great excuse to get outdoors. Part of the reason I actually enjoy the work of gardening is because I get to be outside soaking up the sun while I’m doing it. Having a garden is like having a tiny sanctuary in your own backyard–a place where you can step outside, breathe some fresh air and be a little closer to nature. I find it very calming and I sometimes use “garden breaks” to re-center myself during long workdays.

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4. It keeps you active.

The upside of having to do physical labor to maintain your garden is that it keeps you active. Turns out that lifting tools, hauling around big bags of soil, digging around in the dirt and pulling weeds is actually pretty decent exercise — according to The Spruce, the University of Virginia classifies certain gardening tasks as “moderate to strenuous” physical activity, in the same category as walking or riding a bike. Studies show that gardening for even 30 minutes a day strengthens and tones your major muscle groups, increases your flexibility, burns calories and lowers blood pressure. How’s that for good news?

5. It’s a wonderful creative outlet.

Your garden is whatever you make of it. It can be purely functional, or it can be an artistic endeavor and a means expressing yourself. Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity, who creates some of the most beautiful succulent plant-scapes I have ever seen in my life, says that her work is like “painting with plants”. Depending on how much time and money you want to invest, you can create anything from minimalist garden plots to gorgeous and elaborate landscape designs. And if you’re an indoor gardener, you can indulge your creative side by designing plant terrariums, small succulent arrangements or fairy gardens. 

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6. You get to learn about plants.

Okay, this may be my inner geek talking, but plants are fascinating. Watching a tiny seed sprout, unfurl and slowly develop into a lavender shrub, a pumpkin vine or a basil plant is nothing short of miraculous. Witnessing this whole process firsthand is part of why I am a big fan of growing plants from seed — it helps you get to know and understand how different plants “work” and what their life cycles look like. And every plant is unique; each one has its own needs, preferences, quirks and personality. Regardless of what you choose to grow, plants are living, breathing beings, and getting to know them is a big part of being a gardener.

7. You’ll become more self-sufficient.

Gardening reminds me of the saying, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” By becoming a gardener, you’ll learn the art and science of tending to the earth and cultivating plants — skills that our ancestors practiced and once relied on for survival. When you start growing your own food, you become less dependent on the industrial food production chain. You have full control over how and where your food is grown. You save money on groceries. And best of all, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you did it all yourself.

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8. You have permission to get dirty.

Okay, let’s just be real for a minute: playing in the dirt is kind of fun, and it’s not just for kids. If you haven’t tried it recently, maybe you should. There is something inherently satisfying about touching and working with the earth, and getting some of it on your clothes and skin just comes with the territory. Best of all, it washes off afterwards — nothing a little soap and water won’t fix.

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9. Gardening is good for the environment.

Keeping a garden is also a wonderful way to care for the environment and live more sustainably. With gardening, the future of the earth is — literally — in your own hands. According to Science Daily, gardeners can play a part in slowing global warming through their handiwork. Now more than ever, we need people to champion the environment and take an active role in restoring the health of this planet.


Gardeners and nongardeners alike, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you love about gardening? What makes you want to try it, if you haven’t? What intrigues you most about it?